Letters to the editor of the local paper continue to rage against a police officer’s tattoo that has an SS symbol embedded in it, something he got while serving in the Army as a Sniper Scout. It is an abominable symbol, and many letters have wondered where he was when the history surrounding it was taught. Therein lies a problem. It’s a history not taught in any depth, neither in high school, nor as a requirement in college. Twentieth century world history from an American perspective may touch on major events, the incidents that started and ended wars, on cultural touchstones such as prohibition, the Great Depression, and the early civil rights movements. What about the holocaust? Mentioned, to be sure, but not probed in depth. What most Americans of young to late middle age know about WWII has been learned from movies made for the drama of it, not the understanding of it.
Some adults, well after their formal education, may ask of how an entire nation could be seduced by the evils of Naziism, but they seldom answer it. Why? The sources of anti semitism that led to the holocaust are the same sources that led to a fascist police state of SS and Gestapo troops. It’s a story deeply rooted in European political history, it has undercurrents running through the Enlightenment, and it was most fully lived out in America’s slave economy. It helped educate Hitler, and contributed to the popularity of our own fascist movement, America First. That’s not something taught as a part in K-12 education. I’m not sure it could be. What about college? For the last decade or so, in depth study of European and American history has been devalued as the dated ramblings of old white men.
Traditional education has shortchanged Asian, African, black, indigenous, and women’s history. Making all a part of essential study is important, but diminishing the deeper study of European and American history avoids discovery of how we have come to this place.