Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When Is History History? (The U.S.H.R. Resolutions)

And here a terrible spectacle displayed itself: the women first cast their infants down the cliff, and then they cast themselves after their fallen little ones, and the men likewise. In such a scene, Aeneas the Stymphalian, an officer, caught sight of a man with a fine dress about to throw himself over, and seized hold of him to stop him; but the other caught him to his arms, and both were gone in an instant headlong down the crags, and were killed. Out of this place the merest handful of human beings were taken prisoners, but cattle and asses in abundance and flocks of sheep.

- from The Anabasis by Xenonphon (ca. 431 – 355 BC), as translated by H. G. Dakyns

I remember being stunned by this passage many, many years ago, in my youth. In fact, it is about the only thing I retained from the book. Nevertheless, it did not evoke the sense of anger and revulsion that I much, much later felt over the 9.11 attacks. It was, after all, history. (note: I was in Manhattan at the time.)

But so much of the Middle East has yet to pass into history. Europeans carved out Israel after WW II to solve their Jewish problem, and the wound continues to fester; many of the other ill-fitting borders they etched across tribal and religious boundaries have not lost their tenuousness either. Likewise, so many of the deeds and misdeeds of the local actors continue to resonate in the hearts of their descendants. The Armenian genocide may have looked like history to Democrats, but not to its Armenian-American constituency in California, nor to the Turks.

Did Nancy Pelosi think that since Japan was a good sport, Turkey would roll over too? But there was only one loach under this willow tree. Japan put WW II and everything that led to it behind when we lost to the Americans. Thus, we do not vent our anger at Russia for unlawfully shipping our soldiers and civilians to Siberia to use them as slave labor, or seek recompense for the Japanese women who were forced to provide sexual satisfaction to the Soviet soldiers who marched into Manchuria. And the Hiroshima Epitaph famously leaves us wondering, “Who will not repeat the mistake?” even as we bade them, “Sleep peacefully”. Never mind the righteousness (or not) of such grievances. We decided, collectively, that it was all history.

Actually, though I did not notice it at the time (I think), Xenophon, a disciple of Socrates, and his men appear to have been uncommonly civilized for those days. For later in the narrative, Xenophon explains: “But wherever we come, be it foreign or Hellenic soil, and find no market for provisions, we are wont to help ourselves, not out of insolence but from necessity. There have been tribes like the Carduchians, the Taochians, the Chaldaeans, which, albeit they were not subject to the great king, yet were no less formidable than independent. These we had to bring over by our arms. The necessity of getting provisions forced us; since they refused to offer us a market.”And there is nothing in the narrative to suggest that they did otherwise.

No comments: