Courtesy Reuters

Men and Circumstance

IN WATCHING history weave its intricate tapestry one is left uncertain whether the warp or the woof is the more important, whether the concealed and underlying framework determines the shape of history or whether history is composed of the countless little threads and knots which display its apparent pattern. At a certain moment one feels that the desires and energies of individual statesmen are but straws floating on the surface of some hidden tide; at another one becomes convinced that although the great river of history may flow slowly in a certain recognizable direction, it can be impeded, accelerated or even diverted by the force of a few dominant personalities or by the trivial and momentary barrier of some chance circumstance. When one reads the history of transactions analogous to those which have come within one's own orbit of experience one suspects that the historian, working upon documents, is apt to underestimate or to ignore the influence exercised upon events by the elements of chance and personality, and to be overinfluenced in his appraisal by the apparent sequence of cause and effect. At some international conference, for instance, a statesman achieves a given result which in the end proves of the utmost advantage to his country. In his subsequent memoirs he will almost surely disclose a greater degree of prevision, a more definite consciousness of motive, than he was himself aware of at the time, thereby establishing a logical (and personally creditable) sequence of cause and effect.

To those who have watched great political events forming and reforming before their eyes the simplifications of history do not seem so convincing. They have become aware of the immense part played by the incidental and the fortuitous in human affairs; they know the influence exercised upon day-to-day transactions by such forgotten and unavowed causes as personal friction or friendship, momentary impulse or bouts of ill health, or the chance alternation of hours of energy with hours of lassitude. The historian observes that certain

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