Dirk Knemeyer

Forgotten by history

When I was younger, I wanted to be famous. Not so much famous-for-famous-sake, but more because I intuitively understood that through fame I could stretch my essence beyond the bounds of my physical life, in some clumsy way thus living beyond my actual lifespan. This greatly eased my fear of death and gave me something to strive for.

At some point during my grad school experience of taking philosophy classes, the futility of this goal settled in. Even if the most famous among us extend themselves in some way beyond the time of their actual life, at some point in the future they will completely cease to exist. Even if there remains a sign of that person the signifier will be no more. Over the long now, memory dies away.

This was an initially difficult pill to swallow, but ultimately a liberating one. After all, if even Julius Caesar will someday cease to exist or have meaning, what is the point in chasing this sort of hollow “immortality”?

Fast-forward to today. As computers and the Internet begin capturing and codifying so many artifacts/moments/facts/etc. of humanity, the collective memory of what was and is here on Earth is getting longer. It is still ultimately terminal, but the infants of today can expect an almost shocking amount of “institutional memory” about them, ranging from written words to pictures to videos.

What is interesting to me is, by contrast, the way and degree to which older things are being left behind and have missed this particular boat. Here are some examples that I’ve been thinking about recently:

1. My grandfathers. They were both, during their time, world-famous men. My maternal grandfather, Morton Neipp, ran the democratic party in the state of Ohio, helped prosecute the mob out of my hometown of Toledo, and was personal friends with the top politicos of his day, including LBJ, RFK and Hubert Humphrey. In Toledo he was particularly well-known, and I became accustomed to multiple people coming up and shaking his hand when he would take me out to lunch. To this day I own an eclectic collection of trinkets from those relationships of his, such as whiskey glasses bearing the U.S. presidential seal, cuff links bearing the U.S. vice presidential seal, and countless newspaper clippings and stories about his exploits. Yet, according to Google, a search for “Morton Neipp” returns a scant 28 records. 28!

By contrast is my paternal grandfather, Siegfried Knemeyer. Even more internationally famous in his day, Siegfried invented the first-ever handheld flight computer and was known as the “Stargazer” in the German Luftwaffe due to his visionary and creative solutions to aeronautical challenges. By the end of World War 2 he ran the entire RLM (Reich Air Ministry) and was overseeing the work of Wernher Von Braun, who went on to architect the U.S. space program. After the war he was brought over to the United States where he helped pioneer next-generation airplane cockpit design, following his philosophy of designing for the ease and usability of the pilot. He was legitimately the finest mind in his field, a field that was arguably the most technologically and advanced transportation industry of the 20th century. He knew Charles Lindbergh and many of the other aviation luminaries of his day. Today, there exist 85 records for “Siegfried Knemeyer” on Google. 85!

These are only two examples, the examples that I am most personally familiar with and cognizant of. They made their names between the 1930s and 1960s. And today they are almost forgotten. Unless I or someone else who cares enough (read: family member) gets around to memorialize either of these men on Wikipedia or some other digital source(s) that would extend their essence, they are already close to being forgotten. If they had lived just one generation later, they would be remembered in many thousands of instances. They simply missed the digital cliff.

2. I’m something of an information junkie, and a bit of a historian. So with the things I’m interested in, I tend to poke around and look under the hood and try to get as much information as I can. Two examples of this are with movies and music. For example, when I’m watching a movie, I will simultaneously research the actors, director, and all of the various leads that spring from them on resources like imdb.com and Wikipedia. And the juxtaposition between the contemporary versus the past is significant. Jon-Erik Hexum, an actor who died in an on-set accident in 1984, does not even have a picture on IMDB despite being one of the hottest actors around at the time of his premature death. Meanwhile, a perfectly fine but ultimately unimportant actress like Ileana Douglas has 64 pictures in the system. Hexum simply missed the digital age, and the relative decay of his being and memory are greatly accelerated because of it.

Every day, things are being forgotten. At greatest risk now from a movie or music perspective would be pre-World War 2 artifacts, those that clearly pre-dated digital technology and which are not necessarily historically important enough to be remembered beyond those who actually experienced them. As each older person dies or ceases to remember, that serves as the end of those artifacts. Other than the synthesis of new things that were built on their being, they have completely ceased to exist. Digital technology might be slowing this process, particularly in years ahead when normally it would be only within memories or long-lost books that these things still exist. But now, today, there is this bizarre chasm between the reams of information being collected on the mundane and un-notable of today, even as things of (relative recent) past value and importance vanish.

3. I continue to get amazing, insightful emails from people who used to know my father many years ago and learned recently that he passed away, in many cases discovering this only through my website. For those past generations, those who haven’t en masse signed up for Facebook/LinkedIn/MySpace and other types of online services, they are unlikely to find or connect with one another in life. There is not institutionalized behaviour, pattern, expectation and method from which to find and communicate with each other. Whereas it would be impossible for me to imagine not being a couple of clicks away from contacting anyone from my past, for older generations those same, seamless channels don’t exist. They are left to the traditional and seemingly quaint “method” of maybe or maybe not reconnecting with old friends, maybe or maybe not learning that old friends have passed away. In observing this happen with my father’s peer group in the wake of his death, I’m struck by the poignancy and sadness of this. If only I could help turn back time and give my father one last chance to meet those people again, to reminisce one last time, to share what they mutually meant to one another. But time marches on. It will never happen. If nothing else, please learn from my lack of opportunity and encourage your own parents to seek out and re-connect with those that matter to them!

As I learned some 12 years ago now in graduate school, decay and disappearance is the eventual destiny of everyone and everything. But especially in these examples, in things that are still nearly removed, and intensely personal, and directly relevant to not just our memories but our lives today, the disappearance and obsolescence certainly matters. Again in the wake of my father’s death, and as I am now a middle-aged adult who is trying to understand their cosmic place in the long now, I find myself railing against the boundaries of time. What I wouldn’t give to get one evening with Morton, or one evening with Siegfried. The questions I have for them as an adult, as a fully formed person who wants to better understand the seeds from which I spawned, really matter and would provide me with insight and tools completely incommensurate with the relatively brief time being spent with those people would require. To see their facial expressions! Hear their voice inflection! To understand what motivated them, and who and what they became! Similarly, I wonder who my great great great grandfather was? What could I learn from him? How could I bend time to have that conversation?

Sadly, for me, these channels and paths will likely never exist. But perhaps through these newfangled digital technologies I can leave some record or capturing of myself that enlightens my far future offspring. Rather than chasing immortality for its own sake, I now appreciate the importance of communication and continuity through generations, and fully understand the power and significance that a detailed record of previous generations can shine onto and into those that follow. How and if I am able to eventually capitalize on that remains to be seen, and I can only hope that my making the time and taking the action precedes my death and the immediate and eventual decay that will necessarily follow, until I am also, finally, forgotten by history.

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One thought on “Forgotten by history

  • December 21, 2014 at 4:27 am
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    Hi. My name is Mikkel. I believe in UFO’s cause I’ve seen one.
    I ended up on this site trying to verify a few things I was reading online that seemed, even to me, initially a bit far fetched, and maybe just a stunt to promote a book, but after being illuminated by a few minor details in the article above, I’m really not so sure anymore, and if I’m right this has tremendous implications for all of us and is of the utmost importance for the advancement of the human race. I’m maybe the first to tell you – or you maybe know already – your mission in this life is to find out everything you can about your father. And I don’t mean those things he talked about at the breakfast table. There could be things so incredible and also horrifying, that he maybe never even mentioned it – to keep you safe from the sensorship at the time, or maybe only not to give you nightmares. Still, if that’s the case, you are in a good position to find out more about his secrets, and where he got the idea for his flight computer.

    If you want to be remembered in this world and the next, please colaborate to the world on what your father was really doing at WPAFB. Find his diary or notebooks if he ever managed to get one out of WP. In case you didn’t know, this NASA whistleblower, Clark McClellan, claims that your father was one of the paperclip guys that reverse engineered foreign technology at Wright Patterson. And you say in this article that he was exactly who and where Clark MC said he was AND that he made the first ever handheld flight computer – well what a coincidence. In the light of what many credible people in and outside black projects has said on this matter, one can get very tempted to believe theres something to his story. I don’t know where you stand on the question of extra terrestrial lifeforms, but it doesn’t take many lines of reading your blog to understand you have enough little greys between your ears to realize how silly it is to believe we’re the only ones in the universe. Lately it has been well documented and declassified just how seriously the military has followed up and mislead us all, on the UFO question, but as usual they’re still very mystiqal and wont tell us half of it. In my mind anyways, it sound more than resonable that they treat eventual findings like they do other foreign technology, get their sharpest scientists to study it and see what military applications it might have. Shit 50 yrs later maybe you and I even get to benefit from some of it…like a cellphone…or a civilian flight computer… this annoys me greatly, and it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to understand that they’re conspirating towards us the whole civilian world and the children of the future, with the excuse of keeping the upper hand in arms tech. I have no doubt your father was a “good soldier” and I also think he knew the consequences of talking about this in his days. But being an intelligent man, he must have seen the scope of what he allegedly was doing, and have had a wish to share his knowledge with his own future generations. If he was alive today he might even be allowed to speak out about some of the things he knew, after someone up there finally decided it is time to change politics and let people in the know talk about their UFO “problem” and let (at least some of )the incredible truth trickle out to the people that are open for it. Most of the world – it seems – underestimate the importance of having “neighbours” lightyears ahead of us in evolution, and still laugh at you if you mention it – I guess 60+yrs of programming really works – and the disclosure project f.ex.kind of blew over and disappeared wierdly enough into general oblivion. I say most of the world, cause the high brass that has seen their missiles being controlled by these guys, or anyone that has ever seen a UFO, have not forgotten , and it will surprize me very much if someone at the pentagon and other annals of the worlds armed forces haven’t gone through a great deal of trouble – and probably done some icredibly stupid shit(I mean accepted collateral alien damage) – to clearify exactly who and what they’re dealing with – with great unbelievable and undisclosed results. Your father, obviously had exellent qualifications for the job of examining and explaining to the less fortunate what they really had on their hands(except green blood, perhaps :). As the story goes he and at least two other named german scientists that you probably met, were reverse egineering alien spacecraft in storage at WPAFB. How they “fell down” in the first place, I have a hard time computing someone capable of interstellar flight just crash here like an old airliner, but I very well can imagine the scenario of the US army shoot first and torture and interrigate later. I really hope I’m wrong. McClellan gave a line from Werner Von – who didn’t give a damned about the secrecy on this front, and often said they got help from those out there – “it is as impossible to confirm them (UFOs) in the present as it will be to deny them in the future” Your fathers story maybe is THE most gamechanging of them all. It would help give our kids the true history of our time, instead of lies and deception. The knowledge your father might have had about “the others” and their technology shouldn’t be just for a millitant elite to know and use for their own primitive purposes – what a horrible idea. If you ask me they should be the last to know. For the peace and safety of everybody else. It is your legacy maybe to move it out of their classified darkness and brought to the attention of todays purpously outdated civilian science. Imagine what only understanding half the principles by wich these craft work, would do to our physics. Only the powerplant in one of them would probably put our nuclear power and fusion reactors to shame.
    If you could find anything to verify any of this, it could prove that Philip Corso’s was right with his “wild” claims about reverse engineering and the origin of things. You simply HAVE TO look for whatever your father left for you to find, he must have thought about the implications of leaving this secret solely with the military, and taken precausions so it wouldn’t happen – if he never told you about these things – ask his friends and colleges that are still around. Tear down the walls in his old attic and find that secret safe or I don’t know what. And don’t stop untill you’ve found it , and published it – some answers are worth more than a lifetime of searching.
    Of course if your father threw his clearances out the window and told you everything that happened at work every day, so that you yourself already sit on this. Go write a book, educate as many good people as you can, to make some balance on this planet.
    Compass OK ?

    Friendly regards
    Capt. Mikkel Ormestad
    M/Y The Mothership
    Atlas Marina Agadir
    Morocco

    Reply

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