If not now, when?
16 April 2022
Day 52 of the assault on Ukraine.
Growing up, my momma told me about sitting in the living room, listening to the radio with Nana, Aunt Barbara, and Uncle Lawrence. She and Uncle Lawrence were children. Together, in the early 1940’s the family of women and children listened for news and worried about Uncle Bob and Uncle Dick – both, on the front lines.
At home, in Salt Lake City, rations were in place. When mom’s pet goose was hit by a car on 1300 East, the neighbor offered to take care of her and asked Nana if his family could . . . mom has a difficult time telling this story . . . eat the pet. Nana said “yes.”
I grew up hearing stories about brave Uncle Bob crawling on his belly to bring his injured men back across the lines. I grew up knowing that Uncle Dick worked the radio communications on the front lines. I grew up knowing that Uncle Bob did not speak about the war. I grew up knowing that inside Uncle Bob’s office in the basement of his home was the helmet of a German soldier. I grew up knowing Uncle Bob was one of the first Americans to enter Dachau. Of course, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t speak of the horrors.
Years later, I met my Grandpa Mac, a Chief Petty Officer, and my Grandma Evelyn, a nurse. They told stories about the Pacific Theater of WW II.
When I started teaching, we read about the Holocaust. In the late 1990’s, my students still knew family members like my uncles and grandparents.
Teaching eighth graders, we read the dramatization of Anne Frank and I told the story of my mother’s goose, Cornelia. I showed pictures of the ration book I saw when I was in Cuba.
By the time I taught world literature in sophomore English, my students did not have primary sources, relatives, from the WW II era.
Reading books like Night, required an extra day to build background about the Holocaust.
Each time I taught one of these texts, I wondered about my momma listening to the radio. How did we, and I mean the United States, not know about the atrocities.
Five years ago, when I taught An Ordinary Man, I was surprised to learn about the Rwandan Genocide. The only way to teach it was with a docudrama, Beyond the Gates, originally Shooting Dogs.
I lived through the genocide and, essentially, missed it. Bill Clinton was our POTUS and OJ Simpson was on trial. I was focused on pop culture, not the world.
I am the one watching PBS NewsHour and thinking, “if we know, why aren’t we doing something now?”
What can I do?