The National Museum of American History, and a billionaire who has funded a new exhibit there, would like you to know that we’re going to need more wars if we want to have freedom.
Never mind that we seem to lose so many freedoms whenever we have wars. Never mind that so many nations have created more freedoms than we enjoy and done so without wars. In our case, war is the price of freedom. Hence the new exhibit: “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.”
The exhibit opens with these words: “Americans have gone to war to win their independence, expand their national boundaries, define their freedoms and defend their interests around the globe.”
Those foolish, foolish Canadians: Why, oh, why did they win their independence without a war? Think of all the people they might have killed!
The exhibit admits the motivation of “expanding national boundaries.” The aim of conquering Canada is included, along with some dubious excuses, as one of the motivations for the War of 1812.
But the exhibit provides absolutely no indication of what in the world can be meant by a war being launched in order to “define our freedoms.” And, needless to say, it is the U.S. government, not “Americans,” that imagines it has “interests around the globe” that can and should be “defended” by launching wars.
The exhibit is an extravaganza of misdirection. The U.S. Civil War is presented as “America’s bloodiest conflict.” Really?
Because Filipinos don’t bleed? Vietnamese don’t bleed? Iraqis don’t bleed? We should not imagine that our children won’t learn exactly that lesson. The Spanish American War is presented as an effort to “free Cuba,” and so forth.
But overwhelmingly the deception is done in this exhibit by omission. Bad past excuses for wars are ignored; the death and destruction is ignored or minimized.
The exhibit provides a teacher’s manual, and its entire coverage of the past 12 years of war-making consists of describing the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
What do young people learn from lessons like these? Jessica Klonsky, a high school teacher, in a new book called “Teaching about the Wars,” wrote that many of her students were surprised to learn that any others than soldiers die in war.
Civilians — children, women, the elderly — have been the vast majority of war deaths in most major wars since World War II, and our young people have no idea. And if students save up for a field trip to Washington, D.C., they’ll return home just as clueless.
People love to complain about the stories the Bush Administration told about weapons of mass destruction. I think the stories we tell about wars after they are over do more damage. The truth would result in an absolute end to war-making.
The truth is not pleasant, but it is the real price of freedom.
David Swanson‘s books include “War Is A Lie” and “When the World Outlawed War,” and he is syndicated by PeaceVoice.