“I have never been to Brazil, but I know it is there…”

One of my favorite novels since my teens has been the mostly diplomacy-centered pre-Second World War (for Americans) epic The Winds of War, by Herman Wouk, published in 1971. Its follow up is 1978’s War and Remembrance. I am currently re-reading that latter:

[War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk (1978, 2013 UK edition). Photo by me, 2020.]

It is driven largely by the military aspects of 1941-1945. That makes sense. After all, once the shooting started, embassies were closed and diplomats ejected:

[War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk (1978, 2013 UK edition). Photo by me, 2020.]

The back cover of that 2013 UK edition notes that Wouk lives in Palm Springs. That was then. In 2019, he died at age 103, just ten days before his 104th birthday.

The two novels are amazing historical fiction.

That second volume does have diplomacy too. Talking still took place in neutral countries such as Switzerland. (Unofficial exchanges through third country intermediaries, or even directly in that third country, remains the norm when two other states have no relations or are even at war.) The novel includes, for example, this early 1942 scene set Bern in which American diplomat (the fictional) “Leslie Slote” has just returned from presenting to his superiors a copy of minutes he obtained of a meeting inside Germany that details a Nazi plan to kill every Jew (what eventually became the Holocaust), but having been unable to convince his superiors that the copy is genuine is speaking afterwards here with an anti-Hitler German priest:

[From War and Remembrance (1978, 2013 UK edition), by Herman Wouk. Photo by me, 2020. Underlinings by me.]

The will not to believe.

“Prove” there were manned lunar landing missions to someone who refuses to believe there were. “Prove” the attacks of 9/11/2001 in the US were not concocted by Vice President Dick Cheney. “Prove” President Barack Obama was not born in British East Africa. “Prove” a vaccination is safe. “Prove” COVID-19 is worse than the flu.

In fact, try to “prove” history itself. As an exercise, I regularly asked new history and politics students to “prove” yesterday actually even occurred. What evidence would they provide to “prove” it?

The looks I got back from at least some students were usually bemused and astounded. They would then mention the likes of newspapers and photos and mailed letters with postmarks and fossils and the fact we all age and so on… and I agreed they had convinced me. I believed them. Yet I reminded them that none of that is actually “proof” of the past if humans refuse to believe they are proof: that past we think we know could all be an illusion we simply imagine, or an elaborate setup created by, for instance, God, some god, or aliens, and placed in our minds.

With that they were often studying me like I was a bit nuts. But my point was that if we are determined NOT to believe something, no amount of evidence will ever “prove” to us otherwise. If we do not want to believe it, we will indeed find a way not to believe it.

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995. On Kindle for iPhone and iPad. Click to expand.]

It being a Sunday, that excerpt above from one of my own books is perhaps apt. Neither wrote anything that survives, and we have about as much evidence from contemporaries who wrote about him that Jesus of Nazareth lived as we do written evidence from contemporaries that the Greek statesman Pericles lived. The only real difference in terms of the historical evidence is no one (of whom I’m aware) ascribes divinity to Pericles.

[Parish church, Chesham, England. Photo by me, 2016.]

“Do not impose your beliefs on others” is a phrase we regularly use, and by it mostly we seem to mean in terms of matters of conscience such as religion. However, if wearing, for instance, a face mask possibly cuts down on the possibility of COVID-19 transmission and despite being told that many still refuse to believe masks do so and assert they have a right not to wear one… if your right to wave your fist at me also ends at my face (as is also commonly asserted in terms of freedom, and given how COVID-19 is apparently spread that example probably could not in its way be more appropriate), do we societally have a broader right then to coerce such “non-believers” into wearing masks? Most of us would probably say “Yes.”

In the end, I find this basic position often is helpful. I have never been to Brazil, but I know it is there. And how can I be so sure it is? Because I am willing to believe those who point out that they are there.

Have a good Sunday, wherever you are. 🙂

2 thoughts on ““I have never been to Brazil, but I know it is there…”

  1. I find great irony in, “Do not impose your beliefs on others.” It’s fascinating to me and actually makes me quite angry that when it comes to politics, there are those—a great majority in fact—who feel quite comfortable, no, feel it is their divine right—to tell you exactly what to think and will crucify you for having an opinion of your own. However, those very same people, when told to wear a mask, refuse to believe that it might have some value in preventing the spread of bacteria. Guess being told what to do for the good of world safety isn’t nearly as much fun as telling people what to do, what to think, and hurling abuse at them when that opinion fails to match that of their own. Guess the concept of respecting others is completely lost. Sorry for the rant. Guess I’m getting old. That or I’ve been spending too much time on Twitter. That would make anyone angry. Have a good day as well, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That wasn’t a rant, that was an opinion, and you are entitled to one. A few minutes on Twitter is enough to make anyone believe the world is basically insane. I long ago tired of those who think any display of patriotism is fascism and those who think government providing a safety net is communism.😊

      Liked by 1 person

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