Those who do not learn history…

…are doomed to repeat it.”.

Just watched a chillingly excellent documentary about ISIS. It’s origins, who, when and how it came to be and why it has proven to be so hard to kill, as described by many of the minor players involved, at least on the Western side. If you are still in doubt about what the methodology and consequences of Jihad are, or are unsure of what’s really been going on at a global geopolitical level then you had best watch the Frontline episode from May 17 2016, The Secret History of ISIS.

I’ve always enjoyed watching historical documentaries that interview the people that were there, trying to figure out WTF is going on as it happened, making decisions and taking or not taking action. Then following the consequences of that action or inaction over a long period using archival footage and interviews to build a historical framework that gives context to the struggle. In this case, the last 25 years of conflict in the Middle East. The major players have vastly different agendas but they all have a clear(ish) vision of where they want to end up and how they are going to achieve those goals as best they can, given their individual circumstances and motivations. Rarely are those motivations noble and their methods vary from bullying to barbaric to fucking medieval.

Sometimes, as I watch the nightly news, I feel like I’m watching a parody of newsreels of the late 1930’s or the days leading up to 9-11, mixed in with a dash of Frank Herberts “Dune”. Yes, I’m a bit of a geek. Chilling, in that I remember watching many of these images at the time and mentally disconnecting from what was happening to real people on the other side of the world and mostly just being glad it wasn’t happening to me. Just keep watching the puppet show and only pay attention to the fun stuff. Just because we don’t fully grasp what it all means doesn’t mean it’s not happening and that it won’t eventually affect us.

My point? I can’t shake the feeling we’re living through history right now. The kind of shit that in 50 or 100 years someone will make the definitive documentary about, piecing it all together with whatever information or material survives. Northern Iraq was the cradle of modern civilization and the birthplace of widespread agriculture in 3000BC among other things. It was also home to the Ancient Assyrians, who invented the standing professional army and savaged their enemies ruthlessly to keep their empire intact. Now, it is the heart of the Caliphate, a historical sea-change in the region and the World. ISIS is not any one person or state, it’s a belief and a cause and a path to power which many find seductive. A deep seated belief is a very difficult thing to extinguish especially if that is all you have in the world. Their tactics are to fight until exhausted then run away and hide until they rebuild their strength. Then, when they strike, we won’t know what hit us.

What worries me the most is, if it happens, what the Wests response will be and how far down the rabbit hole we all go. Who will be in charge of our response? (shudders)  History is full of powerful men who eventually become caricatures of themselves. Great men, in their minds.To others, monsters. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Ghengis Khan come to mind on the villain side. Churchill, FDR, Kennedy and Gorbachev spring to mind as their counters on the side of “good” . One thing they all share, to some degree or another is they are all Machiavellian at best and straight up psychopaths at worst. Where do our present and future crop of world leaders, on all sides, fit into this tableau? There are others who inhabited the spaces between, like Neville Chamberlain or Hindenburg, who become little more than footnotes to history, but played a key roll in how it all turned out. There are parallels to these players on the field today. I was struck how much Barack Obama reminded me of Chamberlain, a basically decent man trying to do what he thought was best but ultimately getting steamrolled by events beyond his control.

Call me paranoid but I can’t help but feel like the other shoe is about to drop. The thing to remember above all else, history is always written by the victor. Now, back to the puppet show…

 

 

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