I’m still reeling, a week or so after my mom told me something I found as unsettling as ants in a box of chocolates or Donald Trump in the White House. Well, not quite that bad.
My sister recently visited the Gettysburg battlefield site in Pennsylvania and when my mom mentioned this to a middle-aged woman she knows the woman drew a blank.
She had no idea. Not a clue that Gettysburg was where a pivotal Civil War battle was raged.
How is this possible? How can one grow up an American and live in America for decades and not know this?
Wait, it gets worse. My mom tried jogging the addled woman’s no-doubt empty brain by reminding her of the Gettysburg Address.
You know, Abraham Lincoln?
That didn’t help.
When mom told me about the encounter you could have knocked me over with a copy of the 272-word Gettysburg Address.
Maybe it’s just me but I find such startling historical ignorance and incuriosity not only troubling and depressing but downright soul crushing.
It must, it seems, take a great effort to remain so overwhelming ignorant of history to not know about Gettysburg.
Some folks, though, embrace ignorance with gleeful delight, positively reveling in knowing nothing, being blissfully untroubled by their own staggering lack of basic knowledge.
They don’t know. They don’t care. And they don’t care that they don’t know.
Now, I’m not a history expert. I didn’t major in history. I’m not an historian. Yes, I’m something of a history buff and even nerd so I likely know more history than most people.
But shouldn’t most people have a basic working knowledge of American history?
Maybe they don’t need to know about the Dred Scott decision or nullification or have read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.”
But shouldn’t they know when the Civil War was fought and who won and what the Emancipation Proclamation was and what its purpose was?
I guess I’m just becoming a grumpy old codger. …
Is it asking too much to know a little history?
Is it asking too much to have mild historical curiosity?
It might be.
More people watch “Game of Thrones,” I imagine, than any of Ken Burns’ historical epics. I’ve never seen “Game of Thrones” but have seen just about all of Burns’ documentaries.
What is a minimum amount of historical knowledge? Who decides what is a minimum and which historical facts and events should be included?
I don’t know but shouldn’t every American at least be vaguely familiar with the Gettysburg Address?
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. … The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Some people have never noted what happened in Gettysburg in the summer of 1863 or know what Lincoln said there that fall or can appreciate the eloquence of what he said.
I find all that beyond depressing, as noted above. It’s also puzzling to the nth degree.
Here is how Lincoln concluded the address somebody my mom knows never heard anything about:
“ … that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Maybe somebody should read the address to that know-nothing woman. I found a version on-line read by actor Jeff Daniels that takes about two minutes and 49 seconds to play. Anybody with a computer, an Internet connection and who knows about Google or YouTube can hear it.
Is it evenly remotely conceivable that any American of voting age has not heard those words somewhere?
And that is beyond depressing.
It is positively soul crushing.