When a tree falls

Nothing happens suddenly. History teaches this all important lesson.

Every life, every event, every memory ever recorded enters consciousness heir to a prologue - a history. The story of men and women, their deeds as individuals, as members of a tribe, a clan, a race, an ethnic group, as citizens of a nation - has a history.

But what we know from history can change suddenly.

The recent DNA evidence that Thomas Jefferson sired a child by his slave sent shock waves deep into the American psyche. Both a personal and a national history that were never written, now must be written.

The recent sale at public auction of a private diary by a Mexican lieutenant present at the battle of the Alamo presents Texans with a historical wringer. To be a native of the Lone Star state means to "remember the Alamo." The officer wrote that Davy Crockett died in captivity. Not in battle. His eyewitness account must now work its way into the schoolbooks of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.

The black majority in South Africa is rewriting that nation's story so that it includes them. Kate Dunn reports on that effort. She considers one of history's greatest weaknesses. It is too often written by the victors.

The philosopher's question, "If a tree falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it make a sound?" when asked in the context of South African history is not an abstract question. South Africans, and the rest of the world, are about to find out that suddenly, there is a noise in the historical wood.

* Comments? Write to Ideas Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.