The phrase “Lest We Forget” came to mind recently. In America, and I dare say, much of the world, this phrase has come to be directly associated with the horrors of World War II, and especially to the Holocaust. Perhaps it is all the anniversaries, the dwindling number of witnesses and participants, and the commemorations that annually occur about this time.
But for some reason, it occurred to me that this phrase could have another meaning. Perhaps it had something to do with my own recent experiences with physical therapy. My orthopedist and my trainer both kept pounding in to me that “it is important to get your strength back”, to which my immediate response was, “How can you get something back that you never had in the first place!” (Although the dreaded physical therapy sessions are now in my rear-view mirror, I stand by my plaint.)
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Lest We Forget.
It has occurred to me that in today’s world there could be a great deal more to this familiar phrase than it’s traditional definition. The news, the endless opinion polls, the political rhetoric we currently contend with on a daily basis – all point to an appalling lack of knowledge among the citizenry – and even pols who should know better – about American history. What happened before. How did we get here? It seems to me that it’s virtually impossible to comprehend – let alone respcet – an event from the past if you never learned about it in the first place!
As a historian, of course, I am deeply invested in the concept that the past informs the present. [Those who refuse to learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat it.]
Despite all of the above, there is a strengthening campaign to eliminate history from school curricula altogether, plus a de-emphasis on the humanities, music and arts in general. Even at the college level this trend is picking up steam. Proponents of this movement cite statistics comparing the difference in the future earning power between Hedge Fund Managers and, say, Art Historians. This should come as no surprise, since the current massive difference in teacher salaries as compared to (pick any profession) is absolutely criminal.
At this point it is oh, so, tempting to indulge in a rant about our democratic (with a small “d”) values and those who fought and died for them, but in our divisive society, I’m just going to let my message speak for itself.
There’s a famous quote by Winston Churchill that, when asked to cut arts funding in favor of the war effort, he replied: “Then what are we fighting for?”
[Alas, he never said it, but as Black Hills Historian Watson Parker used to say, “If it ain’t true, it ought to be!”]