8 – The Poverty of Hindsight (19 Jan 09)

    As the Bush years are now one day away from finally drawing to a close, what occurs to me is how much is lost in writing from hindsight. Sure, the gains that come with it are not open to dispute: often a better perspective as earlier unknown elements of the story fall into place, or revelations emerge that give it a dramatic twist. But there is something about the immediate experience of an event that, when conveyed with an effort, may contain knowledge about it that will be very difficult to recapture at a later stage. Which is why historians like diaries.
    Some knowledge just simply disappears. George Orwell understood this when writing about the Spanish Civil War and being sure that what he himself had learned about it from direct experience would never enter generally accepted historical records. Two striking examples from my own experience come immediately to mind: the last days of Saigon before North Vietnamese regulars took over the city in April 1975, and never-explained aspects of what happened during the horrific Kobe Earthquake and its aftermath in January 1995.
     I experienced the Bush years in a special, haunting manner. I had just embarked and a writing project centered on the bureaucratization of many activities and the part that misguided economic theory played in the expansion of world poverty, when my wife called me to our TV set in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Towers on September 11. That event changed my life too. Its immediate repercussions prompted me to write Can The United States Become Serious Again for a Japanese magazine. The article led to an early book on what I began to see as George W. Bush’s destruction of world order. It only came out in Japanese and Dutch translations, but I could not stay away from its disturbing theme and connected subjects, and I continue to think and write about them.
     I can tell you right away that the hindsight we are now getting from the media around us is not worth much; I am tempted to say that it is not worth anything at all. One thing, among many others, that the Bush years have taught us, once and for all, is that the properly nicknamed “corporate media” or “establishment media” are almost entirely untrustworthy.
But a spectacular media phenomenon emerged that I called samizdat reporting (after the once flourishing mimeographed underground literature in the Soviet Union) that we could find on the Internet. I came to love those authors, and I will try to honor them in jottings to come. I owe them much. And so does the American nation.
     They are the ones that ought to be enshrined in your memory as offering anchors for political sanity. Cancel all journalistic prizes until they have been properly recognized and honored. They were not indulging in “left leaning” opinion – which it was acknowledged they were allowed to do – they were giving you approximations to the truth.
     Some mainstream papers had courageous editors, who deserve to be in that number. A few carried some articles that I wrote for the New York Times Syndication Service. Two of these articles were about developments I considered of cardinal importance at the time — America’s Orwellian War and The Loss of American Hegemony.