Paul Greenberg

Out of time. All these things
are really quite old-

-C.P. Cavafy, "On the Ship"

I have reached that age when every new person I meet reminds me of someone I once knew. Just as every news event brings to mind something that happened in that dense thicket known as the past.

Being a history addict can have its advantages; it tends to take some of the suspense out of the news, and explode the all too common delusion that we're now faced with something wholly unprecedented, something Entirely New! Right. Like a new brand of soap powder or toothpaste.

If living in history can be a great liberation that way, it also can be like living in a narrow cell - for it narrows the vision, and invites the smug assurance that this event or that trend or such-and-such a decision will turn out much as an earlier one did.

History may repeat, but it never seems to produce quite the same result. Much like a chemical formula that may have the same ingredients as before but hasn't been assembled the same way, or in which some additional factor, perhaps inconsequential in itself, has changed the whole effect. With quite different, even explosive, results.

Despite knowing all that, reading the daily news can still set off flashbacks.

For example, consider this item the other day about the progress of the Olympic Torch on its uneven way over hill and dale and angry protests. At the time, it was passing through North Korea en route to Beijing for the 2008 Games, aka the Genocide Olympics - in honor of communist China's complicity in the massacres in Darfur. The commissars' crackdown in Tibet has been unconscionable, too. But there was nothing but cheering when the Olympic Torch reached the capital of North Korea:

"PYONGYANG, North Korea - North Korea mobilized tens of thousands of citizens on Monday to celebrate the Olympic torch relay in Pyongyang, the flame's first visit to the authoritarian nation. Men in their best suits and women wearing traditional high-waisted dresses waved flags and paper flowers in the capital, greeting the torch like a visiting head of state. Unlike some other parts of the relay ahead of the Beijing Olympics, everything went off without a hitch in North Korea. Only the most loyal Communist elite are allowed to live in Pyonyang, a showpiece city filled with monuments to the hard-line regime."

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.