A friend of mine told me last week that we – in this case he meant our educational system aided and abetted by the mainstream media – are missing an important opportunity to explain the cost of freedom to our children. It’s not that we don’t teach history in our schools, rather it is the way we teach history in our schools. It is clinical. There are a series of historical events usually populated by a list of “heroes” and “villains” and very little gravitas. In review, many teachers are more interested in when it occurred than why it occurred.
Another friend, this time a retired school teacher, told me there are critical elements in “how” you teach in primary and secondary schools that are applicable to almost any subject. They are time, relevance, and methods. “Time” is in recognition that the average period for comprehension and absorption is relatively short – maybe eight to ten minutes – obviously that time grows longer as students mature. “Relevance” suggests that the subject matter has to relate to identifiable elements of experience. And finally “methods” refer to the need to alter the means by which information is imparted – written, oral, lecture, discussion, audio, visual, laboratory work, etc. (I’m sure that there are other elements that I am missing but these seem to be the rudimentary building blocks for teaching.
For nearly two hundred fifty years – ever since the great American Revolution – the continental elements of this country have been relatively secure from foreign invasion* for several undeniable reasons. First, we are guarded east and west by major oceans which makes the logistics of invasion extraordinarily difficult. Second, despite the fact that we are generally a peaceful and friendly nation we have demonstrated time and time again that when provoked we are extraordinarily violent and possess the most sophisticated means of delivering that violence. And finally, while there are 350 million people in America, there are nearly 400 million firearms – over eighty percent of them in the hands of private citizens. America would be a daunting task for anyone seeking to invade and occupy..
And while we have been free from invasion and/or continental confrontation, we have not been free of fear. In World War I, German submarines patrolled Americas coast and sank and disrupted American commerce and human transportation. Newspapers, news reels, and radio chronicled the suffering, death and destruction but from the other side of the world. In the end, while over 116,500 American soldiers died during World War I, the continental United States remained unscathed. And yet, our citizens and our school children were routinely informed of the progress of the war and more importantly what was at stake.
In World War II, Japan bombed but never occupied the Hawaiian islands. Japanese and German submarines were omnipresent on our coast lines and there are reports of shelling from Japanese submarines of coastal areas in Oregon. Again, newspapers, news reels, and radio chronicled the suffering, death and destruction but from the other side of the world. This time, however, the prospect of continental death and destruction became more real. During World War II Germany and America (and Japan to a lesser extent) raced to develop nuclear weapons. The extent of their destructive power was made real when we dropped two of them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The protection of two large oceans became less certain with the understanding that America crossed one of those oceans to drop those nuclear bombs. The course of the war led local and national conversations daily and the schools responded with their own instructions – including at times some rather ignorant stereotyping particularly of Asian-Americans.
Thereafter, during the Cold War, Russia, having stolen nuclear secrets from the United States developed nuclear weapons and the arms race was on. The theft of secrets was aided and abetted by American citizens who believed in the benevolence of communism. They weren’t last to be seduced by the allure of socialism/communism – including members of Congress. The Cold War was the first time that the prospect of an invasion with weapons of mass destruction was made real. Skywatchers were present in every city along the northern tier of states and the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line of radar stations was quickly deployed. School children were taught to “duck and cover” under their desks – a pointless exercise – in fear of the possibility of a nuclear attack. The Cold War was a time of pervasive fear and situational awareness even in our schools.
It was only at the point of sufficient nuclear proliferation and the wide deployment of intercontinental launch vehicles that sane leaders began to understand that a nuclear confrontation meant mutually assured destruction (MAD). The Cold War continued as a standoff and the attention of the American people and most certainly the public schools began to wane. And when President Ronald Reagan forced the economic collapse of the Soviet Union with the resulting dissolution of its empire, America breathed a huge sigh of relief and promptly forgot the lessons learned during the two great world wars. While we still talked about the world wars and the public school system still referenced them, we rapidly moved into the clinical approach that exists today.
You see it was the existential threat of those wars that sharpened our attention. It was the destruction of civilization that worried us. It was not the loss of freedom, not the threat of living in a communist society, and not the threat of invasion– after all we were still secure by virtue of our great oceans. It was about annihilation.
The subsequent wars – seemingly endless – were about stopping the advance of communism, or radical Islam, or protecting oil fields. They were never about a threat to our freedom. We lost good and brave men and women in all of them but it always appeared that we were fighting less for freedom and more for an ideological or commercial purpose. The sole exceptions were the attacks on the sovereignty of Israel – the War of Independence (1948-49), the Suez crises (1956), the 6-Day War, (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Lebanon War (1982), and the Second Lebanon War (2006). Curiously, while the United States supplied weapons and supplies it never participated directly in aid of Israel which was fighting for. . . that’s right, freedom.
The point of this abbreviated history is to suggest that many of us have lost sight of what freedom means. And having lost sight of what freedom means, we have similarly lost sight of the high cost of freedom. If you cannot instantly equate freedom to the daily aspects of your life – personal, business, religious, economic and political – then freedom has become unimportant in your life. And if it has become unimportant, the high cost of freedom is virtually invisible.
All of this is true, but there is an opportunity to rekindle the importance of freedom by embracing the people of Ukraine as they battle for their freedom which is threatened by long time Russian thug, war criminal and dictator, Vladimir Putin. This time it is not about ideology (religious or political) or economics or even historical ties. It is about freedom and only freedom.
But it is not sufficient to show the gruesome detail of the death and ruin left by Mr. Putin and his savages. Why is it that the men and women of Ukraine would take their families to safety in Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova and return to fight against an enemy with superior numbers and weapons? What drives them to set aside the despair from watching the demolition of their homes and return to fight from ruined building to ruined building, from hedgerow to hedgerow and from ditch to ditch with little sleep, less food and weapons that are in danger of being rendered worthless from the lack of ammunition? What possesses a former comedian turned politician to shun an easy flight to safety to stand with his troops after both he and his wife have been marked for assassination and who will surely be executed by Mr. Putin if Russia succeeds?
Instead of reviewing body counts, buildings destroyed, weapons systems deployed, the media should seek those answers – not by speculation from a bunch of talking heads pontificating from safety, but by the people who have lived the horror necessary to remain free.
If you cannot instantly equate freedom to the daily aspects of your life – personal, business, religious, economic and political – then freedom has become unimportant in your life. And if it has become unimportant, the high cost of freedom is virtually invisible.
* There have been minor and short lived incursions during the War of 1812 (England), Mexican-American War of 1846 (Mexico) and the Spanish-American War of 1894 (Spain). Technically the current invasion on our southern border beginning during President Barack Obama’s tenure and revived under President Joe Biden is not a “war.” It is never the less an invasion with well over two million illegals under Mr. Biden alone.