This is a fruitful time of year for those interested in European history in the 20th century. What triggered that thought is that I heard a birthday announcement for Billy Graham the other day; he's reached 95. My mind went looking for connections and settled on the fact that he was born exactly one year after the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, thus ushering in the rule of Lenin and Trotsky.
Just a brief stroll down memory lane reveals more temporal connections. Tomorrow (November 9) is the 90th anniversary of Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch and (if I recall correctly) the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht in Germany. The latter incident plays a major role in my novel-in-progress Soldiers of Night and Fog.
A great deal of attention is now being focused on November 22 of this year. It's a bit scary to think that I can recall so clearly what happened on a day when I was all of 14 years old. It's even stranger to look at how vigorous the JFK assassination conspiracy complex still is. The major impacts of that bloody day have already been assimilated into our nation's historical consciousness. But the allure of a good crime story lingers even after all the major facts are no longer in dispute. I have a planned novel with the working title The Burma Shave Man, where the protagonist's random encounter with Lee Harvey Oswald gives rise to a lifelong obsession with theories about the assassination.
As a sixtysomething teaching (mostly) twentysomethings, I warn my students not to scoff at what history will do to them if they're unaware of its flow around them. I think they may think I'm obsessed with trivia; they're probably right, since I still hope to make in onto "Jeopardy." So I'll close this post with factoid presented Jeopardy-style:
A: Brian Boru's defeat of the Vikings at Clontarf, Easter 1014.
Q: What significant historical 1000-year anniversary will be celebrated early next year?
Someday others may speak of our times with the same disdain for (or ignorance of) events and their significance. One consolation for being obscure is that when future generations of historians write the history of our times, none of us is likely to be singled out for particular opporobium. Take whatever comfort you can from that thought.