A lot is said about history’s silences.

For the vast amount of time human beings have inhabited the planet, that silence belonged to a group often called the 95%. The 95% consisted of the enslaved, women, children and the illiterate. They did not write, and they tended not to be written about. It is only very recently that those outside of the educated male elite recieved a voice.

I have found the silence of history particularly disconcerting whilst researching for Orbital. It is predictably easy to read a lot about the deaths of powerful western figures (especially men) at the start of the Sixties. Wikipedia has a section specifically dedicated to 1963 aviation disasters in the United States. There were two, and they killed 7 and 81 people.

When the nuclear submarine USS Thresher sank in April 1963, all 129 crew were lost. Its Wikipedia article contains 30 different references.

A fire in the Le Monde theatre in Senegal in the same year claimed 64 lives, but you will find nothing more about that event on the internet. The same is true of the Adel, an Egyptian ferry boat which capsized in the same month, killing 206.

The Mitsui Miike coal mine explosion of 1963 killed 458 in Japan and left many with severe and permanent brain damage, but its page on Wikipedia stretched to just two lines.

I appreciate that this is not the most academic of approaches. I am perhaps not looking hard enough, or in the wrong places. Perhaps there are just no pages about these events on the English language version of Wikipedia. This is not really my point.


Presuming digital memory holds up as a durable form of archive in the future, there will be fewer gaps in history than ever before. There is less silence.

Posterity will recall the events of this week. The tweets from Aleppo, the faces they portray, the sounds of the falling barrel bombs. The men, women and children killed. The silence of this week will not be the fault of the history books.

But history will record a silence this week. Its is ours. The west, the supposed cradle of civilisation. Its political leaders, once so keen on spreading the light of their gospel through foreign intervention, now impotent and cowering. You and I, shopping for Christmas presents, sharing memes and drawing up lists of our favourite albums from the year.

During a year in which we have made so much noise about so many big and little things, our silence is deafening.


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