Lessons ignored, mistakes repeated
Three years ago as we were preparing to retire and move from our home in Maryland to Maine we were working off our "bucket list" of things we’d put off doing in the Mid Atlantic area. One Thursday we drove to Silver Spring, took the Metro to the Smithsonian, and walked along the northern and western sides of the Department of Agriculture. There, across the street, dwarfed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, was the Holocaust Museum. We entered through the magnetometer and put our belongings through the X-ray machine. We bought our tickets, picked up our "papers," and took the elevator to the top to begin our floor by floor descent through history. As our eyes adjusted to the dimmed light, we found ourselves in the midst of a large group of students from a private Virginia high school and immediately expected the worst.
That first floor is devoted to Hitler’s ascension and the consolidation of Nazi power in 1930s Germany. As we walked along viewing the larger than life photographs and reading the descriptions of what happened in those years I was stunned, again and again, by the parallels with what had happened then and what was happening in the USA even in 2009 and 2010. I was also stunned at the extent of intellectual dishonesty and moral turpitude it would take, in the face of such overwhelming evidence, to deny the Holocaust and not fear the depths of depravity to which human beings can sink. At the same time, I noted the students were quietly and attentively following the history lesson, showing nothing but courtesy and respect for the two antiques in their midst. That was the bright spot in an otherwise overwhelmingly depressing day.
Today, as the United States withdraws its presence and its influence from the rest of the world and focuses its resources and its attention on self-indulgence and self-delusion, the lessons of those old photographs cry out. It is not possible, given the role we’ve assumed since World War II, for us to abandon our place in the world without leaving a vacuum that will be filled by opportunist tyrants, not the benevolent. We have seen the beginnings in North Korea, Iran, Syria, and now the Crimea. The question is not whether Russia will annex the Ukraine, but when and how. The question is not whether Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland will be placed under Russian domination, but when. The question is not whether Israel will be attacked, but when. The question is not whether North Korea will invade the south but when and how far they will get. It’s only a question of when China will seize the Japanese islands north of Taiwan and then Taiwan itself.
Appeasement has once again been proven a failure as foreign policy and the U.S. is now faced with no good options. I would not presume to feign knowledge how we begin to repair the damage done to world stability over the past decade by our flaccid policies. We pursued domestic policies that will inevitably take us the way of Greece, Spain, Ireland, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico; but worse have so drained us of economic strength that what few options there might be, are beyond our resolve. We have insulted and abandoned our friends around the world and groveled before our enemies, even refusing to recognize them as threats or name them as enemies. We have put ourselves on the eve of repeating November 1938 while perhaps a preponderance of the country remains immersed in speculating about an airliner, basketball brackets, and how we can maneuver to have our neighbors pay our bills.
From here it’s hard to see any happy ending, but this spring my hope is that the change we see this year is a return from the pharmaceutically enhanced "visions" of academics, opportunists, community organizers, and effete professional politicians to economic sanity and a foreign policy based on sober, clear eyed understanding of the darker moments in human history.