By: Gabriela Yareliz
I heard Erwin McManus say that when cultures do not change, they repeat behaviors. We see this in how the world operates. Political systems showcase this.
Just the other day, I was looking at an article in The New Yorker which reminded me of the Pacto del Olvido (the pact to forget), which was Spain’s way of trying to move on from Franco’s rule once he died in 1975. The truth is nations have their spiritual and political baggage. We don’t just shed that baggage by pretending nothing ever happened. I mean look at the way nations governed people throughout the pandemic and the policies enacted. Has anything really changed? Many countries’ policies mirrored roots from the past.
While reading Eric Metaxas, he brings the great point that we often think ourselves more superior and sophisticated than people in the past. Not sure why we think of them as dumb peasants or something, but the truth is we are no different. Granted, the things available to us are different, (technology, abundance, etc.), but our propensities, emotions and our nature remain the same.
Clearly, the Ukraine-Russia conflict is front of mind. My heart aches for all who are suffering. As I have thought about the conflict and had discussions about it, I couldn’t help but think about history. What makes what Putin is doing different from what all empires and imperial powers have done in the past? (Note this doesn’t justify it at all). But my point is, just as people see Putin as the devil incarnate, plenty of invaded and subjugated peoples and lands see the U.S., Britain, France, Spain and other world powers in a similar, if not the same, way. Humans don’t change in the way they operate.
This led my thoughts to, Why do people invade places or conquer people? When we look at history, we could just say power and wealth and move on. The answer, however, has always been more complex. (Note again that this doesn’t make it right).
What does power mean? If we look at history, it has not been just the ability to hold onto something, and pillage or annex it. The reason power means so much to us (as humans) is the implications of it. It’s influence and a legacy of strength (and often cruelty). As humans, we are all seeking influence. Both Putin and Zelenskyy are not only fighting a fight of land and sovereignty but one of influence. Putin comes from a power that once had more influence than it does now, and he is on a mission to restore that influence.
When it comes to world powers, influence has always been key, and its effects last for generations. It not only means a political ideology– it means language, religion, and lifestyle/culture. Lifestyle (food, conflict, behavioral responses, traditions) has such far-reaching effects that it affects our epigenetics. It has an impact on our health and DNA (how we process foods or respond to trauma), and we pass this on to our children, and they pass it on to their children. It’s wild when you think about it.
Just look at Spain and the impact it had in the Americas. It brought with it architecture, foods and ingredients, language, religion, and traditions. It’s undeniable, regardless of how one feels about it.
We all wonder what is next. Will China make a bold and swift move toward Taiwan? Does anyone else in Europe have eyes set on neighboring land and people? To be honest, Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were not that long ago. There are generations alive who have vivid memories and feelings about what transpired and how to move forward. Colonialism isn’t dead. Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the world, at the hands of the U.S. We humans subsist on incredible double standards in how we analyze the world and world leaders.
Societies change. The fierce attitude of the Roman or Greek empires has passed away. I’d say that by comparison, our countries are led by men of weakness, but ambitious men, nonetheless. Will history repeat itself? It feels like the inevitable answer is ‘yes.’ Further, now that attacks are cyber and nuclear, it feels like all of us (and our bank accounts) are dragged into this.
As we watch how things continue to unfold on the world stage, we must remember what is at stake. Every time influence is won, its impacts reach beyond present times and influence shifts history.
Empires rise, and empires fall. And unfortunately, we are all just in the middle of it. No one can ignore it, and the ones of the past cannot be forgotten.