Tuesday, May 3, 2011

History Lesson

Many people know the old saying "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it"  I was happy the other day to discover that several students in my current fourth grade class had recognized that quote.  I think however that it can be misleading.  I feel that history not only shows us the faults to avoid, but helps us understand the present.  Following up on my previous post about the "birther movement" I'm again intrigued to hear so many explanations for what people were "really saying".  More than one friend has told me that they never doubted President Obama's birthplace as the USA and that they were simply "concerned about how much money he was spending to hide his past".  Apart from the inaccuracy of the statement (he never spent money to hide his past) I wonder why people can't admit that maybe they got it wrong.  Do we really need to be "right" all the time?  Any teacher will tell you that we learn from mistakes, but what if we never admit to having made one?  The current situation reminds me of a moment from history, the myth of the "Lost Cause".  For those not well versed in American history and Civil War history in particular, the "Lost Cause" was a story that grew up after the war's end that cast the Confederacy as a noble group of citizens who were protecting their sovereign state's rights and that somehow by seceding from the Union they were fulfilling the dreams of the founding fathers.  The lost cause mythology also goes on to demonize the work of Reconstruction and show groups like the Klan in a sympathetic light.  It's on full display in movies like "The Birth of a Nation" and "Gone With The Wind". Of course any look at the writings and speeches of Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the south reveals that their purpose was to continue slavery.  It makes sense that people would develop some story to help them cope with what had happened. Not only had they gone to war and split the country in order to continue enslaving fellow human beings but they had lost, and not only did they loose the war but their lands were devastated.  Imagine the realization that your farms, your cities, and large numbers of your friends and families were gone for that purpose.  And so, while the "Lost Cause" is a false myth created to help people pretend that they served a noble cause I can understand why some might cling to it.  Reality on that scale can be painful.  What I don't understand is why those of the "birther" movement create myths to explain their involvement with that discredited doctrine.  No one has lost their home for taking up the racist cause of the "birthers".  Now that the ring-leaders are being seen, even by many on the conservative side of the political spectrum, as ridiculous at best what can be the problem with learning from this and moving on?
I believe it's best to live with the thought that you never know where you will next find the truth, or better yet, "a truth" because I think it's like pieces of a puzzle.  You're never finished collecting pieces of the truth, but you have to pick them up to use them.

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