The Corner

Culture

History is Forgotten If We Don’t Keep It Fresh

Have World War II movies slighted the British? This article interviewing the writer and director of Pegasus Bridge, a new film coming next year about Operation Deadstick, the predawn British inland gliderborne assault on D-Day, asserts that today’s audiences have been shorted on the British side of the war:

For years the Brits have been moaning ‘why doesn’t someone make a film on the British achievements during the war”. Or you often hear “anyone would think the Yanks turned up and won the war for us”. 

Reading that really drove home yet again one of the lessons that has been hard for conservatives to swallow over the past decade: every lesson we learn, and every battle we win, has to be refought and retaught from scratch every generation. For my generation – I was born in 1971, my parents were born early enough in the 1930s to remember the War, and I grew up watching the 4:30 Movie on WPIX – there was no shortage of movie depictions of the British as major players in every aspect of the war, both British films and films that surrounded American leads with British allies: Bridge on the River Kwai, Mrs. Miniver, A Bridge Too Far, The Great Escape, The Guns of Navarone​, just to name a few. My natural inclination is to say that we’re no more lacking in good films about the British in World War II than we are lacking in good plays about Danish monarchical succession. But the existence of a strong film canon from the 1940s through the 1970s accomplishes little to inform people born after, say, 1990. Michael Totten has a provocative writeup in City Journal of the Bernie Sanders-supporting Alt-Left at the Democratic Convention this summer, and he drives home this point about the younger generation’s ignorance of the lessons of the Reagan era:

According to an exhaustive report by political scientists Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk in the Journal of Democracy, young people today are considerably more authoritarian and antidemocratic by attitude and temperament than any other generational cohort, especially baby boomers. Only 30 percent think that it’s “essential” to live in a country with a democratic system of government, and a terrifying 24 percent actually think that a democratic system of government is a bad thing. Only 32 percent of millennials think that it’s “absolutely essential” that “civil rights protect people’s liberty.” According to a Pew Research Center report, 40 percent of millennials want the government to ban “offensive” speech.

“The decline in support for democracy,” Foa and Mounk write, “is not just a story of the young being more critical than the old; it is, in the language of survey research, owed to a ‘cohort’ effect rather than an ‘age’ effect.” In other words, millennials are likely to carry these ideas and attitudes with them for the rest of their lives. Their contempt for free speech is a stunning reversal of the Free Speech Movement on university campuses in the 1960s led by young boomers who fought hard to topple institutional censorship. Many of today’s young adults, by contrast, want to impose institutional censorship—not just on college campuses but across the nation….

The overwhelming majority of Sanders supporters have no memory of Soviet totalitarianism or the Berlin Wall; they know nothing of a world in which the United States was not the world’s only superpower, a world where, if America had slipped, human rights and democratic government might have been eclipsed almost everywhere. The Sanders delegates, when they get older, likely won’t take pride, as Biden does, in America’s military strength. Their lives, and their generational experience of history, are drastically different. And the Democratic Party—and the Republican Party, too—will have to reckon with this.

In many ways, that’s a harder lesson for my generation than for people in their sixties and seventies today – we’re not yet accustomed to seeing the past of our youth as a foreign country. And yet, to live in the present, we must not risk leaving the past behind, or its lessons will be swiftly forgotten.

Dan McLaughlin is an attorney practicing securities and commercial litigation in New York City, and a contributing columnist at National Review Online.

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