Cornycornguy (cornycornguy) wrote in scholarly_reads,

History of the Present, Pt. 2, and a painful question

I finished History of the Present : Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s last night. If Central and Eastern Europe is an area of interest, this is a worthwhile read. Even if that region is not terribly interesting to you, Timothy Garton Ash's writing is thought provoking and insightful.

There were two themes in this book that I intend to read up on further. The first is extremely timely: how do nations devastated by totalitarian governments and war recover, not only physically (restoration of vital services & law and order) but also psychologically? Is it better for a nation to try to "draw a thick line" between the past and the present, as Poland did, or to go through a period of trials and purges, as South Africa and the Czech Republic did? Ash doesn't come up with any formula that he proposes will work for all nations, but he does point out some lessons learned in Eastern Europe that I think would be useful for our political leaders and military to keep in mind.

The other theme, one that I fear may become timely this decade, in its simplest form can be boiled down to the questions "Is there ever a time that ethnic cleansing is justified? Is it sometimes better to build a fence between people than to have them slaughter one another?" Truly horrible questions, but one which I fear the world may be forced to face again soon in the Middle East in regards to the Kurds and/or the Palestinians (God help us if we have to face this question in the United States...).

First a definition: ethic cleansing does not mean rape, murder, or the wholesale destruction of indigenous populations. War crimes are war crimes, regardless of the end. Ethic cleansing in Ash's mind means the seperating of peoples into relatively homogenous (80%+) nations.

Ash pretty well sums up his conclusion in the following passage:

this separating into small states or substate units with clear ethnic majorities [that he has been describing throughout the book], driven though it has been by manipulative and cynical postcommunist nationalism, nonetheless has powerful precedents and counterparts in the rest of Europe. Elsewhere in Europe, too, people generally prefer to be ruled by those they consider somehow "of their own kind." Only once thus constituted, in some version of a nation-state, are they prepared (up to a point) to come together in larger regional and all-European units. A realistic liberal internationalism for the twenty-first century needs to take on board the insights of liberal nationalists for the nineteenth.

Clearly American society also began by uprooting the indigenous population. We may feel guilty about it now, but it would be hypocritical not to note that some of our political stability may have come about because of it.

Ash's conclusions sound a lot like an interview with Israeli historian Benny Morris that I posted in my journal last week: if you have two populations, unable or unwilling to negotiate a deescalation of tension, on the brink of killing one another, isn't forced separation a lesser evil than genocide?

As an American committed to and proud of our multiethnic society, I have a hard time ever condoning segregation. But from my limited experience travelling abroad, I have to admit that ethnic tensions run considerably deeper in parts of the world where history is continually present and historical grievances get passed on to children the way recipes and baseball gloves do here. My "why can't we all just get along" attitude probably isn't realistic in such a part of the world.

Other people's thoughts? Does anyone have any recommendations for further reading on either of these topics?

And a complete aside... the word "anachronistic" came to mind for describing my attitude toward multiculturalism, but "anachronism" is obviously rooted in time. Is there such a word root in space? "Right attitude, wrong place"?

Welcome to the new folks who have joined since I posted to community_promo. I hope you will consider posting about whatever has been on your mind. My posts are neither terribly eloquent nor profound, but I hope they will get some discussion started.
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