Wednesday, July 7, 2010

History Repeats

They say Gen. David Petraeus is a consummate politician, which is another way of saying he knows what to kiss and what not to kiss. There is nothing new in this. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace gives us an early prototype of Petraeus in the character of Prince Boris Drubetskoy, the son of an impoverished noblewoman, Princess Anna Mihalovna Drubetskoy who schemes to wangle her son an appointment to the Guards of Smenovsky. There, as a sub-lieutenant, he makes a discovery and one wonders if Petraeus, as a green second-lieutenant didn’t make the same one:

He {Boris} had completely assimilated that unwritten code which had so pleased him at Olmutz, that code in virtue of which a lieutenant may stand infinitely higher than a general, and all that is needed for success in the service is not effort, not work, not gallantry, not perseverance, but simply the art of getting on with those who have the bestowal of promotion, and he often marveled at the rapidity of his own progress, and that others failed to grasp the secret of it. His whole manner of life, all his relations with his old friends, all his plans for the future were completely transformed in consequence of this discovery.

As Marx once said, history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

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