The 4th of July should have reminded us of American history. History tends to get lost in American education. As that wise guy GI told me when I was teaching with the Armed Forces Race Relations Institute at Fort Carson, “I don’t have to know any of that stull because it happened before I was born.” How American that is! In the 1970s I was on the staff of the City of Colorado Springs Human Relations Commission. I used to teach a lot of history. But not just history. It was a good time for education in how “we can all get along,” as Rodney King would say. We had a partnership with the Pentagon’s Race Relations Institute to teach the bitter lessons of race prejudice and discrimination in this country and how to end racism. The military was big on this. The brass understood that if allowed to continue prejudice and discrimination would seriously impair the mission.
A key feature of the classes was how we mixed in colonels and generals with privates and sergeants. Once in the class there was no rank. Everybody was equal because we’re all to some extent guilty of racism and prejudice. One way to overcome this is through the knowledge of diverse groups, which creates harmony. We taught the culture and history of racial and ethnic minorities (Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans), but also Euro American groups. This was the reason for Armed Forces Race Relations Training and I still teach it this way. We emphasize racism against people of color, but we forget that white groups like the Irish, Italians and Jews have faced terrible racism from white Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPS). We see a dangerous resurgence of white-against-white prejudice recently in the Neo Nazis, the Alt-Right and other groups.
To counter this it’s time to bring back all-inclusive Race Relations Training. To my knowledge it isn’t done anymore, to the detriment of all.
Good race relations extends to white Europeans. In this light I want to remind us of some Europeans who helped us win independence. History is important, even if it is obscure to many of us. We’re proud of our independence, won at such great price from Mother England who fought to keep her American children under her wing. But we did not fight alone. Let’s remember that and not allow our fierce pride to turn to arrogance. We never would have defeated the British if the French had not helped us. But there is prejudice against the French, our oldest allies. As politicians have said, especially prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a debacle from which we have not recovered and which the French opposed, the French are “smelly cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” But in 1781-1733, smelly cheese or not, at Yorktown they made our independence possible. And let’s not forget the Marquis de Lafayette who was like a son to George Washington.
Spain helped us tremendously with loans, huge quantities of military supplies, seizures of British ships, access to ports in the Caribbean and Mexico, and many other things.
Yet, how unappreciated they are in our American history books. We repaid Spain handsomely in 1898. During the Spanish-American War, we administered the coup de grace to the tottering Spanish Empire and drove them out of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines (the Filipinos fought us bitterly during the Philippine Insurrection).
We then took these lands for ourselves, annexing them outright or making them dependent on us, as in Cuba, which has made the U.S. the second largest Hispanic country in the world.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.