Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Children Shouldn't Write History

Further evidence that history is best left to those who lived through it.    In Fixing Failed States, Ashraf Ghani is waxing nostalgic about that past he never knew when the wise men were rebuilding Europe after World War II.  He mentions Acheson, Marshall, Kennan.  And he says their leadership "was matched by that of British politicians Aneurin Bevan" (etc.).

I'm pretty sure--I hope--that Ghani is confusing Bevan, the social-justice firebrand and architect of the National Health Service with Ernest Bevin, the tough, wily, combative old trade unionist who served as British Foreign Secretary in the early days of the Cold War.

An excusable error among children (Ghani is little more than 60, after all), especially since Ghani's criticism of foreign aid is imbued with one feature that much such criticism lacks and that is a sense of history.  Ghani clearly believes that way too much modern foreign money goes gurgling hideously down the drain--not least, he argues, because it is aimed  at "states" which really do not exist.  But, argues Ghani, the Marshall Plan at the end of World War II was a huge success, precisely because it was directed at states worthy of the name.  Later in the Cold War we shifted to supporting friendly dictators. This may not have been a worthy purpose and in the end it may have proved self-defeating.  But you'd have to concede (perhaps cynically) that this strategy, too, served at least its short-term purposes perfectly well.  

No comments: