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Archive for Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ignorance of history alarming

February 16, 2012

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There are only two possible explanations for that photo.

One is intentional malice. That is the explanation favored by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. That picture, he told The Associated Press, is “beyond the pale.”

The second explanation is ignorance, i.e., that when a troupe of U.S. Marines posed in Afghanistan with a flag bearing the logo — a double “s” in the shape of lightning bolts — of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, the military and police arm of the Nazi party, they had no idea what it was. Indeed, a spokeswoman at Camp Pendleton in California where the Marines are based says the men in the photo, which surfaced on the website of a Florida weapons company, thought the double “s” stood for “sniper scouts.” The spokeswoman says the Marines were unaware the flag symbolized the thugs and bully boys who, under Adolf Hitler’s command, burned down much of Jewish Europe during the Holocaust.

While Rabbi Hier may be right that this photo represents a knowing act of anti-Semitism, it seems more likely the second explanation is true and that what it actually represents is the fact most Americans don’t know their past from a hole in the ground. This is a perception quantified by research, including a 2000 study that found that most seniors at America’s top colleges — our best and brightest — could not answer basic questions about American history. The reason? In many schools, history is no longer a required course.

So for the second time in as many months, the Marines find themselves embroiled in controversy over embarrassing imagery. The first, of course, was that video of Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban. It spoke to the dehumanizing nature of war.

This new image, however, speaks to the degradation of American memory.

As many as 60 million people worldwide died in the war to rid the world of that flag and all it represents. Over 400,000 of them were Americans. It is a pungent obscenity to see men who wear the same uniform and salute the same colors posing before a flag symbolizing those who slaughtered their countrymen.

In a sense, it would be easier if those Marines were indeed motivated by hatred because that, at least, you can get your arms around. You know what to do with it: cull the ranks, require sensitivity training, increase vigilance against extremism.

But what do we do if the culprit is simply the ignorance of the undereducated? That, after all, is larger than the Marines, indicts not just a few men posing in a hostile place far from home, but also the nation that sent them there. It indicts the facts-optional “truthiness” that often informs — that word is used advisedly — political debate. And it indicts the short-sightedness that led us to believe we could diminish our own history and pay no price for doing so.

Now the price stares out at us: American Marines posing with a Nazi flag.

In the photo they look young, these Marines, part of that coming generation that will write the next chapter of the American story. That should give us pause. That should worry us some. To truly comprehend tomorrow, you must first comprehend yesterday.

So how can you write the next chapter of a story you don’t even know?

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Comments

George Lippencott 2 years, 2 months ago

Well I went out and looked at it. The flag has a symbol closely related to the insignia used by the German SS used 55 plus years ago – the insignia that millions of people died to discredit. That said just who gets to judge the Marines intent?? Clearly they are not part of the SS and I doubt deeply they would agree with what the SS stood for. In fact does it now mean that any insignia ever used by anybody we now consider evil can never be used again for any purpose??

What is the real here??

  1. Make money for media?
  2. Further denigrate those fighting for their country
  3. Improve religious and racial harmony?
  4. Other??

Now I do agree with the author that we are very ignorant of our history and worse revisionist history is crowding out true historians. But I am not sure that is what a foot here is.

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its_just_math 2 years, 2 months ago

Seems calling anti-Semites--- anti-Semites---strikes a deep and very sensitive nerve.

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mustrun80 2 years, 2 months ago

Wrong Pitts. There is a third possibility; These marines aren't as stupid as you enjoy thinking they are, know the similarities, and guess what? Could care less if some ignorant dem party hack writing for the miami herald likes their unit flag or not.

Special forces people are extremely intelligent. I've served with them. I have no doubt an I.Q. test of them vs. Pitts would reveal Pitts for the knee jerk fool that he is. Very Al Sharpton-esqe. Who wants to bet Pitts thinks Sharpton smarter than a Marine Scout Sniper, haha.

The elite arrogance of pitts is really something. What a self righteous tool.

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Agnostick 2 years, 2 months ago

"Ignorance of History Alarming".... indeed.

Especially when the same Zombie Pa-troll keeps rising from the disappearded... over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...

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Liberty_One 2 years, 2 months ago

Well Mr. Pitts, it's called rational ignorance. That's where people divide their learning attentions by what impacts their lives the most. You'll find that people who make their living fixing computers know a lot more about the latest technology than most of us do. This is because we all have limited time and for many people learning history doesn't add much value to their lives. People like Pitts want to substitute what HE values for what others value because he disdains what they value. This wouldn't be so much of a problem except that some such people use force to do so.

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 2 months ago

The total failure of communism in Europe seems to have been forgotten by those that advocate a similar system for America.

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FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 2 months ago

Lenny and Maxine Waters should get a Slip and Slide this summer. Together they can scream "Nazi" and "Demon" while staying cool and refreshed.

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Mike Ford 2 years, 2 months ago

the king of twist misses again.....just like rightwngr omitting the part where dixiecrats left the Democrats in droves after civil rights legislation in the 1940's and 1960's and became born again gop advocates of bigotry just like the klansman I saw trolling on yahoo news last night from jasper, texas, where that poor man was dragged behind a truck in the mixed race article on yahoo news. math doesn't add up does it?

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its_just_math 2 years, 2 months ago

I wouldn't promote the idea of informing the masses too much, Leonard. Because if you did, Obama definitely would not get re-elected. And as far as anti-semitism, this case is unlike most of the extreme left that you bump elbows with who are seething with anti-semitism.

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jhawkinsf 2 years, 2 months ago

Perhaps they were unaware that the symbol of the double S was associated with the Nazis. Perhaps these young men should be given a pass. Perhaps we should just assume they didn't know their history. The question I have is this, the next time there is some anti-Black activity, something that can be explained by either ignorance of history or by downright racism, will Mr. Pitts be so quick to give them a pass? Will he also assume that racism played no part and that it is merely a case of ignorance of history?

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Roland Gunslinger 2 years, 2 months ago

If Lenny wants to associate the Nazi stigma to it, and claim it is a Nazi symbol, then it is of his own doing. Anyone should be free to assign their own symbolism to it, as the Scout Snipers have done.

To the Marines the SS symbolizes Scout Sniper. An elite brotherhood. This isn't something new. I remember seeing this symbol in the early 90's when I was just a young airman watching the Marines process for deployment.

Much ado about nothing.

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Bob Harvey 2 years, 2 months ago

How very true this story has become. For years we see and laugh at comedians on the street asking folks basic questions about the history of the United States. The ignorance is tragic. For those in the education field can you confirm that history in schools is now treated as an elective, as this article states?

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 2 months ago

Ignorance of history is very common on this forum, but ignorance of current events is also.

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 2 months ago

The original: "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

Variations:

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

"Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes."

"Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.

"Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them."

"Those who do not know history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them."

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