Monday, January 15, 2007
I was reminded of this over the weekend when I received my copy of Haggai Erlich's Ras Alula: and the Scramble for Africa. Erlich's discussion of Ethiopian history, while couched in the careful, measured language of an academic, is in many ways plain-spoken compared to the account of Paul B. Henze in Layers of Time. That is not to say that Henze has not written a useful history of Ethiopia; he includes a number of invaluable anecdotes about the last 40 years of that country's history. Yet when I compare what he has written to other historians -- say his account of the late Emperor Haile Selassie with that of the Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde -- it's not hard to see a number of omissions and subtle biasses in what Henze has written. I can't avoid concluding that he never offers a strong condemnation of a person or event unless it benefits his agenda; in other words, he writes like a diplomat.
This was borught home by comparing how Erlich and Henze discuss the fate of a monument that the Derg had erected to commemorate the Battle of Dogali. To quote from my contribution to that article:
This battle was celebrated under the Derg regime, and Mengistu Haile Mariam commemorated the centennial with much attention, including the erection of a monument topped with a red star on the battlefield. Following Eritrean independence, the monument was removed. Paul B. Henze diplomatically notes in a footnote, "When I crossed the battlefield in 1996, I could detect no trace of the monument." Erlich provides more information: when Eritrean troops gained control of the area in 1989, "a prominent commander, now a prominent minister, was delighted to himself blast Mangistu's monument of Ras Alula."
I wonder just how long the adjective "diplomatically" will survive in this article. At least it will survive in the history log, where it can be found.
As for the question which started my musings, between that original question and today, I did think of a likely answer:
Our diplomat: "I'll have to call you back about that, sir. Please don't trouble yourself to call me. I'll be in touch."