Thomas Sowell

 Eventually, Germans as well began in self-defense to think of themselves as Germans, rather than as Bohemians or Budweisers, and to defend their interests as Germans. This ethnic polarization in the 19th century was a fateful step whose full consequences have not yet ended completely, even in the 21st century.

 A crucial turning point was the creation of the new nation of Czechoslovakia when the Hapsburg Empire was broken up after the First World War. Czech leaders declared the new nation's mission to include a correction of "social injustice" so as to "put right the historic wrongs of the seventeenth century."

 What were those wrongs? Czech nobles who revolted against the Hapsburg Empire back in the 17th century were defeated and had their lands confiscated and turned over to Germans. Presumably no one from the 17th century was still alive when Czechoslovakia was created in the 20th century, but Czech nationalists kept the grievance alive -- as ethnic identity ideologues have done in countries around the world.

 Government policies designed to undo history with preferential treatment for Czechs polarized the existing generation of Germans and Czechs. Bitter German reactions led eventually to demands that the part of the country where they lived be united with neighboring Germany. From this came the Munich crisis of 1938 that dismembered Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II.

 When the Nazis conquered the whole country, the Germans now lorded it over the Czechs. After the war, the Czech reaction led to mass expulsions of Germans under brutal conditions that cost many lives. Today refugees in Germany are still demanding restitution.

 If only the grievances of past centuries had been left in the past! If only they had all remained Budweisers or Bohemians.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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