The study of ‘history’ can be very different depending on who is looking at the situation and when. This is something that separates it from science in mathematics. In the hard sciences, 2+2=4 no matter where in the world you are, or what century you are in. The social sciences, however, inject ideas and feelings into ‘facts’ to determine who was right and who was wrong.
In the field of economics, because the US won the cold war against the USSR, they can make a legitimate claim that their model of economics was superior. 20+ years later, many people in the new generation can not even fathom the idea that there was a mode of thought that says the government gets to tell you what job to do, what to eat, and where to go. Even the young, idealistic american neo-communists really only support the idea of equality. If you told them that the government was going to give them the job that had to do and the amount of food they would be allowed to eat, and they had no choice – these same people would revolt. However, these ideas are so foreign to them, they don’t understand that this is what comes along with communism.
The same can be said for the study of history. Because the US won the revolutionary war, Paul Revere and George Washington are patriots. Because they won, they can claim how great they are, and a whole throng of people will write books about them, and put their pictures on paper currency. Had they lost, however, we would never have known their name. They would have been relegated to a page in the British book showing their heads decapitated for being just another tyrant against the almighty British crown.
It is important to understand that our perceptions then of past historical events are fluid, because it helps us keep perspective on today’s events. The great debate of this current moment, is if Ed Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Conventional history on him will be different depending on who wins. Since the US is currently the world’s only superpower, it is likely the US will win (as they have won everything for the past 200+ years), and history will judge him as a tyrant. Had this happened 10 years ago, I would say for certainty that history will judge him as a tyrant
But the US is facing, for the first time in a generation, the rise of a supreme threat to its global dominance – China. Unlike the USSR, the Chinese economy is growing, it has a larger population, and its economic model is far superior to that of the USSR. Within 10-20 years, its global power will challenge that of the US. Which also means that it gets to justify anything it does as correct, because it will be a big winner in the future both economically and militarily. Snowden, being in China, is just igniting fuel to that fire. Depending on if the Chinese extradite him without much of a fuss or if they harbor him or even allow him passage to another country permitting him asylum, the course of history will change. If the Chinese extradite him, they world will essentially submit that the US still reigns supreme and no one can mess with what their demands. If Snowden were from the Congo the world would laugh at the idea that he should be extradited since the Congo has no power and everyone knows they are corrupt anyways. The difference, of course, is that he is from the US – the same people who have been writing the history for 200 years, so he should be brought to justice, since the US is a fair, just nation. While not making judgements on this statement, the truth is just that the US is a whole lot more powerful than the Congo.
However, if the Chinese harbor him or refuse to extradite him, it will be the first political pushback to US supremacy in 20 years. China will be announcing they they have arrived, and that the world is tired of getting pushed around by the US. No longer will the US get whatever it wants, whenever it wants. World decisions will now also have to have Chinese approval.
If China grows the way that is expected and becomes an economic, military, and political power in the world, the Ed Snowden situation may well be looked at as a turning point. The line in the sand could be drawn, indicating that much of history, will from now on, be written by the Chinese.