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Presidents Day: A Meaningless Day Off
David C. Stolinsky
Feb. 20, 2012
Today is Presidents Day. It isn’t Lincoln’s Birthday, which was Feb. 12. It isn’t Washington’s Birthday, which will be Feb. 22. It is just the last day of a three-day weekend. Instead of a day to honor our great leaders of the past, it became merely a day not to work and to enjoy sales at stores. The meaning was removed.
Presidents Day? Which president? Millard Fillmore? He was an anti-Catholic bigot who signed the Fugitive Slave Law, which forced slaves who escaped to free states to be returned to their owners. Why should I honor him? Why should I mix the inferior with the outstanding? The result is a mediocre average that evokes neither admiration nor imitation, but merely apathy.
Now young people are not taught to honor our great men − they are taught not to honor them. Lincoln held the Union together and was shot for his efforts. But he expressed − by today’s standards − racist views, so we can’t honor him. Washington was indispensable to the founding of our republic, but he owned slaves − though he freed them at his death − so we can’t honor him, either. No one is perfect, so all role models are removed, leaving our nation, like so many of our young people, fatherless.
America is undergoing a historectomy. No, not a hysterectomy, removal of the uterus, but a historectomy, removal of our history. But the two are related. Without a uterus, an individual can’t have children. Without a history, a nation can’t teach its values to the next generation. In both cases, continuity becomes impossible.
America is a relatively recent invention. Its population shifted over time with waves of immigration, and is still shifting because of continued immigration. Unlike most nations, America is an idea. To define America, we cannot refer to an ancient land with a stable population. To define America, we must refer to the ideas and ideals on which it is based.
But are we trying to preserve these ideas and pass them on to the next generation? No, we are doing our best to eradicate these ideas from our collective memory. We are attempting to induce national amnesia. We are performing a historectomy. We are taking the soul of our nation and hitting the Delete key.
When I went to elementary school, we pledged allegiance to the flag every morning. We were taught patriotic songs for national holidays. And we enjoyed Christmas and Easter vacations, not winter and spring breaks. After all, the vast majority of Americans, and all the founders, identified themselves as Christians.
In junior high, we had to memorize the Gettysburg Address, the Preamble to the Constitution, and the first and fourth verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” If you want to learn how a house is constructed, first study the foundation. But now, memorization is “old fashioned.”
In high school, we had to take American history and civics, not “social studies.” We learned about the great people and great events of our history, and (to a lesser degree) some of the unhappy events. I took ROTC, where my role models were master sergeants who had fought to defend my freedom. But now, ROTC has been kicked out of many high schools and universities.
I went to school, but I loved movies. I saw “Sergeant York,” the true story of how a pacifist farmer recognized that violent evildoers must be opposed by force, then went on to earn the Medal of Honor. I saw “They Died with Their Boots On,” a fictionalized account of General Custer, but at least I learned that he played a key role in the Civil War, which is more than most history majors know today.
And there was “The Fighting Sixty-Ninth,” depicting Father Duffy’s role in this New York unit’s World War I exploits. So when I passed his statue in Times Square, I may have been the only one on the tour bus who knew who he was. You see, I was brought up to be an American.
Then there were the John Ford films of the West, where the U.S. Army was depicted in a sympathetic (perhaps overly sympathetic) light. I saw depictions of Abe Lincoln, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison. I was being entertained, but I was also being exposed to my country’s past.
Contrast my upbringing with that of today’s kids:
Today’s kids read books and hear lectures that describe America’s past as questionable at best, and evil or downright genocidal at worst.
Today’s kids mumble a few words of the first verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at sports events. Forget about the fourth verse, the one that mentions (gasp!) God.
Today’s kids are taught that the founders were deists, not Christians – that is, if religion is mentioned at all.
Today’s kids are lucky to place the Revolution or the Civil War in the right century, much less the right decade.
Today’s kids identify Grant as the man on the $50 bill, not the man who led the Union to victory and helped end slavery.
Today’s kid’s see movies depicting our leaders as scheming warmongers, and our military as sadistic morons (“Spartan,” “Rendition,” “Syriana,” the “Bourne” series).
Today’s kids see clergy depicted as idiots or criminals, and Christianity shown as a destructive force (“Sin City”, “The Godfather Part III,” “The Da Vinci Code”.
Today’s kids, and even law students, are taught that the Constitution is a “living document,” which means whatever a judge says it means today. Tomorrow it may mean something else. We will be ruled by the “elite,” who use what they call “the Constitution” as camouflage for their own whims.
Today’s kids are deprived of ROTC instructors or Scoutmasters as role models, so they may turn to a gang or cult. They are no longer exposed to the traditions that I was lucky enough to have passed on to me.