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Published: Thursday, 1/27/2005

Harry's history lesson

TOO many young Americans today are ignorant of history. But if you assumed that things were better in Britain, consider the spectacle of Prince Harry, grandson of the Queen, dressing up in a Nazi uniform for a costume party. That Harry apparently wasn't aware of everything the outfit implied makes it clear that you can get a royal education and still get it wrong.

One wonders what his grandmother, who lived through the bombing of London during World War II, felt when she saw the handsome 20-year-old in Nazi costume on the cover of the Sun. What's worse is that his older brother, Prince William, 22, admitted being present at the rental store when Harry chose the costume.

Anyone with the advantages the sons of the late Princess Diana have had should know about the Holocaust. Appearing to trivialize the torture and deaths of millions is disgraceful and grievous, especially when the culprit is a member of his nation's first family. But either Harry and William didn't pay attention to the lesson, or else the full impact of what the Nazis did was not presented in a way to make them understand the immense gravity of what occurred 60 years ago.

We don't know whether this was a failure of teaching, or whether they, like many youngsters both in and out of the limelight, brushed off the nature of the Nazis. They are about to get a remedial lesson because their father, Prince Charles, is requiring them to make a trip to Auschwitz, where more than a million died. It should be a wake-up call that will stay with them until the day they die.

However, not every child has the opportunity of worldwide negative reinforcement. That's why thorough instruction in history is vitally important. Sure, kids will be kids, and all kids do stupid things sometimes. But we cannot allow another Auschwitz, or another world leader who doesn't know about Auschwitz. We no longer live in a world with much margin for error.

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