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Monday, November 01, 2004

"Avoid history at all costs" 

Gary Kamiya wrote a prescient article just prior to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, entitled Sleepwalking to Baghdad: ". . . we have gone from being in a political moment to a historical one. I use the words somewhat eccentrically, to distinguish between events that are simple enough to be fully explicable ("political") and those that are too complex to be defined ("historical"). The war against Afghanistan took place in what I am calling the political realm: It had a clear, limited and achievable goal, one understood by all -- and widely supported around the world. The impending war against Iraq, on the other hand, is a historical event. It cannot be explained or defined. When it comes, it will simply exist, with the opacity of history. Its outcome is not foreseeable. The distinction also has a moral dimension. To exist in history is to have passed beyond the pieties and slogans of the political. History is tragic: politics is not. History is glorious. It is also fatal. The two great competing ideologies of the 20th century, fascism and communism, were both self-consciously historical movements. As Czeslaw Milosz brilliantly noted in his classic study "The Captive Mind," it was precisely the abstraction of communism, its claim to have attained the summit of morality and to have incorporated into itself all possible contradictions, that made it so meticulously horrifying. In similar fashion, fascism contained a kind of blankness at its core: the self-glorifying violence of the state simultaneously concealed and revealed the emptiness of its founding concept, the national tribe. The lesson every government should have learned from the bloody 20th century, one written in blood across the tortured soil of old, very old Europe, is very simple: Avoid history at all costs. History is too big, too abstract, too dangerous. Avoid men with Big Ideas -- especially stupid men with Big Ideas. Take care of politics: let history take care of itself. In a word, don't play God."
Well, they didn't let history take care of itself, and Bush did play God. Now Kamiya writes about the results: American nightmare. He concludes "A pious, foolish and poorly educated man, surrounded by zealots and knaves, dreamed of smiting the evildoers, but instead put a sword into their hands. He imagined that by invading a state in the heart of the Arab world, he would cut through the Gordian knot, but he entangled his army in writhing coils. He fantasized that an all-powerful America would stand atop a grateful world, but he made his nation despised everywhere, and particularly in the one region of the world where it is most important that we not be despised. This is the world Bush left us. We must make a new one."

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