March 30, 2006

On the Return of History

Yes, it will be coming around again....

In the darkness with a great bundle of grief the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people march:
       "Where to? what next?"

-- Carl Sandburg: The People Yes

IN THE DAYS AFTER THE TOWERS FELL, in the ash that covered the Brooklyn street where I lived at that time, in the smoke that rose for months from that spot across the river, when rising up in the skyscraper I worked in, or riding deep beneath the river in the subway, or passing the thousand small shrines of puddled candle wax below the walls with the hundreds of photographs of "The Missing," it was not too much to say that you could feel the doors of history open all about you.

Before those days, history happened elsewhere, elsewhen, to others. History did not happen to you. In your world, until that day, you lived in the time after history. There were no more doors in front of you, all history lay behind you. It was a given.

You would have, of course, your own personal history. You would live your life, no bigger or smaller than most others. You would meet people, have children, go to the job, enjoy what material things came your way, have your celebrations, your vacations, your possessions, and your dinner parties. You would hate and you would love. You would be loved and betrayed. You would have your little soap opera and the snapshots and emails to prove it. At some point or another you would die and be remembered by some for some time. Then it would all fade and the great ocean would just roll on. And that would be fine.

History was behind us. It was something our parents entered for a while during the war but they emerged into what was, essentially, the long peace. They'd had enough history, didn't want any more, and did what they could to keep history from happening. In general, the history of the Cold War is the history of what didn't happen punctuated by a few things every now and then such as Korea and Vietnam. But all in all, for over 50 years, history didn't happen.

With the end of the Soviet Union in a whimper and not a bang brighter than the sun on earth, history was officially over. The moment even got its own book, "The End of History," which stimulated an argument that even more than the book emphasized that history was over.

Most sensible people liked it that way. In fact, a lot of people really liked it that way. Because if history for the world was over, these people could get on making the history that really mattered to them: The History of Me.

More and more throughout the 90s "History" was "out," and "Me" was in. "Me," "Having My Space," "How to Be Your Own Best Friend," "Me, Myself, I," were hallmarks of that self-besotted age. The History of Me was huge in the 90s and rolled right through the millennium. It even had a Customized President to preside over those years; the Most Me President ever. A perfect man for the time and one who, in the end, did not disappoint in choosing "Me" over "Country." How could he do otherwise? It was the option his constituency of Many-Million-Mes elected him to select. I know because I was into Me then and I voted for him because, well, because he seemed to be "just like me." It was a sad day when "Me" couldn't run for a third term, but The Party of Me offered up "Mini-Me" and a lot of Mes turned out for him too.

Many millions of Mini-Mes were very upset when there weren't quite enough Mes in one state to put Mini-Me in office to continue with the wonderful Me-ness of it all. I voted for "Mini-Me" in 2000, but not because he really seemed like Me, but because he was the only thing out there that said he was Me.

Unlike millions of miffed Mini-Mes, I wasn't too upset when he didn't get in after stamping his feet and holding his breath. I suppose I should have. It was what all the really intense Mini-Mes were doing. But I'd already started to become disgusted with all the Me-ness that had been going around so long and this tantrum of the Mini-Mes just made me not want to hang around them. After all, we were well beyond the End of History by this point, so what did it matter?

Then on one bright and unusually fine New York September morning History came back with a vengeance we'd never seen before in the history of America. It came back and it stayed and stayed and stayed. The doors of history swung open again and we were all propelled through them into... what?

Nobody knows. Not the President, not his opponents, not the right, left, center, or just plain unhinged and now in low-earth orbit. We know how it began, but we don't know how it will end. We don't really know what's next. Indeed, we never know.

It was better when we lived in The History of Me. We knew how Me would end -- birth, fun, school, fun, job, fun, family, fun, age, fun, death and then ... probably fun, who knew, who cared? The meaning of this history was not deep but was to be found in the world "fun." Mini-Mes love fun. You could almost say it is their religion, a religion of fun. A funny concept, fun. Fills the space between birth and death. "He was a fun guy" could be a generic epitaph for the era.

Now we find ourselves back in history as it has always been and it is not fun. Not fun at all. The history of history has little to do with fun, almost nothing at all.

Most of the Mini-Mes don't know what to do in a history that isn't fun. All their lives have been about shaping history towards fun and they've been having a good run at it. They like it so much, they are now willing to do anything to bring it back -- the Kennedy Era, such elegant fun; the Clinton Years, "Hey, we partied like it was 1999." In the run-up to the last election and now for the next, there's been and there will be a lot of code swapped about getting the fun back in the game. "Remember the fun of the 90s? You can have it all back. Peace. Love. Understanding. Stock-market Boom. Money. Any number of genders can play." Indeed, these Merry Pranksters of our politics are setting up to run "The Bride of Fun" for President in 2008, even though it is clear she is the least fun of any of them.

Unlike "The Bride of Fun," Fun is very attractive. It is an illusion to Us now, but the Mini-Mes need Fun and want it back more than, well, life itself. The Mini-Mes talk a great game about groups, entitlement, empowerment, but their program really is, like fun, "all about Me."

This is not to say that the incumbent administration is the Second Coming in any way, shape or form. Nor is it to say that Me-ness doesn't dominate that bumbling faction as well. Washington is always about Me-Magnified. In a way, it is true to say that a lot of what is going on is a fight over which set of Mes shall be master. But that is always the case.

Still there are always "differences of degree," and it is on those differences that one must judge. Weighing the two, it seems to me clear that there is, within the core of the current party in power, at least the recognition that "fun" is no longer what we need to be about at this time. Indeed, there is an understanding there, backed with deeds and policies, however flawed in conception and execution, that our holiday from history is over and we need to get back to business if we'd like to be around in any kind of recognizable form by mid-century. There is even, if you look at it closely, a distinct lessening of "Me" and the beginnings of an "Us" on the peripheries of the Party. Not a lot, but when you look at the other, there is none. Only a yearning for the warm mud of Me.

History as it will now unfold will require little from Me but much from Us. I'd like to say that this country's going one way or another tomorrow will be the ruin of the nation. If I could I would be able to get my Me into the Punditocracy. But that is false. One result or another will not be the ruin of the nation for there is, as one of the founding fathers once remarked, "A lot of ruin in a nation."

Should the nation choose to continue in the elections of this year to move forward, to stay the course and continue the offensive, our encounter with history will move forward at much the same pace as it has these past four years, perhaps a bit accelerated. Should the nation choose to step back, to retreat, it will simply retard the process that grips it a bit more than otherwise might be the case. Neither result wil place us back in the History of Me no matter how many yearn for it.

History, having returned, will continue to happen, not to Me, but to Us.

We will have war whether we wish it or not. It will continue to be brought to us as it was brought for many years before we could see it in a pillar of flame by day and a pillar of smoke by night. We will be long in this wilderness, perhaps as long as forty years, and it will take a terrible toll from us, soldier and civilian alike; a toll we have not yet begun to see. Like all global wars in the past century, the war upon us will rise in violence until such time as we either capitulate, or find the will to kill our enemies wholesale. This is not what we would choose, but it is what we shall have.

We could, if we wished, withdraw every soldier from every inch of soil that is not American territory and leave them here inside our borders rusting for a decade. War will still come because war is already upon us, and wars do not end in staged withdrawals, but in either defeat or victory. The lessons of Vietnam and the Cold War teach this to us if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

In this First Terrorist War, the character of our leadership will make a difference to some degree, but it will not decide. It is who we are and who we shall become as a people that will decide. How that will be in the end, I do not know. What I do know is that history, no matter what they tell you, never comes to an end. And because of that, the one small thing that I have the power to do is to decide that I shall no longer vote for Me. I shall vote for Us.

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

Posted by Vanderleun at March 30, 2006 6:10 AM | TrackBack
Save to


"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Human Nature, it is a spinning carrousel, on this ride you have no idea how you got on, and you do not say when you exit the ride. The one sure thing of this historic carrousel, the ride is always the same.

Posted by: at March 30, 2006 6:47 AM

I have been avidly reading your work for months, and while all of your posts are good, this one was great.

Posted by: Jeff Crump at March 30, 2006 9:12 AM

Yet another winner!

Dr.Sanity, Shrinkwrapped, Neo-neocon, SC&A, OneCosmos, that courageous group of mental health professionals labels this "malignant narcissism". But....

"the warm mud of Me"

sings it.

Thank you for providing great mind pictures. It will now be "fun" to look upon the visages of Bill, Hill and the rest of the gang.

Posted by: LARWYN at March 30, 2006 9:55 AM

Beautifully written. I have travelled a path much like yours.

Posted by: Marc Schulman at March 30, 2006 10:23 AM

It is not often in this world of micro-second sound bites (both from traditional media and the blogoshpere itself) that something so simple - nay obvious - can sneak up on you and kick you in your mental ass. With stunning clarity, you have revitalized my faith in the essay as a modern communicative medium. (a passionate) Thank you, Gerard, for taking the time to compose, not just this essay, but the many that you author month in and month out.

Posted by: Derek Cockerham at March 30, 2006 11:14 AM

"It was dying but it laughed."..WhittakerChambers 1925

"they slouch toward their ruin with a vacant smile on their face."... Vasko Kohlmayer 3 30 06

"the warm mud of Me"....Vanderleun 3/30/06

We have such great minds on our side. What joy to find the nuggets each day.

One of the challenges that I keep posting in various comment sections is:

We put up 100 of ours and they put up 100 of theirs and these 200 submit to Functional PET Scans.

Imagine the fun! Chomsky and Churchill and Kos and Pelosi and Reid and that "fun One" against Vanderleun, Krauthammer, Thomas Lifson, Dinocrat,and on and on.

"Ghosts of a glorious past" by Kohlmayer is worth the read.
Click here: The American Thinker

And while you are at American Thinker - see what Borders and Waldenbooks is doing to promote Shari'a in the USA! Their CEO'S would be great inclusions to their 100.

Posted by: LARWYN at March 30, 2006 12:30 PM

The warm mud of Me.

Was THAT what they were screwing in at Woodstock? Suddenly makes more sense.

Why protest war, why try to beat draft? Because war is unpleasant; Boomer generation has spent entire existence trying to shut out all unpleasant experience, ridding selves of everything not enjoyable. War is not fun, ergo war is wrong.

When Greatest Generation determined as one to raise kids without fear and pain they lived through, I doubt they could have foreseen negative consequences of actions. Intending not to subject children to misery, they mollycoddled them. Created entire GENERATION of whiny spoiled brats.

Posted by: Rorschach at March 30, 2006 12:47 PM

Thank you once again, Gerard. One of the highlights of my day is reading your latest. "The Warm Mud of Me." I need to sent this to Bill and Hill. Given the subject matter, I felt I should ask you again, when do you think we might see the next installment of "The Sacrifice and the Reckoning"?


Posted by: Chester at March 30, 2006 12:52 PM

Simply outstanding. Thank you for that.

Posted by: Steve Schippert at March 30, 2006 2:01 PM

History does merit some consideration. My great grandmother, Ellen Ryan from Ireland owned two cows that she kept on Murrays farm in East Galesburg, Ill. She sold milk to Carl Sandburg's mother to feed Carl. The Sandburg's lived on Third Street, Ellen on Fourth. My dad was born across the street from the Sandburgs. The family history indicates that Mrs. Sandburg didn't always pay for the milk. But Mrs S did sell cookies and eggs to the neighbors to settle some of the expenses. You can go there now and visit Remembrance Rock. There is poetry there written in the stepping stones around the rock.

Posted by: McKiernan at March 30, 2006 2:02 PM

I expect part three of the Sacrifice and the Reckoning within the fortnight.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at March 30, 2006 2:37 PM

I forgot to add, the word my great grandmother listened to on a daily basis while milking her two cows was Moo. It apparently soaked into the milk given to young Carl Sandburg. Don't mind me Gerard, I once posted here under the name of Ellen whom you have previously informed is beyond repair. Thank you

Posted by: McKiernan at March 30, 2006 3:17 PM

I don't know how I first ended up here, but this is one of the most interesting and well written world of commentary in my universe. I liked the man who loved badly, but the return of history was great. Welcome back to reality, Space Traveller......... Doug

Posted by: LTC Doug Jorrey at March 30, 2006 3:55 PM Joseph Goebbels (or someone)once said, "...tell a big enough lie often enough, and it will become the truth..."
The presidency of the twenty first century has been so bathed in THE BIG LIE, it is wonderment that this presidency still functions. I am not talking about lies FROM the current administration. I am talking about the lies ABOUT it. Lies from the left, lies from the media, lies from the Democrat Party. George w. Bush's administration has kept the people's America free from further terrorist disaster (so far); George W. Bush has managed (with the help of Greenspan) to spare the country another recession at the beginning of the twenty first century. He has offered a reasonable and workable retirement program. And all he gets for his efforts is the BIG LIE perpetrated by the firmly implanted Socialist movement in America. Let's tell it like it is, and have the fortitude to see the most recent history for what it was...

Posted by: Dallie Vernon at March 30, 2006 4:45 PM

I expect part three of the Sacrifice and the Reckoning within the fortnight.

Good! I've been looking forward to that for a while.

I just hope history doesn't outpace you in the meantime. :)

But this essay will do to tide me over until then. This was a great one.

Posted by: rickl at March 30, 2006 6:03 PM

It seems intelligence is not the answer. On 9/11 something touched your heart and changed your mind. Again and again this quote from Whittaker Chambers excerpted from a letter to his children in the forward of his book, Witness, rings true.

"Man without God is a beast, and never more beastly than when he is most intelligent about his beastliness." --Whittaker Chambers

"In the morning, in the evening, ain't we got fun."

Thanks for all your great conversation along the road of happy destiny. Not knowing where in the heck I'm going isn't the problem it once was.

Posted by: Dennis at March 30, 2006 7:28 PM

Truly brilliant, and terrifying in its beauty.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at March 30, 2006 8:02 PM

It is unimaginable to me that I sat next to you and did not dedicate the entire evening to you and devote the whole of my attention and intellectual curiosoty to you.

Some things we never forget, always regret.


Posted by: Pamela aka Atlas at March 30, 2006 8:13 PM

PIMF curiosity

FUCK again

Posted by: Pamela aka Atlas at March 30, 2006 8:14 PM

Even if Gerard's attitude about rain still needs a little work, and further granted that he's several dozen fleece garments short of true native status, still we know how lucky we are here in Seattle. Never underestimate the power of slug-tenders and fish-tossers to steal the big talent :)

Posted by: AskMom at March 30, 2006 10:45 PM

You are speaking the truth. Don't stop now.

Posted by: Nana at March 30, 2006 10:55 PM

This article was great. The mini-mes are the Me's of Freud and Marcuse. Marcuse thought we were entering a new phase in civilisation where the 'pleasure' principle would overcome the 'work' principle. It's all about Fun.

Posted by: Matt Schrank at March 31, 2006 12:55 AM

Are we having fun yet?

Posted by: Mumblix Grumph at March 31, 2006 3:39 AM

It was once said of third baseman Brooks Robinson that "he plays like he came down from a higher league." That's the feeling I have about this essay.

Extraordinary even by your standards, Gerard. Congratulations.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at March 31, 2006 4:10 AM

Why liberals supported Clinton no matter what: He was the embodiment of their own solipsistic, self-absorption; Me writ large. Maxi-me.

Good post.

Posted by: Mike Walsh at March 31, 2006 4:28 AM

Wasn't the 70's supposed to have been the 'me' decade?

I guess some things don't change.

Posted by: Eric Blair at March 31, 2006 5:06 AM


Posted by: Good lookin' & Smart at March 31, 2006 9:18 AM

[Editor's Note: Material deleted in order to save trees.]

if u feel like ranting at me please do.i thrive on arguments.

Posted by: Karim Qaiser at April 1, 2006 8:28 AM

How boring you are. The "9/11 changed everything" is patently false.People die -sometimes out of hatred- get over it. More Americans died in one day in many small engagements during WWII and the Civil War than were killed on 9/11. More Americans are killed every year because they drink or drug and crash their cars or kill their spouses with hand guns-thousands more.The death of 3k people does not justify the death of 30k Iraqi civilians, or over 2k brave and patriotic young people in our Armed Forces.

Fuykiyama was wrong about history ending, and you are just as wrong as saying it's begun again.History is what happened a second ago,last week,a thousand years ago,etc.People who only read right wing blogs,conservative newspapers,or watch Fox News,and hav'nt read any history books should keep their opinions to themselves.Opinions are not facts.And as for Bill and Hill-he was a Rhodes Scholar and she was number one in her class at Yale Law. Dubya was a C student and a cheerleader-that's history for you.

Posted by: Samuel N. Peebles at April 1, 2006 4:52 PM

I see even the mini-mes read Van der Leun.

You must be proud Gerard. Or feel in need of a shower. Perhaps both.

That was a damned fine essay. I wish I wrote half as well. Thank you very much.

Posted by: Kevin Baker at April 1, 2006 8:47 PM

It seems two recent posters have been over at Babs' blog copying down conspiracy theories to paste here. With extra added proofreading bloopers and logic flaws, of course, not that Babs isn't world class in that respect already.

Don't these trolls have "Re-elect Gore" bumper stickers to tattoo on their foreheads or something?

Samuel, if you'd read a tenth of what Gerard probably has, you wouldn't be reduced to snarking on someone else's website. And Karim, if you ever learn to make a coherent case, then we can have a rational argument with you. I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: askmom at April 1, 2006 8:58 PM

{Editor's note: Material deleted on the basis of raving lunacy.}

Posted by: Karim Qaiser at April 1, 2006 10:17 PM

Great article!

I think, though, it's not just the return of history, but the return of a particular age of history as well.

There was the history of antiquity, where people fought over territory and food and race and other such down-to-earth things. That was the age of the Assyrians and the Romans. Then, in the Middle Ages, people still fought for material gains, but their chief driving force was religion. That was the age of the Saracens, Charles Martel, the Reconquista, the Thirty Years War and the Ottoman sieges of Vienna.

In the course of the 18th and 19th centuries religion grew less important, and people were back to the history of antiquity, fighting over ancestry and economy. That rehash of antiquity came to its peak in World War 2, when the blood of millions was spilled on account of racial theories. After that, the Cold War played out over economic theories, until the USSR imploded in 1991. It was then that people thought the End of History had arrived.

But from that fearful day in September 2001, we've come back to medieval history: the war of the Christian West against the Saracens, with a modern Charles Martel and Jan Sobieski (sp?) much needed.


Posted by: Richard Lund at April 2, 2006 5:35 AM

Great essay Gerard, one of your finest....

Posted by: Alexandra at April 2, 2006 12:13 PM

I have searched many blogs looking for a fitting replacement for the beautiful essays by Bill Whittle at Eject Eject Eject, who had to go back to earning a living. This essay is the first one that fills that void. Thank you.

Posted by: BoiseBB at April 2, 2006 4:07 PM

It's about time we started talking about the "me generation" again - and their legacy. "Don't get fooled again" they used to sing, for "the new boss is same as the boss". How much longer must we endure the guilt-tripping screeds of viagra popping ponytail clad boomers who have become all to much like the thing they used to hate? Meanwhile, my nameless generation forerly known as X works behind the scenes to get by trying not to complain to much and start fixing the problems. I wish they would listen to you Sir- it gives me hope that more can be saved.

Posted by: Count Grecula at April 2, 2006 9:31 PM

For some reason your essay evoked Al Stewart's "Between the Wars". Here's a part of "Laughing Into 1939"


Party hat and satin dress
Silver paper curled in her long black hair
Tapping one small elegant shoe in time
Oh, the way she plays with them
Smile at one, then dance with another
Pretty soon they're forming up a line
And she's laughing, laughing into 1939
Oh, laughing, laughing into 1939

Oh, the party draws them in
It breathes and moves
To a life its own
In its arms it's gathering all time


For tonight is New Year's Eve
Uncork your spirits and welcome it in
Who knows what it's got up its sleeve
Can't wait for it all to begin
Stand by the girl with the purple balloon
The look in her eyes just lights up the room
In the corner of her smile
She'll be seeing you soon
Under a mistletoe moon

Out on to the balcony
Come the King and Queen
And the crowd go wild
He's a little bit nervous
But that's just fine
And they're laughing, laughing into 1939
Oh, laughing, laughing into 1939

Posted by: dymphna at April 5, 2006 9:25 PM

Samuel! Of course! A surprise attack on 3000 innocent civilians, including the loss of a million jobs, is exactly like the accidental deaths on the highway, or people killed in battles! We shouldn't regard them as different as all. Why have medicine for diseases? Why have fire departments? It's all just generic "death," right?

Now don't be shy with your facts of history. What's the "rest of the story" about Clinton's Rhodes Scholarship studies and where Bush got his C's? C'mon now, you must know the answer or you wouldn't have brought it up.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at April 8, 2006 6:57 AM

I agree, this one was great.

Posted by: Dan Winters at April 22, 2006 10:15 AM
Post a comment:

"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated to combat spam and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Remember personal info?