History

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?

 

 

 

The Debate: What is “Life”?

This is, apparently, life.

This is, apparently, life.

This, apparently, is not life.

This, apparently, is not life.

Science is an interesting thing. Much like math, you can pick and choose how to use it or interpret what it means.

It always amazes me that scientists can define “life” as a microscopic microbe (literally had to use an electron-microscope to see it because it is so tiny) and yet fail to see a fetus in a womb as “life”. The definition of “life” on biology-online.org seems pretty clear to me.

This article, “Critters found in Antarctic ice show how tenacious life is,” has me in a feisty mood. “Life” as they claim can apparently exist in the most inhospitable environments (including space, maybe) but “life” can’t exist in the most protective and nurturing of places, like a woman’s womb. At least, that is if you are someone that supports abortion.

Here is another one of those weird (not really, but we’ll call it that) things that seems hard to justify. If you are a criminal and happen to kill a woman who was pregnant, you can be charged with murder of the fetus in 38 states in the United States. However, if you are an abortion doctor, you apparently exempt from these laws? What gives?

Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox, for now. Anyone else not understand these obvious inconsistencies?

Wanna join me on the box? Add your two cents below.

The American Oligarchy

American democracy, as it was designed, is dead. At the very least, it’s on life support and has been for a while. If we aren’t careful, we aren’t going to be able to revive it and the Founding Fathers’ efforts to give it to us will be lost.

As the story goes, Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and was asked by a woman if the new government was a republic or a monarchy. It was reported that without hesitation he responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” So, what exactly did he mean and do we need to heed his warning today?

Today, if you walked down the street of any American city and asked any average citizen what kind of government we have in America today you would likely hear from nine out of ten people, “A democracy.” That answer, to a degree is correct. A democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” (1b) That other person (I am being optimistic here), the one out of ten, would answer “a democratic republic.” This answer would be more correct. A republic is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.” (1b.1) America is both a democracy and a republic. Or, at least it was.

I say “it was” because I am beginning to believe that it may no longer be. We the people, I think, like to pretend that we still have a democratic republic but does the “supreme power” really rest in the hands of the people? I would argue that it does not. What do we really have? It is now more of an oligarchy. An oligarchy is “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.” (2)  Thomas Jefferson once said, “Liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it [be]comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of the government by an individual, by a group.” (NOTE: Jefferson was not talking about fascism in the WWII sense that we tend to think of it today. He was talking about it more in the economic sense.)

The key part I want to focus on is that our government is now run by a small group of elites, by a group of people who have tremendous economic wealth and through that wealth “own” the government. Let’s first start with the distribution of wealth in our country. To understand this argument, you have to start here because wealth is the means to power.

Did you get that? The richest 1% of the country has 40% of all the nation’s wealth and they own 50% of all the investments in the stock market. What do they do with all that wealth? Well, they invest it of course because that generates more wealth but they also put it to good use by buying elections. Yep, I said it, they buy elections!

This is where the oligarchy of our government comes in. Our government, Congress and the President, is “owned” by private power, a small percentage of super rich elites, who use their wealth to perpetuate what is best for themselves and their friends. The last presidential election cycle is a good example to show my point. Why? Well because we are seeing it happen before our eyes. One thing that I have become keenly aware of is that in order to run for a political office, you need a pretty substantial stack of cash along with some pretty hefty backers as well. If you don’t have the financial support of a few big donors or the very influential party you choose to side with (who also have their own big donors), you likely can’t win an election in America. Running a campaign has become extremely expensive and it has gotten worse over the years. As a result of the media exposure, costs have gone through the roof. How do you make a win happen? Find and use a money source. Well rather, in many cases, they find you. If you don’t find yourself in the “favor” of those with the wealth, you probably don’t stand much of a chance on winning.

The total cost for the federal election cycle of 2012, Congressional and Presidential, was just under $6.3 BILLION. That’s a big pile of dough! If you click on those links, you can see that being a politician is an expensive venture. So, does all that cash come from their pockets or do they have help? Many of those who ran for office did have their own wealth, and collectively the 535 Congressional members have a net worth of more than $1 million each. The millionaires’ club has now gone over 50%. So, what does all that mean? The group of rich people in Congress, those men and women who make our laws, don’t get much competition when it comes to running for office because the average Joe can’t afford to run. Yes, there is competition and in some cases it was a very fierce competition (just look at the top 11 campaigns for self funding) so money doesn’t always guarantee a win, but it does certainly help in a vast majority of campaign races. And, of course, there is help from many other sources as well, all of whom represent a small percentage of the population but a large percentage of the wealth.

Oligarchy.

Thomas Jefferson spoke of it, and Ben Franklin warned us about losing control of the very government the Constitution set up. We have not heeded the warnings of our Founders. We the people are all created equal but if we don’t keep private power from controlling the government, equality of opportunity isn’t going to survive in the land of the free. Instead, those who have the wealth and the power control opportunity and access will be severely limited to those who can afford it. We already see this in practice as the costs of college have gone up in the last decade. Not just slightly, but by leaps and bounds.

The American government can’t be allowed to continue towards a more powerful oligarchy, but we are well on our way down that road. We have to fight the rise of private power by being educated in our voting and not merely settle for whom has the best commercials or most striking mass mailers. We can’t rely simply on the incumbent, who often becomes entrenched with tenure and power, or vote because it is the only name on the ballot we recognize. We can’t just let those with great personal wealth or with seemingly unlimited backing from a small percentage of the population continue to gain control of our government. For if we do, it will no longer represent us – as many have made the case for already.

Our democratic republic is in danger and our Founder Fathers would be disappointed in us.

Conquered, not stolen

Misappropriation of history.

This has got to be one of the dumbest images I have seen. Not only is it inaccurate about immigration (if you didn’t follow the law, you’re illegal), but also about history and the Native Americans.

The land (and people) was not stolen, it was conquered.

It was conquered. Let’s be clear, it was conquered. The people who lived here before the Europeans arrived were conquered and there is no disputing it. That’s not to say there weren’t ugly periods of time where we, as a (formerly) Christian nation, shouldn’t be upset about the treatment of people. However, war is war. When you are trying to conquer a people, a land, a continent – there is really no fair play. Before you get all up in arms about that statement, remember that even the people who lived here before did exactly the same things now being misrepresented. They fought, the pillaged, they slaughtered, they enslaved, and they assimilated. This it not new history, so the image above is inaccurate at best and a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

If you look at world history, there were only several outcomes possible for a conquered people: total annihilation (as in death of the people, society, and culture), slavery, or assimilation. Name a civilization, or nation, that didn’t do this? The greatest (at least in the classical sense) nations and peoples have always done this. It is human nature. From the smallest tribes and clans in third world countries to the biggest and most powerful empires known to man, the quest for power and more land has been the same. As such, the quest to conquer has been the same.

So, let’s get history straight, shall we?

 

A Liberal Double Standard

**I first published this five, almost six, years ago, while I was teaching senior high school students. I am no longer a teacher, but the subject is still relevant so I am reposting it today.**

Let me first start, right from the top, by saying that this has nothing to do with political parties and everything to do with the small erosion of our rights.

Recently in class we have been studying the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791. This is a yearly occurrence in my classroom with seniors and I try to get them to think about their rights in a different ways. I also try to point out areas in our society where the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, makes the news almost on a daily basis. I try to impress upon them that this is still a living and active document. Some days are more successful than others.

The 1st Amendment has five clauses: freedom of religion, press, and speech; the right to assemble and petition the government. We focus on all of these, admittedly some more in-depth than others, but the one that usually makes me ponder more deeply about the state of our society is our “Freedom of Speech.” Because of our discussions in class, I can’t help but notice that our freedom seems to be getting eroded piece by piece, making this natural right harder and harder to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the government is taking away that freedom, we are actually doing it to ourselves.

It is generally believed that the only real limits to our speech are those that pose an imminent danger to society (i.e. shouting fire in a theater), statements of libel, or when there are certain national security interests involved (though there has been a flood of classified info on the government/national security in print lately). With these limitations in mind, why do we censor ourselves and others in society? The discussions with my seniors always make me wonder this. They believe that it is wrong to utter words that hurt someone’s feelings or that offend the sensitivities of others. They have all bought into that old adage that our mothers used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.                     – Voltaire (though attributed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, his biographer)

Our debate in class usually begins with a discussion about the quote above. Based on the discussion, I can gauge that it appears to make sense to them and yet they still want to qualify it. They get stuck on the idea that something that may be offensive and, yes, even hurt someone’s feelings still shouldn’t be spoken. Have we gotten to be that sensitive, that thin-skinned, that mere words can hurt? What happened to the old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” chant we used to hear on the playground? OK, yes, I admit it. Words can hurt. We all know that truth and I am sure we all have experienced it at some point in our lives. However, no matter how much they hurt, or are offensive to someone, don’t we (or they) have a right to say them if we choose to do so?

As of now, many of the words that have been CENSORED from society are still legal to say. We have taken it upon ourselves to declare them socially irresponsible, thus socially “illegal.” (Plug your ears or cover your eyes if you are sensitive because I am about to be socially irresponsible and politically incorrect). “Oh, that’s gay!” and “Man, that is so retarded.” There are other words out there but we don’t need to get into all of them. I think you understand my point. Now, we have seen our society jump all over people in the media or celebrities for using these words and typically there is an apology issued because of the pressure put on them via social media, etc. If directed at an individual and intended as an insult, these statements would obviously hurt an individual’s feelings or offend. If said as a general statement of disgust or disappointment, someone may get offended but in general there was no specific hurt intended or group targeted. This is the where the first part of Voltaire’s statement applies – “I disapprove of what you say, but…” Many people will say things that we don’t like or approve of. Many of us will be hurt by what others say or hurt others by what we say ourselves, but that is the crux of our liberty. We have the right to do so, if we choose, and we shouldn’t be made to censor ourselves because of someone else’s sensitivities.

This is one place where a liberal double standard comes in. In general, liberals are all about being open and permissive. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” “I’ll do what makes me happy.” “Hey, live and let live.” “It’s MY truth.” We can see this attitude in our society as things that once were seen as unacceptable have become, increasingly, more acceptable. The list is long and I won’t even try to make it complete but I offer a few examples: abortion, tattoos, divorce, same-sex marriage, legal marijuana, assisted suicide, casual sex, atheism, nudity and cursing on television. As our society has grown more open and permissive in most areas, we have become more restrictive in others, language being one of them. So how far do we go in accepting these limitations? How much erosion of our freedom of speech can we tolerate? If it hurts someone’s feelings (and we are all a bit too sensitive these days), it is now off limits…I disapprove of what you say, but…

Let me be clear, I am not condoning the use of offensive or hurtful language. No one has a compelling need to use their words in that manner and certainly we should work to hone our own internal filters when it comes to the use of language. However, I am condoning a careful examination of the external censorship we allow others to exert on us. I have a right to say what I please and I have a right to choose not to talk that way. It was bestowed upon me at the foundation of my country. However, others do not have the right to tell me what I can and can’t say. The freedom of speech, as written in the Constitution, wasn’t intended to be abridged. There wasn’t supposed to be a limit on it, ever. Infringing my rights, or the rights of others, lets others censor us in the name of stamping out insensitivity. That sounds callous, I know, but the fact is that even in callousness there is freedom. “…but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It is better to be angry than to be silenced.”  Megan O

The quote above is from one of my senior students. She reworded and summarized Voltaire’s statement with a rather profound statement of her own. She realizes that being angered by someone’s voice is better than not hearing their voice, no matter how much she may disagree with what she hears. She understands that as soon as she silences the voice of another, her voice could be silenced as well. Her voice, as of now and into the future, isn’t something she is willing to give up.

Baseball and the BFF

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Safeco Field, Home of the Seattle Mariners, Seattle WA

Do you have one of those people in your life that yo just connect with? Someone who knows what you’re thinking without having to voice it? A friend that you can not see for an extended period of time, but when you’re together you pick up right where you left off as though you were never apart? I hope you do! Because IT.IS.AWESOME.

So, one way I like to celebrate is to take in some baseball. I don’t usually get a chance to actually go to a park during the weekend (usually it is on the radio while I work in the yard) so this was a nice change for once. AND, to top it all off, my best friend was there too! So, it was a weekend of record!

First, let me tell you about my best friend, since that is really who this is all about. We have been friends since we were 7 or 8, not really sure but it has been for a long time (considering we are both 46). We love sports, we love food, we love hanging out together and talking about stuff. He is one of those friends that you can tell anything to and not feel judged and he is one of those friends that you can not see for a long time but when you do it feels like you didn’t miss a beat and you pick up right where you left off. He moved across the state when we were in high school but we stayed in touch and now we meet a couple times a year for baseball games in Seattle. We make a weekend of it since travel is easier to do it all at once rather than many little trips. Anyway, he has been a constant in my life and I love him dearly. He is just like a brother, only better! LOL

The first game, Friday night was fun. The Mariners won a one run game and we saw James Paxton pitch (he threw a no hitter in Toronto not too long ago). We spent the evening getting caught back up and enjoying the evening. The second game was more epic than the first.

Game two, Saturday night, started with early entry into Safeco Field. We get tickets from

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(People you can see, L to R: Daniel Vogelbach, Nelson Cruz, Ichiro, Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger

a season ticket holder who splits them out so it was one of those occasions where season ticket holders get to enter the park and hour before the regular gates open. That means there are very few people in the park and it gives the possibility of interacting with the team. So, down to the field we went. We watched the team go through their stretches and warm up. Nearly all the starts were there (except Robinson Cano since he got suspended for PEDs). But otherwise, we were real close to the action.

Then came batting practice. Now, one thing we always try to do is get there early enough to see batting practice and hope to catch a ball hit off the bat of someone. I could be anyone, we don’t care! Mostly because it is just something that doesn’t happen and when you are a baseball fan, it is just something that is fun to participate in. So, our regular seats are a the top of the wall in right field but we decided not to go there and instead try for the first base line, near the foul pole in right field…basically to get balls that guys hit foul but just barely. It really is a guessing game because when you watch there always seems to be a part of the park that the teams hit the ball the most and it always seems to be where we have chosen NOT to stand and watch. It is crazy how it seems to work that way.

IMG_4705Mariners legend, Ichiro (#51) was participating in the full pregame workout, so he was in right field chasing down fly balls, line drives, and foul balls. You know, shagging balls like all the other guys on the team during batting practice. On Saturday, he was running to catch a fly ball and it was straight at me as I stood in the stands above him. As he caught the ball I yelled his name, “ICHIRO!” and held up my open glove (yes, I still take it to the park). He looked up, running at full speed, but not at me. He was looking right at my best friend and I am thinking, He is gonna get this ball from Ichiro! Only, instead of flipping him the ball with an ever so slight underhand toss, he flipped it right to me. That sneaky fellow duped us both! I was so surprised, but it was really cool to have a team legend toss me a ball. (You’re probably thinking what a nerd…but it’s OK, I just love baseball and if you do too, then you understand). And, just for a moment, I was the envy of all the people around me. LOL

Anyway, game two got under way and the teams were battling it out. It was a good game that ended up going into extra innings. The Mariners ended up winning that one also, only in the 12th inning with a walk-off HR by Mike Zunino. It was an epic night!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention dinner! One of the great things about going to the ball park, at least at Safeco, is the ballpark food. You really can be a foodie and get good stuff there (despite the prices being stupidly high). So, of course there is the standard hot dog and a beer. I am not sure when I last had that ol’ favorite. So, I like to try new stuff. This time it was an ice cream sandwich, which we saw on Friday night as we were walking to our seats. We had to try it! So, we found the location in the stadium and built our own. (It is kind of the Coldstone-esque style where you tell them what you want and they build it for you.) So, for mine I had a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookie, Toffee Coffee Chip ice cream, a chocolate brownie, and then everything dipped in Butterfinger and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy. Let me tell you, it was AWESOME, and it was only $8!! It was, however, more than I could eat so I didn’t finish it.

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All in all, it was a great couple of days. I love spending time with my best friend and it always go by too quickly. But, we always have a good time and we always look forward to the next time we are together.

Oh, one more thing…this weekend was Memorial Weekend, meaning we took time off from work to celebrate and remember the people who have fallen in the line of military service to protect the freedoms we all hold dearly (and probably take advantage of). I hope you took some time this weekend to pause and reflect on the lives that have been lost so that you (and many others around the world) might live free. They gave all and we owe them a debt of gratitude. God Bless America!

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I got nothin’…and maybe that’s somethin’.

nothing

Well, I ain’t got nothin’. I got nothin’ to say this week because I haven’t really had my focus on blogging. Maybe it’s because I am having a hard time motivating myself to write. Maybe its because I have been focused on other things. Maybe its because I haven’t had the time I would like to write. Probably, it is all of those.

The last week, well maybe two, I have been working on getting the new Facebook account for @Stupidboard set up and running. I have placed my first “ads” out there and have been getting some interest, so that is exciting and I will continue to play around with that. I don’t know, its exciting but it has been taking time to feel my way around it.

I have also added two new links to the menu, up at the top of the blog. One is for the website I created for my classroom many years ago, Grenz History. It is the place my students would go to get their assignments, download handout outs, and generally just be my place to to centralize things – especially for students who were absent. It made things easier to keep track of and the students all knew that is where they needed to go. I am having a hard time letting go of it. I don’t have a classroom any longer, but I spend hundreds of hours putting it together and I think I could probably make it useful at some point again, but for now it just sits there. Take a look if you like.

The other new link at the top of the page, in the menu, is for my Teachers Pay Teachers store – Learn ’em Fast History. I no longer have a classroom, but after 15 years of teaching I have a lot of lessons and units and handouts and stuff I think could be useful to others. Now that I am not using it and have a little time, I am adding more and more things to the store. I started the store about four years ago, but there were only a few things out there and so there wasn’t a lot in the way of sales. Over the last year and a half, I have added more and more of my content (and will continue to add more) and sales have started to pick up. This month has been the best month in my store’s history, so that is kind of exciting too! If you are inclined to check it out, or recommend it to a teacher friend, I would be grateful.

So, there you have it! I an’t got nothin’. Or maybe I do…

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Stunning and astounding doubt

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The above comment was left on my blog a couple of weeks ago and I have been struggling on what to do with it. I have my blog set so I can approve the comments and I marked this one as spam, not because I didn’t want a negative comment on my blog but because I didn’t want to give someone who is a Holocaust denier a voice.

The last part of that previous sentence resounds in my head – “…didn’t want to give someone who is a Holocaust denier a voice.” Why does it echo so loudly? Well, because I value the 1st Amendment and the right to free speech. Therein lies the struggle. Do I give this person a voice and try to convince them that they are wrong, or do I just pretend it didn’t happen and move on? My initial reaction was to just pretend it didn’t happen, but it has been nagging at me for the last two weeks for two reasons: 1) it is completely off base and should be countered; 2) by ignoring it and not giving the person a voice, I am going against what I believe is an important part of our society, regardless of whether it is offensive or completely wrong. People should be able to voice what they believe.

So, with it nagging me in the back of my head, I have sat on it and debated with myself about it. I posted it on my Instagram account and asked what they thought I should do. One very succinct response was that it was easy to counter because the claim is so far off base. The best part of the response was “If [he] died tomorrow, there would be less evidence that [he] ever existed than there is to prove the Holocaust was a historical fact. Yet, I doubt he would deny his own existence.”

That leaves me to pose two questions to my readers and fellow bloggers:

  1. What do you do with negative comments to your blog? Do you allow them AND ignore them by not responding OR do you allow them and respond?
  2. What do you think is the right approach for dealing with this particular comment? How would you respond?

I would appreciate your advice. What would you do?

Do.Not.Forget.

holocaust-remembrance

#weremember

Unfortunately, there are a large number of Americans who don’t remember or they have apparently forgotten what they learned in school. What’s worse is some may have never been taught about the subject.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and we must never forget. So, in an effort to remind people of the sobering events of the Holocaust, I will share with you a video I used in my classroom when teaching about the Holocaust. Nothing speaks louder to the horror than primary source footage. Nothing will help remind you like primary source footage. Do. Not. Forget.

https://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365463766/

The link above is to the PBS Frontline presentation of “Memory of the Camps.” A powerful, primary source documented immediately after the end of the war and liberation of concentration camps.