Flickr Photo by chrismetcalf
All Americans are familiar with the surface history of America, the history that is published in textbooks, which conservatives have gone to war against with the hope of including less and less history and more and more American fables and mythology. Most are aware of how this nation declared its independence from the British. Or, so I thought.
This Fourth of July there's a poll circulating that indicates a number of people were not sure of whom America gained their independence from. The poll found twenty-six percent was unsure or said suggested America gained its independence from a country that was not England or Great Britain.
Thirty-five percent of non-whites were unsure while thirteen percent were unsure. Most alarming is the result indicating my generation between 18 to 29 was thirty-three percent unsure. And, add in the "other countries mentioned" besides Britain (7%), and you have forty percent of people between 18 and 29 not knowing the history of America's Independence Day.
I don't want to make too much of this poll. I only aim to share my belief that less and less young people are concerned with history. And, how much of Fourth of July really is about America's Independence anymore anyway?
Chances are the average American goes through this anniversary of our Independence Day never really thinking about how this nation had a group of people exercise self-determination and throw off the tyrannical government of King George III. The Fourth of July has devolved into barbecues, fireworks, and a chance for American consumers to get bargains on cars, mattresses, and electronics, etc.
Definitely a good portion of the history of American independence is history embellished with good storytelling--fables teaching Americans values that citizens should uphold and dreams citizens should chase after. Is it really so bad that young people don't know the history they have been taught in school? Not knowing some of that might provide an opening for discussion of the reality, much of which was outlined by the late great Howard Zinn.
To mark Independence Day, The Progressive is circulating a column from Zinn, "Put Away the
Flags." Here's an excerpt from a brief essay that all Americans should read:
"On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.
Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?
These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.
National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.
Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy""- Advertisement -
One wonders what the results would have been if those conducting the poll had asked about U.S. military history, the history of American wars and famous battles. Would that poll have found more Americans (and, in fact, young Americans) aware of those battles and that history? Would they demonstrate that, while they are unaware exactly of history, they believe that America is number one and has been able to beat back "enemies" to remain free for more than two and a half centuries?
With every release of new video games like Call of Duty, which use American history to provide a storyline for a teenager or young adult's venture into the world of virtual military warfare, young Americans are treated to one more opportunity to participate in a version of American history malleable to widespread American perceptions of this country. Those perceptions are of an America that is fierce and powerful, an enforcer and liberator, a country capable of defending liberty and democracy (as Zinn suggests in the aforementioned column).