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Relativism and History

Recently, I had an argument with a friend.

My friend comes from a different culture and a different military tradition, and he told me his point of view on a set of events from the not-so-distant past. In fact, from the military history past so very recent…

…that I had been there myself.

I have written before on this bully pulpit on the Holocaust and what I think of those who deny it, but I’m coming to realize that I, as an amateur historian, am very naive about the willingness of people around me to manipulate the facts of history to suit any cause, any race, any nationality—so long as the final story is palatable. Americans, for example, prefer to pretend the Abu Graib didn’t happen—or they say, in effect ‘there must have been reasons for it.’ Well, yes, there were reasons. There were reasons why U.S. Servicemen conducted torture interrogations. But they weren’t good reasons, or moral reasons, or even vaguely necessary reasons.

Is it so hard to say ‘I was wrong?’ Is it so hard to say ‘My people were wrong?’ How about ‘The empire my forefathers and mothers created did some bad things?’

Alexander, God of War, has been out for a while now, and I can tell you that it is not popular among those who view Alexander as a cult figure in Greek and Macedonian ‘civilization.’ Apparently, even with a man who has been dead for more than two thousand years, we aren’t yet ready to say—‘He was wrong.’ We have a million excuses. Because people were different back then. The rules were different. I recently heard a person say that ‘They didn’t have morality then.’ Goodness, didn’t they? Who was that Aristotle guy, then?

A million excuses, and none of them any more valid than the ones offered for Abu Graib. Or Srebrenica.