Living in Historic Times

“Wars have a way of overriding the days just before them. In the looking back, there is such noise and gravity. But we are conditioned to forget. So that the war may have more importance, yes, but still… isn’t the hidden machinery easier to see in the days leading up to the event? There are arrangements, things to be expedited… and often the edges are apt to lift, briefly, and we see things we were not meant to….” –

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, page 474.

Human beings tend to remember an uncompleted task better than a completed one, ostensibly because an uncompleted task has no closure, and thus our mind must continually work to acheive closure. This is a drastic oversimplification of what pyschologists call the Zeigarnik effect, and you can observe it in action in schools and restaruants across the world. Make a student take the same test he took the day before, and he’ll probably do much worse. There are all sorts of similar psychological theories and, depending on how liberally you apply them, you observe them in action all over the place.

Which makes me wonder, how will we remember this war twenty years from now? How will Bush be perceived? If things continue to go as well as they have, will history remember that this war was immensely unpopular in the world or the seemingly conflicting and ambigious motives of the US? Bush and the “Coalition of the Willing” experienced several setbacks in the months leading up to this war, but now, in hindsight, they seem small and insignificant. One of the few things I like about Bush is the way he reacted to these small setbacks. He barely flinched and kept his eye firmly on his long view. Perhaps an application of the Zeigarnik effect on a historical level, Bush recognized that people will only remember how something ends, not the events, setbacks and all, that led us there. We’ve had a spectacularly successful start, now we just need to make sure it ends right… [Pynchon quote from War Words]