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24 June 2015


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Patrick Bahzad


Very interesting quote and truly a topic that would deserve serious and genuine attention.
Short-sightedness in politics and selective memory loss regarding history seem to be pandemics of the post-modern Western world. The lack or disappearance of a national narrative that the citizenry adheres to also contributes to this phenomenon, with every minority - whether ethnic, religious, sexual or even political - demanding for its own collective memory and history to be taken onboard the national narrative.
In the US however, these various factors reach a sort of climax that might possibly be linked to one basic quality of the American people, and that is their outlook onto the future, turning their backs on old Europe and the past and writing their own new history.
While this was probably consistent with the structure of a young country, the US of today actually does have an almost 400 year long history, which is more than most nation-States. This in turn should call for a move to reflect more inwards, on the lessons of the past, but the cultural dominance of concepts like "society without a State" or "nation without a past" are in the way of such - however useful and necessary - efforts.


Preachers, pundits and politicians think they can open the tool shed door a crack and let out one memory demon out at a time for their own bidding. But it doesn't work that way. Even in our own country right now, too many folks waving the bloody shirts.

David Habakkuk



This was what Stephen F. Cohen attempted to teach his readers, back in the 1980s, in a little book entitled 'Rethinking the Soviet Experience'. It was prefaced with the famous Faulkner quote about the past being 'never dead' and 'not even past', and a parallel quote from the Soviet novelist Yuri Trifonov, about history being 'with us and in us.

Years later, I came across the short 'Autobiography' which the English philosopher/archeologist/historian R.G. Collingwood wrote in 1939. In it I found a kind of philosophical formulation (in plain English, I would add) of Cohen's point, and the obvious corollary that both the science and the art of politics ought to have at their centre the ability to comprehend the – commonly not immediately visible – persistence of the past in the present.

What Collingwood also pointed to was the ways in which, as people endeavour to adapt to changing circumstances, the transmission of cultures commonly leads to bizarre ambiguities and ambivalences:

''Suppose a very warlike people, at a certain crisis in its history, turned completely peaceful. In the first generation, warlike impulses would survive; but let us suppose them sternly repressed, so that everyone behaved in an entirely peaceful manner. When the people of this generation set to work on the moral education of their children, the children would be told that they must on no account indulge in the forbidden pleasures of war. 'But what is war, Daddy?' Then Daddy gives a description of war, emphasizing its wrongness, but (doubtless altogether against his will) making it very plain to his offspring that war was a grand thing while it lasted and he would love to fight his neighbours again if only did he did not know that he ought not. The children are quick to understand all that. They not only learn what war is, or was, but they learn also that it is, or was, a grand thing, though of course wrong; and they carefully pass this on to their own children when the time comes. Thus the transmission by educational means of any moral ideal which involves the outlawry of an institution or custom, and the repression of a desire for it, entails the simultaneous transmission of that desire itself. The children of each generation are taught to want what they are taught they must not have.''

And Collingwood went on to argue that the extent to which people's old ways, and old loves, really are effaced by new ones is likely to depend upon how successful the new ones are. An obvious corollary of the argument would appear to be that new ways are more likely to be successful if they do not attempt a simple repudiation of the past, but seek to build some kinds of bridges between it and the future.

That was what Cohen argued in relation to how the peoples of the Soviet Union should best attempt to escape from the failed Bolshevik experiment – which in itself started out as a project totally to repudiate the legacy of the past. However, his arguments were impotent against the neo-Bolshevik belief in the 'clean slate' which had taken over American, and British elites. And rather than reflecting on the catastrophic shambles which their attempt to turn a quite alien society into a replica of their own had helped to produce, they went on to try to do the same in Iraq.

Apparently now the urge to purge the past is to be turned on the Confederate heritage in the United States. But surely, half-measures are not appropriate, given the issues at stake. Can monuments to Thomas Jefferson be allowed to survive?


David Habakkuk

Add: Washington, Madison, Monroe and most of the presidents before Linkum. pl

William R. Cumming

And as the world's oldest and richest democracy does the USA have any special obligations in your opinion?



No. pl

William R. Cumming

P.L.! Thanks for this post and refreshing my knowledge of Christine Helms and that particular article. Did she write others of interest? And her career? Was she related to Senator Helms?

Babak Makkinejad

I do not think that the Slavic people of the Soviet Union were quite as alien as say the Muslim World had been (and is still so) to the Western people.

The successive waves of the Revolution-from-Above, starting from Ivan the Terrible and continued to Boris Yelstin, have produced, in my opinion, the only state East of the Diocletian Line that may be compared favorably with those West of that lien, in such areas as Literature, Music, Drama, Historical Scholarship, Sciences & Applied Sciences, and Christian Theology to name a few.

No other state has been able to match that achievement.

I am not suggesting that St. Petersburg is another Paris - nothing like the West Bank Intellectual set has existed there yet; but perhaps very excellent decaffeinated coffee?


Watching the news you'd have thought the ghost of Stonewall Jackson, powered by Confederate iconography, had just impaled nine churchgoers on a flagpole waving the Stars and Bars.

The Republicans have proven once again that their two competing mantras are:

- Appease the people who would never vote for you anyway
- Keep the people who would vote for you at home

Reminder that Communist iconography is okay by Amazon, but Confederate flags are apparently a bridge too far because the Narrative said so.

Charles Dekle

Here is the link to the full paper: http://tinyurl.com/pgyyok7 :

I have not had a chance to read the complete document but the opening quote from James Madison is thought provoking.

"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
James Madison to W.T. Barry
August 4, 1822



I don't find this war on the dead particularly becoming. While they might not live up to the moral standards of this modern age (and how they dare they) at the very least, they deserve their rest.

Mr. Habakkuk,

That was beautifully expressed.

- Eliot

Charles Dekle

Col Lang,
Thank you. I will read the entire paper later today. When reading the quotation that you provided I immediately thought of the former Yugoslavia and the chaos that ensued after Toto's death.


She wrote a book on early Saudi Arabia in the 1980s that centered on the newly minted Saudi-Wahhabi expansion meeting the UK-crafted states in Iraq and Jordan. Good read.

Abu Sinan

Sir, I dont know if you saw this. It is an interesting read that I thought I would pass on. Enjoy your day.

"The Enemy You Know and the Ally You Don’t
Arming Iraq's Sunni militias to fight the Islamic State may seem like a quick fix, but newly declassified documents suggest it might only add fuel to the fire."


Richard Armstrong

Aw heck COL. Just hang the Stars and Bars and everyone will be fooled. And I disagree that collective memory can't be shaped by education and information operations. President Jackson who waged a war of ethnic cleansing is remembered more for the Battle of New Orleans and is celebrated on the $20 bill. The wholesale slaughter of this continents native people is forgotten and celebrated as "Manifest Destiny". Collective and individual memory always reinforces the good, minimizes the bad and inflates how the recaller is/was an innocent victim.

The collective memory of Americans entirely made up of misinformation and lies told to children by their schools and their elders. Confederate supporters are quick to say the flag they wave celebrates their history and that the war was fought over states rights without ever admitting what those states felt they had the right to do.

I am also curious about the lying information campaigns that you referred to. What lies are being told?

With respect as always, RA


Col Lang
There is a reactionary force underway to
change the name of Lake Calhoun here in
Minneapolis. It is the "crown jewel" in the
"city of lakes" It was named after John C.
Calhoun because he sent survey crews to
explore and map this area. Fort Snelling was
their base camp. The part of town I live in has
the north south streets named after the presidents
in chronological order from Washington to McKinley.
My thought as well. Should we change them too.
BTW I live on Ulysses because an older part of town
had a Grant street. Have to spell it out continually as
most have no clue to its correct spelling or pronunciation.


Richard Armstrong

Well, that's your opinion. "Lying IO campaigns?" Where have you been since 9/11? pl

ex-PFC Chuck

re "Was she related to Senator Helms?"

And was she related to Richard Helms?



Jackson is a lot more nuanced then you describe, and was fighting a war against a people who were trying to kill him and his. Wholesale slaughter is what happens when Stone Age peoples pick fights with people armed with firearms.

No one has to enunciate because the states were fighting for their rights to not be governed by an Imperial City and federal mandarins. I know that, as a would be technocrat, the idea that people don't want a centralized control is bothersome.

For someone who is apparently pretty well traveled (I'm jealous, natch), you repeatedly take a consistently dunderheaded perspective on events as long as you can blame YT somehow.

William R. Cumming

Charles! Thanks so very much for the link!

William R. Cumming

Thanks very much M!

William R. Cumming

P.L. says NO!



You should build your own strawmen.



Col. Lang -

Interesting quote, but I don't see how a free society can centrally manage something like historical memory. There seems to be a pretty large difference between what is accepted as "fact" in different parts of this country. Even something as top-down organized as "common core" will be taught differently and have different emphases in different places. Riling up people short term using demagoguery or propaganda? Sure. Long term change? I'm not so sure about that.



No. I'm sure lots of people would be happy that we pay their bills and fight their fights though.

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