Tim is a longtime blogger and aspiring novelist who spends his days as corporate trainer. He blogs at That Tiny Website, as well as guest posting on other various platforms. In his spare time, Tim daydreams about becoming an ice cream taste tester, sharing sweet tea and pecan pie with Stephen Colbert, and wondering what it would be like to actually have spare time.
A few weeks ago, as I was spending the day with my fiancée, I found myself peacefully reading in relative silence. As my eyes made their way through the words in this blog post that discusses troubles in a breakaway country that most Americans haven’t heard of, my concentration was broken by an outburst of frustration from my wife-to-be.
“I hate history!” she shouted. “I don’t see why I have to take this stupid class. I’m not going to be teaching kindergarteners about the French Revolution.”
I did what I could to acknowledge her anger and frustration, all while battling in my own mind about my opinions on history. See, I love learning about history. Social studies and history courses were my favorite courses in school. I watched every episode of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? (both the cartoon and the game show…the game show was significantly better) as a kid. I can name every US state and its capital in under 3 minutes, know every country in the world and most of their capitals, can identify 98% of the world’s flags of current countries (and a significant amount of those for unrecognized countries as well). That’s all just scratching the surface.
I’m afraid to tell that to people, particularly those I don’t know that well. History, geography, and international politics are almost taboo in the United States. Unless you’re talking about the UK, Canada, or Israel, good luck getting most Americans to listen to you. It’s a sad reality of a willfully isolated population.
My historical interests have shifted throughout the years. I recall spending a decent part of my childhood deeply interested in the history of the former Czechoslovakia. While I’m certain my initial fascination came from the fact that I thought Czechoslovakia was a funny word, that interest served as a catalyst for studying post-Cold War Russia and the ex-Soviet states. I recall finding a way to turn my AP US history exams into a way to share my knowledge both of the Cold War and about the American-centric topics being discussed.
In recent years, I’ve found my researching the Baltic nations and Scandinavia heavily for my writing. I even set my second NaNoWriMo project in Finland and Estonia…well a post-apocalyptic version of two said nations, but that was part of the story. I’ve never been to either nation, yet my love for their culture and their history caused me to want to learn more about them and make them part of a story I had to tell.
Most Americans aren’t going to do that though. It’s not the way we’re trained. One of the most horrific moments in recent American history is the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. committed by terrorist group Al Queda. It’s worth noting that Al Queda got as strong as it did by 9/11 in part because of the fact that the USA helped to arm them in the 1980s. However, it’s also worth noting that Al Queda is at odds with the American public’s fear of the week, ISIS. So there’s that.
Yet, Al Queda and ISIS are not countries, they are radical groups. Much in the same way that the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent all Christians or Americans, these groups do not represent all Muslims or Afghanis/Syrians/Iraqis/etc. But to the typical American conscious, everyone is the same. It’s always an us versus them mentality – if you don’t look like I do, you must be the enemy and do not deserve to have your name known. We then can go to war with anyone we want with no fear of repercussions from the general public, because the general public doesn’t know that John, Jesus, and Jose are fighting for the country they love. What they do know is that the enemy is fighting against America, and the enemy must be destroyed.
That’s a scary thought to me. We fight because we don’t understand. We kill because we have no personalization. We develop opinions because we have no context. History is what gives us context. I encourage you to make yourself a more informed person. Start simple if you have to. Go to any of the links in this sentence (one for each word) and let Wikipedia teach you about different countries/areas in the world.
It’s the least we can do in an effort to become better global citizens.