THE END OF HISTORY….When I

THE END OF HISTORY….When I was reading Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets a few days ago, the realization popped into my head that I had no personal recollection of the whole Pentagon Papers affair, which happened in 1971. Conversely, I do have vivid personal recollections of Watergate, which started only a year or two later. Hmmm.

Then, in response to an ill-judged remark about the Free Speech Movement a couple of days ago (which, just for the record, I don’t think was the work of crackpots or loons), a correspondent wrote to ask, “Just how young ARE you?”

The answer, of course, is “just young enough.” All of us have a particular age when we started paying attention to the larger world, and for each of us the events that happened before that date, even if only by a year or two, are the stuff of history, known ? sporadically and imperfectly ? from the dry and analytic intake of books and TV documentaries. Everything after is part of our life and evokes the full range of emotional response that’s normal for events that we personally experience.

What’s funny, for me, is that I can date this divide rather precisely. One day, in the period before I really understood why anyone bothered reading any section of the newspaper other than the comics, I had this approximate conversation with my father:

ME: So what happened in the world today?

DAD: Well, they declared martial law in the Philippines.

ME: Oh, ha ha, very funny.

But when my father left the room, I picked up the paper, and guess what? Ferdinand Marcos really had declared martial law in the Philippines. After that I started reading the paper every day.

A bit of googling turns up the exact date for this event: September 21, 1972. So there you have it: for me, the end of history was September 1972. When was it was for you?

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