But wherever we encounter history, we thrill and despair at the realization that the past was as dynamic and varied as the present, and that time has a repetitive quality as a result: while we believe that our time is different from others, almost everything we take as distinctive has its antecedents, its parallels, its previous incarnations.
Remember Vietnam? Or, more specifically, one President after another taking on a disaster his predecessor started and not quite understanding that it needs to end much less how to go about it? This cartoon, “But how to let go gracefully?” by Vaughn Shoemaker, should at least feel familiar:
But who needs history, right? Not the President, I guess?
The main point made by the historians he consulted was not referred to by Alter—one of the deleterious effects of governmental secrecy. The President might have been saved from the folly that will be his lasting legacy. But now we are ten years into a war that could drag on for another ten, and could catch in its trammels the next president, the way Vietnam tied up president after president.
But, for an imperial power (or a demagogue at the head of an imperial power/project) it is “[natural] to consider every strange thing they do more or less the norm” up to and including repeating the same mistakes of another imperial power in the same exact country.
Even that aside, we have enough evidence from the headlines, much less history, to understand the basic nature of war: