Pin It
Caseythoughts In last week's column I spoke of a cryptic, but telling answer by Chou En Lai when asked his opinion of the French revolution in a press conference in 1972. His reply was "Too soon to tell," a wiser observation than most in the room were able to comprehend. I wish I was there: I was in the same time zone, but a little busy with Mao's minions in the jungles of French Indo-China at the time.

But, although I used it last week to introduce the idea of too soon to tell in reference to the outcome of legalized sports betting, I realized that I could find numerous instances of current headlines that have been percolating for decades, if not centuries, and the contemporary observers' comments may be seen as "too soon to tell". For instance:

Having spent a great deal of time delving into American history, it is absolutely amazing how many arguments in Philadelphia in 1787 still have resonance and lack of resolution today. The split between northern and southern states eventually erupted over slavery (although papered over in the opening decades of Constitutional America), but originally that split was inaugurated by differences between city and rural interests, and more importantly, the fears that a strong federal government would overpower and dominate state governments. Two hundred years later we are still witnessing this conflict in laws regarding commerce (internet neutrality, for instance), guns (2nd Amendment issues) education (student loans and the Department of Education, etc.), and, yes, certainly civil rights (a la reapportionment).

The so-called 'Solid South' turned from anti-federalist and republican (as in Jefferson, Mason and Henry) to Democratic after the Civil War (anti-carpetbaggers) almost all the way through the 20th century with the exception of Goldwater's electoral count in 1964, the Reagan sweep of the 'Reagan Democrats' in 1980/84, and Gingrich's mini-revolution which turned the south into a Republican stronghold of the 90's and the new century. Yet, the conflicts about an over-reaching federal government continue to bewitch the Supreme Court, even leading, I think, to the militia movements of the 90's, the current alt-right uprising, and even covert talk of secession from radical groups.

Many, if not most of the current Supreme Court cases revolve around conflicts between elements of the Bill of Rights, which, by the way, was a demand of the anti-federalists as payment for their support of approval of the Constitution.

And, speaking of the courts and the continuing controversy of the 18th century Constitution, that same Convention was accused of taking the rights of the people away by dismissing an ancient English law that allowed a jury to not only decide guilt, but also to decide the actual legality of the law itself. These days, a 'fully informed jury' is still an argument by certain peace activists, and certainly continues to be debated by scholars, though it is quickly brushed aside by courts. A 200 year old argument, a 1000 year old 'right' which the anti-federalists might have described as "too soon to tell".

In that category of "too soon to tell", it has been almost sixty years since Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Alabama, and fifty years since Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis. Sure, a black middle class has sprung up in America, a black man has been elected President, and black Americans have a supposed seat at the political table, but in these sixty years (hundred years, four hundred years) black Americans are still the victims of untold violence, perpetrated by their own neighbors and by small segments of their own police departments. The civil war going on in America's cities fueled by millions of illegal handguns, by heroin, cocaine, poverty and despair. Or, for that matter, using a bathroom at a Starbucks' in Philadelphia. Can you imagine Dr. King's last words in 1968 as: "too soon to tell"?.

Ukraine? Currently divided east and west by 'little green men' paid and supplied by Russia in the east, and by an elected government in the west. Fascinating to think say "too soon to tell" when you recognize this armed and violent division was bred in the 1930's by Stalin's intentional starvation and liquidation policies perpetrated against peasants and especially Jews, then World War II ushered in such scorched earth policies by both the Nazi and the Soviet Armies that Kiev was overrun fourteen times (yes, fourteen) by the opposing armies, each more brutal than the last, but the western part of Ukraine actually saw the German army as liberating them from Soviet dominance, while the eastern part of the country saw the Soviet army as liberating them from the Nazis. Both sides realized soon enough it was "too soon to tell". Yet, today, the same divisions exist, with the western Ukraine looking to the west (European Union potential membership, for instance) and the eastern part supporting Russian influence, language, and looking to Moscow for help. Memories and scars seared by conflict eighty years ago, still influencing geopolitics today (and tensions escalating into artillery battles and prisoner exchanges), including western sanctions against Moscow for this conflict. Too soon to tell in 1930, or 2018.

While in Europe, we can quickly look to Spain, where the current crisis is fueled by Catalan independence desires, which date back to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 (a prelude to WWII with Germany pitting the war machine to support the Fascist regime, and Russia supporting the republican side), as well as the continuing Balkan crisis (even though it eludes many headlines) with tribal and racial hatred stretching back centuries, in many cases caused by religion and family hatreds. Anybody who thinks these two dangerous situations (we were drawn into the Balkans in the 90's, remember) have quick or easy solutions are flirting with "too soon to tell", as they might have said in the early part of the 20th century.

Columbia just had a presidential election, the first peaceful transfer of power since its sitting president accomplished not only an end to a sixty year conflict which killed a quarter million people, but received an approval by the electorate for a peace treaty which brought the rebels into the political process as they lay down their arms. The two winners face off next month, but are as different as night and day, and reflect deep division in the country as to the viability and fairness of the peace treaty that has ended the civil war. The leftist candidate is a former guerrilla with FARC, allowed to run and participate in the democratic process, though the treaty approval was rejected by the Colombian congress and only narrowly approved by the people., a painful reminder of this country's ongoing suffering. His opponent? A man accused of participating in death squads during the war. An uneasy truce, awaiting a democratic outcome, while its neighbor Venezuela seethes with unrest and comes apart at its communist seams, with thousands of refugees from Venezuela stream over the border. Too soon to tell in 1968 at the start of their civil war, and perhaps 2018 as well.

The Israeli/Palestinian issue is so fraught with history and unforeseen outcomes, not to mention its continued tottering on chaos and potential outright war that it seems redundant to use it as an example of "too soon to tell", but it does bear mentioning in this context. The Jewish homeland was the crux of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to wit: '...the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people.' To read further: 'Nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.' And, in context, Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Pints (which was hoped naively to be the basis for the armistice of 1918) which the Kurds and others thought would give them a nation of their own 100 years ago.

We still have the Kurds fighting any one of a number of people to establish their own homeland, a still distant dream that contains Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, all states set up by World War I 'declarations' by semi-interested but distant parties. Britain's decision to abandon Trans-Jordan in 1947 and leave the residents to fight it out among themselves decided the fate of Middle East peace where it remains "too soon to tell", and innocent people by the thousands pay the price for that bit of colonialism and ignorance.

The examples are endless, but let me return to China, where the quote "too soon to tell" started in 1972. But, instead of Communist China, let's go to the Chinese dynasty of the 15th century. According to some noted historians and researchers, China was actually a burgeoning sea and land power, a superpower of the day, and supposedly commissioned several huge (as they are described, they made Columbus' ships look like rowboats) sailing vessels with possibly a thousand or more sailors and 'residents' who were commissioned to sail, and keep sailing, finding out whatever they could of the world 'out there', and bring back treasure and facts to the reigning celestial monarch. They established several colonies on the east coast of Africa (as today, where the current Chinese military has a naval outpost in Djibouti, as well as billions of dollars of infrastructure loans in the interior of Africa... deja vu, you might say).

But, more intriguingly, they allegedly turned the Cape of Africa and explored the Atlantic side of the 'New World' long before the Europeans (1421 or so?) all the way to Greenland and down to Tierra Del Fuego, then up the Pacific side, crossing the Pacific to come home to a China which had, in the intervening years, forgotten about the journey and the explorers, and decided to abandon all exploration and conquest, proceeding to insulate and isolate against all outside influences until the 18th century, even then resisting colonization and trade by the British and French. Five hundred years later, while historians dispute and discuss this Chinese journeys and return (and its possible influence upon native peoples met in the 'New World'), the descendants of that royal dynasty, and the descendants of Chou and Mao of the 20th century again flex their political and military muscle in the South China Sea, Africa, and Taiwan, while smiling cryptically and saying "too soon to tell".

The eighteenth century historian extraordinaire Gibbon warned, while writing of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that we must be careful of the 'danger of comparing epochs remote from one another', he, of course, writing about Rome while many of his compatriots were stating that the loss of the American colonies was the beginning of the end of the British Empire. Too soon to tell, indeed.

But we can't escape history and its supposed lessons; it surrounds us, sometimes haunts us, frequently, hopefully, reminds us that, as humans we are bound to interpret its lessons, no matter how fragile or temporary those interpretations may be. We must also be careful to assume only one lesson is to be learned, as if all other reasons become secondary or are wrong. So-called history will frequently remind us that our opinion or statements about lessons and reasons, as well as outcomes, may be "too soon to tell" if we draw quick conclusions, or get too smug about them, without a bit of humility as we look around at the continuing drama of our headlines and history.

Pin It