History, a three syllable word describing past events for anyone particular person, from anyone place, at any point in time. To bring it down a bit, history is the past. Such a limited term. History, as President John F. Kennedy once stated is “a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” History is not a current thing, but yet it has happened. It has happened but will happen again, if not is some similar way. A person is born, another person dies.
Since the beginning history has taken its hold and repeated, changing some, but always ending the same. Many have attempted to change history and leave their mark. Winston Churchill stated, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mendela, and Albert Einstein, all have changed the lives around them and are names that can be easily identified in our Wikipedia generation. One thing is in common among these great leaders, philosophers, and geniuses: a beginning and an end, death. Just as a light can be switched on and off, so too can the works of man be quickly snuffed and brought to an end. So I ask, what is history? Is it a field of study? Then any scholar with a piece of paper can become a champion of history. Is it a science? Then any lab coat can discover what it comprises of. Is it a set of rules open to interpretation to all? Then any rule maker, or rule breaker, can make decisions that seems plausible, possible, and pleasant. Many encourage the idea of the later.
How many people laughed at Vincent Van Gough, Martin Luther King Jr, and George Washington? These men were constantly questioned by other on their sanity, motivation, or even their heritage. Why not stop? Why not go home, find another lover, or just things be how they are and always have been? But what if they had, or, what if someone else had decided to do what has been done by another. What if Nelson Mendela was a famous boxer and Muhammad Ali was a famous musician and Beethoven a politician? Would things have been different? Would history not have fallen into the same puzzle it is today? Haven’t people copied the actions of others? Has each action resulted in an equal reaction? Today, we praise the U.S. Presidents of old for their courage to build a great nation on the backs of Irish and Asian workers and the near destruction of Native Americans, but Hitler is hated for his atrocities to the Jewish race and those deemed inferior. Today, the Union set a race free and is responsible for equality while the Confederacy is renounced as Rebels for enslaving a race to produce a living.
Today, what defines today? Can today not be a current state of history that is open to interpretation? In the 1930s, Germans had a great sense of pride and were a united nation, growing their economy, government, and courage. In the 1860s, planters of the South banded together to defend their land and way of life. The opinions of people change, and they change over time. So is it fair to say history is made up of scenarios that have changed over time? “We would like to live as we once lived, but history will not permit it,” according to JFK. Change is a dangerous thing but also a way to a better life. Many do not like change; they would rather stay at the same point in their life until they die. History is set, but does it not change?
Children are told “you can do whatever you want and make history.” Is it not important to remember history so we do not repeat the same mistakes? But yet people make history every day. “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice,” according to Mark Twain. We make our decisions knowing what our and other’s past actions have yield. In fact, is it not possible for us to discriminate what we see as history, what it means, and what should be done to change or enforce the past. So do we make history, or does history make us? Can we make a decision that has not been done or influenced by another?
We share common things such as religion, family, air, and political ideas. We claim to be catalysts of change, for new beginnings, ideas, and inventions. Yet we are all different, each unique in our opinions, attitudes, and genetic makeup. So are we not agents of change? Funny the word change. Change impacts those around us, the lives we live, and the lives others will live after us. So does our decisions create history, change history, or enforce history? Do we not make choices every day? Is there a point at which one decision is more heavily weighted than another? It can be agreed upon that what color shirt you wear does not impact whether your phone will blow up or not when you make a phone call. But what if early settlers in the Americas decided to trade clothes and candy instead of guns and bullets with Native Americans? What if Abraham Lincoln wanted to go for a night stroll in a garden instead of watching a play? What if Picasso wanted to paint a baby instead of a woman? Then the little decisions become large ones that could have changed history.
If history is impacted by decisions, then it cannot be fixed and cannot be repeated. But yet if we do not know what happens when we make a decision, can it impact our lives? Is knowing just as important as doing? We learn from our past mistakes to prevent future ones. If Benjamin Franking knew that flying a kite during an electric strike would have hurt, would he have done it? If setting of the first nuclear bomb would have lead to the modern war on terrorism, would it have been dropped? Then it becomes a “what if” game and history becomes more elusive.
History can be changed but yet repeated. It is the past but yet it influences the present actions that can change the future. Is it crazy to say history is the same as the present and the future? Is it crazy to say what we have done has been repeated for thousands of years? Is it crazy to assume that the future is set in stone because what has been done cannot be changed? The thing with history is that it is not a finite idea. It cannot be stated in an essay, preached in a church, or earned in a four year institution. History is and it isn’t. It has happened, is happening, and will happen. We make history and history defines us. So I ask, what is history?