Who Killed Roger Rabbit and Started Gulf War II?

My remarks on the late Don Rumsfeld sparked a set of responses that evolved into discussing the cause of the Second Gulf War. It may be worth a little time to wonder if such explanations are of any value.
 
A specific act of aggresssion is rarely triggered by a single incident, whether it is the sinking of the Lusiannia or the battleship Maine or the firing on Ft Sumter or the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo. Bush II, like other recent Presidents, was looking for a pretext, to help Bush family allies in the oil business, to gain glory, and perhaps even to get revenge for his father.
 
If a large number of Americans were upset by the death of a few thousand strangers, it is a sign of their foolish naivete--the result of many generations of brainwashing. No one seems especially disturbed by our annual highway death toll of 38,000, much less by the deaths of perhaps millions of Iraqis during two wars and an embargo. A dog you know and love means more to you than a million abstract strangers.  No matter how often we beat our breasts for the victims of 911 or Hiroshima or Dresden, of Fort. Pillow or the victims of slavery, we usually manage to proceed with our dinner plans and our sports events..
No one in that administration seems to have thought through their policy, and Bush I told #II not to do it, unless he met certain preconditions--such as solid support among allies--which he did not.
 
The search for single causes of events is, alas, the hallmark of the modern American mind. Small wonder that we are so prone to fall for conspiracy theories, whether racialist, religious, or the monster from Jekyl Island. Perhaps one influence on this are the simplistic mysteries and thrillers we read and watch. (Or perhaps we like mysteries because of our simplified minds.)
 
It is interesting to contrast an Hercule Poirot or Perry Mason story with the first great piece of detective fiction, Sophocles' Oedipus. Simple-minded moderns--the wort of which are English professors--like to say the hero is a victim of fate. One of them even told me once that Chesterton was the source of this mistake, even though GKC said the opposite. The play initially has the hero embarking on the search for a murderer, only to find out that he is the guilty one. It his very self-reliant confidence about finding the truth that is his great sin.
 
The wisest author of a detective novel, Carlo Emilio Gadda is the rare exception. Here is his characterization of his detective,  Comissario Ingrivallo:
 
"He sustained among other things that unforeseen catastrophes are never the consequence or the effect, if you prefer, of a single motive, of a cause singular, but they are rather like a whirlpool, a cyclonic point of depression in the consciousness of the world, toward which a whole multitude of converging causes have contributed."
 
Gadda's novel, Quer brutto pasticcccio a Via Merulana, is virtually impossible to translate, because of the multiple dialects used, but William Weaver did a competent job by ignoring the dialects, but in an America divided between the BLM and JBS conspiracy mindsets, don't hold your breath wating for a Quentin Tarantino move based on the Gadda novel.
As postscript, the simplifying heresy is rife among historians. Lately I've been rereading Procopius, and while he is much too prone to ascribe events to the power of Fortune, his brilliant narrative and his portraits of the personalities involved--the great general Belisarius, Constantinus who tries to kill him, the very competent but envious eunuch Narses, the Gothic king Witigis--allow the reader to get into the story and draw his own conclusions. The complexity and depth of his understanding does not reappear in historical writing for about 1000 years and then only among Byzantine and Italians. Too many Medieval chroniclers see history as a morality play in which God rewards the good and punishes the faithless. Interestingly, Procopius' immediate successor, Agathias, who admires the great historian but takes exception to his view of fate, also says he will never ascribe evil to the author.
 
 

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

9 Responses

  1. Jacob Johnson says:

    I do not know when this started, but the way in which history is presented in school trains the subjects to look for single-point explanations of historical events. I was told by elders that the standard testing in history classes of the past used to consist of submitting a single paper at the end of the term, after having read the assigned reading list and discussing that which was read in class. I do not remember any testing in elementary school, just being read things like Johnny Tremain and The Red Badge of Courage by the teacher. Beginning in middle school we had multiple choice tests is the history classes, with questions like: Why did Thomas Jefferson buy the Louisiana Territory from the French? Circle A.,B.,C., or D., as if there was one reason that the event took place.

  2. Thomas Fleming says:

    Excellent point! If you have seen some of the recent fulminations against college students issued by professors who fall rather short of Zeus or Thor, you will have read their disgust with students who cannot answer the multiple choice question of what the Civll War was fought over (Slavery), or the cause of America’s entry into WW I (German submarine attacks. Contrast this with Herodotus and Thucydides, who put a variety of arguments in the mouths of participants, who cite different motives. At the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides says the Corinthians told the Spartans that the Athenians were remorseless imperialists, while the Athenians look on the Spartans as envious of their success. A solid narrative account, such as Thucydides, Xenophon, Tacitus, Polybius, and Procopius offer allows the reader to participate in the experience and, while the author may lead readers by their noses, they are left free to think. The Whig-Progressive theory encourages us to regard our predecessors as ignorant and irrational anticipations of ourselves, so of course King Charles was deposed and killed by the right sort of people who children expelled James II. A similar treatment is accorded, by every generation, to the rebels of 1776, who were once heroes of Anglo-Saxon liberties and are now bigots looking for the chance to murder Indians and Lynch Negroes. Southern nationalists and sympathizers, who saw this coming decades ago are enjoying the pleasures of Schadenfreude now that Northern heroes and symbols are under attack. This is one of many reasons by David Hume is indispensable if you want to free your mind from twaddle.

  3. Allen Wilson says:

    Of course you are right on every point you have made here, Dr Fleming. Now that you have mentioned Hume, I’m going to do something long overdue and obtain Hume’s History of England. Hopefully also Procopius, also long overdue. Finding the time to read them may be rather difficult.

  4. Michael Strenk says:

    I am constantly in awe of the sheer arrogance of the most ignorant bimbos in thinking that they are the absolute pinnacle of human achievement because, monkey-like, they can roll boogers across a tiny screen and obtain the secrets of the universe. We have become a cargo cult of technology worshipers. I read somewhere that the ancient Greeks invented the steam engine, but were apparently too “primitive” to imagine how it might be used, utilitarian Yankee-wise, to dominate the elements and disenfranchise their fellow citizens. It’s enough to make one run screaming out of one’s igloo, buck naked, into the winter night.

  5. Robert Reavis says:

    It has been discovered that with a dull urban population, all formed under a mechanical system of State education, a suggestion or command, however senseless and unreasoned, will be obeyed if it be sufficiently repeated.“
    Belloc in the Restoration of Property

  6. William Shofner says:

    The simple mind always looks for the simple answer. Rene’ Girard contents that most people look for ….and find…a scape goat for the source of their troubles. But when we find, and then hang, our scape goat, we doom ourselves to blindness, ignorance and, in time, destruction. Today, the Left condemns all whites under the battle flag of critical race theory. In response, the Right condemns all who teach this theory but then, in the same breath (as Laura Ingraham did last last), condemns anyone who teaches a doctrine that it believes is false, such as that the South didn’t start the War Against the States. Tom’s lament over the modern America mind’s “search for single causes of events” is well founded and most concerning. When someone announces that he has found the single cause of a certain important event in our history…and then others embrace that announcement, they stop searching for answers and denounce those who continue to search. As Hannah Arendt has pointed out, transforming questions of fact into questions of intent has been the great achievement of 20th century totalitarians….which dangerous achievement, Thomas Sowell maintains, has sadly survived the collapse of both fascism and communism but has become the hallmark of much of Western intelligentsia.

  7. Dom says:

    How does Roger Rabbit fit into all this?

  8. Eric Peterson says:

    Science is infected with single cause oversimplification too, partly demanded by the media and the public. Circle these: carbon dioxide, human immunodeficiency virus, sleeping less than six hours a night, big bang.

  9. Michael Strenk says:

    Yes Mr. Peterson, one disease, one cure, patented pharmaceuticals only need apply, no questions permitted.