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American History: August 2000 From the Editor

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: August 11, 2000 
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Wars, Forgotten and Otherwise

THE STORIES from history that interest me the most are those that still reverberate.

For example, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the court case remembered as the "Scopes Monkey Trial," in which teacher John Scopes was tried for teaching evolution to his Dayton, Tennessee, students. Recently the battle between evolution and creationism has been heating up again all across the country. In Oklahoma and Alabama, education boards have required science textbooks to contain a disclaimer that evolution is a controversial and unproven theory. In Kansas last year the state education board voted to allow schools not to teach evolution if they so chose. Other states have been considering similar actions.

In light of all that, I find it interesting that people often think of the Scopes trial as a victory for Clarence Darrow, who defended Scopes, and thus for evolution. In fact, when you read J. Kingston Pierce's article in this issue you'll see that the outcome was hardly so clear-cut.

That particular debate is more like trench warfare than any kind of back-and-forth argument. As someone firmly on evolution's side, I know how entrenched each viewpoint is. I understand why scientists become incensed over attacks on evolution. As one anthropologist said in the wake of Oklahoma's decision to carry the disclaimer, "To suggest evolution is controversial among biologists is simply untrue and it misleads students. It's only controversial as a political and religious issue among people who are committed to a different way of looking at the origins of life." No amount of arguing by creationists will change my mind, nor are creationists likely to capitulate. I expect the issue will be getting a lot more exposure in light of the Scopes anniversary, but the result, I fear, will be that the opposing trenches will just dig in even deeper.

This summer also marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, and Harry J. Maihafer writes about the first American action there. Often referred to as the "Forgotten War," the Korean conflict has never officially ended, although as I write this the North and South Korean governments are showing signs of finally doing something about that. Today around 37,000 American troops remain in South Korea, and the border between North and South is the most militarized place in the world. North Korea remains a mysterious and surreal country, wracked by famine and prone to bizarre and provocative actions, like kidnapping people from northern Japan or dispatching submarines to the South Korean coast. The country also likes to emit odd, Soviet-style propaganda that would be funny if it weren't so creepy. My favorite example, reported by writer Rolf Potts in the on-line magazine Salon, is from 1997, when North Korea announced that its "squatty, rotund 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-Il supposedly shot 38-under-par (including five holes-in-one) the first time he ever played golf."

Even a forgotten war can reverberate. Last year reporters for the Associated Press uncovered a story about South Korean civilians who were apparently massacred during the war by American soldiers under a bridge called No Gun Ri. The news stories (for which the reporters won a Pulitzer Prize) have sparked an investigation by the U.S. Army and some soul searching in this country. After all, we were the good guys, right? But as General William T. Sherman pointed out, war is hell. Even forgotten wars. *


Tom Huntington, Editor, American History

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