The teacher taught | Bleader

The teacher taught

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Oberlin College history professor Gary Kornblith writes that he recently asked his students to imagine a scenario:

“‘It is April 12, 1865. Richmond has fallen, and Robert E. Lee has surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. All major military operations have been completed.’ Then I wrote on the board in big letters: ‘Mission Accomplished.’ I proceeded to ask if the Civil War was really over by April 12, 1865, or whether it was just entering a new phase—one that would turn out differently than the phase of conventional warfare.”

Haw! He said “Mission Accomplished”!  . . . Of course you see where this was going, but I didn’t.

Kornblith was and is convinced that the Iraq war was a bad idea, and that the Bush administration’s blundering attempts to impose Western-style democracy on the cheap will fail.

But he also thinks that the federal government should have stayed the course during Reconstruction and done whatever it took to foster real democracy in the former Confederacy, instead of pulling out in 1877 and leaving blacks to the un-tender mercies of their former owners. (The book to read is Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.)

Of course 19th-century Mississippi is not 21st-century Iraq--history doesn’t provide any “lessons” that crudely obvious--and Kornblith hasn’t changed his mind about either one. But comparing the two episodes has made him “less confident than before about passing judgment on how others have tried to shape the world.”

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