"History does not offer lessons; its unique constellations of contingencies never repeat. But life does offer the same points, over and over again. A lesson is many-edged; a point has only one, but that one sharp. And the point we might still take from the First World War is the old one that wars are always, in Lincoln’s perfectly chosen word, astounding. They produce results that we can hardly imagine when they start. It is not that wars are always wrong. It is that wars are always wars, good for destroying things that must be destroyed, as in 1864 or 1944, but useless for doing anything more, and no good at all for doing cultural work: saving the national honor, proving that we’re not a second-rate power, avenging old humiliations, demonstrating resolve, or any of the rest of the empty vocabulary of self-improvement through mutual slaughter."From a 2004 New Yorker article THE BIG ONE: Historians rethink the war to end all wars by Adam Gopnik (a writer, who makes me fucking crazy with irritation whenever he wastes time and ink on twee little articles about how precious Parisians are.)
Also, read "Vimy" by Pierre Berton because it's an electrifying piece of history writing.
And next year don't get smug on the new white peace poppy pin because it actually hurts those old darlings still standing (or sitting in their wheel chairs) in shopping malls selling the red ones. (they aren't geriatric war-mongers, they have just remained astounded for over 60 years)
Here's another quote from Gopnik on historians that I was looking for earlier (from HEADLESS HORSEMAN: The Reign of Terror revisited)
"Whatever academic scholarship may insist, surely a sense of proportion is the last thing we want from history—perspective, certainly, but not proportion. Anything, after all, can be seen in proportion, shown to be no worse a crime than some other thing. Time and distance can’t help but give us a sense of proportion: it was long ago and far away and so what? What the great historians give us, instead, is a renewed sense of sorrow and anger and pity for history’s victims—for some luckless middle-aged Frenchman standing in the cold gray, shivering as he watches the members of his family being tied up and having their heads cut off. Read Gibbon on the destruction of the Alexandria library by the Christians, or E. P. Thompson on the Luddites—not to mention Robert Conquest on the Gulag—and suddenly old murders matter again; the glory of the work of these historians is that the right of the dead to have their pain and suffering taken seriously is being honored. It is not for history to supply us with a sense of history. Life always supplies us with a sense of history. It is for history to supply us with a sense of life."
(The man is so gifted when he isn't writing whimsical little essays about pissy French waiters)
SUVs with "Support our Troops" bumper stickers are still fair game though...
Fucking right! Set 'em all on fire.
I've never been able to actually plow through a book by Pierre Burton. I take it as an reasonalbe goal, so maybe I'll try Vimy.