In order for the mistakes of history to have less of a chance of repeating themselves, at least for us, we, as thinking, rational human beings, all have to ask ourselves some hard questions….”
Doesn’t this have a familiar ring to it.
“The loud little handful – as usual – will shout for the war. The pulpit will warily and cautiously object at first. The great, big dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, ‘It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.’
“Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair people on the other side will argue against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded. But it will not last long. Those others will outshout them and presently the anti-war audience will thin out and lose popularity.
“Before long you will see this curious thing; the speakers stoned from the platform and free speech strangled from hordes of furious people, who, in their secret hearts, are still at one with those stoned speakers as earlier, but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation, pulpit and all, will take up the war cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest persons that venture to open their mouths, and presently such mouths will cease to open.
“Next, the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame on the nation attacked, and every person will be glad of these conscious-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them. And thus they will, by and by, convince themselves that the war is just and will pray thanks to their God for the better sleep they enjoy after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
That statement was made by Mark Twain on the eve of the United States entry into the First World War. Lots of statements made almost a hundred years ago, could have been made less than a hundred days ago. Witness the English Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude, upon the British invasion of Iraq in 1917, stating in Baghdad back then that “we have come here not as conquerors, but as liberators, to free you from generations of tyranny.” All too familiar.
In order for the mistakes of history to have less of a chance of repeating themselves, at least for us, we, as thinking, rational human beings, all have to ask ourselves some hard questions, and we cannot be satisfied with facile answers, such as George W. Bush’s one provided at an October, 2001 press conference as to the probability that vast numbers of people elsewhere in the world disliked the United States. He said: “I’m amazed. I just don’t believe it because I know how good we really are.” As unconvincing and insincere a response as that is, it should make us ponder the repeat mechanism at play. Powerful empires in previous centuries have never understood the wrath of their subjects. Why should this current one be any different? Or any better or worse than previous ones? As Malcolm X once said, “You cannot send a cat to dog school and expect it to come back a dog.”
And while this might not be the very night to expand upon the explanations of why what happened this year in the world happened, it surely is time for us all to face reality. Because that loud little handful is very much still with us.
(illustrations: kurt eisenlohr)