Tags: Performing | Historectomy | America

Performing a Historectomy on America

Sunday, 13 January 2002 12:00 AM

First, let me make clear that I am not referring to a hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus, but a historectomy, or removal of our history.

Next, let me explain why this is especially critical for America. To do so, let me contrast America with France.

The area we now call France was settled by Celtic peoples called Gauls in prehistoric times, hundreds or perhaps thousands of years B.C. The Romans under Caesar invaded and spread Roman customs and law and the Latin language, on which French is based.

The last major addition was the invasion of the Franks, a Germanic tribe that settled northwestern France and gave the nation its name. This occurred roughly 1,500 years ago. That is, for a millennium and a half, approximately the same people have occupied roughly the same area.

When we talk about France and the French, we know very well what and whom we mean. Despite all the wars and other changes of the last 1,500 years, France remains France. But what of America?

A small strip of the Atlantic coast was settled by Europeans in the late 1500s and early 1600s. A large chunk of the central continent was added with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and the Southwest was added in 1848 after the Mexican War. These huge areas were peopled by successive waves of immigrants from many lands, who largely displaced the Native Americans.

When we talk about America and Americans, we must specify what time we refer to, and which segment of the population we mean. Unlike older nations, America is a relatively recent invention. Its population shifted over time, and is still shifting because of continued immigration.

Unlike France and many other nations, America is an idea. To define America, one cannot merely refer to an ancient land with a predominantly stable population. No, to define America one must refer to the ideas and ideals on which it is based.

But are we trying to preserve these ideas and hand them down to the next generation? Or are we doing our best to eradicate these ideas from our collective memory? Are we attempting to induce national amnesia? Are we, in fact, performing a historectomy? That is, are we removing the basis of our nation?

When I went to grammar school a half-century ago, we saluted the flag every morning. We were taught patriotic songs for national holidays. And we enjoyed Christmas and Easter vacations, not winter and spring breaks. After all, the vast majority of Americans, and all of the founders, identified themselves as Christians.

In junior high, I was required to memorize the Gettysburg Address, the Preamble to the Constitution, and the first and fourth verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner." If you want to learn how a house is constructed, first study the foundation.

In high school, I was required to take American History and Civics, not merely "social studies." We learned about the great people and great events of our history, and (to a much lesser degree) some of the unhappy events. We learned how a bill becomes law, and what powers the president and the Supreme Court have.

But more than that, I loved movies. I saw "The Story of Alexander Graham Bell," inventor of the telephone. I saw "Sergeant York," the true story of how a pacifist farmer was convinced that violent evildoers had to be opposed by force, then went on to win the Medal of Honor. I saw "They Died With Their Boots On," a highly fictionalized account of General Custer, but at least I learned that he played a key role in the Civil War, which is more than today's kids know.

Later I saw "Boys' Town," the story of Father Flannagan's orphanage. And of course there was "The Fighting Sixty-Ninth," depicting Father Duffy's role in this New York unit's World War I exploits. So when I passed his statue in Times Square, I may have been the only one on the tour bus who knew who he was – not bad for a Jewish kid who grew up in San Francisco.

But, you see, I was brought up to be an American.

Then there were the John Ford films of the West, where the U.S. Army was depicted in a sympathetic (some might say overly sympathetic) light. I saw depictions of Abe Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson. I was being entertained at the movies, but I was also being exposed to my country's past.

Contrast my upbringing with what today's kids are exposed to:

No wonder they view America with ambivalence at best, and with open hostility at worst. Is John Walker an aberration, or just the tip of the iceberg? Only time will tell.

If you want to destroy a house, undermine the foundation. If you want to destroy a nation, do the same. If you want to debase people who are defined by ideas, destroy the ideas. If you want to bring down a society that is sustained by its history, perform a historectomy. But be aware that this can be a dangerous operation from which the patient may not recover.

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First, let me make clear that I am not referring to a hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus, but a historectomy, or removal of our history. Next, let me explain why this is especially critical for America. To do so, let me contrast America with France. The area we now...
Sunday, 13 January 2002 12:00 AM
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