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Goethe and Patton

General Patton said that there are no new battles—all the battles that can be fought have been fought in history, only the technology has changed. This is the same as Goethe’s observation that there are no new ideas—no new truths—only the same truths that are digested by a new generation and clothed in a new way. Hence anyone who tries to be original, as in a one-off, will not be original—perhaps they will be a novelty or fashionable, but they will not be original.

The original person knows “there is nothing new under the sun”—paradoxically, it’s people who know nothing has changed who can do something completely different.

In fact, contra Patton, even the technology remains the same—Patton said the technology was the only thing that changed in battles because he either didn’t know about or hadn’t thought about technology a lot. However, the same principle applies to technology as to battles and ideas: a rocket ship is just the same principle as a spear—it brings a distant object, whether a bison or the planet Mars, close to your reach. What has happened is that the basic principle has been reclothed and reiterated many times.

Hence there are no new battles—just the same battle fought with new technology, which usually means the same events happen over shorter time spans (technology collapses distance and time—thanks to a hypersonic missile, your “spear” makes Washington synonymous with the end of a playing field in a Moscow park).

It is the same with men: there are no new men, just the same men reclothed again and again through history.


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