Thursday, November 09, 2006

Now for the down side

Although I'm usually persistently and insistently cheerful, I also tend towards trying to keep a balanced perspective on everything - which means that when things start to look good, I allow myself a little criticism and negativity, just to stay honest.

So these days, on the one hand, I'm pumping my fist in the air and cheering: Dems in the House! Dems in the Senate! Rumsfeld out on his ass! YES.

But I also have to admit to some frustration with all the good people of America who voted against Republicans because of the war in Iraq. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad that people are beginning to understand how ugly things are over there, and how badly we've messed up, and that we need to find a different approach than Bush's "Us Good! Them Bad!" tactics. I'm glad that they're frustrated with the Bush administration's failure to accomplish basic social order in Iraq, much less peace and democracy.

But I'm a little irritated that it took them so long. It angers me that people begin to notice that the streets of Baghdad are strewn with decapitated bodies, that American troops are facing increasing casualties, that Iraq is becoming a haven for potential terrorists, that the rest of the world (including our allies) is viewing us with increasing fear and concern, and they say "Oh, this isn't going so well, it isn't fun anymore, maybe we should quit." That's true, but it seems to pass over the fact that it was their own flag-waving enthusiasm that got us into this war in the first place. Sure, I'm angry at the government that trumped up excuses to get us into the war, but I'm also angry at the people who so naively believed them. I'm glad that these people are beginning to get a more realistic view of things, but it's far too late. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, much trust in the US has been destroyed, every country in the so-called "Axis of Evil" has every reason to pursue the development of nuclear weapons as fast as they possibly can, and God only knows where this will all end up. But some of the people who voted for Bush are sorry now, so it's all OK.

I’m an historian, and I begin every survey class with a discussion of the importance of history and why it's a required subject at nearly every level of our educational system. Students always say that it's important because we need to learn from the past, or at least to avoid making mistakes that we've made before. I would like to think that's true, but it only works if we either have some familiarity with history, or if we listen to historians.

Nearly every professional historian I know strenuously opposed the war in the Iraq from the beginning, and several major professional history organizations issued formal statements to this effect. Historians (even those whose specialties are not remotely linked to the Middle East) thought it was dangerously naive to think the Iraqis would welcome us with flowers and parades, they argued that there was no link whatsoever between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, and they warned of the factional tensions that were likely to explode if we removed Saddam. But did anyone pay a damn bit of attention?

Maybe I'll have to begin my survey courses with a slightly more emphatic message: Ignore the historians, and people die.

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