Monday, November 01, 2004

It's been going on for quite some time... 

Finding symbolic beginnings and endings has always been something of a parlor game for historians.

Did the nineteenth century start in 1800 (or 1801, depending on how you count your centuries), or in 1789 with the challenge of the French Revolution to the established order, or perhaps in 1815 when the post-Napoleonic peace descendent upon Europe for the next 99 years?

Or how about the Cold War? I would argue that the inherent nature of the communist system meant it started on the very day the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government in the October coup. Others would argue that the turning point was the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944, when the Soviet inaction had opened many a liberal eye in the West. Or maybe the Yalta conference? Or Churchill's "Iron Curtin" speech at Foulton, Missouri in 1946?

Two interesting new perspectives on the beginning of the war on terror. Writes Alastair Horne in the "Spectator":
"On the night of All Saints, 1954, a young honeymooning couple of French school teachers, dedicated to their work among underprivileged children, were dragged off a bus in the Aurès Mountains of Algeria and shot down. Their murder by the newly created FLN (National Liberation Front) marked the beginning of organised revolt against the French colonial 'occupiers'. The eight-year-long Algerian war was to bring down six French prime ministers, open the door to de Gaulle — and come close to destroying him too.

"The war was the last of the grand-style colonial struggles, but, perhaps more to the point, it was also the first campaign in which poorly equipped Muslim mujahedin licked one of the top Western armies. The echoes of la guerre d’Algérie still reverberate across the Islamic world, especially in Iraq."
Meanwhile, Amir Taheri looks at political continuity rather than tactics:
"When the Americans go to the polls on Tuesday they would do well to remember two events that have altered their lives forever. The first was the raid on the US Embassy in Tehran, and the seizure of American hostages on Nov. 4, 1979. The second was the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against New York and Washington.

"The embassy seizure showed that Americans were no longer safe outside their homeland and that even diplomatic immunity would not protect them. The 9/11 attacks showed that the Americans were no longer safe even in their own homeland, and that no amount of military clout could protect them against enemies that recognized no bounds.

"In a sense the Nov. 4, 1979 attack on the US Embassy in Tehran could be regarded as the opening scene of a long drama that reached its catharsis on Sept. 11, 2001."
For Taheri it was not so much the seizure of the embassy, but the Carter Administration's weak-kneed reaction to the incident that convinced observers from Ayatollah Khomeini down that America is the "weak horse". And we have been paying a price for that ever since. Weren't the 1970s a shocking decade geopolitically?


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