The Hinges of History
Published on Friday, October 4, 2002 by
The Hinges of History
by Bruce F. Cole

The Roman god Janus was a two-faced dude...literally. He resembled that sorcerer in the Harry Potter movie who had a face on both sides of his head, looking in opposite directions. Janus' domain was doorways (both physical and metaphorical) and he was the god of beginnings. His ability to see both frontward and backwards was emblematic of those duties. One of his metaphorical jobs was to oversee the transitions from one historical age to the next.

The Romans apparently understood that history is not a smooth continuum but more like a long, snaking rope with knots every so often that separate and define its eras. Janus (whose name we invoke at the division of each solar year - in January) was the protector not only of the doorways in Romans' houses, but also of the discreet doorways, or divisions, between major periods of history. His ability to look to the past and to the future simultaneously was what qualified him for that. "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes," is a maxim that he would have understood.

We are standing within one such historical doorway right now, and most people (regardless of political outlook) know that to be the case. It is not just that "the world changed on 9/11," as has become the cliché, but something more. We are witnessing a global coup d'etat in process (in a real sense) and a complete dismantling of established international legal structure and process. Coincidentally, there has been much written lately about the similarities between the current, attempted American domination of the world and that of the Romans 2,000 years ago, when Janus was a popular guy.

The ancient Pax Romana was the imposition of peace on the known world by the only superpower on earth at the time. (In the pantheon of oxymorons, "imposed peace" must rank among the top five.) Of course, it was not a "peaceful" time at all, but a period of subjugation, corruption and exploitation that culminated in - (drum-roll) - 600 years of universal misery, a.k.a. the Dark Ages! And now, at this exact point in history, we are being presented with a shiny, new, improved Pax Americana, in the form of the Bush Doctrine, which envisions the rest of the world made in the image of and serving the purposes of the American consumption machine, ruled by the American radical right. With no apparent sense of history to guide them, these putative Rulers of the Earth intend to lead us into a future which promises to be no less oxymoronic than the old Roman template, and no less doomed.

Now, there is one big difference between the Age of the Caesars and the new "American Century" (the brand name that the Bush PR crew has given this atrocity-in-waiting) that isn't getting much press these days. That difference is that Rome was ruled by Emperors and (as of this writing, at least) we are not. To be sure, the Bush presidency has many hallmarks of imperial despotism: power gained by subterfuge; inordinate secrecy; paranoid world-view; and dismissal of all opposing views as heretical (to mention only a few). But there is one thing that George W. Bush needs that the Caesars didn't require: the acquiescence of his electorate. His power only extends in direct proportion to Americans' inaction.

Please make no mistake, fellow citizens: we are riding on the hinges of history right now. The door can swing in either direction: open to a new era of hope, creativity and understanding; or it can slam back into the old imperial paradigm of fear, manipulation, suspicion and destruction.

The future can be changed; it is not set in stone. The truth of that statement is what drives the maniacs who are steering our government at this time, but it applies to all of us, mad or sane. The prevailing concept, that we, who prefer reason to brute force and greed, are powerless to affect change, is a pure myth. It is a myth as ephemeral and dissolvable as any that the Romans concocted, but also as real and pernicious as we allow it to become. This, then (the moment of our decision to act, to move, or not), becomes the very turning point, the hinge-pin of history. Of all times we are likely to live through, this is the most pivotal.

So what can we do? The answers are as myriad as the questioners and, to some degree, we all know what it is that we individually need to do. In fact, many of us have already been doing much that has made a difference up to this juncture. Witness the chorus of voices of the last few weeks that just one year ago was barely a whisper. Those voices have been raised in response to and with the support of the positive pressure that our progressive community has put on our national political system these last two years.

That chorus must reach a crescendo soon, but that doesn't mean that anyone has to yell. Millions of people talking calmly and rationally - but urgently - can attain to the roar of a hurricane. Talk to a friend, co-worker or neighbor about these things, even if you think they will be closed to your ideas. They won't, in most cases. Many will surprise you with their avid agreement. All things are malleable right now, especially peoples' perceptions and opinions. Talk about it; let your passion and your eloquence out. (If you want to look at a good synopsis of our peril and of the arguments against this insanity - the better to address it yourself - here is one of the latest and best open letter from The Nation magazine:

We should not wait for others to do what we know needs to be done. All of us can organize and/or participate in peaceful demonstrations against this political cancer, in our own communities, however small or large. We should continue to write letters to the editor of any and all publications in our personal spheres (the letters to papers here in Maine have been overwhelmingly opposed to the new American hegemony). We should actively (with money and time) support candidates in this next month who oppose the new Imperium. We should cajole and goad those who are ambivalent.

We also need to invest in some long distance phone calls, soon. Call both of your US Senators and your Representative (in their DC offices - you can get their numbers here: ) and tell them what you would tell your neighbors. Don't let the recent House vote supporting Bush's Iraq proposal stop you, and don't pay any attention to the spinning mainstream media...there is still time. If your Representative voted with Bush, tell him or her what you think. (While you're at it, send a "thank you" to those who have had the courage to stand against the tide, even if they aren't from your state or district. They deserve our expressed gratitude.)

Use your own words and tell them that you expect them to stand up for the Constitution and for the people, and to therefore oppose this mad grab for world domination. Tell them that they will be judged by their courage or lack thereof. History will do the judging, tell them, and so will we in November. Tell them, as the poet warned, "Don't stand in the doorway / Don't block up the hall." If you have called them already, do it again. Then enlist others to do it. Fax them as well (ground mail is unadvisable, and email is less desirable than calling or faxing).

Then call the President. Here is the number for commenting on the proposed War on Iraq: (202) 456-1111. Tell him what you think. Send the number around for others to call.

Above all, we mustn't be embarrassed about our activism just because our views have been dismissed by many in power, even by those in the"leadership" of the Democratic party. Ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, and countless innocent humans are at risk. The very ecosphere is in jeopardy. Inaction is not an option.

Talk to your children or to a young friend about all this. Tell them what you feel about their future and explain your actions to them. Then ask them what they feel about it. Listen carefully. Maybe they would like to help.

Bruce F. Cole is a carpenter, songwriter and political activist living in Maine. He can be reached at