For purposes of this writing, we request that the reader assume the following (fictional) state of facts. A family of four, parents and two children, are travelling, in route to an historic site, in upstate New York. The father, while driving, occasionally glances away from the windshield, to the rear view mirror, to observe traffic conditions behind them.
This weekend family excursion, this time, is a visit to a historic venue, Kingston, New York, the original Capital City of the State of New York. As the family approaches the destination, the father asks the children to turn off their electronic music and remove their ear buds. The children, the elder, a daughter, sixteen years of age and the younger, a son, fourteen, following the dual emission of some petulant and inarticulate mumbling, reluctantly, comply. The party has a discussion on the early American history of the area, its Dutch period, the later settlement of the colonial Americans, and the subsequent, legal establishment of the City of Kingston, as the Capital of New York State; prior to its being burnt down, during the Revolutionary War, by the British.
After a quick check-in, at the pre-arranged bed and breakfast, the parents, in order to placate the somewhat, blasé children, tactically, choose a pizza place for lunch, and are rewarded, following lunch, with favorable comments, on the quality of the pizza.
Following lunch, the family visits the Old Senate Building, the Trolley Museum, the Museum of Kingston, and then, stop for dinner at one of the restaurants in the historic, Stockade district, prior to returning to their reserved sleeping accommodations. The family has absorbed a great deal of information, including the fact that the present, City of Kingston, came into its prominence in the 19th Century, due to the completion of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, which materially, expanded the City’s business potential.
After watching a bit of television, the children, and, as well, their Mother, (“I’m pooped!) fatigued, from the busy afternoon of sightseeing, went to bed; the father, however, visibly, in a pensive state of mind, choosing to sit up for a little while longer.
With reference to the renewed subject of American History, the father is greatly troubled by a true dilemma. What does a parent tell the children about American history? The problem is raised by the conflict between his innate sense of ethics and truthfulness on the one hand, and on the other, a parental felt preference, not to disturb the children’s, a sense of pride in their citizenship, and assumptions of consistent, National rectitude and high moral principle.
The father vividly, recalled his school day teachings, of the xenophobic, concept of “Manifest Destiny,” as the purported implicit (or Divinely, directed) duty, to expand the geography of our country to the Pacific, the Thanksgiving myth, (the “Hallmark Cards,” depicted, trope) about the Colonists and the Indigenous Americans, sitting down to a brotherly meal of Turkey and cranberry sauce, despite the historic reality of the many, unprincipled and intentional breaches of Agreement, with the guileless Indians, by our Federal Government, the forced displacement of the vast number of Native Americans, living, peacefully, for a great many generations, in the fertile and rich. southeast portion of the continent, to the arid and windy areas like Oklahoma, (“a more suitable land for Indians”) the deaths and suffering on their marched and enforced displacement, “The Trail of Tears,” and the unforgiveable destruction of the invaluable, Native American culture, art and religion. The father perseverated, what do I tell my children?
He then ruminated on America’s shameful history of the enslavement of Black people, noting, with discomfort, the United States Supreme Court ruling, (Justice Taney) that a runaway black slave was (merely) a “chattel,” viz., agricultural equipment, and should be returned to “it’s owner.” The father mused over the great suffering and myriad of injustice, suffered by black Americans to date, despite Abolition and the Civil Rights Law. What do I tell my children, taught to enshrine the motto, “all men are created equal?”
Shall I tell them about the nationally divisive, tragedy, the Viet Nam War, falsely rationalized, upon the bogus governmentally, created threat, of an enemy Communist Bloc, including China, Korea and all of Southeast Asia, despite the historically demonstrated, truth that each of these Asian countries, mutually, have an antipathy for the other? How many lives lost, how many atrocities perpetrated, and how devastating it’s enduring effect on our country’s prior conception of its principled, morality?
What shall I tell my children about the 1940’s immoral and bigoted government mandate, imprisoning thousands of Japanese Americans, because America was at war with Japan, or the 1930’s ship containing hundreds of Jews, fleeing the death camps of Adolph Hitler, denied entry, and sent back to a sad fate, such rejection being based on a prevailing National feeling of anti-Semitism?
Shall I confirm to my children the continued existence of government approved homicide (capital punishment), with the approval of malicious groups, falsely advertising themselves as, “Right to Life,” whose asserted political-religious motive, is stated tactically, “the protection of the fetus” (but only until birth) dogmatically, rejecting the vital needs of the born and needy child?
Shall I discuss with my children, the challenges, and limitations, wrongfully imposed upon women, homosexuals, the disabled, upon immigrants seeking a normal life for their family, but, turned away, by a Nation, wholly consisting of immigrants and their progeny?
What shall I tell my children about our inept, totally ignorant, President whose reprehensible laxity and negligent, failure to prepare for, and deal with, the World-wide pandemic, exacerbated its deadly impact; about that immoral, mendacious, President; elected by America’s flat-earth, ignorant, reductionists, with the financial support of sociopathic industrialists, whose anti-regulation stance, demonstrates a preference for profits, over human health and life (to the extent of the ultimate destruction of our planet)?
The father, uncomfortably perseverates, looking back through America’s rear view mirror, shall I repeat the old school day euphemisms and half-truths, baptizing the occasions of our Nation’s contemptible past acts, or, at the risk of incurring their disillusionment, concerning National rectitude, tell them the candid history?
The fiction having faithfully served its intended purpose, let us remove the uncomfortable dilemma, from the troubled brow of our fictional, protagonist, and permit him to proceed to his well -deserved sleep. We will express our views on the sensitive question, and the theme of this mini-essay: What to tell our children?
We come down hard on the alternative of telling children, the entire truth, but with a caution, or suggestion as to how to do so. The morality of truth, itself, may exceed all others in the need to preserve trust and integrity within the family, and, essentially, the successful continuance of society. Truth reinforces universal respect for parent, citizen and governing body, as well as the vital ingredient of emotional security.
A basic ingredient in all of the past acts of sundry mischief, committed in the name of our Nation, one way or another, was related to the hazmat of prevarication: the lie that dark skin represents inferiority, that xenophobic growth is an acceptable means to evil ends, that there are essential, and basic differences between national or ethnic diversity, that women are not intellectually equal to men, that Jews are evil moneylenders, that the disabled and handicapped are to be disrespected because they may be less productive, that women, who require an abortion are homicidal, that educational and aesthetical accomplishments, are less important to a Nation’s development, than guns and military prowess, that the poor and disadvantaged are personally, responsible for their troubles, that government programs of assistance to the needy, and oversight, for purposes of the health and life of citizens, is somehow a form of social or political wrong.
Our children can be educated to oppose these ignorant tropes and reductionist trash, and be taught to understand that the shameful past events (looking through our country’s rear mirror) were caused by inadequate education and ignorant perspective; that the “Nation” as such, is not responsible for these acts of shameful history, but that it was shameful people, in power. who committed these reprehensible and shameful acts. A Nation, made up of people is as responsible, moral and apathetic as its expression through its elected agents; fundamentally by the voting population.
Looking forward, now, through the front windshield, the Nation can be improved by our offspring who strive for an ample education and a wise perspective, so that the Nation will not repeat its mistakes, nor err in the future by ignorance, lack of apathy and hypocrisy. It is up to them, our children and our future citizens to continue to monitor our nation, and its consistent and truthful acts of morality and standing in the World.