Historians do some of the best writing, but each only explains part of what happened. Asserting that this or that event, person, or idea was a key to what happened may be useful, but not the complete story.
Some tales of history distort or mislead more than they help our understanding. Narratives compete with one another, often more mythic than real.
The notion that those who fail to learn history are destined to repeat it is helpful only in the most limited manner. Details always differ, usually in important ways. Yet the past weighs heavily on all of us.
Most often, established policies, ways of belief and doing things continue, with minor blips represented by changes in who is sitting at the top of government, incremental changes in government programs, or the increase or decrease in one national economy with respect to others.
Every once in a while, something big happens.
The greatest in recent decades was World War II.
Its impacts did not end with the surrender of Germany and Japan, but continued with the collapse of colonial powers, a hundred or so new countries on the map, and the Cold War between the two powers of 1945.
World War II impacted on the great change in American government and society, usually assigned to the 1954 Supreme Court decision about integration. The earlier movement of Blacks out of the South and into the military and the war plants of the West and Middle West provided numbers and experiences that changed politics.
Then another event, not as great as World War II, but at least a minor game changer, was the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For Israel that meant a million immigrants from one of the world's most educated populations, with impacts on our universities, colleges, clinics, hospitals, and orchestras, and to some extent the underworld. Not all the immigrants added to our quality of life. Some subtracted from it.
From somewhere has come a surge in the prominence and problems of Islam.
- One can blame the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American response (in the midst of the Cold War) to recruit and arm Muslims, who produced the Soviet equivalent of Vietnam.
- The Iranian revolution made its contribution, helped along by the failure of the western puppet Shah to govern wisely, and the political flabbiness of Jimmy Carter to abandon him in the hope that something else would be better.
- George W. Bush did his part by destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein.
- Europe and the US turning against Muammar Qaddafi opened another country and its energy resources to chaos.
- The current innocent in the White House called for democracy and equality at the heart of then stable Egypt, and dumped a moderate ruler when it appeared to the White House that the Muslim Brotherhood was the great hope of the future.
- Somewhere in the mix is the incapacity of the Palestinians to accept anything less than turning back the clock, never to be done in a situation where history is murky and things continue. Their clamor about injustice adds its bit of noise to the region, with arguments about who are most unjust to the Palestinians, i.e., themselves, other Arabs, or Israel.
We're all paying the price for the ongoing rise of Islamists fighting one another. We see a combination of theologies and cultures that has taken the place of what had been orderly countries in national borders. Some dictators were inhumane to the extent of being barbaric, but the kept order amidst the potential for chaos..
Not a few are yearning for the return of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi.
Afghanistan never was a functioning state. Syria, Iraq, and Libya are no more, but vaguely defined areas where there are a multitude of separate conflicts involving movements, organizations, tribes, ethnic groups, and gangs, capable of recruiting thousands of enthusiasts who fight or support those who do, and often die in short order. Involved in the chaos are money and munitions from a list of countries that includes the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
What we've lost is the order created sometime in the 1960s with the filling out of the world map by independent countries that had been colonies ruled loosely from Europe. About Africa there were a few years of hope, now replaced by something between annoyance and indifference.
America's appetite for drugs has done its work to harm things in parts of Latin America, while its other countries are trapped in cycles of good years and bad, a long way from being major players.
The UN squawks and spends money, but is far from anything like the world government hoped for in the 1940s.
The European Union is one of the bright spots, but its future will depend on how the countries of hard workers deal with the countries of the incompetent and lazy, as well as the hoard of migrants coming from poverty in Africa and nastiness in the Middle East.
It'll take a while to see if the Islamic thing--however we choose to define it--continues to grow and becomes one of the great phenomenon that shapes much else, or runs out of steam and recedes into the books of historians.
The US is not without its own problems. Americans willing to look at international statistics for social indicators should start at the bottom to find their country. Claims from friends and relatives that dismal scores do not apply to their neighborhoods--or that personal firearms will protect them-- are flimsy evasions of the larger reality.
Israel remains a feisty island in a Muslim region, widely cursed by those who claim that its means of defense are not appropriate. Its status of being the greatest success of what happened as results of World War II and the later collapse of the Soviet Union will not satisfy critics who are anti-Semites, overly sensitive Jews, and others who say they are trying to be fair. Israel isn't perfect. However, those looking for Israel on international lists of social traits can start at the top, and its friends can tell all others to go jump.