This article originally appeared in The Millennial Review.
History is a complex concept.
What is history? Is it the stagnant noun often thought of in the past tense? Or is it more of an action verb that occurs in the present, but reflected upon by way of the past? Do we live history, or remember it? Your answer to these questions can likely predict where you fall on the ideological spectrum. However, history is one of those distinctive objects we all share.
Everything that has ever happened is a part of that history, with a new page written every day. So yes, it does indeed serve as that action verb you and I live through each day. Yet it also exists as an objective past. A past that cannot be changed, no matter how much revisionist history one engages in. Such a multi-faceted concept remains a rarity in this world.
I was recently asked a question designed to be thought-provoking, and it certainly was. But the answer, my answer, to that question seemed so plainly self-evident. The question was “If you could live in any period in history, what would it be?” My answer was “this one.” What struck me, though, was the realization that for such a question to be so disseminated, it had to induce a response other than mine. Otherwise, its answer would be as I saw it, self-evident. Thus, having no need for such a question.
Yet, it still draws countless other responses because history, or at least certain periods, are idealized. However, pick any period, hop in a Time Machine™, and jump back in time. While there, one would not be living history, but the present that created it. Our Founding Fathers did not live in a preordained present, certain to create the past we revere today. To them, every decision, every action was executed with the same uncertainty as ours today.
“An inevitable history is one that renders individuals and their actions, moot.”
There is a phrase, commonly used as a threat to disobedient parties, which serves as a sort of complacent virtue-signaling. “You are on the wrong side of history.” Such a phrase insinuates an inevitable end. The same goes for the trope, “God is on our side.” Nothing is inevitable. Had General Washington not been able to evacuate Brooklyn Heights in the waning of the Battle of Long Island, the Revolution almost assuredly would have been quashed. Painting it as inevitable, discredits the bravery, skill, and luck exhibited by Washington and his men that day. In his time, many Loyalists saw Washington and his jerrybuilt army as being on “the wrong side of history.”
On the flip side, the average contemporary American would likely view Washington as being on the “right side of history.” Both are incorrect assertions, and making either disparages the manifestations of the day. History has no right or wrong side, and believing as such denotes the idea that what occurred was inevitable. Therefore, permitting idleness in regards to the present and its trials. Make no mistake, Washington’s cause was the right one. But that is a different discussion entirely. Surely, no individual believes their “tomorrow” is written for them (unless you reside in North Korea). Do not prescribe the same certainty to the past. Their “tomorrow” was just as uncertain as ours is today. An inevitable history is one that renders individuals and their actions, moot.
Benjamin Franklin once articulated, “In 200 years, will people remember us as traitors or heroes? That is the question we must ask.” Here we sit, over 200 years later, and to all but the most crazed and minuscule minority, heroes they remain. Let me pose the same question as that renowned Pennsylvanian. How will the future 200 years from now, reminisce upon us? That, like it was back in Franklin’s day, is the subject of ceaseless debate. But time waits for no one and soon we will all become history. The matters of the present, unlike the past, have yet to be written.
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