Published On: Mon, Sep 10th, 2012

News flash: bad things happen, even to English speakers

Native English speakers are a blessed lot, and yet most of them do not even realise it.  For over 250 years English speakers have mainly been victorious, militarily, socially, politically, economically and culturally.

On the occasion that they have been defeated, it has been to other English speakers – the British loss during the American Revolution or the South’s loss during the American Civil War.  Sometimes they have started off badly, such as at Pearl Harbour or on September 11, but they have ended up victorious, and have meted out more punishment than they received, such as at Nagasaki or in Baghdad.  On occasion, they have stumbled, such as Britain’s loss of its colonies post World War 2 or during the Suez Crisis, and America’s “strategic withdrawal” from Vietnam, but on the whole they managed to pull out without losing too much face or impact at home.

The problem with this string of successes is that it is very hard to think that bad things might happen.  What makes this even more problematic is that because English is the de facto international language, in part due to its string of successes, this view that only good things can happen seeps out into the non native English speaking world.

And this flies in the face that bad things happen all of the time, all over the world, including in the Western world. Lets have a few examples of things that have happened in the lifetimes of many of our Western readers, some really bad and others just bad:

  1. Unemployment in Greece and Spain for young people is now over 50%. It is over 20% on average throughout the European Union, with 10 countries having youth unemployment at over 30%.  The consequences are not just about having your mother telling you to brush your teeth properly, aged 30, but have impacts on the likelihood of you ever earning a decent wage and being able to provide for a family of your own.
  2. Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. Yugoslavia was broken up and former countrymen started to kill each other.  You had shelling of towns and cities, ethnic cleansing and systematic mass rape.  100,000 people are estimated to have been killed and 2.2 million people lost their homes.
  3. Revolutions of 1989.  Thousands of people died during the revolutions, which swept through Eastern Europe, resulting in the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism.  Whole societies were turned upside down.  Electrical engineers with masters degrees became taxi drivers and PhDs in nuclear physics became prostitutes.
  4. Hungarian uprising of 1956.  Initially successful, the Hungarians forced out the Soviet puppet Prime Minister.  Soviet military units entered Budapest but eventually appeared to head out again.  A new democratic government was formed demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops and then its intent to leave the Warsaw Pact.  Khrushchev wavered and then following British, French and Israeli invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis, decided to intervene, crushing the revolt. 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees and several hundred were executed.
  5. Second World War of 1939-1945.  This was an unmitigated disaster for all mainland Europeans, a disaster for the British in terms of loss of power and a net massive plus for the United States.  There are colour videos of Germans in the summer of 1939 having beach parties.  They did not have a clue as to what was going to happen next – and they kicked off the war.

Life before each one of these upsets was reasonably good and, in most instances, the bad things “just happened”.  It is possible for a historian to pick through the threads of history and to put together a coherent timeline of what happened and why it happened.  But for the people on the ground, prior to the bad thing happening, life seemed pretty much okay.

Life can change very suddenly.  Bad things do happen.  Yet there are also dozens of crises that never play out in the way that commentators expect them to.  People and governments can make the right decisions.

We are faced today with a range of huge problems (see article), any one of which could push us over the edge, ranging from the loss of middle class jobs, to food & water shortages, population growth, migrations and massive levels of debt.

Politicians, the media, companies and the general public need to work together to ensure that our problems are managed and fade away, and do not explode into a new crisis that threatens not just our livelihoods but also our lives and our freedoms.


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