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From an early age, it has been ingrained in me to love history. My parents and grandparents all stressed the importance of learning about where I came from personally as well the merits of citizenship. Their thought was “If we can not learn from our mistakes, how will we as individuals and a society improve?”

I wish more people could experience history as I did growing up.

History is often the worst-tested subject among high schoolers in the United States.

Kids have voted and they are rejecting history.

Here are the most common complaints about history.

  • It is boring
  • History doesn’t help me in life
  • It is just a bunch of random facts that are difficult to remember

Dr. James Loewen offers a very simple answer to why people are frustrated with history,

“Kids don’t hate history. They hate the way we teach it.”

David McCullough, America’s storyteller and popular historian shares the ‘why’ we should love history,

“History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

What we missed is the beautiful and entertaining narrative of history.

We love stories.

I minored in history in college but my education has not stopped there. When I was 22, I picked up a copy of Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. It is the book that changed the way I looked at history. Undaunted Courage breathed new life into me and my hope is that others will find that kind of love in history books today.

Here are six books that will make you fall in love with history.

1. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

This is the grand story of Lewis and Clark, their commission from President Thomas Jefferson and their triumphant quest to reach the west coast. This is the book that helped make history books popular. Stephen Ambrose gives Lewis & Clark a new narrative and I recommend starting with this book.

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2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is the story of Louis Zamperini who ran in the 1936 Olympics in front of Hitler and later crashed in a B-24 during World War II only to float in the Pacific for weeks only to be captured and spend the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp. Look for the movie starring  to be released this Christmas

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3. Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

To fully understand war in its glory, propaganda, and sacrifice, you should read Flags of Our Fathers. It follows the six famous marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II. The 2006 movie by Clint Eastwood does a nice job capturing the story but the book is where you learn more about the characters, especially from the author James Bradley, son of one of the flag bearers, Doc Bradley.

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4. How the Scots Invented the Modern World

This is a fun book that gives a reader a sense of appreciation for the Scots and their incredible innovations that we benefit from today. Their contribution to the world was well beyond kilts and haggis.

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5. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Who would have ever thought that a book about a 19th Century midwest World’s Fair would be so interesting? Larson provides readers with the dual storyline of H.H. Holmes, a notorious and inventive serial killer paralleled with the story of the main architect of the Chicago World’s Fair.  Erik Larson is a tremendous storyteller and after you finish Devil int he White City, pick up a copy of In the Garden of Beasts.

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6. April 1865 by Jay Winik

People to this day wonder what the Civil War was fought for. I’ve read dozens of Civil War books but this one by far provided the best context for the war’s beginning ‘s well as how our nation healed to become strong again.

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There are plenty of other great history books out there but if you have not read many before or have had a bad experience in history, I highly recommend you start with this list.

Which other history books do you love and why? 

The other day I was driving in my car and The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want was playing. It is an iconic song from the Stones but it is also the memorable opening song played during the funeral procession in the movie, The Big Chill.

I remember my parents in the 1980s sharing how much that movie meant to them and how it captured their generation and its joys and struggles. My parents were born in 1944 and 1945 so they would associate themselves with the Baby Boomer Generation but as the joke in the movie Field of Dreams went, they had two fifties and movies straight into the seventies. In other words, they didn’t fully associate themselves with the hippie movement yet they experienced the complexities of the Vietnam era. Like my parents, I have always felt like I was in a lost generation being born in 1978 and am often thrown in either the younger part of Generation X or older in Generation Y.

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Harper Lee said it best in the book and movie To Kill A Mockingbird,

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Lee’s wisdom applies to how we feel about people of different generations. In my observations, it seems like the newest generation seems to be labeled as the most “selfish” when if we study history, each younger generation was judged in a similar way. For example, in life I have witnessed many people blame the Baby Boomer generation for their perceived lack of morals but as they are getting older, it has given us time to let history tell their story better. By giving them time, we are learning that they are a generation with great strengths and complexities and we can better understand their impact on the way we live today.

I believe we will be better people if we take time to learn about each other, which will minimize incomplete judgments. The past century has been defined by many things but one of them is the way movies can tell each generation’s story. I have compiled a helpful list of movies that best define each generation. The list is compiled from my personal observations, research and comparison of similar lists online and from polling friends. I don’t expect everyone to agree with this list but my hope is for this to be a way to learn more about our generations through the art of movies.

I isolate three types of movies for each generation; cultural, comedy, and war. I want to know what makes people laugh, how they live and what they fight for. I have watched all of these movies and appreciate them uniquely for what they represent. I hope you will enjoy them too.

The Greatest Generation – The “G.I. Generation” or “WWII Generation” (1925-1939))

Silent Generation / The Boomer Generation – “The Sandwich Generation” or “War Babies” Born 1939-1964

Generation X – The “Gen X’ers” or “MTV Generation” Born 1965-1979

Generation Y & Millennials The “Millennial” or “Echo Boomers” Born 1980-1991

Generation Z – The “iGeneration” Born 1991-present

Which movies do you feel best defines your generation? Why?