SUDDENLY THINGS CHANGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Growing up, I was constantly lectured about World War II and the Holocaust. Not a big surprise. I was born in 1947 and the war was barely over by then. Moreover, the lessons of the Holocaust was not lost on my family. Any members of my family that had not come to this country before the war, died in the Holocaust. How many? No one knows for sure.

European border before the first World War
European borders – 1939
European political map – 2018

My parents were permanently grateful to be living here, in the U.S. But they were never passively certain that everything was “just fine” in this country. There was HUAC. There was censorship. There was J. Edgar Hoover. Nor was I ever allowed to forget — not for a minute — that Germany didn’t get Hitler through some kind of military coup.


Hitler was elected. It happened there and it could happen here.

I didn’t believe them. How innocent I was.

In a country that was famed for its love of the arts and liberal democracy and free speech, Germany went from a haven for intellectuals and artists to the home of the most bestial leader in known history … and it happened in under ten years.

I say “known history” because there’s a lot of history we don’t know. What happened in those places too far away to become part of our history or too many years back for us to remember?

Gone. Maybe there were others equally brutal. Maybe many others as bestial or worse. That we don’t know their names mean nothing.

What I do know is that borders — the lines on the maps — are essentially meaningless. How many times have the “lines” bordering the U.S. changed as we acquired lands from Spain, Russia, France, and Mexico? How many nations in Europe have been part of one empire, then another, and another, and then one more?

I used to have an old globe in the house. It was created in the late 1950s and almost none of the borders in Europe on that globe exist today. For that matter, many of the names of countries are different. It was interesting as a historical document but useless as a map.

Africa has been made, remade, and made again along with Asia. Where does China begin or end? How big is Korea?

Remember East Germany?

It is presumptuous indeed that we believe our current borders are somehow more real than any other borders we’ve had. That Europe will not reshuffle itself in years to come. That the two Koreas will not at some point decide to rejoin. Or that Russia won’t decide to go and rearrange eastern Europe as it has done so many times before.

Even people who think they don’t believe in borders, really do. They are sure Texas is going to stay Texas and won’t, in some bizarre future iteration of the U.S., be returned to Mexico. Or that Maine won’t decide that Canada looks like a better deal than the U.S. Or Puerto Rico, tired of being our neglected toy, won’t join with other Caribbean countries to form a separate (but hopefully equal) nation.

The world isn’t a fixed ball with permanent lines drawn on the landscape. Hadrian’s wall and the Great Wall of China are huge reminders of how impermanent borders are. What we believe is all about who we are right now, this minute, this decade. This weekend.

As we go forward to celebrate the fourth of July, it’s wise to remember how much and how often the world changes. Our aging would-be demagogue could have a heart attack. The next election could turn the House of Representatives upside down. Or the demagogue could live long enough to eliminate democracy and found Imperial America. It happened to Rome and they were a lot older and better organized than we are.

The world

Our idiotic arguments with our current allies (versus our earlier allies) mean nothing in the long run. Worse, we as individuals mean nothing either. Short of really blowing up the world, our presence or absence is of no great account except to those we love and who love us in return. Maybe the most important thing is to remember is who we love and who loves us back.

Is that comforting or the opposite? I’m not sure.

Sometimes my irrelevance is surprisingly comforting. The world will not rise or fall based on me, my opinions, or actions. That’s good, right?

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. Retired! Yay!

15 thoughts on “SUDDENLY THINGS CHANGE – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. You got it. I only have to look st my old school atlas to be reminded. Everything we were taught about geography at school is no longer. It is a wonder that Switzerland still exists with its four languages and hundreds of local dialects

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      1. Last night’s “bed time movie” was “The 49th PARALLEL”. A 1941 propaganda movie about close ties between Canada and the U.S. as World War Two unfolded. Leslie Howard (actively involved in real life espionage work) starred and produced the film which included Laurence Olivier, Raymond Massey (A Canadien native) and Eric Portman. It’s about a small band of Nazis, skulking through Canada, after their Sub is discovered off shore and blown up.

        The film is interesting as archaic propaganda. It’s also shows how different U.S. Canada relations were during those turbulent times.

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  2. What a great article…. Could you indicate in what Switzerland is leading (not raspberries and neither for warheads….)? 🙂
    I only wonder sometimes (often in discussions with friends who all seem to think we are taking baths in the money rolling about!) how come that my country has gotten the ill reputation for being the money gnoms when I only know people who are ‘just decent’ with their ‘fortunes’, and have one sister who lives clearly below the poverty level in SWITZERLAND. She was ordered once to appear before the tax officer because he said: It’s impossible that you can live here on those revenues…. So where are they all, those rich people when most of us just get by?! (Completely irrational question and no need to reply to….)

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    1. Money and I think you’ve got a real winner in cheese, or you used to. But definitely money and secrets, too. Otherwise, that would be a bit more of a research project. I’m sure it’s on the internet. Google has all that stuff. I am absolutely SURE you have some serious secrets, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. … most likely – and sadly we will never be any part of it 😉 (which is probably just as well)
        BUT we’re real good in the domaines of techniqu, cheese, brain power, and then some are seriously hard players in money businesses…. Only I wouldn’t know!

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  3. Borders always change. Just the other day a lady came into our Op Shop looking for an atlas, she tutors children after school. We had a couple but I warned her they were probably out of date. She checked by looking at Africa. I guess it is the reason we don’t buy encyclopedia’s any more, they get out of date so quickly.

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    1. Encyclopedias, all those bound books I loved when I was a kid. We had “The Book of Knowledge” which was kind of a kid’s encyclopedia. I loved the smell of it. Those old, leatherbound books and the ink had a heady fragrance, the scent of words. I remember it wasn’t just information. It also had stories and poetry and I swear it was half at least of why I wanted to write. And I’m sure my parents paid a fortune for it, too. That stuff didn’t come cheap.

      I kind of miss those books.

      I still buy atlases. One or two each year. Because my GPS has some very strange ideas about how to get places!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We had encyclopedias too and I enjoyed reading about different countries and history by myself. I used to love maps too. We had the big Reader’s Digest Atlas. I still like to have a good street directory and road map for travelling.

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  4. We still have a complete set of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia, well out of date, but I’m not getting rid of it. There is one constant – things change. It’s up to us to make sure that change is for the better.
    Leslie

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    1. I had a whole Encyclopedia Brittanica, but I also had a parrot who ate it. He had a serious passion for tearing the binding off encyclopedias. I eventually gave up. He should have been one very smart parrot having absorbed so much encyclopedic knowledge.

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