Wednesday, March 30, 2011

History is written by cartographers

Yesterday, I attended the John Breaux Symposium at LSU. I will write more about the discussions and thoughts they spurred within me later on.

But first, a quick thought. During one of the discussions, Amy Walter of ABC News made a reference to “Tucson.” I read that again in an article this morning. Both referred to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. It reminded me of something that’s bugged me at least since high school: Why do we refer to tragedies by the name of the place?

On one level, I understand why. Pearl Harbor. Hiroshima. Three Mile Island. Vietnam. Chernobyl. Rwanda. Columbine. The mention of these places immediately slap you with the magnitude of what happened there. And I guess that’s the point. We should never forget history’s tragedies, and however we go about remembering them is a good thing.

But on another level, it’s sad. After all, these places didn’t cease to exist once history turned its pages. They’re all complex places with complex people, with an extensive past and continuing future. Yet they will always be known first and foremost for the worst things that ever happened there. And that map seems to be growing all the time.

World history has always been bloody, and I’m not suggesting that we pretend it isn’t. But there’s got to be a better way to remember it than to reduce it.


Debra said...

The "better yet" question of the day is, what if there was another tragedy in Tucson? Would we call it Tucson2 or Tucson again?

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