Saturday, September 07, 2019

This Doesn't Say Much for Their Pre-Yale Education

Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon each fall semester I lecture to several hundred Yale undergraduates on the subject of Cold War history. As I do this, I have to keep reminding myself that hardly any of them remember any of the events I'm describing. When I talk about Stalin and Truman, even Reagan and Gorbachev, it could as easily be Napoleon, Caesar, or Alexander the Great. Most members of the Class of 2005, for example, were only five years old when the Berlin Wall came down. They know that the Cold War in various ways shaped their lives, because they've been told how it affected their families. Some of them - by no means all - understand that if a few decisions had been made differently at a few critical moments during that conflict, they might not have even had a life. But my students sign up for this course with very little sense of how the Cold War started, what it was about, or why it ended in the way that it did. For them it's history: not all that different from the Peloponnesian War.

- From The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis, published in 2005

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