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6/19/2006
WHY JOHNNY CAN’T FIND RAMADI ON A MAP

Lori Byrd has an interesting follow up to her excellent column from last week in Townhall about why the war has proven to be so difficult to explain to the public. She posits the notion that this is due to a lack of a good education in history, specifically the almost total absence of learning any military history.

She identifies correctly the current emphasis on “social history” (stressing the role of various minorities who feel previous texts ignored their accomplishments) rather than a straight narrative of chronological events, highlighting major historical mileposts and the players involved. This has led to ludicrous “history” texts that devote several chapters to the women’s rights movement while including only a couple of paragraphs on Washington’s presidency.

This kind of idiocy is the result of textbook manufacturers needing to sell books to a wide variety of school districts. Wanting to sell textbooks to both Berkley, CA and Houston, TX has made a mish mash of textbook writing and has ended up pleasing no one while giving an extraordinarily skewed picture of our past.

There is something to be said for “social history” as both Page Smith and Howard Zinn could tell you. After all, it was people who made the United States. And learning about Carrie Nation and Margaret Sanger is important to teaching our national story. But when other, equally important (or vastly more important) people and events are given short shrift thanks to the limitations of what a student can learn in a semester, serious problems arise in how our national narrative is absorbed by students.

I doubt that too many students today are forced to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as I had to when I was in 6th Grade. By the same token, I hope that many of them are forced to learn long passages from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The point being, there is little effort on the part of textbook manufacturers or school district authorities to teach history in a coherent manner. In trying to please everyone by including minor or even irrelevant historical events and characters, they have muddied the American narrative and downplayed the significance and accomplishments of other, more worthy historical players.

But I disagree with Lori about the teaching of military history and why this may be a proximate cause for people’s lack of understanding of what’s going on in Iraq. There is no comparison, as Lori points out, between what is happening in Iraq and what occurred in previous American wars.

During World War II, American kids would wake up every morning to a newspaper that invariably had one or more maps on the front page. The kids (and parents who also poured over the maps looking for evidence of where their loved ones were in harms way) would hang on to those maps, listening to the radio and trying to follow the march of our armies through towns and cities with place names that were foreign and unfamiliar. They would use those maps in geography class in school. Mothers and wives would carefully cut the map out of the paper and carry it around so that she could show her friends where her son or husband was in combat. When talking over the back fence, neighbors would drop the names of towns and cities where our men were fighting knowing that the person they were talking to knew exactly what he was referencing.

The war was a truly national obsession where almost every waking moment, one was reminded of the conflict. Rationing, bond drives, scrap drives, tire drives, victory gardens, air raid drills, the USO - all were part of everyday life in America during World War II. And with so many young boys scattered to the four corners of the earth, everyone seemed to have a brother or a husband or a son far, far away. And this on a world that was much, much larger than the one we inhabit today. No jet aircraft and it was 5 days from New York to Liverpool by ocean liner.

As far as military news, the strategic goals of our armies were no secret and widely known; unconditional surrender of the Japanese and Germans. With the American people united and committed to both the goals of the war and to making the material sacrifices necessary to achieve victory, the outcome was truly never in doubt.

Americans back then knew the Generals, knew the battles, knew what taking Caan meant to the invasion, knew that Operation Market Garden could shorten the war - they knew all these things because they had a living, breathing, stake in ultimate success or failure of our troops.

And that’s the huge difference between then and now. Where George Bush has failed miserably as President is in not offering to make the American people full partners in this conflict, sharing the sacrifices and giving all of us a stake in the outcome. It doesn’t matter very much that most Americans know little of military history or how to read a map. What matters is that the burden of sacrifice has fallen on so few of us. Part of this is a consequence of having an all volunteer, highly professional army. But while most Americans “support” the troops, they have no personal stake in the success or failure of our war policy.

I’m not sure how he could have or should have done this. I know that after 9/11 he could have tried. Congress, the press, the people were all with him. If this is truly a war for our survival - and I am absolutely convinced that it is - then our Commander in Chief has done a piss poor job of making the war our number one national priority. He has, in fact, tried to do the exact opposite. He pushed his domestic agenda, hoping that the war would drift off the front pages, forgotten by all but the families of our military who bear the bitterest fruit from this strategy. It is they who wait anxiously for their loved ones to come home.

You can bet they know where Falluja or Ramadi, or Tikrit is even if the rest of us don’t.

I appreciate what Lori is saying. And she has a point of sorts that a good grounding in history would perhaps give a little context to the war and help the American people understand what we’re trying to accomplish in Iraq . But I think it’s time we face the fact that this is a war that suffers from a lack of shared sacrifice and that is why people seem so disconnected from the consequences of failure.

By: Rick Moran at 12:50 pm
14 Responses to “WHY JOHNNY CAN’T FIND RAMADI ON A MAP”
  1. 1
    Wizbang Trackbacked With:
    1:26 pm 

    The Importance Of Good History Education

    My most recent Townhall column, No Excuses, was correctly and succinctly summarized by Mary Katharine Ham by stating, “Yell it from the rooftops– we were right to remove Saddam from power and Democrats were either afraid to act or afraid…

  2. 2
    Wickedpinto Said:
    1:36 pm 

    Your most significant point about the American public not being full partners isn’t the fault of this administration. It’s the fault of the American people who revolted against the government to remove the draft. A large enough portion of the public seperated themselves from the participation of these situations.

    People with military legacy’s (even if they themselves don’t or didn’t serve) are fully attentive. People closely associated with foreign oppression are fully attentive. It is those who feel safe, and safe no matter what who overlook the facts of the matter and live in their deliberate ignorance due to their own disassociation from the rest of their nation and world, who can’t articulate their point.

  3. 3
    Rick Moran Said:
    1:41 pm 

    Pinto:

    You make an excellent point. I guess I was too chicken to come out and say that if Bush really wanted to, he could have asked for a restoration of the draft following 9/11.

    No student deferrments. No special treatment. And some kind of national service for those who weren’t drafted into the military. (Think Katrina clean up).

    There is much to be said for conservative ideology that orders the universe beginning with individual freedom. But there must also be some recognition that we are in this together. That has been a failure of conservative presidents since Reagan who really did make individuals feel part of a whole.

  4. 4
    Doug Said:
    2:03 pm 

    I have to agree with Lorie. We have totally lost our ability to understand the sacrifices that were made to get us where we are.

    We have just passed the 2500 combat death mark in Iraq, while no one wants to see or hear of a soldiers death there were times in the Civil War when reaching that total only took an hour or so and in WWI and WWII maybe a couple of days.

    If you want your children to really understand what this country was built on…take them to Gettysburg, spend a couple of days and make sure they read every marker. One more thing that works is have them watch the movies Ted Turner made “Gettysburg” (and yes I know he is an ultra-liberal but it is still a great movies filmed totally on location) My son and I watched it both before and after the visit.

    We are in a war like never before. In Vietnam all the NVA wanted was Siagon, Hitler really wanted some sort of truce with the US after he had England. This war is different they want to own us and totally control us.

    My son is a Navy fighter pilot and I worry about him everyday. I wish he didn’t have to be there but someones son has to do it and I am proud that my son has committed to this mission.

    We have reached a point where we have a large percentage of people that think we can stop defending ourselves, stop funding the military (maybe even disband it) and still remain free.

    All of us when we were in grade school faced a bully at one time or another. You either face up to him or you give him your lunch money everyday.

    Teaching history is one of the most important thigs we can do for our childern….they need to understand that “Freedom in not free”

    Doug

  5. 5
    Andy Said:
    2:51 pm 

    Just to comment about the draft: BAD IDEA.

    No one in the military wants draftees. No soldier wants some draftee watching his six in combat. How would we pay for the millions of draftee’s when we are already cutting personnel to pay for recapitalization. Besides, conscript armies are very very bad at fighting insurgencies.

    As for the larger issue, I don’t know how to solve it. 9/11 seems a distant memory to most in America and I feel a large part of the populace has gone back to their self-centered views and lives.

  6. 6
    Chris Said:
    3:47 pm 

    Very interesting point about Bush focusing attention away from Iraq.

  7. 7
    Chuck Said:
    3:58 pm 

    Pinto
    You are exactly correct. As someone of an age that the abolishment of the draft was of acute interest,the public discourse at the time ran to the “Let’s have an all volunteer force”. The net result over the years has been that the military requirement has been filled with citizens such as my daughter( a much higher caliber component than her father I assure you), to the detriment of a more socially diverse population.
    The basis for this end result lies solidly with Democratic party. For the Democrats to deny what has been such a demonstrable success only indicates how completely they have retreated from the public mainstrean.

  8. 8
    steve sturm Said:
    4:03 pm 

    There wasn’t a lot of popular support for going into Iraq… and there would have been even less support if we were forced be “full partners” in George’s-not-so-excellent-adventure.

    And Bush, giving credit where it is due, was smart enough to realize this. That’s why he never forced the ‘guns or butter’ issue to the forefront of debate. That’s why, to the chagrin on many anti-war types, Bush never demanded we ’sacrifice’ anything… no revoking the tax cuts, no cutting domestic spending to pay for the war, no draft.

    The (sad?) fact is that the public didn’t and doesn’t buy into the premise that Iraq (with Hussein in charge) was either in cahoots with the terrorists or that much of a threat to us. They were willing to let Bush go off and play cowboy just so long as it was volunteers who got themselves killed and so long as it didn’t cause the folks at home a whole lot of problems.

  9. 9
    Jim Said:
    4:03 pm 

    I think you and Lyn are both right.

    The American education “system” (ha!) is dysfunctional and students do not learn geography or economics or any real history. Today’s media, with incredible technology that would have been pure science fiction sixty years ago, falls far short in comparison with WWII vintage newspapers. Both Congress and the Bush administration have fallen into the LBJ trap of “guns and butter” and, except when debating the war, try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

    However, I must disagree with you regarding the draft. As a previous commenter noted, the military (for very good reasons) does not want a draft. In addition to those very good and sufficient reasons, just imagine the field day that Michael Moore and the rabid left and the Cowardly News Network could have with that.

  10. 10
    David Said:
    4:07 pm 

    I am sure that the reason the Twitsy Chicks aren’t patriotic is they have no clue to America’s History.

  11. 11
    Wickedpinto Said:
    4:32 pm 

    Including history, and education. Every male on my fathers side of the family has served, including myself and my brother. My brother and I both knew more about recent military history than most everyone in our environment, not cuz we were smart, or cuz our schools taught us, but more along the lines of “Just what did dad, and grandad do?” Thats important, because in the first year of US history at my highschool (only 1 year required) the curriculuum (spelling?) cuts off just prior to WWII. We didn’t even touch on WWII, or Vietnam, but we got a full 3 weeks of pre-colonial history covering the olmecs,aztecs and inca’s.

    My families legacy of service convinced my brother and I to read a bit about it and realize “Man! I got it cushy, I should do something!” so we enlisted. We CHOSE to participate in the discussion, and in the result, for the very reason that we were compelled to learn about the history of our family, and a portion of neglected history that isn’t covered in basic public education. Too many ignore the legacy, the heritage, the discussion, the sollution and the history, and instead seek out an ineffectual argument of selfish political interest.

  12. 12
    wuzzagrunt Said:
    11:24 pm 

    Talk about substandard history education…reading my son’s American history text, one could assume the Revolutionary War was fought and won, almost exclusively, by women and minorities. It would be wrong (and incorrect)to diminish the contributions of women, black slaves and freemen, and some native indians, but I always thought that there were some white guys who did stuff, too.

  13. 13
    Claudia Said:
    11:52 pm 

    You yearn for a unity of purpose, but I suspect you are romanticizing the situation of previous wars, even WWII.

    I am sure that GWB would have loved concentrating on the GWOT to the exclusion of all other issues. But who will allow that? I believe that he has preserved the war effort - denying the false either/or choice postulated by his opponents - by keeping things stirred up on the domestic front. And who was going to let him off on those pesky issues like campaigning, replacing supreme court justices, tax reform, and illegal immigration, to name a few? We just have to get on with it all.

  14. 14
    ProCynic Said:
    8:50 am 

    Agree with you on the inadequacy of history teaching, but disagree on the “shared sacrifice” issue and W not asking us to make it. Or, more precisely, the reason he did not ask us to make it.

    I don’t have time to get into it all right now, but my logic is basically this. Al Qaida’s September 11 attack was an attack on our economy and way of life. It was intended to scare people, which would have the effect of dampening economic activity, thereby causing job cuts and lowering our standard of living.

    Would not asking us to “share the sacrifice” by rationing and the like amount to the same thing?

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