“History is History. It’s the Future we should worry about.” That was a comment one of my students in English class mentioned last year as we talked about the events involving World War II. In a way if the younger generations were not living or haven’t experienced the past of their forefathers, it would be easy to say it’s time to move on and worry about the present.
However, History is History and our history can reshape the future we should worry about- more than ever before. Germany has had its share of history, which makes it one of the most unique countries to use as reference. It survived two World Wars, 45 years of division with the Wall (or should I say Walls) and with that two different political systems. It went through three revolutions (1848, 1953 and 1989), the third of which resulted in German Reunification and all this time, it went through series of transformation in terms of architecture and infrastructure. It was the forerunner of the Autobahn, it developed the first city underwater canal system, it developed and expanded shipping canals to connect all bodies of water. It even built the finest historic bridges- many of which are still intact despite withstanding war and wear. It produced the finest writers, like Schiller and Goethe and the best musicians we still listen to, like Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Mendelsohn. All of these accomplishments but also trials and tribulations were remembered- through the preservation of historic places and the creation of monuments, statues and memorials. Even the Stolperstein- small bricks with memorials of those who perished in the Holocaust, can be seen on German streets today.
Can you imagine pieces of history, like the concentration camps, remnants of the Berlin Wall and the border that used to divide Germany into West and East, statues of controversial figures and the like disappearing from memory? Many Germans have attempted to try that but the wounds are too deep and the scars still fresh, even though World War II ended 75 years ago and Germany was reunited as a whole 30 years ago. We will never be able to erase history, no matter how we try and do that.
Yet it is happening in the United States right now. Statues of prominent figures who were controversial have fallen, brand names with black people as slogans are being retired, memorials dedicated to the war that had divided the nation are being destroyed. All to protect the black population because they are being considered second class. The paranoia that has come out of the death of George Floyd, who was wrongfully killed by four Minneapolis Police Officers on 25 May, 2020, has brought the issue of racism right up to the forefront. At the same time, the paranoia is destroying the very history that we were taught in schools- how the United States grew up with free states and slave states, that blacks were kidnapped in Africa and shipped to the southern states for use on farms, how they were mistreated. We had a Civil War that put an end to slavery and to a short-lived Confederacy. Still despite being free, the blacks were still being persecuted through segregation and racial profiling. Even the Civil Rights Movement by Martin Luther King didn’t solve the problems of the racial divide. Systemic and systematic racism has been a wound that is bleeding in the United States for centuries. Even when we finally come together to talk about this topic, even in the most uncomfortable way, the scars will never disappear even when the wounds are healed.
It’s July 4th, 2020 and it’s time to think about
The American Question: Who Are We? What have We Done For This Country and The Entire World? How Can We Learn As Americans For The Future?
Based on the German Question that was raised after the end of World War II, we should be raising this question and looking back at our history, not just looking at what we accomplished but looking back at, coping with and lastly, understanding the dark sides. We have had as many dark moments as there are controversial books written about them. The Tulsa Massacre of 1921 is one of those dark events that we never talk about in classroom but is considered a defining moment in the history of racism in the United States. We have controversial figures that also became greats in their times. Some owned slaves but still shaped our country to what it is. Others rounded up Native Americans and put them on reservations and tried assimilating them. We all are guilty of our transgressions but to run away from them and not talk about them is the same as murdering people and then fleeing the country. It’s time we start talking about the most painful parts of the past and come to terms with it. It’s time we teach our generations the real history of our countries and get them to understand why they happened and how we reacted. It’s time to open up to other cultures, whom we’ve persecuted and discriminated for so long and find out who they are and why they suffered all along.
We need to discover all aspects of history and not just the few we preach about in class. History should be a requirement during all of the time in school and history teachers should be well-trained to talk about the hardest of topics, critically, objectively and simplistically, so that we all understand and can think about them. Statues and memorials should be back in their places but talked about in detail- not destroyed or desecrated. We need the Stolpersteins on America’s streets- sidewalk memorials for those whose lives were wrongfully taken- this applies to not only victims of repression and discrimination, but also social tragedies including the school shootings. Books banned from the libraries should be read again so that we all need to understand the history of our country as a whole. And lastly, extremist media- especially those from the far right, should be taken off the air once and for all. In the past four years, there have been too many prominent racists who have stoked hate and division for our country and have degraded all of America’s minorities as well as the country’s neighbors. It’s time to send the likes of Rush Limbaugh and members of One American News Network, Fox News and all of the Trump family packing. In this country, there’s no place for hatred, racism and all kinds of division that has brought the country to the brink of another civil war. Instead of just judging people based on the color of the skin, their socio-economic background and the like, we should be sitting down and talking about the history our country and our identity.
The American Question- Who We Really Are?
And hence, returning to that quote the student said: “History is History. It’s the Future We’re Talking About.” It’s one that can be interpreted as letting go of the past and looking ahead. Yet with all the problems facing us, we need history more than ever so that we can learn from our past mistakes and use them to shape our future. So in this case, history is history. It’s the history we need to embrace now more than ever before so we can tackle the issues that are important for future generations. It’s one that goes beyond the upcoming elections on November 3rd that will bring change to the country- hopefully for the better. It’s one that will shape our country for years to come.
Enjoy the 4th to my fellow Americans at home and abroad.