Thursday, July 14, 2005

History Lessons

One of the advantages of having made it past 50 is that when history repeats itself, you get to see that the mistakes that are made by the so-called best and brightest today are the same mistakes made by their generational predecessors. Two historical events are echoing today — Vietnam and Watergate — and they taught some valuable lessons that need to be recalled.

  • If you go to war in a foreign land, you can’t be fighting the civilians you’re supposed to be saving. That sort of defeats the purpose of going to war in the first place.
  • If you’re going to fight a global war against a noun (i.e. Communism, terrorism), don’t do it by proxy. The seat of world communism wasn’t Hanoi, and Baghdad wasn’t where Al-Qaeda called the home office — until now.
  • If you’re going to go to war, make sure you have the resources in both material and personnel. That means going in with the best of the equipment and not stretching yourself thin on soldiers. Think about having a draft so that your best-trained volunteers can be sent to the fight and the draftees can do the rear-echelon stuff back home.
  • If you’re going to call something the most important battle since whenever, ask the country to make some sacrifices other than having rich people forego paying some taxes. Raise taxes to bring the reality home. No one takes a war seriously when it’s sold as the battle for the survival of Western Civilization but it’s not gonna cost us anything. That makes it bullshit on both counts.
  • Don’t blame failures on the media. Don’t try to control the media, either by enlisting sympathetic outlets or trashing opponents. They have a different agenda, and both sucking up and scorching the earth have a way of backfiring.
  • If you’re caught in a lie, don’t cover it up. Don’t blame the victim. Don’t try to tough it out. People can be amazingly forgiving if you admit to making a mistake and try to make amends. Loyalty to your friends is one thing, but your first duty is to the people you work for.

    In a way it’s somewhat reassuring to see that human nature is reliably slow on the uptake, but if we don’t learn something from what we have been through before, we’re doomed to remakes — and Hollywood has proved that theory to be a bomb; anybody seen The Honeymooners?