A rueful reminiscence from Wilder.
When I was in grade school the teachers spoke of the Constitution with reverence. As second graders, we listened as the teacher told the story of how it was written and the freedoms it guaranteed us and the responsibilities that it demanded of us. My grade school teachers were all married women, and they loved America. It was a small town, and the teachers had grown up in the area. Some of them had taught their own children and their own grandchildren in the same school where the chalkboard dust, lead paint dust, water from lead-soldered pipes, and asbestos floor tiles soaked into my skin daily. Even the early reader books were taped together with yellowing cellophane tape at the bindings, and most of the books had been printed decades before. I got to See Spot Run like legions of boys before me, running my fingers over the same dog-eared pages that had been read for years, young mouths quietly sounding out the words.
And these boys before me, who had sat in the same desks, drew beginning math on the same blackboards, pulling chalk from the same worn, wooden tray that I did, got paddled in the same principal’s office that I did. They had traveled the world to strange places that their teachers never named when they opened the geography books during the time they spent in second grade. These were places with foreign names like Guadalcanal. Bastogne. Chosin Reservoir. Da Nang.
One of these boys in particular, a blonde haired young Ranger, was barely eighteen when he was shot climbing the cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc on the sixth of June, 1944. His sister was a friend of my father. As a young boy that Ranger sat in that same room, learning the same math decades before I was born. He sat in that same classroom just a few short years before he was buried in Normandy in late spring at the age of 18. No member of his family could afford to visit his grave until over fifty years had passed and his sister walked to his grave and touched its cold marble stone and ran her fingers over his name. Despite that, the young Ranger isn’t lonely – he is surrounded by 9,387 of his comrades who died during the invasion of France.
The school was torn down some time ago – I don’t know when. A bond issue was finally passed, and a new school was built. There aren’t many more students than when I went there, but there are new classrooms. These new schools are gleaming with whiteboards and new furniture and new books, and from the pictures you can see that the kids look a lot like the kids from when I went there; but the connection with 100 years of history went when the building was torn down.
Change is inevitable, but the one thing that my teachers taught us was that the Constitution was a rock, something special, something that every American had shared for hundreds of years. It was important, and it protected us, and protected our freedom.
I believed that, the way the boys that live forever on Pointe du Hoc did.
Today, however, the population of the United States is at least 14% foreign born, but I’d bet that number undercounts illegal aliens. Second generation Americans, people born here of immigrants, account for at least 10% of the population. A quarter of the population of this country simply has no connection to anything American. 10% were born here, but were raised in a household that had little to no connection to anything American.
These residents also don’t have teachers that teach that the United States is good, that the Constitution is a meaningful document – times have changed and that just isn’t the “woke” take. They don’t get any of this from their family, either. Their family simply doesn’t know anything about freedom and the Constitution in most cases, and probably wouldn’t care if they did. It’s a document that foreigners put together – it is not part of their history at all.
If we have politicians that actively create divisions between Americans with a heritage of limited government and an increasing number of people for whom the history of the United States means nothing, the Constitution won’t mean anything. It will be a speed bump for those who have no connection to it and who have no love of it. The Constitution in the hands of those who hate the limitations it puts on them will, in the long run, provide no safety at all as it is interpreted away, as the press revolts against it, and as the newly imported electorate ignores it.
And what meaning will the blonde Ranger of Pointe du Hoc have then?
Not a whole lot different from what he has now, I’d say. It’s more a matter of which group of us we’re talking about; those of us who have cherished the meaning and memory of that Ranger right along still do, and will forever. Problem is, there’s a large and growing cohort that not only does not cherish that meaning, but has either abandoned the memory or never acquired it in the first place. A bigger problem is that not all of said cohort—probably not even most—are immigrants, unassimilated or otherwise. But there’s a bigger problem still.
In the comments John says, “I’m not trying to make people comfortable with nostalgia – I’m trying to show what we’ve lost.” We’ve lost quite a lot, and stand to lose more yet. The Pointe du Hoc Ranger will be forgotten, as surely as will the lessons he once taught, the example he once provided, and the inspiration and pride he instilled. Partly, that’s just the relentless tide of history clearing the sand of footprints, as it inexorably does—a fact better accepted than lamented or railed against, probably.
But not everything has to be forgotten; not everything should be. And then there are those things whose memory must at any cost be preserved, because the price of allowing them to fade is nothing less than our own extinction. Not for nothing did John begin this excellent post in an old schoolhouse, I think. Because it’s there where our enforced loss of memory and meaning begins, and the cultural amnesia and indoctrination occurring in those classrooms is the biggest problem of them all. Only by addressing that issue will our memory problem be put fully right, if ever it is. Only then can we say we’ve given that valiant Ranger and his comrades their due, our eternal debt to them sufficiently serviced, and their rightful place in our hearts and minds restored.