Monday, February 17, 2014


I slowly working my way through that book on Russia. And sort of confirming what I suspected all along. We not only don’t know a whole lot about Russia, but we didn’t learn a whole lot about anything east of Berlin when I was in school. Yeah, we took world history when I was a sophomore, at least that’s what they called it. More like Western Civilization with extra footnotes.

Anybody out there know that from about the 14th to the 16th century an alliance between Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania created loosely allied state that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea? I sure didn’t. I know you can’t teach EVERYTHING but we certainly got a hefty dose of how great England was at the time.

Sunday school and the stories of the brave missionaries giving up the comforts of home to bring the glories of the Christian message to the heathens who were only too happy to accept the glories of Christian civilization.  Too bad it was pretty much a crock of bull. Clovis I of the Franks was the original covert or else conqueror. Constantine made Christianity legal. Justinian closed the pagan academies. Vladimir of Kiev converted and made it very clear that anyone who didn’t show up at the riverbank for a dunking was no “friend of his.” Or words to that effect. Heck I didn't even know Orthodox Christianity existed until I was in college. Why? because most of them lived in Muslim countries or behind the Iron Curtain? They suddenly become invisible or something?

Fourteen hundred and ninety two and Columbus discovered a world that had already been found. But, why were the sailors in Western Europe so interested in sea routes to the east in the fifteenth century. Anyone ever hear of the Silk Road. I hadn’t until I temporarily joined a book club called the Folio Society. One of the books they were offering was The Silk Road and the front piece is a map. A map that traces the caravan routes from western China to the Middle East. And a map in a book on the Vikings then traces the trade routes from the Middle East to Scandinavia. For two thousand years goods made their way from east to west to the Mediterranean powerhouses like Venice

So, what happened? Why to push to brave the unknown dangers of the open ocean when they already knew the dangers of the caravan routes? Perhaps the rise of Islam. The break up of the Mongol conquest with the knowledge of who you were dealing with; which palms needed the most "lubrication." And perhaps, finally in the mid 15th century, the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire. You want to bring your goods through our territory you can pay our tolls. Geez, isn’t there another way to get those silks and spices to the markets? There was, finally. And the center of Europe shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. But, when it came to the history books it seems there were some blind spots. Perhaps because the Ottomans were Muslim and the rump of Byzantium was a different flavor of Christianity. Not Western Catholic, Not Protestant, but a different tradition altogether.

And we could say pretty much the same things about Africa, or Asia or India or Latin America. And that’s our loss not theirs.

What we know about most of the rest of the world would fill a small thimble. Modern technology makes it easier to fill in the missing puzzle pieces.  It also makes it easier to pick out the pieces that fit the prejudices we already have building the walls higher instead of tearing them down. I don’t want to hide behind those walls sitting in a corner, eyes closed, humming really, really loud.


Lisa :-] said...

We are bombarded with megatons of information every hour of every day. But we know almost nothing.

JACKIE said...

You sign on to the computer (dial up dino that I am.) The "news" page opens, you scan the "news" that isn't "news" and go about your business. I do get a kick out of the Weather Channel since they sold out to NBC. I don't care what kind of rhetoric they're using about how bad the weather is; I count the number of commercial breaks. When they go more than ten minutes without a break I know things are REALLY bad. Haven't watched network news in years. Too bad the local paper is almost as bad these days.