The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Why Memory Matters

Posted on | May 27, 2024 | Comments Off on Why Memory Matters

“People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”
Edmund Burke

Our Army son posted the photo above, showing his baby girl manning the machine gun, with the caption, “These gun teams get younger every day,” and I thought it was an appropriate illustration for this Memorial Day.

As Americans, we are the heirs of a tradition, profoundly indebted to earlier generations, and owing them a certain duty of gratitude. We must recall that “We the People” ordained the Constitution in order to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” If we are grateful for that inheritance — as we should be — then we ought to act in such a manner as to show ourselves worthy of our liberty, considering what tremendous sacrifices were required to obtain and keep it.

A few years ago, I told the story of my ancestor, Abraham Isham Bolt, who served in the South Carolina militia that defeated the British at the Battle of Cowpens, a crucial victory in the Revolutionary War, depicted in the climactic scene of the 2000 movie The Patriot. My ancestor was a mere teenager when he served in the militia, as I pointed out:

Every Fourth of July, we celebrate America’s independence, dating this to the anniversary of 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was made public. But it was not the fine phrases of the Declaration — those self-evident truths — that made the United States an independent nation. No, it was the soldiers who fought the war that won our freedom, and how many of those Patriot soldiers were just teenage farm boys like my ancestor?

Nine months of militia service for a 16-year-old is perhaps a small sum in the account balance of history, yet this is a priceless legacy of which I am immensely proud, and it is strange to me that so few Americans know anything about their ancestors, or care anything about history.

We had a little family gathering Sunday, with my son Jefferson in attendance. He’s just finished his second year of law school, and hasn’t been home since last Thanksgiving, so he brought with him a Christmas gift for me, delivered a few months belatedly: A family tree drawn by his girlfriend (who has a master’s degree in library science and does diligent research) showing five complete generations of my ancestors, going all the way back to my great-great-great-grandparents — all 32 of them!

How many people know the names of all 32 of their great-great-great-grandparents? And, I should point out, Abraham Bolt wasn’t among those; he was my great-great-great-great-grandfather, and his son James (b. 1783) was the earliest Bolt ancestor listed in the genealogy prepared by Jefferson’s girlfriend. An awareness of one’s ancestry provides a deeper appreciation of history, which is valuable to our sense of who we are, and gives us a perspective that we might not otherwise possess.

“To live for the moment is the prevailing passion — to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing the sense of historical continuity, the sense of belonging to a succession of generations originating in the past and stretching into the future. . . .
“Narcissism emerges as the typical form of character structure in a society that has lost interest in the future.”

Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979)

What could be more narcissistic than the impudence of the soft-handed intelligentsia who think themselves superior to that heroic generation of Patriots who fought for American independence? Patrick O’Donnell at Breitbart tells the history of the “Appeal to Heaven” flag about which liberals have recently become indignant. One suspects that none of those outraged at Justice Alito’s display of that flag could name even one of their ancestors as having served the Patriot cause.

“These gun teams get younger every day,” as my son says, and let’s hope our grandchildren will do better at remembering their heroic ancestors than most of the members of our generation have done.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Grateful as always for visiting readers, perhaps this would be an opportune moment to remind you that the Five Most Important Words in the English Language are:



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