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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Those who can't remember the past...

Time away is good for recharging batteries and getting a fresh perspective. And the farther away you go, the better the perspective.

After my first visit to London, I came home thinking "so that's where Boston came from." This trip produced the "duh" moment -- a lot more than Boston came from the UK.

Wandering through the National Portrait Gallery is a sharp reminder of George Santayana's oft-used observation "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Room upon room brings back the violent history of wars and beheadings, of the clash between The Church of England and the Church of Rome.

But when you get to Room 14, with George III on one wall and George Washington on another, you are stuck by yet another thought -- how the arrogance of the British Empire sowed the seeds of its downfall.

The British under George III thought they were masters of all they surveyed. That uppity little colony on the other side of the Atlantic could be brought to its knees -- whether by taxation or weapons. After all, the sun never set on the British Empire.

History teaches us that was so very, very wrong. But our very own George III doesn't seem to recognize the obvious. A careful review of his steps and missteps suggest the American Empire can suffer a similar fate, brought down by its own wrong-headed insistence that the only correct course of action is that dictated by the world's reigning superpower.

The Brits, on the other hand, have learned well from their mistakes. London is a vibrant city of diverse cultures -- where Muslims in hijabs walk past Jews with tzizith with nary a head turned. (They have also learned airport security techniques far better than their American allies, but that's another story).

That history lesson was reinforced with the breaking news that Alberto Gonzales finally, mercifully stepped down. While the BBC did its level best to be the "fair and balanced" news sources that Rupert Murdoch only pays lip service to, the commentary clearly suggested amazement that Gonzo hung on as long as he did.

But the best example of the British recognition of history's lesson came from the pointed words of a tour guide, making repeated references to "Tony Bush" and offering his own view that his nation was far better off without our own George III's "poodle."

It's still not too late to learn. But frankly, I'm skeptical. When a US senator pleads guilty to a crime, then claims he is a the victim of a newspaper's "witch hunt" in reporting it, I think we may be heading irrevocably down that slippery slope.

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