by Emmett R Smith
ON 31 March 2006, Mr Geoff Dodd, of Deephaven, Minnesota, began a letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Star & Tribune newspaper with these words of Winston Churchill:
‘”You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs–Victory in spite of all terrors–Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
MR Dodd went on to argue that G W Bush understands what is at stake to-day, in ‘Iraq, just as Churchill did in the Summer of 1940, about his duel with Hitler. It followed that, for Mr Dodd, to leave ‘Iraq at this point would be the greatest (sic) mistake in american history. He went on to acknowledge that ‘Iraq is not Viet Nam, but only because the cause in ‘Iraq is of more importance. A final corollary was that, if the United States loses (sic) in ‘Iraq, the consequence will be a fatal weakening of America. And, in closing, he asserted his opinion that, even though the military leadership argues that we (sic) are progressing in ‘Iraq, that one would not know it from the media-reports; which, Mr Dodd perceives, are motivated by hatred of G W Bush.
IN Reply, I returned the following submission, to the newspaper’s editor
1 April 2006
TO The Editor:
MR Geoff Dodd quoted Winston Churchill on Friday in support of G W Bush. Unfortunately the analogy between churchillian and bushean magnificence does not hold up. Winston Churchill was born in 1874 and died in 1965. He was one of the last generation to live out its entire lifetime in the late-modern age. That age saw the victory of parliamentary democracy over kaiserism in World War One, and over its two rival forms of democracy in World War Two and the Cold War, namely communism and national socialism. That age–I mean the democratic age–is now over and has been since the collapse of the struggle with communism and the tearing down of the wall in Berlin, in 1989. In the middle of the second decade of the so-far-inadequately-called postmodern age we have not even begun to develop the historical tools necessary to understand our present situation. Waving around the Baby Jesus and Sir Winston like a couple of dead cats as do too many of our self-styled national leaders represents the spirit neither of christian nor of democratic civilization. Still less is this sort of thing historical insight. Whether we like it or not, as matters now stand the task of understanding the passing away of the Old Atlantic West remains to be completed on another day—perhaps at the end of the century-after-next—by Asian scholars who will not even be born for another two hundred years. Alas, even the best of memories cannot rejuvenate an individual, and still less may they be expected to redeem an at once aging and hopelessly juvenile, silly, society. Time moves on, and it is hysterical to think otherwise.
Emmett R Smith
IN All of this, we are toiling with the thorny problem of false analogy, now in policy as well as in historiography. In his 1970 work on historianship, Historians’ Fallacies (reviewed by me recently, in Bodwyn Wook), Mr David Hackett Fischer devotes his entire ninth chapter to this problem. It is extremely difficult, Fischer points out, inasmuch we all think analogically so much of the time. At this moment, our leaders are asserting, it is said, the idea that we now are involved in a ‘long war’; which concept represents, if you will, an exhaustive etiolation of the culture-clash notion first mooted by Professor Huntington in 1993, in Foreign Affairs, in his ‘clash of cultures’ essay.
The emotional need is obvious–or, it should be; and, I have stated long since that our generation, now growing frankly old, has an immense profound sentimental longing for the old days of our parents’ ‘cold war’ with the former Soviet Union. Those intense decades, in the end, connote ‘the good old days’ for too many of us now; and, there is the added seduction that we all know how THAT turned out. The whole point, if anything, is to be in control–and, most of all, in control not of ourselves but, rather, of–the framing of the discussion.
Alas, the frailty of–analogy.
ANY Analogy, if it is any good at all, and if it be the most that one may hope for–namely, a mere indicator of a possibility–must sooner rather than later reveal itself clearly NOT to be an identity.
In our present situation, the fallacy of the ‘Cold war’ analogy (as well as of Mr Dodd’s identification of the victorian Churchill with the 1946-64 GW Bush) consists in the fact it most emphatically does not convey fulfillment of the hoped-for phantasy of control. What is at stake is the domination of the struggle in the world, in whatever epoch. As matters now stand, Japan and China share this critical common (NB) interest. That common interest is to make their looming dispute the cockpit of history in the twenty-first century. It follows, then, and in these terms, that the leadership in Peking and Tokio must arrive at the conclusion that one needed step must be to bite the bullet and to stop underwriting the american dollar.
When that day comes–and, only a fool will try to say that it is a farther rather than a nearer case–then we will see that the attempt to take ‘control of history’ by unilateral proclamation of a new ‘long war’ with Southwest Asia is–rubbish. And, it is wishful thinking, a circumstance that brings low more than just the occasional over-wrought historian.
NO Doubt about it, we are paying this price in romantic policy-failure not least because history, now, is so poorly taught. Only by constant vigilance may one hope to elude error; and, I myself, in the closing line of my editor-letter above, toppled head-long into sin. It was when I referred to a ‘hopelessly’ juvenile society. This sort of categorical utterance is but another form of fallacy, says Mr Fischer (and, Mr Rom!); there is ‘always’ a tertium, somewhere; and, anyway, I have over-stated the case–but, alas, not by much.
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 4 April 2006]