Seeing by a Summer Moon

September 3

I was in Croatia recently, reading about the Comanche tribe of the Great Plains. Little in common? No very much in common!

I was reading Empire of the Summer Moon, a fine book and one of the many that have reminded me that I don’t know anything. I learned more about the Comanche and the conflict between whites and natives in the first few dozen pages than I had learned in my whole life. One’s ignorance can come as a shock sometimes.

But in addition to learning a new set of factoids, the book is a vivid portrayal of the complexity of history. Takeaway: If you try to understand history as a conflict between this one thing and that other thing, you are not going to understand history or anything else. The history of the American continent is complex. Oh, and the Balkans too, in case you hadn’t heard.

The Balkans used to be synonymous with trouble and complexity, before trouble and complexity sprang up everywhere else. Trouble and complexity appear to be the new normal, and complexity is what we ought to be studying. The longer we try to shoehorn events into a simple narrative, we will be living the 21st century with one eye closed. Maybe both eyes.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog.
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