Having had gone through the American educational system, I have large gaps in my knowledge of history and geography. To make matters worse, the revisionist text books offered by our schools rewrite the past to make the American way look as pure as virgin snow.
When I decided to home school my daughter for high school, the district required that she study the same subjects as her former fellow prisoners at Agoura High School. The grade 10 history curriculum was American History of course, for the umpteenth time since kindergarten. But I was damned if I was going to get one of those 300 glossy-paged tombs that handed out the same pablum that she had been fed up until then. So off I went to Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.
The horrified look on her adolescent face was priceless as she read the chapter on Columbus discovering the new world; how he committed genocide on the Caribbean Indians, graphically documented in a first-hand account by a Jesuit priest inhabiting the territory to convert the heathens, albeit in a less deadly fashion. After all those years she had experienced glorious Columbus Day -- festivities at school, replete with miniature models of the Nina, the Pinto and the Santa Maria; crepe-paper pioneer costumes; Columbus Day parades on Thousand Oaks Boulevard riding her bicycle with banners "blowing in the wind" -- there were no answers forthcoming as to why history's annals had so betrayed its participants.
Hers was an expression that one might have had upon discovering a rotting, dead rat in the kitchen pantry. Or realizing the treachery of all-powerful parents when it turns out that Santa Claus never did or ever would exist. The truth shall either set you free, depress you, turn you into a political animal, crush you into a couch potato, or befuddle you in some other manner.
Akin to my daughter's rude awakening was the piece of history I came across the other day. When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Churchill realized that the Nazis would soon have massive sea power, given that the battleships of already conquered nations could be used against Britain, Hitler's next target. Churchill asked the French to send their warships to safety in British ports, but the French declined, saying that they would scuttle their ships before ever letting the Germans take them over. (Perhaps the centuries old battles between France and England made them a bit queasy about bunking down with the British.)
Churchill had no faith in France's resolve and decided they had to play the game his way, with a behind-the-scenes nod of approval from FDR. He surrounded the French fleet moored in an Algerian port and when the French Admiral refused to command his ships to safety on England's shores, Churchill gave his captain the order to fire upon the French fleet, thereby sinking their ships and and killing more than 1,100 French seamen in an act of mass fratricide.
One of the only surviving French sailors not only made it through this horror, but lived on to be stationed aboard another French battleship when the Germans tried to take it over. True to their word, the French blew up their own ships to avoid them falling into Nazi hands. This same hapless seaman, who had swum through burning oil to escape his sinking French warship in Algeria, then faced the blows of German soldiers when he abandoned the battleship he and his buddies had just blown up.
He was left pondering all this useless carnage in his old age, which he miraculously reached despite his travails. Reflecting on the egoism, power plays, murderous behaviors, miscommunications, suspicions and sheer madness, he concluded, "War is not for the intelligent."
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