1. Redeeming the Past and Transforming the Future
Let's break down the elements of the notion of Healing the Hurts of Nations. In this notion lies my bottom-line thesis.
I refer not only to the formal geopolitical structures which make up the current international system. I refer also to larger collectivities of people possessing a sense of identity, common purpose, origins or influences which cause them to think of themselves as a nation. Usually they number millions, though sometimes they number but thousands. Such a nation may or may not have political recognition in today's world.
Within the political entity of China (PRC) live some 67 million people who are members of some 55 ethnic minority groupings, of whom 15 groupings number over one million – such as Miao, Zhuang, Mongols, Hui, Tibetans or Uighurs. These people might legitimately consider themselves to constitute nations in their own right and to be, factually or emotionally, different from the dominant Chinese Han culture and gene stock. They technically belong to the People's Republic of China and are represented by it, willingly or unwillingly, in the international arena. Meanwhile, Taiwan (ROC), traditionally a backwater of China, has virtual independence as a country, though world political manoeuvrings prevent it from achieving full independent diplomatic status. Taiwan was taken over by the Nationalists (Kuomintang) during the Maoist revolution of the late 1940s.
Within the United Kingdom – a constitutional arrangement revised 200 years ago – the dominant nation is England. The peoples of Cornwall, the Channel Islands, Wales, Isle of Man, Scotland, the Hebrides, Caithness-Orkney-Shetland and Ulster variously feel themselves to be de facto distinct nations or regions with interests distinct from those of England (or south-east England). In fact, Cornish, Welsh, Hebrideans, most Irish, French Bretons and Spanish Galicians – the European 'Celtic fringe' – justifiably feel an emotional alliance with one another. This is not reflected in European political boundaries and arrangements. Scots have an inherent connection with Scandinavians – some live nearer Oslo than London.
In order to meet with the tides of current history, it might be that the United Kingdom breaks into component nations or regions within the context of the European Union – certainly the non-English tend to want this, though most English either oppose it, don't care or look at the question from a basis of self-interest or fear of its loss. Paradoxically, the English tend to react emotionally to the prospect of the potential breakup of the British Union – when pushed to think about it – while the people of the 'Celtic fringe' have a certain realism and rationality to their needs and claims. This is contrary to the stereotype of English as rational and Celts and Gaels as lyrical or sentimental. However, the English (derived mainly from Saxons and Normans) invaded the rest of the British, and Scots, Ulster and Welsh autonomy within Europe constitutes a last act of English decolonialisation.
The complex conflicts in the region of the Caucasus in the 1990s reflect similar political difficulties – Ossetians live in Russia and Georgia, Abkhazians abhor Georgians and Russians yet they choose to align with Russia to shun Georgians, while Ingush and Chechens are distinct from each other yet identify with each others' cause against that of the Russians. This is not to mention Dagestanis, Armenians, Kurds and Azeris. In complex regions such as the Caucasus, the existence of historically-imposed political boundaries causes much trouble. Were these small nations autonomous, they would probably feel differently toward each other – Ingush and Chechens would possibly not be driven so close together, and Georgians and Ossetians would not be driven against one another. Insecurity and foreign domination breed territorialism.
So, when referring to a nation, I refer to a social, geographic or ethnic grouping which feels some fundamental thread of pragmatic, psychological or ethnic commonality. This commonality distinguishes a nation or grouping from its neighbours. It carries an intensity and flavour to it which is more marked than the commonality of a local community, a province or social sub-group within a nation. Whether or not 'nations of the heart' are always to be recognised as independent political entities is another matter – this often has more to do with the past than with the present or future. Nowadays, many past political arrangements need reviewing and updating – including the existence of some of the world's greatest nations.
One might legitimately wonder why I focus so much on nations rather than the overall planetary situation. The reason is quite factual. Despite recent aspirations and movements toward globalism, there has been a more local unconscious emotional movement in the opposite direction, emphasising nationalism and parochial concerns. This is because we have rushed into global technological and economic integration faster than our hearts and our sense of identity have been moving. Also, such integration has been moved from above, while nationalist tendencies often (though not always) arise from below.
Whatever is the case, a nation or community of souls cannot join a larger family until it has sufficiently established its own identity, on its own terms. Then it has grounds for negotiation of membership. Many nations have previously had their fates decided for them, such that self-determination has become a jealously-guarded commodity today. In addition, many nations, even the great United States, feel insecure over their own identity – in such a situation, there is natural nervousness about the influences other nations might bring to bear.
What now obstructs global integration is a large global pile of relatively parochial, past-oriented issues, many of them unconsciously felt and unacknowledged. In order to function harmoniously as one world, we thus need to give attention to the smaller-scale national and community issues which face us. Human ethnodiversity is big, deep-seated and wide. The complex issues arising from the possibility of global integration are greater than we first thought. Thus, at the beginning of these essays, nations and their histories form our focus.
Nations have collective feelings, personalities and identities which, like individuals, can be damaged and aberrated through past and present experiences. These emotional modifications in a nation's feelings about itself, about its neighbours and those who have played a role in its history ubiquitously affect the ways nations think and act. The most extreme form of underlying behaviour-modification is a sense of underlying separateness so intense that it lapses into destruction and war – and such activities seriously bring our global future into question. This separateness arises from collective pain.
However, aside from war, there are actual and residual feelings which affect the trust and connectedness most nations feel toward other nations. These feelings have a capacity to block international and continental progress on global issues. Thus, in the pages which follow, we shall be examining ways in which nations get hurt and what consequent historical phenomena have tended to arise from such hurts. Also (and this is the nub of the issue) we later examine ways in which national psyches may be healed.
The key proposition here is that hurts may be healed, remedied and cleared. This would release humans to act and to react to each other in more sensible, balanced and cooperative ways than we see today. The human heart is a sensitive thing. If abused or pain-filled, it closes off, crumples or strikes back emotionally, in order to avoid such feelings of hurt (or embarrassment, inferiority, threat, inadequacy, guilt or fear). Just as a healing of the body, the mind or the heart can arise between estranged or abused individuals, so too can healing and reconciliation arise between nations.
To date, this healing process has often been more accidental than intentional. In Europe, there is a yet-incomplete healing afoot, easing age-old resentments between the English and French, the French and Germans and the Germans and English – this goes back centuries to the Folk-Wandering period (Völkerwanderung), to the Franks and Normans, the Hundred Years' War, the manoeuvrings of Catholics and Protestants, the times of the French Revolution and Napoleon and the First and Second World Wars. Yet, European integration, consumerism, travel and tourism have eased all this – people buy Volkswagens or Peugeots more for their qualities as an automobile than their national associations.
There have been some notable intentional healings too, such as those between Americans and Japanese since 1945 or between Germans and Jews – though these healings are incomplete and discreetly conceal certain key underlying truths which might yet emerge at a troublesome time. In many cases, healing processes have been partial. This is so because the overall world atmosphere is not one of fundamental reconciliation and healing – it's an atmosphere of cover-up of inconvenient truths.
However, such healings have been sufficient to allow the establishment or continuation of peace or ethnic interaction in many parts of the world, though insufficient in many cases to remove deep residual feelings or the need for extensive stockpiles of armaments. The historic nations of once-Yugoslavia demonstrated the tenuous nature of international peace from 1989 onwards. My proposition thus is that we need to make this healing and reconciliation process intentional and profound, by world consensus, if we are to progress in addressing the global and local issues at stake in the coming millennium.