In August 2021, I had the opportunity to visit the Virginia War Museum in Newport News, VA. Founded in 1923 by the Braxton-Perkins Post #25 of the American Legion Museum, it was established as a World War I (WW1) gallery but, over the years, it has grown to become a full-fledged war museum, covering the American Revolution to present-day military operations. It is a compact but thorough history of America’s war efforts.
As I walked through the displays, it was a reminder of how much our war history is our civilian history. For better or worse, much of what makes America America is on exhibit here. Our beginnings, the roots of our Country’s foundations and our conflicts, unfolded as I walked the halls and observed the many exhibitions documenting the various battles and histories. It is obvious that war is a large part of the American experience. That is one of those uncomfortable facts.
But what was most on my mind was how often do I or anyone else visit any historical museums, displays or monuments? It is in the news all the time that there is a “war” over history, but are we taking the time to preserve history? Are we visiting and celebrating history of our own free will? Are we teaching our children history?
Sometimes during the debates where talking heads are giving their often-misguided opinions, I ask myself, why are we leaving history up to the schools to teach? They need to focus on reading, writing and math, and if “Little Johnny” gets all the latest “fad- driven” history and he still can’t read…well, that is a problem. School is important, but self-education is the greatest education. We should teach our children that every day. Schools are important and should be respected, but they are only a launching pad to knowledge.
Walking these halls of history, I have concerns that one day all of this, the entire museum, will be considered politically incorrect. I hope I am over-stating this but only time will tell. Anyone who, however, doesn’t think there is a war on history is either a bit naïve or just in denial. Yes, there are some alarmists, but I see it every day and who am I to believe? I know what I see.
So, I encourage everyone to visit his or her local history site. Teach your children the importance of history and take the time to learn as much as you can. History is too important to leave it to strangers to teach. It is that important.
The Virginia War Museum does a great job of presenting war history without glorifying war. They start the self-guided tour with that warning. I appreciated that General Robert E. Lee said,” It is well that war is so terrible. Otherwise, we would grow too fond of it.”
Please enjoy the photos I took of my visit (click on a selected image to view a larger version):
Joseph St. John