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2019: The Coming Disorder and a Spark that Cannot be Extinguished

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Abraham Lincoln noted:

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

It is good to remember Lincoln’s words in times of turmoils. I do, and they bring me great motivation to work, believe, and fight for justice, truth, and the belief in a spark of goodness in humanity which enables me to believe the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The fact that those words come from a time of tumult, yet in a time where men were beginning to wrestle with and proclaim principles of the Enlightenment matters much to me, especially in times like we live today, where that principle is being attacked and undermined by the American President.

That being said, I believe that 2019 will be remembered in history as a time great turmoil, upheaval, and probably usher in a new epoch of war, economic, and ecological disaster. We may again be witnesses to genocide that leaders of governments fail to take the necessary actions to stop.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as a historian I to look at the world through how human beings, governments, and businesses behave in times of crisis. In fact, human beings are the singular constant in history and in crisis human beings don’t always live up to our ideals.

When major powers and international systems of order break down, or collapse for whatever reason, instability, disorder, and primordial hatreds based on nationalism, religion, and racism rise. A vacuum is created, filled by other powers, but not without some element of travail. Edmond Taylor wrote in his classic “The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Order, 1905-1922:

“The collapse of the great supranational — or at least supraparochial — authorities and the dissolution of long-accepted Imperial bonds released upon Europe a fearsome flood of conflicting national ambitions, of inflamed minority particularisms, of historic (sometimes almost prehistoric) irredentisms, of irreconcilable social aspirations and of rival political fanaticisms.

The impending collapse of the old order today can be seen in a return to a more isolationist policy by the United States, rising populist, nationalist, and ethnocentric movements in Europe which are threatening the existence of the European Union. Those include Brexit, ethnic nationalism mixed with a bit of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Poland, and great strains in France and Germany between right and left wing populist movements.

The common thread is the center which was the key to so much social progress, democracy, economic growth and stability, scientific advancement, and international security is giving way. There are many reasons for this, on the American side going back to the imperialist overreach of the George W. Bush administration, the inconsistent and detached method of the Obama administration towards the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, following that, and now the decidedly inconsistent, often irresponsible, and irreconcilable policies of isolationism and militarism.

A rejuvenated Russia is rushing to fill the void in the Middle East as well as working to destabilize its neighbors, Europe, and even the United States. The Chinese are attempting to make gains in other areas and to drive the United States out of Asia by using every element of national power: diplomacy, information, military might, and economics, while the United States following the Trump Administration’s withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and subsequent punishing tariffs that are hurting allies and Americans more than China the United States is now at a decided disadvantage in Asia.

I could go on, and could go into details on the causes of the current situation but they are many. What we are seeing now is the beginning of the collapse of an order that we have known most of our lives. While many people might be uneasy, most don’t view things in terms of history, in many cases because the events that led to the establishment of the current order are too distant and the witnesses to those times are few, and dying off. People today seldom study history, and even worse no longer know people, including family members who remember what happened to remind them of it.

That was quite similar to the situation in 1914. Europe had been at relative peace for a century. With the exception of the French Republic, most of Europe was still ruled by monarchies with rather limited democratic participation, if any. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The Proud Tower: A Portrait Of the World Before the War, 1890-1914:

“The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, “With emotion, to the man I used to be.”

I believe that 2019 will the a year of multiple crises and the further erosion, if not collapse of the old order. What will come I do not know, but I expect that at the minimum it will be unsettling and disruptive, if not catastrophic. That doesn’t mean that I am a pessimist, it means that I study history. Provided that humanity does not find a way to destroy itself, we will recover. It may not be pretty and it certainly will not be the same as it was, but we will recover.

Walter Lord wrote about this his book on American in the early Twentieth Century The Good Years: 1900-1914. In the book he wrote about how things changed for Americans as Europe plunged into war. The effects of the war were soon felt in the United States though it would not enter the war until 1917. Lord wrote:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

The truth is, even in the midst of crises that the spark that enables people to believe, to hope, and to labor for a better future where the possibilities of peace, justice, freedom, and progress can be realized.

2019 will likely be a very difficult year, a year of change and turbulence, and truthfully it will probably be just the beginning; but unless finds a way to destroy itself, it will not be the end.

So, unless I get a hair up my ass to write something else before midnight, I wish you a Happy New Year, and all the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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New Years Eve: Our Hopes and Our Will to Try

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is New Year’s Eve and in some parts of the world it is already 2017, it is amazing how time flies.

After the year that was 2016 with its seeming unending cycle of violence, hate, war, destruction, and political turmoil including Brexit and the 2016 Presidential campaign that culminated in the election of Donald Trump is over. Overall 2016 was a difficult year, and some would even call it bad. One hundred years ago the world was engaged in a war that was killing thousands of men a day. Some hoped that 1917 would be better, but it wasn’t. In fact in some ways the conflagration that had erupted in 1914 would get far worse.

I hope that 2017 is different and turns out better than 2016, we certainly could use a break, but the forces of history and nature are sometimes greater than our hopes, but we can always hope. Even so more than hope we who believe in liberty, freedom, humanity, brotherhood, and justice must work against the forces of war, terrorism, dehumanization, and political ideologies that are designed to enslave, devalue, and marginal people based on race, religion, gender, color, or belief.

I believe that the forces that made 2016 so terrible will not take a break and that we need to stand up and do the right and sometimes the hard things in order to protect liberty. The time for safe zones is past, as progressives we have to toughen up; think rationally, and act strategically if we are to protect the liberties of all people, including people who will find out far to late that they placed their trust in the wrong place. But I digress…

Many people will see in the New Year singing Auld Lang Syne. I suppose that as Judy and I pop the Champagne and toast tonight when we watch the Ball descend in Times Square on our television, safe from all the drunk drivers that we will as well. Not that we will be isolated, we will go out earlier and see our friends at Gordon Biersch around dinner time and get out before the crowds get going and the place gets too loud and crazy for our tastes.

But my favorite song for the New Year is Abba’s Happy New Year.  Like Auld Lang Syne it is a melancholy song of the end of one year’s hopes, dreams and expectations and hopes and dreams for the New Year. I think one of the lines that I like, one which I think calls on us to actually do more than hope, but to act on hope, is “May we all have a vision…” A vision requires that we begin to imagine a better future, in a sense it is to dream, as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

To fulfill that dream and vision we must live, work, dream and imagine that things can be better, and as Dr. King said, Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…

The song, Happy New Year ends with this verse, May we all have our hopes, our will to try, If we don’t we might as well lay down and die, You and I

Here is wishing you the best New Year possible, and I for one will not lay down and die.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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What’s On Deck this Week

 Friends of Padre Steve’s World,


I have been working on a number of articles that will be published here this week. I have one coming up on some of the very troubling episodes of xenophobia that have occured in England and Wales in the wake of the Brexit vote, incidents that are similar to some that have occured in the United States and other nations over the past several months. Of course I have a number that are continued work on my Civil War and Gettysburg texts. As I mentioned I am going to have to split the first two chapters, which alone account for over 350 pages of the nearly 1100 page text into their own book or books. The trouble when you go back through work on history or political and military theory to clarify and amplify what you are saying is that it often results in more text. At least as I do this the bumpy places in the text are coming together in a much more smooth and readable form. Of course the subjects that I write about in it are just as pertinent today as they were in the ante-bellum era, The Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as the post-Reconstruction and White supremacist Jim Crow era.

Over the weekend I will be writing about the Declaration of Independence, and the most important proposition in it, the proposition that all men are created equal.

So anyway, with that said, have a great Tuesday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Brexit Stage Right: Unintended Consequences Matter


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today we woke up to a different world, a world that will not resemble what we have grown up with, and that may usher in more inequity and violence than we could ever imagine. Yesterday, the people of Great Britian voted to leave the European Union. Now to many Americans that may not seem like a big deal, but it is, the unintended consequences of a vote based on very real grievances will most likely beget unimaginable conflicts and turmoil that will effect the entire world. I do not say that lightly. 

Total major economic markets crashed on the news of Brexit, the British Pound Sterling collapsed, and if it were not for the intervention of major banking and currency houses, the collapse may have been worse. Billions of worth of Dollars, Pounds, Euros, and other currency’s values were erased within hours. These losses are not just paper, they are the investments of many people, including men and women who have invested their savings in various retirement programs tied to the stock markets and financial markets, and sadly those initial losses may be the least incurred by people, especially by the mostly English (as opposed to Scottish and Northern Irish) citizens of the United Kingdom who voted to leave the European Union intended. 

As I mentioned last night, I can understand why so many working class Englishmen voted to leave the E.U. In fact, I have never been a big fan of the E.U., but that being said, despite its flaws which I think are legion, I believe that Europe and the world, including the United States are now better with it than without it. We so often forget that the international alliances of the Eurpoean Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations have done for stability and peace in Europe. People too often forget the disastrous great World Wars of the Twentieth Century, the genociadal regime of Hitler, and the Soviet Communists which led to its creation in the early 1950s. The European Union may need substantive reform, and even to restrict some of its bereaucratic initiatives, but on the whole it has been a force for good. With the exception of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the subsequent wars in the Balkans, the European continent has been free of war since 1945. In light of that I would have counseled the people who voted to leave to instead have worked inside the system to reform it, but just as in the United States, people tend to be more motivated by fear than by reason when it comes to government. 

Sadly, there will be unintended consequence, the first of which on the economic front are already being felt, the U.S. Dow Jones lost over 600 points today, the largest loss in over four years. Other stock markets and financials are continuing to fall in value. In the hours following the vote to “leave” the E.U., there is the very real threat that the United Kingdom may collapse as the people of Scotland as well as possibly Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar begin preparations to leave the U.K. If that happens it will have major economic and security effects in the U.K. Much of British industry, including shipbuilding, petroleum and other  energy are concentrated in those parts of the U.K., as is the major British Trident submarine base and nuclear weapons facility at Faslane Scotland. The United Kingdom is not just England. If Scotland leaves the U.K., and if Northern Ireland follows suit it will be disastrous to the very working people in England who voted to leave the E.U., both in terms of economics and national security. The truth is that the world’s economic and security interests are much more interconnected and dependent than most people who follow the dictates of “my country first,” or “my interests first” fail to understand. 

Believe me, I get the anger, I get the frustration that is found in the United States among the supporters or Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and the British citizens who voted to leave the E.U. I do not condemn them, at the same time I would politely disagree with the way to solve the problem. In the aftermath of Brexit, anti-European Union parties in France, and the Netherlands are threatening to do what they can to break up the E.U. Likewise, there are other movements in Europe which after having taken the financial resources of the E.U., are willing to quit it regardless of the economic and security consequences. Unfortunately, to paraphrase the words of one of my readers for the U.K., that they may have opened Pandora’s Box in voting for this.

But another consequence will be felt by the ethnic and religious minorities whose ancestors fought for these nations when they were colonial empires; Indians, Asians, Arabs, North Africans, and sub-Saharan Africans who fought and often died for the British, Dutch, French, and Belgian colonial empires in wars that did little to benefit them. The abject racism that has been displayed by some people of the Brexit movement, as well as the right wing movements in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and other nations is frightening to comprehend. The fact that race and religious hatred can emerge from the ashes of the Holocaust is hard to imagine, and the sad thing is that those who propagate race and religious hatred against Muslims, Hindus, and others would do the same to the Jews, if there were enough left in Europe to make it worthwhile. 

Unfortunently, the real terrorists that those in the Brexit movement and other right-wing European movements fear are those whose world view is their mirror image, radical ideologues that are unwilling to compromise with or accept those  who are different from them; not those who have tried to adapt and assimilate in a world where they are still, after generations of work and sacrifice for their former colonial masters are still not welcome. Sadly, that has resulted in some of these people embracing the cause of groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaida. 

Since I am neither the Prophet, nor the Son of the Prophet, I cannot say what will finally happen in the near future, but I know that last night was a watershed and that the world that we have known for decades, and that the people of the United Kingdom have known for over two centuries will never be the same again. In light of history, that is not a good thing. 

I know that most of the people who votes to leave the European Union meant well, but sometimes the best of intentions lead to consequences which are more terrible than what the people thought they were intending. That is another fact that history demonstrates. 

Have a good night. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Reading, Writing, and Brexit 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am posting a short thought since I have been very busy at work this week with a new class on deck at the Staff College, and continuing to do more research and writing on my Civil War and Gettysburg text. Within the context of my research and writing I am going to be posting some new material this weekend, but I have not decided if it will be in portions of the updated text or in short articles dealing with selected ideas and topics. 

Before those are posted I probably will be posting something on the results of the British referendum to remain in or leave the European Union. Since what happens in the United Kingdom and Europe matters a great deal to the United States and the world, in both economic and security matters it is important. Likewise, since I have a good number of friends in the U.K., as well as the fact that my ancestry is predominantly Irish, Scottish, and English I have a personal interest. 

While I can understand the reasons that many people, especially in England as opposed to Scotland and Northern Ireland are voting to leave the E.U., I do fear that a vote to leave the European Union could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom, something that I think would be bad for all concerned, for as history shows, the breakup of nations, states, and political unions seldom brings about more liberty or stability. There are a few exceptions to this, but again, they are exceptions. But whatever the result of the referendum, it will be historic and it will not end the debate. 

So, I will finish my beer and get ready to go to bed. Until tomorrow, have a good night and a better day. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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