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Epilogue To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences . On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war. Yet this Chamber is, for the most part, silent—ominously, dreadfully silent . There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war. And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. There is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world. —From “The Reckless Bush Administration War Path May Prove Disastrous,” a speech on the Senate floor by Senator Robert Byrd, February 12, 2003 On January 9, 2006, the cover of Newsweek read, “How Much Power Should They Have?” and made allusion to the “imperial presidency” of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their consolidation of military, economic, and political resources after September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was destroyed by Islamic militants headed by Osama bin Laden. The resultant debates over the second Iraq war have focused on the second Bush administration’s use—or misuse—of intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and representation of a terrorist threat, the limits of the Constitution in regard to civil liberties and national security, the measure of success in building a democratic Iraqi Republic, and the urgency of 259 Kamrath text.indb 259 3/2/10 1:26:48 PM 260 epilogue an exit strategy that leaves that country in a stable economic and politic condition. The foregoing chapters of this book have—in the mode of New Historicist inquiry and intertextuality—sought to objectively yet self-consciously account for Brown’s early interest in history and, during his later years, historiography. In asking what could reasonably link a scholarly study on Brown’s historicism, a Senate speech by Robert Byrd, and the presidency of George Bush, I want to suggest, along the lines of Brown’s own meditations on the past, but also more provocatively, that “political transactions” are indeed “connected together in so long and various a chain,” and an “active imagination” is necessary not only to look back and write history but to look forward and fully understand and apply it. Unless, in other words, the past is contemplated relative to the present, it seems that memory is apt to fail us, motives for events and actions become misunderstood, and history, as this study implies, repeats itself endlessly on the point of American historiography and American efforts to spread democracy around the world without appearing imperial or arrogant.1 To illustrate: Bob Woodward in his best-selling account of the Iraq war, State of Denial, has concluded that the Bush administration misrepresented events to the public and Congress—that the president chose “to make repeated declarations of optimism and avoid adding to any doubts” as part of a larger “strategy of denial .”2 While the Bush administration and its supporters disagreed, in retrospect Byrd’s 2003 warning about the lack of debate in Congress and the consequences of unilateral military action appears to have resonated with the American public. As measured by the 2008 presidential debates, Barack Obama’s success relied in part on his promise to withdraw American troops from Iraq responsibly. Writing history, especially recent history, impartially and in a nonpresentist way, is no easy task, especially if one aims to do it in a historically self-conscious manner, with minimal intrusion of bias and in a way that imparts historical judgment , not circular or empty relativism. Likewise, epilogues of this sort rarely read well in the long run for any number of reasons. Whatever one thinks, though, of writing “recent history” in Brown’s day or our own, Brown’s thinking about history and his historical writing offer a perspective on historical and political events that speak to American culture today as well as contemporary assumptions about history and truth. Like Brown, Byrd spoke to the lack of debate or discussion among those in...


Subject Headings

  • Historicism in literature
  • United States -- In literature
  • Brown, Charles Brockden, 1771-1810 -- Knowledge -- History.
  • History in literature.
  • Brown, Charles Brockden, -- 1771-1810 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • United States -- History -- Philosophy.
  • Brown, Charles Brockden, 1771-1810 -- Knowledge -- United States.
  • Literature and history -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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