I’m reading Purgatory Ridge, the third novel in William Kent Krueger’s series of stories set in the “Iron Lake” region of Minnesota and featuring former sheriff Cork O’Connor, who is part Irish but has some of the blood of the Anishinaabe tribe. O’Connor’s attitude toward history jumped out at me.
“History, in Cork’s opinion, was a useless discipline, an assemblage of accounts and memories, often flawed, that in the end did the world no service. Math and science could be applied in concrete ways. Literature, if it didn’t enlighten, at least entertained. But history? History was simply a study in futility. Because people never learned. Century after century, they committed the same atrocities against one another or against the earth, and the only thing that changed was the magnitude of the slaughter.”
Wow. To a certain extent he nails it there, although I don’t know if it’s fair that people never learn. It feels like folks have finally begun to realize the extent to which bullies have dominated public life through the years — or are the same tricks working year after year and it’s only the folks who pay attention who understand the game?
Mikhail Gorbachev has died, they say, and I remember a time when he was hailed as a potential hero for his perestroika reforms that opened the Soviet economy and eventually ended the murderous communist disaster that Lenin and Stalin and their successors wrought. For a while it looked like some history had been learned and some real change had occurred, but the ruling class has fallen back into the same patterns of pitting us against Russia and beating our plowshares into swords.
Will our rulers still be goading us into hating each other in 1,000 years? Or will the communications revolution, which has put us all in touch with our brothers and sisters around the world, finally show us how much we have in common, and we won’t get fooled again?
I’m going to bet on the optimistic spin and go to bed tonight believing in 1,000 years we won’t be studying war no more.