Here it is December. Already? I see that I posted only once in November. It wasn’t that I didn’t try, I did. One post I wrote twice and tried to post twice and in the end didn’t manage to get it done. I could bore you and myself to death trying to explain but let’s just accept it. I can’t bring November back to redo. It is somewhat scary to me that I didn’t manage to post the twice written blog. It’s scary because I am old enough to have my thinking and memory processes affected by aging – minor cognitive impairment in medical speak.
The post I didn’t manage to put on line is about some troubling myths that are popular in the United States at present. There are also similarities between the United States in 2012 and Germany in 1932. 1932 was the final year of German democracy before Hitler consumed it. I listed the similarities online here. One of the most troubling of the myths current in both Germany from before WWI through WWII and the United States since 1900, (roughly). That myth is that God is on our side. In German that would be Gott mit uns.
A Nazi belt buckle inscribed God is with us? How can that be? It can be because Nazi Germany was a Christian nation. The same as it was under the Kaiser. Just as the United State has been since circa 1900.
OK, to salve my fears about my mind, here is the post as written in November with a few minor corrections.
Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense, George Santayana
My connections with history started in the sixth grade. Mrs. Frye somehow motivated me to enjoy history. I went to school in an old brick building that had been built in something like 1905. Originally, it had been the township high and junior high, but a new building had been built for the high school shortly before I arrived in Mrs. Frye’s sixth grade class. In that school, the sixth grade was part of junior high and the ninth grade was part of high school. The sixth was the last class where one teacher taught all subjects. To prepare students for the next grade, the day was broken into periods, signaled by the ringing of bells, actually a buzzer. The only subjects that were not taught by her were phys. ed and music.
It was in this setting that Mrs. Frye conducted a reading contest. I won hands down and received the grand prize of a Reader’s Digest condensed book which had four novels within its covers. I read not only fiction, but books on history and science. Many of the novels I read were historical in nature such as Joseph A. Altsheler’s Young Trailers series. The series, depicting events around the French and Indian Wars, was written shortly after my school building had been erected. It was filtered through the eyes of an author infected with misconceptions common in the United States just prior to WWI. Manifest Destiny, good always triumphs, those that opposed the Anglo-American dream for what would become the United States could only be villains of the deepest hue, were the most obvious. Even in the fifties, the rose colored lenses were apparent to an immature preteen. Not so obvious, was the myth that war, although brutal, was glorious when fought for noble causes. Later readings have disabused me of most such notions.
From early on, I had a sense that history was important, should be respected and studied for the insight and guidance it can provide for the future. Myths and distortions about historical events should be avoided at all costs because if acted upon, they lead to bad decisions affecting the future. All Quiet on the Western Front was a book that I read sometime in high school that gave me insight into what war was really like. 40 years later at the college level, American History textbooks began to fill me in with a more realistic history of the United States. It is notable that the history texts I read in the sixties (both High School and College) retained many of the views and myths of the school texts I read in the fifties. I am sure that there were historians in those times that had a more accurate picture of our history; I just never read them. WWI is a great example of how the misreading of history led to disaster. The ‘doughboys’ paid the price for those myths in WWI.
The soldiers they fought, the Germans, paid an even higher price. Not only were they destroyed as individuals by the war – read All Quiet on the Western Front, but the society to which they returned was in shambles. From an empire to a republic, the Weimar, from a prosperous country to one destitute, from stability to almost anarchy, the entire German society was inverted. A revolution, fostered by the victorious enemies, England, France, Italy and the United States, had taken place. It was a revolution that came with all the baggage of the old regime. Debt was a large portion of that baggage. Not only did Germany have immense debt from its own cost of the war, but the allies imposed an even greater amount to cover their costs of the war on Germany in the form of reparations. The debt proved overwhelming. Other heavy baggage, the new republic carried around its neck, was the attitudes and myths of the past. These, even more than the debt, proved too much for the democracy. It eventually succumbed to Herr Hitler.
I am fearful that the modern United States, like Germany before WWII, has so distorted history that we have lost many of the lessons. Many societies have forgotten or distorted history. Modern China, the old Soviet Union and present day North Korea are some of the more notorious examples. Motives are often political in the rewriting of history. I see political motives spinning history just as much in the United States as in Germany, China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union.
For example, there is the myth that the Civil War was fought because the federal government was trying to control the southern states. Not so. The South, led by South Carolina, succeeded because Lincoln was elected. Lincoln was anti slavery and they were afraid that he would abolish slavery. In fact, succession took place before Lincoln took office and no federal action had occurred. The Civil War was started only out of FEAR that slavery would be abolished. Would Lincoln and the anti slavery north have abolished slavery? We will never know. The Union without the South did during the war. “States Rights” was a slogan then and now. Those that utter it have forgotten that in between the Revolutionary War and the adoption of the Constitutions, there was The Articles of Confederation. The Articles were not good enough because they did not grant enough power to the federal government. So, “... in order to form a more perfect Union,...”, the Constitution with the Bill of Rights was adopted. Apparently, “States Rights” is shorthand for “if someone that holds views I don’t like” is elected President, I will take my ball and go home”. Just as the Confederate States of America forgot the reasons for the Constitution, so the signers of petitions for succession in 2012 have forgotten the lessons of the Civil War.
Then there is the myth, Gott mitt uns, the United States. Where does it say that in the Bible? It doesn’t, of course. Today, if anyone would say that God was with the Nazis, we would laugh at them and think they were insane. Yet, the Nazis and many people in Germany believed "Gott mit un" in WWII, just as Germans and the British believed it in WWI. Even with the defeat in WWI, they never stopped believing it. So why should we in the United States, believe it? Was God with us in Vietnam at My Lai? The only reason for thinking that was true about our wars in Iraq is that we won. Napoleon Bonaparte said “God is on the side of big guns.” Not always, but arguably more true than God is on our side. Whoever “us” is. Maybe, the Germans forgot that because they didn’t like or appreciate Napoleon.
Maybe, we should stop forgetting history because we don’t like the lessons it holds for us.