In 1170, 839 years ago today, as he was beginning Vespers in the cathedral, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury,was murdered by four soldiers of the English King Henry II. Becket and the King had been close friends for years, but when Henry appointed Becket as the head of the Church in England, he was not as pliable as Henry had expected. In fury and exasperation, Henry cried out one day to his court “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
In 1890, exactly 720 years later, the Massacre at Wounded Knee took place in what is now the American west. The last of the fighting Sious Indians had agreed to surrender to U.S. troops for transport from South Dakota to Omaha, Nebraska, but it all went horribly wrong. An Indian who was deaf and did not understand the command given to him refused to give up his arms. By the time the resulting mayhem subsided, more than 200 Sioux men, women, and children were dead. 25 of the 500 U.S. troops also died.
And 69 years ago, on this day in 1940, the German airforce dropped more than 10,000 incendiary bombs on London.
I find it a despairing list of anniversaries – an assurance that we as humans seem to have learned so little about how to get along with those with whom we disagree.
But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope. Killing ones enemies leaves the evidence of bodies to confirm the atrocities. 100,000 acts of kindness, of forgiveness, of tolerance, can disappear from our history books without a trace.
But they happened too. And perhaps their effects have been just as great as the results of the numerous murderous outrages that pepper the history of Homo sapiens.