Archive for the ‘International Relations’ Category

16
Nov

The Post-Modern Politician

Written on November 16, 2007 by Rolf Strom-Olsen in Arts & Cultures & Societies, International Relations

Rolf Strom-Olsen

Barack_2  There was an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times today (reprinted in Der Spiegel – no registration required), from Roger Cohen on Barack Obama, the highly charismatic rising star of the US Democratic Party and currently the most credible threat to Hillary Clinton’s run for her party’s presidential nomination. Cohen makes a good point that is too often not made by your typical naval-gazing US political commentator: the choices that Americans make next year will have a significant impact beyond the country’s borders and American needs leaders that reflect this reality. As he puts it: "American exceptionalism, as practiced by Bush, has created a longing for new American engagement." To say the world longs for a new American engagement might be rather optimistic (I think the world longs for the US to go to its room for a while so the mess can be cleaned up). But it would certainly be accurate to say that the disastrous tenure of George Bush has provided a compelling demonstration of why the world should at least be hoping for a return to competence. It goes largely unnoticed in the US that, while the level of paranoia there continues to be elevated (often with ridiculous results), the consequence of America’s action has largely been felt elsewhere: in Madrid, in London, in Bali, and in the daily unfettered violence across Iraq.

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9
Nov

Language & Political Identity

Written on November 9, 2007 by Rolf Strom-Olsen in Arts & Cultures & Societies, International Relations

Rolf
Strom-Olsen

It is mere happenstance that I was born and raised in the city of Montreal and incidentally became bilingual
in the two languages of the city, English and French. I was thus very
interested by the recent post by Rafael Puyol, whose observations struck a chord. Moreover, they coincide neatly with this week’s front page story from the US edition of the Wall Street Journal and the resulting reaction and commentary.

Quebec2As it happens, Montreal is one of very few cities in the world that has an integrated bilingual culture, by which I mean the people who live there can generally function comfortably in both main languages. The only other such metropoles that I can think of (there may be others that elude me) that share this characteristic are Barcelona (Catalan and Castilian) and Cape Town (Aafrikans, English and, perhaps, Xhosa). There are other cities, of course, where several languages are spoken such as Brussels (French/Flemish) or Ottawa (English/French) or even Miami (English/Spanish). In these latter cases, however, the co-existence of two language groups does not equate to the integrated bilingualism of a city like Barcelona or Capetown. In such places, either the two linguistic groups remain largely separate, even hostile, or else a dominant linguistic group does not share or even sympathise with the bilingualism of the minority.

Such bilingualism is very rare because we tend to separate by tongue more than anything else. It is very interesting to note, by way of example, that in insanely polyglot Switzerland there is only one city of any size where both German and French are spoken with similar ease by the population: Biel/Bienne, which happens to lie on the Franco-German boundary and thus draws its population in roughly equal measure from both language communities. Even there, language apparently remains a divisive issue.

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28
Oct
11
Oct

Rolf Strom-Olsen

The famous US film-maker Ken Burns, whose name is familiar to North American audiences thanks mostly to his ground-breaking 1990 film on the US Civil War, has perpetrated another epic documentary. Burns latest subject is more war, this time "The War"  (as the documentary is called, a depressingly ambiguous title for a European audience). But for Americans, "The War" is World War Two, a conflict that has produced a seemingly never-ending spate of nostalgic and sentimental homages to what is modestly coined (in US collective memory) as the "greatest generation." Among the more recent grandiose offerings, we have had director Steven Spielberg’s film, "Saving Private Ryan," US broadcaster Tom Brokaw’s book "The Greatest Generation" and a wildly popular television adaptation of historian Stephen Ambrose’s "Band of Brothers". Burns’ film follows in the same vein, insofar as it is an unapologetically US-centred examination of World War Two (there is not a single non-US voice in the film). But the film avoids the theatrical triumphalism of these other efforts and achieves a degree of nuance and dignity by focusing on individuals remembering what they experienced. This parochialism might turn off a non-US audience (I was watching in Canada), but in its depiction of war as a remembered event, Burns is asking a subtle question about history that lifts the film above its narrow national focus: what is the value of memory to our understanding of history?

"Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost" wrote Walt Whitman, not counting on modern filmmakers to prove the sentiment wrong. Burns’ apparently decided to make a film about The War in 1999 when he discovered that upwards of a thousand US veterans were dying every day.  That’s an impressively large number, and a sombre reminder not only of how many people actually fought in the conflict, but just how many lives were intimately affected by it. Indeed, the scope and impact of the conflict is hard for us to fathom, wherever we are. As one interviewee commented: "it was like our lives were suspended for the duration". Burns is a historian of a peculiar sort – he describes himself as an archaeologist of emotion.  As such, he asks:  how does that happen? More importantly, how does that feel?

Emotion, not cold historical analysis, is the central theme in this 15-hour outpouring. But these are not the yellow-patina memories of old snapshots, or whitewashed celebrations of heroism. I can rUs_tank_crew_tunisia_1942emember one of Burn’s interviewees, Paul Fussell, a noted historian, author and himself an infantryman in The War, commenting that when people die in war, they usually don’t die well: they die in a fusillade of agony, of mutilation and disfigurement. For Fussell, this is an important point: war is gruesome. Burns follows him lockstep; he wrenches from his subjects the horrifying carnage they witnessed. It is a mighty thing to see a kindly grandfather figure reminisce about shooting down a fellow twenty-year old, still agonising fifty years later over what he has done. War dehumanises; the philosophy of war strives to offer a simple choice to the young men and women who are called to prosecute it: them or us. But, we learn through the uneasy recollections of the now-elderly men who actually pulled the triggers and threw the grenades, not completely, nor forever and, for many, not at all. That’s an important point that most histories of conflict are not comfortable, or perhaps even capable of making.

Americans have memorialised The War as Their War. Despite the savagery unleashed by the conflict, The War is still seen in American eyes as a virtuous, even noble, enterprise. Even fifty years later, the enemy are still easy to loathe, and still comfortably fit the stereotypes which made that "us/them" trigger-impulse possible. The War earns its definitive article because, even with the passage of time, it is still imbued with an aura of epic righteousness. In American memory, liberation is pitted against Buchenwald, freedom against the Bataan Death March. Lest we fail to get the point, the film’s narration helpfully frames the question for us: anger, arrogance, bigotry, victimhood and the lust for power on one side; courage, perseverance, selflessness, faith, leadership and the hunger for freedom on the other. No points for guessing which side the Americans were on.

Clarity, particularly ideological clarity, makes an uneasy bedfellow with historical fact. But this is a different specie altogether: memory-fact. The War exists as a set of specific events and geopolitical forces. But it is also how a society remembers, or wants to remember, the conflict. It is how that conflict was (and still is being) shaped, and how it in turn shaped people’s lives. Some critics have noted the inevitable distortions (errors really) of a historical narrative that coalesce around individual memories. Pre-war America is recalled by many of the film’s subjects in idyllic terms: all sunny afternoons and cherry blossoms. Given the extraordinary deprivations of the Great Depression, this is factually absurd.

However, from a historical view that gives the curious entropy of memory its due, such recollections are a fascinating and deeply-moving testament to how cataclysmic The War must have been for a generation looking back, even for those far-removed from the theatre of war. The breadlines, unemployment, dust bowls and general misery of the 1930s were shaded by the events that follow into an American Pastoral. Accurate? Of course not, but no less true for it and, for a historian, well worth noting.

The War exists as a collective memorial in varied ways: urgently, as an epic struggle of Good against Evil, but parochially as sons sent off to fight leaving behind their families, narrowly, as small groups of men who fought more to save each other than for any greater purpose, and tragically, as lives cut short and friendships savagely ended. For the tens and tens of millions of people caught up in the immediate events, such a revelation is hardly surprising. But for those who were thousands of miles away, the fact that the War had a similarly monumental, intimate and profound impact is well-worth considering.

"The War" is not a rejoinder to the current imbroglio in Iraq and Afghanistan – its origins predate both. But it makes an implicit point about current events. Even if the triumphalism of the Allied victory in 1945 can be overstated, the larger contours of that struggle highlight the lack of focus and intent in America’s current missions. Clarity of purpose matters: its absence does not just undermine the present; it promises to despoil the memory of events for generations to come and will be an important part of how we write its history.

8
Oct

Saturraran7_2

Arantza de Areilza

This blog forms part of an initiative by IE Business School designed to bring humanities and social sciences closer to the world of business and law, and born of the conviction that humanistic disciplines such as art, history, literature, philosophy or music form an integral part of mankind’s intellectual development. Knowledge moulds the way we perceive and understand the world and ourselves, and enables us to participate in the creation of new values that serve as a catalyst for the change and development that are essential in all modern societies.

The different faces of culture foster the development of the imagination, the appreciation of humanistic values, aesthetic perception and critical reasoning, all of which play a key role in the human capacity for self-betterment and perfectionism. It is a permanent, liberating challenge in everyone’s life, which is the reason it forms a core part of our training programs.

This blog is an invitation to extend the vision of all those who are always curious to know more, and who want to share with us their ideas and experiences in the broad range of fields that comprise our environment.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to the blog authors for their enthusiasm for this idea and their generous collaboration. And now, without further ado, it’s my pleasure to invite you to reflect and comment on the first subject, lost paradises, that someone once described like this:



A Frayburu en despedida

¿Oyes como los murmullos de relatos resbalan en el verdín de tus rocas?

¿Las estelas de chalupas nocturnas en contrabando,

el chapoteo alegre de las pozas marinas escondidas, los laberintos de sirenas,

Y el nido de búho en la arboleda?

¿El gorgojeo de la llegada del agua de mar a la piscina probática,

la canción del viento del norte en el cañaveral?

¿Recuerdas la pita en flor envuelta en la rosaleda indomable,

El ancla de galeón en la entrada del zaguán,

Las dunas hechas de tiempo y las  higueras de tentación?

¿Los muros de piedra y las vigas que anuncian tormenta?

Viejo caserío de mirada atávica al mar,

playa de ánimas donde hoy mora una más.

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