Friday, December 30, 2011

Along the Timeline

This year ends; the next begins. The king is dead; long live the king. A calendar is as good a marker as any to serve the grand chronicle. In another sense, nothing ends or begins. It just keeps rolling along in every which way.

We tend to look at history longitudinally asking, and then what happened? We think in terms of stories. Nothing wrong with that except that by picking up one thread we often ignore what else happened at the same time which may have had unintended ripples.

I recently read part of a 900 page book about the role of England during our Civil war. 250 pages were enough to get the idea and it was due back at the library. The Northern blockade of Southern ports denied the Confederacy its chief export but also deprived the Brits of their needed cotton and caused half a million British workers to be unemployed. It came close to bringing England into our war. An impassioned letter from Lincoln to Parliament saved the day.

If we think associatively we get a broader picture of the times. Pick a year, I said to myself, and I came up with 1906. Cezanne died and so did Susan B. Anthony and Henrik Ibsen but Dmitri Shostakovich, Satchel Page (we think) and Samuel Beckett came into the world. Monsieur Curie (married to Madame) departed, replaced by Philo Farnsworth, Billy Wilder and Oscar Levant and lots of others including my Uncle Harry who was famous only to Aunt Nettie.

Mark Twain was still alive and Emile Zola was still dead. The Chicago Cubs were so good they won 116 games and lost 36, a winning percentage never equaled. When the season was over President Theodore Roosevelt left for Panama and got his picture taken on a tractor, becoming the first president to leave the country while in office. When he returned he was named recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his help bringing the Russo-Japanese War to an end. T.R. had also played a part, earlier that year, in mediating the Moroccan crisis between France and Spain. This sounds like Friday and Sunday fighting over Saturday night.

It was a summer of seismic belches and burps. Vesuvius erupted on April 7 burying Naples and 11 days later San Francisco was hit by a 7.8 earthquake and fire. An even larger temblor killed 20,000 in Chile 2 months later and a typhoon and tsunami swallowed another 10,000 in Hong Kong.

On the good news ledger, the first phonograph, the Victrola, appeared and the first radio broadcast occurred: a poetry reading, a violin solo, and a speech. In December of 1906 the world's first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was released. The worlds longest tunnel (12 miles) was built under the Alps connecting Switzerland and Italy. The Dreyfus Affair ended with his full exoneration which is said to have led to the separation of Church and state in France and a disgraced military. By year’s end The Wasserman test diagnosed syphilis and a tuberculosis inoculation was developed. As tectonic plates were stirring, the Lusitania, the world’s largest ship, was launched... only to be sunk nine years later by Germnan U-boats. A sign of trouble ahead.

And just when you might think a new age of enlightenment was upon us, the U.S found a reason to occupy Cuba. We had already helped ourselves to Guantanamo Bay three years earlier. Across the Atlantic the British built the battleship Dreadnought. It was the first of an entirely new class of warships giving the vessel unheard-of speed. The launching of the Dreadnought was a first step in a naval armaments race with Germany and we know where that led. At the same time the Muslims of India began separating themselves from the Hindus which resulted in the establishment of Pakistan 41 years later.

The agonies and ecstasies of today have their antecedents 106 years ago. Whether these happenings had a cameo role in each other’s story I leave for professional historians and story tellers. As the world shrinks and connectivity grows it’s hard to imagine any local trouble not becoming seismic. I wonder if tears or cheers marked the New Year parties ushering in 1907.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant, once again. Thanks, for the history lesson. Nothing stays the same and nothing changes. What is old today will be new tomorrow. What is new today will be forgotten tomorrow.