To teach the American Civil War – or to film a documentary about it – without teaching about Reconstruction and its terror, and post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow and discrimination elsewhere in the country (and their terrors) is to take a text out of context.
To teach WWII – or to make a film documentary about it – without teaching about the Iron Curtain and its horrors is also taking a text out of context.
Of course, if we teach historical texts in their contexts then we are often confronted by our collective moral failures. We may pat ourselves on the back at Appomattox and the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment – but that can only be done if we ignore the context and we treat the 13th Amendment as the conclusion of the story. We may glory in victory over Nazism and leave it there, but at what price?
Speaking of Nazism – the basis of Nuremberg was “crimes against humanity.” How can there be such a thing if we are the products of time plus matter plus chance? If we buy into the idea that there is no transcendent truth, if we buy into the idea of the survival of the fittest – then we are faced with the truth (a false truth) that might makes right and that there is no moral basis for judging anyone or anything and therefore Nazism’s only failure was a failure of ultimate strength. But alas, we still think we need some kind of justification to do what we do, or our leaders think they need to give the masses a moral justification – and alas again…we don’t see the contradiction.