“Several generations have been raising several generations of supposedly educated young Americans who are, by and large, historically illiterate,” said David McCullough. He voiced concern that there is a lack of understanding of how much we owe to those, such as George Washington, who went before us. “We are their beneficiaries and we don’t know them well enough and we don’t have enough respect and appreciation for them.”
McCullough, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of John Adams and 1776, was the dinner speaker at Hoover Institution’s board of overseers’ summer 2006 meeting. McCullough addressed an audience of 1,200 guests at the dinner on Wednesday, July 12.
In his speech, “Leadership and the History We Don’t Know,” McCullough spoke of George Washington, in his capacity as a military leader, and two other lesser known military leaders of the Revolutionary War, Nathanael Greeneand Henry Knox, all young men, who rose to become generals in the Continental army. These three men, who served throughout the entire eight years of the war, McCullough said, were neither well educated nor experienced, but their knowledge of classical history prepared them for their roles.
“Even those who stayed with the army, who followed Washington through hell, had times of enormous doubt and misgivings about the whole affair, including Washington,” said McCullough. Washington had moments when he wished he hadn’t been cast in his role as a leader. “As students of history, though,” McCullough said, “he and the others believed they had been cast by history or the hand of God or fate or providence in one of the greatest historic dramas of all time. Therefore they individually must play their parts as best they possibly could, giving it everything they had, because they, in turn, would one day be judged by history. So, a sense of history isn’t just understanding what went before we appeared on the scene, it’s understanding that we are part of history and that we will be judged in time to come by how well we played our parts.”
To develop an appreciation for history by young people McCullough recommended that teachers must have a degree in the area that they teach. Also, McCullough believes that teachers must have enthusiasm for the subject they teach. Finally, he recommended that parents and grandparents must do more to interest children in history, such as field trips and conversations.
This year’s summer meeting, July 12 and 13, included talks by Hoover fellows on the performance of the new chair of the Federal Reserve Board, the library and archives resources, a new book comparing Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin, the exhibit featuring Herbert Hoover’s humanitarian efforts in Europe, and the United States military’s success in Tall Afar, Iraq.
John Taylor, Hoover senior fellow, spoke on “The Beginning of the Ben Bernanke Era at the Federal Reserve Board.” Although Taylor believes it’s early to analyze the Bernanke administration, he identified three lessons to be learned to date. First, keep to the proven principles – it’s more important now than ever. Next, talk about the economy, not about the future of the federal funds rate. Third, commit to price stability without adding uncertainty about the meaning of a new numerical inflation target.
In “World Communism across the Decades: Searches in the Hoover Institution Archives” Robert Service, Hoover distinguished visiting fellow, discussed two projects he is researching, world communism and Leon Trotsky. Trotsky, Service said, claimed that if he had risen to the top the history of communism would have been different. His research, though, leads Service to believe that the development of communism would have been the same.
“Some [political] players should not have been elected; how did they move from fringe to center?” asked Kiron Skinner, Hoover research fellow, in her talk titled “Strategies of Campaigning: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin.” Both men, she said, have a lot in common; they were both seen in their countries as being radical but eventually became centrists. In their campaigns, they made cogent arguments that appealed in a broad way to people and secured their base and expanded their reach at the same time, Skinner said, which led to their elections
Maciej Sikierski, curator of the Hoover East European collection, and Zbigniew Stanczyk, a library specialist at Hoover, spoke of the contributions and legacy of “Herbert Hoover in Poland: Pioneer Humanitarian at Work.” That acclaimed exhibit of Herbert Hoover’s humanitarian work, which toured Poland in 2004 and 2005, showcases rare photographs, documents, posters, and footage illustrating Herbert Hoover's commitment to the survival and well-being of Poland and the means by which he fulfilled that commitment during the early twentieth century when famine threatened that country’s population.
In “Counterinsurgency in Iraq: The Case of Tall Afar” Colonel H. R. McMaster, Hoover research fellow, outlined the approach of the military in successfully securing Tall Afar. The motives of the enemy are to destabilize the country, he said, so it can gain support for the most extreme of the ideological factions. In Tall Afar, McMaster said, the enemy had overrun the city until the U.S. forces entered and engaged it. “Even as we overwhelmed the enemy,” McMaster said, “we treated civilians with respect.” In turn, the soldiers were helped by civilians who, he believes, understood what they were doing, which eventually led to a stable environment in Tall Afar.