November/December 2001 | Volume 52, Issue 8
History is not predictable. But history does give us the power to contrast, and the right to estimate. A knowledge of history should not allow us to say what is going to happen, but it does allow us to say what is not going to happen.
Contrary to what President Bush declared, this is not “war"; this is not the “the first war of the twenty-first century"; this is not “a crusade.” Such declarations obscure the reality of events. War is an armed struggle between states or nations or tribes. He also called the perpetrators of this catastrophe “cowards.” They were not. Men who kill themselves for a cause are not cowards. They are fanatics, which is something far more dangerous. Such were the Japanese Kamikaze pilots. Nor were Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Hitler, and Stalin cowards. They were dreadful examples of what human beings are capable of believing and doing.
Yes, we live now in the twenty-first century, and the structure of history—of how and why things happen—is changing. The American people must make up their minds. Must America be “the dictatress of the world,” what John Quincy Adams warned against 180 years ago? Must Americans be told, and believe, that they are the chosen people of humankind—indeed, of God? Any people through history who have believed that have been punished by God, sooner rather than later.
Sometime during the twenty-first century, the United States will withdraw from the Middle East instead of expanding further. Sometime during the twenty-first century, Americans will pay much more for gas and oil and no longer depend on Middle Eastern oil. Sometime during the twenty-first century, Americans will begin rebuilding their railroads, instead of building bigger and bigger airports. Sometime during the twenty-first century, Americans will begin to guard their frontiers seriously, instead of opening them indiscriminately.
We can only hope that it’s not too late.