It was a disturbing piece on the radio — NPR. The commentator was interviewing a lady who had been studying the times in which we live in relation to history. Her work had been done on the subject of civil wars, such as in Syria, Lebanon, places in Africa and then our own Civil War as well as places in Europe. Talking with authors and historians who covered civil wars, the prevailing feeling was we are seeing something similar to that happening in our country right now. It is not a shooting war, in the trenches kind of action, but there is an alignment of viewpoints taking place which have already led to strong feelings, speaking out and violent actions. One historian had a map of red and blue states today and over that placed a map of Civil War alignments and it was almost the same as it was in 1860.
“If you don’t remember your history you are condemned to repeat it.”
The changes we are seeing in every corner of the globe, in countries of every economic level are major and have been a long time in their development. In the U.S. we see a fracturing of our Congress and a loss of effectiveness in the judicial system. The executive branch has lost its moral leadership position in our government. What we have taken for granted for the past 250 years has been shifting under our feet. Not only the loss of power in the government, but the fracturing of societal norms which seem to have caught us by surprise, have been appearing for a long time.
The European continent was the birthplace of many national groups over thousands of years of history. The dream of unification was attempted with various empires which only survived for a short while. The European Common Market was another attempt at that unification, but today the undying rise of nationalism is causing it to fray at its edges.
The only thing constant in life is change and the changes have been fast and furious in the past fifty years. Advances in technology have made us more one world than any other activity. Multi-national corporations have billions of dollars invested everywhere and many young people think of themselves as citizens of the world rather than of a single nation.
This line of thinking runs counter to the national groups in every country who are demanding their own piece of land. I remember when the Soviet Union fell apart in the 1980s. Where there had been one nation, the U.S.S.R, there were now 15 independent nation states with names that had not been uttered for nearly one hundred years — Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and on and on. Where once there was Czechoslovakia there is now the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic. After a particular bloody and lengthy war Yugoslavia was torn apart into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia. Ethnic cleansing was a reality in Bosnia and Serbia and involved Moslems and Christians who had lived together for centuries until the civil war tore them apart.
I recently read an autobiography of a young woman who survived the tribal warfare in Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Nearly 800,000 people were killed in the conflict. In Cambodia over 1.7 million people were tortured, killed, and starved when the Khmer Rouge tried to remake the country into a Communist state.
In our own country we like to think of ourselves as above the fray of European entanglements and a portion of our history is the attempt to keep ourselves at arms-length from these disturbances. But we cannot be an island unto ourselves. We are an integral part of a much larger picture and we must deal with our our internal divisions and broken history.
The speakers I heard on the radio news program were not ‘doom-sayers’, predicting a collapse of our government, but they were people who have studied the issues and much like the reality of global warming in a world that has for too long shut its eyes and is now facing the results of that denial, we need to be looking at our world with new vision, studying history, knowing our own values and being ready to compromise. Compassion and understanding between peoples has never been more important than right now. Teaching our young people how to live these values has never been more important that right now. Something to think about as we begin another school year.