Privatizing History


Patrick Stephenson was a speechwriter for the NATO Secretary General from 2011 to early 2015.

Not long ago, I asked a 16-year-old cousin if she liked studying history in high school. "I don't do history," she replied with a shrug.

She's not atypical. Many of our young people are ignorant of basic historical facts - as in, they don't know who won the Civil War. And they don't seem to care too much about that.

But I wonder: so what, if our kids know little about the past? Does history really matter anymore? 

The answer isn't so obvious.

I just spent a week in Murcia, Spain, watching the beautiful processions of the Semana Santa. Here, history covers the city like the layers of a cake and Spaniards savor every layer, old and new. The same person who gives you a history lesson about Isabel and Ferdinand can also make a passionate argument why Django Unchained is a better film than 12 Years a Slave.

But a keen sense of history can also be a weapon, as Europeans know all too well. German grievances over the humiliations of Versailles gave the Nazi Party a loud drum to beat. 

Young Americans don't have that problem. It's hard to have historical grievances if you don't know any history. ...

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