Most of you know I am French. Some of you know that my mom is German. My grand-parents were born in Germany during World War I, and they survived WWII. My grand-father was an officer in the Wehrmacht, the regular German army, during WWII. He had to serve his country like all the men of his age. I tried to speak with my grand-parents about their life in Germany during the war. But they never wanted to tell me much about it. My mom was born in Germany in 1949, 4 years after the end of WWII. As a student in school, she had to learn about the 3rd Reich and the rise of Adolf Hitler. She had to study how her country declared war on Europe and then the world, and about the millions of Jewish people who were exterminated during the Holocaust. As a student in Germany nowadays, you keep learning about the 3rd Reich. This is not meant to make you feel guilty. It is to be learned as a cautionary tale, so people remember that a dictatorship can arise in any country anytime and, if we are not careful, History can repeat itself.
During my years in France, we also learned about our History, about the great and dark times of our country. Starting in the 19th century and continuing in the 20th century, my country, along with other European countries, colonized most of Africa. And it is important to remember that European countries started the Atlantic slave trade in the 15th century, until the 19th century. Therefore, Europe shares a great responsibility for slavery, along with the United States.
In 1954, only 63 years ago, the French Army was sent to the North African country of Algeria, which was a colony of France, when the Algerian people stood up to claim their independence from France. At the time, the government and media in France referred to the military operation in Algeria as a law enforcement operation. In Algeria, the French Army was engaged in combat against the Algerian people who fought for their independence. A lot of combatants but also civilians were killed. The French Secret Services arrested and tortured combatants and civilians. It was one of the darkest pages of French History, when my country oppressed the people from another country because they were asking for their independence. It is only in 1999, 17 years ago, that the French government officially recognized that the events in Algeria were actually a war, and that we officially called these events the War of Algeria. It was an important day in France because the government recognized, in the name of the French people, that we did something terribly wrong. If you want to improve, recognizing that you have a problem is the first step. We are now at peace with Algeria but we must never forget our History.
Every country has written great pages and dark pages in History. For the United States, slavery and the Civil War that brought an end to it were definitely some of the darkest pages. And we must never forget.
History is not supposed to make you feel good or bad. History is your best defense against ignorance. Every time you learn about History, you are improving your defense and you are increasing your chances to have a bright future. When you know your History, you are less likely to get manipulated and to get lied to. Educated citizens are essential if we want a healthy democracy. Democracy can be hijacked and replaced by a dictatorship anytime anywhere if we close our eyes and we forget about our History. Don’t ever take anything for granted, keep learning.
We have made progress in this country since the end of the Civil War, thanks to citizen initiatives like the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. We just had the 1st African-American president for 8 years, which is something that would have been unthinkable just 60 years ago. We have made progress but there is still much more work to do until we live in a society where all people have the same chances of success in life.
So, may we all learn this month about our History so we may never repeat our mistakes and we may all together build a brighter future. #StrongeruKnighted
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