In Whose Best Interest? #MeetingOnTheElbe75

Author: us-russia
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In Whose Best Interest? #MeetingOnTheElbe75
Published 17-04-2020, 17:01

It is no mystery that the root of distrust of another, whether it be an individual or a nation, lies in our regard towards the other as holding a dissimilarity in value and morals, that for whatever reason, this divide is considered unbridgeable and even in opposition to our own welfare. There, thus, inevitably comes a point where the consideration of the other’s prosperity must also imply the endangerment and/or sacrifice of our own.

By Cynthia Chung

It is no mystery that the root of distrust of another, whether it be an individual or a nation, lies in our regard towards the other as holding a dissimilarity in value and morals, that for whatever reason, this divide is considered unbridgeable and even in opposition to our own welfare. There, thus, inevitably comes a point where the consideration of the other’s prosperity must also imply the endangerment and/or sacrifice of our own.

When we reach this state of affairs in the realm of international politics it is extremely dangerous. Especially as we have already stepped into a technological age with such tremendous power for destruction that any further advancements in this field start to embark into the absurd. Advancements in nuclear annihilation, which before could occur over the course of a few days can now be accomplished in mere hours, even minutes before the entire world is snuffed out. And there is no end to such a war game scenario, since a second can be infinitely broken down and the obsession over a ‘first strike advantage’ thus has no end.

Essentially, the entire world is held hostage, their fate held in the hands of a small group who are supposed to deter from war and uphold peace. What a capricious situation for us to subject ourselves to! That we have chained our fate to the whims of fortune, and whether we are lucky enough to have the number of wise outnumber the unwise in deciding such matters. Despite the fact that since the dawn of human history, no state or grouping of states has ever been able to securely ensure the stability of wisdom placed in the hands of a small group.

And therefore this state of affairs cannot be continued, for certain. Yet, how are we to turn away from such a level of hostility that has been inherited for generations against one another?

Though it is popular to quote nowadays "Nothing unites humans like a common enemy”, or as Condoleeza Rice put it, "We need a common enemy to unite us”, I would argue that the much older adage by Aristotle rings more of truth, that "A common danger unites even the bitterest of enemies.”

What is this danger? Well, simply put, it is the threat to the survival of the entire human species. For if these war games continue that is exactly what we are all faced with.

Nothing puts this into a more clear perspective than our embarking into space. Where astronauts, no matter what country they were born and raised in, recognise that the common danger is the ongoing threat to their survival in an entirely unforgiving environment. Differences in culture and language do not seem so divisive when your fate, regardless of these differences, directly depends on the other and vice versa. It is understood that the only way you are to come out of this alive, is if you work as a solid group and problem solve in the most efficient capacity. If one of your members fails to accomplish this, the entire team will likely also fail.

I think this is an invaluable lesson to what humanity faces on earth today. We need to understand that our fate on earth is no different from our fate in space.

A Forgotten History of a Brotherhood

We are brought together today to commemorate Elbe Day, which was a victory that would mark the beginning of the end of WWII. Where East and West, Russians and Americans, met for the first time in the war, and felt towards the other as a blood brother united in the long fought battle against fascism.

It is important that we remember that it was the efforts of both the United States and Russia that made the end of WWII a reality. That is, the war would have carried on for much longer if either side had not taken up arms to end it.

In fact, this would not be the first time that the Americans and Russians were united as brothers in combating tyranny. The period I am referencing is the civil war of the United States.

Britain and France were ready to commit a direct military support for the Confederates, their argument being that it was within the right of the South to claim independence. At the time, Cassius Clay, possibly the greatest US Ambassador to Russia (1861-62 and 1863-69) was very much instrumental in the communication between Lincoln and Czar Alexander II, who would both go down in history as among the greatest emancipators against slavery.

Lincoln had requested the support of Russia in the case that Britain and France should decide to intervene in favour of the South. And by the summer of 1863, Lincoln had cause to believe this a real threat. Russia would show one of the greatest displays of support for the sovereignty of another country to ever occur in modern history, and Czar Alexander II sent the Russian Navy to both the eastern and western coastlines of the United States late September and early October 1863 to defend Lincoln’s Union.

The timing was highly coordinated due to intelligence reports of when Britain and France were intending their military action. The Russian navy would stay along the US coastline in support of the Union for 7 months! They never intervened in the American civil war but rather remained in its waters at the behest of Lincoln in the case of a foreign power’s interference. During their 7 month stay in the United States, the Russians were treated as family by the American people in the North.

Czar Alexander II, who held sole power to declare war for Russia stated in an interview to the American banker Wharton Barker on Aug. 17, 1879 (Published inThe IndependentMarch 24, 1904):

"In the Autumn of 1862, the governments of France and Great Britain proposed to Russia, in a formal but not in an official way, the joint recognition by European powers of the independence of the Confederate States of America. My immediate answer was: `I will not cooperate in such action; and I will not acquiesce. On the contrary, I shall accept the recognition of the independence of the Confederate States by France and Great Britain as a casus belli for Russia. And in order that the governments of France and Great Britain may understand that this is no idle threat; I will send a Pacific fleet to San Francisco and an Atlantic fleet to New York.

…All this I did because of love for my own dear Russia, rather than for love of the American Republic. I acted thus because I understood that Russia would have a more serious task to perform if the American Republic, with advanced industrial development were broken up and Great Britain should be left in control of most branches of modern industrial development.”

It was therefore very much due to Russia’s dedicated display of solidarity with Lincoln’s Union that Britain and France did not intervene and the country was able to piece itself together. Lincoln referred to the Russian support in his Thanksgiving Proclamation as "God’s bounties of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate the heart.”

Both President Lincoln and Czar Alexander II recognised that the sovereignty of the individual and of a nation were intertwined and that Russia and the United States had become united in this cause. That for an individual to be truly free, there needed to be a system that could ensure access to a basic standard of living, for which industry and education are imperative.

The Need for a Comprehensive Education and an International Dialogue in this Sphere

Nothing comes to mind that expresses the potential for a curriculum in an international comprehensive education better than the present approach to the education of astronauts, which is one of the most competitive and universal fields of ‘training’.

Because space exploration is done by a consortium of countries, astronauts receive cultural training as well as language courses, it is typically mandatory to have a function in the Russian language in particular.

There are different specialisations, but at the core of this training are very intensive high stress scenarios that require rapid and efficient problem solving skills. There is an endless array of things that could go wrong when you are out in space and it is impossible to have direct training on every possible scenario, therefore, the training rather focuses on the recognition that a problem will indeed occur and to train one’s mind to be creative and fluid during these ‘crisis’ situations. An essential part of the problem solving training is the ability to work as a unit with your team, even if you only have a few minutes to solve the problem, thus efficient and constructive communication is vital.

I am not stating that everyone should be expected to meet such a high standard, but I do think there is something in this approach to education that is applicable to what education could be on earth if we are serious about solving these conflicts.

Namely, that there should be a dialogue amongst leading nations, such as the United States and Russia, in forming the start of an international comprehensive education program. Key elements to this program would include the necessity to learn certain languages and receive a cultural education of these countries. This would be further facilitated by a student exchange program, such that every student would be expected to spend at least one year within another country that was diverse to what they were familiar with.

A Revival of Humboldt’s Higher Education

Wilhelm von Humboldt's reforms of the Prussian school system were revolutionary and led to the founding of the University of Berlin, which became the most prestigious model for universities throughout the Western world in the Nineteenth century. This educational reform was for all levels of society and not just the elite.

At the core of this educational reform was Humboldt’s recognition of the universal role of language in the development of the human mind. Philology, in whose Greek root means "love of words,” pertains to the study of comparative language, which is the study of the relationship between languages.

Humboldt wrote, in a letter to his wife Caroline, "It is only through the study of language that there comes into the soul, out of the source of all thoughts and feelings, the entire expanse of ideas, everything that concerns mankind, above all and beyond everything else, even beauty and art.”

Humboldt held that "Language is deeply entwined in the intellectual development of humanity itself, it accompanies the latter upon every step of its localized progression or regression; moreover, the pertinent cultural level in each case is recognizable in it.... Language is, as it were, the external manifestation of the minds of peoples. Their language is their soul, and their soul is their language... The creation of language is an innate necessity of humanity. It is not a mere external vehicle, designed to sustain social intercourse, but an indispensable factor for the development of human intellectual powers.”


In a world where we have accumulated a bounty of information in the form of data, I fear we may have lost sight as to the importance of language in its most rich form of expression and in all its wonderful diversity. The breakdown of communication and ability to solve problems on a global scale, is most certainly greatly impacted by our growing deficiency in language, of not only other cultures but including our own.

That during times of crisis such as today, we have been shown that we are unable to coordinate, share knowledge and problem solve in a timely fashion, and I am afraid if our priorities continue to be thus skewed the situation will only get worst.

There is a reason why Shelley’s words continue to echo in our ears to this day, that it is indeed the "poets who are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

Thus I think it best to end here with the entire thought that Shelley was conveying in stating this:

"The most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry. At such periods there is an accumulation of the power of communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respecting man and nature. The person in whom this power resides, may often, as far as regards many portions of their nature, have little apparent correspondence with that spirit of good of which they are the ministers. But even whilst they deny and abjure, they are yet compelled to serve, that power which is seated on the throne of their own soul. It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. [And thus] Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”.

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