Years ago I was doing some land navigation training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. That was always one of my favorite things to do. Just give me a map, a compass, a protractor and a stubby pencil and set me loose in the woods and I would be content for hours navigating by terrain association or following an azimuth on my compass.
But on that particular day at Fort Knox, I broke through some brush and came upon an old cemetery out in the middle of nowhere. There was an old wrought-iron fence around the 50 x 50-foot perimeter, and it seemed ancient. I stopped what I was doing and spent a few minutes looking at the old weathered headstones and foot markers, most of which dated back to the early-mid 1800s. And as I did, I found myself wondering, “Does anyone even know this is here?"
But then I remembered the map and, sure enough, realized that I had stumbled on a known site. It was labeled as “Lincoln Cemetery,” and it was actually where Abraham Lincoln’s mother was reportedly buried. Of course, that also allowed me to precisely confirm my location on the land navigation exercise. So, I reoriented myself to my next compass bearing and moved off from there to navigate further.
I was reminded of that moment in the backwoods of Fort Knox because of a story that I ran across just last week. Apparently, in the Brighton community in Jefferson County, Alabama, firefighters were called out to a brush fire that was burning several acres deep in the woods. Firefighters from Brighton, Lipscomb and Birmingham all responded, and when they did, they were all surprised to find an abandoned cemetery deep in the woods. Brighton’s assistant fire chief said the graveyard had at least 20 gravesites, all of which were in various states of disrepair and dating back over 100 years. Photos in the article showed broken headstones and one collapsed burial vault. Mature trees had long grown up in and around the graves.
But the thing that really got me in the article was not just that they found it, but that when he was talking about it, the assistant fire chief said, “Nobody knew it was there.”
How does it get to the point that no one knows that a cemetery is there? Is there no loved one left to visit and put flowers down on the graves? Is there no local ordinance regarding care and maintenance? Twenty actual graves of actual people and “nobody knew it was there”. That’s unreal, somewhat sad, and more than a little disconcerting.
But it’s also a clear indication that we can in fact forget our history if we are not careful. I would like to believe that history cannot repeat itself because surely there are those who will teach it to the next generation. But the reality is that as surely as a community can forget that a cemetery even exists at all, that we as a nation can forget our history, our sacrifices, and our heritage. It can happen and it does so generally by simple neglect.
The Brighton cemetery wouldn’t be the first time society had forgotten its own history. In the book of 2 Kings and also in 2 Chronicles, we find the story of King Josiah. Josiah was the King of Israel, but his grandfather was King Manasseh who is said to have turned the nation of Israel away from God. Manasseh’s leadership resulted in such a decline that by the time his grandson Josiah took the throne at the early age of eight years old the nation had completely and utterly turned away from its heritage.
With Josiah being just eight, he would need a teacher and a mentor. But he had no one to teach him. No one to tell him what great things his ancestors had overcome to build the kingdom he now ruled. It was so bad that when Josiah was 20 that he decided that the great Temple needed to be refurbished, not so much because he wanted to turn the nation back to its roots but more because it had fallen into disrepair, that the great Temple was then a house of ill repute.
What happened next is the clearest example of how far a nation can be removed from its own history and heritage. During the renovations, one of Josiah’s elders named Hilkiah came to him and told him that during the renovations, workers had discovered a book. That’s what he called it: just “a book.” When he asked to see it Josiah determined that it was “the book of the law.” Basically, the nation had become so remote in their concept of their own history that when a senior member of the King’s cabinet found the Bible that he did not know what it was.
Despite Israel being founded on the premise of being God’s people, and the many miracles and battles fought and the building of a new nation, the book of the law had been forgotten, lost even, to the extent that the King had never even heard of it and did not know what it was.
But we’re told further that when he read it Josiah realized what had been lost and he called a great assembly and he read the book to the people and he began to change society, change culture, change the nation. All because he rediscovered that which had been lost.
The end of Josiah’s story says that when he died that no king before him, nor after him, served God with all his heart and with all his strength like Josiah. What a eulogy!
But here’s the point: if history can be so easily forgotten, then we should not assume for a minute that it’s not possible for it to be forgotten here and now. The left wants so badly to renovate history to fit their notions. The 1619 Project would have us believe that we are nation not founded on sacrifice and the belief in self-determination but rather a society built solely on the backs of slaves and that we are still to this day a systemically racist society. A whole generation of kids now has no personal reference point for 9/11. History classes in school are too often subjective and teach from a world view as opposed to a historically accurate context.
Why would all of this be? Why would it be necessary to change the manner and means by which a whole generation views its history? The answer is simple yet diabolical. Because when you control the narrative of a country’s origins, the sacrifices, the victories and even the defeats, you can control the manner in which that generation thinks, acts and cares about that nation. Think about it:
Why be a good steward of something that you are not fond of?
Why defend the interests of something that you don’t love more than yourself?
Why take steps to sacrifice, build, or expand capabilities, when you believe that all who went before you were oppressors exerting some form of privilege?
We cannot lose our history. It must not only be recorded accurately but taught accurately. Like the cemetery I found deep in the woods at Fort Knox, history can be a guide for the future. It can fix our spot on the map if it is clearly marked and give us a reference for navigating our future. To do so, we must keep it firmly fixed “on the map”.
If we don’t take the steps necessary to ensure that our nation's greatness and the sacrifices of our founders are accurately remembered, then we will one day be like the burning forgotten cemetery lost in the middle of the woods, and “nobody knew it was there."