My book group selected "Isaac's Storm" by Erik Larson, prompting me to read a book I might never have chosen. It describes the events leading up to and through the devastating hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900, which killed more than 5,000 people.
Despite my interest in meteorology, I knew little about this mammoth hurricane. Historic storm data illustrates that if you live along the Gulf or South Atlantic waters, major destructive hurricanes occur regularly. While forecasting methods have improved immensely, we still remain shocked and unprepared when monster storms hit where they always have.
Possibly, because we are a relatively young nation and because we look forward more than backward, Americans seem to lack historical knowledge of the world and our nation. If we'll only listen, history has much to teach us. A few examples include:
The Ottoman Empire existed from the 13th to 20th centuries and was the leading nation-state in the world. It seemed invincible. Do we know that all that remains of this once dominant superpower is present day Turkey? Do we recall that Spain, France, Holland and Great Britain were also once the undisputed world powers? Is there a message for America?
The "1619" project launched by Nikole Hannah-Jones in conjunction with the New York Times aims to tell the 400-hundred-year saga of slavery from the first slave ship from Africa arriving in Virginia to the present day. How many of us recognize that slavery of Africans began before this nation's founding? Do history books cover the 1919 racial violence referred to as "Red Summer?"
Do we Americans know that immigration conflicts and rules have existed from the start of our nation? Do we recall that the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 made it harder for immigrants to become citizens and easier for the president to deport non-citizens or that highly restrictive immigration laws in the early 1920s were intended to keep out "undesirables" such as Italians, Greeks, Poles and Jews?
Hearing that President Trump sees Greenland as a good real estate buy for the United States reminded me of "Seward's Folly." How many know that in 1867 Russia was willing to sell us the piece of frozen land that became our 49th state and cost $7.2 million, or two cents an acre. Then-U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward was ridiculed for buying it.
World War I, 1914-18, once identified as "the war to end all wars" was ignited when a Serbian nationalist killed the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914. Seventy years later, Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics, but less than a decade later the city was destroyed in an ethnic war. Do most Americans know where Sarajevo is?
Every fall, we are encouraged to get our flu shots. Are we aware that some flu strains are deadly and that in 1918, the "Spanish flu," so named because Spain was the first country to admit it was affected by the disease, killed 50 million to 100 million people worldwide? Do the "anti-vaxxers" understand how many lives have been saved by vaccines for smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia and more diseases?
Do many Americans under the age of 50, who are not of Cuban heritage, know what the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961 involved? As our nation struggles with ongoing issues such as race, international relations, immigration, vaccines, climate change and more, it seems that familiarity with history might be useful in solving today's conflicts.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is email@example.com.