History Will Judge Them

Consider: William Howard Taft, colonizer, President, Supreme Court Justice, diplomat, reformer, war criminal, and yet most popularly famous for getting stuck in a bathtub, a story neither true nor kind. His political mentor most famous for being a face on a desecrated mountain and a handful of inscrutable references in cartoons now four generations out of date.

Or: Jean-Paul Marat, revolutionary, philosopher, writer, journalist, war criminal, remembered most clearly for his assassination by Charlotte Corday in a bathtub. One of the leading figures of one of the most famous almost-revolutions in the last several centuries, just a dead body slumped over, naked, undignified, moist.

The villains of our parents generations fade into nothing; the villains of their parents are already dust. Professional students of history carry their sins and their virtues in their hearts, or trip into a cross-century romance pursuing them through letters, reports, archival papers, but for most? For us? For the people who live in the long shadow of their legacy? Soap film drifting across the surface of a bath continually draining.