Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2011

History always repeating

March 30, 2011

One of my pet peeves is that we Americans play relatively little attention to history. We have the opinion that what is happening now is new and has never occurred before. The fact that we don’t know history causes us a lot of concerns.

Recently, someone commented that the revolution spreading across the Middle East was something that had never happen before. Actually widespread revolution is nothing new. In fact in 1848 much of Europe was involved in bloody revolution. Many thousands died during the uprisings in bitter street battles. Ultimately, few freedoms were won and, in general, it would take the carnage of World War I to bring about social changes.

Even a century and a half ago, technology was being blamed for much of the civil unrest. Currently in the Mid-East the Internet was used to spread the word of revolution. In a recent issue of Time magazine, it was pointed out that in the 1848 uprisings the telegraph and steam-powered newspaper press helped ferment the unrest. Also, the railroads moved people around the world more rapidly and spread news and revolutionary ideas. The culprit in both the 1848 and 2011 scenarios was better communications, which led to a yearning for freedom. Economic hard times also made the Europe ripe for change. It was tough to be starving while royalty lived extravagant life styles. What was worse was that the common person had little or no control over government.

Let me point out that I became aware of the 1848 revolutions in the past two years when I was reading a couple of British Victorian-era mystery novels. That got me interested in doing some research, and I discovered a series of events that I knew nothing about.

The United States and its freedoms were the envy of much of the world. Certainly, we had our flaws, namely the now unthinkable act of slavery and grinding poverty in the cities. Even though we weren’t involved in the uprisings of 1848, we still had to fight a Civil War to end slavery and provide freedom to all Americans.

I doubt Americans in those days were actually much concerned about issues in Europe. At home, President Zachary Taylor, who died in office, and his successor, James Polk, were trying to keep the lid on the slavery issue while dealing with the problems of westward expansion and battles with the various American Indian tribes.

The first French revolution had been a violent bloodbath. That revolution led to the rise of Napoleon and wars throughout the continent.

The second French revolution in 1848 toppled the king and led to the formation of the second republic. Unfortunately the country wasn’t able to organize a government largely through a split between radicals and liberals. The government struggled for four years until conservatives led a coup and Louis Napoleon, nephew of the original dictator, took control.

Other revolutionary action took place in Germany, Italy, Austria and Hungary. Only Great Britain, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands escaped the wrath of the uprisings. In Great Britain, however, mistreatment of the Irish led to violence. The crushing of the European revolutions led to increased number of immigrants coming to the United States.

One fact emerged during my studies and that is the United States had the only truly successful revolution in the history of the world. While it took time and disagreement, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams and the others got it right. The most important freedom we have is to choose a government. We can disagree, but we have the freedom of speech and thought. There is no doubt that this is the greatest country in the world. We can only hope that the revolutions in the Middle East lead to freedom for all.

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