Americans have no sense of history. We see the news headlines presented in the mass media, yet we have no understanding of historical causation, no understanding of how past events shape present events. The only historical knowledge we have is the information spoon-fed to us through the schools and the mass media, information often intended to steer us toward a linear way of thinking about history.
For example, Saddam Hussein is portrayed today as an evil dictator who ruthlessly gassed his own people, yet there is no mention that the nerve gas was used with the full knowledge of our government at the time. Officially, the government objected to the use of gas against the Kurds, but it took no action to prevent its use because it, like Saddam Hussein, was concerned with the "Kurdish problem." The knowledge of the U.S. as a silent partner in the gassing of the Kurds provides important historical context, yet the media -- in typical fashion -- censor the news by omission.
Americans have been so dumbed-down by poor education, shallow news reporting, mindless entertainment, wasteful consumerism, and, now, by the greatly overblown fear of terrorism, that we allow our government to systematically alter the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Bush administration claims, for example, that the secret wiretapping of Americans -- Americans not even suspected of crimes -- is constitutional. If we were properly educated in history, millions of us would be marching in the streets, walking off the job, and striking until our government rescinded all infringements upon the Constitution and expanded protection to ensure that this not happen again without the full knowledge and consent of the people.
The most important lessons that high school students must learn these days are critical thinking and historical causation. These concepts can be easily integrated into any class, but ignoring them will leave every child behind at a time when we need the younger generation to take control of the nation and restore genuine democracy so that we set a good example for the developing world and become good neighbors and trade partners instead of conquerors and bullies, so that we learn to solve problems through communication and consensus-building rather than warfare.
After 9/11, we rushed into war in Afghanistan -- one of the poorest nations on Earth -- in order to capture Osama bin Laden and destroy the Taliban. But we did neither. Instead, the Bush administration fabricated evidence and blatantly lied to the American people in order to invade Iraq. This is not the way our government is supposed to function, but our representative government has become beholden to the big corporations rather than to the people.
It is up to you, the youth of America, to actively work for meaningful social change. Perhaps, as a first step, practice Civics 101 and demand that military recruiters be denied access to your school during school hours. You can also form after-school discussion groups and political action groups. You can organize community teach-ins and marches. You can write articles for your school paper. And you can talk with your parents and grandparents about the lessons of Vietnam, Watergate, and COINTELPRO. You can even ask your school to invest in low-power community radio to provide music and news to the community near your school. Until the schools learn how to teach, educate yourselves.
Finally, consider these words from Pastor Martin Niemoller: "In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me -- and by that time no one was left to speak up."