Tag Archives: Education

American Way of Life and Education during the Cold War

Society is locked in a battle of interpretations when it comes to the Cold War. Was it a war against the sinister spread of communism that threatened the moral fiber and the political existence of the United States, or was it a battle between two economic powers determined to gain world hegemony? Even among historians, the debate rages. Regardless of the underlying goals that fueled the Cold War, one thing remains clear – it was a war both the United States and the Soviet Union were committed to winning. Part of the strategy employed by both powers was the use of education as a means of instilling a common ideology. While the United States would point fingers at the Soviet Union and accuse it of indoctrination rather than education, a real effort to promote an American Way of Life was embarked upon at home. It was also exported in much the same manner as the Soviet exportation of communism.

Unlike with communism, the United States did not have a concise definition that it could promote, but during the decades of the Cold War, an ideology emerged even though it was never capsulized in one definitive form. Movies and television idolized an American Way of Life that often romanticized an ideal version of the United States and its history. Books were written promoting a celebrated notion of Americanism; some warning about the pervasive threats against the United States, and other attempting to define what was un-American and what wasn’t. The American image was molded and promoted at home and abroad.

World War I had highlighted a need for a more educated populace, but the post-World War II era took education into a new realm with the U.S. educational system undergoing a transformation during the Cold War. The study of science and technology increased, and universities often found endless government funding for research and development particularly in areas that were argued as essential for national defense. While higher education benefited from an influx of funds, it was not just the research labs which saw change. In public elementary and secondary schools nationwide, the youth learned civics lessons even as they learned to Duck and Cover. However what may have been the most dramatic change came in the form of racial integration. For a nation proclaiming a dedication to equality and promoting democracy worldwide, segregation, especially the segregation of school children, was a political nightmare. The Supreme Court and the State Department worried that segregation jeopardized national interests and foreign policy. A nation determined to promote and export an American Way of Life needed to eradicate segregation from its narrative, and Brown vs. Board of Education was key to changing that narrative. The United States hoped to put to rest international criticism against a way of life which had supported segregation. A national policy of desegregation, accompanied by film images of the forced desegregation of elementary schools, went far in achieving that goal. In an ideological battle between superpowers, perception was a vital component of strategy. A change in national policy, particularly with regard to education, helped improve the perception that the principle of equality was fundamental to an American Way of Life.

 

 

Further Reading

Dudziak, Mary L. “Brown as a Cold War Case.” The Journal of American History 91, no. 1 (2004): 32–42.

Dudziak, Mary L. “Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative.” Stanford Law Review 41, no. 1 (1988): 61–120.

Isaac, Joel. “The Human Sciences in Cold War America.” The Historical Journal 50, no. 3 (2007): 725–746.

Lind, Michael. The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.

Merelman, Richard M. “Symbols as Substance in National Civics Standards.” PS: Political Science and Politics 29, no. 1 (1996): 53–57.

Reuben, Julie A. “Beyond Politics: Community Civics and the Redefinition of Citizenship in the Progressive Era.” History of Education Quarterly 37, no. 4 (1997): 399–420.

Solomon, Eric. “Cold War U.” American Literary History 11, no. 4 (1999): 721–735.

Solomon, Eric. “Cold War U.” American Literary History 11, no. 4 (1999): 721–735.

Home Production and National Defense

One hundred years ago, malnutrition was a problem that worried a nation facing war. Industrialization and urban growth had moved large populations into congested cities and away from rural communities. Both World War I and World War II would see an increase in the urbanization of the United States. The progressive reformers of the early twentieth century recognized that urbanization was leading to an unhealthy population and pushed for reform. They also pushed for vocational education, particularly in the area of what would become known as Home Economics.

One of the great misconceptions of the modern age is that the skills of the preindustrial age were easily passed from generation to generation, and that it is only modern society that struggles with the problems associated with the loss of these skills. Unlike the dissemination of information, knowledge is gained through practice. Skilled crafts and vocations require practice and often a good deal of instruction by a skilled guide. Remove proper training, and the skills are not learned and society struggles. In particular, modern society struggles with issues malnutrition and, more recently, obesity, both of which can be directly linked to a lack of basic knowledge of nutritional food consumption. It could also be argued that the conveniences of modern food production lend to the problems, especially when the issue of ‘prepared’ foods is under discussion. Despite the flood of DIY programs and videos demonstrating cooking and gardening techniques, home production and preparation of food is not as common as needed for a healthy society.

New technology in the early 1900s brought advancements in home food production and storage, but the skills needed to safely process food had to be learned. During the WWI, home canning and food storage was demonstrated and encouraged by divisions of local government and subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[1] The Smith-Lever Act and the Smith-Hughes Act are two acts which provided funding for increased training in food production and domestic skills.

According to historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan, the “decade between the end of World War I and the beginning of the depression witnessed the most drastic changes in patterns of household work.”[2] Industrialization was changing the way work was managed, not just in the factories, but also in the homes. Industrialization increased the availability of commodities, many which made household work less time consuming and arduous. Convenience is usually a commodity appreciated, especially by those tasked with managing a household and feeling the pressures of working outside the home. However, the skills that had been learned before convenient options became available were not always passed down to the next generation.  Much like the youth of today, youth of past generations seldom liked learning to do things the old-fashioned way, especially not when new technology and innovation were changing the world. In order to offset the trend and ensure a healthier society, young women in private and public schools were taught the skills that many today assume would have been handed down from mother to daughter. Books titled, Clothing and Health, Shelter and Clothing, Foods and Household Management, and Household Arts for Home and School were produced and marketed to U.S. high schools. In the words of one author, “The authors feel that household arts in high schools should not be confined to problems in cooking and sewing. They are only a part of the study of home making.” In the 1915 edition of Shelter and Clothing, an entire chapter is dedicated to “the water supply and disposal of waste,” and included diagrams of the modern flushable toilet. Technology had changed the lives of many, but progressive minds of the age could see how new technology had to be integrated in to society through education rather than simply leaving society to work through the changes without assistance. World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II jolted policy makers into action. By the mid-1950s, Home Economics, as a high school subject, was accepted as an integral part of keeping the nation healthy and ready for future war. Even as warfare became more mechanized, the nation still held on to a belief that a healthy society was a strong society, and many school systems encouraged both male and female participation in Home Economics during the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the Technological Revolution of the 1990s and 2000s shifted the mindset of many, and like the industrial revolutions of the past, this latest revolution has supplanted convenience over skill. While information is just a click away, the knowledge that comes from skilled instruction is often harder to obtain, placing the nation at risk once more.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Emily Newell Blair , and United States Council of National Defense. The Woman’s Committee: United States Council of National Defense, An Interpretative Report. April 21, 1917, to February 27, 1919,  e-book  (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1920).

[2] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “The ‘Industrial Revolution’ in the Home: Household Technology and Social Change in the 20th Century,” Technology and Culture 17, no. 1 (1976): 1–23.

 

Historiography: How the Story is Written

In the modern world of minute-by-minute news coverage, it is easy to assume that history is being recorded both comprehensively and accurately. One may even think that the role of the historian is passé and all that is needed for the modern world is the analyst who will try to make sense out of current events. Even in a world where the events of the day are documented, and where social media can turn our most mundane activities into a historical sketch that we can share with all of our cyber friends, the role of the historian is crucial. It may even be more crucial than ever before because of the sheer volume of data that must now be shifted through in order to create a comprehensive, yet pertinent, story.

Accuracy in historical record has always been important to historians, but it has not been nearly as important as the story. In the days in which history was borrowed from others in order to bolster a rising nation’s image, accuracy was often less important than fostering the image that a new empire was ancient and eternal in origin. A good example of this is found with the Roman Empire, which having risen in power desired an historical record that would magnify its greatness rather than highlight its youth. Throughout history, political entities as well as powerful individuals have sought to bolster their images by creating histories that connect them to other prestigious historical events, periods, and reigns. By likening themselves to others who were dynamic, successful, dominant, and strong, they create an image of grandeur that is only partially based on the events of their own time and of their own making.

As technology and the availability of the written record evolved over the centuries, it became harder to use the history of others as a means in which one’s own history could be created. Even before the printing press, some historians began comparing their own region’s historical journey with that of their neighbors. In some cases, as with the historian Tacitus, the neighbor was heralded for its purity and simplicity in contrast to the corruption at home. In other cases, the neighbor was villainized in an attempt to deflect attention away from unpopular home-state policy. In either situation, the history of others was borrowed, no longer as a means to explain where a political state had come from, but rather to explain how the home-state compared to others. This trend created an interesting phenomenon in the writing of history. No longer was it simply good enough to extoll the greatness of one’s own past, but now it was acceptable, and even expected to criticize the neighbor as a means of exhausting oneself. By making the neighbor seem less noble or even villainous, the historian could create an even more illustrious history of the home-state.

In the not so distant past, historians were at the whim and will of powerful men who could finance the historical pursuit of the scholar. Modern technology has changed this to some extent. Scholarly history may still be contingent on research grants made possible by powerful institutions and individuals, but technology has made everyone who uses the internet a historian, or at least a historical participant. No longer is it only the famous, powerful, or well-connected who get recorded. Some individuals may only be contributors of data, whereas others may add more significantly to the record of daily events. In this world of high speed technology and vast data collection, history is being recorded more thoroughly than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that the record is any more accurate. Often, history is being recorded in very inaccurate ways and by people with little to no understanding of the ramifications this has on both the people of today as well as the historians of tomorrow. In the race to beat the ‘other guys’ to the best story, accuracy, once again, is secondary to the story being told.

Modern historians bound by ethical parameters of historical accuracy, try to share a story that is comprehensive, and as unbiased as possible. They are taught to question sources and present a full picture of an event, a person, or a period of time. In some cases, they are even taught to use good writing skills in order to make the story enjoyable to read. They are taught to recognize that history is not always pleasant, but it can always be of value, if even to only a few. At times, history can be a story of valor, bravery, and patriotic glory. At other times, history can be just the opposite. The modern historian may write a tale that makes some readers uncomfortable, but the job of the historian is to write a comprehensive and pertinent story rather than the myths and propaganda so many others are determined to write.

History: More Than Just Cramming for a Test

History is a required subject in schools throughout the United States, but is history simply a subject to be covered, crammed, tested, and forgotten? How much do we really know and understood about our own history? Historian Tony Williams asked, “do we really understand the difference between Jamestown and Plymouth? Or between the Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence?”[1] Do we remember more about our elementary Thanksgiving pageants than we do about the actual people and events that shaped our nation and the world in which we live?

Recently, I saw a meme popup on the internet that counseled the readers to not believe revisionist historians, and inferred that they lie in order to strip away the moral fiber of the nation. Clearly, the intent of the statement was to cause distrust in accounts of history that challenge particular points of view, and to breed distrust of academic sources of history as opposed to sensationalized, patriotic versions of history that tend to leave out the controversial bits. Sadly, too many people avoid academic histories because they distrust the historian’s motivation or because they think scholarly history is boring. Contrary to what many believe, scholarly history is not monolithic in nature, and most historians are not set on convincing the public that the celebrated historical characters are all villainous. Rather, academic historians work hard to replace fiction with fact, and separate myth from history. Historian Carol Berkin wrote, “They write about what interests them… [and] firmly reject collective agendas no matter what group suggests them and no matter what pressing problems those agendas might promise to resolve.”[2] The result is that rather than only providing a timeline of the events and peoples of the past, historians have provided greater access to and understanding of the real people and of their lives beyond the grand events of their day. Instead of data to be memorized the night before a test and then quickly forgotten, scholarly history provides a journey back in time, introducing the reader to a diverse world that is much more fascinating than might have ever been discovered in the days when cramming for the test was all that seemed to matter.

 

Endnotes

[1] Tony Williams, America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events That Shaped a Nation’s Character (Lanham, MD; Williamsburg, VA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010), ix.

[2] Carol Berkin, First Generations: Women in Colonial America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1997), viii.

The Good Old Days

Memory is a tricky thing that tends to filter events by removing the negative aspects from our recollection. When current events are not to our liking, we look to the past and remark on how much better the past was in comparison to the present. While it is also true the positive aspects of an event or period of time can be filtered leaving us with only a bleak recollection of the time, it is more often the case with collective memory that we glorify rather than demonize the past. History, the record and study of that record, helps remove the myth that memory creates.

For many who came to maturity during the 1980s, the decade has come to represent a better time, or in other words, The Good Old Days. The decade is viewed as one where U.S. power and culture was strong and celebrated. The music and clothing were distinctive and memorable. Soft Power was used in conjunction with traditional methods of political power, and the influence of the United States was felt worldwide. The notion that the Cold War was won by forceful rhetoric and the exportation of McDonalds and MTV has resonated with those who now view the 1980s as the glorious decade of U.S. supremacy. While few will argue against the notion that the United States reached a superpower zenith as the twentieth century neared its end, historians will be quick to note that there was more to the decade than glory and power. There was fear – fear of nuclear destruction, fear of pandemic spread of disease, and fear of an ever increasing drug use in mainstream society. However in a decade where politicians could harness the media, or at least greatly influence the script, and where social media was yet unborn, it was easy for the general public to hear the strong rhetoric and believe the message. Imbedded in the rhetoric was the notion that war was the answer to all the ills that plagued the nation. Whether an ideological war with an evil enemy, a hot war often conducted in secrecy, or a war on drugs that often impinged on civil rights but had a moral justification, war was the solution. War was also the solution to a lagging economy. Investment into the machines of war burdened the nation with debt, but it also put people to work and made a select group wealthy in the process. War and power went hand in hand, and those who viewed power as the ultimate evidence of success sought to encourage and perpetuate the notion that only through the constant demonstration of strength could the fears of a nation be quelled. Decades later their efforts have caused many to look back in longing for a better time – a time of strength.

Memory is a tricky thing. Few in the public participated directly in the world changing events of their youth, and fewer still have found a need to crack open the history books to learn more about period of time in which they lived. Historians seek to delve beyond collective memory and search for the data that reveals a greater image of the people and events of a period of time. For those who seek to understand the history rather than the myth of the 1980s, The Good Old Days were days of rhetoric and war, a nation recovering from an economic recession, and a time when money equaled political power. So, in a way, those days are not so dissimilar to the present.

 

 

Further Reading

Chollet, Derek, and James Goldgeier. America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11; The Misunderstood Years Between the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Start of the War on Terror. New York: PublicAffairs, 2008.

Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Cambridge, MA: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Leffler, Melvyn P., and Jeffrey W. Legro, eds. In Uncertain Times: American Foreign Policy after the Berlin Wall and 9/11. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.

Saull, Richard. The Cold War and After: Capitalism, Revolution and Superpower Politics. London: Pluto Press, 2007.

 

Sanitizing the History of War

The study of history can be a wonderful method of instilling patriotism and civic pride into a nation. During the early years of the Cold War, the study of history was viewed as a vital way to instill the notion that the home nation was virtuous and grand, but opposition to a sanitized version of history was growing even as ultra-patriotism became a propaganda tool. Certainly, the sanitization of the history of war did not begin during the Cold War, but during that half century, the sanitized version of history was considered patriotic, and history critical of the homeland was seen by many  as being subversive. Therefore, the shock was profound when footage of war was televised for all to see during the Vietnam War. A generation reared on stories of the noble victories which had defeated tyranny, slavery, totalitarian abuse, and genocide found themselves faced with the horror of war, most for the very first time. Furthermore, war was not noble as they had been told. It was not a clear cut battle between good and evil. It was ambiguous, uncertain, and many times utterly irrational.

The sanitization of history had stripped from collective memory the realities of war. The brutality, the savagery, the rape, and the hunger; all the devastating human suffering had become overshadowed by glorified patriotism. It became easy to believe that the modern rules of war were long rooted in history and only a villainess enemy would commit atrocities against prisoners and civilians. In a sanitized history, it was easy to forget the human suffering of the American Revolution and that such human suffering was generally accepted as part of war.[1] School children had been taught of noble men, of dedicated soldiers who faced frost bite and starvation as they pressed for liberty, and of rag-tagged colonists who changed the world. While it might have been acceptable to sanitize history for the very young, it was problematic to continue with a sanitized version of history for older students. In fact, it led to disillusionment and civil unrest. It also led to backlash against those who tried to rectify the problem and expose the gritty nature of U.S. history.

In 1757, the writings of Maurice de Saxe were published. In his Reveries on the Art of War, he revolutionarily suggested changes to the formation of a modern army. The modern army as we think of it today had not yet been created. Saxe’s writings and the writings of Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine-Henri Jomini would change the way nations formed and utilized armies, however change was a slow process and not universal. When World War II came to a close, the leaders of the great warring nations desired for a universal set of rules that would govern modern war. Yet, they failed to fully comprehend the difficulty of enforcing such rules. Modern war was not to include the savagery and brutality of previous wars, and while bombing citizens was still being debated as an effective means of ending a war more quickly, citizens were otherwise seen as unacceptable targets in war. Rape of civilians was certainly no longer considered an effective war tactic or even a spoil of war. Part of the early appeal of nuclear weapons was that war by technology seemed more humane, at least for the nation in possession of the technology. It was not just history that was being sanitized, but warfare as well.

Unfortunately while the Cold War dominated the news, bloody, violent, ugly war continued in many parts of the world. War had not been sanitized, human suffering had not been eradicated, and the great powers could do little but suppress the violence of war. Peacekeeping efforts managed to suppress multi-national escalation, but seldom suppressed the human suffering historically associated with war. What was often suppressed was the news coverage the realities of war. When stories emerged of horrendous human rights violations during regional or civil wars, it became easy to condemn the perpetrators as savages, ungoverned by the modern rules of war.

Had the history of war not been so sanitized for the general populace of nations like the United States, these realities of war would have been less shocking. War is and has always been horrifying. Terror has always been a part of war. Sadly, for the children reared on the sanitized history and the patriotic rhetoric used during the Cold War, children who are now adults, war became disassociated from terror and horror. War was too often seen as a solution to regional conflict rather than part of the problem.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Carol Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence (New York: Vintage, 2006), 41.

Further Reading

Berkin, Carol. Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence. Reprint edition. New York: Vintage, 2006.

Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, 2010.

Jomini, Antoine-Henri, Baron de. The Art of War. Translated by G.H. Mendell and W.P. Craighill. Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2008.

Pape, Robert A. Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Saxe, Maurice de. Reveries on the Art of War. Translated by Gen Thomas R. Phillips. Dover Ed. Dover Publications, 2007.

History: A Team Sport

In a recent interview Noam Chomsky, political commentator and social activist, made the following statement, “When the US invades… kills a couple hundred thousand people, destroys country… – that’s stabilization. If someone resists that attack – that’s destabilization.”[1] This statement, although controversial in nature does highlight a problem so often encountered during the general study of history – history from the perspective of the strong and victorious, or in the post-Cold War age, history from the perspective of one’s favorite team.

Traditionally history was recorded by the victor. The objectives of the victor were portrayed as strong and virtuous and the defeated were portrayed as weak and morally inferior. Over the centuries the advancement of technology allowed for a greater record of history to be kept. In addition to formal books recording the history of famous men and battles, newspapers and personal journals acted as the repositories of historical data. These documents were simply waiting to be mined for the valuable information that would then be included in some historical tome. In the modern world, it seems that everything is being recorded, even if not all things are noteworthy or have any likelihood of making their way into a historical study. Yet even with the plethora of data now available to historians, history is still being written by the strong and powerful, whether it be nations or people. Scholars may work to mitigate the efforts of propagandists and publicists, but the general perception of current events is being colored by sensational hype, and recent history is being distorted often by a sense of patriotism or loyalty. The notion that the history making people or events must be categorized either as good or bad, and that the public must then draw up sides, like for some global team sporting event, perpetuates the problems of creating a valid comprehensive record of history. During the decades of the Cold War, people found it rather easy to choose sides, unless of course they lived one of the many newly decolonized nations. These people often found themselves courted and coerced by the superpowers, with their hopes for stability threatened by the opposing teams whose real aims had little to do with stability and had much more to do with simply beating the other side. The Cold War was unique in scale and scope but the tendency for people to choose sides was not. People desire belonging to a group and desire to victory over defeat. Most importantly, people desire justification and acceptance for their choices and actions. Even those who end up on the loosing team wish to be remembered as having been justified in their fight, even if their justification was misguided or their motivation was less than noble.

History is not always kind, and compressive history is seldom a record of winners and losers. Sometimes the most memorable players were not on the winning team and often the winning team was less than honorable in their actions, even if their intent was virtuous. Fans of history can become entrenched in feelings of loyalty and struggle to embrace opposing views, particularly when opposing views criticize their team. Historians are tasked with the challenge of avoiding anachronistic tendencies and personal bias, knowing fully well that even as they attempt to provide a balanced study of history, their audience may have already chosen their favorite team and will not be budged.

[1] Chomsky: “US Invades, Destroys Country – That’s Stabilization. Someone Resists – Destabilization’, 2015. Accessed April 19, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-QFDX7mLqM&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

 

Change Came Quickly

In 1918, Fritz Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. World War I delayed the presentation of the award because Haber was a German scientist, one who had gained the name ‘the father of chemical warfare’. Haber was a patriotic German committed to the German cause, however, less than fifteen years after he was celebrated as a great scientist, he fled his homeland fearing for his life. Fritz Haber was a Jew. He was also an intellectual who too closely associated with a war that had been lost rather than won. Like many other German citizens, Haber discovered that under the right set of circumstances hate could replace friendship with great rapidity. Those circumstances included an economic recession, a turbulent political climate, an abundance persuasive rhetoric, and a highly effective propaganda campaign. In less than two decades, a population who once celebrated Haber’s achievements turned their backs on the evidence that their government had implemented a policy of incarceration and extermination. Race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and intellectual interests were more than enough justification for the public to look the other way, or worse join the Nazi agenda. Change came quickly while the public clung to the notion that they were justified in their actions.

U.S. Compulsory Education: Teaching Exceptionalism

During the mid-nineteenth century, states began passing compulsory education laws, and although all states had these laws in place by the time the United States entered World War I, there was still quite a disparity between levels of basic education received by the soldiers. Mobilization efforts during WWI highlighted the need for greater emphasis on education in the United States, but it also highlighted the need to emphasize a common nationality among its citizenry. The war had created a stigma on citizens and immigrants who were too closely related or associated with the enemy. It was felt that the ‘old country’ culture, still held by many, needed to be replaced by a commitment to a less definable, but more patriotic American culture. The desire to eliminate overt connections with European culture, a culture that seemed to instigate war rather than peace, led to strong measures designed to force change in the U.S. population. One measure included the effort to eliminate parochial schools which were viewed as being too closely tied to European culture. When Oregon amended its compulsory education laws in 1922 with the intent to eliminate parochial schools, they faced opposition including a Supreme Court case that ended up ruling against them. It was hoped that public education would transform the population into a more cohesive culture, and while states couldn’t force public school attendance versus private school attendance, over time many states were able to dictate curriculum requirements and achieve the underlying goals sought by legislators during the post-war period.

Many in the United States believed that the nation had a vital responsibility to encourage and spread notions of republican democracy. A growing belief in ‘American exceptionalism’ developed in the post-war years, due in part to wartime propaganda. If the United States was to be exceptional then it needed to guarantee that its public understood what made it exceptional. Accomplishing this task meant that its citizenry needed to understand history, and not just the history of the United States beginning with colonization or independence, but a citizen needed to understand the connection between the United States and ancient history where the foundations of democracy resided. Compulsory education, classes in American History and Western Civilization, and an emphasis on U.S. exceptionalism became the foundation for unifying a nation during the twentieth century.

Myth, Folklore, History, and Nationalistic Pride

Recently the story of “Butch” O’Hare was recounted to a captivated audience.[1] As the tale of bravery came to an end and people reached to wipe their eyes, the thought came to my mind of the important role myth, folklore, and history play in creating nationalistic pride. Two hundred years ago, concerned with the changes technology and urbanization were having on society, two German brothers began to collect folktales. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, like other romantics, believed that folktales “were essential for reinvigorating national literatures and saving these literatures from sterile intellectualism.”[2]In 1968, during the height of the revisionist movement, historian Thomas Baily wrote that if the pursuit of history were to “shatter all myths, our social structure would suffer a traumatic shock.” He went on to state, “Historical myths and legends are needful in establishing national identity and stimulating patriotic pride.” [3] During times of societal change and strife, the importance of mythology is heightened and people cling to the stories that make them feel good. Historical precision and factualism is of less importance and can be seen as unpatriotic. During the height of the Cold War, the importance of folklore became an issue of national security. In a heated debate over federal money being used to support the study of folklore, one historian wrote that attempts to stifle the study of folklore could “cripple the efforts of the free world to combat the communist states, who [knew] well how to reach the hidden millions with the shrewd manipulation of folklore, legend, and myth.”[4]

Clearly removing folklore and mythology from the study of history is dangerous to the social structure and unity of a nation. However, the reverse could also hold true. Removing ugly historical facts and social realities from the study of history could be just as dangerous. In a world where technology is creating new communities which ignore national borders and bring together people who were once separated by geography, the promotion of national myth rather than national reality can undermine the success of international efforts to tackle world problems. While not all patriotic, historical reminiscing would be detrimental to international cooperation, jingoistic versions of a nation’s history which clearly whitewash a nation’s less than noble past can harm the nation’s credibility and fuel the fires of hatred that seldom cease to exist in the world. Furthermore, the patriotic rhetoric and reminiscence of national grandeur and exceptionalism often “alienates” a nation’s friends.[5] Myth, folklore, and history can engender nationalistic pride, but it can also become the tool used by a nation’s enemies to rally support for terrorism, even homegrown terrorism. People do not like to be lied to and learning that the noble stories of a nation’s past are not always entirely factual leads to disillusionment. Therefore, a balance must be found wherein the myths, folklore, and history of a nation are all embraced and nationalistic pride is derived from that balance.

Endnotes

[1] Scott Simon, “He Gave His Life For The Nation And His Name To An Airport,” NPR.org, (May 24, 2014),  http://www.npr.org/2014/05/24/315259241/butch-ohare-the-heroic-namesake-of-chicagos-airport.

[2] Elliott Oring, Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1986), 5.

[3] Thomas A. Bailey, “The Mythmakers of American History,” The Journal of American History 55, no. 1 (1968): 5, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1894248.

[4] Richard M. Dorson, “Folklore and the National Defense Education Act,” The Journal of American Folklore 75, no. 296 (April 1962): 164, (accessed July 24, 2013), http://www.jstor.org/stable/538177.

[5] Joseph S. Nye, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), xiv.