Historical Memory Is Not Forever


Okay, fine: The title of this article is (a little) hyperbolic, but hear me out. Do you know how many died in the Mongol conquests? How many fell at the Siege of Vienna? How many lives did the Battle of Gettysburg claim? Sure, some will object that these are rather old events[1]. Fine: How many died in the Korean War?

For those who are not particularly fond of history: The Korean War took place after World War II. There are men still alive today who fought in Korea. And, yet, most will be unable to answer even a single of the foregoing questions — and few would fare better if we were to ask for dates instead of casualties. But what is my point? Simple: In time, all atrocity fades. Said another way: Time attenuates atrocity.

The Boomer generation had some (if attenuated) connection to World War II; the only connection Millennials had was history classes (and the History Channel) and our Boomer parents; and Gen Z has no real connection to World War II. (Yes, these things can [and often do] fade that quickly.)

We are rapidly approaching the point where the Holocaust will have no real relevance to anyone still living. This is simply human nature. There is no scope, scale, or intensity that will ‘save’ an atrocity from the inevitable march of time. The average human has never had, and will undoubtedly never have, a particularly long historical memory.

The Holocaust had its time in the sun, but its importance, its salience to the current generation, began to fade long ago. Not so very long from now, it will assume its (proper) place as just another historical incident — it will command a page or two (in a chapter on World Wars I and II) in history books, but no more.

Such is the nature of man.

  1. Although, n.b., the Battle of Gettysburg was only a bit over one hundred and fifty years ago (1863). ↩︎