- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Looking back to the future is an irresistible fantasy for nearly everybody, and Andrew Marr, the English historian, has written a book about it. His examination of what happened in Britain in the years after World War II says something about the rest of us, too.

“If, by an act of science or magic,” he writes in “A History of Modern Britain,” published by Macmillan, “a small platoon of British people from 1945 could be time-traveled 60 years into the future, what would they make of us? They would be nudging one another and trying not to laugh. They would be shocked by the different colors of skin. They would be surprised by the crammed and busy roads, the garish shops, the lack of smoke in the air … amazed at how big some of us are — not just tall but shamefully fat. … They would feel shock and revulsion at the gross wastefulness, the food flown from Zambia or Peru then promptly thrown out of houses and supermarkets uneaten, the mountains of intricately designed and hurriedly discarded music players, television sets and fridges, clothes and furniture; the ugly marks of painted, distorted words on walls and the litter everywhere of plastic and colored paper … wonder at our lack of church-going, our flagrant openness about sex, our divorce habit, our amazingly warm and comfortable houses.

“Yet these alien people were us. They are us. The crop-haired urchins of the ‘40s are our pensioners now. The impatient, lean, young adults of 1947 with their imperial convictions or socialist beliefs are around us still. … It was their lives and the choices they made which led to here and now. So although they might stare at us and ask, ‘Who are these alien people?’ We could reply: ‘We are you, what you chose to become.’ ”

The time-traveled people of the ‘40s, both in Britain and in America, would no doubt be astonished by what they would read about on the front pages — the transformation of China, from a backwater where the millions hungry for a few grains of rice having to satisfy themselves with Marxist gruel, to a cohesive nation poised to challenge Europe and America for capitalist economic supremacy. They would be astonished by the impudence of the Islamic jihadists (and astounded that so much of the civilized West is so easily intimidated). But not everything is alien. They might be reassured in some perverse way that part of the world turned upside down over the six decades since the end of the second war to end wars is trying to turn itself right side up. The Russians still seem up to no good.

Vladimir Putin, the old KGB hand who never misses an opportunity to impersonate the old KGB hands of the bad old days, only last week denounced “disrespect for human life, claims to global exclusiveness and dictate, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich.” This was a tedious return to Cold War rhetoric. The Kremlin quickly insisted that Mr. Putin hadn’t been talking about the Bush administration, but it was difficult for anyone this side of Foggy Bottom to imagine that he had been talking about Luxembourg or San Marino.

The Putin government went out of its way to be rude to Condoleezza Rice when the secretary of state arrived in Moscow yesterday to pay a call on the president. She had told reporters on her plane that “there is no new Cold War,” and for her trouble the Kremlin canceled an event where she and the president were to make brief remarks and be photographed together.

“I don’t throw around terms like ‘new Cold War,’ ” she said. “It is a big, complicated relationship, but it is not one that is anything like the implacable hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union for a half-century after World War II. It is not an easy time in the relationship, but it is also not, I think, a time in which cataclysmic things are affecting the relationship or catastrophic things are happening in the relationship.” Some of this was diplomatic argle-bargle; what else could she say?

Still, the lady makes a point, and Miss Rice is, after all, the Russian expert at the White House. If the jihadists had not tried to blow up the world in the name of Allah just as George W. Bush was settling in at the White House, the nurturing of the U.S.-Russian relationship would have been the lady’s legacy. Russia, as she says, is not the Soviet Union. Praise the Lord (and pass the ammunition).

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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