In Our Times

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Since about 1750 (after the Reformation, the Civil War, Cromwell, and battles over the succession to the throne), other than during WWII, Great Britain has generally been a pretty safe place. It had some “highwaymen” and street thuggery, but even that was patchy. (In 1800, it also had several dozen offenses for which hanging was still commonly applied.) And there has been the occasional, isolated “political riot” – such as the “Gordon Riots” in London in 1780.

Because of the patterns of life, centuries of rural habit, and the static world most were born into, lived in, and died in, there was little public violence. Great Britain has not suffered from extended periods of political instability and the terrorism that usually stems from that – save for that which emerged from Ireland in the 1960s, and which had a clear political goal. What happened yesterday on Westminster Bridge is a relatively recent phenomenon – but one we are now seeing all too regularly in various places.

For us as Americans, in 1777 Morocco was – informally – the first country to recognize the newly independent U.S. A friendship treaty was officially signed in 1786, and that treaty remains in place even today. The first foreign property the U.S. Government owned would not be in London, Paris or Amsterdam, but was the U.S. Consulate in Tangier, which is now on a register of U.S. historic places.

We first encountered another mentality about the same time: that of the nearby pirates of “Algiers.” In the 1780s, regularly they seized U.S. merchant ships on the Atlantic and in the Med and demanded exorbitant ransoms – because it was permissible, they said, according to their god. And the U.S. then had no real navy to counter them.

Sneak Peek from “Conventions.” Click to expand.

We read today of those pirates as history. A century or so from now, those who follow us will face their own distinct challenges. And they will look back and read about our experience as history: we who had men repeatedly seize commercial airliners for hostages to hold to ransom, or even suicidally crashed commandeered planes into skyscrapers, or used automobiles and trucks to run down crowds of people in streets or on waterfront promenades, or took knives “senselessly” to passersby, and more – all also in the name of their god.

We are not “exempt” from history. Nor can we separate ourselves from it. We endure it just as everyone else before us.

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