A portrait of US President John Adams, as painted by Gilbert Stuart circa 1800/1815. (Image source: National Gallery of Art)
President John Adams has something to say to students this fall but it is unlikely he will be given the chance.
Across the United States, this summer will be used by educators to convene conferences on curriculum, classroom content and study guides to present to students in September. Likely absent from most of their agendas will be a comprehensive study of the most seminal event in the last century -- World War II -- which continues to define the world we live in, our geopolitical borders, our society, the role of technology and America's leadership role around the globe.
Social studies teachers will be the first to admit despair. In many school districts, a single 45-minute period is all that is offered in the course of an entire class year for the study of this global conflict, Gloria Sesso, chairperson of the Long Island, N.Y. Committee for the Social Studies, told Gatestone.
Forty-five minutes would not even begin to cover how the Nazis took a bigoted beer hall boast and made it into mass murder on an industrial scale, much less understand the origins and consequences of World War II. (A recent survey revealed that 22% of millennials had never heard of the Holocaust.)
Adams, the nation's second President, understood that studying history, and specifically conflict between nations, would give us the means of avoiding the next battle, conflict between nations and of protecting our shared future. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, he wrote:
"... I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."
A Founding Father, Adams was blessed with incredible insight on how best to protect, nurture and advance our fledgling democracy for generations to come. Only by studying historical conflicts, could we spot possible strategic risks, avoid potential hazards and identify even the threats within our own borders.
Sadly, his instruction to study war so that future generations could excel at the arts has not been heeded. According to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, six in 10 Americans do not know which countries the United States fought in World War II.
Not everyone has been indifferent to history and its cautionary instructions to protect America. In 1941, as fierce isolationists such as aviator Charles Lindbergh condemned any effort to help democratic nations under siege by the Nazis, the author Ayn Rand wrote of "Innocent Fifth Columnists."
(The phrase "Fifth Columnists" -- meaning "a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy..." -- became part of the nation's vocabulary during the brutal Spanish Civil War when rebels suggested that their sympathizers were secretly waiting to join four army columns marching to take Madrid.)
Rand's open letter to "Innocent Fifth Columnists" challenged her fellow citizens:
"Are you the kind who sits at home and moans over the state of the world—but does nothing about it?... Are you the kind who says that the future is predestined by something or other, something he can't quite name or explain and isn't very clear about, but the world is doomed to dictatorship and there's nothing anyone can do about it?... Are you the kind who says that he wishes he could do something, he'd be so eager to do something—but what can one man do?... Are you the kind who are so devoted to your own career, your family, your home or your children that you will let the most unspeakable horrors be brought about to destroy your career, your family, your home and your children—because you are too busy now to prevent them?"
Rand was confronting the studied ignorance of many Americans who did not wish to see the danger posed by the isolationists -- they believed we could appease Hitler and Imperial Japan. The isolationists' ignorance of history would threaten our nation's very survival.
The reality is we remain at war -- with those who brought down the Twin Towers and attacked the Pentagon, who apparently consider a diverse, interdenominational nation an outrage that must be erased from the globe.
There are also those within our borders whom some might label modern Fifth Columnists.
We owe it to Adams, and all those who continue to caution us, to "study war" so that our children and grandchildren may live in a nation bequeathed to us through the grace of God and the sacrifice of brave men and women.