“History is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa.”

A small snippet from President Obama’s speech Monday evening on his decision to join the United Nations coalition in Libya. History is on the move.

While browsing through the Wikipedia article on Libya, I came across a banner at the top of the section on the 2011 uprisings. It read: This article or section may be slanted towards recent events. Please try to keep recent events in historical perspective.

Always during my history classes, I like to take my textbook and flip to the very last chapter and read the textbook version of the most recent history. If the textbook is a recent edition, the final chapters inevitably include the Sept. 11 attacks, the War against Terror, and the increasing unrest in the Middle East.

Reading about the history I’ve lived to see is like reading about your own life, laid out objectively in the pages of a textbook. The events which are detailed from a scholarly, historical perspective hold memory and emotion to me. These are the events that shaped the world as I know it. Yet, in the grander scale of history, they warrant only a few passages in the tail-end of a textbook.

History always seems grander by proximity.  

Our country broods as we watch our president commit to a military role in Libya. We remember Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Somalia, and Vietnam. We remember long-drawn conflicts, lost lives and poor results.

But we also remember Rwanda. We remember Bosnia. We remember hesitating to act and watching thousands of people be massacred.

Muammar al-Gaddafi (this is how Wikipedia tells me to spell it, and thus it is law) threatened to crush the rebellion swiftly and violently. It is interesting to note that Gaddafi himself came to power as a result of a military coup d’etat, which he led. History repeats.

We do not want to engage. No one wants to. But we cannot sit idly by, and so we act. We utilize the international channels established to respond to these threats. We act, not as one nation seeking to meddle in the affairs of another, but as a United Nations coalition, with the aim of protecting civilian lives.

During his address the president asserted again and again that America’s role in this action is limited, and that we act as part of a larger international organization. On Wednesday control of the operation was turned over to NATO, fulfilling the President’s pledge to keep American soldiers off the ground and in a supportive role.

The question remains, and will always remain: should we be there in the first place?

No one has an answer, because there isn’t one. The president and the leaders of the other countries involved must do what they feel is right day by day.

The President said in his speech that “history is not on Gaddafi’s side.” And perhaps it isn’t.

There’s a monologue by Charlie Chaplin from his film “The Great Dictator” that I’ve been thinking of lately. In it he says, “The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.  The hate of men will pass and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people, and so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”

History is on the move, and we are the observers. We can do little more but watch and listen and hope that history proves kinder than our expectations.