For in the world in which we live it is no longer merely a question of the decay of collective memory and declining consciousness of the past, but of the aggressive [assault on] whatever memory remains, the deliberate distortion of the historical record, the invention of mythological pasts in the service of the powers of darkness.
– Yose Hayim Yerushalmi
All reification is forgetting.
– Herbert Marcuse
The current mainstream debate regarding the crisis in Iraq and Syria offers a near perfect example of both the death of historical memory and the collapse of critical thinking in the United States. It also signifies the emergence of a profoundly anti-democratic culture of manufactured ignorance and social indifference. Surely, historical memory is under assault when the dominant media give airtime to the incessant war mongering of politicians such as Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham and retro pundits such as Bill Kristol, Douglas Feith, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz – not one of whom has any credibility given how they have worked to legitimate the unremitting web of lies and deceit that provided cover for the disastrous US invasion of Iraq under the Bush/Cheney administration.
History repeats itself in the recent resurgence of calls for US military interventions in Syria and Iraq. Such repetitions of history undoubtedly shift from tragedy to farce as former Vice President Dick Cheney once again becomes a leading pundit calling for military solutions to the current crises in the Middle East, in spite of his established reputation for hypocrisy, lies, corporate cronyism, defending torture and abysmal policymaking under the Bush administration. The resurrection of Dick Cheney, the Darth Vader of the 21st century, as a legitimate source on the current crisis in Syria and Iraq is a truly monumental display of historical amnesia and moral dissipation. As Thom Hartman observes, Cheney bears a large responsibility for the Iraq War, which “was the single biggest foreign policy disaster in recent – or maybe even all – of American history. It cost the country around $4 trillion dollars, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, left 4,500 Americans dead, and turned what was once one of the more developed countries in the Arab World into a slaughterhouse. What room is there for historical memory in an age “when the twin presiding deities are irony and violence”?
Missing from the commentaries by the mainstream media regarding the current situation in Iraq is any historical context that would offer a critical account of the disorder plaguing the Middle East. A resurrection of historical memory in this moment could provide important lessons regarding the present crisis. What is clear in this case is that a widespread avoidance of the past has become not only a sign of the appalling lack of historical knowledge in contemporary American culture, but a deliberate political weapon used by the powerful to keep people passive and blind to the truth. Of course, there are many factors currently contributing to this production of ignorance and the lobotomizing of individual and collective agency.