Author, entrepreneur, leader, athlete and retired career executive.
Living in interesting times
One recent morning, with my first cup of coffee in hand, I stepped out onto the deck of our new oceanfront home and watched the boats pass by, their hulls glistening as they pierced through the water. As I sipped and watched, it occurred to me why I find the study of history so interesting, the older I get. In a nutshell, looking back at history provides clarity and perspective.
I recently read the book Midnight in Chernobyl, by Adam Higginbotham. It's an in-depth exploration of the causes and effects of the catastrophic 1986 Soviet nuclear meltdown, and includes scores of personal accounts from those who were actually there. Having been raised during the prominence of the seemingly unassailable USSR, the Chernobyl disaster seemed to be the first significant chink in the armor of the mighty Soviet propaganda machine. I remember watching the news at the time. The Soviets minimized, downplayed and deflected every aspect of the nuclear calamity. Only when a massive radioactive cloud flew north over Finland did the Soviets have to acknowledge an incident had occurred (that’s how it was portrayed at that juncture, despite their knowing that the entire reactor core had blown, exposing radiation into the global atmosphere).
Needless to say, by now we know that Chernobyl was a catastrophic failure that exposed not only an immeasurable number of problems with the reactor itself, but decades of review and investigation have revealed astonishing layers of mismanagement, poor planning, safety and quality controls. The disaster was so significant, it acted as a match strike that led to the dissolution of the mighty USSR just three short years later.
From an historical perspective, this book was very interesting. But what was most fascinating to me as I was reading, was how as time has passed, after the leaders in charge had departed, after the narrative of the propaganda machine had faded away, and after the people directly involved were able to be heard, what we are left with is the crystalline revealing of this beautiful and insoluble thing called THE TRUTH.
Kelvin Wave Pattern
Give things 30+ years of history from the time an event occurs, and you can more clearly see what was true versus what those in their time wanted you to believe.
When events are happening, the amount of known information is much like a boat parting the sea, its slender bow piercing new and unknown waters. But the wake, once it spreads, grows wider and broader, and reveals the true and lasting impact of the craft, which creates feathery ripples in the water that eventually grow and peak and then splash onto the shoreline.
In mathematics, there’s something called the Kelvin Wave Pattern, which is the characteristic surface pattern that feathers back from the point of a boat’s bow as it moves through the water.
In my historical analogy, the passage of time is like a feathering out of events from the historical now. With time, along with rippling waves of information-sharing, investigation and knowledge, the fullness of honesty and clarity can finally be revealed. Only then do the full and true impact of the waves become completely understood.
Here are a few more examples. I’m a big fan of historical podcasts, including:
Season one delves into the Watergate scandal that resulted in President Nixon resigning from office. Host Leon Neyfakh brings events from nearly fifty years ago into the present, delving through the day-by-day news cycle of 1972-73, through now-declassified information, by interviewing people who were there, and by providing us with a clear and compelling understanding of what happened - captivating real-life storytelling that actually helps us to more clearly see the present.
Season two delves into the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and impeachment hearings in the 90s, again by looking through documents, conducting personal interviews (including with the recently-deceased Linda Tripp), and delivering riveting stories that provide a true and accurate picture of what really happened.
Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcasts bring to vivid life World Wars, the impacts of past civilizations, and through his recent book, The End is Always Near, weaves these events into relevant modern context.
Annie Jacobson is another author who writes wonderfully informative books, cultivated from her extensive research into declassified government documents, most of which have a maturity date before they’re available to the public. Her skillful investigative journalism reveals to us the true story of events we’ve heard about through history, but didn’t have the ability to fully understand because much of the most salient information was withheld from the public at the time.
Among her books I've read are:
- Operation Paperclip, which details the U.S. government program to recruit masochistic Nazi scientists to the U.S. to help America win the Cold War against the Soviets, who were doing the same. Because she worked with actual declassified information in writing the book, she lays out the cold facts about every aspect of this program.
- Phenomena - unveils information about the government program to utilize and train people in psychic phenomena, such as remote viewing and telekinesis.
- Area 51 about the not-so-secret government program to study aliens and develop surveillance to help our efforts in the Cold War with the USSR.
- Surprise, Kill, Vanish documents the still-existing program that allows POTUS/CIA to assassinate those who pose a threat to our country. Fascinating stuff.
When will things be clear?
So what happens in those decades that provides greater clarity to events?
- The veil of propaganda and political gain designed to protect those in power or influence is lifted.
- The causes of events undergo exploration and experimentation, particularly by scientists, researchers, investigative journalists and historians.
- Histrionic and defensive responses begin to lessen and people let their guard down.
- The health, environmental, political, and economic effects of events become more broadly understood with the passage of time.
- Key information becomes officially declassified.
We live in chaotic and quickly-changing times. It’s hard to know which end is up sometimes. Everyone seems to blame someone else for the problems we’re experiencing. Right blames left, left blames right. Meanwhile countries like China and Russia move covertly to exploit our chaos for their own gains. So, what’s happening, and when will we really understand what’s happening, and how this will all look in an historical lens?
Sorry. I wish I could say it will be clearer tomorrow, or Election Day, or when this pandemic is over. It will be a little clearer than it is today, but like the feathered wake from the boat, there will be a lot of churning of information, opinionators, prognosticators, and media personalities criticizing other media personalities about how corrupt the others are, while cashing in as rich media personalities themselves.
Until then, its important to know that we live in the now, and will fully understand many things only in the rear-view mirror. As Dan Carlin demonstrates, history shows we're always living on the precipice of something. Some threat, some danger. Full peace and security is an illusion. Somehow, we have to make our own peace with that knowledge.
But it doesn't mean we can't take a deep breath, hug our families, sip our morning coffee and look out over the waters and watch the boats go by.
Gregory S Williams (author) from California on July 17, 2020:
Me too, Shauna.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 17, 2020:
Greg, this is a very eye-opening article and makes so much sense. In thirty years I'll be 93. I hope I'm around to understand what the hell is going on now and why!