The Silence of History

History Journalism

Marble Falls     Vacation is a good time to try and do some reading.  I don’t say catch-up with my reading, because there’s no such thing.  We’re always reading.  There’s always more to read.  Reading almost defines the Sisyphean project of constantly pushing up the hill and never getting there.  I’m actually good with that.  It’s the journey more than the destination that holds the value.

            Any way, one of the books I wanted to read on my vacation was River Rats:  The Last Batture Settlement in New Orleans.  These houses, camps, shacks, or whatever you might want to call them are on that boundary land created by the Mississippi River and the levee protecting the city.  The dozen or so that are left are around the bend of the river near where St. Charles meets Carrolton Avenue.  I went to high school near that bend in the river and because the school had virtually no yard, we ran track and had some football practices on top and alongside that levee.  Running from the riverbend to the Jefferson Parish line, I would have my eyes on the river and would often see these structures and wonder about life there, so I grabbed the book when it came out this year.

            Believe it or not, that’s not really the point I want to make.  Macon Fry, the author, includes a lot of discussion about the very powerful Dock Board that manages those levees and the docks and warehouses long the river.  Writing about a fight about the land created by the river near Audubon Park.  In the 1960s, the Dock Board wanted to make this land industrial and citizens fought to keep the space for the public, ending up victorious and protecting what is now a hugely popular and well-used area there.  The head of the Dock Board insisted though on its commercial use saying that the “men” on the Dock Board “knew what was best” for the city.  Obviously, he and Board were dead wrong on every conceivable level.  They are all long gone, but who knows who he and the board were then, or what they did, or how wrong they were.  This is part of the silence of history.  Fry broke the silence, but that doesn’t mean there is accountability, or that any lesson was learned.

            I thought about this reading a lengthy piece about the bitter struggle fought over the mask mandate in Enid, Oklahoma in the New York Times.  There’s a quote there from the young woman who heads up the Enid Freedom Fighters, where she is also taking issue with diversity efforts in public schools and teaching about race, saying,

“They don’t care what color your skin is until you tell them that that 5-year-old’s grandpa was mean 200 years ago.”

Her statement strikes me as not only true, but profound.  A major part of our division and disputes is about silencing history.  A major operating premise of power, and maybe most people, assumes that history will be silent, so that there will be no accountability.  Maybe it’s not even just about power, but about protest as well. The anit-vaxers are wrong about the risks of vaccines, and the anti-maskers are wrong about public health protections, but the reasons they are wrong are not just about the science, but their disregard for the community and its obligation to protect both the weak as well as the strong.   They also are protected by the silence of history, hoping that their grandchildren will also never know how “mean” and wrong they might have been, because there is no accountability.  There are even additional contradictions like the fact that public policy requires vaccination and community protection, but at the same time the government continues to provide free tests for all, basically subsidizing those that protest the mandates while depending on the tests to continue to allow them to work and play in the community, as if they believed in the community at all.

All of this seems less about freedom and a lot more about a free ride with the devil taking the hindmost, and the government aiding and abetting all sides of the disputes, not only depending on who is in power, but also in reality, regardless of who is in power.