November/December 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 6
History is a tangled web of stories, opinions, and mysteries. True facts are hidden by the mess found in the web. We are spiders, climbing around the web, searching for facts so that we may make our own opinions, yet only finding them drowning among everything else that has gotten tangled inside. Because of this, history used to be boring for me. The opinions that I found were not appealing to me and drew me away from it. Two things happened this year that completely changed my view of history. The first was September 11. The second was my first research paper.
On September 11 I ran home from the bus stop, anxious to hear what had happened. The seventh and eighth graders on my bus were discussing the plane crashes in whispers but refused to tell us sixth graders what had occurred. The sixth graders, like myself, had not been told about it at school, unlike the seventh and eighth graders. I caught a few words, such as “twin towers” and “plane,” but could not see a connection. When I finally got home I found my mom sitting on our front steps. When she told me what had happened, I reeled back in shock and disbelief. A fact had just flown out of my web and slapped me in the face. In the next few days, some of my web began to unravel. This was how Americans had felt after Pearl Harbor. Japanese children had felt the same way after the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I was feeling what Sudanese boys had felt while their village was being attacked—horrified, shocked, and terrified. September 11 gave me a chance to see these historic events through my own eyes, not another person’s.
Later in the year, around December, I took on a project that would change a large portion of my web forever. The project was a research paper, and my topic was Charles Cornwallis. I entered the assignment very reluctantly. I knew that Cornwallis had surrendered to George Washington, at Yorktown, Virginia. My web told me that since he was British he must have been malicious and inhumane, as well as strongly in agreement with taxes and tyranny. However as I began to research him I found that my web had lied to me. I recall staring at my computer screen in disbelief after reading a particularly informative Web site. After a while, I began to see a connection between the two of us. Before researching Cornwallis, I had been seeing history in terms of black and white, good and bad. This paper forced me to recognize that life is not a Batman movie or a fairy tale. As I turned in my report, I could almost see my web start to slowly untangle itself.
The way I look at all of history, and at the whole world, changed as my web unraveled. I began to see deeper into every situation, every war, and every story. I have found that I can no longer see only good guys and bad guys. I no longer believe that someone is wicked because they believed in what my country sees as the wrong cause. When I expressed these feelings to my mother, she said that I was seeing in shades of gray. I prefer to call it color. From that perspective, this year has made my world a lot more colorful.