Gary and Joan Carlson (Missoulian, July 21) write that “there is a concerted effort to annihilate any remnant of our history” and that those involved in current urban unrest are “brazenly disrupting our major cities with their Marxist, communist agenda to “transform” America.” Fortunately, they advocate for better education as it relates to history. They should start with themselves.
Disruption and unrest have played a critical part in our history, bringing needed change, and increased justice, to the United States. Remember the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. The Civil War is another example, along with abolitionist activities prior to the war. Jeannette Rankin and her fellow suffragettes created disruptions to obtain the vote. Unions increased workers rights and protections through disruptive activity when democratic processes and entrenched interests stymied progress. The U.S. civil rights movement of the '60s had accompanying violence. All too often, that violence was initiated by those wishing to bar change and maintain long-seated injustices. Those who know history, know the difficulties of working through power structures that stonewall change.
Only a myopic view can deny the foregoing. Many barriers remain for a fair and just America. I will assume that the Carlsons desire such a society; that they know the U.S. slave population grew from 700,000 to 4 million during the first 75 years of our republic; that Jim Crow laws and thousands of lynchings denied basic rights to millions of Americans in the decades following the Civil War. According to the Carlsons, in 1800 Jefferson touted the U.S.’s 99% literacy rate. What was the literacy rate of the million slaves denied education? This, too, is history, and the legacy of this history continues.
As individuals interested in history, the Carlsons (I assume) will know that the Native American population of 5 million-plus in 1500 was only 250,000 by 1890. Forced displacement and seizure of lands, disease and accompanying genocidal policies were the cause. Those with the guns, money and power structures willing to ignore rights of people without European heritage pursued the necessary carnage to realize our (I am one) manifest destiny. The legacy of these atrocities also remains.
Much needs doing. Only by recognizing our past, and the legacy the past brings to both privileged and oppressed, will we bring change to an American society of which we can all be justly proud.
Recognizing the need for change and putting life at risk in pursuit of a more fair and just society is as patriotic as any action possible. We are fortunate to have such Americans. Some will be Republican, some Democrat, some anarchists, some with communist or fascist leanings. Few may have read "The Federalist Papers," "Das Kapital" or "Mein Kampf," but many — through an educational awakening long overdue — distinguish between “just” and “unjust” policies and seek to rectify past wrongs. Only through committed actions — sometimes requiring more than sit-ins or marches — will we have the strong America deserving the admiration of the rest of the world.
It has made us stronger in the past. It will make us stronger in the future.
Roger S. Smith of Polson is an economist and former government consultant.
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