Friday, September 22, 2006

America, F*ck Yeah!

I meant to post on this the other day and never got around to it: Conservative Dennis Prager at Townhall, on his interview with leftist historian Howard Zinn, part 1 and part 2.

As someone who's studied history, both in school, and on my own, this is the sort of debate that just really gets me, mainly because it serves no real point. History does not need to be part of someone's modern day moralizing. Yes we know Mr. Liberal wants to feel badly about the mistreatment of Native Americans. And yes we know Mr. Conservative wants to celebrate America. But none of that really has anything to do with actually studying history. It's just plain silly to spend time criticizing people hundreds of years ago for, well, doing what people hundreds of years ago did. Conquest and war was just the way the world worked when the Europeans first colonized America, and it makes no sense to judge past civilizations on modern standards. Virtually every single society the world has ever known would fail by modern standards. Europeans killed Europeans, Africans killed Africans, Native Americans killed Native Americans, and sometimes they all killed each other. Yes, human history is quite brutal.

In a way, conservatives who celebrate America have the right idea. Of course, one can celebrate this country without glossing over previous sins. What makes America great is the fact that we've always been forward-looking, and yes, progressive. We've become more inclusive over time, and if you want to put it this way, yes we've become "less evil." The thing is, we need to appreciate both the good and the bad of where we've come from, and the problem with debates like these it that it always comes out as all good versus all bad. This ignores historical context and provides no real insight as to what "the American experience" really is.

Finally, to comment a bit more on the second piece, I tend to come down on Prager's side when it comes to Hitler, North Korea, and the cost of war. Once again though, this is just about moral judgments and not about history. Technically, "history" never decides whether a war was good or bad, right or wrong. We all just have our own moral opinions. And Howard Zinn's may be more than a little insane. I'll take a world not ruled by Hitler thank you very much, and I'm not going to question the costs that got us here.


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