My daughter called home yesterday from college, during the first session of a course on World History Since 1500. “I’m dropping this course,” she said. “The teacher said she’s not going to cover any wars. She thinks it’s more important to study the ways people have saved other people than to talk about people killing people.”
Granted, I heard the story at third-hand. Maybe the teacher just meant she wasn’t going to cover war in great detail. I have to wonder, though, how she understands things that “save.” Did Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policies save anyone when Hitler was starting his campaign of aggression? Did Churchill’s counter-aggression policies save his country? Or would this teacher just skip over Hitler, Chamberlain, and Churchill because they were all connected to war?
I don’t know, and I’m in real danger of falling off a cliff of speculation about this particular instructor. History is necessarily a selective discipline, especially when trying to cover half a millennium in one undergraduate semester. The selections any professor makes can reveal as much about him or her as they do about what happened across all those years. I have to give this one credit for revealing (some of) her biases up front.
I can’t help speculating further, though. There is the cliff before me, and here I take my dive; for I cannot help but wonder what would cause an historian to decide that undergraduates would be better off left unexposed to the ugly stories of war. But before you imagine me crashing into the treetops below, let me add that I’m no longer wondering about this particular professor, about whom I have no information but what I’ve given you here. I’m wondering more generally about anyone who would take the tack she has taken.
Can History Be Taught This Way?
What would a professor like this (I will still say “she”) say about the historically undeniable reality of human evil? Would she limit it to the fashionable categories of race, gender, and environment? But wars have certainly been fought over racial issues, and I don’t just mean the American Civil War.
If she mentioned greed, would it be strictly corporate greed? What about nations’ quest for more land, or more oil?
If she mentioned the drive to dominate, would it be strictly gender- or race-based, or would it also include broader ranges of economic and military dominance?
And if she mentioned courage and honor, would there be any instances of powerful white men showing these virtues?
These are only questions. I can’t imagine how she would answer them in a class designed only to focus on the good. More than that, though, I don’t know how she could tell the true story of humanity that way. For we are a mixed race. I do not mean by blood or by skin color, but by our ethics. We know something of the good and we do it sometimes, and yet we fail in it horribly and often.
History Without Wars: Truth or Salvation?
I have one more question yet: what could be the motive for excluding war from a course on history? She must know there’s no way she could tell the true story of world history without it.
There are many in academia who deny there is such a thing as telling true history. Even as one who believes in objective truth, I wouldn’t belittle the problems with discovering and teaching true history. History is selectively recorded, subjectively interpreted, selectively transmitted and presented, and (again) subjectively interpreted. Still, there is something exceptionally untrue about excluding all of military history. Truth could hardly be even a remotely distant objective in her plan.
So I wonder whether it’s about something like salvation. “It’s more important to study how people have saved other people,” she said. Maybe her thought would be that if a professor can concentrate on the good in humans, and downplay the bad, that this would accentuate the good in her students and in some small way make the world a better place.
To think that salvation could come through deliberate distortion, however, is to think that by increasing wrong we can increase right.
And to think that men and women can be improved by downplaying our evil is to take distortion to the highest level of irresponsibility.
Healing Wounds Lightly
The ancient prophet said (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11), “My priests have healed the wounds of my people lightly; saying, ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” Slightly healed wounds are unhealed wounds. A harder, better medicine is needed.