In 3 weeks the second tranche of ‘Bush years’ will end. Amidst the rain of angry shoes, one of the questions pundits will pose themselves is ‘has GWB Jr succeeded where his father failed?’
I was reading a 181-year-old newspaper – The Comet – the other day when I stumbled on an entry concerning Thomas Park, whose father, Mungo Park, died while trying to discover the termination of River Niger:
Dec. 4, 1827.
“I am sorry to inform you, that a fine young man, son of the celebrated Mungo Park, died in the Akimboo country, a little to the S.E. of Accoa about seven weeks ago. He arrived on this coast in July last, for the purpose of penetrating into the S.W. interior of Africa, having resolved to complete those discoveries which his father’s death had left unaccomplished.
“Whilst at Akimboo, (where he remained for some time to acquire a competent knowledge of the language before he advanced further into the interior) the annual Yam custom took place – i.e. festival. The natives were assembled as usual in a large plain, in which stood a Fetish tree, which is never approached except by priests.
“Mr. Park mounted this tree, ‘considered sacred’ for the purpose of taking a sketch of the group assembled. the King, perceiving his intention, endeavoured to persuade him from this act, assuring him, if he were guilty of such profanation, he could not live long. Mr. Park was not to be dissuaded from his intention, and he was a corpse in two days after. The Fetish men, no doubt, fearing their own power and character would be shaken, if this impiety could be done with impunity, hastened Mr. Park’s death by poison.”
For some of us, our sense of history will extend as far as our memories of childhood. For some, the only history relevant to our lives is our fathers’. For others it is the history of clan or country. The prize is an empathy that equips us for the universal history of man; although however insular one is, it is impossible to be indifferent to the recent history of any country with a military the size of America’s.
I prefer tomorrows to yesterdays, but tomorrow is not yet available. I’d rather read the future (newspapers published in 181 years time) than history, but this is the next best thing: for the best way to predict 2189 is to go back to 1827. Which, by the way, was a vintage year for cautionary tales for sons who aspire to ‘bring closure’ to the ventures of their fathers.
It may be too late for GWB Jr, but it is still relevant history (not least of all because, in the best dynastic traditions, there may yet be a third ‘George Bush’ in the White House).