Saturday, January 9, 2021

The US is Writing its History

by Tom Kando

January 6, 2021 was a historical day in US history: I refer to the deadly storming of the Capitol building by Trumpite insurrectionists in an effort to overturn Joe Biden’s legitimate presidential election. Deaths, destruction, chaos. 
My mind is in overdrive, as I watch the news, mesmerized, and try to make sense of America’s current situation. So here is a thought (and feel free to tell me that I am wrong): 
My perspective is that of a European-American. Therefore, I can’t help but look at the situation comparatively and historically. I keep going back to European history. America is a still a relatively young country. If Europe has reached adulthood, America is still an adolescent. If Europe has written much of its history book, America is still in the process of writing it. 
I believe that it was Hemingway who defined history as “just one damn thing after another.” Sometimes, another definition comes to mind: “History is just one damn fight after another.” 
Case in point: The history of Europe over the past two thousand years. Take most European countries - the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, etc. Their histories sometimes look like one long bloodbath, with occasional interruptions in the violence. 

Take just one example, and only for the past couple of centuries - France since its 1789 revolution: To be sure, that country’s history prior to 1789 was also an unending series of military conflicts. The Merovingian era was closer to hell on earth than any other documented chapter in world history. Later, one single war lasted hundred years. But let’s skip that. 

The French revolution raged from 1789 to 1799. It passed through Robespierre’s Terror (1793-1794), in which 37,000 people were executed within a year, largely by guillotine. The following year, Parisians once again went on a rampage, not unlike the storming of the Capitol by Trumpites on January 6, 2021. This was put down by a young officer named Napoleon Bonaparte. He lined up a few dozen canons, killed a few hundred rioters, and the rest scampered home. Crisis over. The event is remembered as the 13 Vendémiaire. It was followed by the Directorate, a regime of shared governance by a committee of five, including Napoleon. This lasted until 1799. In that year, Napoleon effected the coup that made him sole consul. In 1804, he crowned himself emperor, in which capacity he ruled France and most of Europe until his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. All in all, between the revolution and Napoleon’s rule, France was at war nearly non-stop for two and a half decades. Number of deaths? millions. 

After Waterloo, France was forced to return to reactionary royalism. For decades, the country was polarized and stalemated between two factions - Royalists and Republicans. There were periodic revolutions, for example in 1830, 1848 and 1871. The last of these uprisings was that of the Paris Commune, which followed France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. It was put down by the French government at the cost of 20,000 Parisian deaths. 

Then came the twentieth century: World War One: combined French civilian and military deaths: 2 million. World War Two: combined French civilian and military deaths: 600,000. 

A similar cursory survey of the history of Austro-Hungary, Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and other European countries would reveal a similar pattern. Does my definition of history not apply? 

Now, take the US: Yes, our history has already been eventful. We have already had our share of conflict. Our Civil War’s magnitude makes it a major event in world history. But my point is this: Unlike European countries, much of our history book has yet to be written. Right now, we are in the middle of the mess that is called history. January 6, 2021, will remain an important historical date. Many more memorable dates will be added to the list. Each country is writing its history as we speak, and today, this does not apply to any country more than to the US. 

Don’t misunderstand me: There is no doubt that America has been quite “busy” during its comparatively brief existence. Militarily and otherwise. I am old enough to remember the last time that this country was “creating history” at a similarly feverish pace: 1968. The assassinations of MLK and Bobby Kennedy, Gene McCarthy’s presidential candidacy and the Chicago Democratic convention riot, the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the poor people’s march in Washington (in which I participated), etc. 

But what I am saying is that there is much more to come, and that even now, history is - for better or for worse - being written especially in the US. This is not a chauvinistic assertion. Frankly, you are better off NOT living in America at this time. To begin with, over 4,000 people die every day from the Coronavirus, that’s a rate of a million and a half a year, by far the worst record of any country on earth. And the January 6 attempted coup shows how precarious our democracy is. 

So who can deny that enormous “things” are happening in this country at this time - that is HISTORY. And I mean, again, for better or worse. Who can deny the fact that life in America is currently “interesting,” in the sense of the Chinese curse, wishing someone an “interesting” life? 

And as I stated at the beginning of this piece, I attribute this to a turbulence, an energy and also a certain obstinate stupidity which are more typical of adolescence than of adulthood. In doing so, I align myself with many early sociologists (E.g. Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, etc.) who viewed societies as super-organisms that go through distinct developmental stages.

© Tom Kando 2021;All Rights Reserved