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Challenge historical ignorance

Veterans Day is quickly approaching next week, as it does every year on the 11th of November, but aside from buying cards and visiting graves, is there something that really sets this holiday aside from others? I say, yes.

How many of us “regular Americans” really even know what Veterans Day is about? Not many, I feel.

Originally known as Armistice Day in celebration of the ending of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, it was later changed to Veterans Day in 1954, in order to include all the other veterans of foreign wars.

Does this name change also say something about the dumbing down of our society, however?

If you ask an average American working at a nine-to-five job or waiting for the bus on a Tuesday afternoon what Veterans Day means or on what date World War I ended, chances are they would not be able to answer.

This problem of ignorance does not simply end with Veterans Day. How many of us can honestly say we know what year the Battle of Gettysburg was fought, or what the Sixth Amendment is, or can state the preamble to our Constitution by heart?

Perhaps I’m the only one, but this gross historical ignorance really bothers me. Questions like these are required knowledge for anyone who is trying to become a U.S. citizen, and yet those of us who are born here — and are, by that right, citizens already — are completely ignorant of them.

Why is it that we require new prospective citizens to be informed and yet we are not?

You can ask millions of Americans who won on "Monday Night Football" or who is going to be the next American Idol and they would tell you without a moment’s hesitation. Yet those same Americans don’t even know who the fifth president of the United States was.

Does this not say something about the state of our nation?

It cannot be blamed on our education system, because, chances are, you were forced to learn these things for a test at some point during your educational career, and it was your choice to forget them after it was done. This is wrong, because a citizen who is informed of our nation’s history is a citizen who can make knowledgeable and intelligent decisions that will affect our nation’s future.

It is the responsibility of every one of us to know important things about our history because it is that history, above all else, that makes our country so fantastic and unique.

The fact that we can elect an African-American president or vote without fear of our lives says something about the U.S. — and stands as another testament to our history’s importance, for it did not always used to be like that. We as Americans should be informed and knowledgeable about that time when it was not this way. Otherwise, we will not be able to fully appreciate the era we are living in today.

So this Veterans Day, thank a vet, visit a cemetery and remember how good we have it in this country, but above all else, take a moment to refresh your knowledge of our nation’s history. It will not only make you a better citizen but a better person as well.

Alex wants to remind you of the finer points of the Zachary Taylor administration. Contact him at

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