I am 29 now, and despite the probably objections of those older than me, I have enough years behind me to see in my own life that “history” remembers results. Details, such as injury or death of nameless people and the financial costs of decisions are often washed away in the haze of time. On the other hand, daily life is all about those pesky “details”. So we have to be careful not to lose them as the decades pass. But no matter how careful we are, eventually it’s likely to be forgotten.
I’m a great admirer of the intellect and writing ability of Christopher Hitchens. But I have always listened to his defense of the Iraq war with a polite disapproving silence.
To Hitchens that very important result overwhelms the details: the cost of the war, the deception around its origins, the history of the Iraq-US relationship, the precedent it set for future wars, the policies of torture, domestic spying, etc, and the fact that there are a lot of other oppressive governments throughout the world that we do nothing about.
Something Hitches said in a debate on this topic caught my attention, and it’s why I wrote this note. He said as a closing declaration that history will remember the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only for the fact that we removed Saddam Hussein from power.
And in my usual disapproving silence I contemplated that statement. Perhaps he is right. History remembers results. And one of the only clear results of these wars is that Saddam was removed from power. Everything else is complex and drenched in uncertainty. The deaths, the money, the misinformation might very well be forgotten.
I am troubled by that thought, but I’m only troubled by it as much as I am when I consider how big the universe is and how small we are in comparison. This is the way of time and civilization. Most of the things of concern to us today, yesterday, and in the last century, will be forgotten and perhaps sooner than we imagine.