Friday, November 9, 2007

The Same But Different

Saw an interesting segment of Bill Moyers Journal featuring Thomas Cahill, a historian. Cahill made some rather insightful observations. He pointed out how the people who hate each other most tend to be those who are the most alike except for some minor difference. As an example, he referred to the Catholic-Protestant conflict in the 16th century. He said that, if a Martian had come down to earth and listened to the two sides, the Martian probably would've wondered why the two sides were fighting when they seemed to believe basically the same things. Cahill then noted the parallels between the Catholic-Protestant conflict and the Shiite-Sunni conflict. And perhaps we're the Martians wondering why the two Muslim factions are fighting when they seem to believe basically the same things.

But his most interesting observation concerned racism. As Cahill put it, each country has its dream and its nightmare, and racism is the American nightmare. He noted that we (the collective "we," of course) essentially committed genocide on the indigenous people of this continent; we then enslaved Africans; and we dropped atomic bombs on Asians. In Cahill's estimation, the U.S. would never have dropped an atomic bomb on Europeans.

I'm not sure that I agree with him, but it's certainly an intriguing viewpoint. Had the Japanese surrendered first and the Germans persisted, would the U.S. have dropped atomic bombs on Frankfurt and Hamburg?


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