Tuesday, March 18, 2008

unhitched from the maypole

Christopher Hitchens slaps his two bits on the counter and illuminates us further on his stance on the Iraq war at five. What this ties into at N. Park Dr. is a rousing panel discussion held last week amongst the Eleven; her Corporations professor professed to the enraptured collection of students-in-rows that history does not, in fact, repeat itself. The most important revelation was that somebody in the big old World finally agreed with her on this ideal. By the end of our polemical session at home that night I’d come to appreciate a much more refined set of views within the ‘history repeats itself’ canon. (Just remember that this is my interpretation of our divide. The One’s opinion does not reflect or represent the Ten’s point-of-view.) History is full of far too many variables for us to simply state that what came to pass will again come to pass. The group of two (X and Corp-guy) hold that the people, places, and events surrounding a historical disaster, let’s say the British in Mesopotamia eighty years ago, aren’t the same people and events as America in Iraq now. I happen to think that’s a particularly reasonable approach to the matter. If Sir Percy Cox and Faisal ibn Husayn were still there today and repeating the same mistakes than we might utter “well, if they’d only learned that lesson the last time.” New people, details, and events essentially void the idea that everything is a repetition of previous cock-ups. What I realized then was this grand parallel to understanding the position: the partnership of parents and their kids. I know from my teenage life what’s what and I certainly have a file cabinet full of the most basic do’s and don’ts – things that are passed along to the kids as lessons for failure or success. If a child, or even a young one growing into adulthood, decides that your history is for nothing and has no use for learned mistakes then they’ll head down that familiar path; eventually, usually, circling back to the “you were right, how did you know?” intersection. At that juncture we’re just happy they made it back and we certainly wouldn’t say to them that history repeated itself – it didn’t. We might be tempted to tell them that are omniscient or some such crow but we generally withhold that kind of behavior. Our living of mistakes – and those same mistakes made over generations – does not envelop all of history and its repetition even if it’s an oral history disregarded. Of course, I think history as a grand timeline in many circumstances does repeat itself.

Back to Hitchens. His narrative concerning the stretch of the Great War running until the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Iraq war actually originating more than forty years ago, is a strong and swaying voice. In effect he’s saying the history of these two ‘battles’ is more a rolling panoply of happenings than a series of independent occurrences that start, stop, and begin again. This idea makes historical context much more serial than cyclical and probably holds true for far more than we imagine. I think our schooling at both the primary and secondary levels – which tend to cycle us back upon our facts each year – contributes to our inability to move deeper into our thinking of the social sciences and history. I don’t necessarily buy into his shtick that extrapolates what the present or future might look like if this or that had been done prior to, or during events, that have already unfolded. I think it’s dangerous to use assumptions of completed games, and future performance, when deciding whether or not a pitcher should have been pulled in the seventh inning of a scoreless game 1 in the 2007 NLDS. Oops, I digress.


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