Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Moats: Received Wisdom

My mother turned 100 years old recently, though we weren’t sure whether she was aware of it. She’s comfortable and well taken care of, but each new day is a kind of surprise. That she's still here allows us to consider the century she has lived through, which goes back to the day Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. That’s the day she was born.

She passed her girlhood in small town America during the peaceful 1920s, and then lived through the Great Depression when her parents had to think about every penny they spent. She married my father seven months before Pearl Harbor, and then she and my brother spent about a year by themselves while my father sailed the Pacific.

After the war I came along, and America began the long drama of its postwar half-century.

As we grew up with this story, certain pieces of received wisdom shaped our understanding of the world. The Nazis showed us the inevitable logic of ethnic hatred and lust for power. It leads only to a narrower, meaner, more constricted world, steeped in blood and ending in catastrophe.

Everyone benefited when Europe worked together to rebuild itself. Systems built on fear had crumbled to dust.

Now fear is back, and as this long story fades in the memory of my mother, it seems not to have found a firm place in the minds of her grandchildren’s generation. How else to explain the anti-Semitism and hatred animating movements in Europe and this country?

My mother is in her final days, but the epic story of her generation remains with us as a warning.

It's shocking to those who remember this story that one of the candidates for president of France comes out of a movement with roots in the fascism of Vichy France, which the United States fought against in North Africa. That’s what the movie “Casablanca” was about. “You must remember this” is what the piano player sang. But we are not remembering.

Democracy has been lulled by its successes and perplexed by its failures. In America, France and elsewhere, we have to remember why it was important then and why it’s important now to fight against narrowness and hatred.

As my mother’s memories fade, we have to remember — “it’s still the same old story … as time goes by.”


David Moats is an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
Latest Stories