Sunday, March 27, 2005

Fallout, Backspin and the Strangeness of History

Who would have ever believed that Terri Schiavo would have become the fulcrum around which swung an entire country. If the Beatles claimed to be more famous than Jesus, surely this woman will glean at least a footnote when the annals are written (or blogged). Billmon got me to thinking this morning. He refers to Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle" which was written in 1936, and Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia," which was written after the end of the Spanish Civil War (actually, it was published in 1952 after his death.) Both involved Communists, and, in both the Communists were the nasty players. Not because of what they believed in (and both Orwell and Steinbeck sympathized with the goals of their characters) but with their methods. While Steinbeck's is set in the US and involves machinations of a Communist organizer against the goons of corporate America (hard to pick a winner there), Orwell was describing the effect of blowback from the Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union on the Communist factions in Spain. A particular gruesome experience, if I remember the book. (Allen Furst describes it as well in "Night Soldiers" ).

The point here is that History is written not by the victors, but by the survivors. Spain continued under the victors of the Spanish Civil War, the Falangists, until the death of Franco in 1975. Until that time, the Spanish people, I assume, labored under the Falangist's history of the Civil War. One can imagine how that was described. (For an interesting historical experience, go to this page and see how many of the links are no longer functioning. Is this not like what Winston Smith did in Orwell's 1984 (I had originally written George Winston)? By erasing links we may be changing History. Of course the blogs do not have the same "reality" as a written book, or oral history. Or do they?) However, even during the 1960's when my classmate was reading "Homage to Catalonia" (he was a liberal when we were all J. Edgar Hoover anti-communists), the real history of that civil War was known. Of course it was history that was interesting to us, maybe not the Spanish people. Maybe both sides exist now.

But back to this unfortunate drama in and out of a hospice in Florida. By seizing on this for political gain, a number of actors may find that they have rechanneled the flow of History into areas that they didn't really want to see watered (c.f. the Milagro Beanfield War, now that we are talking of Wars). In particular, it is quite possible that many Americans will begin to wake up and see just how disastrous this right wing juggernaut could be to their lives and livlihood. If the polls are any indication, George Bush is in deep trouble. And those poll numbers tanked when his chicanery in the Schaivo story became obvious. (As did the poll numbers of Congress, but then, as Mark Twain said, "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.").

The point here is that we have no idea how History will write itself. And trying to alter History by killing off the players, as Stalin did such a great job of in the 1930's, eventually comes out in the wash. Is it possible that there was one Russian in the early 1950's who could have imagined that Stalin would someday be known mainly as a butcher? He and Hitler and Mao were the sun that never sets whilst they were alive.

Is the country finally coming to its senses via the unusual situation of a dying woman? If it does, she should become one of our civil Saints. But for sure, we have absolutely no way of knowing how History will be written. On either side of the divide. I have said this before, no novelist could have concocted the drama that is playing out. The editor would have told them that the plot was just unbelievable. History has its zingers. Our day and age provides an abundance. Who would have known that Paul Wolfowitz wanted the job at the World Bank so he could be getting a little nookie.


EG said...

Dr. C,

Great post. One can only hope that America's eyes are finally beginning to open and see what the radical conservatives are doing to our country.

However, no matter what the outcome, 'historians' write history from their beliefs. Note the two versions of the Civil War ('states rights' vs. slavery). The outcome is the same but the perspective of the historical reasons are different. No doubt the Terri Schiavo affair will have at least two variations despite having the same outcome.

Dr. C said...

Thanks E.G. It is hard to imagine that the position of the South (which I subscribed to a little as a youth, having been born in the South) still holds any credence. But you are right, it has recently raised its ugly head. The Undead are always with us.