It was Mark Twain who once said “History does not repeat itself but it often rhymes”. It seems appropriate to review history given the times we are in. Over the past several decades we are a country that has become so divided we dare not speak to anyone who we consider “on the other side”. Each side viewing the other with contempt. The murmurs of a “stolen election” based on rhetoric, not fact. In a time of iPhone videos not even a stream of a crime being committed, but if you yell loud enough you will be heard and you will be followed. We seemingly scream anything these days in social media, many times ignorant of the historical context. We should not underestimate the power and reach of social media to amplify whatever sentiment we may support, to increase are level of anger and its sister, stress.
Donald Trump during one of his MAGA events said, “I am a Nationalist” to great applause. Given my personal history it made my stomach turn. Had we forgotten our history lessons or had we just become numb to what they meant? There are those that dismiss history and those that choose to learn from it. There are also those that get mired in a past that they elevate to some form of glory as if despite all the progress mankind has made we were better off before than we are now. A sentimental but sometimes dangerous tune to be swept away by. Yes as history has proven from time to time humanity chooses insanity over compassion.
Nationalism was a time in history where more was made of the leaders who led it rather than what it stood for. We are all familiar with their names: Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Salazar (ok little shout out to Portugal there) etc.. We know the promises that were delivered and the tragedy that ensued. They created a cult of personality. They were worshipped like idols so decried in a biblical sense, but believing themselves above scripture and ordained by the heavens, self ordained gods. It was a cult of personality. We are seeing a new form of Nationalists come to the forefront in Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, etc..each long on marketing and showmanship but short on details. Promising to the crowds and the applause a greater life and then returning to the safety net of individual wealth and luxury. Speaking not to the nation but only there loyal supporters. Many confuse nationalism with patriotism.
When I was born in in 1966 we were only 20 yrs removed from WWII. We were 50 yrs removed from WWI. There were still many veterans of both wars who remembered the horrors and atrocities of those dark years. We had a connection to the past and it was still vividly taught in our schools. because it was closer in time the atrocities of WWII were covered in greater detail – from the holocaust to Hiroshima. In my own home my father had participated in the Danish underground. He has walked streets that were marked with armed soldiers of the Reich. We all knew and were fairly well versed in Nazi atrocities. How had a country become some so seduced by one man? That would lead to a World War and cause levels of cruelty deemed unimaginable. Hitler came to symbolize evil. To represent a part of humanity that was hard to acknowledge that it existed or believe that it could ever happen again.
Time causes humanity’s senses to dull. WWI is now a 100 years in the rear view mirror and World War II over 75 years. A generation of young adults has little direct connection to those wars probably being steeped more in the latest wars in Iraq. Though brutal neither can hold a candle to the World War’s , where tens of millions of people perished in gulags and gas chambers, or simply on the firing line. We have begun to forget the consequences of war. In the United States the suffering caused by war was really only experienced in the South during the American Civil War and that is over 150 years ago, though the results of America’s experiment with slavery linger to this day. We now see globally a shift to the right and a return to the ideology of nationalism. It is different so far, but it is still early. The further we drift in time from ahistorical events the more clouded our mind becomes in remembering and undertstanding the consequences of those events.
One thing that has been implied but not spoken is what is the vision for the future of this nationalistic ideology? Make America Great Again makes for sound marketing, but it does not promise to build a future. To date it is a future where liberal ideas do not exist and how we rid ourselves of them has not been suggested. If we return to history we may find the answer. When I think of that my mind does not look to Fascism in Germany or Italy, but to a lesser know but equally brutal war: The Spanish Civil War. Prior to the war Spain had been mired in political dysfunction as various ideologies took root and competed for popular sovereignty(the early 20th Century was full of political ideology – communism through to fascism and everything in between). In the end it led to a civil war with land owners, the military and the church on one side and the republic, anarchists, communists, labor unions etc..on the other. Franco led the well organized military and the solution to opposition was simple – either put them in jail or shoot them. Atrocities were committed for the greater good of Spain. The dictatorship would last for 40 yrs until Franco’s death in 1975, even then Spain chose to put the past aside and focus on the future.
The mere fact that civil war is suggested in some circles is cause for concern. There would be no Mason-Dixon line this time to separate the nation, there would be only political divides. In Spain if your found to be holding any papers sympathetic to trade unions or papers that were left leaning that was enough. If you want to learn more about this period, view the documentary “The Silence of Others” (can be found on Netflix). In some ways it is more in line with modern warfare which is not driven by state lines or national borders in pursuit of political enemies. If anything America learned alot about this after 9/11. In begs the question of the future of the nation state, but that is for another blog post. Could the US actually descend into a state of chaos of civil war, Reagans beacon of shining light shred to pieces? It seems far fetched given the strength of our government institutions. But for too long we have taught a generation to distrust government and with that comes consequences, which we are only starting to face now.
It all seems a bit bleak, the classic if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. There are things that have changed in our favor. We cannot help but be in awe of the advances in science. Both in technology and the bio sciences. We are connected, but in a strange way we are also more disconnected. Living lives virtually and not really living. Seeing nature’s great beauty and rather than enjoying the moment, choosing to post it. If emotions could determine our fate then where we are headed seems a futile endeavor. Governed by humanities simplest and unkindest of emotions and descending into hatred and rage. These are not the emotions of rational people, but of suffering people. People who feel humiliated forgotten. Welcome to White America and Black America. On one side we have a group of people who saw their jobs vanish oversees and technology claim their position (these are blue collar folks, not the white power brokers). On the other side we have over 400 yrs of grievances dating back to the first slave in 1619. It is not surprising that we are endring something of a stress test. Many say it is a constitutional crisis, but I am rather dismissive of that argument. It is far greater than a written document, it is a crisis if the human spirit.
Good Night and Good Luck,
Hans Henrik Hoffmann Oct 28, 2021
2 thoughts on “History’s lessons”
There is certainly a lot to know about this subject. I love all the points you have made.
thanks for reading and appreciate the comments