Friday, August 20, 2010

History: A Zero Sum Game?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-George Santayana

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
-William Faulkner -Requiem for a Nun


What do we really learn from history?
How is knowledge preserved and transferred to later generations?
I'm confident we can and do learn something from the past, but is it sufficient to focus us away from repeating mistakes?

Examining remains from past civilizations -think Incas, Egyptians, Romans, Mesopotamians, China, etc- reveals evidence of truly remarkable knowledge, some of which we are only beginning to comprehend ourselves - centuries later.

What happened in the intervals between that necessitates us having to re-learn what was already known?
Was it as simple as the dearth of records, extinction of languages, warfare, famine, disease or decay over time?

Or was it something else?
Like maybe the apparent need for every generation or age to independently discover basic truths -and myths- for themselves?

Then, there is the continuing struggle between diverse beliefs and what is generally known as rational science and reasoning.
But, hey, it's a free country!

Sometimes it seems our Founding Fathers were much smarter than we are today.
Heck, those folks had to fight an extended war against long odds to gain the freedom to draft a Constitution that is based on the concept of freedom!

Nowadays, we have trouble even reading the plain words of what the Founders agreed to, much less understand some of the sound principles they strongly recommended.

Of course, our Founders weren't perfect, but they were motivated to not only learn from history but to endeavor for our country not to repeat some -not all- of its mistakes.
You know, like the Bill of Rights [Amendments 1-10], avoiding foreign wars, civilian control of the military, the rule of law, open government, the ability to reasonably modify our constitution as time & circumstances may require, periodic elections by the majority of voting citizens, etc.

Just a few little things like that.

So, how did we get involved with deadly and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Actually, the latter may be easier to explain because that where Osama bin Laden was physically based at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
Of course that was 9 years ago, in 2001, at which we had good chances to actually capture OBL.
But, somehow, we got distracted.

Instead, we attacked oil-rich Iraq based on faulty 'information'.
Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, as despicable as Saddam Hussein may have been.
Now, its great we're withdrawing our 'combat troops', after suffering thousands of casualties at enormous cost - which was not even accounted for!

I sincerely hope Iraq will be worth its cost, but only time will tell.

Do you think we followed our Founders' advice in either case?
Did we take any advantage of their wisdom, or did we substitute our own seat-of-the-pants expediency?

While reflecting on comparisons between our avowed principles and the practice thereof, what about the fuss about an Islamic group's proposal to build near the former World Trade Center destroyed on 9/11 with the tragic loss of many lives?

Do we get to blame an entire religion for the actions of a small group of misguided extremists?
And, if we do, aren't we the victims of similar flawed, blame-game thinking?

That the legal 'right' to build anything at -or near- that site does exist for almost any qualified entity which meets the land use and financial requirements, should not be a matter of debate, notwithstanding the understandable emotional sensitivities involved.

Citizens do have the right to their own opinion, particularly in the case of nationally symbolic places, even if they don't happen to live nearby.
And, there certainly aren't that many instances in which everyone is supportive of an idea, so it is always prudent to weigh such decisions carefully.

Despite the fact that after due process, official New York City planning agencies believe the actual building proposal in question is a potentially good idea, there has been a chorus of loud and emotional appeals against it.
Nothing new or unusual about that is there?

We often experience such debates, and thank goodness we do.
Many times that debate does result in a better result.
But there times in which emotional arguments are deliberately used to drown out rational ideas.
Just look at several local NIMBY issues as examples.

The point is, if we are going to be true to our Constitution and its clear principles, we need to put that first and not allow ourselves to be unduly swayed by anger and fear tactics, like we have at times in the past.
Just think about what has happened with the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII for example.
Or, our continuing over reaction to issues involving discrimination based on race, politics, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age and the like.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could take a time-out for reflection on what principles our Founders intended for us, and hoped we would follow as a unified nation, instead of buying into the static offered by our so-called media?
We know we are capable of thinking for ourselves, don't we?
I hope so. If not, may God help us.

One last thought:
What one act can you think of that might do more to prevent future terrorist attacks on New York City?

Could it be allowing the proposed building to be constructed and used as a symbol of national unity and a testament to our resolve to reaffirm our Founders' principles?

Think about it.

Please, let's don't waste the lessons from our own history!

A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future. ~Author Unknown