Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This is Why We're Screwed...

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. -Santayana Nobody listens to historians, anyway. -George Hopkins The first quote above is a favorite of people who want to justify the study of history or, at least, justify pointing out historical precedent to back up their own intents. It's one of the most famous quotes ever offered about history. I don't like it much. It's too cliche and too generalized for my tastes. The second quote, though, is one I truly appreciate. One of my favorite history professors said it all the time. He was one of those cranky, just on the edge of retirement, sorts of history profs who had been around long enough that he didn't feel the need to pull any punches. In that one line he managed to get to the truth of one of the biggest problems with the study of history: nobody actually . If I were to add a corollary to the Santayana quote, it would probably go something like, "And those who only remember the bizarro past are, too." I brought this up once before in this post on Context, but I feel the need to bring it up again. Sadly, Joseph McCarthy and the Vietnam War are the topics, just like last time. It started yesterday when I ended up at Huffington Post looking at an example of a new campaign poster currently under consideration for the Democrat Party. This one, to be precise. Michelle Malkin, one of the talking heads Fox News throws out in front of cameras because she's attractive and good at delivering venomous opinions, sponsored a contest on her site to counter the posters. I expected them to be heavy-handed and not at all funny, like most of the crap put out by Neocons in the name of satire, but I was a little shocked at how off-topic and completely grounded in something other than reality they are. This one and this one pissed me off. The first one attempts to claim, once again, that the Democrats "cut and run" from Vietnam. That part where JFK began the build-up, the army got to over half a million under LBJ and then Nixon was the one who pulled out apparently has nothing to do with anything. I actually went down and read some of the comments to see if anybody actually pointed this out. Someone named Boomer claims, "the Democrat controlled Congress defunded the South Vietnamese Government as a personal poke in the eye to President Nixon, resulting in the death of millions of innocent people in Southeast Asia." Now, I'm not entirely up on fiscal policy, but I would love it if someone could tell me how the Congress of the United States of America can possibly defund a sovereign nation on the other side of the planet. I would also like to know how that particularly matters, since Nixon's "peace plan" involved making a separate peace with North Vietnam and leaving Saigon to fend for itself. This is the same Saigon that had a completely incompetent army that was riddled with Viet Cong agents and was surrounded by civilians who sympathized with the North and were generally working in the fields by day and launching commando raids against their government by night. What's actually happening here is that the people over at Michelle Malkin's site are attempting to draw a false parallel between the end of the Vietnam War and what is going on in Congress with the debate over Iraq right now. This is not a battle of principle, it's not a battle over what is right and what is wrong. It's an attempt to maneuver the argument in such a way that no matter the outcome, the Democrats can be painted as being in the wrong. It's the same thing we've already seen with the redefinition of the word "Patriot" to mean "someone who supports everything the country does no matter what." We already had a word for that: sycophant. Wait, no. That's wrong. Calling them sycophants implies that they get something out of the deal. Maybe "fool" is a better word. The second image, with the oh-so-cleverly placed hammer and sickle of the old Soviet Union, is even more infuriating in its own, harder to explain and contextualize, way. Let me begin by saying this, though: Democrats are not Communists. They aren't even Socialists. They're nowhere close. The simple fact of the matter is that in the West the war against Communism is over. It didn't end in 1991 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It didn't end with the McCarthy hearings. It ended nearly a century ago and with a whimper, not a bang. See, Communism lost as a popular movement in the West when the majority of people in Europe and North America rejected the ideals of Marxism. Take a look back at the first couple decades of the 19th Century. Active Communist organizations were everywhere, authors were writing impassioned books on the subject (Upton Sinclair's misunderstood The Jungle was one of the best known, as were the works of Steinbeck). Marxists were predicting a Communist takeover of all industrialized nations. What happened? Nothing. Russia's Tzar's fell in 1917 and that backwards nation was the most Western of the countries that turned to Communism. China held out until 1949 and Mao might not have taken control at all had Chang Kai-Shek and the Nationalist Chinese not screwed up repeatedly. Even so, when the Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan, they created a modern, not at all Communist state (and even Communist China has several "Free Enterprise Zones" and is significantly less pure Communist than it used to be). Other than that, the nations that ended up Communist were places like Vietnam, Cuba, and random sub-Saharan African states. In most cases the things nations that turned to Communism did so because they had a corrupt and out-of-touch leadership and the populace was powerless to change that fact. Furthermore, most Communist countries had populations for whom the group was much more important than the individual and no real tradition of self-determination. Industrialized, democratic nations with a sense of personal identity and responsibility do not, historically speaking, become Communist. There is a reason for this. They don't need to become Communist. The election of 1932 is the perfect example. It was the height of the Great Depression and Herbert Hoover had spent three years doing almost nothing to help the common people. (For the record, if there was ever a time for a world-wide Communist revolution, the Great Depression was it. What ended up happening in the West were a handful of Fascist revolutions, which will have to be discussed later.) Rather than rising up in armed insurrection, the American people voted Hoover and his party out of office. It was like a revolution, only it was in the Constitution and nobody had to get shot. One of the things that disturbs me in Neocon rhetoric is the constant need to re-fight wars that have already been won and shed blood over terrain that is firmly under control. We're seeing a kerevised and re-imagined Vietnam War rather than the reality of the War in Iraq. Every time the idea of national health care comes up it becomes a Communist Scare (oh, for the record, Socialized Medicine is not the same thing as Socialism). There's a reason that my subtitle up on the top of the page is, "Exploring the past to understand the future." I think the idea behind it is best summed up in the words of a voice-over at the beginning of the second season of J. Michael Straczynski's excellent TV show Jeremiah. We've made mistakes, but we have learned from them. And what we have learned most is that we cannot trust our future to those who can only see the past. To that I'd like to add a corollary: It's even worse when they can only see a past which never existed. It's a lesson we have to learn. If we don't, we're screwed.

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