Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, January 30, 2006

History sort of repeats itself

Almost forty years ago, Barbara Tuchman wrote The Proud Tower, A Portrait of the World before the War : 1890-1914 (I have a link in the sidebar). It's a compulsively readable book in a couple of ways. First, of course, it's readable because Tuchman is a wonderful writer. Her bouyant prose and her ability to include details that bring the past alive without drowning one in pointless factoids make her history books consistently fresh and wonderful. Second, it's readable because it's like a bizarre fun-house mirror reflection of our own times. For example, did you know that suicide bombing is nothing new? At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, Europe and America were besieged by suicide bombs and assassinations originating, not with Muslim fundamentalists, but with anarchists. And just as the Islamofacists are hard to track down because their goals expand beyond any one nation's boundaries, so too were the anarchists a borderless problem. Of course, the situation is different today. The anarchists didn't have Saudi Arabia funding them; they were a small group, not a large group; and the nature of their belief left them too profoundly disorganized to put together big or consistent actions. Still, it was strange to read.... The same era also saw a country convinced that it was superior to all other countries, and lusting for untrammeled war to impose itself on those countries. It believed that Jews were inferior, and was becoming increasingly anti-Christian. It's values all revolved around warfare. I'm speaking, of course, of Germany. Sad to say, the America of the time wasn't too much better. It had bought entirely in the White Man's Destiny thing, and was fighting a true Imperialist war against the Phillipines. Speaking of all these wars, there was also a vocal peace movement at the time. In America, that movement was directed strongly against the war with the Phillipines. After describing atrocities on both side (and there is no doubt that American soldiers were brutal in their efforts to put down the Phillipine insurrection), Tuchman writes:

The longer the war continued, the louder and angrier grew the Anti-Imperialist protests. Their program adopted at Chicago in October, 1899, demanded "an immediate cessation of the war against liberty." They collected and reported all the worst cases of American conduct in the Philippines and all the most egregious speeches of imperialisat greed and set them against the most unctuous expresses of the white man's mission. [p. 163, hardbound ed.]
Wow! Deja vu all over again. Before those of you who are anti-War now start patting yourself on the back, remember that I mentioned the funhouse mirror quality to Tuchman's book. The American war in the Phillipine's a 100+ years ago truly was an act of imperial aggression, explicitly phrased in terms of Kipling's White Man's Burden. That is, America believed herself divinely ordained to take resources from the "little brown people," and to compensate them with some benevolent American dictatorship. I probably would have been on the peace side too. The situation today is very different. I believe that America is fighting, not an imperialist war, but a defensive war. This has as its underpinning the belief that America's best defense against attack (and these attacks are real, not hypothetical) is to take down dictatorships. America does not intend to rule in place of these dictators. Instead, the goal is for her to retreat to her own borders, and let those countries develop in freedom. Germany (difficult thought it now is vis a vis America), Japan and Italy proved that this theory works. [I'm going to go into a longish digression here about the recent Palestinian elections. Those elections raised the question of whether a Democracy can elect a tyranny. Hamas victory leaves open the argument that, while our current technique worked in Germany, Japan and Italy, it's clearly no longer viable. The Palestinian elections, some would say, prove that our strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq is doomed to failure and we should pull out now. I strongly disagree. Palestine is anomalous because it never got purged prior to the elections. That is, while the elections had the ostensible gloss of Democracy, they are in fact merely a different manifestation of a profoundly sick society. Keep in mind that the decisive defeats of World War II proved absolutely to the Axis populations that they were on the wrong track. So too the lightening war in Afghanistan denied Taliban credibility entirely. The Palestianian elections, however, represent, not the failure of corruption, tyranny and indiscriminate slaughter but, rather, their success. No wonder then, that Palestinian "democracy" is, in fact, merely a continuation of Palestinian corruption. Digression over.] Those who follow this blog also know I've been ruminating about the Left's obsession with death (a topic Don Quixote also took on). I've also commented on (as have many) Hollywood's (that is, the Left's) obsession with everything sordid and degrading. Turns out these intellectual trends aren't new either. Germany saw the same thing:
Tragedy was the staple of the German theatre. Social comedies with happy endings were not a German genre. German fun was confined to buffoonery, either painful or coarse. [Ed. -- I'm thinking Jackass, the Movie, here.] Their tragedies were not so much curative, like Ibsen's, nor compassionate, like Chekhov's, but obsessively focused on mankind's cruelty to man, on his bent toward self-destruction and on death. Death by murder, suicide or some more esoteric form resolved nearly all German drama of the nineties and early 1900's. In Hauptmann's Hannele the child heroine dies of neglect and abuse in an almshouse, in his Sunken Bell Heinrich's wife drowns herself in a lake and he drinks a poisoned goblet, in Rose Bernd the title charactger, seduced and deserted, strangles her newborn child, in Henschel the title character hangs himself after betraying his dead wife by marrying a tart who lets his child die of neglect, in Michael Kramer a sensitive son is drive to suicide by an overbearing father, a popular them in Germany rich in such fathers. [p. 321, hardback ed.]
The similarities between Germany's artistic world and today's weren't limit to morbid, degenerate plot lines. In the Nietzschean age, disbelief was an intellectual hallmark, with the focus being placed, not on an outside morality (such as the Bible), but on every little Superman's belief of his own sense of righteousness:
Through Also Sprach Zarathustra and its sequels, Beyond Good and Evil, The Will to Power and the final Ecce Home, Nietzsche roamed wildly. His ideas rolled and billowed like storm clouds, beautifully and dangerously. He preached Yes to the promptings of energy as good per se, regardless of conflict with conventional morality. Law and religion which discouraged such promptings frustrated man's progress. Christianity was a sop for the weak, the meek and the poor. The Superman had no need of God but was a law unto himself; his task was self-fulfillment not self-denial; he shook off the chains of tradition and history as the intolerable burden of the past. [pp. 299-300, hardback ed.]
True, the Left doesn't speak in terms of Superman, nor do its members explicitly cast off traditional morality. Instead, as I've pointed out, people on the Left like to paint themselves in terms of a higher goodness, even while engaging in conduct that is purely utilitarian and self fulfilling in nature. Anyway, 'nuff said. If you want to read a book that's terrific on its own terms, and fascinating in terms of our modern times, I strongly recommend the Proud Tower. Talking to Technorati: , , , ,