Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Understanding and Peace, Rainbows and Unicorns

"It is a myth dear to Americans, namely, that persons and nations fight because they do not know each other well enough, because they do not speak the same language, they do not live contiguous enough. Utter hogwash. These two roosters were of the same breed, crowed the same way, had the same friends -- and fought each other to the death. So did the North and the South in the Civil War. We fought two wars against our English cousin -- same language, same customs; and two with our next nearest of kin, the Germans, whose language is a cognate of English, and whom we knew and understood best of all peoples in the world after those of the British Isles. We were twice allies of the Russians, whom we do not understand at all and who are the least contiguous to us. If we have not yet fought Ireland, it is not because we understand the Irish, but because they have not yet challenged our supremacy of the sea!" - Dr. Austin App

Thanks to Alex Gleason for the quote.

It's trivially true that certain kinds of understanding can prevent conflict.  For example, if the King of Ruritania compliments the King of Graustark, but the translator gets it wrong, and makes it sound like an insult, war might result, while a better understanding might have prevented war..

But that sort of thing is trivial. The liberal touchy-feely idea is that if nations just understood each other better, they'd be friends. That's one of the main propaganda points of the Esperanto movement, as a matter of fact. Their idea is that if everybody had a common language, they'd understand one another better, and not fight. Again, that has validity in a trivial way, in that it can help prevent misunderstandings that could lead to conflict. On the other hand, sometimes lacking a common language can actually prevent conflict, when insults aren't noticed, and irreconcilable differences aren't quite so obvious.

The Swiss speak four languages, and don't fight with each other, not because they can communicate so well, but because there aren't reasons for conflict. The Serbs and the Croats speak the same language, and it doesn't help a bit, because they have powerful disagreements that are very clear to all concerned.

Sometimes the best way to prevent conflict is simply to come into minimal contact. Scandinavians never fought with Muslims in recent history, because the Scandinavians lived in Scandinavia, and Muslims lived other places. Now that Muslims are moving to Scandinavia, there's plenty of conflicts, and it's not because they can't communicate.

Good fences, and good borders, and good long distances, make good neighbors.


  1. I think there was a quote in Heinlein's Starship Troopers, after they hung the AWOL'd soldier who killed the child. Rico goes "the more you understand, the more you want to never forgive" or something along those lines. I don't have the book on hand but I had utilized that quote a few times.

  2. The more you understand some people (individuals) the more you realize they are utterly evil. The more you understand some cultures the more you realize there is a rot at their core that must be obliterated to save those societies' members. Sadly, this creates situations where good individuals get hurt defend ideals unworthy of their loyalty. Stinks on ice, but there it is.