Thanksgiving. Sandwich. Weight.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Stopping by Powell History Recommends this morning, I encountered blog postings from around Thanksgiving with the above three words in them. Yes, they have a common theme, but no, the posts do not discuss a loosening of the belt after a prolonged Thanksgiving feast on sandwiches of leftover turkey. In other words, the posts aren't about the Battle of the Bulge in a figurative or even a historical sense.

But just as overindulgence during the holidays can result in extra poundage, so can the past events of history result in weight (of the psychological variety) for those who live in the present, shaped as it is by those past events. That is the valuable insight Mr. Powell offers us in these posts.

To start with a simple example, Powell considers the controversies (inspired by religion and inflamed by the taunts of multiculturalism) surrounding the holiday America just celebrated in "Happy Thanksgiving!":

The real problem with America's traditional Thanksgiving is not, however, that the Indians don't get enough credit for giving corn and fowl to a few starving Protestant zealots, or that eventually, as growing numbers of Europeans arrived, they engaged in various means–some odious–of taking over "Indian land." That's a complex question that can't possibly be answered in a one-line rebuttal, but again, it's just not the issue.

By the time Thanksgiving became a regular, national observance, and President Lincoln issued his "Proclamation of Thanksgiving" it was already obvious that the source of America's copious abundance–including the disproportionate "bounty" enjoyed by the North over the South–was human productivity (made possible by political freedom), not some divine bestowal. [bold added]
My regular readers already know, even if only from yesterday's post, that I agree with Mr. Powell on the significance of Thanksgiving. But note that when one considers the origins of the holiday in their full historical context that additional facts supporting our point of view become apparent.

A knowledge of history here has two benefits. First, one has more intellectual ammunition to use against America's obvious detractors on the left and her false friends on the right. Second, one is more certain about the justice of the holiday and so is better able to enjoy it free from the guilt that these modern-day Puritans would have us feel about celebrating anything. You can better defend and enjoy a great value.

But knowing history is far more valuable than just getting to enjoy a guilt-free holiday. Powell demonstrates the full extent of the power of knowing history in two other posts about the dealings of the West with the Middle East. Yesterday, in "The Weight of History", he considered the Palestinian "peace" process, which has gone on for four decades since UN resolution 242:
The weight of un-integrated history which everyone carrying but evading is the basic fact that the Palestinians (and their Muslim and Arab sponsor states) are morally bankrupt and have done nothing to come even remotely close to earning them statehood. The history of these people is a shocking litany of self-destructive religious fanaticism, racism, and violence. And yet they are treated as genuine partners in the "peace process." [bold added]
Not to discount the role of philosophical ideas in guiding the actions of men, but if more people would only put two and two together in a historical sense, we'd have stopped playing this deadly game decades ago. Terrorists belong at the business end of a gun, not at the negotiating table. Ignorance of (or a failure to learn from) history can be -- and is -- deadly.

Powell's further exploration of this failure to evaluate historical events over time in "Middle East Milestones: The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich" shows that our present actions in the Middle East are just one small example of a kind of approach to foreign policy that has been tried and failed for ages, and that really ought to be questioned by now as a matter of civilizational survival.

Not only that, but in addition to hampering the West whenever it confronts the Islamic world, failing to learn from history, and so to be better able to avoid the mistakes of the past has shaped the character of countless individuals across an entire continent over vast stretches of time:
As students in my current European history course (registration is always open!) are well aware, the complex and dreary chain of wars that Europeans waged on each other throughout their history provides important insight into the cultural malaise on that continent. Whence that wry English wit? Whence the French distaste for a happy ending? Whence the German "Weltschmerz" ("world weariness")? These are all symptoms of un-integrated history, expressed in the "sense of life" of a culture.
History as taught by Mr. Powell is not just fascinating. It is powerful stuff!

-- CAV

PS: General registration for Scott Powell's next course, "The Islamist Entanglement", is now open.

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