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Nation Building, Then and Now

By Ken Poland
Opinion | March 23, 2011

COLBY, Kan. - Perhaps a short history lesson on the birth of this wild experiment of a United States (tribal?) and how it was to be organized is in order. We were tribes, some from the same ethnic backgrounds, but definitely from different religious loyalties and doctrines. Even though the English background was dominant, we didn't have the power to face the west, with its hostile entrenched residents, and the East, with the mother country that didn't want to relinquish parental control. The basic Christian philosophy was dominant but quite fractured in absolute theology.

Open opposition to the British colonial power surfaced about 1765. This led to open rebellion and the war of independence began in 1775. Total independence was finally achieved in 1783.

A brief and short lived attempt to survive under the loosely organized Articles of Confederation (1777) resulted in the calling of the Constitutional Convention (1787). And, finally, George Washington was inaugurated as our first president in 1789. We look back and discover this whole process took 25 or 30 years.

They didn't have to deal with entrenched ethnic tribes (excluding the native inhabitants) that had raided each others territories for years, or even centuries. They weren't threatened by weapons of mass destruction that could be launched from their neighbors or even the other side of the world. The established world powers were busy protecting their territories from one another and vying for commercial trade dominance.

Can we hope to establish a United Nation of Libya, Egypt, or Iraq by military force in today's environment and culture. Those territories have existed for centuries and been deprived of self rule by the colonial world powers for most of those centuries.

Can the United States of America establish the playground rules and, fight off the 'colonial' greed of other nations to establish a free and independent democracy, where none has existed before? We have our hands full maintaining civility at home. We are increasingly facing the danger of tribal wars (ethnic immigrants verses established residents), religious conflict, and economic wars within our own borders.


3 Comments

This is an interesting point. The Arab world as well as the African world is still trying to deal with the history of European imperialism. I've been thinking a lot about a book I read a few years ago, Chinua Achibe's "Things Fall Apart" It is the story of an African man during British imperialism in what is now Nigeria. The book examines how we put a government on top of a tribal existance that already exists. We saw the same problem in Iraq. Arabs occupy 2/3's of the country but Kurds live in the rest. They are not the same culture. Kurds live in Iraq, Turkey and other places, but they have no country of their own. This is because national boundaries in that part of the world were established by western cultures.

You raise a very interesting question. Can we expect a country to rise from a tribal culture? I don't believe there is an obvious answer.

You are also right that we have a number of conflicts to face at home. While I don't believe that is a reason to move toward isolationism, it is a concern. I think this post raised a lot of important questions, at least to me. Let's hope we can find some answers.


Just another thought. You mention that it took 25 to 30 years for the American revolution to take place. This is also true of the French Revolution that began around 1789 and didn't truly end until the fall of Napoleon and the Bourbon's. That happened around 1824. That's about 35 years. Revolutions do seem to take time.


Matt, there is a big difference between going to the party packing heat and going to the party without your guns.

Refusing to be militarily involved in another nations civil conflict is not necessarily isolationism.


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