Fallen but Not Forgotten
Sitting in the auditorium with some fifty or so other students I opened my history exam paper upon the announcement to commence by the teacher in charge of security and started ticking off the boxes of the multiple choice section. I always found this section rather annoying with ridiculous choices such as, “When was the date of the Battle of Hastings?” Choices ranged from 1066 to 1466, never anything more difficult than remembering the correct century in which the battle took place; though some of my friends were frustrated that there was never the choice “Some of the above”, or even “All of the above” to check off. Many, no doubt, would have been stumped by such multiple choice questions as, “When did the War of 1812 occur” or “Who fought the Franco-Prussian War”.
My favorite part of the History Examination was always the essay section. You had to choose two of five topics and write an essay of between 500 and 1,000 words with penalty points for exceeding the draconian restriction of such a meager limitation. If you are wondering why keeping an essay under 1,000 words gave that young scholar an anxiety attack you must not have been reading my blogs and articles here on the GMIC. Yes, I have always been an obsessive pain in the lower extremities. A secondary, though just as stressful, aspect of the essay section was being limited to only two out of five topics. It seemed and still seems rather a cruel trick to play on a student and I really should broach this topic with our respected fellow GMIC member and educator Megan sometime. To be fair educators only have so much time to check the exams and besides most students would rather have to choose one out of five, or better yet do a “Word Search” of historical names and places or “Connect the Dots” to reveal the letter “I”.
Over the years we have reduced history to dates and places, at times the casi belli (causes for war) is thrown in for good measure. Unless you have had an ancestor who fell in a certain war or battle the names and stories of those who served and fell seldom surface. Most of the time we are not aware of any of our ancestors unless such research has been done into our past family. In my case I know an ancestor of mine fell in the Battle of Isandlawana only because my dear wife is an avid researcher into ancestry.
I applaud some of the resent documentaries dealing with the past two World Wars in bringing the stories of some of those who fell back to life. While it could be argued that history can indeed be reduced to dates and places with an overview of the root causes and the outcome, however, the personal sacrifices must not be allowed to fade away into the mists of the past. There are several excellent books which detail individual sacrifices and one of them is Paul C”s book “Small Town, Large Sacrifice”. Paul has written one book and is now in the process of writing a second dealing with fallen heroes from the American towns of Hawthorne and North Haledon, New Jersey, which I have the honor of being asked to edit. One aspect of Paul’s book is that it tells the stories of those killed in action and in addition those who died in training while still in their home country. We seldom think of those unfortunate people who never got the chance to go overseas to serve their country, which had been their intention.
This may seem like a shameless promotion of Paul’s past book as well as his upcoming one and if it does so be it. Paul is a fellow member here at GMIC and I think he needs to be applauded for taking on this task. My point is not so much, “buy Paul’s books” as it is that such works need to be made required reading in schools so that future generations can get a good idea of the true sacrifices the service people and indeed their families and loved ones made during our shared conflicts.
I would suggest that anyone interested in the full history and the impact the wars have had check out Paul’s book or at the least one with the same theme. We all need to stop simply “checking off” one choice from a list or taking the easiest essay question on a test style of thinking and get the full picture, if we want to call ourselves history buffs or dare I use the term Historians.