This Week's Story

History Changes Us

Barbara:  I was sitting at my desk in fourth grade and reading a chapter in my American history book.  I remember stopping and thinking, “I love reading about American history.  I didn’t ask myself, “Why?”

Since then I have discovered that history helps me to see.  It opens my mind to people and how they think.  Reading about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and speaking with one of the freedom fighters from Budapest etched their suffering and bravery into my mind.  I cried for their losses and the injustice.  Reading biographies about the dedication of many Chinese young people under Sun Yat-sen and their betrayal made me furious.  Speaking with an American officer involved in almost daily combat for a year during the Vietnam War; reading war-related primary documents by American, Russian, and North Vietnamese leaders; and having a close friend who escaped Saigon as the Communists moved into the city, changed me.

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Evan:  Do you like your history class?

Dustin:  No! Why should I have to memorize dates and hear about dead people?  They don’t matter to me.

Evan:  They are not important by themselves. They are parts of a whole.  History is exciting, but it is also an exacting inquiry into the past.  It resembles a sophisticated deep sea treasure hunt with remote controlled deep sea robots.  It pursues answers for: Who are the influential people and what are the significant events of the past?  What has precipitated them?

Math provides an analogy.  We say that three plus one is four, but sometimes five plus an unknown produces four.  What is the unknown?  It is not minus one. What is missing?  History has answers and mysteries.  Both change nations and individuals, even you and me.

Leah:  Barbara, when did you become interested in history?

Barbara:  I don’t remember not being interested in history.  Before I was in third grade my father and grandmother filled my ears with discussions about American history, politics, the Depression, and World War II.  It was obvious that they cared intensely about their subjects.

I realized that ideas and people are in history and cannot be separated from today’s life.  I also learned that people with integrity can disagree about history and possibly one is not wrong.  Papa was a Democrat. Grandma was a Republican.  Papa highly respected Eleanor Roosevelt; Grandma most certainly did not.  From Papa I heard that the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 restored hope.  From Grandma I heard that it destroyed the process of American government.  I observed that Papa was a student of history in his private life, and as a student at Roosevelt University and Loyola University.  He was fascinated by research and connected it to his daily observations.

History became personal to me.  It changed my family and continues to change me.   Grandma’s father was a Yankee soldier in the American Civil War.  I heard about his struggles with alcohol after the war. Grandpa was in France during World War I.  He did not talk about his war experience.

During World War II Papa was a guard at Hyde Park for President Roosevelt and shared stories with me about dignitaries who visited the President and First Lady.  Papa shared daily challenges the President had in moving, because he had to wear braces from having had polio.

Due to the Depression my maternal grandfather’s printing business began to fail.  He did not want to lay off employees, because then they could not support their families. He went heavily into debt, eventually losing his home, business, property, and health.  His ethics affected his losses, but also developed tremendous resilience in his family.

The voices of history and the present can motivate us to have courage and to seek truth.