Friday, December 29, 2006

Those Who Don't Learn the Lessons of History....

As we come to the end of the year, I have had a song running through my head. It’s a song from my childhood, sung by the Kingston Trio and recorded on their “From the Hungry i” album in 1959. It was written by Sheldon Harnick in 1953.

Merry Minuet

They’re rioting in Africa (whistling)
They’re starving in Spain (whistling)
There’s hurricanes in Florida (whistling)
And Texas needs rain

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch

But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off

They’re rioting in Africa (whistling)
There’s strife in Iran
What nature doesn’t so to us
Will be done by our fellow "man"

Now, I’ve been humming this song for years. At the same time, as I come to the end of the year, a time of review, I’m struck by just how apt the song continues to be. There are certainly riots in Africa, and many have been replaced with actual combat. No sooner can one region come to terms than another comes to blows. They may not be starving in Spain, but as a result starving Moroccans are enduring hardship trying to get there. If there haven’t been so many hurricanes in Florida this year, those last year brought sufficient rain and damage to Florida and to Texas and to all points in between.

Some things just don’t seem to change. The French and Germans are still competing for leadership in Europe. Perhaps the Germans don’t hate the Poles anymore, and especially those that have come to Germany as migrant labor. There may not be any “Yugoslavs” anymore, but the Italians are still anxious about Albanians. And of all these old conflicts, we’ve been awed and amazed that it’s been the South Africans who’ve led in seeking reconciliation. Oh, right: it’s not the same South Africans, is it?

We’re still anxious about the mushroom cloud, and now from more quarters. Indeed, we’re particularly concerned about Iran. Not only is there strife within, but there is war to either side, and some of them feel they need the bomb more than ever; and the rest of us feel none the safer. And here at home we’ve been led by folks who don’t seem to "like anybody very much."

So, from 1953 to 2006, all too little has seemed to change. Let’s begin working in 2007 in hope that we won’t still be humming this little ditty in 2053.

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