Subtle Distinction: Historical vs. Contemporary

I’m surprised I need to make this distinction, but allow me to point out that there is a difference between accepting history with all it’s warts and accepting contemporary crimes as simply a matter of historical fact. As the torture story continues to evolve in the media, we find that many people, particularly Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough, want to simply dismiss the acts committed in the Bush Administration as part of a larger historical fact of life which cannot be helped. For example, let’s review the TPM “Day in 100 Seconds” from yesterday:
The fire bombing of Dresden was indeed a nightmarish and shameful act. The dropping of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were the most egregious acts of war in the history of mankind, it’s fair to say. And in both cases, while we may argue around the particulars, these acts were done in the heat of a war when generals did not believe other alternatives remained. Sherman’s march to the sea also comes to mind.

But those things are in the past. We might have done something different at the time, but we did not. And in the animal nature of man and the horrors of war, these things do happen repeatedly throughout history. We cannot condemn all of our history – or that of mankind – as simply evil because of the evil acts contained in that history. All of this is true. Yet that hardly justifies or excuses criminal acts of war committed in our recent past, still subject to criminal investigation. Neither justifies, excuses those acts, nor releases us from the duty to prosecute those acts.

Put simply, the question is this: because Jesse James killed a lot of people and robbed a lot of banks, does that mean we have to accept that bank robbers and murderers operate in our midst currently? Or do we hold the present to a different standard than the past? By Morning Joe’s standards, there is no particular reason to seek out Osama bin-Laden, since after all, terrorists have always existed. Or how about Bernie Madoff? Thief is probably as old an occupation as whore, don’t you think?