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On history

History is the codification of an irresistible process of attrition. It does not arrest the erosion of the past, and it does not accelerate it. Time and human nature do that. History elects things that have since happened and offers them a new agency in the present. It can only determine the shape and the course of the erosion of the past. The past creeps minutely and inexorably longer, histories exponentially multiply, but history's only conceivable outcome—the operation of the past in the present—remains generally a constant.

The noblest histories will be recognised for what they select. The meanest histories, for what they omit.

In August 1997, Dr Peter Edwards delivered a speech at a seminar convened by the Australian Federal Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. The seminar celebrated the forty-fifth anniversary of the treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America—‘the cornerstone of Australian security policy' in the words of its government—known as ANZUS. Participants in the seminar represented many nations. Edwards' speech presented a history of this alliance, lasting thirty minutes. Thirty seconds of that thirty minutes—or two sentences—were devoted (indirectly) to the reasons why only one of the 133 seminar attendees represented the state of New Zealand. Thirty seconds as to why a pursuant speech, on New Zealand's role in the alliance, was delivered by an Australian.

The noblest histories acknowledge and accept that perspective renders the past infinitely malleable. The meanest histories exploit it.

Joseph | 23 Jan 2004

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