Allan Megill: How Will History View the 9/11 Report?

Allan Megill, in Newsday (July 25, 2004):

[Allan Megill teaches history at the University of Virginia. He is the author of"Karl Marx: The Burden of Reason."]

The 9/11 Commission Report offers an account of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that is nothing short of gripping. It is especially worth reading as an object lesson in how easy it is to be blindsided by things that lie outside one's framework of expectations.

But how will future historians view this document? How well will its findings stand up 10, 20 or 50 years from now? How will historians use it when they turn to writing the history of our time?

If they are any good, the historians will rip the report to shreds, for in various ways it falls short as a historical work. It is almost inevitable that it should fall short, given the time constraints and the commission's agenda.

One problem is that we have not yet developed a sense of having gotten beyond 9/11. The events of that day still fall under the heading of"today's news." Historians, if they are to do their best work, need to be separated in both time and idea from the historical reality they describe.

Future historians will harvest from the report whatever well-justified claims it makes. They will cast a withering eye on its errors and oversights. They will note how out of date its perspective is, so unaware of what came later. They will note that its focus is on what it represents as"our" needs and aspirations, ignoring the rest of the world except insofar as it impinges on the United States. Then they will write histories that both use the report and go beyond it.

One thinks of Gordon W. Prange's monumental"At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor" (1981), on which he worked for 37 years. Between 1941 and 1946 there were nine separate investigations of the Pearl Harbor fiasco. These produced 40 volumes of report and testimony, which Prange mined with profit. But he also did an immense amount of additional research, which included interviewing all the major surviving figures on the Japanese side....

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David a. Cousins - 8/18/2004

It depends who the historians are. If they are liberals then they will praise the report used by Democrats for partisan attacks on the President. Especially the ugly chapter of Richard Clarke, trotted out by the left to go after Bush. Not to mention the irresponsible, yellow journalism of 60 Minutes and other willing accomplices in the press.For example, Bob Kerry railing at the hearings at FOX news for showing contradictory statements by Clarke. Anyone objective would want to know why, instead did not Kerry call Clarke back to clarify his comments.

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