The Importance Of Good History Education

My most recent Townhall column, No Excuses, was correctly and succinctly summarized by Mary Katharine Ham by stating, “Yell it from the rooftops– we were right to remove Saddam from power and Democrats were either afraid to act or afraid to stand behind their votes once cast.”

In the column I explore some of the reasons the current war in Iraq has been, even at times when things have been going well, more difficult than some in the past to explain to the public. One reason is due to the lack of good history education. I referenced a post from Betsy Newmark, a history teacher, in which she explained how much of current history curriculum involves social, rather than military, history. I also referenced a couple of pieces Betsy linked on the subject.

Jay Mathews wrote of the teaching of WWII history in the public schools, that there are lessons on women stepping into men’s roles and lessons on the Japanese internment, but few on generals or specific battles. As Joanne Jacobs put it, “Rosie the Riveter has trumped Patton.”

When Betsy saw that I had referenced one of her two-year-old posts, she was surprised I had remembered it, much less been able to locate it. I didn’t need to remember it, though, because I never forgot it in the first place. The idea that many today have not been taught military history, including the importance of individual battles to the war effort as a whole, is something that stuck with me and that I was reminded of anytime I saw reports of Iraq casualties in the news. Instead of reporting the loss of American military lives in Iraq in the context of the missions they were involved in and what was accomplished in those missions, the numbers were always reported in a vacuum, or worse yet, as a lead into a story about how the rising number of casualties is resulting in decreased support for the war effort. No wonder, huh?

In past wars, pre-Vietnam, anyway, those in the general public and in the media recognized that even when many American lives were lost in battle, what was often accomplished in those battles could be described as huge successes. Can anyone imagine a battle in Iraq which resulted in the number of American lives lost in Iwo Jima or other famous battles, being described as successes today? Instead they would likely be reported as colossal failures. Part of the reason is that instead of the battles in Iraq resulting in the taking of ground, which can be pointed to on a map and easily shown, the successes of the battles in Iraq are less visible to the public.

For example, consider a raid of a terrorist cell (insurgent safe house, if you prefer) in Iraq, in which seven U.S. Marines lose their lives. The loss of those lives is incredibly sad. (My husband was in the Marine Corps for six years and I can only imagine how devastating losing him would be to me and our family.) That does not mean that their mission was a failure, though. One thing the media rarely reports is how many terrorists were killed in the same actions in which they report the loss of American lives. We may have lost seven to take out fifteen terrorists which could have killed hundreds of innocent civilians. Another thing that the public doesn’t know, and often can’t know, is what is gained from the intelligence that might have been collected in those actions. As the President told us following 9/11 and has repeated more times than I can count, this is not a traditional war. We are often fighting not for soil, but for advantage gained through intelligence to prevent future terror attacks and to locate and take out terrorist cells. It will take a while to educate the publc about the true nature of the War on Terror, and the successes of the battles fought in that war, and even longer still if the schools and the media don’t contribute positively to that effort.

Update: Rick Moran makes some excellent points while disagreeing with me, at least in part.

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