by Emmett R Smith
LANDMARKS In history, writes historian John Lukacs, are easily discernible.
Their significance is immediately understood.
To be sure, ordinary people often understand more than they ‘know’. In this sense, then, historical landmarks are intimately bound-up in the emotions of the day–and, landmark-events may precipitate therefore in the popular mind a more conscious feeling, more exactly for what may be ‘most important’ at this time. Pearl Harbour was precisely, therefore, a landmark in the history of World War II. In this respect, then, landmarks are not turning-points.
Turning-points are altogether more debatable; and, the role of a disciplined intuition in historianship is therefore the sine qua non for the understandings of the historical mind. A turning-point in the war, then, came actually in 1940, on 28 May, in the inner war-cabinet, when Churchill repudiated a final attempt by Lord Halifax to re-introduce the topic of negotiation with Hitler. This led to at least two other landmark-events in 1941, besides the japanese failed attack on the United States Navy. These were the Hitler-attack on Russia, in June, and the german retreat from Moscow, in December. These landmark-events–each one gaudy enough for Hollywood in its own right–then converged into the next turning-point, in the history of the war:
After Churchill prevented Hitler from winning his european war, in the May of 1940, then in December, 1941, that european war became–a world war.
Expanding on Lukacs, then, I would suggest that turning-points are altogether more ineffable. Turning-points are, again precisely, indications of the the implications concealed especially in the converging product of events; and, they may point the direction of future development–or, devolution. This is because, to be yet more precise (and I think that John Lukacs has pointed this out, also), turning-points mark not only a convergence of often-immiscible-seeming trends–they are, as well, those nexes out of which a number of sometimes-competitive new (NB) trends can emerge; and, perhaps, diverge. Therefore, in light of the foregoing, for the 1946-64 american generation (now for its brief generational-maturity ‘in power’), the mahometan aeroplane-attacks in New York, on 11 September 2006, are a landmark–the analogy with the Pearl Harbour-attack is in this analysis exact. This is attested in the much-more vestigial American language itself, by the prevailing discourse-slogan, ‘9/11’. However, a critical turning-point in history for that selfsame generation came in its infancy and early childhood, in 1956:
For the first time just fifty years ago, more Americans indicated that they were employed in service-occupations, rather than in actual production of commodities and products.
The wholesale ‘professionalisation’ of work was deemed a necessary good as long ago as that. And, the conscious motives may very well have been all creditable; new forms of production and goods; better performance by employees, doing new kinds of work; all for novel rewards and prestige; and, all of that. Alas, the deterioration of purposes. Service became not only ‘professional’; careerism (an end in itself) was another result; opportunity’s dark brother. And, as matters now stand, all of this burgeoning ‘hyper-credentiallism’, all of it going on throughout our entire young-time and coming-of-age, as a matter of historical logic does seem very clearly to have pointed, as a kind of central vector perhaps, to the colossal and thoroughly professional failure of american intelligence at the political height in the world, of the american ‘baby boom’.
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 27 July 2006]