Thursday, August 4, 2011

History VIII

When we last talked about history we discussed the difficulty of drawing truth from history. That is, history presents to us a mired and confused picture if we simply look at the surface data. And yet all societies would seem to believe that there is something to history. That studying history is worth the time and effort.

In order to make sense of the mess we must turn back to legends. As we discussed before, stories and legends were used to communicate the truths that a culture wanted to impart to future generations. Woven into stories and legends were ideas about human nature, the heavens, and evil.

With this notion of legends we turn to history with a new focus. We are not so much interested in what the data is but what people choose to remember. When a person of particular import accomplishes something great or a notorious person does something horrible, that event or events define that person in the memory of the people. Other details, such as the mistress of the hero or the darling family of the serial killer, are shorn over time as society relates what was important and forgets what was not.

This principle is found in the purest form with the concept of the hero. A hero to a people embodies what that people aspires to. He serves as a guide to our children and a reminder to ourselves what it means to be human and what a human should strive for.

To me this example is readily apparent with how America remembers World War II. Countless movies have been made regarding the bravery and heroism of that generation's young men in defense of liberty and country. It is not surprising that we remember American efforts to vanquish the Nazi regime and liberate the Jews, rather than the Japanese campaign that ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But flesh and blood human beings, unlike the legends and superheroes, have moral weakness. No one is perfect, and thus even with the greatest of heroes we find weakness. While sometimes the truth in the historical hero's story is to overcome weakness, at times the weakness cannot be salvaged in such a fashion.

Does this mean that the venture to find heroes is hopeless? Or that we simply whitewash the past? This we will discuss next.

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