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Obsolete History

Something has been bugging me for a couple of weeks.

In the first night of my ‘Turbulence in World Politics’ seminar, our TA started the discussion with September 11. He explained that they normally began the class discussing the end of the Cold War…but that time reference was too far into the past for students to be able to comment on it so they began with September 11 after that.


This truly irked me. First of all, the students that are taking this class study International Affairs and IA of today cannot be properly studied and executed without knowledge of how history has brought us to today. Dealing in international affairs, you cannot begin to understand the cultural differences and the reasons why certain political figures interact the way they do with each other without knowing the background. So with that assumption, students that are seriously studying International Affairs, especially if they are at a school like GW in the center of our nation’s capital…they would have to have knowledge of the Cold War. Oh and especially because history courses covering the Revolutionary War up to the early 90s (End of the Cold War anyone?) is REQUIRED as a pre-requisite to any major classes that you take as an IA major. So without even getting into how important it is for a person to understand history, the students that have come far enough to taking this seminar will have had to take classes discussing the Cold War as a requirement.

Unless they’re sophomores. But oh wait. Didn’t we learn about WW2 in high school?

With that aside, it makes me wonder when history becomes obsolete. When the events don’t occur in our lifetime? If we didn’t watch it on TV, then it’s not relevant? If we can’t say we were alive on that day, the consequences of history don’t impact our daily lives?

My generation is supposed to be the generation that makes a difference because we’re supposed to look at everything that has happened in the 19th & 20th centuries and make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes because we have the luxury of learning from the mistakes of our forefathers and we are supposed to make sure that the thousands of men and women who died all around the world for OUR future did not die in vain.

How can we do that if the majority of the future ‘leaders’ think that an event like Cold War, one of the most important periods of time in the history of U.S. Foreign Policy isn’t important enough to remember and discuss when moving forward?

When does history become obsolete? When we can’t google it? When people who lived that history are no longer alive to talk about it? When it’s not convenient for us to remember it?

What was the most significant event of YOUR life time? Your parents? Your grandparents? How would you feel if your kids went on with their lives without knowing the importance of all these events?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • LivingWicked January 24, 2009, 5:41 pm

    To me it never does become obsolete.

  • Kesi Garcia January 24, 2009, 6:34 pm

    Unfortunately, public education is also losing focus on U.S. history. History is so relevant in our lives. We’re reaping what we’ve sown for the last several decades.

    I think Sept 11 was the most significant event in my life. It is significant not just b/c of the war on terrorism and Iraq, but the loss of freedoms here. The things happening in immigration “detention” centers are eerily similar to the U.S. camps for Japanese Americans in WWII. It will take more than the closing of Gitmo to deal with those issues.

    Vietnam was the big event of my parents’ youth. My dad didn’t serve in Vietnam, but he joined the Air National Guard when he could. I think Iraq and Afghanistan are redos of Vietnam. In many ways, they’re more abt political issues here at home than they are foreign policy debates.

    The big issue of my grandparents’ youth is definitely coming back to haunt us now. I grew up hearing abt their childhoods in the Depression. We’ve totally ignored history. For several decades now, we’ve been used to having anything and everything we want. We haven ‘t expected the bill to come due. Now we’re paying the price for that. Maybe we can have leaders arrise from this who can compete for the title of our greatest generation.

    You got me on a soap box there. I really enjoyed the post!

  • topsurf January 24, 2009, 8:16 pm

    History will always be relevant. We can always learn from the past History. But who decides what history is the most important for us? Who sets those standards? What might be important to you personally might not be to the person sitting next you.

  • dotlizard January 25, 2009, 1:15 am

    this to me seems very short-sighted. i don’t like the implication that all the current conflicts somehow revolve around 9/11, and i don’t like the narrow focus, it smacks of the same myopic ‘war-on-terrorism’ obsession that defined our last 7 years (politically in this country, anyway).

    in order to understand what’s going on today, you have to look as far back as you need to look, and that’s that. for mid-east conflicts, that happens to be thousands of years, not 7.

  • Cochese January 25, 2009, 2:27 am

    While it is a good idea to look back to the Middle Ages and before to get a good understanding on the Middle East and just why it’s the way it is, even a short trip in the WABAC machine to the tail end of imperialism in the 1920s and ’30s and to, say, ohhhh, 1947, to get a good idea of what in Judas rockin’ Priest is going on over there.

    Having a course in International Relations completely ignore history like that isn’t just foolish, it’s dangerous.

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