Lessons in History

When I read about the Salem witch trials I get angry. Angry at the hysteria of the mob. Angry at the “leaders” of the day, like Cotton Mather who got sucked into the madness. Angry that adults would believe the words of accusers instead of listening to reason. Angry that people died for stupid reasons repeated over and over again. People are a bit too cavalier when they talk about witch hunts today.

When I read about King Phillip’s War I get angry. Angry at the collective short memory of the sons and daughters of the Pilgrims who were alive if only for the grace of a Native American population that chose to ally with them. Angry at the relentless encroachment on the land and the lives of those who who inhabited it, who happened to be in the way.

When I read about the Raid on Haverhill I get angry at the senseless violence of it all. Settlers trying to make a living on the only land available to them, suddenly upended by naked warriors killing men, women and children because they had the audacity to try to live on the edge of the wilderness. All taken away in a flash of violence against the living. Repeated over and over again. The tragedy of violence took place on both sides as this country grew.

When I read about the slave trade, I get angry. The dark history of suffering in the rum I drink, the foundation of liberty in America built on the rights of men, even as the earliest generations of African Americans, Native Americans, Scots-Irish and others worked under the threat of the whip or the noose. Celebrate the grand ideals of the Founding Fathers, but don’t forget the price others paid for the rights and privileges we have today.

I don’t enjoy being angry when I read these things, but I’m driven by a desire to understand the lives of those who came before us. Those ripples still rock our lives in ways we rarely take the time to understand. History is more than a place name or a question on a quiz. It’s our DNA. Ignore the lessons of history and they tend to repeat themselves. Can you hear the whispers in the land? Learn from our sacrifice.

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