The European Union and the United Nations, as well as globalization and advanced technology, were all supposed to trump age-old cultural, geographical and national differences and bring people together.
But for all the high-tech veneer of the 21st century, the world still looks a lot like it did during the last hundred years and well before that.
After the Greek financial meltdown and the emergence of German financial dominance, Europe once more obsesses over the so-called German problem. Should Europeans admire the industry of the German people, or fear that such competency and drive -- as in 1870, 1914 and 1939 -- will eventually translate into German political and military supremacy? The division of Germany, the common Soviet threat, the NATO alliance, the European Union and German war guilt for the last half-century all repressed German singularity.
But the first two realities have disappeared. The latter three soon might. Once again, no one quite knows how to deal with German exceptionalism. Apparently, the borders and the currency of Germany change, but the unrivaled work ethic and productivity of the German people do not.
Examine the violence of the world today more than a decade after 9/11. Much of it is still in the Middle East in general, and concerns Islam in particular. The protests of the Arab Spring may well turn into the repression of the Arab Autumn. Syria is aflame. Bombs go off almost daily in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Rockets are poised in Gaza and Lebanon. Iran either threatens to get a bomb or to use it once they get it. Fascism, communism, Baathism, Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islamism and various dictators come and go. But the tribal nature of the Middle East and the unease of Islam with other religions, with a modernizing world and with a rival West somehow seem to remain the same -- whether at Lepanto in the 16th century or at the Strait of Hormuz in the 21st century.
There are autocrats in Russia again. From the czars to the Soviet communists to Vladimir Putin's cronies, there is something about constitutional government or liberal rule that bothers Mother Russia. The more that progressive outsiders seek to lecture or reform Russians, the more likely they are to bristle and push back with left-wing or right-wing nationalist strongmen. At present, we do not know whether there will be a Czar Vladimir, Comrade Putin or Putin Inc. in charge, but we fear it does not matter much.
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