The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Sunday, September 1, 2013
History ...

I’m not very good with short twitter-like messages; just can’t seem to think of anything that would come across in 140 or even 200 characters. Especially not about stuff like World War 1 and its lessons for today’s Middle East.

But here’s a good short thought that I recently read about World War 1. I think it serves nicely to explain what that war was really all about.

[Our belief that] when a government we find unsatisfactory is overthrown, we can expect a better government to follow, goes back at least as far as President Woodrow Wilson. His intervention in the First World War — a war “to make the world safe for democracy” — turned out to be a war whose actual end results replaced old monarchies with new, and far worse, totalitarian governments.

Yes, WW1, the war for democracy, was really the bridge between a world dominated by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tsarist Russia, Imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire, and the reign of Stalin and Hitler (and throw in a few additional tinpot dictators like Franco and Mussolini). It took another big war and a long cold war thereafter to get to a better situation, where democracy could flourish — in Europe, anyway. The vacuum created in the Middle East by the fall of the Ottomans was finally filled after WW2 by nationalistic strongmen. Recently the last of them had their downfalls (or in Syria, are still having it); but how many future wars or bloody uprisings will it take until the Middle East finally becomes “safe for democracy”?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:14 pm      

  1. Jim, I agree with you that it is not sensible to just overthrow a gov’t and expect that democracy will follow. I do not think it is just “we” who have such expectations; I think that the people in the various countries that now are so chaotic (Egypt, Syria, for two) somehow expect “democracy” to follow an overthrow. Yet, I think that the people in those various countries also have a different idea of democracy from the concept of democracy that we here in America have. They picture democracy within the prism of their own particular culture, which is very different from the American culture.

    If one thinks about it, it takes at least two generations for the American culture to “take hold”. The first group of immigrants often settles into a kind of “ghetto” that is comprised of people from their own culture. For instance, in the past, Germans have grouped together, Italians have grouped together, etc.; in the present Mexicans group together, Puerto Ricans group together, Lebanese group together, etc. In these immigrant groups often the people continue speaking their own language; the Mexicans are the only group I know of who seem to have won the right to have English translated into their own language; any other group has simply kept their language among themselves in their own areas and picked up English as they needed it. Cultural practices remained the same as in the country of origin in these various immigrant groups.

    It was/is only with the second generation, the *children* of the immigrants, where language, customs, etc., began/begin to change. By the third generation the change to American is complete (notwithstanding the fact that one almost never loses touch with one’s own group of origin.)

    Heaven knows how groups who never immigrate perceive democracy. And it’s right with those particular peoples, those who never emigrate, those who remain within their own country where the difference with how democracy is perceived has its greatest diversity.

    I tho’t that Sowell’s article hit the nail on the head when he said that (I paraphrase) America’s hubris is incredible when the countries in the Middle East have gone without democracy for thousands of years and done just fine, thank you very much. When one thinks of it, America has a lot of nerve thinking that all countries want to be/should be democratic. (And I took note of the fact that Sowell points out that there have been 5 female heads of state – but not in the Middle East. I must add: America itself has found it most difficult itself to accept a female head of state.)

    I tend to think that our mistake is, that when we hear peoples in other countries calling for “democracy”, “freedom”, in general the kinds of things one takes for granted in America, that we automatically jump to the conclusion that they want democracy just exactly the way America has democracy, but those countries do not want “American democracy”; they want democracy with their own particular cultural approach to it. And who are we to say that what has worked for our country in our culture will automatically work for other countries with their own particular culture. Furthermore: Why should their cultures be considered below par by us? As Sowell says, other countries have done just fine for thousands of years; who are we to tell them they must have democracy the way we think it should be.

    I agree with you. It will take who knows how many years for other countries of the world to accept (if they want to accept) democracy and adapt that democracy to their own cultures. So far at this point I find myself wondering if China may be the only country who has “tweeked” democracy to fit its own culture. I agree it’s going to be a long, hard row to hoe. MCS

    Comment by Mary — September 2, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

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