The Bucket List
Vol: 98 Issue: 24 Tuesday, November 24, 2009
For most of the course of human history, mankind has been burying clues about his existence in the places that he lived, the hieroglyphics that he drew, the inventions he left behind.
And for almost all of human history, it was ignored, if not plowed under or used for building materials by the generations that immediately followed.
Who came before and who and what they were was less important than how we’ll eat today and what we’ll eat tomorrow. Generation after generation, from time immemorial, devoted their existence to the pursuit of the same three things.
“What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Matthew 6:31)
Once those basic necessities were met, there was little time left to worry about how previous generations went about meeting their challenges. They had enough to worry about already.
So by and large, that was left to just a handful of men throughout history; Thucydides, Flavius Josephus, Plutarch, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Herodotus, Bacon, Gibbon, Voltaire and Toynbee.
Until roughly the early part of the 20th century, most people outside of the Ottoman Empire, had they ever heard of Jerusalem, either regarded it as either symbolic, lost to history, or a religious myth.
Jerusalem had its high points in history as well as its low points, but for pretty much the whole of the past two thousand years, if you weren’t personally involved in the various battles, you didn’t much care.
When Suleiman the Magnificent was rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem in 1540, the Spanish were busy discovering the Colorado River, Michaelangelo was putting the finishing touches on the Sistine Chapel, Copernicus was under Papal house arrest for declaring the earth revolved around the sun (rather than the other way around) and the Vatican was preoccupied tracking down Bible believers and burning them at the stake.
But nobody was digging around under Jerusalem or London or Paris. Nobody was putting yellow tape around protected archeological sites lest they be lost to history. Yesterday was not nearly as important as today, since for most of human history, the issue of tomorrow was always in doubt.
The Abbey at Monte Cassino was founded in 524 AD by the Benedict of Nursia.
Contemporary history argues that the Allies agonized over how to dislodge the German artillery positions inside the Abbey. Maybe they agonized or maybe they didn’t, but on 15 February 1944, 147 B-17 Allied bombers dropped 1150 tons of high explosives on it anyway.
My father was wounded in his left leg by an incoming German MG42 machine-gun round while his regiment assaulted the Abbey at Monte Cassino in Italy in early 1944. It was a long, white scar that ran the length of his thigh, exiting just below his knee.
Dad always criticized the bombing of the Abbey whenever it was the topic on Walter Cronkite’s 20th Century — he said the bombing turned it into “a rabbit warren.”
He’d been up that hill twice before the Abbey was bombed. It was during his third assault up the hill that somebody in that rabbit warren shot him.
But Dad’s historical recollections aside, imagine if the US government — or any other contemporary government anywhere on earth — decided to bomb a 1,300 year old monastery to rubble?
In 1944 the ordinary guy
was just as occupied with the three basics of life, “what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will put on,” as was his father, his father’s father and his father’s father’s father.
Preserving a 1300 year old monastery on a hill in Sicily ranked right up there with crazy stuff like questioning the definition of marriage or whether an unborn child is human. It would never occur to him.
There were far too many real problems to worry about.
The only ones who really cared about the destruction of Monte Cassino at the time were the ones trying to climb a mud-slicked hill in the face of hostile German machine-guns mounted amid the rubble of the newly-created “rabbit warren.”
Something happened at some point around the mid-point of the 20th century and mankind suddenly developed a burning thirst for knowledge about the past.
When one considers all that has laid untouched for all these centuries, waiting to be unearthed over the past sixty or seventy years, it is really quite stunning.
It’s like each preceding generation left a piece of a jigsaw puzzle behind, piece after piece, until all the pieces necessary to put the puzzle together had been cut and trimmed. Until then, we left the rest of the pieces pretty much alone.
It wasn’t until 1917 that Lord Allenby marched into Jerusalem, liberating the city from 400 years of Ottoman occupation, thrusting the city back into global prominence for the first time in 1900 years.
Then we opened up the box and started fitting the first pieces together.
Following World War II, the global obsession with history, historical artifacts and historical sites forced the collapse of empires, the end of colonial rule and an increasing interest in preserving indigenous cultures.
That isn’t to say there weren’t explorers and Egyptologists and so on before this generation. (But before this generation, who even knew what an Egyptologist was?)
I am often amused at the effort expended by many historians in the effort to disparage the Bible as a book of history as part of the overall repudiation of the Bible as a book of prophecy. There are guys who have dedicated their entire careers to such pursuits.
They scoff at the story of Noah’s Ark, citing one recent discovery after another. They scoff at the story of Adam and Eve, citing one recent discovery after another, each discovery of greater age than the one before.
But the majority of the most ancient evidence is of recent discovery. I find that interesting. Not the discoveries, so much as their historical context.
This generation was the first born into the Atomic Age. In 1948, the Russians became the second member of a club so exclusive that one member was too many.
Suddenly confronted with a possible future annihilation, retracing our steps to see how we got there moved to the forefront of humanity’s collective consciousness. And ever since, we’ve been arguing details and documents and dates without ever taking note of the gorilla on the kitchen table.
History has been here a long time. Sometimes, you’d think that we just discovered it recently, but really, there’s nothing new about history. But for the first time in that long history, we’re infatuated by it.
Some, like Barack Obama, are clearly driven to make amends for what they see as American historical injustices. Some seem determined to revise history’s mistakes in order to justify making them all again.
Everybody has their own version of history, evidently believing that rewriting historical events is the same as changing the historical facts and their attending historical consequences, confusing the issue of how we got to where we are.
While the gorilla sits, glowering now, in the middle of the kitchen table as we argue around him.
It is like mankind is compiling a collective ‘bucket list’. We’re not just suddenly concerned with history — it seems more like an obsession to tally our respective accounts and to either demand payment or make amends.
And the question that troubles the increasingly-impatient gorilla goes unanswered amid the din of claims and counter-claims and accusations and excuses and offering amends for symbolic wrongs.
Why now? I mean, really. Think about it. Why now? Why must all the wrongs be righted now? American slavery ended in 1865. Why the sudden demand for reparations? Why the sudden support? Why now?
Why the Obama International Apology Tour? Why are the Europeans so obsessed with making amends for being colonial powers, right now?
What caused the Islamic world to suddenly decide that NOW is the time to resume the assault on Dar al Harb (the West) and seek revenge for their defeat at the gates of Vienna on September 11, 1683?
Why is it that, after at least six thousand years of human existence, we are suddenly obsessed by fear of man-made global warming when only 30 years ago, data gathered over a similar thirty-year period was predicting a coming Ice Age?
That’s what is aggravating the gorilla. Because contained in the answer to the unasked question is the key to all the other questions everybody is arguing about.
Why is mankind subconsciously compiling a collective ‘bucket list’? And why now? Why is nobody asking why? Because everybody is avoiding the question because they really don’t want to acknowledge the answer.
Because it is time. The whole world knows it. It’s instinctive. It permeats our movies, our literature, our conversations and our jokes. It is the stated motivation of our enemies.
These are the last days. They know it. They just don’t want to acknowledge it.
“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
It isn’t that they don’t know. It’s that they don’t want to know. That’s why they will embrace the Lie.
That’s why they’re ignoring the gorilla.