I indulged myself by watching the history channel’s broadcast of film made during World War II. I grew up with these clips, but this was the first time in a long time that I’ve paid more than superficial attention to these gems from the vault of history. I was struck by how young the soldiers were. When I was a kid, they were wizened old men. I saw them now as mere kids, many of whom were younger than my own son is today.
I couldn’t see very many ways in which these kids were different from kids today. They looked and probably acted like my son and his friends. They may have grown up faster on the front—they didn’t have much choice. And maybe they felt more like a part of something larger than themselves. Life was much more immediate and fragile. But you could see the same emotions, the same sense of self, the same youthful awareness.
What were their lives like? What was it like to be conscious of the fact that you were alive in the middle of Normandy or Iwo Jima? What was on your mind? Home? Survival? The guy next to you? Did you think about the future? Did the soldier you were pointing your gun at think about the same things? And what would the kid on the television screen be like if he lived today? Would that kid have the same thoughts today?
Tell your stories, if only so that people who live 60 years from today won’t be asking the same questions.
What do the Mayans, the Picts, and the Apache have in common?
They were all illiterate societies. They shared their lore, wisdom, and tales orally. The stories may not have been entirely factual. Over time, their heroes may have become larger than life and their histories may have become more fantastic and mythological. But, they told their stories and they shared their history. When the line was broken—when the tribes were wiped out or the language was erased—the stories died. What happened to the Toltecs? We have only the archaeological records to tell us.
Heyemeyohsts Storm is the son of a Cheyenne Indian teacher, an itinerant story teller who went from village to village telling the stories and transmitting the wisdom of his tribe. His was entirely an oral culture. As the people became “civilized,” they began to forget their language and their stories. Storm’s magnificent book, Seven Arrows, is his attempt to put these stories in writing before they disappeared entirely. It suffers the fossilization that any oral story frozen in print must suffer. But at least the essences of the stories are preserved. We won’t have to reconstruct the Cheyenne only from cave paintings and genetics.
Today, we are all blessed with ways to capture our stories. We have a variety of print resources. We have recorded resources. We have photos. We even have collection of souvenirs and memorabilia. There is no excuse for any of us, individually or collectively, to become the next generation’s Atlantis unless we choose to.