History in context

Posted: Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lately we've seen a letter claiming comparisons between the current Iraq war and World War II and more than one rebutting it. Historical comparisons are tempting in that it's human nature to refer to past events to help understand current ones, but are easy to overstate and often can lead to erroneous conclusions. Such is the case in Mr. Heiman's My Turn column and also in the letters of Patrick McGonegal, Brett Dillingham and Donald Douglas written in derisive response. Mr. McGonegal's use of such words as "shameful" and "degrading" to characterize someone he disagrees with does nothing to advance the argument, and in any case his own efforts at historical equation are pretty bizarre themselves.

Rather than try to make history-repeating-itself comparisons, it's more valid to refer to historical events in fairly qualified ways to illustrate a point. I recently watched a "news" program where one of the better-known preening parrots calling themselves journalists spoke of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents as being the cause of American involvement in Vietnam, ignoring not only the previous 20 years of Vietnamese history but any geopolitical context as well. In fact, those incidents had nothing to do with why we were in Vietnam beyond providing Johnson and MacNamara a pretext for one phase of escalation. The fundamental reason we were there was that successive American administrations (and congresses) rightly or wrongly considered that a proper place to oppose what was then thought of as monolithic world communism.

Similarly, the particulars of what intelligence was used (manipulated) to illustrate a supposed weapons of mass destruction threat are far from the whole reason to forcibly effect the downfall of Saddam Hussein. In fact, it's looking at the question backward. He was supposed to demonstrate he didn't have them, according to United Nations demands, and didn't. Successive Security Council resolutions make that a matter of historical record. Inspections designed to verify compliance degenerated into a high-stakes scavenger hunt bound to fail, and they did. Nobody can truthfully say Iraq was verifiably disarmed of weapons of mass destruction before March 2003. Hypersensitive after Sept. 11, the current administration decided that rather than continuing to treat this colon polyp with dietary fiber and herbal enemas to go ahead and have it taken out. Whether they should have counted on the thing not turning malignant is a matter of opinion.

Rick Kaufman


Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved.  | Contact Us