Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Irrational Passion

"How can the irrational passions of nationalism or religion be contained before they do more damage?" -Margaret MacMillan-

Having finished Paris 1919 (which I highly recommend!), I ponder the question set forth by Margaret MacMillan at the end of her writing. I love how she uses the phrase "irrational passions" to describe nationalism & religion. In both cases, people become so fixated on their own set of beliefs, devotion, and loyalty that they become blind to the rest of the world. Deprived of reason and logic, people tend to get wrapped up in the strong emotional tie of their culture, country, or set of religious beliefs and doctrines. The result is a group of people willing to do anything to back up their position and protect their vantage point. At that point there is little to do but watch the destruction that will eventually unfold. The end of World War I brought forth alliances, partnerships, and forced merges that collided into chaos. The world has never been the same. In much the same way today, we are faced with those same irrational passions of people that do not seem to have an answer on how to be solved. Clearly we cannot outlaw nationalism or religion. Nor would doing so be a realistic answer. Rather the answer must lie somewhere within the realm of tolerance. Getting people to drop their blind devotion to a cause or belief and open their eyes to the beliefs of others sounds so good on paper, and yet does not seem possible. Containment seems like a better possibility and yet even in that we are sitting on 90 years since the Paris Peace Conference and our world seems as hell bent on destruction as it was back then. Where do we go from here? Will the maelstrom that these irrational passions have thrust us into ever be solved? It seems to me that if we could solve that - we might finally solve the problem that started the Great War in the first place.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Praise for Moms

So I have been battling some nasty sickness over the last few days. I have had the body aches, nasty cough, high fever, sinus congestion, and now for good measure a sore throat has decided to take place. I hate being sick. But I have noticed something in this sickness. On Thursday I stayed home from work because I simply felt beyond awful. The entire day I rotated between taking hot showers and laying down watching movies. I was completely useless. At the end of the day I realized that my wife had taken care of the kids all day long and had done everything in order to make me feel better. What made this remarkable was this: when my wife has been really sick and nasty feeling, she often still needs to be Mom to the boys. She doesn't have the luxury of rotating hot showers & laying down. Instead she must deal with personally feeling terrible and taking care of the the needs for the boys. I realized then why Moms are so important. No matter how terrible they are feeling - they are always available. It was that way with my Mom. Now I see my wife doing it with our kids. It may not be Mother's Day - but my wife certainly deserves praise today for being an incredible Mom to our boys.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Poland itself survived its difficult birth and even flourished for a time. It had not won back all its historic territories, but it was still a big country and it had its window on the Baltic. These gains, however, came at a huge cost. The powers, even the French, thought the Poles greedy and feckless. And its neighbors had much to resent: Lithuania, the Vilna region; the Soviet Union, the 150-mile-wide strip of what had been Russian territory; Czechoslovakia, the conflict over Teschen; and Germany, the corridor and Danzig. In the summer of 1939 Poland disappeared from the map yet again. -MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919. New York, 2001., underline mine-

Greed is a funny thing. It creates within each of us a desire for more and more while feelings of justification that all the excess we desire - we simultaneously deserve. Even when others [including our friends & allies] point out our selfishness, we tend to retreat to our own selfishness that they must be wrong and do not understand the pains we feel or why we deserve more. I cannot help but identify with Poland in 1919. It understandably wanted its own country and right to exist. It understandably had past grievances & injustices that it wanted paid back. Yet in its quest for all that it "deserved," Poland became alienated by creating hostility & resentment from all those who surrounded it. Eventually this lead to its downfall. What is the cost of all our greed and selfishness? At what point have we overstepped our boundaries in our quest to get all the injustice done to us paid back? In the end is it really worth it to us to gain while creating resentment all around us? Unfortunately, greed blinds our eyes and hearts to seeing the devastation we cause by the pursuit of self. Poland paid dearly for it. What will the cost be in my life for all my own greed?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Myopic Thinking

"If after establishing the League [League of Nations], we are so stupid as to let Germany train and arm a large army and again become a menace to the world, we would deserve the fate which such folly would bring upon us." -Colonel Edward House-

I am reading a book on the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 after the end of World War I right now. I came across the above quote from the Presidential-Advisor House, and thought just how myopic it was. Of course, I benefit from the looking back now and realizing that World War II was just around the corner, and indeed the Germans would become a menace to the world again. However, it has gotten me thinking on just how dangerous shortsighted thinking can be. The question though is how does one prevent it? House was like many other thinkers in 1919 - they simply could not fathom the Great War not being the war to end all wars. So in pondering the issue, I came up with what I believe are necessary starting points for avoiding myopic thinking and planning.
  1. Distance myself from traditional thinking and the prevailing mindset of most (if not "all") people. I simply cannot follow the line of thought that most agree with.
  2. I need to consider all possibilities and viewpoints. If is it possible and has been thought of - it deserves some considering.
  3. I must prepare with the future always more important then the present. What "solved" issues in 1919 did nothing in the 1930's with the rise of Nazism, Fascism, and even Communism.

I still think blunders will arise - but the disasters of settling for myopic thinking & planning are far too costly.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Peace Without Victory

"He (Wilson) was convinced that only a negotiated peace could endure, that a dictated peace forced upon the loser 'would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which the terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand.'”
-Barbara W. Tuchman (inner quote from Woodrow Wilson)-
"Peace without victory" was the high hope of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for the outcome of World War I. He believed that if peace terms could be agreed upon without one side being the victor, that peace could endure. Of course, a dictated peace did happen and we know from history that the sting, resentment, and bitterness of the Central Powers, particularly Germany, would rise into the fight that occured in World War II. I think about this concept in my struggles, fights, and arguments today. How often do I set out to "win" with the idea that my winning will somehow pacify my enemies in my arguments & struggles? In the end, all I end up doing is struggling to maintain my sense of right while dealing with a person that now more then ever disagrees with me. Of course sometimes people do need to deal with it when they lose. However, when our intent in every given situation is to win and make the losers deal with the aftermath I think we have missed the point. And worse yet, the defeated can come back with a vengeance to rectify that far exceeds what they might have done had we simply sought better middle ground. I am not a good peacemaker. It is that mindset and desire that I strongly look up to Woodrow Wilson for.