Hinges of History
July 6, 2005
By Ernest Partridge, The
want of a nail,
the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe,
the horse was lost.
For want of a horse,
the rider was lost.
For want of a rider,
the battle was lost.
For want of a battle,
the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want
of a horseshoe nail.
History teaches us that the course of human events has many surprises,
born of random chance and simple luck. History's winners are those
who are alert, flexible and creative in the face of these surprises.
And that fact should lend comfort to embattled progressives today.
For centuries, philosophers have spun elaborate theories of history,
spelling out fates of peoples and nations, as, they claim, the engine
of history rolls inexorably along its fore-ordained course.
Plato, Hegel, Spengler, Marx, and in our time Frances Fukayama,
have all endeavored to sketch a map of the course that history must
take. They have no use for the lost nail that threw the rider that
lost the battle and the empire.
However, the details of actual recorded history indicate that
time and again that course of history turns on trivial and unpredictable
contingencies. Put simply, on plain dumb luck.
The Battle of Midway, June, 1942. Just six months after
the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese fleet was poised
to seize Midway atoll and destroy much of what remained of the American
Pacific fleet. If successful, the Hawaiian Islands would be within
reach of the Japanese Empire. And if the Islands fell, the American
fleet would be driven back to the west coast of the United States,
thus prolonging the war.
The American fleet had a feeble force with which to thwart the
Japanese onslaught three aircraft carriers to four. The outcome
of the battle likely depended upon the first sighting of the opposing
force. Due to a chance break in the cloud cover, an American reconnaissance
plane, at the furthest reach of its range, located the Japanese
Fleet. Soon thereafter, a Japanese scout spotted the American fleet,
but because the aircraft's radio malfunctioned, a timely report
could not be relayed back to the Japanese fleet command.
Due to several additional lucky breaks, which I won't detail here,
the American dive bombers destroyed three Japanese aircraft carriers
within minutes, and the fourth was dispatched later that day. After
the battle was effectively over and won by the Americans, the crippled
carrier Yorktown was sunk by a Japanese submarine. Midway was the
decisive battle of the Pacific War. For the remainder of the war,
the Japanese never won another sea battle.
Among the twists of fortune that determined the outcome: a break
in the cloud cover and a malfunctioning radio.
Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg's briefcase, July 20, 1944.
On July 20, 1944, Colonel von Stauffenberg attempted an assassination
of Adolph Hitler. Upon entering a conference room at Hitler's East
Prussian headquarters, von Stauffenberg placed a briefcase with
a time bomb under the table where Hitler was studying some maps.
At the table with Hitler was a Colonel Brandt, who happened to catch
his foot on the briefcase, which he then placed at the opposite
side of a heavy oak table support.
Had Col. Brandt's foot not encountered the briefcase, Hitler would
almost certainly have been killed in the ensuing explosion, which
in fact was the fate of several officers in the room. The repositioning
of that briefcase cost von Stauffenberg, his family, and thousands
of actual and suspected conspirators their lives. Far worse, it
probably prolonged the European war by as much as nine months, at
the cost of millions of lives.
All of this turned on a German officer's chance encounter with
The Tape on the Watergate Door. June 17, 1972. On his routine
rounds at the Watergate office building in Washington DC, night
watchman Frank Wills happened to spot some tape on the door between
the parking garage and the stairwell. Believing that the tape was
left by the cleaning crew, Wills removed it only to discover later
that it had been replaced. He then called the police who subsequently
arrested the burglars at the offices of the Democratic National
If Wills had not noticed the tape (placed to defeat the locking
mechanism) and if G. Gordon Liddy had not replaced it, Richard Nixon
would probably have completed his second term and the course of
US history would have gone in a different direction. How different?
Unknown and unknowable but certainly different.
Further examples are endless. What if the French Admiral de Grasse
at Yorktown, and the Prussian Field Marshal von Blucher at Waterloo
had not arrived "just in time?" What if Lincoln had not
gone to the theater that night or if a guard had been stationed
outside the Presidential box? The assassin's aim and the bullet's
trajectory are probabilistic literally "hit or miss."
On these attempts, history turns. Successful: Archduke Ferdinand
at Sarejevo in 1914, JFK at Dallas in 1963, RFK at Los Angeles in
1968, Martin Luther King at Memphis in 1968. Failed: Theodore Roosevelt
at Milwaukee in 1912, Franklin D. Roosevelt at Miami in 1933, Ronald
Reagan at Washington in 1981.
No doubt, the reader can think of many more hinges of history
that turned on chance contingencies and simple luck.
In the near future we are likely to encounter numerous crossroads,
or hinges, that might lead either to the dissolution or the salvation
of our Republic. Whatever the outcome, the nation and the world
that emerges from the present crisis will be very different from
the nation and world that we lived in at the close of the twentieth
century, just five years ago.
Clearly, the Bush administration is coming upon hard times, with
no end in sight for the Iraq disaster, with less and less of the
public believing Bush's and Cheney's lies, with at least a few prominent
Democrats growing some spine, with the growing influence of alternative
media, and, as a result of all of this and more, a continuing decline
of public approval of Bush and his regime.
In this volatile political environment, here are a few hinges
that come to mind, many of which are closely interconnected. No
doubt the informed and engaged reader will think of many more.
Because The Wounded Beast Is Vulnerable
Is "Plamegate" about to unravel at last? This
possibility has emerged within the last couple of days, as Time
magazine has yielded to a court order and has turned relevant
documents and e-mails over to the judge. Time magazine
is said to be preparing a blockbuster article based on the notes
of its reporter, Matt Cooper. The other targeted reporter and publication,
Judith Miller and the New York Times, continue to resist
the order of the court. Lawrence O'Donnell claims that he knows,
on good evidence, that the Plame snitch was Karl Rove. If so, then
Rove would be guilty of perjury, for he reportedly denied under
oath that he disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame. Could be dynamite!
(For more on this developing story, see The Crisis Papers page,
Will 2004 election fraud be revealed? And if so, will the
mainstream media report it? There is strong statistical, circumstantial
and anecdotal evidence that the 2004 was stolen from John Kerry
and the Democrats. If it was, then there are at least dozens of
individuals and as many as several hundred who were involved in
the fraud and who could testify and/or provide physical and documented
evidence of this crime. As Iraq, the economy, and scandal cumulatively
continue to weaken The Great Bush/GOP Political/Media Machine, will
serious and sustained criminal investigations finally be launched,
and will at least a few investigative reporters finally get on the
Are there many "Deep Throats" in the system just
itching to spill some beans? How much longer will the military and
the CIA tolerate the abuse that has been heaped upon them by the
Bush gang? How many individuals within the Bush Administration are
prepared to meet an enterprising reporter at some parking garage
in DC? Come to think of it, might some CIA discontents, proven experts
at overthrowing foreign governments, even now be setting their sights
closer to home?
Will the Mainstream Media (MSM) finally do its job and
start reporting the news and a diversity of informed opinions? Unquestionably,
George Bush owes both of his "elections" to the cooperation
and compliance of the MSM. The MSM tolerated and even promulgated
slanders against Democratic candidates Al Gore ("inventing
the Internet") and John Kerry ("Swift Boats"), while
overlooking the manifest embarrassments and disqualifications of
George Bush (AWOL from the National Guard, Harken Energy, etc.).
A mirror-image support of the Democrats and smearing of the Busheviks
is not required. Just the facts, as in the era of Murrow and Cronkite,
and unconstrained investigative reporting, as in the era of I. F.
Stone, and Woodward and Bernstein, would quite suffice to bring
down the House of Bush. But how would such reform be possible, when
the media mega-giants are controlled by the sponsors of Bush, Inc.?
More about that, below.
Alternatively, might the Mainsteam Media be "Pravda-ized"
i.e. ignored and marginalized by a public that recognizes it as
the propaganda arm of the right-wing GOP corporate establishment?
Either way an honest media or an irrelevant media if the Bush
Regime loses its media support, it is in the deepest of doo-doo.
For in either case, the truth finally will out, and without question,
the Busheviks can't handle the truth. But why would the MSM abandon
Bush? This leads to our next hinge:
Will the corporate establishment finally come to its senses
and realize that where Bush is leading the country, they should
not want to follow? Will it then abandon the Bush regime, to be
followed by the corporate mainstream media? The mega-rich that are
being lavishly rewarded for their funding of Bush, Inc. seem to
believe that they can continue to loot the U.S. economy and impoverish
the rest of us forever, without consequence. Economic collapse and
depression, they apparently believe, happens to what Leona Helmsley
calls "the little people" (namely, us) and not themselves.
The exporting of the manufacturing base, the dismantling of the
public education system that supplies their skilled work force,
the loss of our leadership in scientific and technological research
and development all these, they seem to think, are isolated phenomena,
without impact upon their personal wealth, or to the bottom lines
of their corporate annual reports. These fortunate few are, after
all, educated individuals. How can they believe such catastrophic
folly? Especially when numerous studies have proven the national
economy almost always fares better under Democratic administrations
and Congresses (see Hulbert
Leaving aside morality, compassion, or national loyalty, for no
other reason than rational self-interest, the intelligent Republican
corporatists should be striving to alter the course of this ship
of fools before it self-destructs. Whether they will remains an
How will the public respond when the economy collapses?
Note: I said "when" not "if". Even dyed-in-the-wool
Republican economists and investors are coming to realize that we
simply can't go on like this. For example, Steven Roach, the chief
economist of the brokerage firm Morgan Stanley, predicts,
with 90% confidence, that we face "economic armageddon."
As Bushite "reverse Robin-Hoodism" continues to drain
cash from the paychecks and bank accounts of average Americans and
into the pockets of the super-rich, and as the over-extended debts
of those ordinary folks finally max-out, the shrinkage of disposable
income will first affect the entertainment industries and retailing,
which will lay off workers and eventually go bust. Then the dominoes
begin to fall. Thanks to the Bush deficits and the decline of the
dollar among international currencies, interest rates must rise
followed by home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies unprotected
now, thanks to the new "credit reform" laws enacted by
this GOP Congress. Will millions of newly jobless, homeless Americans,
without health care or educational opportunities millions who
only recently knew financial and job security sit still for this?
Not for a moment! This is a prescription for revolution. If lucky,
the elites will face economic ruin as the hungry and impoverished
masses rise up and strip them of their wealth. If unlucky, the retaliation
turn violent, and the very freedom and lives of the privileged looters
will be in peril. Just possibly, the opulent elites might foresee
all this before we all go over the cliff, and finally call an end
to the GOP orgy of affluence (see above).
Because The Wounded Beast Is Dangerous
Will Bush launch an attack on Iran or Syria? If so, will
the public rally behind the commander-in-chief again, as it did
after 9/11 and the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq? Similarly...
Will Bush be bailed out by another terrorist attack in
the United States? The opportunities for terrorist attacks are wide
open, even inviting, as chemical plants remain unguarded, nuclear
power facilities remain unprotected, and shipping containers remain
Will the Democrats and liberals be scapegoated as the cause
of our domestic woes? Will Bush's foreign policy and military reversals
be attributed to a "stab in the back" by the same Democrats
and liberals? Why not? It worked beautifully for Hitler and the
Nazis. (There, I said it! Unlike Senator Durbin, I will not apologize).
As protests escalate and the Bush regime unravels, will
they retaliate by declaring a national emergency and installing
a police state? Can it happen here? Yes it can. It has already begun.
Cf. The Patriot Act, Guantαnamo, and the continuing incarceration,
without charge, counsel or prospect of trial of American citizen,
More Hinges Briefly Noted
Will the public finally decide it's had enough of Tom DeLay's
sleaze, the war profiteering and corruption of Halliburton et al,
and the hypocrisy of the Religious Right?
Will OPEC switch from Dollars to Euros?
Will China and Japan refuse to continue their support of
Will an international "coalition of the fed-up"
emerge and finally take concerted action against the world's number
one "rogue nation" namely, us? How long will the international
community put up with the Bushista refusal to cooperate with multilateral
efforts to combat global warming, with the international criminal
court, with nuclear arms reduction, etc? Few American citizens realize
vulnerable we are to economic sanctions from abroad. Boycotts
and embargoes on vital resources, most of all oil, could quickly
bring about a collapse of the U.S. economy. All this without firing
a shot at our super-power military.
When will the world peak in oil production and the increased
demand on oil from the Pacific rim result in sharp rises in fuel
prices? With what effect? As the advanced industrial nations of
Europe and Asia accelerate research, development and implementation
of post-petroleum energy sources, will the United States, wedded
to the doomed oil economy, become an industrial/technological has-been?
We don't know and can't know the answers to these questions with
any degree of confidence. Nor is this a complete list. Perhaps the
decisive hinge, redirecting our national course either toward ruin
or renewal, will be something that we cannot anticipate at the moment.
But we need not be mere spectators in this unfolding of the history
of the present. We can, indeed we must, be active agents in this
unfolding. These hinges of history can be moved deliberately by
determined individuals, alone or collectively. Once again, the record
of the past testifies to the capacity of peoples and nations to
direct their fates either toward ruin or renewal.
It happened in the year 1933, when two national leaders ascended
to power in Germany and in the United States. Undoubtedly, had President
von Hindenburg successfully resisted Adolph Hitler's grab for power,
and had Herbert Hoover won re-election in 1932, the world today
would be vastly different than it is.
In 1933, both Germany and the United States were ripe for a descent
into despotism. We were the lucky ones. In Franklin Roosevelt we
had a President who had a lucid vision of ends, and who was flexible
and inventive as to means. The objectives of the New Deal were clear:
jobs, security, opportunity, economic justice, civil liberties,
for all Americans, in the context of economic recovery for the nation.
How to accomplish all this in the midst of a devastating depression
was a question without a simple correct answer, but with an abundance
of proffered "answers," most of them wrong. Doing nothing
was not an option. Intelligent and imaginative social-economic engineering
was in order and, through trial and error, inspiring leadership,
and a shared sense of national purpose and unity, we slowly and
deliberately developed and validated a series of governmental institutions
and regulations Social Security, unemployment insurance, federal
deposit insurance, expanded educational opportunities, and much,
And now, George Bush and his merry band of oligarchs are determined
to tear it all down.
In the crisis before us, and the crises shortly to come, the progressives
have a distinct advantage over the right-wing regressives, notwithstanding
the regressives' current hold on power.
As in the 1930s, conditions today call for alertness, flexibility,
intelligence, creativity, compassion, and a sense of shared national
purpose qualities prized by progressives.
George Bush and his cronies possess none of these qualities. Bush
is inflexible. He "stays the course," and is incapable
of admitting errors. He has no use for trained intelligence and
expertise, but instead is controlled by "gut
intuition" and a dogmatism that is detached from the ongoing
flow of events. His behavior and policies prove that Bush's compassionate
conservatism is a cruel mockery. We the people of the United States
are not his constituents the corporate stockholders of Bush, Inc.
who have purchased his Presidency, now own him.
Even so, Bushism can be defeated, provided the vulnerabilities
of this political/economic malignancy are recognized and attacked
by the opposition with diligence, intelligence and creativity.
So far, the Democratic party has been a passive and compliant
disappointment. It must either wake up to its responsibilities or
be taken over by progressives, just as the Republican party was
captured by the oligarchs and theocrats.
In his speech last week to the troops at Fort Bragg, George Bush
discovered that his lies have lost their leverage. The polls suggest
that at long last the public (less his base) has finally begun to
wise-up. "Fool me twice won't get fooled again."
At the same time, the revelations from Downing Street of the conniving
and deceit that led us into an immoral war have taken on a life
of their own, thanks to the Internet and alternative press, and
notwithstanding first the silence of, and then the debunking by,
the mainstream media.
The pressure of public outrage is building, but it is diverse,
diluted, inchoate, and without leadership and direction. Today,
millions of our fellow citizens, as they watch and read the MSM,
feel that they are isolated, powerless and alone in their disgust
with the Bush regime and its policies. But when these disgusted
citizens look about and find they have company, and if strong and
charismatic leadership emerges and acts decisively, a community
of outrage will emerge, coalesce and acquire an identity. When it
does, the peoples' will may be irresistible.
Sadly, there might be an opposite result a swift and ruthless
repression by those in control of our government, as they find that
their privilege, power and wealth are in peril, and as they come
to fear that they might soon be facing the just retribution of the
If we choose to be spectators in the coming drama, they may well
have their way. But if enough of us choose to be agents in the struggle
we may yet succeed in reclaiming our freedom, our dignity, and our
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in
the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes
the website The
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website The
Crisis Papers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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