Because of assumptions that span
most famous such problem is slavery. It lay, in Lincoln’s words, like
a coiled snake under the table during the deliberations of the
the time of the Civil War, that snake had lain underneath our table
for 72 years, protected and nurtured by the Constitution. This is
why, in his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln dated the founding of America
not from that document, but from the Declaration of Independence 13 years earlier,
“four score and seven” (87) years ago.
did this for a reason. He did it to overturn the powerful assumptions
of his time. Old assumptions have enormous power over the future,
even after they have become worthless.
same was true for the problems of the 1890s which brought us Populism
and Progressivism. Their root causes were to be found in Jacksonian
Democracy, the lack of a central bank and the reliance on tariffs to
fund the government. This meant there was nothing but gold on which
to base our currency, and nothing but tariff revenue to fund operations. President Grover Cleveland was forced to borrow gold from J.P.
Morgan to keep the government going following the Panic of 1893.
causes of the 1960s crisis were of a similar age. From Cleveland’s
time, as Hofstadter wrote in books like The Age of Reform,
America had stood for constant social, political, and economic
change, always more tolerant, always more liberal, always more
egalitarian. The Greatest Generation saw what this was doing to their children, freedom
interpreted as license, and they said, as one, "enough."
crisis also has a cause, in the form of a generations-old assumption.
People like Matthew Yglesias say they are shocked at government
attempts to excuse and rationalize our Iraq disaster.
if he listened to the Secretary of Defense last week, he would have
heard it loud, clear, and proud.
No lesson, and no assumption, holds
forever, immutable, never subject to question.
foreign policy has become enslaved to Munich. Just as our fathers
were enslaved to the Progressive Myth, and their grandfathers were
enslaved to Jacksonian Democracy, just as those mens’ fathers were
enslaved to the assumption of slavery written in the Constitution, so we are
now slaves to the example of Munich.
discussion of foreign policy will not move forward until we face this
slavery and deal with it, once and for all. Munich is not always the
only lesson. Just a generation before Munich, it was over-reliance on
the Balance of Power that plunged Europe into World War.
Chamberlain’s mistake at Munich was relying on this assumption as an
are no immutable lessons, no strategies that work for all time, in
all situations. Life is a continual process of growth and adjustment.
Wisdom comes from learning that you don’t know everything, that your
assumptions are open to challenge. You only learn when you change
is time we changed our minds about Munich, not in terms of its time
but in terms of our time.
have destroyed our nation’s reputation. We have destroyed our national budget.
We have wrecked our own Army. We are
trying to destroy our Constitution.
in the name of an historical example that is dead, that is useless to us.
The great lesson of the 20th century remains true today, in the 21st. Anyone can be the Nazi, and anyone can be the Jew. There is nothing about being American which makes you immune from the abuse of others. There is nothing about being Jewish that makes you perpetually the only victim.
If we fail to bury Munich, then Munich will bury us.