Jack Ohman

Debating our stupid, stubborn history

In the category of “those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” this has been Repetition Week.

First, and it’s hard to rank them in order because each example is magnificently appalling unto itself, Chicago’s WGN evening news broadcast featured a story on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Behind the news anchor on a slide was a photograph of the Star of David, which is fine. What was not fine was that whoever chose the slide neglected to note that the star had the German word “Jude” inscribed on it, and was actually the yellow Star of David that Nazis forced Jews to wear in Germany during the war.

Second, a candidate standing for the Canadian Parliament from Hamilton, Ontario, had made a Facebook comment in 2008 under a photo of Auschwitz that isn’t publishable here. She referred to the “Pollish” people and something about the way the fence was … um … configured.

You Google it.

If people running for office or in the news media don’t know what Auschwitz is and can’t recognize a Nazi symbol, we’re in trouble. And real estate developers shouldn’t be handing out medical advice on national TV.

She said she “didn’t know what Auschwitz was, or I didn’t up until today.” She has a master’s degree, incidentally. She then accused her opponents of “mud-slinging.”

Third, and most amusing, was the Associated Press story that “New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Bear has died. He was 90.”

Now that’s a Boo Boo.

The AP copy editor is smarter than the average catcher I’m sure, but probably not as smart as Yogi Berra, who may have suggested the editor take a different fork in the road.

Fourth, while some California Catholics are undeniably happy that Father Junipero Serra was the first person to be canonized on U.S. soil, there are also a number of Native Americans (and others) who would argue that Serra was no saint when it came to treatment of his Indian laborers. Many died in the construction of the missions, and husbands and wives were separated by the good father. Let bygones be bygones, right?

In a recent history class at Sacramento State, a student raised the very valid point with her professor that Native Americans were subjected to genocide, a word that the very sanitary professor objected to. So she was ejected from the class. Marketplace of ideas and all.

After experiencing the mind- and fact-bending GOP presidential debate at the Reagan Library (my fave R.R. quote: “Facts are stupid … er … stubborn things”), it seems that rewriting history or ignoring it altogether is perfectly acceptable by presidential candidates also.

When science is subordinate to a good punchline, and a hyperbolic reality show star can become a presidential front-runner lecturing about supposed links between vaccines and autism, why bother studying history? Or studying anything?

For the historically minded, one need only refer to the GOP presidential debates held in 1980. They featured candidates who had the following qualifications: a former CIA director and ambassador to China; a Senate minority leader; the 1976 GOP vice-presidential nominee, who had been in Congress for nearly 20 years; a former governor of Texas and secretary of the U.S. Treasury and Navy; and another guy you may recall who had been governor of California for eight years. The field now looks a little puny.

I suppose the culture can muddle through not knowing the difference between a cartoon character and a baseball catcher, but if people running for office or in the news media don’t know what Auschwitz is and can’t recognize a Nazi symbol, well, we’re in trouble. And real estate developers shouldn’t be handing out medical advice on national television.

In the words of Yogi Bear, oops, Berra, the future ain’t what it used to be.

But the past is, and we need to keep remembering it.

Otherwise, if you don’t know where you’re going, you might go someplace else.

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