For the editor: Stephanie Coontz’s opinion piece on the horrors and heroes of American history is an honest and insightful wrestling with our turbulent past. I particularly liked his argument that profit, not racism, was the main force behind the expansion of the slave trade.
I have often heard that racism was the original sin of our nation, but I would rather say that it was greed. In noting this, I in no way mean to downplay the severity or pervasiveness of past and present racism, but rather point out that greed has almost always fueled our prejudices.
We still struggle to be honest about how our nation has been affected by the insatiable desire for more. On the contrary, the accumulation of wealth is often celebrated as a sign of individual worth, proof of the viability of the American Dream.
I wonder if we as a society will ever make meaningful progress in addressing our racism until we are honest about the foundations on which it was built.
Derek Engdahl, Pomona
For the editor: In his article on American history and how it should be taught, Coontz presents John Brown as one of the heroes of the abolitionist movement. Alas, it doesn’t even mention the famous 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre in Kansas Territory.
Every book I read on the origins of the Civil War mentions the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, by pro-slavery settlers and the subsequent slaughter of five pro-slavery settlers in front of their families by Brown and his sons.
His omission of this incident is not surprising, given the so-called culture wars that are prevalent in our society today. Thus, it is ironic that Coontz ends his article by stating that “an unflinching account of American history may in fact give us hope for the future.” In effect.
Daniel Connell, Moorpark
For the editor: I agree that the heroes of American history don’t get enough attention. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass receive some. Union leaders receive very little.
Never heard of Smedley Butler? Its good. Nor do I know of two University of California graduates with history degrees. A former Navy friend learned of Butler’s military career during his boot camp, but that was it.
Butler was a Marine general who served more than 33 years and earned two Congressional Medals of Honor. While in retirement, he marched with the Bonus Army in 1932, wrote “War is a Racquet”, and testified in 1934 before the House McCormack-Dickstein Committee about being approached to carry out a coup against the President. Franklin D. Roosevelt.
To paraphrase Coontz, the only people who should feel uncomfortable learning the history of United States history are those who benefit mightily from people not learning it.
Steve Varalyay, Torrance