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The Melian Dialogues

“The purpose of war is peace.” – St. Augustine

In 1964, President Johnson told us that although we “sought no wider war,” aggression had to be met with aggression. We ended up fighting the entire Vietnam conflict with no clear idea of what “peace” would be.

In 2003 we invaded Iraq to eliminate WMD’s and get Sadaam Hussein. But what was the plan for what would be “peace?”

Today, and pretty much for the last five years, every time there is a report of the use of a chemical weapon, we posture and preen, and then shoot off some cruise missiles. Many of our Leaders have explained to us that this is not “war” in their definition, so we don’t even need to bother thinking about what the “peace” would be?

In the most recent use of chemical weapons, the echoes of the Melian Dialogues resound through history. “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”

Is a mother who fed who child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the worst mother on the face of the planet? And will it even matter if the world ends in ten days?


The Future Is Better Than The Past

Given that his Dad is a historian, I’m not sure where Ben picked it up. But, he’ll say it to me at least once time a day. “Dad,” he will pontificate,” Remember that the future is always better than the past.”

I know why he thinks that. I lived through almost half of the 20th century. Today – with all it’s problems and stress and issues – is better than the 1970’s. And I say that as a person who still nostalgically loves the 1970’s. I was there, I lived it. But for all it’s color and fun, today is better.

Technology keeps getting better – except for the parts that are going to kill us – and life gets busier. But if entropy is really the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, can we continue to expect our society to improve? It all leaves me asking a lot – A LOT – of questions:

What will Trump do in Syria?

Is it possible that California Legislators are even more irresponsible than even I though that they were?

Can Facebook really be to blame for selling your data?

Oskar Groening and The Lessons of History



I have said it many, many times: the biggest error a historian – or anyone appealing to history – can make, is to judge a culture buy their own values and practices.

And yet, every day I hear people who have “studied history” explain to me how the past “got it wrong,” and if only they (the past) had been as smart as the speaker, things would be different – meaning “better” – today. “If I had been there, it would have been done right,” they so often say.

“If I had been there in 1787, we’d have gotten it right!”

Even short term history is treated as if it is an absolute exercise in cause and effect: “The United States didn’t need to drop the atomic bomb. Doing so destabilized the world and led directly to the Cold War.” Read the rest of this entry

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