Pat Rooney “Experience History” 2.3.15
“The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.” Harry S. Truman
This quote struck home as I recently picked up the classic book about the history of Texas called Lone Star by T. R. Fehrenbach. At the encouragement of my son who was singing the book’s praises, I began to learn about events that I knew little about. Not being a native Texan, I had not been to many of these landmarks and town sites. And the places I had been, I did not know much about. Written in 1968, it is a wonderful book, well crafted and concise and is recommended. But more to the point, in a larger sense, I was reminded of the importance of experiencing history and how it gives us a better perspective on what is going on today and the issues facing us.
The Texas independence story of 1836 essentially is a mini U.S. revolution 60 years later. They drew much from the U.S. conflict and the Lone Star State constitution bore a marked resemblance to the one written in Washington in 1783. Moreover, the brief 10 year history of an independent Texas would have been much shorter if the U.S. was not so divided at the time. The huge sectional disagreements, conflicts and animosities of the pre-civil war U.S. makes our highly discussed “gridlock” of today look like child’s play. Both houses of Congress fought bitterly and often physically (with fistfights, threats and other means of intimidation).
Knowledge of history is necessary to give us a proper perspective on recent events and issues. The noted author, David McCullough, in a commencement address at Middle College in Connecticut, put it this way. “Imagine a man who professes his unending love for a woman but knows nothing of where she was born, or who her parents were, or where she went to school, or what her life was like before he came along. And furthermore, doesn’t care to learn. What would you think of such a person? Yet today, we have an unending supply of patriots who know nothing of the history of this country nor are they interested.” He added “If nothing else seeing the country should lead you to its past, its story. And there is no part of your education to come that can be more absorbing or inspiring.” Mr. McCullough notes that most people decry provincialism, yet he makes the point that we can be provincial in time as well as space. “Because we were born into this particular area doesn’t mean it has to be the limit of your experience.” He challenges the students to go to Antietam, the site of the famous 1862 Civil War battlefield with the distinction of being the single bloodiest day for Americans in our history.
Now not everyone is interested in the civil war battlefields or even in the same things and that’s ok. But there is a lot to the story of our United States. It’s never too late to get out there and experience it, and in the words of Mr. Truman “learn a new thing”.