'Historical Grievances' for Dummies

Some readers chided me last week for the whimsical percentages I used to describe a few common verbal cues in political debate that signal entrance into the "spin zone."

Because there's no linguistic statistical abstract that keeps track of that kinda stuff (that I'm aware of), here's another rhetorical red flag -- "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Of course, the observation -- first attributed to philosopher George Santayana -- is a truism that bears repeating because Americans -- especially the "yut" -- are historical amnesiacs, for the most part.

But, it's a conversation-stopper when used (in most cases) by the "greatest generation" and their baby-boomer offspring as a sledgehammer to remind and ridicule us Generation Xers (on down to Y and Z) of just how dumb and ungrateful we all are.

As a parent with an insatiable appetite for history and political science, I've come to realize that older folks are rather light in the history department themselves, as evidenced by the glut of ahistorical analyses used in political debate -- whether it's the estate tax, Hurricane Katrina "response," or prayer in public schools.

"When I was a kid they had prayer in school. Kids these days have no morals."

Yeah, and when you were a praying school kid, a black American was being lynched every three days, on average -- oftentimes with thousands of say-cheese-for-the-camera "Christians" gathered around, picnicking and enjoying the family fun.

And, on what miraculous date in history did all of those "good" people have a change of heart to the point where if you bring this recent history up in political debate today you're written off as a sniveling, stuck-in-the-past, reverse racist or guilt-ridden white liberal?

And, how many of those lynch victims were business owners? Could it be that lynching played a critical role in creating a black underclass that the tax-is-theft crowd constantly argues ought to be subject to more "market discipline" so they can "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps," even if those same bootstraps were once used as a noose by home-grown terrorists?

And… oh never mind. These are mere "historical grievances."

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Translation: "If you weren't such an idiot when it comes to history you would see there is no alternative to war, in this case. You can't negotiate with terrorists!"

The irony is striking -- war apologists lecturing peaceniks on history, all the while shutting their ears and hearts to the "historical grievances" that brought about the conflict in the first place because exploring "root causes," as Pope John Paul recommended, is to be a "terrorist sympathizer."

So now the hawks, undeterred by being by wrong or misled on every major issue in the run up to the Iraq war, are in a frenzy over Iran and the "terrorists" there. Again.

In his detailed study of "American Presidents and the Middle East," Professor George Leczcowski traces the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, going back to Premier Mossadegh in the 1950s when he nationalized Iran's oil industry to the chagrin of the western gas-guzzlers who have always felt it an inalienable right to not only have access to, but to profit from, the natural resources in a foreign land. What's all of our oil doing under their sand?

Leczcowski notes that despite Mossadegh's propensity to flip-flop "he was perhaps right on one issue: in an earlier conversation with two U.S. officials… he said: 'You have never understood that this is basically a political issue.'"

He later told President Eisenhower something that any red-blooded freedom-loving American understands: "It is better to be independent and produce only one ton of oil a year than to produce 32 million tons and be a slave to Britain."

Self-determination and humanitarian concern be damned. The CIA was "forced" to orchestrate a coup to remove Mossadegh's democratically-elected regime.

Next came Iran's oppressive Islamic Revolution, which didn't bother U.S. planners too much because the Shah was "anti-Communist." The ensuing economic development "brought to Iran dangerously large numbers of foreign technicians and managers, including some 35,000 Americans whose relatively high standard of living provoked the resentment of the Iranian populace."

Fast-forward to the hostage crisis, which led the Reagan administration to negotiate with Iranian "terrorists" to free the hostages and sell weapons to Latin American terrorists ("freedom fighters") who were slaughtering poor people in the name of "anti-communism" - a bit of history conveniently ignored by those who say "you can't negotiate with terrorists."

Of his study of eight presidencies, from Truman to Reagan, Lenczowski notes "the continuity in their basic approaches," which focused on three main themes: "the Soviet challenge, the Arab-Israeli feud, and the role of oil."

What's uncertain, Lenczowski concluded, are the individual "presidential perceptions of…a variety of liberation movements. As Americans, U.S. presidents were expected to believe in the right of nations to self-determination and to endorse the principle of racial equality. But were they prepared to implement these principles in practice with equal justice to all concerned?"

Despite the "lessons of history" allegedly known so well by my parents' and grandparents' generation, Generation X, Y and Z have been condemned to face that same question again.

But you don't have to be Arnold Toynbee to understand the absurdity of the motto: "if it didn't work last time, or the time before that, by all means, let's do it again!"

Of course, you shouldn't take my word for it. Go check it out for yourself.


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