It's something of a melancholy day in my world. I learned yesterday that a friend and former editor of mine died early yesterday morning, after a brief illness. As I awoke this morning, the local NPR station was having a technical issue and played a few seconds of a story that seemed to indicate that the former cardinal archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger, had recently died. (I was able to confirm that when I checked the headlines on my news reader, though NPR never did replay the clip.) And today is, of course, the sixty-second anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War.
I'm going to start with the NPR glitch, because frankly, I'm more than a little cheesed off that they didn't find the story of sufficient importance to feature it on the morning newscast. I would happily have foregone the usual Monday morning five minutes with Cokie Roberts (who as usual had nothing of any substance to say), or the puff piece about quinceañeras, to hear a bit more about the life and times of the son of a Polish rabbi who became a Catholic during the Phony War, and rose to the dignity of the crimson in his adopted land and somehow managed to be a bridge (though not always an uncontroversial one) between the Judaism of his birth and the Catholicism of his adulthood, the strictly secular country in which he was born and lived and the church he loved and served. Once upon a time, that is exactly the kind of story one heard routinely on NPR. That seems to happen less and less often now, and that's unfortunate.
Equally unfortunate (and, to my eyes anyway, scandalous) was the omission of any mention of Hiroshima from the news today. Apparently such things only matter on anniversaries that are multiples of five, unless someone famous associated with the event has recently died or has otherwise gotten himself or herself into the news. How on earth we could forget Hiroshima, especially in a world where people running for the presidency--from both parties, my sorrow to say it--are openly bantering about the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the Middle East, is beyond me. If ever there was a day when we should be talking about what that tragic day meant and what we both have and should have learned from it, this is surely that day.
It's at times like this that I'm both glad and incredibly frustrated to be an historian. Glad, because somebody has to remember and think and write and speak about this stuff when our leaders and the punditocracy won't. Frustrated, because lapses like today's just drive home all the more urgently the tremendous need for vastly improved (and increased) historical education in this country. It's bad enough that half of our high school graduates can't accurately place the American Civil War--a fairly important event in this country's history, by most accounts--within the correct half-century. But when nobody pays attention to the lessons history has to offer, those lessons must oftentimes be learned in a much harder and far less pleasant manner: and that's a life task I would be most happy to do without, thank you very much.
Anybody who thinks that nuclear weapons can or should be tossed around whenever things get a little tight has obviously never spent much time thinking or learning about what they are and what they can do. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that while we were no longer doing "duck-and-cover" drills in my elementary school days, we still had fallout shelters and Civil Defense sirens that sounded weekly. At the back of the family's medical reference book that my parents bought when they were first married there was a (to me) morbidly fascinating section on what to expect from a nuclear or chemical weapons attack, and what (little) one might do to mitigate the worst of the effects. I've read everything I can get my hands on about the Manhattan Project, and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I remember vividly debating points from the SALT and START talks during my days as an extemporaneous speaker on the forensics team in high school, and the spate of TV miniseries in the mid- and late 1980s revolving around the aftermath of a nuclear attack, accident, or an all-out war. I guess such things are now as incredibly dating as leg warmers and Members Only jackets, fit only for museum exhibits and retrospectives on cable channels that hardly anyone watches anymore.
Perhaps it's time we dusted off a few of those. Unlike Jericho, the series that CBS débuted last fall (that rapidly became unwatchable in my estimation because of all the far-out plot twists the writers seemed to want to introduce), in these older shows, the holocaust happens right on the screen. You see more than a computer-graphics image of a mushroom cloud on the horizon in movies like The Day After (which uses images from actual nuclear tests, among other footage) or Threads, a British import that is even more graphic. I'd like to think that if we started showing these or similar films in our schools, instead of wasting time on frivolities like abstinence-only sex education and teaching to the latest version of whatever high-stakes standardized test the federal government is shoving down the throats of school districts, we'd eventually hear a lot less blathering about using nuclear weapons, and far more insistence that we get rid of them altogether.
Small wonder the Hedgemony would just as soon we didn't think at all, just went out and spent more money we didn't have, and then come home to watch the latest pabulum about the latest pretty young white girl gone missing/entering rehab/leaving rehab, or one of the approximately 6.022 × 1023 "reality" shows on the idiot box these days. I get something like 100 channels on my digital cable package, and on the rare occasions when I have a free moment actually to watch what I'm paying for every month, I can hardly ever find anything worth bothering with. We were having a discussion about movies and movie-going before the start of our weekly staff meeting this afternoon, and I seem to be one of the few people in my office (there's one other) who has little if any interest in what Hollywood is pumping out these days. Mostly it's a factor of not having enough time, but there's also the schlock factor to consider. At the prices they expect people to pay for "entertainment" these days, the studios really ought to have to put out something that's entertaining.
The last movie I bothered to go see in a theater was Miracle, and that's the only movie I've ever bothered to see on its premiere date thus far in my life. It will likely be the last one, too. I would far and away rather wait for a movie to become available on a cable channel I get, where I can watch it in the privacy of my own home (and, if I'm using my TiVo to do so, pause it whenever I feel a need, rewind to catch a bit of missed dialogue, or fast-forward through boring bits)--and where I'm not really out anything if I decide in the middle that it's not worth my time.
What a pity I can't do the same with my morning news coverage. Or the Hedgemony, for that matter.