Partition – Is It Ever A Good Thing?

I live in the United States of America and I am very proud of its melting pot of culture, religion, ethnicity, and political beliefs. In respects to religion, I am a Christian sharing this great land of freedom with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Scientologists – among many others. In general, people get along in America counter to what people see on the news and social media – the fact that it is “news” gives you a marker for context. This cohesion is in large part due to economic, social, and geographical cooperation. The fact that all 50 states have relatively fluid borders – sorry Hawaii – allows people to interact and form connections; connections which provide the zest to America’s delicious stew. Not everyone agrees with me on these points and some desire to split away from the red, white, and blue; nearly every election, there is a call for Texas, Northern California, Southern California, Florida, the south, or the north to form their own country. Today, around the world, there are serious calls for partition. To better understand this history of division, I read about one of the most contentious partitions in history – the separation of Palestine and Isreal – in the book O, Jerusalem! By Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.   

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The partition of Palestine occurred after WWII and was caused by several concurrent events: A British desire to withdraw from the region because of increased retaliation from both Jews and Arabs; reparations for Holocaust victims and Jewish refugees who had no place to go; an increased nationalist movement by Zionists; and the West’s desire to keep communism from gaining a foothold. The United Nations voted to partition the region in 1947 and on May 14th, 1948, the state of Israel became official. Partition began a war that still rages today between Arabs and Jews – the first year of conflict claimed the lives of thousands of men, women, and children. Between 1947 to 1967, the Arabs had the upper hand on the Jews with their control of Jerusalem and major trading settlements. The Jews flipped the table in the War of 1967, and since then they have been slowly suffocating the Palestinians. Today, the state of Israel, with the backing of America, maintains dominance in the region. That dominance results in the persecution of Palestinians and continued hatred between the two groups.

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My question is this – Why was Palestine partitioned in the first place? Why couldn’t the region be one cohesive state with multiple religions like America? Maybe a better question…Why does America support the current state of separation when it goes completely counter to her own beliefs? Another example of the disaster of partition is the formation of Pakistan and India in 1947 which resulted in the death of 600,000 people and today is one of the most dangerous borders in the world. On paper, partition seems like a great idea; divide people based on their differences and then each state will have cohesiveness. The problem is that we don’t live in a bubble and arbitrary borders don’t mean much in real life. When a partition occurs, it is impossible to expel all members of a religion or ethnicity – there will be Jews in Palestine, Arabs in Israel, Hindus in Pakistan, and Muslims in India. The result is an obvious division between states and greater conflict within countries because the “unwanted” groups are seen as “internal outsiders” – separate in identity and a matchbox for intra-neighborhood conflict.

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So is partition ever a good thing? I think not. I think the state can unify people under a common banner of religion, ethnicity, and culture. I am a white-Christian-male, but that doesn’t mean I should have my own country. I am an American and that means that I share a connection with all Americans. The key is a balance between the two extremes; we can respect differences while maintaining a collective identity. So what is the solution to the problems in Palestine and India? To start with, we need to be good role models of statehood – let’s show the world what it looks like to be unique and united at the same time. One of my favorite leaders is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He didn’t push for a separate black nation but pushed for a united America behind a universal belief – the belief that all men are created equal. Is this an easy thing to do? Heck No. Is this something that can work? Heck Yes. Change is slow, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. What’s impossible is unification through division.

 

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US Grant – America’s Unlikely Hero – Part 1

A long time ago, my good friend Chuck asked me an interesting question. “Jon do you have a favorite author that writes like a fine wine or a three-star Michelin restaurant? I honestly had no answer to this detailed inquiry. At that time I was just starting on my journey of reading, and I couldn’t distinguish an average author from a great author. My palate was not entirely up to par, and my neural taste buds were still in an immature state. I finally have an answer for my friend after being exposed to so many different writing styles – the author Ron Chernow. Chernow writes biographies in such a detailed way that the reader feels like a fly on the wall of history. He is most famous for his book on Alexander Hamilton which became a hit Broadway play and his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on George Washington.

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His books regularly make appearances on the New York Times bestseller list even though they are on antiquated topics and extremely large in breadth. I picked up his most recent book Grant, which is 1100 pages and a fascinating tale of 19th-century history. I would argue that any person who dislikes history would love this book and find newfound interests. Think of Chernow as a gourmet chef and Ulysses S. Grant as a prized but unknown ingredient. Through excellent writing, Grant’s powerful life hits you in the mouth like Emeril Lagasse throwing spice into a hot skillet.

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US Grant was born in Ohio on April 22, 1822. His father was a tanner and he grew up as a shy boy underneath an outspoken father and overly standoffish mother. Grant was described as silent, modest, respectful of women, and courageous against neighborhood bullies. From a young age, he stood up for the underdog and spoke few words of malice towards even his most ardent detractors. He was sent off to West Point by chance since a cadet was kicked out at the same time Grant’s father requested his son’s admittance. While at West Point, Grant excelled at horsemanship but was no star pupil. He did excel at mathematics, but his career in the military did not look promising. Upon graduation, he was stationed in Missouri where Grant met his future wife Julia Dent and his future Confederate father-in-law Colonel Dent.

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During this time, America entered into war with Mexico and Grant was jettisoned into combat – an environment he excelled in. He served as a logistics specialist and honed critical military strategies during this conflict. Grant also learned something even more indispensable while in Mexico: the characteristics of the future generals of the Confederacy. Upon the completion of hostilities, Grant was stationed in the burgeoning gold rush town of San Francisco and Northern California. This was a difficult time for Grant because he missed his new wife and his family. He took to drink and was reprimanded for drinking by a persnickety leader – eventually leading to resignation and a marred reputation for the rest of his life. Grant did have a drinking problem, but it never got in the way of his leadership. If it had, he would not have achieved his remarkable feats after leaving the military in 1854.

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Civilian life was hard for Grant and he struggled to find his place in society. At one point he was so economically distraught he had to pawn his watch for Christmas presents and take a job at his Dad’s tannery store as a simple clerk. He walked around Galena, Illinois with his old military jacket and an unkempt beard – most people astonished to see his state of poverty. Compounding his problems, both his Father and Father-in-Law saw him as a failure and regularly forced their views upon him as if he were a child. He was a beaten man during this time, and his woes continued to worsen after his former California business speculations soured; these speculations were undertaken because Grant overly trusted acquaintances and people in general.

1867 Chromolithograph of Ulysses Grant by Fabronius, Gurney & Son.

He had such high integrity for himself that he couldn’t understand how other people could be cruel in their business dealings. When all seemed lost in Grant’s life, the most significant conflict in American history broke out – the Civil War. As if awakened by a jolt of electricity, Grant felt it was his chance to use his former military talents and serve the Union. The only problem was that no one wanted him because of his previous drunkenness and his paltry political connections. Not receiving any worthy commissions, Grant decided he would bake bread for the soldiers. Just before applying for this culinary position, fate opened up her doors. To be continued…Part 2 next week.

The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.
– Ulysses S. Grant

The Human Paradox

How does philosophy and marine biology relate? This question was answered, to my surprise, by John Steinbeck in The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck is my favorite author and my college roommate, Chris O’Brien, recommended that I read this quite eclectic memoir. The memoir is a true account of Steinbeck, his marine-biologist friend, and a boat crew who took a 6-week journey around the Baja California Peninsula to collect marine animals from tidal zones. I was not expecting this type of book from Steinbeck and I had no idea he had interests in tiny invertebrates with obscure Latin names. Steinbeck is first and foremost a philosopher and he uses storytelling to translate his worldviews-obviously seen in his most famous works. What I loved most about The Log from the Sea of Cortez, was that Steinbeck took a quite banal subject of collecting samples of invertebrates and related it to philosophical thoughts on human behavior.

There is a strange duality in the human which makes for an ethical paradox. We have definitions of good qualities and of bad; not changing things, but generally considered good and bad throughout the ages and throughout the species. Of the good, we think always of wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, humility; and the qualities of cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness, and rapacity are universally considered undesirable. And yet in our structure of society, the so-called and considered good qualities are invariable concomitants of failure, while the bad ones are the cornerstones of success. A man—a viewing-point man—while he will love the abstract good qualities and detest the abstract bad, will nevertheless envy and admire the person who through possessing the bad qualities has succeeded economically and socially, and hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure. When such a viewing-point man thinks of Jesus or St. Augustine or Socrates he regards them with love because they are the symbols of the good he admires, and he hates the symbols of the bad. But actually he would rather be successful than good. In an animal other than man we would replace the term ‘good’ with ‘weak survival quotient’ and the term ‘bad’ with ‘strong survival quotient.’ Thus, man in his thinking or reverie status admires the progression toward extinction, but in the unthinking stimulus which really activates him he tends toward survival. Perhaps no other animal is so torn between alternatives. Man might be described fairly adequately, if simply, as a two-legged paradox. He has never become accustomed to the tragic miracle of consciousness. Perhaps, as has been suggested, his species is not set, has not jelled, but is still in a state of becoming, bound by his physical memories to a past of struggle and survival, limited in his futures by the uneasiness of thought and consciousness. (pg 80 para 2).

We are in constant battle within ourselves when it comes to survival and morals. Sadly, our society uplifts the pursuit of money, status, and selfishness while the pursuit of consciousness is only given credence when it benefits the latter pursuits. Which child would parents brag about most? One who grows up to have a high-paying career but luke-warm ethics or a child who grows up to have a low-paying career but strong ethics. Humans, in a sense, were taken out of the primordial oven before all of our consciousness was congealed. We have sentience but at the same time we have the survival instincts of a sea cucumber. The sins of survival are all around us; in the sense of personal survival there is the relentless pursuit of money and status; in the sense of generational survival their is the obsession with sex. The key to completing the “baking” process is being conscious of our limited consciousness. How can we gain consciousness? I believe it is best done by acquiring knowledge, learning from the mistakes of our ancestors, and looking at the world with an open perspective. Realize what you really need to survive—food, water, shelter, access to modern medicine, security—and once you have obtained those things focus your efforts on—”wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, and humility.” We will never reach perfection but at least we can point our feet in the right direction.