This speech by Patrick Donovan was given to the Varnum Continentals membership during our monthly dinner meeting and speaker program on 8 April 2019.
I believe, the teaching and sharing of American history can help us come together as a country through the realization that we have a shared story of our national birth and development … a shared identity … an identity made up of both good and bad history. We shouldn’t shy away from the bad or try to cover it up. We should embrace it. We should square ourselves and look at it directly.
As Americans we can all look back on this past and feel gratitude and pride in how far we have come as a country. And we should remember that we are not those people who came before us …we might be descendants, but we are NOT … THEM, there’s no call to feel responsible or to feel shame … we are mere products of that past. And we shouldn’t overemphasize the negative.
I believe the arc of American history is a very positive one … constantly moving and bending further towards its ideals. Yes, there have been bad people, bad acts, and bad governments, but by and by, taken as a whole, we should feel a pride and love for the role our nation has played in the world. Without question, the greatest factor … the greatest driving force behind the massive improvement in the world’s standard of living and well being is liberty. And who is overwhelmingly responsible for liberty being spread around the world in our modern history of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries? Why the U.S., of course.
And, our military heritage is a big piece of that evolving history.
Military history can affect each and every one of us in positive ways on a very personal level. A few weeks ago, I gave a tour to a group of high school-aged special needs kids from the Warwick Transitions school. How do you talk about war and its implements to children, let alone special needs? It is a challenge. One kid in particular got very upset over the presence of a Nazi flag … “WHY?! That’s evil!” he exclaimed.
We ended up having a moving and emotional group discussion on “if war is terrible and ugly, why should we remember it and keep its artifacts?” The kids got it, I think…there was the obvious “remember the sacrifices of those who served” and “remember the past to avoid making the same mistakes” talk. But we also talked about how war history presents us with context and perspective to our own personal lives. When we feel down or anxious about our problems, its good to think what others have gone through and what they’ve faced in war. It helps us realize our troubles likely aren’t so bad.
History shows us we’re not alone. It acts as a guidepost … it shows us the way forward. It gives us hope that we, too, can persevere through whatever it is that faces us. War gives us incredible examples of courage and kindness. It gives us role models who have demonstrated the greatest of human virtues under the absolute worst circumstances possible. It’s easy to be kind and giving when times are good. It is good to reflect on a soldier’s ability to stand their ground and protect their buddies while scared to death under fire … this courage is something all of us should admire and aspire to have.
This tour for these special kids made me realize that preserving and sharing the past is not really about the past at all but is actually all about helping humanity’s future.
— Patrick Donovan
Curator & Vice President, Varnum Memorial Armory Museum