Tuesday, May 18, 2004

An Unfortunate Analogy

David Brooks says that we are in “shakeout” mode in Iraq, and while we’re bound to make some mistakes, the overall effort is worth the effort.

American history sometimes seems to be the same story repeated over and over again. Some group of big-dreaming but foolhardy adventurers head out to eradicate some evil and to realize some golden future. They get halfway along their journey and find they are unprepared for the harsh reality they suddenly face. It’s too late to turn back, so they reinvent their mission. They toss out illusions and adopt an almost desperate pragmatism. They never do realize the utopia they initially dreamed about, but they do build something better than what came before.

This basic pattern has marked our national style from the moment British colonists landed on North American shores. Overly optimistic about the conditions they would find, the colonists were woefully undercapitalized, underequipped and underskilled. At Jamestown, there were three gentlemen and gentlemen’s servants for every skilled laborer. They didn’t bother to plant enough grain to see them through the winter.

But they learned and adapted. Settlement companies were compelled to send more workers, along with axes, chisels, scythes, millstones and seeds. Eventually the colonies thrived.

I think there might be some Native Americans who would find Mr. Brooks’s comparison somewhat odious and foreboding.