Forgetting Our Past

2016 | Week of September 12 | #1168

“A nation that forgets its past has no future,” once said the esteemed British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. Others have noted that the one thing we fail to learn from history is to learn from history and those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

This past weekend across the nation we commemorated Patriot Day, our newest national commemorative day.  A bill recognizing September 11 of each year as Patriot Day was signed into law by President George W. Bush in December 2001, as a part of the aftermath of the Islamic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Another national commemorative day is being recognized this Friday, September 16. On this day we will recognize Constitution Day.  On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine of our Founding Fathers and the Secretary of the convention, signed the then—and yet today—unique US Constitution, giving us the framework for our Republic.

Both days commemorate significant happenings in our nation’s history—one long ago and one much more recent—both extremely important and relevant.  We dare not forget nor ignore either.

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been 15 years since the 9/11 attacks. Today’s high school sophomores were born that year.  I can’t help but wonder what they have heard about 9/11 during their schooling? Are they even hearing about this attack on Americans on American soil? Are they told that the horrific attack was perpetrated by people bent on destroying Americans and our way of life? Have they heard the phrase “Islamic militant terrorists” in relationship to this attack? Or have they been taught that America brought this attack on itself because of our capitalistic imperialism? Have they been sold the lie that we are just a world bully, forcing others to adopt our form of government whether they want to or not? Who do today’s young people believe are the heroes from 9/11?  Do they know that the primary heroes were the first responders, the New York City policemen and firemen and the EMTs? Or are they hearing that law enforcement in particular is evil and dangerous and discriminatory? Are students today, at all levels of education, forgetting our history because it’s either not taught at all or is falsely taught?  “A nation that forgets its past has no future” can easily also be “a nation that doesn’t know its past has no future.”

Constitution Day is really in many ways just as much about people as is Patriot Day. Our Constitution didn’t just magically appear. Those men who gathered in Philadelphia a decade after the War for Independence were real men. They were farmers, lawyers, military men, leaders in their respective states. Most of them were married with children. They came with opinions—many of them strongly held—about what should replace the ineffective Articles of Confederation.  Many of these men had fought in the War for Independence. A couple had even signed the Declaration of Independence. These were men who had for quite a number of years been involved with securing our freedom.

We owe these men a huge debt.  Most Americans don’t even know most of their names today, let alone anything significant about them.  We certainly don’t know much about their worldviews—and they definitely had them. Most Americans don’t know what the major debates were that resulted in the Constitution’s wording in key areas. We don’t know how it came to be that the Constitution reflects federalism or why that is important, or how it happens that we have 3 branches of government with a unique system of checks and balances among those 3 branches.

So is our future doomed, as Churchill said, because we have forgotten our past? I’ll optimistically say, “Not yet.” But I’m not sure how much longer we have before we cross the line into doom. With each passing year, we graduate students who don’t know our national history—not 9/11 or the framing and signing of the US Constitution or a host of other important historical happenings.  However, we can change what seems to be the course of history. And the best place to start doing that is with the family. As families take seriously their responsibility to pass on the heritage of this great nation to those coming after them, we can become a nation that remembers its past, learns from its past, and doesn’t repeat the negatives of its past. Our national future is up to us.

For Wisconsin Family Council, this is Julaine Appling reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed. for lack of knowledge.”

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