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History Is So Dull

From my 12/03/2004 post Talking to the Opposition:

In every age the common interpretation of the world of things is by some scheme of unchallenged and unsuspected presuppositions; and the mind of every individual, however little he may think himself in sympathy with his contemporaries, is not an insulated compartment, but more like a pool in a continuous medium – the circumambient atmosphere of his time and place.


F. M. Cornford
Foreword of Thucydides Mythistoricus

This was an amazing insight for me personally when I stumbled across it in research on a paper regarding heroes in literature. This is a truth: if you are a rebel, what you oppose is determined by your time and place.

We are all biased, but if we recognize the existence of the bias we can adjust for it when looking for the truth. Don’t judge history by modern standards; judge it by its own standards.

This concept is vital in the intelligence field. You must see your opponent as he sees himself to understand what he may do. What is insane for you; may be eminently reasonable according to his “circumambient atmosphere”.

It isn’t bad enough that the US government is blundering around blindly making no effort to figure what’s going on and why the world hates us, but the contagion is spreading. Japan is talking about a preemptive strike against North Korea.

If you have never spent any time in Asia, you are totally unaware of the divisions among the various nations and ethnic groups. About the only thing they all, and I do mean all, have in common is Japanese occupation during World War II, and no one is apt to forget about it in any near century. Young Japanese are about the only Asians who don’t know what happened and that is dangerous. If Japanese aircraft attacked North Korea, the response would probably come from South Korea and China, only because they are closer than Australia.

Asians do not want military action of any kind by Japan. Don’t try to tell them it’s a new century.

2 comments

1 Michael { 07.12.06 at 12:50 pm }

Korea has a longer history of Japanese oppression that most of southeast Asia. It goes back at least a century before the Second World War–and a Japanese strike on the north might be the only thing that could induce north and south to consider talking to one another and coordinating a response. It would almost certainly not be a pretty one, and equally almost certainly would completely destabilize that vital (and seething) region.

Which, of course, means that the Shrubbery is going to be walking around doing the grown-up, diplomatic version of “La, la, la, la, la, la, I can’t hear you!”

2 Bryan { 07.12.06 at 2:41 pm }

The Koreans would have to race the Chinese to respond, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Taiwan get involved. The Australians also still have “issues” with Japan.

The papering over of World War II that occurs in Japanese schools doesn’t help the people of Japan in understanding why the recent moment to become more militarily powerful is not going over well in Asia.

The way Japan has handled the “comfort women” issue certainly hasn’t helped their standing among Koreans, and Koizumi’s visits to the war memorial rubs salt in the wounds.