Monday, May 29, 2017

Happy Memorial Day: Remember

Peggy Noonan cites David McCullough's new book on why it is so important that we study and understand the past in her Wall Street Journal column this weekend, concluding with several bullet points:

Here, gleaned from the book, are some of Mr. McCullough’s observations on history.

• It is a story. “Tell stories,” said the historian Barbara Tuchman. And what is a story? Mr. McCullough, paraphrasing E.M. Forster, observes: “If I say to you the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events. If I say the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.”

• What’s past to us was the present to them. “Adams, Jefferson, George Washington, they didn’t walk about saying, ‘Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?’ It was the present, their present.” They were acting in real time and didn’t know how things would turn out. . . .

• Nothing had to happen the way it happened. “History could have gone off in any number of different directions in any number of different ways at almost any point, just as your own life can.” “One thing leads to another. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Actions have consequences.” These things sound obvious, he says, but are not to those who are just starting out and trying to understand life. . . .

• History is an antidote to the hubris of the present. We think everything we have, do and think is the ultimate, the best. “We should never look down on those of the past and say they should have known better. What do you think they will be saving about us in the future? They’re going to be saying we should have known better.”

She posted her column on Facebook, so perhaps it's still available without paying for access!

I particularly liked the comments "What's past to us was the present to them" and "Nothing had to happen the way it happened." It seems to me that those two comments vitiate the entire "Whig interpretation" of history that sees the events of the past as necessary for the progress of the future. 

Happy Memorial Day!

No comments:

Post a Comment