That question requires us to focus on where we came from, our history, and everyone else's. We have all learned some form of history from different teachers in school, from books, and from the media. The history many of us grew up with involved powerful kings, queens, wars, governments, and the development of parliamentary democracy with some historical and romantic novels. But for the British, for example, when England leaves the Catholic Church in 1534 major changes occurred after Henry the VIII that changed how we approach the subject.
By the time some of us entered a university our perspective began really changing. Marxism had arrived bringing a heightened attention to the arc of class and economics. The Russians with the horrendous record of brutal killing under Stalin suddenly became our ally against the vicious Nazi regime Hitler led in a world that featured three fascist countries against what we called loosely “the free world”. Many treatises on history have helped to revolutionize our view of the past, but surely began filling up with depth from new historical knowledge that modified what simplistic patriotism taught our children about such issues as slavery, racism, and war and how we were exceptional.
After WWII things drastically changed and our military industrial complex with the aid of the CIA launched a series of military actions that were far from helping build up weaker countries. Supporting unpopular dictators because third world countries might lean towards communism, like in Vietnam brought us into a war of choice built on a lie that two of our Navy Destroyers were attacked on the high seas by North Vietnamese torpedo boats when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unraveled the truth. We had provoked the attack the night before by sending Norwegian fast boats with Vietnamese crews attacking North Vietnamese torpedo boats while U.S. Navy ships bombarded them from the ocean!
(Fulbright Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings on Vietnam )
Soon we were involved in a widespread peace movement, nearly one half million deserters, draft dodgers, and our President Nixon carried on a secret B-52 bombing campaign into neutral Cambodia followed by an invasion he called a “protective reaction!” A few days later the nation responded with a series of loud protests around the country from thousands of colleges and with anti-war veterans’ groups expressing their outrage at Nixon’s expanding an unpopular war. When five students were killed and nine injured by national guards at Kent State, the numbers of protestors dramatically increased as did the rhetoric of the Nixon Administration attacking the protestors as slime. Christian Appy’s American Reckoning is one of only a few histories of the Vietnam War that describes how it ended America’s exceptionalism-the broad faith that the U.S. is a unique force for good in the world-for most people and had a profound effect on our national identity.
Another force connected with women involved half the population followed by equally powerful questions about race and racism. The idea of history as a procession of dead white males written by live ones may sound ridiculous now, but the war to open up a wider perspective was a real one. So writers of history began demonstrating different point of emphasis and views. Soon the teaching of science and engineering became increasingly important.
All exposes the current assault on the humanities within higher education as even more uncultured. The thinking goes like this: the study of history, English, philosophy or art doesn't help anyone get a job and does not contribute to the economy to the same degree that science or engineering or business studies do. I believe most of us say that is nonsense and obfuscation.
(My Lai Massacre killed 500 Vietnamese lives of unarmed men, women, children and babies)
The humanities, including history, teach people how to think analytically while at the same time appreciating innovation and creativity. Isn't that a good set of skills for most jobs? Yet we have a Black population clearly left behind even after a vigorous civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr, and those who followed his lead with a variety of militant and peaceful organizations that led to civil rights amendments to the Constitution and civil rights laws involving anti-discrimination in schools, employment and police interactions.
One could wish that the historians were all more accurate. Why would some dare doubt climate change when the science has established it’s truth as one of our most serious problems? Toni Morrison brought to life the inner life of slavery, and pushed the modern reader to confront this reality. Another confronted the same difficult history from a white woman's perspective. One memoir produces anti-war feelings from the righteous revulsion against gross misuse of power. Another accuses those who cringe at the horrors of Hiroshima as "hand wringers". Any society that fails to pay proper attention to whose history we are exploring, and from what perspective, maybe starving his/her own imagination and missing an opportunity to participate spreading useful historical knowledge so mistakes of the past may be understood and avoided in the future.
(Hiroshima the day after we dropped an atomic weapon on that city followed by another later on Nagasaki despite many generals who conceded they were completely unnecessary since we had decimated their cities with Napalm, owned the skies for bombing anywhere, and Hirohito was ready and willing to surrender.)