You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted sentence from Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Flipping that sentence to the positive tells us that knowing history helps us to understand the present, and identify trajectories of the future. Our lives, like it or not, are intertwined with those of our parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, and countries. Every great figure in the history books is the product of a mother and father, whether farm folk or a scions of a noble line. And ultimately, history is the stories of each human soul from the beginning of time; our choices, memories, virtues and sins affect the world in ways that we cannot foresee.
To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history? – Cicero
Did you know that in this year, 2016, we celebrate a handful of remarkable historical anniversaries? A little knowledge about the world is always timely, so here is your dose of history for the day, distilled into five convenient bullet points.
April 23 – 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death
The greatest writer in the English language, inventor of dozens of words and phrases that are now in common usage, a playwright whose works remain in most school canons and have been interpreted in dozens of ways…if you’ve ever tried to “break the ice,” said “it’s all Greek to me,” wanted to “kill with kindness,” and “not slept a wink,” thank the Bard of Avon by watching a production of one of his 38 plays or reading one of his 154 sonnets. Don’t be put off by the language – William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan style can’t hide his uncanny understanding of human nature.
April 24-29 – 100th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion
Ireland is a tiny island with a strong history. Evangelized in the fifth century, Irish monks kept the light on during the so-called “Dark Ages,” and Ireland’s sons brought their faith to the rest of the world (including the Americas) through the centuries. Protestant English persecution led to a long-standing political and religious conflict between the two countries, which had its final major stand-off in the tragic story of the Easter Rebellion. The Irish Volunteers, led by Padraig Pearse, made a concerted effort during Easter Week of 1916 to set up an Irish Republic; they placed “the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms.” The rebellion was crushed with many fatalities to soldiers and civilians, and has been preserved in Irish hearts and minds. And a few years later, the majority of the island finally achieved the patriots’ goal, finally established as the Republic of Ireland.
August 25 – 100th anniversary of the National Park Service
Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Badlands, Denali, Death Valley, Everglades…the United States is home to natural beauty in many forms. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that would establish the National Park Service, a government organization set up to care for the many (now 411) national parks, monuments, historical sites, recreation areas, rivers…you get the idea. NPS tends to over 84 million acres of the country, preserving not only unique geological formations like the Grand Canyon, but also important pieces of our history, like Gettysburg. Over three million visitors a year benefit from Wilson’s signature!
December 7 – 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor
What September 11 is to our era, Pearl Harbor was to our grandparents. Where were you when you heard? That Sunday morning in 1941 wasn’t quiet for long, as 353 airplanes of the Imperial Japanese Navy wiped out the aircraft carriers and other ships docked at the base. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. The next day, war against Japan was declared, and the United States entered World War II. Far from disheartening America, the goal of the Japanese, this attack upon our home soil had a similar effect to 9/11, sixty years later. The country united in patriotism, and “Remember Pearl Harbor!” was the watchword of the war.
December 22 – 800th Anniversary of the Dominican Order
800 years ago, Pope Honorius III signed a document which officially established the Order of Preachers, begun by St. Dominic a few years before. These itinerant preachers have now multiplied into the thousands, including priests, brothers, nuns, sisters, and lay people; and the order has spawned an incredible number of saints, including St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albert the Great, St. Catherine of Siena, and Bl. Pier Georgio Frassati. The Dominicans have spent eight centuries revolutionizing theology, starting universities, making great leaps in science, fighting heresy, spreading the devotion of the Rosary, and teaching thousands of school children – and they won’t be slowing down any time soon.
Historic truth puts us in temporal relation with the rise and fall of civilization. – Ven. Fulton Sheen
Copyright 2016 Rebecca Willen