Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Doomed To Repeat"

Historian David McCullough recently decried the failure of our schools to teach history.  He cited a number of statistics to show that many educational institutions have no requirement for even a single history course as a requirement for a high school or even a college diploma.  This should not be news to anyone; the teaching of history or civics has been on the decline for three decades.  McCullough related that he was often shocked when he would, during his college tours, ask a college senior a basic history question and find that student could not provide an answer. 

The problem with this is not simply that we have raised at least two generations of young folks that are history-illiterate.  It was England's most admirable Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who said "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it".    The majority of Americans have taken that concept to new and fearful levels of ignorance.  Never mind that most citizens can't name the three branches of government, or cite the preamble to the U.S. constitution, or even the name of our first President; most can't remember the history of even the last three decades.

And so, as I read the reader comments on various inter net news sites I am, regrettably, not surprised to see how naive folks are regarding the "democratic revolution" in Egypt.  Folks are hailing a new dawn of democracy in the Middle East as the raucous street crowds cheer in triumph. 

Pardon me if I'm not a small bit skeptical.  First of all, I hereby lay claim to having a better understanding of the Middle East than most, since, after my military retirement, I lived and worked there for ten years.  One thing I learned is that our western style of democracy will not work there.  There are many fine people who live there and I remain friends with some.  But, a western style democracy cannot be imposed on a people who integrate their Islamic religion into every part of their daily lives.  As I have often said, the best one can hope for in the Middle East is to have an orderly and benevolent "theocracy".

And so, when George Bush invaded Iraq I said on day one that he had better be careful.  At most, the U.S. should have moved quickly to rid the world of Sadaam Hussein and his sons and get the hell out as quickly as possible.  I was astounded that there weren't enough smart state department folks who opposed this adventure.  The U.S. government these days are quick to label our Iraq involvement as a success, even as each day thirty or forty people are blown up in an Iraqi marketplace.

The same is true for Afghanistan.  What should have been aggressive assaults against the Taliban and Al Quaida, invoking massive damage in retaliation for 9/11, followed by a quick withdrawl, did not happen.  What we have now are two of the longest wars we have ever fought, a loss of some of the best young Americans, and a drain on our treasury of half a trillion dollars per year, all in the name of "nation-building". 

How's that been working out folks?

With respect to Egypt, and remembering history, I won't ask you a question about an America two hundred plus years ago; let's try this one:  Over the last thirty years we saw an Iranian monarch toppled and our precarious relations with Iran became even more tenuous as they build the capability for nuclear strikes.  When the dictator Marcos was toppled in the Philippines many Americans hailed this as a stunning new birth of freedom.  Never mind that we've had half a dozen Philippine governments toppled since that time as corruption continues to hamper that beautiful country. 

What we need to learn from history is this:  America can and should be the beacon for all who aspire to freedom.  But America is America and Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines are not.  We must walk a tightrope of diplomacy to assist our neighbors where we can but we must also approach our foreign relations with an objective and thoughtful view.

So, folks, I'll continue to study my history, strive to remember its lessons, and hope my fellow citizens will do likewise.  We've wasted enough blood and treasure by failing to learn the lessons of history.

As a retired military man who loves his country deeply I know there are just wars and just causes.  We just need to learn the art of the possible and quit making the same old tired mistakes.  We just can't afford to be wrong anymore.

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