Now this is just a thought, and I haven’t fully developed it or decided exactly where I stand. But, I think that the common sayings about the importance of history – “we must remember”, “we must never forget”, “people must know where they come from to know where they are going”, or as Marcus Garvey said, “a people without a knowledge of their past and culture is like a tree without roots” – is actually overstated, possibly even misguided, and ultimately destructive.
I have always had the suspicion that our traditions and cultures are only one or two generation’s old, even if they are links in an ongoing chain of traditions a thousand years old. History is more part of our collective imagination than it is an intrinsic reality. Thus, when we think we act or behave in a certain way, it is not because we belong to a culture that has been acting this way for centuries, but because we have been trained to do so by our present surroundings. But this is probably something for a different post.
What I am actually trying to ask is whether the need to “remember” history does not in fact simply renew old hatreds, bind us to the legacy of something that we in fact did not cause or establish, and thus limit our abilities to be unique and autonomous. Just as sons should not be forced to pay for the sins of their fathers, what is the real benefit in knowing history? To avoid the pitfalls of the past, or to force us to relive them generation after generation? We are born clean slates, so why shouldn’t we be allowed to live in a clean, new world. It seems to me that the baggage of history too often predetermines our fate. So, if I didn’t know where I came from, I would be truly free to decide where I wanted to go. Maybe I don’t want to remember the Alamo.