Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 176/365 Angels on the Head of A Pin

There are a handful of pivotal days in history-those days where entire cultures remember where they were and events as they unfolded: the news of the firing of Fort Sumter and four years later the assassination of Lincoln, the assassination of President Garfield, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and of course the assassination of John Kennedy.

Those events are so huge, so looming, that it's always surprising to find out that other things happened throughout history on that day as well.

On November 22:

Blackbeard the pirate died in 1718

Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890

The SOS distress signal was officially adopted in 1906 (just six years before the Titanic would use it to no avail)

The Beatles White Album was released in 1968

The Concorde began flying between New York and Europe in 1977

Mae West died in 1980

Margaret Thatcher resigned

There is no mass cultural memory that recalls where we were when Mae West died, or what it was like when the first Concorde took off.

Television and the internet have made it easier to create mass cultural memories. Events like Columbine stand out in most American's memories (except for one 20-something in my daughter's English class, who was completely lost when another student's paper on "Columbine" was read. She kept whispering "What's Columbine????" Some people will always be oblivious to the life around them).

Meanwhile as the "touchpoint" generation for each of these events ages and passes on, all we have is the written or recorded memory. There are no living witnesses to the Civil War and World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1000 a day. In forty years, almost all of the generation who were children when John Kennedy was assassinated will be dead.

When the primary witnesses to history are gone -the ones that lived it or witnessed it, or felt the immediate impact, the touchpoint is gone. The event passes into the pages of history, and recedes from human memory, make it easier to re-write history to achieve momentary goals of politicians and businessmen.

At some point in the future, perhaps the CIA will feel safe enough to release the almost one million pages of records it has retained on the Kennedy assassination, before someone decides to destroy and re-write the historical record.

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