(A Memorial Day theme, cross-posted at VeteransTales.org, this is also one of the major themes of that entire site. Come show us some love.)
In the mid 90s, before I began traveling to the Soviet Bloc regularly, and finding out what their outhouses looked like, I taught a few semesters at a small business college in Cincinnati.
They students were all black, mostly young women, and from the looks of the nursery across the hall, mostly all young mothers.
This was during the period when Newt Gingrich took over the House, and among other things, forced Bill Clinton to sign into law the ending of AFDC (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) after previously vetoing it, then, proved successful he claimed as his own signature achievement.
These girls were there to get Associate Degrees (A.D.) in various business courses, so they could then get jobs and get off welfare. (I ended up writing letters for several.) My job was to teach them subjects that were required to graduate but which were absolutely meaningless to them in the new marketplace they were about to enter, courses like American Government, which most had taken only a few years earlier in high school and probably slept through then, too.
The course was presented in 3-hour increments, so I knew I was going to get a lot of attitude from some of those girls, while others would snooze on the back row. I needed grab them quickly by making the course relevant to their lives.
So, instead of teaching the textbook version of American Government, “read Chapters 3-4 and 5” etc., I decided to teach the course entirely in terms of how American Government was relevant to them…and those little kids over in the nursery across the hall. I had to deliver three hours of sermons every day, but luckily on subjects I was very good at discussing.
My first lecture always began something like this:
I would go to the chalkboard as the students were settling in, and begin drawing a picture of an Egyptian pyramid on the far left hand side, tagging that at 3000 BC, then draw out a long timeline to the right, ending with the date of the Constitution, but leaving several inches from the edge of the board for a few more notes.
I stroked little hash marks along the line signifying various key periods of history, detailing some of the great things those civilizations had done. About the Egyptians I noted they had pharaohs, a very intricate religious system with high priests, great armies, and since everyone had to be fed, a lot of farmers. I then spotted, from the same 300o DC period other great civilizations that had sprung up; Mesopotamia, India and Greece, and that they were set up the same way…with great architectural and engineering marvels,
Then I mentioned that at least 80% of the Egyptians were totally subject to the king, and may even have been slaves, since only slaves could have been forced to built those pyramids in a time when there were no paychecks or private property.
Working about halfway down that long line I stroked another hash mark, and simply marked it “A.D.”. Everyone seemed to know what I was talking about. Underneath I wrote “Greek and Roman Empires”, saying that the world was still set up pretty much the same as it had been in the time of the pharaohs.
Moving on down, I drew two more marks, 800 AD and 1400 AD, marking the beginning and end of the Feudal System, explaining this was how Europe was set up for 700 years. Instead of empires like Rome, although a few tried it for a few years, the Feudal System was under the power of an awful lot of kings, each with their own armies, and in constant warfare with one another, conquering back and forth…the only constant being that same 80% as we talked about in Egypt, who were also slaves (called serfs) to the land. All that changed in their lives was who the new owner of their lands was to be. In all those years of wars, not a one of them was ever freed from their bondage to the land. The Feudal System slowly died out, but the “king-system” remained, and in one form or another remains today all over the world.
It was at this point, less than an hour into my story I asked them THE QUESTION:
“Looking over the entire board, for over 5000 years of great civilizations, and nations, can you tell me how many of those great civilizations sent their own armies to liberate other peoples or to resist the tyranny of conquerors?”
I’ve asked that same question with groups, it’s a great conversation starter…or ender…elsewhere, but in my Cincinnati classrooms the students only looked at one another.
So I went back to the chalkboard and extended the line from the Constitution and drew hash marks, marking the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. (9/11 hadn’t happened yet.)
Then I turned, raised my hand and put up one finger. “One”, I said, “Just one”, then I walked over to the far right of the board and put an asterisk (a star) over 1787, and then marching back two thousand years, another star over the birth of Christ at A.D.
Then I wrote: “John 15:13- Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”.
Then I placed another star over the Civil War; I said, “And it all began here…”
“…when millions of farm boys voluntarily left home in Indiana, New York, Maine, Michigan, Illinois, to free a people none of them had ever seen, much less knew. Almost half a million of them died, many of them still buried in “foreign fields” like Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, even Kentucky.”
Then I began ticking off World War I, World War II, where thousands of white crosses of Americans who are buried in other foreign fields, saving English, French, Dutch, Belgians, Italians, Filipinos, then Koreans, and Vietnamese.
Interestingly, I didn’t get any backsass from any of those students. I would today, I suppose. But it is the kind of opener I like to use when teaching a potentially hostile crowd.
Veterans reading at VeteransTales are not the same as those students looking for a way out of welfare. Veterands would all have a different takeaway.
Still, there’s a lesson.
France will continue to fight their enemies to the last drop of English, American or anyone else’s blood they can find to defend them, and the rest of the world will revert to whatever kinds of people they once were. We’re seeing that happen now.
In the meantime, American are still risking their lives for Afghan villagers or Iraqis seeking to take a little control of their lives.
True, some of our politicians have sent our sons on foolhardy missions. But they come and go.
What has been constant since 1787, and those words from John 15, is that this society of Americans still produces men and women who will lay down their for their “neighbors” if the cause is just.
No one else will.
The greater warrior still resides in us, the veterans, not our politicians. For we reflect what the American people always were, from the beginning. Politicians can be replaced. What we cannot allow is that Americans should no longer be willing to go to the aid of their neighbors.
Mark Twain once said that “Satan is the spiritual head of half the world and the political head of the whole of it.” and while France proves the validity of the second half of that equation, our American political class racing to catch up, the all-volunteer American veterans, all volunteers, are single-handedly keeping Satan from securing our spiritual half.
Veterans should lead, not follow.