Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Through a Distant Lens

(I originally wrote this in the comments to this posting over at Chicago Boyz)

One of the most eye opening books I ever read was a collection of news stories and editorials spanning the years 1938-1948.

The hostility and suspicion directed against Roosevelt before the war was absolutely stunning. The terror and calling for head lopping in early stages of the war were also a big surprise for me at the time. Criticism of war strategy was rife with retired generals weighing in from every corner. Post-war commentators thought we were "losing the peace."

Wish like hell I could remember the title of that book.

Understanding events through the lens of history distorts our sense of pace and order. It's something like the difference between reading a novel and writing one. One reads a novel very quickly going through dozens a pages an hour. Writing a novel is by comparison a very slow process. Churning out a page an hour is a good clip. I have observed many novice writers getting frustrated because their writing seems to "drag" because their mental speedometer is set on "read" not "write."

Our comparison of current events with historical events suffers in a similar fashion. We compare real time contemporary events with the temporally compressed historical events. The contemporary events seem much more chaotic and mismanaged compared to the historical events even though to the people of the time, the historical events looked just as bad to them as our contemporary events do to us.

Iraq looks like hell to many because that's what all such similar events look like at the time. If we persist, we will succeed and twenty years from now people will think back and wonder how we pulled it off so quickly and cleanly.