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Wed Nov 14, 2012, 09:15 AM

What High School Taught Millennials About the War on Terrorism

What High School Taught Millennials About the War on Terrorism

Some time ago, I got curious about what the high school kids are reading these days in history class. A quick consultation with a few teacher friends led me to The American Vision by Professors Joyce Appleby, Alan Brinkley, Albert Broussard, James McPhereson, and Donald Ritchie. It's one of the most popular American history textbooks aimed at eleventh grade students. As I understand it, the 2003 copy I hold in my hands would've been used in a typical classroom for five to eight years. In other words, this is the American history book that shaped a lot of the young people who've recently joined the ranks of adult society, or at least eligible voters.

How have they been taught our shared past?

As I flipped through the table of contents, pondering where to begin, I suddenly felt foolish, for I hadn't anticipated that the last chapter would be titled, "The War on Terrorism." Do you mean to tell me that history didn't end when I last studied it -- that today's history textbooks include stuff that happened years after I graduated from high school? Intent on feeling wiser if I was doomed to feel older, I decided to start there. How better to begin assessing a tome of history than by reading how its authors describe the major national events that I witnessed as an adult?

Here is the first paragraph that I read:

The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, killed all 266 passengers and crewmembers on the four hijacked planes. Another 125 people died in the Pentagon. In New York City, nearly 3,000 people died. More Americans were killed in the attacks than died at Pearl Harbor or on D-Day in World War II.

That's a confusing way to compare the events for any student whose touchstone is Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. It makes it seem as though 9/11 cost more lives than the invasion of Normandy. It's true that an estimated 2,499 Americans died on June 6, 1944 itself, a slightly lesser figure than the victims who died on September 11, 2001. But add up all Allied deaths on D-Day and the figure reaches 4,414 killed. American casualties were around 6,600 that day. Total Allied casualties were roughly 10,000. And "over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties, with nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces. Of the Allied casualties, 83,045 were from 21st Army Group (British, Canadian and Polish ground forces), 125,847 from the US ground forces."

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/what-high-school-taught-millennials-about-the-war-on-terrorism/265192/

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