Historic Pictures

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Several years ago, I was given a book entitled Chronique du vingtième siècle (The 20th Century Saga), edited by newspaper.

It is a huge book (1350 pages, A4 size) that contains excerpts of most relevant articles published in French newspapers in the 20th century. 'Sarajevo: Archduke shot dead' (June, 1914); 'Lindbergh flies over the Atlantic' (May, 1927); 'Paris is now free' (August, 1944); 'Explorers on the Moon' (July, 1969), and so on.

You have a strange feeling when you read articles written many decades ago, on the very day historic events happened. They fill in a gap between personal experience and what you have been told. Obviously, the journalists who wrote the articles could not know about a future that is part of a well-known past for present readers. Yet, paradoxically, such a lack of knowledge adds a lot. When an event happened long time ago, before you were born, or able to understand it, you see it as a piece of History; almost an abstraction. On the opposite, when you can remember a event, how you heard of it, what you thought about it at the time, it is part of *your* history. Quite not the same.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Yalta

When you read articles in such a book, you feel as if this gap has been filled in. Past events become more real, because you hear about them happening 'live'. Furthermore, beside words, you see pictures, some of which are known throughout the world: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Yalta. Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin on the moon, photographed by Neil Armstrong who appears also as a reflection on the visor of Aldrin's helmet. Vietnamese girl , badly burnt, running down a road after a Napalm attack...

'Napalm Girl' by Nick Ut

It works with articles, it works with photos. It works also with films. I remember the year 1989 very well: resistance and demonstrations in communist countries, protesters in Tiananmen Square, the . The youngest cannot remember how hopeful we Westerners felt at the time, and how sad and angry after the massacre  in Beijing. Yet, thanks to the movie below — that I have displayed — they can feel the same as we did, 20 years ago exactly, when the desperate action of the testified about what the courage of a unique human being can be.

The Unknown Rebel

3 comment(s):

    I treasure first-hand accounts, and the Saga seems like it would be an interesting read. What I enjoy about first-hand accounts about events that occur in the past, they are not filtered through time, multiple groomings, and placed in the backdrop of history. That is not to say they do not have bias. A German newspaper in 1943 would have drastically different articles than a newspaper in France during the same time period, yet, by reading those two perspective, you get the feel of what the people were feeling at the time.


    Granted, Vanessa, there are bias, especially when articles deal with contentious topics. Newspapers sometimes just relay administration's propaganda, even in democracies, you know that as well as I do (while on this subject, I am afraid French and German official newspapers expressed very similar opinions on every topic in 1943 unfortunately *coughs* :-p )

    It is fascinating indeed to read about how people lived historic events. I just read an article about 'Mai 68', the very moment when the usual, conservative, French society, based on religion, patriotism, respect to authority and so forth, shifted toward our present liberal moral paradigm (human rights, equality, sexual liberation, etc.). People during the strikes and demonstrations in Mai 68 could not imagine their society would change that much within a few years; they 'felt it in the air' though, as this article shows.


    Ah! Now I feel embarrassed for having made such a gross assumption. But I think you understand my point. Newspaper articles are not a good example, as you know. In a history class I took, we used a book of course documents that included letters, reports submitted to superior officers, journals, essays. Those are what I like most to read.

    The world is a in a global recession. I feel at least comfortable to say that, and if someone looks back to this moment in time, and read what everyone is writing, whether it is in a blog or a newspaper, there is an obvious shift to economic concerns. Whether it is in the blogs that deal with saving money, or the articles about how to pinch pennies with utility bills, or letters to the United States government (like I wrote to the president) talking about the housing crisis. It's an amazing thing that we are living through something that will no doubt go down as one of the toughest economic times the world has had -- though we are relatively unscathed.


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