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Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007

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« Two Cinematic Views of War in the Pacific - Farrell | Main | St. George »

June 26, 2007


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" belief in the malleability of human consciousness and the irrelevance of the past underlay our ridiculous over confidence in Iraq."

But these true believers are (1) connected-at-the-roots zealots and (2) reactionary anti-secular humanism fundies. Is this ironic, paradoxical, perverse, or all of the above?

W. Patrick Lang


Nah! You are talking about the led, not the leaders. pl


i think "collective memory" in the us is not as firmly wrapped in a structured historical narrative as it mauy be in other countries, cultures

probably i think because of our orign and developmennt as a "new country" in the "new world" comprised of people from so many different cultures, countries,

while the bush administration engaged in unprecedented systematic use of pr campaigns for the past six years, the newspaper-tv monopoly on information sharing has been altered

the internet and blogging and especially bloggers like yourself have emerged as a powerful new voice in shaping collective memory

i am sure i speak for many others in saying thank you for your time, your effort and your voice


When the Czechs and the Slovaks "divorced" on Jan. 1, 1993, there was a dispute over the old Czechoslovak Flag. In the runup to the actual separation the Slovaks insisted that neither state use it, so as to not confer the supposed status of the continuation of the old Czechoslovakia. In the minds of the Slovaks they were, after all, creating two entirely new states. The Czechs of course blithely assured them that they wouldn't use the old flag either--until the actual separation.

On Jan. 1, 1993 however, the Slovak Government ran up their new flag, while the Czech Government ran up--the old Czechoslovak Flag. The Slovaks were justifiably furious at being deceived like that, but the Czechs insisted that as an entirely NEW state they were free to choose their flag, as long as it wasn't already being used by another country.

The dispute arose, in my opinion as someone of Czech descent, from the way the two peoples regarded Czechoslovak history. The Czechs remembered it with pride, while the Slovaks had somewhat resentful feelings. The Slovaks were trying to erase that history by erasing the Czechoslovak Flag, while the Czechs wished to commemorate it. The Slovaks were living in a fool's paradise if they thought the Czechs would ever give up that flag.

Who today remembers the ridiculous new Iraqi Flag that was willy-nilly conjured up, only to die a quick and unlamented death? Wasn't this an inept attempt to wipe the historical slate clean?

W. Patrick Lang


That depends on the part of the country. most Americans do not have much collective memory. They have been trained not to and they resent those who do have such memory. pl


I have always felt that our ability to not abide by the past was one of America's greatest cultural strengths. It allowed us to transcend the historical swamps of ancient hatreds and old feuds and imagine and bring about progress. The Marshall Plan of course is an example of this, but so are our comparative openness about accepting immigrants, our inherent entrepreneurship and our optimism about the possibility for change. As a kid, I was always struck by my relatives in Italy and Austria who would just accept things 'as they were' instead of how the could or ought to be. This made me sure glad to be American. But I would be lying to myself if I thought this was the case now in the US. Today, this ability to 'move beyond' history has become, like you say Colonel, a delusional desire to ignore it at all costs, and perhaps our greatest cultural weakness.

But I think there is something else going on as well. I think that many people are not ignoring history, but holding on desperately to an idealized vision of the American past that never existed. This has led to millions of intellectually (and physically) fat and lazy people who are resting on the laurels of their nation, the richest and most powerful in the world, whether they are contributing anything to it or not.

Last fall I attended a film festival at the National Archives that featured many of the hundreds of propaganda films made under the Marshall Plan to encourage occupied Germans, Italians, and French, et al to not only accept the Plan, but also move beyond their recent and ancient histories to 'build a new Europe and a new world.' A typical scene was of the young farmer (and Wehrmacht veteran) convincing his grandmother to use the more efficient American way of raising hens instead of her traditional way. The symbolism was heavy of course for more contentious issues. Compare this to the "Iraq Media Project" or even to the crap that passes for political science and international relations research coming from think tanks, or even universities like Tufts (Jebsen Center) and JHU-SAIS. I see this as much as intellectual surrender to an idealized view of an all-(and ever-) powerful America, as it is a product of any particular ideology. Whatever the case, wrap this all in personal ambition unbounded by any common ethics, and we get what we have today.

Marshall Plan films:


A national historical memory is a pretty slippery fish. There is what actually happened, but that isn’t history. We have various reports and interpretations of what actually happened and then interpretations of those. What ends up being selected as history is determined by who ever has the upper hand at the time when we are susceptible to trying to make some kind of sense of what we have done. An important determinant on perception and interpretation at all stages is our national mythology. As time passes the history will be further remembered to fit into the mythology and eventually will be subsumed by it. Alternative histories will be consigned to obscurity. The thing we have termed national historical memory is really just national mythology. The nation cannot literally “remember” anything. Its people can only collectively subscribe to a common narrative of their national story. The reason why this distinction is of any importance is that we trust our memory and feel that we possess it intimately. A myth or narrative implies a certain metaphorical artifice and distance. Acknowledging this, particularly in a society founded on Enlightenment rationalism, would be to diminish its persuasive power. This might not be the case in societies whose origins are so ancient that they are celebrated as myth. Myth played an important and explicit role in constructing the national historical memory of the Third Reich.

National myths may well include some unsavory bits but they are invariably flattering to the vanity of the nation. The need to flatter the national vanity is both a limitation and an opportunity for those who would manipulate it. In our own case we were manipulated by coupling an enabling fear with our self righteousness and a belief in American Exceptionalism. We were constantly reminded of our history of being the good guys. National memories of Viet Nam were replaced with the myth of American GI’s handing out chocolate bars to children in liberated Europe. Failure, when we can no longer deny it, will offend our vanity and we will demand a reckoning. There will be an interesting if predictable fight over what is to be our national historical memory of the Iraq War and nobody doubts that there will be a “stab in the back” theory to maintain the purity of the myth.

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