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This article is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

A Century and its Myths Frederic Raphael

To start with a postscript: this essay is more a meditation than an argument. I say this to avoid any conclusive expectations. My interest is to examine why it is, or at least how it is, that we both do and do not understand our time there is, I suspect, something systematic in this: the future is endurable only if the past can be both digested and - in a sense - excreted, preferably without smell. For example, a fairly unforced reading might say that the creation of the state of Israel, in so far as it was admitted to the world map in 1948 by a fiat on the part of the powers who recognised it (the USA and the USSR en t&ecap;te), was also final notice to Europe's surviving Jews to knock at no other old or new doors. Zionists read as a vindication what others might read as, let us say, a generous ejection. Encouraging the Jews into making territorial claims on the Arabs made sure they would not trouble the conscience of the West. The creation of Israel was, in this light, over-determined: contradictory 'reasons' for things being as they are are not mutually exclusive, even if the desire for heroes or villains tempts the ardent to single-mindedness.

If we now judge the twentieth century a human disaster, we can also be proud of ourselves, a posteriori, precisely for seeing it 'clearly'. By having seen it, we are exempt from having been its ...

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