Monday, September 24, 2007

The False Parsing of History

“The right thing done for the wrong reason still ends in catastrophe.”
- Me, as I watched the statue of Saddam being pulled down after the invasion.

Through the virtual library of Half Price Books (buy a book, read it, sell it back and get another!) I’m reading a detailed account of the Russian Revolution of 1917, from its root causes to it shifts in movements along the way to the final implosion into authoritarian rule. The book is truly an enjoyable and fascinating read and it’s clear the author did his research with an open mind and critical eye to the facts. But what he does lack is perspective, and for whatever reason that usually seems to be the case with most historians. Here’s a passage where it’s most evident:

“Yet the course of history is full of unexpected turns that can only be explained by the actions of great leaders. This is particularly so in the case of revolutions, when the tide of events can be so easily turned. The October [1917] seizure of power is a good example: few historical events in the modern era better illustrate the decisive effect of an individual on the course of history. Without Lenin’s intervention it would probably never had happened at all – and the history of the twentieth century would have been very different.”

Completely, utterly and patently false – but it makes for a dramatic read. I’m not a believer in fatalism or that events are predetermined in any way that makes free thinking irrelevant, but I do believe the motives behind a movement’s actions will come to light regardless of any decisions made along the way with those same motives. People love to look into events of the past and play the “If only…” game. E.g.: If only Hitler had kept bombing the English airfields instead of switching to the cities he could have taken England and perhaps put himself in such a strong position as to be virtually unbeatable. It’s myopic observations such as these that leave out the fact Hitler was a psychotic madman bent on the destruction of both himself and his country. “The outcome of WWII was determined before it began”. (Harry Homeless, The Art of Warts)

Choose the form!

1917 Russia was the same way. It was (is?) a childish country begging for an authority figure to worship in awe. The only question was what form their demise would take. There was never any hope or chance of democracy. Previously, I talked of the Danton Principle: that there are two kinds of fighters against a king: those who fight for freedom from the king and those who fight to be the king. Both fighters use the same slogans, but it is the motives of the movement as a whole that give rise to the individuals who will come to power. There were monarchist voices at critical times of the American Revolution, but no one remembers them now just as no one remembers the voices of democracy in revolutionary Russia.
Historians will be saying the same thing about our occupation of Iraq. It’s started already with the recent mini furor over the decision to disband the Iraqi army and what a devastating effect it had on creating an insurgency. I’m sure there will be other fingers pointed at the endless string of stupid and self-serving decisions we’ve made along the way. But the whole thing never had any hope of succeeding. We went there to rape them and plunder them, not to help them. You can’t make good decisions on helping people when you don’t have good intent to begin with!
All this parsing of history is not really an attempt to get at the truth, it’s an attempt to parse responsibility from one’s motives, that somehow good things can come of ill will. Amazing how much philosophy and other bullshit is an attempt to portray just that false hope! For morality is the only true form of intelligence.

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