Monday, May 9, 2011

That Broken Record Called History

I read the following bit – the concluding paragraph of the chapter “Bargaining with an Empty Wallet” in Max Hastings’ “Winston’s War,” an in-depth look at the work, successes, and follies of Winston Churchill during the war years, and thought it has a message that modern politicians ought to examine:
But the British people had by now hardened their hearts towards their rulers, even the greatest. Many felt less gratitude to those presiding over victory in the most terrible conflict in history than implacable resentment against the politicians whom they held responsible for getting them into it in the first place. Even if Churchill had not himself been among the guilty men of the 1930s, he was now their political standard-bearer. And for all his giant stature as Britain’s war leader, millions of voters sensed that his interest in the humdrum domestic troubles of peace was perfunctory. An anonymous officer of the Second Army, fighting in Holland, wrote in the Spectator about the mood of the British soldier under his command: “[He] is fighting for the future of the world and does not believe in that future . . . He asks a lot of the future, but he doesn’t expect to get any of it.” The writer perceived his men as chronically mistrustful of all authority, institutions and politicians, but Tories most of all: “It is, perhaps, encouraging that Tommy, 1944, will not be foozled by facile talk of a land fit for heroes. He wants deeds, not words.” Few among such men perceived Winston Churchill as the national leader likely to fulfil such hopes once victory came.
Page 421, “Bargaining with an Empty Wallet,” In “Winston’s War.”

This kind of weariness is, I think, pretty common today. We saw it with Bill Clinton – the man who could do no wrong now boiled down to the man who monkeyed around with an intern, if we’re to believe everything said by the folks at JibJab. We saw it with George W. Bush, who went from the rallying hero of 9/11 to Monkey Boy, to continue the monkey theme. And we’re seeing it with Barack Obama whom we’re apparently not allowed to compare to a monkey but we can kinda make fun of the whole “hopey-changey” thing because, well, just go back and read what that anonymous officer said of Churchill in that quoted paragraph, especially the part about fighting for a future that he does not believe will arrive, or, if it does, that he will be able to “get any of it.”

Maybe this is why I like reading history after it’s all over, not the instantaneous history most journalists produce. They say journalism is the first draft of history, but given the many changing facts we’ve seen with, for instance, the bin Laden raid, that first draft is nothing but a first draft, in need of serious revision by those who can look at the situation with cool, dispassionate eyes.

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