The WWII soldier who died fighting for the "precious ideals" of liberal arts education

There's been a ton written lately about the slow death of liberal arts education. I am a huge believer that exposure to the liberal arts is crucial — it makes individuals better and makes society better as a whole. It's how we pass on values and a common history. Without it, there's no institutional memory. There's just whatever happened a week ago, a month ago. Whatever we heard on social media.  We're like ships without a rudder — free floating, directionless, at the whim of unseen forces blowing us off course.

So this moving article in The Atlantic really struck a chord:  


That headline really got my attention. The author's uncle, Phil Shribman, went off to WWII and never came back. He died in a PT boat off Guadalcanal in 1943. But he left behind powerful letters about what he felt he was fighting for:

"If you went to a trade school you'd have one thing you could do & know—& you'd miss the whole world of beauty," he went on. "In a liberal school you know 'nothing'—& are 'fitted for nothing' when you get out. Yet you'll have a fortune of broad outlook—of appreciation for people & beauty that money won't buy—You can always learn to be a mechanic or a pill mixer etc.," but it's only when you're of college age "that you can learn that life has beauty & fineness." Afterward, it's all "struggle, war: economic if not actual—Don't give up the idea & ideals of a liberal school—they're too precious—too rare—too important."

I love this man and I never heard of him before today. Here's an excerpt from a letter he sent his brother:

"And if at the end of college: if there are still people in the world, around, who'd like to deny experiences like it to others," he told my father, who would join the Navy before his own college years were completed, "why I hope that you—like me—think it's all worth while to get in & fight for. One always has to protect the valuable in this world before he can enjoy it."

The article goes on to chronicle the author's attempts to get to know his uncle, both through the preserved letters and by tracking down people who knew him all those years ago. It's very moving. 

Nine years ago, Fareed Zakaria devoted a whole book, In Defense of A Liberal Education, to this crucial topic. It's even more relevant today. 

When you have an uneducated population of dumbbells, democracy is weakened. That's exactly how a Trump-type takes over. That's why right-wingers are so opposed to education. And that is the over-arching, crucial reason we have to fight to save liberal arts education. 

It's like an inoculation against fascism. Without it, we're very exposed to the virus.

Previously: Proud young gentleman has difficulty destroying an anti-fascism sign