Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is History Passe?

This morning on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman featured a segment on the general strike in France, 40 years ago this month. Inspired by the anti-war movement in the U.S., it was the largest general strike in European history, and ended the government of Charles DeGaulle, who went temporarily into hiding.

Today it is hardly remembered, and I wondered how many listeners the show lost with the segment. After all, unlike most news shows of the day, it didn't feature Hillary Clinton and the horserace aspects of politics, or speculation on the series finales of popular television shows, or the cow in England that weighs 2,000 pounds.

Not easily deterred, Ms. Goodman next featured the author Gore Vidal, who makes a specialty of erudite historical novels, and refers to his country as the United States of Amnesia, citing our woeful national ignorance of even recent history.

The question is whether history has been obliterated in a highly technological age that prizes instant connection above all else, with no filters for significance. The perpetual onslaught of e-mails, text messages, cell phone calls, and Internet universality doesn't leave much room for anything not current, now.

The competition for our attention is greater than ever. Of course, by definition, the trivial in life outweighs the important. Today, unfortunately, it also outruns and outlasts it.

This morning, discussing the current war, which has already lasted longer than either World War, Mr. Vidal said the condition of constant war had its genesis with Truman, who fostered the Cold War as a means to keep society unbalanced, and people perpetually frightened, rather than confident and sovereign in peace. Vidal sighed when he wondered aloud how many people knew to what, or whom, he was referring.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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