I am a history buff. I am a life member of the Nebraska State Historical Society. I like to read everything I can about how things were, why people took certain paths in reaction to (always “in reaction to” it seems) events that were as ordinary as a pope authorizing indulgences, for example.
As a Presbyterian, I recognize sale of indulgences as one of Martin Luther’s issues with the Roman Catholic Church of his time, and understand that “Protestant” comes from one who protests those issues and attempts to reform (“Reformation”- there we are again!) the only church in town. I don’t intend this blog as a platform to proselytize, so I’ll stop there.
The Norman invasion of England in 1066, where Norman influences on language, for just one aspect of change, reshaped the language you and I speak and write today. Normans wrote the history of the Battle of Hastings, as is the prerogative of the winner of any battle or war.
Try to read a paragraph written in French. Unless you studied it in school, you may be surprised that many words look oddly familiar. The Battle of Hastings affects our lives over 940 years later! Amazing! The Battle of Hastings is another historical event you can study your whole life, gathering degrees left and right, and still never exhaust the topic!
The Battle of Midway in World War II was pivotal. Up to this battle, America didn’t look like it was on the winning side. Luck- American!- won the battle, even though the it started out disastrously for the United States, with heavy loss of men and fighting capacity. In this video, you hear a curious fact: the Japanese painted the decks of its carriers yellow, and painted the Rising Sun on the deckside of the elevators that took planes below deck, making their carriers perfect targets for American planes coming in to bomb them!
Those of us who weren’t alive during World War II often don’t realize that Germany had a long-range bomber capable of bombing New York, but Hitler decided against its use. The German atomic bomb efforts are a bit more familiar, but the Nazis had a jet in 1939 that wasn’t produced because Herman Goering, a World War I ace no less, apparently didn’t see the strategic value of the technology until too late in the war.
Big events and small decisions won a war in which 50 million people lost their lives. Big events and small decisions determined everything from the language we speak to our form of government.
History is familiar, it is yesterday’s news cleaned up. Sometimes it presents a particular point of view. Sometimes it presents a point of view you like- or not! Sometimes you don’t recognize it as history because it goes against everything you learned in school. That’s what reading about familiar historical events through the point of view of the other guy can do. The video above tells of an American loss in the War of 1812, through a Canadian history familiar to all Canadians, but totally alien to Americans.
I like the 20/20 hindsight of historians, who re-evaluate events, try to understand how ordinary and extraordinary people worked through the large and small crises of their lives.
War has to be worse that even the worst natural disaster because other people- probably just as nice as you under the right circumstances- want to destroy you and your family, your way of life, your home, and anything else that stands between them and you. Compare war with natural disasters. One often displays the worst of human nature. The other often brings out the best of human nature. Yet each changes us in its own way. That’s where history becomes important and interesting. History’s where we learn not only who we are but why we are what we are.