By Craig G. Campbell
On the face of it, the commutation of the jail sentance of I. Lewis Libby Jr. smacks of all that is emblematic of the George W. Bush presidency. It seems ludicrous that a man convicted of perjuring himself before a federal grand jury can have his sentence and justice, commuted in the blink of an eye? But what is even more disturbing, is that the whole world is now a witness to this farce whose face stands before the American people and the mirror of history. No one can look upon America without sensing a profound ambivalence in our moral and cultural standards; something for which this president apparently stood.
Any pronouncement on the Libby case will certainly go down in the annals of jurisprudence as an extraordinary case whose legacy is far from over. Even as you read this editorial, pundits, publishers and purveyors of the media are signing book contracts, preparing documentaries and reviewing legal precedence to create an editorial output and frenzy we havent seen since Watergate. Yes, it is all too familiar a feature that the more attention we give to an event, the more it seems to morph into something else. Suddenly, history loses its bite as we fall unconscious before the sweet tongue of the familiar outrage.
The current debacle that the United States finds itself in is no accidental tourist. The Iraq War, the War On Terrorism, the clash between secrecy and freedom, the confrontation between democracy and theocracy, all are reminiscent of historical precedence in the long corridors of time. The incremental events that precipitated the decline of the Roman Empire and the Goths invading Rome, is a well-used metaphor that is about to be given a new face. And, as Alexander the Great was said to have wept when he had nothing left to conquer, so the democratic and republican parties are lining up for a 2008 presidential ad campaign that will make the 2004 Asian tsunami seem like a pond ripple. Are there enough tissues to keep us from weeping at our own incredulity?
Though these words may perjure themselves before history, we must take seriously the events and historical facts that we, as individuals and as a nation, find ourselves in. Barbara W. Tuchman, an American historian noted for her clarity and insightful read of history, wrote in her book, The March of Folly, that governments often pursued policies contrary to their own interest. To illustrate her point, Tuchman portrayed four historical events and the folly in pursuing them.1 As Tuchman asserts, each of these historical events were precipitated by four elements of mis-governance: 1. tyranny or oppression; 2. excessive ambition; 3. incompetence or decadence; 4. folly or perversity. Governmental Folly for Tuchman consisted of three facets: 1. it is counterproductive in its own time and not after-the-fact; 2. practical and feasible alternatives were available; 3. the policy pursued is not adopted by one person but is part of a group process. The Iraq War and the small role that Libby played as part of this folly, characterize exactly what Tuchman presaged in her book. As the British statesman Lord Acton said so adroitly, We learn from the study of history, that we learn nothing from the study of history.
If we are to learn anything from history, it is this: nothing we think or do can escape the mirror of time. The events that transpire before us did not come forth ex nihilo without reference to personal or collective perception. Nor can we evade the necessity of having to confront what it is that we have created. Just as our national leadership fails to distinguish between perception and reality, so we pursue individually and collectively policies contrary to our own best self-interest. The facts remain. They speak for themselves as each of us speaks for our own lives and the orbit of our own creation. What needs to change is not history or time or the events that transect our lives, but the consciousness that is the foundation of our perceptions. Either we go to the field of consciousness and transform our lives and their meaning, or we remain as victims perpetually adrift in our own unconsciousness. The nation is a mirror of our interior life. We have no one to turn to but ourselves for any measure of growth, clarity and sustainability. To do else is, as Tuchman pronounced, the march of folly.
Craig G. Campbell is a local author and advocate of consciousness based education.
1. The four historical events are: the Trojan Horse; the Renaissance Popes and the Protestant movement; the Revolutionary War and the American Colonies; and the Vietnam War.
from the Aug 15-21, 2007, issue