By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
History just isn’t what it used to be. I’ve come to this unfortunate conclusion after watching too much of the History Channel in recent weeks. The tipping point for me had to be a recent episode of “Ancient Aliens” that attempted to suggest that George Washington, and other prominent founding fathers, had secretly communicated with extraterrestrial beings. Really? My memory of the elementary school and high school years are starting to get a little foggy nowadays, but I’m pretty sure our history books made no mention of the founding fathers secretly communicating with aliens.
However, the episode entitled “Aliens and the Founding Fathers” speculated that George Washington had an alien visitation at Valley Forge, and that Thomas Jefferson also shared a UFO sighting. Other episodes of the series have examined possible links between aliens and volcanoes and alleged connections between greys and Big Foot himself. Why am I watching these episodes? I have no idea. Many times I guess there is simply nothing else on television to watch. And I couldn’t resist the temptation of an episode that promised to provide an extraterrestrial connection to George Washington.
So much has changed since I was in school. Today’s history books are very different from those that I studied while a student in McDowell County. We didn’t have many computers, the Internet or homework assignments that could be completed online back then. We just had old-fashion textbooks, reports that were completed by pen and paper and the threat of punishment by paddle if we misbehaved.
The world was a much different, simpler and innocent place at the time. I can still remember sitting in the classroom, and looking out the window overlooking our small community. I still dream of being in school every now and then, and walking up and down those vintage elementary school steps from the first floor to the second floor. I can still clearly see the exit, the playground and the steps leading to our bus stop. The bus ride home to the small O’toole community was a drive that took just a matter of minutes to complete. A warm, homemade meal always awaited me at the dinner table. Mom never disappointed when it came to dinner. Of course, as soon as I would get off of the school bus each evening, my first task was to retrieve the Welch Daily News from the paperbox at the bottom of the gravel hollow. Back in the day, we would receive the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in the morning, and the Welch Daily News in the evening. My favorite part of the Welch paper back then was the Dick Tracy comic strip. It featured a continuing storyline — just like a comic book you would purchase at a store.
Since the Welch paper became a three days a week publication several years ago, I haven’t had many opportunities to pick one up. So I have no idea what comics are featured in that publication nowadays.
Back then elementary school consisted of grades one through eight — at least for the old Adkins District of McDowell County. There was no middle school facility for us. Once you completed your eighth grade courses back then, you moved on to high school level. That was Mount View High School in Welch for me. We didn’t study a lot of history in high school for whatever reason. Science, advanced math courses and, of course, English and my not-so-personal favorite French 101 class dominated the high school courses.
It would be interesting to pick up a history textbook today — if such a thing still exists — and see what students are actually learning about as it relates to our founding fathers, and this nation’s history. I know the history lesson that video games are teaching kids nowadays courtesy of the popular “Assassins Creed III” game isn’t very accurate — as the game in question involves a time traveling assassin working with George Washington and other historical figures to avoid a 21st century doomsday scenario. I hope there aren’t a lot of kids out there that take that for fact. But at least aliens aren’t involved in the game.
But it’s not just video games. Movies also like to play games with history. For example, the popular “X-Men: First Class” flick tried to change history as it relates to the Cuban Middle Crisis, and so did the lesser seen “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer.” That movie — as opposed to the much more accurate and simply titled “Lincoln” flick — led many young movie goers to believe that Honest Abe himself spent his spare time chasing down and killing vampires. Even the “Captain America” movie from a year or two ago attempted to suggest that it was the super soldier himself who helped to turn the tide against Nazi Germany in World War II.
The sad thing about it is that some of the young minds who are being exposed to these movies may actually think that the history lesson that is being presented to them is actually true. I could imagine a young kid also thinking that George Washington communicated with greys if he or she were to be exposed to that episode of “Ancient Aliens.”
I watched most of the “Aliens and the Founding Fathers” episode, laughing a little bit along the way while also asking myself who in the world are these people they are interviewing that actually believe aliens helped to shape the early formative years of our nation? Thank you History Channel for once again warping my view of history. History shouldn’t be a moving target. It is something that shouldn’t change with time. And yes — I’m pretty sure George Washington didn’t communicate with aliens and that Abraham Lincoln didn’t kill vampires.
Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @BDTOwens.