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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card April 22, 2002

Borders Drawn in Blood

Human beings aren't the only animals that fight over boundaries.

It seems that the species that don't battle each other over access to mates, battle just as fervently over access to food supplies.

In fact, plants play this game, too. They choke out rivals with their root systems, or block sunlight from them by growing a thick canopy of leaves, or give off chemicals that kill rival members of their own species that are growing too close.

It's kind of funny watching people in Europe and the Americas smugly criticize Israel and Palestine for their bloody struggle over the right to sing "This Land Is My Land" in Canaan.

I don't think there's a square inch of land in Europe that hasn't received at least one drop of blood in one or another of the hideous wars that have swept the continent through more than two thousand years of history.

Romans killed Celts, Germanic tribes killed Celts and Romans (and each other), Vikings killed anything that moved, as tribe after tribe won control of this or that piece of land.

Gradually modern nations formed -- every single one of them through bloody struggle with neighbors who sought to control the same land, with or without the current inhabitants.

Which nation in Europe has the right to criticize Israel -- or, for that matter, Palestine -- for being "unwilling to compromise"? All the borders in Europe were settled when all the interested parties had fought their way either to victory or exhaustion.

There is no reason to think the "Palestinian Question" (as we think of it) or the "Israeli Question" (as the Muslim world thinks of it) will be settled any other way.

But when the struggle is over and peace lasts for a reasonable amount of time, the forces of common language and economy, shared culture and history, can eventually make former enemies into fellow citizens, at least for a while.

And please don't think the United States is an exception. Not only did we fight a long, bloody-handed war with Indians, treating them all as terrorists whether they were or not (though plenty of them were), but also we had boundary wars with both Mexico and Canada.

And don't forget the bloody war over the only "state's right" that mattered: The right of a state to permit or forbid its citizens to buy, sell, and own human beings.

Compromise after compromise merely postponed the evil day when the boundary between slave and free states was settled once and for all ... in blood.

And saddest of all is the naive faith people seem to have in "negotiated peace."

It conjures up the image of legendary statesmen sitting down and drawing maps that would assure lasting peace.

Don't I wish.

The negotiators and map drawers have a terrible track record. It seems like every negotiated map merely plants the seeds for the next war.

In multi-tribal states, tribalism ultimately trumps nationalism -- unless there is a compelling story that binds the people together.

Besides, these maps are almost never a fair settlement arrived at by compromise among equals. They are almost always imposed by powerful nations on weaker ones, or by victors on defeated enemies.

Bloody as Europe's history has been, the result today is a balance in which most boundaries seem to make a kind of sense.

And yet ... there are still European boundaries that have future war written all over them.

For example, the Baltic States have huge Russian minorities that could easily provide the "justification" for future invasion or forced boundary changes under threat of invasion.

Separatist movements in Catalonia, Basque country, Wales, and Scotland have the potential of taking apart nations whose boundaries long seemed final and firm. Belgium is permanently riven along linguistic lines, and the Balkans ... well, the blood in the Balkans hasn't even dried yet, and if you think it won't be refreshed by future wars, you really do live in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

So much for Europe. Let's take a look at what European mapmakers have done to the rest of the world.

Africa? The people of Africa live in the nightmare created by the arrogance and ignorance of the colonial powers. Are there any boundaries that even attempted to coincide with tribal and linguistic boundaries? Not likely.

A few colonial boundaries followed rivers -- though river boundaries rarely make sense, since rivers are most likely to be the center, not the edge, of a shared culture. Most borders, though, were lines drawn on a map by politicians in Europe without the slightest concern for the people whose future would be determined by their decisions.

My personal belief is that there is no hope of peace or even prosperity in Africa until Africans get to draw their own boundaries, forming nations that share a native rather than a colonial language.

Unfortunately, the present rulers of African countries absolutely depend on the legitimacy of the colonial boundaries and will not relinquish them without a fight. But it's still a joke to call Congo or Nigeria or Tanzania "nations." They are collections of rival tribes who have had a powerful tax-collecting, army-wielding government imposed on them.

Then look at the map of the Middle East, and you might just give up and cry.

When the Ottoman Empire bet on the wrong side in World War I and paid by being reduced to "Turkey" -- with boundaries that still left Turks ruling over huge minorities of Greeks (expelled), Armenians (slaughtered and expelled), and Kurds (currently being oppressed and linguistically extinguished) -- the Arab lands formerly ruled from Istanbul were arbitrarily divided up by the "great powers" of Versailles.

Iraq's boundaries are utterly insane. They were drawn on the present lines solely in order to satisfy the sentimental attachment of British and French "statesmen" to ancient history. Mesopotamia had to be left intact! Never mind that when independence came it forced Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the middle, and Shi'ites in the south to try to make a single nation with few common interests.

As for Lebanon, it was a non-nation created when the French gave independence to Syria, solely so that the Christian minority in southwestern Syria could have a nation of its own.

Well, Syria has taken it back now. Did you know that only thirty years ago, Lebanon was called the "Switzerland of the Middle East" because it was so peaceful and harmonious? Aren't optimists funny.

Sudan's borders put animists and Christians under the control of Muslims who have no right, historically or otherwise, to rule over them.

Does this get better as you move east? South Asia has the tragic boundary between Pakistan and India ... but here we have to give Britain its due. Before Britain imposed a common government on India, no one had ever succeeded in uniting the whole country. To have it divided in only three parts today is actually enormous progress. (Though the "nation" of India could easily fall into pieces with warfare as bloody as anything in the "mini-India" of Sri Lanka.)

China? The Chinese civilization may be ancient, but the current boundaries are thick with recent tragedy. Tibet and Xinjiang have no reason to be subject to Chinese power, and Taiwan is "Chinese" territory only because the Chinese say so, not because the Taiwanese people ever had a chance to choose who would rule over them from outside.

Indonesia? What East Timor suffered is hardly a unique story, and there'll be more blood before this Dutch-created "nation" either achieves unity or breaks into pieces.

Latin America? We only think those national boundaries are stable because we never bother to learn their history. Still, they have the best track record in the world, in recent decades. Though they are still capable of little ventures like the Falklands War and the Shining Path terrorist campaign.

What is my point?

My point is, no matter how good it feels to call ourselves "the world's only superpower," it shows shameful arrogance and laughable ignorance of history to imagine that we can draw maps any better than our predecessors in Europe.

If our goal is to bring "peace" to the Middle East, or any other spot on Earth, or to impose a Pax Americana on the whole world, we will certainly fail, in the long term as well as the short.

The only achievable goal is to make the consequences of attacking the United States and its allies so painful that people stop doing it.

And even that goal we might not be ruthless enough to achieve.

Because borders are not just drawn in blood. They are also defended that way.

Either you shed your attackers' blood, or you let them shed yours. There is no third, "negotiated" way, because negotiations only work when one side (at least) has lost the will or power to resist -- or thinks negotiations will give them a chance to renew the war later under better conditions.

Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.


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