Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A couple of thoughts

1) The first snow of the winter makes me a bit wistful now. I used to await that first snow with barely-contained enthusiasm. When E was small, and I was (unsuccessfully) indoctrinating her into Nordic skiing, we'd both throw our skis on and hop around the backyard as soon as we had something more than a heavy frost. Now E is a snowboarder who spent Thanksgiving weekend several thousand feet up in the Sierras. Now I can't go out the door in winter without looking over my shoulder to see if the Beast is following behind. It ain't what it used to be.

2) WBZ radio is showing the age of its demographic with a daily question asking whether the nation should do more to observe Pearl Harbour Day: it has a return of 74% "yes." I am old enough to easily remember people about 40 who were caught in that opening disaster of World War Two. I remember that all of my parents' generation knew exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news, just as my generation recalls the same about John F. Kennedy's assassination.

I'm also a trained historian who knows that in such matters, the U.S. pays the price of its neglect of public history. I also appreciate a concept called "remoteness in time." For example, when the people who built the surviving 17th century houses of the East Coast looked back the 350 years that we look back to them, they looked into the heart of the Middle Ages. Their context was drastically different from ours.

A substantial percentage of the country's population is under 25. Demographically they outnumber people who have a living memory of Pearl Harbour. Let's apply "remoteness in time" to them, to, say, a 17-year-old high school senior. Pearl Harbour happened 68 years ago, in a society which measures time in 24-hour news cycles. When I was a high school senior, the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, the cause de guerre of the Spanish-American War, had happened 66 years before. We did not have a national shopping day (excuse me, holiday) for that. Except for those of us who enjoyed history, hardly any of my contemporaries remembered that it had ever happened, and hardly any knew that the Spanish-American war happened. (None knew the Maine incident was as bogus as the Tonkin Gulf "incident," which signaled the real start of our war.)

I don't think you'd get any better results with a random selection of high school seniors today about the Pearl Harbour attack. Worse, those who do know may have been stuffed full of half-baked revisionism and conspiracy theories drawn from the Internet. That sort of discussion is what makes graduate studies in history lively, but it's worthless unless subjected to rigourous academic cross-examination.

If anyone seriously wanted a national shopping day to observe December 7, 1941, it would have been wise to start on it in 1942. By today, we'd have the holiday by inertia, much as we have a Memorial Day (Civil War), Veterans' Day (World War One), and a Confederate Memorial Day in some states. And, like those, it would be honoured as much in the breach as the observance. It is just too late, pilgrims: the context has changed. Those who still can, should remember what happened, and perhaps they should push a little harder for decent history education in American schools. But no, that would mean they would need to study American history too.

3) And finally, I like to think that Marco Scutaro's name is a good omen. Its Latin root is scuto, shield.

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