Tuesday, February 15, 2005

History Lessons & Patriotism

I flunked history because I kept forgetting the dates when such and such events happened or when who was born and when who died. But I didn’t forget the lessons and the principles behind them. Of course, some of the teachers didn’t mention these principles. I wondered why we had to learn history and I figured them out myself later.

How wonderful for us all if humans can really learn from history. But alas, that is not to be. We think we are different. Our situation is different. But is it really? I believe we would go through similar situations and make the same mistakes all over again and again. And the generations that come after us will still commit the same errors. If by good luck, they turn out right, they’ll live happily for a while. If not, they are thrown into another age of chaos, each fighting the other for their rights and ruining the country until something happens or some leader comes along and save them from killing off each other. Otherwise, they keep their country in perpetual state of chaos and finally destroy the country and its people beyond salvation. The world watches helplessly while that happens to some African countries today.

The US went through a devastating civil war before the southern states surrendered and gave up their rights to own slaves and to achieve unity as a nation, to live up to their principle of liberty and equality for all. The Chinese went through years of a destructive cultural revolution to redistribute wealth for equality and decades of closed-door policy and eventually, after a few more decades of re-learning, are finally ready to get back to be on equal footing with the rest of the world. The Russians managed to bring their nation together for a while under communism. But they didn’t realize their ideology couldn’t hold the people under it for long. They successfully controlled the people and saved the country from ruin but they failed to revive the people’s self-reliance.

The Indian sub-continent, still shackled by their caste system for centuries, would probably have achieved equality and better wealth distribution for all their citizens if Mahatma Gandhi remained alive to guide them through that phase. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as he was killed by someone who represented those who wanted to keep their status quo. Thus India remains a nation of huge contrasts between the haves and have-nots. Japan and Germany had their countries and economies rebuilt because they took too drastic actions which fell back on themselves. Their actions, however, turned out to work well for them because it cleaned up their old systems and were compelled to start afresh.

I could go on and name more examples of historical lessons, but I’ll miss my point. If my understanding of history is correct, it would surely be a sad day if we have to solve our problems the way some of these countries try to solve theirs. Therefore, the way I see it, we'd gone through the first step of re-engineering we wanted to make. The next step must be followed through. The crutches must go before too long, before the mould sets, before the extremities become too deep, before we drop too far behind and find our cake becomes just a shell with icings and decorations but hollow inside. The good stuff all gone. Our cream of the crop scattered all over the world, benefiting everyone else except us.

All the flag flying and slogan shouting will do us no good. All must start with changing that mindset. Yes, it's easier said than done. But every positive step is a lot better than bickering about who's got more rights.

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