History consists of a series of records of events and personalities. Because history is the chronicle of what has already happened, I had always considered it to be a series of absolute truths. The dates, facts, and lists of events I had to memorize in order to pass exams seemed to be exact details, written down and printed in a textbook, subject to no controversy whatsoever.
However, as I began to study more recent history, records of times I had actually lived through, I started to question this. I began to see how much of what gets to be part of the textbooks depends on who is doing the writing. It also depends on how much time has passed. Already, the "truth" about Richard Nixon's effectiveness as a president has changed. The man who was universally vilified at the time of his resignation is now viewed in many quarters as a master of foreign policy who just happened to make some domestic blunders along the way. Journalists are already trying to decide how Bill Clinton's president will look to "history," as Kenneth Starr spends another million dollars of tax money trying to uncover "the truth."
The difficulty in all this lies in the fact that "the truth" is not some absolute thing. Truth is as much a matter of perspective as anything. My cousin Danny was always a bully. He seemed to take great pleasure in picking on me at family gatherings. When he broke the basement window at my grandmother's house during an impromptu baseball game, I was secretly delighted and eager to testify against him. After all, I saw him swing the bat and then heard the glass shatter. He was guilty, and I knew the truth.
The grownups at the gathering became Danny's judge and jury. I told my story proudly, even though I could feel Danny's animosity boring its way through my back. He was guilty. That was the truth.
Then Susan stood up. She had been lying in the hammock in the side yard, watching the game but paying little real ...