I caught the fascinating History Boys on cable, the film version of Alan Bennett's playwith the original stage director and cast. I liked the provocative and frequently contradictory views. I have always vehemently disagreed, for example, with the taboo on understanding causes of the Holocaust, which is summed up well by one of the characters: “To put something in context is a step towards saying it can be understood and that it can be explained. And if it can be explained then it can be explained away.”
But in these twilight days of the Bush presidency, when so many analysts are rushing to judgment, I have been mulling over this quip:
Our perspective on the past alters. Looking back, immediately in front of us is dead ground. We don't see it, and because we don't see it this means that there is no period so remote as the recent past.
There is so much work to be done (or undone), that it’s tempting to simply dismiss him as the worst president ever. But without a contextual—even provisional—narrative of how he came to stand at the center of history, we are so much more likely to repeat all the mistakes of the past eight years. And we simply can’t afford that.