Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis
BSSB.BE scholarsarchive.byu.edu 5/02/2019
* The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” ― Stephen King
PART ONE: European Exceptionalism Unusual in a scholarly book, Friedman opens with an autobiographical history. His family fled with him, a baby, from Hungary in 1949.
They were escaping the communists; they had finally had it with living in Europe. His parents were born during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a place so much a borderland that the town of his father’s birth changed names and nationalities three times during his residence there.
World War I ended the solidity of the four empires that ruled at one time or another over that region: the Ottomans, Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns and the Romanovs—all of which collapsed in 1918, leaving the region in chaos. His parents became used to the shifting borders and identities and to make it even worse, they were Jews who were very familiar with changes of nationality.
They had lived everywhere and belonged nowhere. The main source of instability in Europe had always been Germany: a relatively newly united country that had wealth, industry, intellect and culture—everything a modern state should have. However, it also had existential insecurity. Its neighbors, France and Russia, were a threat. This issue was behind the 31 years of horrific warfare and slaughter in Europe.
Friedman’s family experienced World War II up close and very painfully. His father was drafted into the Hungarian army (allies of the Nazis) and fought against the Soviet Union. By the time of the Stalingrad campaign that was the beginning of the end for the Germans, the Hungarian retreat during the horrible winter of 1942-3 resulted in the death of most of them, and the death toll for Jewish soldiers was almost total. His father, a tough and clever fellow, survived.
This chapter is must reading for an inside account of what it is like in a borderland and what that meant during World War II. Chapter 2: Europe’s Assault on the World This chapter covers the fascinating story of Europe’s colonial adventures, begun 500 years ago. Europe’s several Western countries (England, Spain, Portugal, France and Netherlands) undertook the conquest of the rest of the world. By 1914, there was no place left untouched by European power, culture and modernity. This colonialism had two faces: it opened up the lesser-developed world to a range of new ideas and opportunities, and it also was the source of much death and destruction.
The reason for this exploration and conquest was a response to Europe’s old rival and nemesis: Islam, particularly the Islam of the Ottoman Empire. Over time, Europe prevailed and the Muslim World faded and crumbled. Although this chapter is about the conquest, the rest of the book is about how it collapsed into chaos. Chapter 3: The Fragmentation of the European Mind There are consequences to abandoning all tradition, religion and custom, which was the process of modernization that Europe experienced during those five centuries.
- The religious, political and scientific revolutions did this, leaving Europe with what Friedman calls the fragmentation of the mind. One could be a scholar and a swashbuckler, pious and murderous; and in dismissing all traditional modes of thought and behavior, one could believe anything one liked.
- This explains how a country as steeped in culture and learning as Germany could rush headlong into the thuggish ideology of Nazism. Friedman’s insight into how the Enlightenment devolved into radical individualism is one of the most important analyses in this book.
- I had never before thought of the Enlightenment in a negative way. Out of that very Enlightenment came all the mad ideologies that brought with them the seeds for the murderous history of Europe. PART TWO: Thirty-One Years Scholars have recognized that World War II was just a continuation of World War I. Friedman identifies the period between 1914 and 1945 as the “Thirty-One Years.” By the end of this period, “Europe had gone from the invincible center of the global system to a place where poverty was as common as self-confidence was scarce. In 1945, as Europe awakened from its orgy of violence, stunned by what it had done, the world’s map was changing as dramatically as Columbus had changed it, and Europe was no longer at its center.”
- The rest of this section covers the postwar exhaustion, the Soviet resurrection and the American origins of European Integration. The European Union was the result: a great idea without concern for geography, history or values that characterized the individual nation-states.
PART THREE: Flashpoints The rest of the book covers the current period after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the existing flashpoints from which conflict can come, or already is coming. Friedman examines the challenges facing the European Union. The chapters on Russia and its resurgence in its borderlands are particularly relevant now: the Georgian crisis was the first evidence of Russian resurgence.
One particularly prescient observation about the EU is: “It takes a long time for a borderland to disappear…You can forgive, you can pretend to forget, but the memory, fear, and malice never quite go away…The Europeans think that can’t happen again. They try to forget Yugoslavia and the Caucasus…They dismiss Ukraine. But old habits are hard to overcome.” This is a brilliant tour de force and well worth your reading.
Youtube: The Emerging Crisis Europe has given much to the world in the past 500 years:
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: scholarsarchive.byu.edu