Wednesday, April 05, 2006


A Warning for Us

(Posted as a follow-up to my earlier post. I’m back, and I read the whole thing.)

Following a quote from Carl Sandburg’s The People Yes, Gerald Vanderleun writes:

IN THE DAYS AFTER THE TOWERS FELL, in the ash that covered the Brooklyn street where I lived at that time, in the smoke that rose for months from that spot across the river, when rising up in the skyscraper I worked in, or riding deep beneath the river in the subway, or passing the thousand small shrines of puddled candle wax below the walls with the hundreds of photographs of "The Missing," it was not too much to say that you could feel the doors of history open all about you.

Before those days, history happened elsewhere, elsewhen, to others. History did not happen to you. In your world, until that day, you lived in the time after history. There were no more doors in front of you, all history lay behind you. It was a given.

So begins Vanderleun in his brilliant essay, "On the Return of History," in the American Digest.

Vanderleun reflects on the societal and political forces that emerged from the carnage and destruction of World War Two, and acknowledges how ready for the end of history, were those generations who endured. He also notes the Cold War as a period in which we applied our greatest efforts to keep any more history from happening:

In general, the history of the Cold War is the history of what didn't happen punctuated by a few things every now and then such as Korea and Vietnam.

Vietnam and Korea were the exceptions that proved the rule, and seen in this light, perhaps best explained why so much effort as well has been spent, submerging both these troubled anomalies into cultural subconscious. We have not wanted to revisit these times, until “history returned,” with the wrath and vengeance of 9/11.

We wanted history to end in our day, because so much of what we saw, and heard, and were taught from the pages of history was horrible, hurtful, and an affront to all cherished ideals and moral frameworks. Vanderleun notes that suited us just fine:

Most sensible people liked it that way. In fact, a lot of people really liked it that way. Because if history for the world was over, these people could get on making the history that really mattered to them: The History of Me.

History spoke of evil, of powers and principalities who so rudely intruded upon our consciousness, that we could not maintain the centrality of our self-awareness, that desire to see ourselves as the center of everything. Civilization’s most cherished artifact became the mirror, not fire, and surely not the printing press.

Now, after the collapse of those majestic towers in lower Manhattan in a coordinated attack against our homeland, we are back where we will inevitably be, according to Vanderleun, and it won’t be what we want:

Now we find ourselves back in history as it has always been and it is not fun. Not fun at all. The history of history has little to do with fun, almost nothing at all.

Thus it is time, again, for a new seriousness. Not a seriousness in which we stamp our feet and say, “No, really, we mean it this time,” such as with the recent plan put forth for Really Real SecurityTM. Not a seriousness that says, “we’ll do everything they’re doing, only better.” In other words, not a portrayed seriousness that panders yet again to the many mini-me’s (to use Vanderleun’s humorous reference).

No more pandering. What we need, as often expressed by the fine thinkers and impartial analysts at Winds of Change, is an urgent appeal to our mature selves. To the Us that can weigh the threats and opportunities in front of us, gain consensus on the risks, and strive for the greater good without partiality, reserve or constraint.

History is back, and looming larger than ever. We rise to our better natures on the crest of these waves, or risk being swept away in its tides.

(H/T: Joe Katzman at Winds of Change. Thanks Joe, for the terrific tip.)

Links: Rocketsbrain

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