Quotations from Chairman Jim, History Day edition

We’ve faithfully followed the pronouncements of the Obama administration’s National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach in our Quotations From Chairman Jim series. Leach is the Joe Biden of the humanities. His sayings are lengthy, verbose, opaque, and pseudoliterate.

The NEH has posted two new Leach speeches. First is his introduction to a Holocaust film that NEH co-sponsored. According to Theodor Adorno, “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.” The future not yet having occurred, as Leach himself might say, Adorno lacked access to Leach’s effusions. Adorno might have reserved his judgment for Leach’s speeches. The Holocaust film inspires Leach to comment:

All historical analysis is by definition retrospective. Within this parameter, one of the fundamental aspects of Holocaust era reviews is the imperative tie to questions of retroactive justice.

And that’s not all! We also have this, as Leach looks back on hearings he presided over as a congressman:

In the stories of the victims and their persecutors we unearthed an axiom about the nature of evil: the genesis of evil may begin with perpetrators of violence and injustice, but complicity too frequently lies beyond the perpetrator in those who cloak themselves in the legitimacy of private business and genteel society while manipulating manifestly oppressive circumstances in furtherance of self-interest, oblivious even to crimes as searing as genocide.

It’s axiomatic. Did somebody say oblivious? There is more:

Just as justice must be brought to those who commit atrocities, so the righteous who stand up to power and refuse to take advantage of the vulnerabilities of the oppressed demand attention. Retroactive honor is their due.

Leach also marked History Day with a speech: “Every day is History Day.”. This speech is quotable almost in its entirety; it makes the task of selection particularly difficult. A few quotations, without further comment:

History Day’s decentralized tentacles reach out to high schools and home schools across the land.


At our best we Americans reason pragmatically while many peoples reason more historically. When presented a judgmental quandary involving public policy or personal action, many on the planet first think of how other people in other times addressed analogous challenges. They rely on social experience as the principal guide to current action.


Mutual understanding requires both a sense of self and of the other.


To look presciently forward we need to look carefully back.


[I]t is research that teaches us to be cautious of assuming we can foretell where probing the unknown will lead.


St. Paul once suggested that we all look through a glass darkly. He was referencing the need to be cautious in interpreting Scripture. A similar lack of certitude should be applied to history. There can be certitude about certain historical facts but the whys and wherefores of events can be elusive.

Damn! I forgot again to preface these quotations with notice of the hazard. Warning: Reading this may kill brain cells.

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