Can History Help?

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Has the present ever seemed more of a bully than it does just now? Not long after the terrorist attacks, The New York Times ran an essay that pretty much said there was no way to view them historically. That is not, of course, a view this magazine is quick to embrace, and so we put a question to several historians: What can history tell us about how we are going to get through the time ahead? The answers appear below. Every one of them is reassuring—if not on what might be called the tactical level, certainly on the strategic one. That is to say, the differences of opinion they embody generate the kind of energy that has fueled this nation through good times and awful ones. We want to thank the contributors for their generosity in taking part. Stephen E. Ambrose, indeed, was generous enough to send two statements, one about the tenor of the nation and a more specific one about the kind of war we may be fighting. We’ve run the latter in its entirety, but in the former he quoted something very much worth reading just now. A week before D-Day in 1944, Lt. Thomas Meehan of Butte, Montana, C.O. of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division—who would die in the assault—wrote his wife: “We’re fortunate in being Americans…. The American is the offspring of the logical European who hated oppression and loved freedom beyond life. But for each of us who wants to live in happiness and give happiness, there’s another different sort of person wanting to take it away. We know how to win wars. We must learn now to win peace. Here is the dove, and here is the bayonet. If we ever have a son, I don’t want him to go through this again, but I want him powerful enough that no one will be fool enough to touch him. He and America should be strong as hell and kind as Christ.”

We Can and Will Learn to Fight This New War Nothing New “Watch My Generation Now” Binary Wars and a Beautiful Bitch Be Confident—and Careful The Steadiness of the People Finding the Killers Is the Easy Part Our Only Defense The Structure of History Is Changing “The Same Firmness of Union” The Test of Reconciliation Our Chances of a Happier Ending We May Have to Make Some New History