A vast early warning
“A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia.”
— David McCullough
“History is a vast early warning system.” — Norman Cousins
Living in the “historic triangle” of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown has only sharpened my already considerable interest in history. I’ve never understood how anyone could find history boring. Its stories, so full of drama in the condensed versions we are able to piece together, answer some questions and raise others. With the benefit of centuries of hindsight, it’s pretty easy to see a lot of mistakes that led to tragedy, and we can always hope that at least some of them won’t be unnecessarily repeated. At the same time, it’s hard not to be grateful that our ancestors were tough, strong and courageous enough to blaze many trails that made things easier for us today.
Few stories from history are more fraught with warnings than the settlement of Jamestown. Without going into the details, let’s just say that it was far from an unqualified success, and the failures, suffering and death are well documented. Yet six years ago, on the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, contemporary Virginians and visiting dignitaries (including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England) attended many commemorative events in a year-long schedule of celebration.
Perhaps the mere presence of descendants who are around to honor such dubious and painful beginnings is a tribute to the determination that humanity still displays when faced with opportunity and peril. What will future generations remember about us? Let’s do what we can to leave a legacy befitting people who learned some of history’s hardest lessons, and created happier examples for our great-great-great grandchildren’s benefit.