Homogenizing history dangerously dilutes lessons of the past

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Each year, our nation sets aside days in remembrance of events we deem important to remember as Americans.

As a society.

As people.

We do this to ensure we will always remember the individuals, moments and historic events that helped shape our nation and the world around us — whether it be to celebrate when we got things right or to learn from the lessons of getting it wrong. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, July Fourth — taking time to remember these days and other days like them assures that we never forget who we are and, more importantly, how we got here.

To deliver a speech on Memorial Day without mentioning the ultimate sacrifice paid by our veterans would be the first step in diluting the memory of the terrible cost of war and those who paid the price. 

The same could be said for speaking at the Pearl Harbor Memorial without mentioning those who remain entombed within the submerged hull of the USS Arizona. Imagine the outcry that would ensue in the wake of such an oversight, whether accidental or purposeful.

If a pop star forgets the words to the Star Spangled Banner, the reaction is generally swift and unforgiving.

So I’m left scratching my head over the mixed reaction to the National Holocaust Remembrance Day speech delivered by President Trump, who failed to mention the 6 million Jews who were exterminated as part of the Nazi Party’s “Final Solution.”

I say “failed to mention” rather than “omitted” because I want to believe it was a rookie mistake. Over the course of the last 16 years, Presidents Bush and Obama have mentioned the genocide each year in their National Holocaust Remembrance Day speeches. I realize that they were essentially career politicians savvy with public speaking on the world stage.

President Trump is not a career politician, which is one of the reasons he appealed to so many — and why I have been going against my gut instinct and giving him the benefit of the doubt.

After watching part of the speech on television, I decided to find the speech and read it myself, expecting to find a reference to Jews or anti-Semitism that he had mistakenly overlooked.

I found no such reference.

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Over the course of the next several hours, I listened to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Strategic Communications Director Hope Hicks defend the decision to not specifically mention the Jews in order to be “more inclusive” of the estimated 5 million others who were also murdered — specifically, “Gypsies, the mentally ill, Jehovah’s Witnesses, resistance fighters” and others.

While I agree that remembering the more than 11 million people who fell victim to the Nazi regime throughout Europe, not mentioning the 6 million who were specifically targeted for extermination is to miss the point of why we remember this day.

As writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”

 

To omit the fact that the majority of those targeted for extermination belonged to a single group is to dilute the horrific history lesson we must never forget — that one man somehow wielded the power to decide the fate of an entire people in his bid for world domination.

If we allow history to be homogenized, we lose the reference points that guide future generations toward decisions that will either be used to either eliminate or emulate our mistakes from the past.

Whether “rookie mistake” or purposeful omission by speech writer and newly appointed White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, whose anti-Semitic stance has been well documented on his Breitbart News platform, we have an obligation to give our representatives at all levels a “gut check” when there’s reason to question their actions or inaction.

I don’t disagree with everything President Trump has done, anymore than I agreed with everything done by President Obama. We are at an important crossroads as a nation, and I am hopeful that this beginning turbulence will stir up the things that will help us remember the things that identify us as Americans.

A big reason for that hope is because, as Americans, we have always realized the importance of unflinchingly acknowledging our past…

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Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist for News Media Corporation and and the editor at Siuslaw New. Write to him at nedhickson@icloud.com.

 

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47 thoughts on “Homogenizing history dangerously dilutes lessons of the past

  1. Bravo, Ned. I agree with all of this. I have historically been a moderate and haven’t found my place at a party in years. Except for voting, I hadn’t engaged in political activity since I ran for president of my elementary school in 1982, but the events of late have me taking to the streets, calling my elected officials, and finding every way I can to speak up when I see something that’s wrong. I hope others are doing the same.

    • Thanks, Karen. My hope is that, in an unintentional way, this presidency has forced us to re-engage with our own democracy on every level. “Resoluteness is the cost of Liberty,” and we’ve kind of been asleep at the wheel for a while.

      • I agree with you 100%. My own complacency has contributed, so doing what I can to be part of the solution going forward. Pieces like this help ensure we don’t allow principles our nation doesn’t stand for to be normalized, so keep em coming!

  2. Following the shooting in Quebec City, one of our particularly vile candidates for the Conservative leadership in Canada, Kellie Leitch, posted a statement that referred to “people” being shot (rather than Muslims) in a “house of worship” instead of “mosque.” Word choice is never accidental at this level.

    “I have been going against my gut instinct and giving him the benefit of the doubt” — I see this is written in the present perfect tense and not the past. You are a patient man.

    • When I heard about the shootings, I thought of you — as a friend and Quebecian — wishing that kind of hatred hadn’t reached you. And you’re right, at this level your choice of words is either deliberate or irresponsible.

      And as for my patience, it’s really more a matter of trying not to flip out.

  3. It could be a rookie mistake if it was the first time. But since he has been retweeting anti-semitic memes and airing ads with anti-semitic themes during the campaign, my benefit of doubt has evaporated a long time ago.
    And with his tendency to paint outsiders and small groups – Muslims, Mexicans, Syrians, elites, media, protesters – as the enemy of the people, it’s probably only a matter of time until he does start mentioning Jews specifically as well, and it would not be to mourn those who died in the Holocaust.
    And yes, I know his son-in-law is Jewish, but then his wife is an immigrant and we already know how he feels about immigrants.

    • As the editor of our newspaper and a columnist, I’m trying very hard to keep the dialogue open by remaining as neutral as I can. But it’s getting harder and harder. His blatant omission of mentioning the Jews in the Holocaust speech was one of those occasions where it needed to be called out, although I tried my best to leave it open ended to keep the dialogue going. It’s already blowing up on my FB page.

  4. Huge like for what you wrote here, Ned. Yuge, YUGE like actually. I wasn’t sure how you felt about Trump’s words (kinda sorta sure, but not fully), but am glad to see you call him out. We have a local columnist here who writes a “Curmudgeon’s Corner,” and at least twice now he has grumped, that anyone who complains about Trump is a Hillary-loving whiner who needs to get over it. No, no, a thousand times no. Some of us are genuine Hillary-lovers, but most of us MAINLY are just beyond disgusted with Trump, and want nearly anyone but him leading our country. Love trumps hate. Love trumps Trump.

    • Hahaha! Thanks, big-league! I’m actually glad to hear you weren’t sure of my stance on Trump. As our newspaper’s new editor, I’ve been trying really hard to remain objective and stick to the facts without the narrative — even in my editorials. For obvious reasons, it’s getting harder and harder to do. However, I feel it’s important to keep the lines of dialogue between people on both sides open, so I really try to avoid banging the drum too hard. When you do that, the only people who listen are those who already beat the same drum.

  5. Very well said, Ned, and I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps the speech writer isn’t a very good writer (perhaps you send him a copy of your Pearls of Wisdom), but even I – a minion among millions – would not have failed to mention the Jews, (in addition to the many others we often forget about when thinking of the Holocaust). It’s going to be a breathtakingly busy four years of news and opinion pieces, I’m afraid.

  6. Of all the brave souls who tackle politics in their writing, you are the one I most admire. Me? I don’t have the guts, savvy, or sophistication to tackle it. For that reason, I rely on people I trust to help me see all sides in a pragmatic and rational manner. Thank you for doing so in this post – you have a gift.

    As for the Holocaust, I can’t read or research anything that doesn’t make my heart and soul hurt in a real and visceral way. I often wonder, what would I have done if I were a native German back then? What if I were married to a Nazi general or one of their scientists? Thank goodness those are only hypothetical questions…but some that crossed my mind the entire time I watched “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” I’d hope that I’d have done the right thing. But what would have the right thing been? Protest? Hide? Leave?
    Imagine the powerlessness of the good people living in that era – knowing that it was inhumane and wrong.

    All that rambling to say, that we as Americans need to continue to be observant, mindful, and aware – and doing research as you’ve done is not only a good idea, but possibly a responsibility.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful post, Ned.

    • Thanks, Michelle, and your’re right; it’s hard to know what we would do in those situations. That’s why it’s so important that we not whitewash our history, so that we can explore those questions with each generation in order to recognize and understand how these things come about — as a nation and as individuals.

      Thanks for your thoughtfulness and heart, Michelle, and for continuing to be mindful and aware. If anything good is to come of all this, it has been the re-engagement of our nation in its own democracy and how it is supposed to work. I find that part to be very hopeful 😉

  7. I have lost all confidence in Trump, his cabinet choices scream his ideals and they are shocking. Bannon, a known white supremacist, is unfit to be advising the president and he has his hand print most of the outrageous EO’s made within the first two weeks of Trumps presidency. We must remain ever vigilant and never stop protesting the direction this administration is heading. If he is not stopped we may all find out what fascism really is.

  8. Amazing, I read this and this morning I was taking a tour group around a Holocaust museum. We do make sure to say that 6 million Jews were murdered, but the 11 million comes from the rest, like the homosexuals, gypsies/roma, jehovah’s witnesses, disabled, etc. We make that distinction because if we only say “6 million”, inevitably someone says “what about the 11 million…”

    However, it’s appropriate and necessary to mention the Jews on National Holocaust Remembrance Day (and any time) because the Holocaust was the systematic, implemented destruction of the Jewish peoples of Europe. They were singled out, like Elie Wiesel said. The Holocaust is the reference to their genocide, the rest were opposition to the Nazis, but not singled out for systematic murder.

    Sheesh, is it purposeful ignorance on Dump’s part? I’m annoyed at the downplaying that happens–hell, wasn’t it a couple of months ago that some Russian apologists were trying to put out the story that STALIN “wasn’t that bad?” We forget our history, dammit, and we will repeat it.

    • You nailed it. History forgotten is a history bound to repeat itself. That has been rolling through my mind since Friday. The whole reason the United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day was because of the move by anti-Semitists in Europe to “whitewash” the Holocaust by leaving out the “Final Solution” aspect of it. It’s important to remember how one man began a Reich of hatred that grew so large that it could murder a targeted group of 6 million people, as well as another 5 million who opposed the genocide. When we forget that, or allow it to be filtered out, we run the risk of future generation not recognizing it until it’s too late.

      Thanks so much for your comment and levity!

  9. I’m sorry Ned. If I start, I won’t stop. It’s repulsive is all I’m saying. No rookie excuses. You have an anti semite and a narcissist together. Bigly and his band have an answer for everything to counteract their last stupid order, ever changing the subject, just as newly hired show no credentials, taxes or the like. They thought it was a good secret to BAN MUSLIMS, yes, a ban, so they wouldn’t give the bad guys a chance to hurry up and come over, really? All they did was fuel the fire. He thinks he can sit in his Apprentice chair and control all the marionette strings to just say yes. ’nuff said. 1984. Sorry, no ‘LOL’s’ today.

  10. While this column was nicely-written and well-argued, I do not buy the “rookie mistake” approach. By extension, one could argue that the 3rd Reich was Hitler’s rookie effort, and we need to make allowances. But we don’t. This tinpot Mussolini leading our country and his creepy racist hangers-on and fellow travelers need to be called out and categorically rejected for every insult, deception, and fascistic move they make. Some things are just black and white.

    • Agreed, Robert. However, as a journalist and editor, I was trying hard to remain objective in this Opinion piece while still making a point. That being said, as a human being and American, I couldn’t agree with you more.

      • I liked this column, and appreciate that you’re practicing exactly the kind of independent journalism and editorial opinion we need, and maintaining thoughtful and dispassionate discussion (even if so many folks right now have lost sight of those goals, or actively despise them). So I admire you for remaining objective, a lot of us are having real trouble with that right now. Maybe you’ll create an online Anger Management course for us! 🙂

  11. And if Trump didn’t want to leave anyone out then why not mention everyone. He could have said “Jews, gypseys, the mentally and physically infirm, resistance fighters etc”. To b more inclusive, he should have been more specific, not less, but we all know that wasn’t the point. When people have an even objective, they never come out and admit it, they do just what he did and offer a lame excuse.

    • Excellent! Thank you, my friend.
      Although I don’t think I’ll be surprised much by what it says. I paid attention in our history class during the section about WWII and the Nazis…

  12. Ned, I am sorry, but it has become blatantly obvious that Trump always sides with the victors, right or wrong. Actually, no, he only sides with the wrong victors. He may not mention the Jews in the Holocaust, but he supports Israel’s taking everything from the Palestinians. He is a bully who has made bullying the newest popular sport in this country.
    And the victims of bullying are being blamed. I’m not talking “pie in the sky,” I’m saying what is happening in schools across this country.
    I wish we could afford to sit on the sidelines & wait, but WE CAN’T. Trump will be the downfall of this country if things continue the way they are going!
    Peace,
    Sherrie
    Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador: http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
    Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc 😉 ❤ 😉

  13. Trump used his first Prayer Meeting to slag off Arnie’s performance on ‘The Apprentice’ asking people there to ‘pray’ for Arnie and his ratings. Unfortunately I’m beginning to think that this is the measure of the man himself.SMH

    • I agree, Kate. The fact that he used the occasion bringing people from 150 nations together as an opportunity to pray for his ratings — jokingly or otherwise — says it all.

  14. I was raised by a woman who was forced to be a nurse at a Nazi hospital and man who fought in the Polish resistance, but they rarely spoke of the war and especially the Holocaust.
    But they’d never failed to answer any questions I had.

    We can never forget this act of almost-unspeakable evil.

    I’m certain President Trump has learned his lesson,but we’ll see.

  15. I’m with Michelle on this one. Your piece was excellent and brought out the thoughts of right and wrong while still remaining as neutral as possible. And as a journalist, I am certain this is difficult for you to do. I know it would be for me. I understand what they were trying to convey by “including everyone” but I do not agree with the way it was handled. People try to sweep the Holocaust under the rug and not think about what happened. while others deny it altogether. I do not understand those who do that with all of the evidence. I cannot read or watch a documentary or do any research into that horrible time in history without a visceral reaction. It hurts my heart and my soul but so does all of the cruelty going on in the world today… Thanks for being diligent in bringing the right side of the news to our attention. I have no stomach for the far-sided, right and left, media that only give you the facts they want you to know…… :-/

    • Thanks so much, Courtney. I gave a talk on “Fake News” and “Alternate Facts” at our local theater, and the theater owner said it was the first time it had filled since “Stare Wars: The Force Awakens” screened there. It’s obvious that the concern over homogenized and manipulated truths is a subject and concern on the minds of many people.

      • Well that’s cool…. I would have loved to hear your take on “fake news”. I’m sure it was enlightening. I have gotten so jaded that I only believe about half (if that) of what I read anymore. I do not believe ANY polls. I do not care WHO did them. Polls are just statistics and you know what they say about numbers…you can put them on a table and make them say anything you want! (There is more to that quote but I won’t indulge) You get the idea I am sure! 😀

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