Students should pause debate, curl up with history texts instead

To the Editor:

There is no way we can claim the estrangement of campus hawks and doves is merely an ideological schism. No, it is about differences in the facts we know and are willing to accept;it is about differences in exposure to the annals of history and different ways of reading between the lines of that record. Anyone who thinks this is not a dispute about history has neither a firm grasp of how the past always informs the present, nor a daily appointment with the Yale Daily News’ op-ed page.

Anybody who advocates war should firmly believe that history has shown that retribution of the sort we are exacting on Afghanistan will bring criminals to justice, that terrorist networks like Osama bin Laden’s can be successfully impaired without causing collateral damage to an unacceptable number of civilians. A pacifist, conversely, must believe that retribution can neither bring about justice nor avoid an immoral toll of civilian deaths.

Can a grand ideological model intuit or predict an effective course of action to match these beliefs? Certainly not –historical precedent alone can separate wheat from chaff in the vast marketplace of ideas.

We scream bloody murder when someone’s historical analysis looks unfamiliar or seems in line with a political stance that we have rejected in the past, even when our own analysis has no more scholarly grounding, only more harmonious with our prejudices.

It is problematic in times like these that any self-respecting ideologue — and we are all ideologues now, it seems — thinks history is his footboy. Scanning the somber op-ed trenches for a week, a strange glee surfaces: the relish with which a self-righteous letter bludgeons the previous day’s column, with an indictment of the columnist’s ignorance of history.

But how many of us can truthfully put forth the depth of scholarship to fortify our claims that precedent belongs to us? War is an immensely complex matter; yet we do not hesitate to assert ourselves, refusing to leave it to the experts.

It disappoints me and it disappoints a worthy university ideal that words and history have become polemical tools and little more. The free exchange of ideas has been distorted into internecine op-ed warfare, and I fear it is largely because, busy attending to our rhetorical responsibilities, we have ignored some of our intellectual ones.

Let us all spend a week in hibernation, in quiet uninterrupted communion with our history books. Then when we return to the insipid battleground where the repertory troupe of hawks and doves act out their pleonastic drama, at least we will be able to better sift through fact and ideology.

And next time someone offers you his opinion on the Afghan blitzkrieg, you might try asking how many pages he has read on anti-terrorist strategy, Southeast Asian political history, and the theory of low-intensity military operations.

Not because it will tell you whether he is right, but because it might just shame him into reflecting on the moral obligations of being an ideologue.

Aaron Goode ’04

October 17, 2001

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