History is more than just the pastóitís the future
By Charlie Barnes, Executive Director - Seminole Boosters
On September 2, I had the honor of addressing members of FSUís freshman class on the history of our university.
In preparing for the class, I was struck by just how newly arrived these students are. Itís likely their parents had not yet met when Bobby Bowden arrived at FSU in 1976. They were born in 1985, the year the War Chant was first heard in full thunder. They were in the ninth grade in the fall of 1999, the last time a Seminole football team finished among the nationís top four.
I wanted to give them a sense of why history is important, and why they should be proud of our university, of its story and of the noble purpose it serves. These students are very young and without benefit of the long view you and I enjoy. Here is some of what I told them.
When I was a little boy, I had a large picture book filled with photographs of World War II. Published by Life Magazine, it was wonderful to behold. There were soldiers and airplanes and ships and shooting and adventure and smoke, the whole story of the desperate drama of that war.
I knew that my father had been a soldier in the South Pacific, fighting the Japanese. I never saw him in uniform. He owned an automobile dealership, and so even though I had that book with all those pictures, there wasnít a connection between the photos and a reality that I could grasp. It didnít affect my day-to-day world.
The fact is that the war was finished before I was born. Oh, I was glad that America had defeated the fascist empires of Germany and Japan, but I considered that story to be over and done. The world was safe and those terrible things could never happen again.
They certainly werenít going to happen to me.
Later, when I was a young man, America was locked in a life and death struggle with communism. There were lots of wars against them. We fought them in Korea, then in Vietnam. There were proxy wars in Africa and Central America.
It was all over in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire.
Where were you, I asked the freshmen, in 1989? They told me they were in preschool, having not yet begun the first grade.
Our FSU freshmen are aware of what happened in 1989, of course. Theyíve studied the history and read the stories. But it was finished by 1989. Now, the world is safe from communism and all of those terrible things can never happen again. Certainly, our freshmen feel, they arenít going to happen to them.
Within a few days, I told them, the nation would mark the second anniversary of the single defining drama of their generation. In 2001, America was attacked by a dark and virulent culture, animated by an obsession to incinerate every advancement civilization has achieved in the last thousand years.
These days, Germany, Japan and the Russians are our allies, at least after a fashion, as this latest episode of history absorbs us all into its context. We must pursue this grave threat just as we pursued other great threats and finish it if we are to survive.
However, we know the truth is that history is never finished. Human nature is fairly constant. It is the same today as it endured for the past 10,000 years or so for which we have some record. The constancy of human nature means that our basic inclinations are and have remained the same over time.
History is a map of human nature, a guide to the entire landscape of human experience. Reading history will tell you what happened. Understanding history will tell you why it happened.
The purpose of our university, and the purpose of every good university, is to advance the course of civilization. Its mission is to uplift humanity. That is a noble purpose and one desperately needed.
Our natures as human beings compel us in different directions at the same time. They are conflicting impulses. An unending conflict between the brighter and darker angels of our natures is as accurate a metaphor as any.
Every one of the terribly destructive social movements of the 20th century, including fascism and communism, failed in the end because they refused to recognize the fundamental truths about human beings and human nature.
Never think that the most terrible things that have happened in the past cannot happen again. They can happen again. They do happen. The dark angels are powerful.
The purpose of our university is to push civilization toward the light, and away from the darkness.
Over the next four years, while youíre studying accounting and chemistry, and biology and engineering, make time also to take classes in art, literature and the humanities. Shakespeare tells you everything you need to know about human nature. Physics and finance wonít.
If you understand history, you can exercise some control over your world. If you understand history, youíll better understand why people do what they do.