Lane's column reminded me of another historical obfuscation from that part of the world. "The Worst of the Madness" is a chilling survey of the blood-soaked history of Poland and points east -- Belarus, the Baltics, Ukraine, and the western periphery of Russia. Last year, Ann Applebaum wrote in The New York Review of Books that this region:
... experienced the worst of both Stalin's and Hitler's ideological madness. During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, the lethal armies and vicious secret policemen of two totalitarian states marched back and forth across these territories, each time bringing about profound ethnic and political changes...
Between 1933 and 1945, fourteen million people died there, not in combat but because someone made a deliberate decision to murder them...
Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian... argues that we still lack any real knowledge of what happened in the eastern half of Europe in the twentieth century. And he is right: if we are American, we think "the war" was something that started with Pearl Harbor in 1941 and ended with the atomic bomb in 1945. If we are British, we remember the Blitz of 1940... and the liberation of Belsen. If we are French, we remember Vichy and the Resistance. If we are Dutch we think of Anne Frank. Even if we are German we know only a part of the story.
Amid our frequent and heartfelt invocations of the Holocaust and its lessons, how often do we -- here in the West -- speak of those 14 million victims? Shouldn't cultural literacy include knowing about Polish heroism in the defense of Britain? Will the truth about SACO leaven Chinese views of America? Finally, and most troublingly, how much of the history that we "know" is as incomplete and incorrect as these examples?
Today the U.S. remains mired in two seemingly endless overseas campaigns. Even sanguine observers suspect that the Bomb Iran confederacy is only in temporary abeyance until developments in North Africa and Arabia can be repackaged into a digestible McNarrative. In such fraught times, the recurrent faults in history should induce severe modesty in our pundits and policy-makers. Truth can be obscured by innocent solipsism as easily as venal disregard. Facts once known can be easily lost or banished. Santayana surely doesn't imply that even if we embrace it, we ever actually know the past. History is as much minefield as map.
I view Jim's blog posts -- and those of his office-mates -- as outlines for a first draft of history. With all the world's data-gathering tools at our disposal, we can attempt to understand the present, even if "to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle".
In this quick turn on Jim's podium, I am covering my own peculiar interests: analytic decision-making, management and entrepreneurship, South Asia, and flying. I confess to an additional, covert, agenda: to imbue issues not usually mentioned here with the possibility of history.
Sanjay Saigal is founder and CEO of Mudrika Education, Inc., with offices in Silicon Valley, CA and Delhi, India.
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is a staff writer for The Atlantic
and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,
which has been a New York Times
best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.