I stood in line at a cheeseburger restaurant, middle of the afternoon. In front of me were four high school age guys who had just busted loose from their daily indoctrination. Three were White, one Hispanic. The White boys were well dressed, no slobs or ghetto attire, perhaps from financially above average families. They were discussing history. The Hispanic expressed that he did not care much for American history. One of the White boys admitted he did not know when WWII occurred...
Concerning the Hispanic boy, it is only natural that someone not born here might not be interested in American history. But if one did not care for a place and its people, its culture and who built it, why would you want to be in that place?
Concerning the White boy, consider that if did not know when WWII occurred he has no real idea about 20th century history, much less 19th century history. I know where my grandfathers were in 1945. Where were this young man’s great-grandfathers in 1945? He probably does not know. A survey I referenced a few essays ago noted that many people could not name their four grandparents and that only 4% of people could name all eight of their great-grandparents. If he knew little about WWII, we can assume he has no idea where his ancestors were from 1865, if any of them had even arrived in America by that time. Without a connection to the past a people are lost, will drift pointlessly.
The Boomers, as a demographic, knew little about history and often let kin ties die out as they sought money, entertainments, and what they considered the good life. But the under age 20 generation in present day America have taken historical ignorance to new levels.
We can assume the young men I mentioned were not upset over the recent smelting of the Robert E. Lee statue that once stood in Charlottesville, if they even heard that it happened. The bust of George Washington is still on the face our our quarters; I wonder if they know who he was? They are in an electronic world, detached from the past, with no sense of eternity.
The late great Andrew Nelson Lytle once wrote that he had “come to live in the sense of eternity”. That is the opposite of what the Boomer and succeeding generations have done.
My family has not been immune to this. I have 1st cousins I barely know and many 2nd cousins whom I have never even met. The last real (aka more than 10 people) family reunion we held occurred over 25 years ago. They have little to no interest in early Kentucky, which our kin helped pioneer. They have no real interest where their ancestors were in 1865, or in 1776. They have no real interest in their ancestor’s Protestant (including Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed) beliefs, and some have drifted to Pentecostalism. Grandchildren of farmers became urbanites. Much of my family are severed from their roots, as is the bulk of modern America. Only a handful are racially conscious. But, they had money and ease that their ancestors did not have.
I tried to awaken my kin. I have talked, shared old photos, and written essays about our kin. But I have failed to garner much interest from any family under the age of 70. At 40, I have become the genealogist/archivist/historian for the family.
Earlier this year I watched a speech on YouTube by Sam Dickson, given at the Dixie Fest in South Carolina this July. He spoke of some Hungarian royalty of the Andrassy family whom he happened to meet decades ago as a young man. He commented to them that they had lost everything when they fled the communist takeover of Hungary. Dickson asked them how they coped with losing everything. The Countess politely told him that: “We have everything we ever had except our money. She said you Americans - and remember this was 1970 - said you Americans have lost everything except money. Said you’ve lost you race, you’ve lost your religion, you’ve lost your music, you’ve lost your culture, you’ve lost your families. She went down a checklist and said the day is gonna come when the money’s gonna go, and said when that day comes Americans will be the most bankrupt people in the history of the whole human race”. I fear this lady was correct.
I want to help my people. I want to inspire my ignorant generation to learn of the past and embrace their roots. But so far I have been unsuccessful. The young men I opened this essay speaking of have already lost everything of value, and do not even know it. In a sense they did not lose it as they never had it to begin with. What more can I say?
Joe Putnam is a life long resident of Kentuckiana, with ancestors having lived with a 75 mile radius of Louisville since 1780. He has blogged at God, Kin, and Soil and has indie published a few small books available on Amazon.