The progress of humanity has been greatly enhanced by those who, after thoughtful analysis, expressed views that are contrary to popular thought. Persons like Voltaire, Galileo, Socrates, Nietzsche, and the father of both the American and French revolutions, the great Thomas Paine, whose "Rights of Man" and "Age of Reason" would make him the contrarian of all time in my book.

It is in the spirit of these polemicists that I create this blog. It is my intent to challenge popular suppositions. While it will become evident that I am generally a progressive liberal, hopefully I will have the courage to take opposing viewpoints to those of my own comrades when appropriate.

No comments will be deleted based solely on the political , social, economic or religious views you may have. In fact I encourage thoughtful discourse. I will however promptly remove any postings that contain overtly vulgar comments, racial slurs, hate speech of any kind, or multiple postings of "conspiracy theories". Though not required, please post links for references to the point you are trying to make, or at the least, give us an idea of where you found the information that supports your cause or claim.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fatherhood and the Defence of History

"Do you know that it is 93 million miles to the sun?" The question came out of nowhere, his stack of flapjacks awaiting syrup as he patiently awaited our reply. The chorus of blank stares he got in return only served as a prompt for him to inform us as to how long it would take to reach the raging ball of fire by automobile. He would just laugh when it became obvious to him we would rather he just eat his pancakes. "Oh, Fred" Mom would say as she glanced at the early morning clock.

My father loved Science. He loved Astronomy. But above all else he loved History. The breakfast table was his podium. Much to our chagrin and in spite of my mother's mild chastisements, he took every opportunity at this early hour to give us all a quick lesson before we headed off to school. His breakfast lectures were always short and most often began with a question. While he rarely talked much about the war itself, he often would give historical anecdotes about places he was stationed like England, Italy, and North Africa. As a 10 year old I was only mildly amused, and surmised that Dad's obsession with history and biography was a result of not having enough "fun" things to do.

Wether or not his eccentric historical musings were calculated efforts I'll never know. What I do know is that he wanted us to read and become informed. He was skeptical towards those who made statements without doing their homework. Either lack of money or lack of interest kept him away from most best sellers. It was much more likely to find him reading a dusty old biography gotten from the public library. "Let me see that!". The excitement in his voice and the broad smile caught me off guard. Mrs. Chandler at the library had recommended I read "Daniel Boone" and Dad was enormously pleased.

As I read each chapter he would casually ask me questions about it, as if he didn't know the answers, putting me in the role of the teacher. However, by the time I finished the book it became obvious that he had a professor's knowledge of our state's history, our early immigrants, and our role in our nation's history as a whole. While proud of our heritage, he wasn't at all hesitant to point out some of the more dubious aspects as well, particularly the plight of native Americans and the near extinction of the buffalo.
As I grew a little older I too became enamored with History. I began to see how the events of our time and our culture have been shaped by what went before. Though he looked ascance at my preoccupation with the likes of Karl Marx and Camus, Dad was, in the least, happy I was reading. Oddly, it was he who informed me that Hitler hated Karl Marx and socialism. He went on to point out that the Nazis were freely elected by a democratic government. Somehow this led to a discussion of the Russian Revolution whereupon he displayed an uncanny knowledge of all the parties involved. I remember asking him what he thought were the most important parts of history. His answer: "All of it."
Much as droplets of water descend from mountain streams arduously seeking companionship with the ocean, new histories unravel. Stories of people, places and events wait to be written, analyzed and contextualized. Those who are committed to it readily admit that History is an inexact endeavor but a  necessary one.

In the nearly 27 years since my father's death the world has witnessed many events. The fall of the Berlin Wall. The technological inventions of the cell phone and the internet. China has it's own stock market. We buy clothing from Viet Nam.
We have a black President. Advanced doppler weather radar! Dad would be excited and envigorated by all of these. But he would be troubled by much too..The growing disparity between the rich and poor in much of the world. The events of 9/11. The wars in the Middle East. The rancor and hate speech of his fellow citizens. The trampling on the Constitution. The oil spill in the Gulf. The uncompromising partisanship of politicians.
 But above all else he would be apalled at what is happening to History and how it is being used. In Dad's time professors of History were allowed to do their jobs. Many of them would spend an entire lifetime studying one nation. They were respected. Rarely would you hear one taking a political stance, the pursuit of objectivity being their only goal. In times of war or other crisis Presidents would seek their counsel. Unfortunately, today much of our historical awareness, if we have any at all, comes from talk radio and cable TV "hosts" who have no background whatsoever. Former deejays ramble on with references to history without having even a cursory knowledge of the people and events involved. The Constitution has been sliced into sound bites to be used as evidence in support of the basest of causes. Authors are hired by think tanks and special interest groups to write historical books and articles skewed towards predetermined conclusions. The average American hasn't read the Constitution since high school, if then. Most can't name three of the first five Presidents. And greviously, local school boards are requiring textbooks and curricula to represent a partisan view of history that twists facts, omits key arguments, and includes falsehoods and half-truths specifically designed to mislead our children about our past.

Unsettling. Saddening. But as my father would have most certainly proclaimed, something good might come out of all this. Citizens may be tempted to read some of our founding documents in their entirety. There may evolve a renaissance of interest in historical events and those persons associated with them. Thoughtful discussion of historical perspective and respectful discourse may begin to replace the rancor. We may all begin to see that a thorough examination of our past and a well-informed citizenry can only lead to a brighter future.

"Let's see...93 million miles divided by...hmmm...at 60 miles per hour..... How long Dad? How long to get there?"

I Love You Dad! Thanks for the History! "ALL OF IT."


  1. Man Lonnie, this essay and my talk with your Mom yesterday sure brought back your Dad to my mind. All the times Dennis & I were at your house for meals and cards and just sitting on the porch. I remember he kept a journal and it had all this statistical information about the day from way back. I never read it but he'd go get a book of it and read something to us.

    Your Dad was a very smart, humble, wonderful man.

    And he was right about history too.

  2. This is why it is so easy to get masses of people on the band wagon against teachers. We have no magic wands and wizards we are not. We have all the social ills in our classrooms and at this time in history they need a scape goat. Parents need to do their jobs. Irresponsibility breeds irresponsibility. We have lots of that around these days.

  3. Charlene: Hardly a day passes that I don't think about my Dad, a kinder, more loving man I've not seen. That I could measure to that standard.

    cadodan: Teachers are caught in the crossfire. Most do a remarkable job with what they have to work with, and on a pittance of a salary. I agree, parents need to be responsible, but what do you do with the kids if the parents either can't or won't be responsible? Leave them to rot? Kids are our future, we all have a vested interest, wether they be ours or theirs. For certain the burden shouldn't be placed solely on teachers. Cities could help a lot more if they placed more value in children than on new stadiums. At all levels of government children are an afterthought. Teachers are an afterthought too. A most interesting connection...