Skip to comments.Great Mistakes and Great Men
Posted on 09/06/2001 2:09:10 PM PDT by sheltonmac
Some years ago a Catholic historian took stock of the Second Vatican Council, held in the early Sixties. He noted that the condition of the Church since the Council had far surpassed the darkest predictions and worst fears of the reactionaries.
Prophets of doom are commonly held in derision, but they are often right. In fact they sometimes understate the worst possibilities, and events show not that they were correct, but that history held grim surprises even for those who were trying to imagine what could go wrong. Time may make a Cassandra look like a cockeyed optimist.
Opponents of the U.S. Constitution feared that it would result in big government. They couldnt dream how big the federal government would actually become, far exceeding in size, scope, and power what had been called the tyranny of George III. Nor did they foresee such collateral results as the Civil War and U.S. involvement in two world wars.
If those pessimists said to us now, Well, we tried to warn you, defenders of the Constitution might reply that these things happened because the Constitution was abandoned or perverted. The pessimists might fairly argue: But you said it was a foolproof plan! You said its built-in safeguards would prevent the centralization of power! Evidently you were wrong.
Again, both sides in the Civil War expected a short contest. A few months of skirmishing, and everything would be settled. One pessimist warned that it might last three years and take tens of thousands of lives; it lasted four years and claimed 620,000 lives.
One Southern senator nearly called it right. Alexander Stephens of Georgia warned that if the South seceded, it would mean a war the South could only lose. And in that case, the North would be able to do everything the South accused it of wanting to do. He was correct. Secession backfired, bringing on the Souths worst fears and then some.
Today the isolationists the patriots who wanted the United States to stay out of World War II are spoken of as if they were obviously wrong. But they were only wrong in failing to see just how bad the consequences of the war would be.
Japan and Germany were defeated, but they were replaced by a far more terrifying enemy: the Soviet Union, which, shortly after the war, posed a threat to this country that Japan and Germany never did. Apart from seizing ten countries in Central Europe, the Soviets acquired a nuclear arsenal with which they could annihilate American cities. Before the war, nobody had imagined this even as a remote possibility. It was our alliance with the Soviet Union that enabled its spies and sympathizers to lay their hands on American nuclear secrets.
In the Sixties, a few prescient people warned that escalating the war in Vietnam might result in a conflict as serious as the Korean War. Actually, more Americans finally died in Vietnam than in Korea.
At about the same time, Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. He pledged that if his new programs failed to eliminate poverty, they would be abandoned. Conservative skeptics warned that the programs wouldnt work, which was true enough; but none foresaw how devastating the welfare system would be to the cities and black family life. Yet even when the damage was obvious, the programs proved politically hard to reverse.
One of the odd things about our mistakes is that after we commit ourselves to them, it becomes difficult even to perceive them as mistakes. We adapt to them, justify them, become dependent on them, and forget the alternatives to them, until we no longer have the mental detachment we had before we made them. They become almost impossible to disown, and we sacrifice our judgment to them.
And over time, our wrong turns are normalized and exalted as steps in the epic of progress. Anyone who proposes to correct them is given the standard homily: We cant turn back the clock!
Its amazing how seldom societies ask themselves, before making a fateful decision, some simple questions: What if this turns out to be a disastrous mistake? Will we be able to undo it?
Maybe thats why history sometimes looks like a tragic trail of irreversible blunders, and why those who made them are commemorated as our greatest men. After all, who wants to build monuments in honor of pessimists?
There's something to be said for fine print. :-)
The problem is the writers (of the Constitution and Vatican II documents) were too honest and so also more than just a little naive not to dot every i and cross every t.
Now we're paying for it.
Never underestimate the ingenuity of fools.
To learn from your mistakes, you must first realize that you are making mistakes.
Contrary to what Sobran says, neither supporters nor opponents of the Constitution would've been shocked by our current predicament. Bitterly disappointed, but not shocked. They knew, and stated repeatedly, that power tends to expand and liberty tends to shrink. Since our government has overstepped the bounds of the Constitution, what makes you think they would have obeyed the Articles? Would politicians be more honorable? The Constitution, however, gave us a system of checks and balances that has slowed the progress of expanding power. Madison himself admitted it's not the best protection for liberty, though. The best protection for liberty is vigilance on the part of the people, and checks merely help vigilance out. In fact, checks and balances are one more thing we should be vigilant about protecting. We relaxed our guard, and the dishonorable successors to the Founding Fathers took advantage of it for all it was worth. That would've happened just as much under the Articles of Confederation, since human nature would be the same.
Au contrare! It was the imbeciles in charge of our foreign policy and pro-communist butt-kissers of Stalin, this includes FDR, Eisenhower, and their cronies, who sold out this country, and all of Central and Eastern Europe to the Reds. In 1945, General George Patton warned what was to come if Eisenhower made him stop his armored advance at the Czechoslovak border. They shit-canned Patton to shut him up, by relieved him of his command, and disbanded the victorious U.S. Third Army. An Iron Curtain descended upon Europe, millions were murdered by our red "ally," and we are still suffering from the effects.
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