Where to begin?
As a nation we seem content with being uninformed, and for how much longer are we willing to be? We seem to be wallowing in an empty celebration of ignorance, turning our backs on fact and truth. Our history is what it is, and no amount of denial or revision will change that.
The philosopher, George Santayana, wisely noted that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And many Americans not only don’t remember, they refuse to even learn.
At its root, the subject of critical race theory (CRT)—history is what I prefer to call it—has as its detractors, racists denying 400 years of the suppression of Blacks—from the earliest days of slavery to the ongoing attempts to subvert the voting processes that has as their focus minorities, including the physically infirm. Twenty-eight laws in seventeen states suppressing voter rights have already been enacted, and even more loom on the horizon.
It seems likely that those who want to suppress the vote are those whose beliefs and politics are so out of touch with the public that they can’t get into office without cheating. There’s nothing scarier than a level playing field to those who won’t play by the rules.
And are we afraid that the truth will somehow hurt?
Of course it will. But it will also help.
If one is comfortable learning of the past, then one is probably not learning the truth. “Warts and all,” is an ageless expression to remind us of features or qualities that are not appealing or attractive. That, of course, embraces and defines the history of man.
Schools across the country continue to teach the mythology of Christopher Columbus while ignoring the fact that Native Americans were here to greet his landing parties. I grew up not knowing a thing about the massacres of indigenous people for the acquisition of land by white people. I remember being taught that General Custer was some kind of American hero when, in fact, he was the leader of a murderous incursion onto tribal lands. His “last stand” only reflects that he died in battle.
James Welch, the wonderful Native American poet and novelist, once told me that at the scene of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in southeast Montana one should take the walking tour from the outlined suggestion backwards, as it provides the view from an Indian perspective.
My great grandfather, James Naylor, was an attorney in Nebraska. I grew up hearing about what a wonderful and colorful character he was, how he fought for truth and justice, and died on the steps of the Custer County courthouse in Broken Bow after being shot by the brother of a victim whose killer he was defending.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
He was an anti-abolitionist who served time in various Iowa locations for his criminal activities. His father-in-law, Frank Morgan, was an Indian hunter who he greatly admired for his “patriotic” acts. Although he was, in fact, an attorney, Judge, as he was called, died in a hotel room of alcoholic poisoning—leaving behind a wife and three small children. One of those children, my maternal grandfather, concocted his father’s myth to an end whose purpose I don’t understand.
Hiding behind fake history offers no lessons or insights except to reveal quite a bit about the person who created the falsehoods.
I’ve always found it curious to listen to those who believe in reincarnation. They seem to always believe that their past lives included being part of royalty or some struggle that resulted in new-found freedoms. Nobody ever suggests the likelihood that they were just digging up potatoes for some royal family or dying as a foot soldier in some insignificant battle.
Obviously, there is no shortage of people willing to offer “alternative” facts. It might make them feel better about themselves—although that seems unlikely—or to just support an unpopular view.
The Trump administration has been the most discredited in American history. And yet, there is a wide base of voters who refuse to acknowledge that he and his cohorts worked to destroy our democracy through his actions and inactions. While I wish that the authors of recent books had spoken more loudly during his time in office, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. There was plenty of honest reporting during his tenure, unless you count Fox News.
In addition to wanting to stifle historical fact, there is also no shortage of people who want to control what books can be offered in schools and libraries. It would make sense to me that those people read the books they want banned, rather than censor them. Books provide untold opportunities of exploration—from travel to ideas to fantasy and creative glimpses of the future.
When asked what course of study to follow to allow for a career in psychology, Rollo May, an American existential psychologist, and author of the influential book “Love and Will” (1969), said to major in literature. There is no true human condition that hasn’t been explored and detailed in what is known as fiction.
Turning our backs to the truth takes nothing but fear. Welcoming the truth takes courage.
Again, Rollo May: “It is dangerous to know, but it is more dangerous not to know.”
Or, put another way, the past doesn’t scare me; an uninformed future does.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
INSALATA RUSSA – RUSSIAN SALAD
This is a rather elaborate salad, but perfect as a lunch—served with some crusty baguette.
Makes: 6-8 servings
about 1 c. mayonnaise
1 c. frozen peas
4 oz. string beans
2 carrots, sliced
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 Tbs. capers
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2-3 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
1 can of tuna, well drained
Trim and wash the string beans. Fill a large saucepan two-thirds with water. Bring water to a boil, add salt and the string beans, carrots, and potatoes. Cook 5-8 mins over high heat, test string beans and carrots and remove when tender but still firm. Set them to drain and cool in a colander. Cook potatoes an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Remove from water and let all vegetables cool a bit. Meanwhile in a separate saucepan heat water and cook peas until tender. Drain and cool.
Place diced vegetables in a large bowl. Add half of the capers and all of the peas. Add the tuna. Season with salt and pepper. Add the oil and vinegar; mix carefully until blended. Taste and adjust salad for seasonings.
Gently mix in 1/2 cup of mayonnaise. Keep adding more mayonnaise until all of the vegetables are well covered in mayonnaise without them seeming to be swimming in it.
At this point, using the back of your spoon press the salad gently to flatten out the top and compress ingredients into the bowl. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. To serve you can turn the salad over onto a platter, it should keep the shape of the bowl or you can leave it in the bowl. Garnish with the remaining capers and slices of hard-cooked eggs. Serve slightly chilled.