Friday, December 15, 2006

Historians Will Judge

I heard it again this morning on NPR - the phrase I despise the most - "History Will Judge." The story was focused on Donald Rumsfeld's last day in office and the commentator argued that despite the fact that Rumsfeld is the second longest serving Secretary of Defense in history, how history will judge him depends a lot on the outcome of the war in Iraq.


I understand why many people (including some historians) find comfort in the phrase "History will judge", because it suggests that there is no interpretation involved, that the facts will just reveal the truth to future generations. It suggests that you can't argue with or appeal the judgement of history. History is Omnipotent.

However, we all know better. Historians will decide how to portray Rumsfeld in the future. And most likely the portrayal of him will change over time. There won't be ONE historical judgement but many.

Moreover, even the facts will change, or at least the facts that historians have access to will change. Government documents will become available, Rumsfeld's and Bush's papers will be opened, records in Iraq will be searchable and all these things will change how historians will judge the soon-to-be former Secretary of Defense.

Historians shouldn't be embarrassed by this, we shouldn't be scared of letting people know this, we should embrace it and shout it from the rooftops. History does not judge - Historians do!

I am thinking about walking around with this bag at the AHA just to get my point across.

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