Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Meaning of History

World Trade Center Past and Future
(photo by Philip Vassallo
We Americans have an expression that confuses most everyone else: "That's history."  We say it to mean that the point of discussion is irrelevant. How interesting that so many people in the United States abhor the past, probably because of the country's relative youth and its citizens' appetite for future opportunities. 

Most non-Americans would say that history is everything. They live on the soil whose past has been documented for more than two millennia. As a result, they feel more connected to their ancestral ties and cultural traditions.

I do not fault this attitude among Americans for two reasons. First, they left the old country for a new start in a place that promises an equal opportunity, and succeeding generations who have always lived in America have that wanderlust in their blood. Second, we have a pretty cool culture, which we constantly make up as we go along: the telephone, Hollywood, the radio, the laptop, the smartphone, jazz, bluegrass, rock, soul, hip-hop--not too shabby.

Nevertheless, most Americans who understand the meaning of this photo would say that they greatly value recent history. In the foreground is The Sphere of the former World Trade Center, which was reinstalled at Battery Park as a memorial to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. In the background to the left is the new World Trade Center under construction. In this photo, we can see the aftermath of an atrocity committed by terrorists as a direct attack on America on its darkest day as well as the optimism that epitomizes America in its vision, resoluteness, and diligence. More than anything else, the photo speaks for Americans' passion for freedom, pursuit of progress, and quest for equality. In this photo, we can see both the past and the future in harmony.