September 11. This automatically bring most of us back to the terrorist attacks of 2001. It seems that this is not just a day, but a shared emotion and the beginning of a new epoch.
But this is not universal. For the supporters of those responsible for the atrocity, this day is a glorious victory.
And for others, 11 September 2001 is dwarfed by what happened on that same day in other years.
There's 11 September 1973. Thirty-years ago, Chile's democratically-elected leader Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup staged by Augusto Pinochet. The coup was supported by the Nixon administration, and led to Pinochet's 16.5 years of harsh dictatorship, during which time over 3,000 citizens were killed for political reasons and many others were tortured.
For the Tasmanian aborigines, 11 September 1803 is remembered as the day that whites first settled in Tasmania, which lead to one of the most devastating attempts of genocide made against any people.
musing about the role of erosion and cataclysm in history
There's a danger in dividing events between what's current/relevant and what's historic/old, because really everything should be in the past tense, whether in an event is only seconds old, or hours, years or centuries old. Also, everything in the past is somehow relevant to the present, in some way or another.
Still, people tend to forget and ignore the past, and focus on current events So even if it's not the best way of viewing happenings, I want to explore how "news" becomes "history."
So when does an important event become relegated to history? Although it happened two years ago, 11 September 2001 seems very much like a present event, because it was the cause of so much that is happening in the world right now. What started on that day is still playing out right now.
What about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989? I imagine that its impact would be more enduring and relevant to people in the former Eastern bloc, because that was when their world underwent a seizmic shift and it hasn't really changed to such an extent since then.
But as the strains in the trans-Atlantic alliances between the US and Western Europe are showing, World War Two seems like a long time ago now. Was this caused by the passing of time or the end of communism - or both?
I want to explore this geological view of history for a moment. Most of the time, the landscape is continually being changed by gradual erosion. But every so often, an extraordinary event happens such as an earthquake, volcano, meteorite which tears up the existing landscape and remakes it in its own image. The impact of this event will persist until the next extraordinary event happens, or if enough time passes to allow erosion to erase almost all of its traces.
Applying this to history, an extraordinary event like 11 September 2001 will stay current and relevant until the next cataclysmic occurence or enough time passes (50 years? 100 years?) to wear down its importance and relevance.
Just as in geology, what's relevant and current will vary from place to place. The big event of one place is not going to be the big event of another place. It's the same with people and history.