- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

Don't keep youth in the dark about atrocities

I am disturbed by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg's June 27 Commentary column, "Teaching children about atrocities." Mr. Trachtenberg suggests that teaching students about atrocities, specifically the Holocaust, is wrong. He argues that it destroys a young person's "inner vision" and leaves the child devoid of hope and sympathy for individuals' suffering.

First, compassion is not a numbers game. Its supply grows, rather than diminishes, with each use. Feeling compassion for victims of the Holocaust does not preclude students from relating to the suffering of individuals.

Second, the suggestion that history should be edited for students' consumption is repugnant to me. This tactic would set a precedent for rewriting history that should frighten any citizen of a democratic nation. Mr. Trachtenberg poses the question of whether learning about atrocities will make students "feel less secure about 'life in a civilized society.'" I would cheer this reaction. The worst ailment of any democracy is complacency. Perhaps young people will abandon complacency if they realize genocide is not a tragic chapter in human history but an open book that can affect any society under the right conditions.

I strongly disagree with Mr. Trachtenberg's assertion that the only comfort teachers can offer is religion. Teaching this subject in the right way steering a course between paralyzing guilt and ignorance would empower students rather than depress them.

Teach students about the Holocaust. Teach them also about killings in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Cambodia. Most of all, teach them that such events are preventable, that we have the power to stop genocide. Show students that they can advocate for a stronger United Nations, for better U.N. peacekeeping, for an International criminal court to punish perpetrators of atrocities or for some solution not yet dreamed of. We must teach students about the past and present to give them the motivation they need to change the future.


REBECCA BROWN

Fairfax




The June 27 Commentary column "Teaching children about atrocities," by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, is just another example of an overreaching professor trying to impose politically correct revisionism upon history.

Where is it written that historians should have any role in "protecting children"? Historians are supposed to recount factual events and apply some analysis and perspective so that students can better understand why these events occurred. Historians should not be concerned with watering down facts because they may be a little shocking or troublesome for our youth. This is nothing more than a denial of the facts and of human nature itself. Ironically, such a coverup would be far more damaging to our youth than the plain, and sometimes harsh, facts.

Today, we are raising an entire generation of children who are pitifully ill-informed. Why shouldn't all the facts be presented properly? How many youngsters today could tell you who Robert E. Lee was? Of those who know, how many would characterize him as evil? I shudder to think what the results of such a poll would show.

Our young people, particularly college students, are capable of understanding that the world is a complex place and that there are no easy explanations for man's atrocities. That is no excuse for soft-pedaling the facts.

Western society has reached a point where atrocities of a physical nature are very difficult to perpetrate, much less get away with. However, another atrocity, subtler but of equal magnitude, is being perpetrated by academics on an intellectual level: a misrepresentation of the facts, calculated to persuade young people to put their trust in the state to make decisions on their behalf. The liberal academy's curriculum attempts to deprive students of the most important freedom: the freedom to think for themselves.


DONALD WILSON

Arlington

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