Today marks the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, when Hitler invaded Poland.
If the First World War was an accident – miscalculations and suicidal alliances – the Second was about diversity. We may have learned something of the First, to beware of over-reaction, but we still bait the trap of diversity.
Today’s unending war in Syria, the mass expulsion of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar (Burma), the war in Yemen, the tensions in Northern Ireland, and most of the civil strife throughout the world are fed by religious or ethnic differences – diversity, if you will.
Hitler’s racist obsessions began with the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I. That diktat dispersed ethnic Germans into newly formed nations in central and eastern Europe. Three million were stranded in Czechoslovakia (the Sudetenland), the new Poland was given a corridor to the Baltic Sea at the expense of German land, with the German city of Danzig isolated within Poland. It was an insane rearrangement.
If one thing came out of World War II it was the virtual end of diversity in Europe. Hitler’s dream of consolidating all Germans was ironically accomplished by his enemies. It is estimated that 31 million ethnic Germans were forced out of other countries after the war. Revenge killings cost the Germans between 500,000 and possible 2.5 million deaths. Add to that the annihilation of Jews and by 1948 European nations had relatively little diversity. Tensions were no longer ethnic but political, as Communism became the overriding threat. Except for the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which were again religious, Europe has had the longest interval of peace in memory.
The news media rarely spotlights the ethnic and religious causes of world conflict, perhaps fearing to spread the enmity within our diverse society. Not surprisingly, we know more of the tragedies inflicted on Muslims, for example, than the oppression and murder of Christians. Afghanistan, where we also fight to liberate women from ISIS and Taliban terror, Christianity is blasphemy. In Iraq, Christians driven out by ISIS have yet to return. In Egypt, Coptic Christians live in perpetual fear of bombings. Many Muslim nations do not allow churches nor conversions to Christianity. We are also not informed often enough that all of the current wars and strife in Muslim countries are between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Making them appear as geo-political battles not only distorts the truth but also deludes naive minds.
Imagine if Catholics and Protestants in this country lived in constant fear of each other. Fortunately, we passed through our Reformation and Inquisition back in Europe, culminating in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) which killed eight million people. Of course, that religious strife carried over to Ireland and America, but is in no way comparable to the carnage Mohammed’s successors have inflicted on each other since AD 632.
Not a day goes by that we are encouraged to add still more diversity in immigration – legal and illegal. It is true that diversity may enrich a nation. I have always pointed out how the Roman Empire made Italy the keystone of Western Civilization by attracting to the peninsula all the talent of the Mediterranean – from artists to gladiators, from scholars to craftsmen. Few ethnic groups contain the rich DNA of thinkers and doers that ancient Rome bequeath to the Italic people. But ancient Italy absorbed everyone into a relatively uniform culture. Neither slaves nor barbarians avoided the mighty Greco-Roman culture. The late Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote that Italian immigrants knew little of their ancient heritage and how they were molded by Roman culture, but they owed their unity and ideals to that great assimilation.
Will Europe sow the seeds of another cataclysm as waves of Africans and Muslims arrive? Can they be absorbed? It would be politically correct to say even racial differences can be overcome, but have we done so here? Can all the forms of Islam assimilate into our Western culture or will they, like Jewish Hassidism insist on remaining apart? Even in Israel, tensions between secular and Orthodox Jews, between Black Falasha Jews and White Jews, are never fully resolved.
There must be a dominant culture within a nation and a commitment by immigrants to assimilate. There are enough examples in history, and in today’s world, to make this a universal truth. -JLM