History

9/11: Inside and Outside Perspectives

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So we may never forget…

Every year as a history teacher I used to be faced with the reality that the anniversary of 9/11 also came very close to the beginning of the year. I was always challenged with the question, What do I do to commemorate the anniversary in my classroom this year?

It actually is an easy question, aside from the myriad of choices I had at my disposal. I mean there are a plethora of sites, organizations, and materials that are available to these days so there is no shortage. But, the harder part was always what can I use to help students who were barely alive, at the time of the attack, understand the scope of the attack while also helping them to understand the feelings of the day. That is a much harder task because helping students connect to historical events is really tough. So, I had two videos that were really the mainstay to my instruction and let to larger, more in-depth units later in the year or even to following year.

In most cases, I would start their exposure to the subject during their junior year since I had them for US History. It is, of course, an American historical event. The following year, as seniors, I would pick up where I left off in their exposure and delve more deeply into the background and aftermath of 9/11 via units in my Contemporary Issues class. This would allow them to develop a deeper understanding with a more complete history of the event instead of just a simple moment of commemoration.

Two invaluable resources are shown above and each are briefly described below.

Inside Perspective: 9/11

There is of course really only one video that can be used for this purpose. What was it like inside the Twin Towers that day? While this can’t be fully known, there is only one surviving video from inside the towers that day and it is the one shot by the Naudet brothers, Jules and Gedeon, as they were recording a documentary about become a New York firefighter. The video, 9/11, is or should be essential watching, really for all Americans.

Perspective. Always an important thing to consider. There is no better video to show students what it was like inside the towers. I really believe this is a MUST SEE for students.

If you would like to see this video (if you haven’t, or want to remember) you can see it on YouTube, in its entirety (here / here / here), though it is hard to tell for how long as it is copyrighted. I have included several links just in case one or more becomes unavailable. It is also available for sale from many of the popular shopping sites.

Outside Perspective: 9/11 Day that Changed the World

Again, I believe there are questions that have to be answered and students often wonder after watching the first video, What was going on outside the buildings and what were our leaders doing while the attack was happening? This video answers both those questions with incredible insight so this was also an important video for them to see.

This video takes actual news footage, firefighter and police radio broadcasts, phone calls, hijacker cockpit radio transmissions, air traffic control conversations, and weaves it together with interviews of the most important people (except President Bush) who had a role that day. This video was put together by the Smithsonian Channel for the 10 year anniversary of the attack, therefore giving the people who were responsible for running the country and cities a chance to put a little time and perspective into their insights. The video is extremely powerful as it bounces between cities as the timeline of the attack unfolds and then incorporates the interviews of the officials

This video is currently available on YouTube as well (here / here). It is also available to order at the usual places online.

Final Thought

It is important to remember 9/11. We can never forget what led to it, and the profound affects it had on our nation moving forward from it. There were implications in and to all facets of life. We must never forget – ever.

 

**Please be aware that both of the videos deal with sensitive topics and show some alarming scenes. Do not let that discourage you from showing them to students, however be sensitive that each student may handle to emotions differently and react differently. It is always good to follow up each viewing with a discussion to process what they saw, what they felt, and how it impacts them.**

The Ministry of Objectionable Materials

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Doesn’t it seem as if life in the United States is getting more and more surreal every day? It almost appears that we are watching scenes from a movie unfold before our eyes. Movie scenes we thought we would never see in our country. The events on the East coast over the last couple weeks just make it more and more clear we are headed for a change and I don’t think it is a good one.

As most of my readers know (at least I hope so), I am a history guy. I think it can be very useful to study it and think it is more important than ever to teach it (something our schools and society doesn’t think is important any longer, but that’s another discussion). No, I am not in the classroom any longer, but there are times like the last couple of weeks that make me wish I was still there.

History is being made. Every day. Good. Bad. Ugly.

At the moment, I believe we are headed into the bad…into a scene from a movie I never thought I would see in real life. I used to show it in class because it provides a good example of how a government can become oppressive, but also how the people of a country can allow it to get that way – mostly because they DEMAND it to become that way.

I used the movie V for Vendetta in my classroom as I wrapped up my unit on the Constitution with my seniors. It is an awesome teaching movie as it uses lots of references and allegories that are historically based as well as great examples of what a government shouldn’t be (and how our Constitution should keep it from getting that way). Plus, it’s just kind of a cool but that isn’t really for discussion here.

What is important is one of the things it references in passing, a government organization called “The Ministry of Objectionable Materials.”  The female lead character asks the main character where he got all of the works of art, film, music, etc. (because she obviously knew they were all banned materials) and he responds by saying he stole it back from the government (see clip).

Apparently we are demanding this of our government now. Any by this, I mean that we are asking out government to protect us (or better yet, others) from things we find objectionable. We are doing it because we have many in society who can’t handle our own history. We would rather run and hide from our history than learn from it or, perhaps we’d rather run to hide history because we’ve still not learned from it.

lenin-statueThis is offensive,” said Tony Barger. “This should be taken down. This is an actual Russian relic and should not be here on American soil.”

History is beautiful. History is ugly. History demonstrates many successes, but it also exposes many failings too. That is why it is important not to hide it away. As Americans we should certainly want to learn from the “historical black eyes”, we ourselves have put into our own history. We certainly shouldn’t want to tear down or hide our history. As Americans we should celebrate the successes we’ve had, and I honestly believe we have had more success than failure.

Tearing down our past and hiding it away isn’t going to make our history any better, but it just might make it worse. Public memory fades fast, probably faster than any of us would really like. If we don’t have reminders of the past before us, we will forget it. Does that mean we should keep monuments commemorating our “historical black eyes”? Yes, even if they offend. They are important reminders to times that were not so good and they also represent mile markers in our road to success.

There will be some who use those monuments as a rallying point to their agenda or beliefs, but they typically represent a minority point of view and while it may be disgusting they are within their rights to believe, and assemble, as they wish (the Supreme Court says so and the ACLU helped, surprisingly). As a society we need to work to change their views, but we can’t do it the way it is being done right now. The more attention you give it, the worse it will get. Think of it along the lines of a bug bite – if you leave it alone (not ignore it) it will go away faster but the more you scratch it, the longer it sticks around (sometimes opening it up so it can fester into something more/worse).

Obviously, we can’t ignore it. Nothing just goes away on its own. Hostatues-removed-at-ut-austin-20174518-700x467wever, if not given attention on a grand scale, it will diminish. Fire, as destructive as it can be, if left alone eventually burns itself out. The president of the University of Texas wrote a letter to students just before classes resumed for the fall. He made some good points, but I can’t help but think he only provided fuel for a fire that wasn’t burning (at least not brightly). Instead, by giving a voice to the small fire that may have burned there on campus, he most likely made things worse.

Where should the Ministry of Objectionable Material stop? Where does the line get drawn? Who gets to decide where the line is drawn? When do we stop getting our feelings hurt? When do we stop getting offended by nearly everything around us?

For some more food for thought, check below.

Truman and Free Speech

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“There is no more fundamental axiom of American freedom than the familiar statement: In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have. And the reason this is so fundamental to freedom is not, as many suppose, that it protects the few unorthodox from suppression by the majority. To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…But we would betray our finest traditions if we attempted…to curb the simple expression of opinion. This we should never do, no matter how distasteful the opinion may be to the vast majority of our people…We need not fear the expression of ideas—we do need to fear their suppression.”

– President Harry S. Truman

Context: fighting communism in the United States and around the world.

The emphasis above is mine. One of the most important freedoms we have is under attack and I’m afraid it will only get worse. The attacks are coming fast and furious and from every side. I doubt there will be a turn from this trend, only a charging straight into an unknown and dark future.

“We punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have”

We have sunk so low these days that we are punishing people for their opinions. I don’t mean we are legally punishing them, though I suspect we aren’t far off from this. (On second thought, maybe we are – see the baker, the florist, the photographer, the wedding venue, etc. being prosecuted because of their beliefs and opinions.)

We are now punishing people in the public arena via social media, sometimes even to the point of violence off-line. There is no crime in holding an opinion and expressing it, yet many people apparently believe it is these days. The trend to punish people for their opinions has gone to name calling, bullying, harassing, taunting, threatening, unfriending, embarrassing, humiliating, and in some cases even following through with physical violence simply because someone disagrees with another person’s opinion or disagrees with their extreme viewpoint.

Take this student photo article as an example. No harm done, to anyone, by her posting a photo she is proud of. It is easy to imagine that anyone would post a picture they have when they got it while interacting with someone famous. So, when did it become acceptable to treat someone so poorly because you disagree with them?

We teach our kids in school not to bully, harass, threaten, or otherwise make someone uncomfortable (Really? Because that’s reality…). Yet, there is no reasonable expectation among the adult world that this will carry forth into daily life. We aren’t practicing what we preach. It brings to mind that whole “Do what I say, not what I do” adage.

Now, it appears at least as adults, we celebrate people who go out of their way to bully, harass, or even attack others who have opinions that don’t line up with mainstream opinion. We are teaching our kids that it is ok to fight detestable and offensive opinions with violence and intimidation and bullying and harassment, etc. as long as we believe it to be repugnant.

The whole point of the United States and it’s foundation was to protect free speech, even the kind we find repugnant. Our Founders, who were persecuted for their beliefs and opinions, are celebrated because they fought against a society that believed their ideas were repugnant. (Back to the whole historical argument – were our Founders patriots or terrorists? It depends on your point of view.) Our Constitution is meant to protect all ideas and opinions, even the ones we don’t like, because we are supposed to have a “marketplace of ideas”. Take the ones you like and leave the ones you don’t. There is nothing in the Constitution about convincing others they are wrong by bullying and harassing them into changing their idea.

Truman understood that “To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…”  He understood that if there is a problem in society it needed to be discussed and worked on until it was fixed. If there is a belief that our country is going in the wrong direction, then there needs to be open dialogue about it not suppression and violence.

If we become a society that suppresses ideas we don’t like or find repugnant, how do we move forward? Censorship at every corner and in every facet of life? I know everyone hates the cliche “slippery slope,” but we are seeing some prime examples these days. Where does the suppression of ideas or thoughts, or opinions end? What one person finds objectionable, another finds acceptable. Who gets to decide in a open and free society?

 

 

 

Spicer: Inarticulate and Ineloquent

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Many of you won’t want to hear this, but Sean Spicer was TECHNICALLY correct.

Press Secretary Pressure

Before we get into that though, let’s pause for a second and think about this guy and his very difficult job. How many of you would be able to stand up in front of a hostile crowd of reporters, get asked questions you haven’t prepared for, about subjects you aren’t totally knowledgeable about? What if those questions were about something you knew well, like your job? Would you be able to produce thoughtful and coherent responses on the spot, as you are grilled by the press? My guess would be no, probably not. That is a lot of pressure!

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not a fan of Sean Spicer. I haven’t been impressed with his performance thus far and there have been many other press secretaries who have impressed me by doing a much better job. When I say much better, I mean they were articulate and eloquent, nearly always. Remember, this is a tough job! So, who comes to mind? To name just a few during my “knowingly aware” time paying attention to politics, I would say Dee Dee Myers and George Stephanopoulos (both for Clinton), Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan, and Dana Perino (all for G.W. Bush), as well as Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney (both for Obama). All of these former press secretaries stand out in my mind because they handled the job well, articulately and eloquently. The press secretary shouldn’t be the story, which Spicer clearly doesn’t seem to grasp.

Difficult Comparison

The subject at hand, however, are Spicer’s comments regarding a comparison of Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons amidst his civil war and Hitler’s use of chemical weapons during WWII and the Holocaust. He was TECHNICALLY correct when he said, originally, and in other interviews as clarification, “[Hitler] didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons…[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing…[I was] trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers.”

Granted, this is a tough comparison without some context. Context, as journalists should know, is important but many in the room that day (and many others for a week or so thereafter) jumped into the fray and condemned the remarks Spicer made, whether they had done their research for context or not. Therein lies the problem, many (especially in social media circles) jumped on a bandwagon they knew very little about or cared to get clarification about because they were shouting from the mountain tops about how gross an injustice his statements were. And, like usual, there was enough public outcry to cause yet another person to come back with their tail between their legs and offer an apology for something that didn’t really need to be apologized for.

It’s a sensitive subject, I know that. I had taught for years, very passionately, about the WWII and the Holocaust in my own history classroom. My students knew very well about the Holocaust and the personal stories of Jews killed by the Nazis, as well as survivors of the Holocaust. I even included some personal family history in my class. My students would often make comments about how much they learned and how the subject impacted them, about how reading personal accounts and watching movies or viewing images made them feel. Many expressed confusion about how the world could let something like the Holocaust happen, let alone not take direct action to stop it.

So, when I heard Spicer’s comments, I had some context and I knew he was TECHNICALLY correct.

Context, TECHNICALLY Speaking

Context is always important. Taking something out of context can really exacerbate an issue if people don’t understand the topic. This is one of those cases.

Yes, the Nazis and Hitler used chemicals to exterminate Jews. Again, no dispute there. It is well documented history. However, chemical weapons were never used in open combat, to kill combatants or civilians indiscriminately (see the CWC link below or visit A Brief History of Chemical Warfare: Timeline). This is the context to which Spicer was referring. I don’t believe, in any way, was he trying to downplay what was done to the Jews nor was he denying chemicals weren’t used on them.

The Jews were captives, rounded up for the express purpose of killing them in large quantities. Under the liberal and broad definition of chemical weapons, as defined by the Chemical Weapons Convention (signed in 1993 and enforced in 1997), the extermination could be seen as using chemical weapons. However, the CWC is based on the first understanding of what chemical weapons were, as defined by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. To be clear, the standards by which we define chemical weapons today, didn’t exist during WWII. The extermination of Jews wasn’t open combat. It was targeted, deliberate, controlled, and contained. It was horrible and can’t/shouldn’t be forgotten, but it shouldn’t be judged using the same standards as to what Spicer was actually referring to.

Fact Checking

Fact checking has become a must today, not only for politics/politicians but it seems it is seriously needed for media outlets as well. The fact is, not all fact checkers are equal and media outlets that provide fact checking should be suspect from the start. Context : fact checkers pick and choose which facts to check and thus can add to biased information. In general, only one source has been reliably reliable – Factcheck.org . When looking into this issue I found that two fact checking websites that I use often addressed the issue. While one offered a mostly unbiased assessment, the other did not. Fact checking should only present the facts and not offer opinions in order to skew the reader’s opinion.

Unfortunately, what I found when I visited politifact.com left me flummoxed and irritated. What I found was a fact checking sight that seemed to be swayed by public opinion and bandwagon riding. It was spinning the facts in order to join the errant public outcry. Their claim of “Pants On Fire” is a misuse of historical record and their standard for such a claim is based on a definition that didn’t exist at the time of crime.

On the other hand, Factcheck.org addressed the issue with more in-depth research and historical review, as well as more context. In “Hitler and Chemical Weapons” they didn’t say Spicer was wrong, per se, but (probably for fear of liberal backlash) they didn’t say he was right either. Instead, they merely tried to explain why Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons in combat.

Searing Double Standard in the Media

While doing research on this topic, I discovered an incident I didn’t recall or ever even remember hearing about. Interestingly enough, it came from a member of the liberal media while talking on a notoriously liberal media outlet. Also not so surprisingly, I can’t find anything showing he faced a backlash because of his comments. To his credit, however, he stood by his comments and defended Spicer.

The original incident was from Chris Matthews on MSNBC. As far as I can tell, he is still employed (NBCUniversal and Comcast) and there were no calls for his dismissal at the time of his statement. As such, there have not been any calls from the liberal media to fire him as a result of his defending of Spicer either. There have been cries from conservatives for him to be fired, but only to show the double standard the media has when one of the people is their own. He hasn’t been fired, but then neither has Spicer. It would appear the biggest reason for the outcry would be because of the dislike for the president and anything or anyone associated with him, not because someone was disrespecting the victims of the Holocaust or that he got his facts incorrect.

Final Thought

Thankfully, Spicer wasn’t fired over this episode and cooler heads prevailed. He is likely being pushed out of the press secretary’s seat because, as I said at the beginning, of his inarticulate and ineloquent handling of his job. He clearly wasn’t suited for the job from the beginning.

Care should be taken to not redefine and rewrite history simply because it doesn’t fit into today’s newest interpretation of the facts. History is messy and sometimes even offensive. We should be wary of people who try to make it fit their agenda so they can browbeat the unsuspecting into their point of view. Social media is the favorite avenue these days, but the media seems to be participating wholeheartedly.  This needs to stop. Verify, and report. That is all.

NOTE: I realize this blog isn’t being posted in a timely manner (I have been working on it for a long while) and the topic has likely passed from the minds of most readers, but I wanted to get it out there any way.

 

 

 

History: In Living Color

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Every once in a while I come across a website that piques my interest. Some are cool, some are strange, and some are just down right fascinating. This one was both fascinating and frustrating, so I thought I would share and see what your thoughts are on it.

The website is for Marina Amaral, an artist who uses Photoshop to painstakingly add color to historical photos that were taken in black and white. To see her work, click on the link and then either click into the “Portfolio” or “Blog” pages. She does a fantastic job on the transformations through research to try and match the reality of the time the picture was taken.

It is cool to see photos that I have only seen in black and white come to “life.” It is fascinating to see the life flow through the people and places in the image. That part is cool and adds a sort of unknown depth to the photo.

HOWEVER, that is also the frustrating part as well!  One thing we have to be careful of is not letting these photos stand alone to become part of the historical record. I believe they are best viewed with the original photo, side by side. The reason is that we, in our search to “know” everything, tend to let changes to history go without challenging them. When we stop challenging them, they actually become the history we wanted to view through a different lens. Whether it is intentional or not, there has to be caution in such recreations of history. We can’t let the historical record change so that the only pictures we view in the future of these subjects are the ones that have had the color added.

Let me offer an example from personal experience. In the past, I have shown historically based films in my classroom. The first caution I have always gave before showing the film was that it was someone’s interpretation of the history, not the actual history – regardless of how well the movie was done and tried to follow the historical record closely. I always encouraged the students to study the subject further to find out if what they saw was accurately portrayed or not. The students used to complain, complain that the film was in black and white. “Why is it in black and white…”, “Isn’t there a film about this in color…”, etc etc. Their first inclination was that it was boring if there was no color, even if the film was a modern film but done in black and white for theatrical purposes (such as Schindler’s List).

Our students (and maybe our society as a whole) has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction, so studies show that Americans (and probably others) tend to think that what they saw in a historically based film is true. They accept it as fact. Thus, when we look at photos that have been colored in such a realistic and beautiful way, I am afraid the original photos will lose relevance in a world where “reality” and “facts” mean so little.

Does that make sense? Do you worry about the same thing? Or, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? What do you think?

The Day Independence Didn’t Begin

While many in the United States celebrate Independence Day today, one thing we need to remember is that July 4, 1776, was only one day in the long struggle for freedom. In fact, it was closer to the end of the struggle instead of the beginning, as most people think.

Americans (known as British subjects back then) began the struggle for independence while they were fighting next to British troops in the countryside against the French (we know this conflict as the “French & Indian War”, the Brits know it as the “Seven Years War”: 1754-1763) It was during this conflict that many of our future nation’s leaders were born. For they saw the policies and practices of the British and realized then that they were going to be treated unfairly, even if they won the war. George Washington became our nation’s first leader because of the failures, which in some cases were horrendous, and successes. This conflict was his training ground! After the war was over, it was the actions of the British parliament that led to the American leaders protesting the unfair taxes placed/forced on them to pay for the war. It was through these protests that our pursuit of freedom really began.

July 4, 1776, was the culmination of our frustrations with the British. What most American forget is that we almost “kissed and made up” with the British in 1775. Had the British government accepted the “Olive Branch Petition” from the colonies, we could very likely still be subjects of the crown. Oh how different our lives would be, right?

The Revolutionary War ended in 1783, almost 10 years after it began. So, let’s not take our freedom for granted on this day. The battle wasn’t won during a short fight, it was won over a long period of time. Many sacrificed all – both then and now. There are many who are sacrificing even now so that we might remain free. Don’t let us take it for granted!

I want to end with a smattering of quotes. I end this post this way because I feel we, as a nation, are headed into dark times if we continue to dishonor our heritage and the sacrifices of those who came before us. We are giving up on the ideals and principles that our country was founded on. Maybe we aren’t giving up on them, maybe we are just ignoring them. Or maybe we just don’t care because we have become too selfish and too apathetic, I don’t know for sure. But what I fear is that the road we are on will not perpetuate the greatness we have known in the past. Ben Franklin is famous for saying after the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, in response to a question about the kind of government we would have, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Today, I think he may be right. The challenge is to maintain it and those WE have elected over the years are eroding the foundations of our house. Let me be clear, WE the people are the problem, not our politicians. WE put them in office and, unfortunately, they do what WE want them to (even if is seems dysfunctional).

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
–Ronald Reagan

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
–George Washington

“Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”
–Woodrow Wilson

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
–Benjamin Franklin

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
–James Madison

“I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
–Malcolm X

If we don’t hold onto the freedoms and traditions we have been given, they will slowly be taken away. Like cooking a frog in a pot, it won’t jump out of the pot if the water warms slowly. Our environment in the US these days is a lot like the pot…

ISIS: Who Is Responsible?

Want to know where ISIS (IS, ISIL) came from? Want to get a better picture, the whole picture, of their history? Want to know more than the 30 seconds to three minute blurb you get on the evening news?

I would advise you to watch the FRONTLINE episode, “The Rise of ISIS.” (see link below) Published back in October of 2014, this program brings the issue into focus, gives you an excellent idea of where we are at the moment, and where it is going in the future if something isn’t done soon. **Warning: There is very graphic violence in the report**

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rise-of-isis/

The conflict is much larger than the evening news (or government) would have you believe. There is lots of good, relevant history in this reporting. Definitely an eye opening report. Beyond that, there are other very informative reports regarding this topic as well.

Most of all, what needs to be done to resolve it?