On January 3, 2018, I experienced something extremely bothersome. One of my good friends had asked me what my research idea for this project was. I told her I was using forgetting history as my injustice, focusing especially on World War I.
“What’s World War I?” she asked me. I was astonished. World War I is our history and a major part of our past, and I couldn’t believe even one person wasn’t aware of that. But that’s not all. Later that same day, a different friend and I were discussing a project ideas. I told her what I had told my other friend. She at least knew that World War I had happened, but didn’t know anything on why.
Forgetting history is a problem that will have consequences whether or not we realize it. Unlike many other injustices, this ignorance of the past isn’t directly an injustice to people living today, rather it is to those who lived before us and gave their lives for ours. World War I cost twenty million people their lives, yet somehow two of my friends couldn’t care less. One could say that the war started June 28, 1914 as it was the start of a domino effect.The Black Hand, a terrorist group in Serbia, after the country had gained power from the two Balkan Wars, decided to liberate the South Slavs from the Austria-Hungarians by assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Ironically, the Archduke had been a big supporter of helping liberate Serbia.
On June 28, a terrorist murdered him and his wife. The Austria-Hungarians had never truly liked the Serbians, so they found this offensive act a perfect opportunity to get at them violently and restrict their rights even more. Unfortunately, the Austria-Hungarians did not have a strong enough military to defeat the Serbs all by themselves, causing them to call on the Germans for help since they had agreed earlier to assist in a preventive war. Serbia and Russia were close, so Austria-Hungary wanted the Germans to prevent Russia from attacking while they invaded Serbia. When the ultimatum was declared to all on July 24, Russia told the Austrians not to crush the Serbians.
Then, Serbia surrendered to most of their demands on July 25. Having decided that there was no need for war, William, the German ruler, told Austria to be content with the occupation of Belgrade on July 28 after he got back from a pleasure trip. He hadn’t known that his government had been convincing Austria to declare full on war on July 27. Austria declared war on July 28, and the Austro-Hungarians began bombing Belgrade. The Germans were required to assist. Germany hadn’t wanted this war to get past being “local” between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, and ignored Britain’s warning hints of what it was becoming. Russia got involved and being allies with France, the French too were against Germany and Austria. Germany declared war on Russia and France on August 1.
Britain had committed to defend Belgium, so when the Germans began invading the night of August 3-4, they joined France and Russia at war against the Germans.CountryDate of war declarationOnto whomAustriaAugust 5, 1914RussiaSerbiaAugust 6, 1914GermanyMontenegroAugust 7,1914Austria-HungaryFranceAugust 10, 1914Austria-HungaryMontenegroAugust 12, 1914GermanyBritainAugust 12, 1914Austria-HungaryJapanAugust 23, 1914GermanyAustria-HungaryAugust 25, 1914JapanAustria-HungaryAugust 28, 1914BelgiumDuring the month of August, essentially all the European countries declared war on each other. On September 5, France, Russia, and Britain signed the Treaty of London stating they wouldn’t make a separate peace with the Central Powers. All of that was the start of World War I. Somehow, so much history has ceased to be taught, leaving our generation to live out repeats of history over and over again. ”We don’t teach history, because it doesn’t help our students pass the New York State Regents’ examinations in social studies,” said a New York state school teacher.
To think, because of a test, all of Woodrow Wilson’s accomplishments are slowly fading from sight. According to the assistant director for social studies of the New York City Board of Education in 1985, Lloyd Bromberg, about 25 to 30 percent of the city’s high schools chose to follow the state’s curriculum of American studies instead of the city’s choice of American history. In the time since, that number can only have grown. Though we can’t blame New York solely for this, they only chose to change the requirements because of what the people wanted. A teacher at a New York high school where most of the students are black, Hispanic, or recent immigrants said, ”Our students don’t see the relevance to their own lives of what dead people did.
American studies means more to them than American history.” And that is our issue. Children of this generation don’t care about the past, so the school curriculum has been adjusted to fit what they want. But this isn’t the only cause. With the grow of social studies, it’s hard to draw the line of what fits into a history course and what doesn’t. So while social studies grows, history begins to shrink as there isn’t enough space for both of them.
Maybe for this generation would be understandable that the students don’t care, but their teachers would. Sadly, that’s not the case. A professor at a university in the Pacific Northwest, according to the 1985 New York Times article by Diane Ravitch, publicly told high-school students that they should focus more on vocational preparation and athletics and to learn history later in life “on their own time”. The attitude of Americans towards knowledge of history seems to be leaning towards ‘optional.’ Other countries, like France, have history as a compulsory subject up through senior year. Unless America wants to go through repeats of history over and over, we need to take history more seriously.But not taking history seriously can’t only be New York’s fault. If that were the case, then a study by the Historical Association from 2009 wouldn’t have found that 31% of state school pupils take history GCSE, the General Certificate of Secondary Education test.
Take Act 312 – Requirements as to understanding the English language, history, principles, and form of government of the United States, created by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The act states, and I quote: ” a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government, of the United States”.
This says that in order for a person to gain an American citizenship, they must have a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history. Somehow, despite this, a colleague of Stephan Thernstrom, a historian at Harvard University, was once thanked by a senior for explaining World War I. If that isn’t not knowing basic fundamentals, it is hard to say what is. And that isn’t all that’s occurring. Three out of five eighth graders tested in a nationwide survey did not know that the 1803 Marbury v. Madison case established the Supreme Court’s power to decide whether a federal law is constitutional.
Berman’s ratio would probably be even lower, as most eighth graders haven’t even heard of William Marbury. While we can’t blame the New York state school requirements for everything, they are a big part of the blame. In 2009 the Historical Association found that as many as one in ten secondary schools had adopted this practice of less history lessons all over the country. So if 10% of secondary schools aren’t taking history seriously, that’s at least 10% of this generation affected. Those people in that 10% will then pass on that lack of knowledge to their children.The parents of the children of the 21st century also were influenced. Since 1970, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (N.A.
E.P.), a Federally funded project, has many times been proud of students’ knowledge of social studies and citizenship. Although history wasn’t ever tested by itself, the answers to many on the other tests have shown how pathetic students’ basic knowledge is. In 1976, only 44 percent of 17-year-olds knew that the term ”cold war” referred to United States-Soviet relations after 1945.
To add, only 62 percent knew that the Supreme Court has the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. Then, in 1982, only 30 percent of 17-year-olds knew that the President cannot declare an act of Congress unconstitutional. For over forty years our country has steadily begun to decline into the abyss of lack of knowledge.Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad if it wouldn’t hurt the students majorly later in life, but that isn’t so. Naomi Miller, chairman of the history department at Hunter College in New York from 1981 to 1989, said, ”My students have no historical knowledge on which to draw when they enter college. They have no point of reference for understanding World War I, the Treaty of Versailles or the Holocaust.” Not only don’t they learn facts that aren’t as important, but they don’t even learn the minor events that create context for important events.
For example, at one urban Minnesota university, none of the 30 students in a course on ethnic relations had ever heard of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, which held racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Ethnic relations has to be a passion of theirs if they’re taking a course in it. Somehow, people aren’t even knowing the basics of what they want to specialize in.
History has already repeated. Every large empire has fallen. We need to stop this nonchalance here. We need to realize what is happening and take more care to remember the history. We need to make sure our friends, families, and schools do too. If we don’t, our futures will stay as bleak as they look right at this very moment. No one will see the repetitions in history.
No one will understand man’s thought patterns through time. Earth will simply be a large ball of chaos and horror. We ourselves will live in a world of repeating death and destruction.