The great Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote: Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.
Or, “Not to know what happened before you were born, that is to be always a boy, to be forever a child.”
Now the real problem is no so much what happened before we were born. It’s rather what happened, what has happened, what is still happening after our birth. For our own time, let alone the time when we were not yet born, we will have mostly forgotten.
If you think I’m wrong, and that you do remember, well start writing, begin with yesterday, and go back from there into your past. I’ll wager that the number of pages that you will complete will be a miniscule percentage of the number of days you have lived. And I’m sure that Marcel Proust, who did sit, or rather lie down and did manage to write thousands of pages, would agree with me.
Let’s say you’re now 50, that age soon to be the halfway point in our lives on this earth as we continue to live longer and longer. That’s 50 years, 18,250 days, 438,000 hours. Now while you were living those hours and days weren’t you for most of that time doing something that interested you, and of which you were fully conscious?
And now how much of that time past do you remember? Cicero was right, but also in respect to our own pasts we remain ignorant, forever children, but he didn’t realize there was nothing we could do to change this. This is who we are, beings who lose even the knowledge of where they’ve been while never stopping, always moving on.
The professional historians are of no help. Each one them, as each one of us, now nearly 8 billion and still counting, has lived all those days and hours. How can the historian’s history be any more than a miniscule part of what has happened to all those people during all that time?
So, history? What is it? Well perhaps Henry Ford is wrong and it’s not bunk. But it’s clearly only one account of thousands, tens of thousands of what happened. Read the letters of the soldiers from the front. From them you would know the war, what the war was about? Even with all the letters in hand, with those and other accounts, what in fact happened during the war would remain mostly unknown.