When I was in high school, back in the ancient bygone days of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan was in office in the White House, America was sending money and weapons to a tiny band of Islamic extremists called the “Taliban” in Afghanistan, and a young wealthy Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden was using American money to help recruit Islamic Jihadist fighters to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan.
During that time, I was living in Florida, which had a law on its books requiring all high school students to take a state-mandated course called “Americanism vs. Communism” before they could graduate.
“Americanism vs. Communism” was pure indoctrination, straight out of George Orwell. The purpose of the class, which counted as a “history” credit on high-school transcripts, was to show students how the American way of life was superior to the brutal Communists; the man who developed the state-mandated curriculum, Fred Turner, won a Freedoms Foundation Award for his efforts.
The premise and conclusion of the Americanism vs. Communism class was that the Russians were evil, baby-killing monsters who lived under the bed seeking the time to devour the United States and all that we hold dear, and that anything we do to stop these evil fiends was justified. To be fair, this pretty much summed up the politics of the time; America committed quite an astonishing number of atrocities, and supported quite a number of impressively brutal dictators (men like Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Augusto Pinochet, and Alfredo Cristiani), all because Americanism Is Good and Communism Is Bad.
My teacher for Americanism vs. Communism was a very interesting man. He was a World War II veteran who saw combat in the Philippines and was captured by the Japanese. He survived the Bataan Death March and spent time as a Japanese POW in the Japan mainland, where he was transported in the cargo hold of a hell ship. As an American POW, he was tortured and used for forced labor, before the end of WWII brought his release and that of the other people who survived.
These experiences made a true believer out of him; he was quite passionate about his love for this country, but not in the mindless, tribalistic “My country, right or wrong, love it or leave it, you pinko punk!” kind of way. He did not become a jingoist; instead, he internalized the core values he believed made this country better than others.
And he was appalled by the state-developed “Americanism vs. Communism” class he was told to teach.
On the first day of class, he made it very, very clear that he despised the curriculum and everything it stood for, and that he would not be teaching from the textbook the state required. Instead, he said, as far as he was concerned, this class was a class in Russian history, period. Almost everything I know about Russian history, I learned in that high school class.
So, fast forward a few decades. Communism fizzled like a damp firecracker, and our former allies in the Taliban and our former friend (in the sense of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”) Osama have turned into rather more of a problem than we’d anticipated. Today, the idea of teaching a state-developed class in “Americanism vs. Communism” seems quaintly retro, like those 1950s-era books on home economics telling women that the highest duty they could serve was making sure that dinner was on the table promptly when their husbands came home from work, and making sure they had a smile on their face and subservience in their heart at all times.
And yet, I wonder…
…when do you suppose we will see the first state-mandated class in “Americanism vs. Islam”? Anyone care to make any bets as to what state will be the first to impose this requirement?