Wars, according to the one-dimensional view of world history favored by Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, are caused by bad or mad men. Once we, the almighty, self-appointed arbiters of worldwide justice, determine who the bad guys are, we can go in, blow them away, and make the world safe for democracy. This approach is founded on fantasy and doomed to endless failure; its false premise guarantees more suffering for the populations of the world. The tragedy in Kosovo is simply the latest example.
The causes of wars are indeed complex, but some underlying forces are nearly universal throughout history and across the globe. Massive shifts in populations create unstable situations in which one group fears domination by another group. Fear—whether of the loss of power, of territory, of cultural expression, of the means of sustenance, or of religious predominance—incites reaction which, if not dissipated or checked, results in a self-protective assertiveness, often violent and brutal.
These demographic shifts, measured in historical terms, can be destabilizing and threatening to peace even if they occur over two or three generations. In the case of invasions, like the Mongols overrunning Europe, such shifts can happen suddenly. In the case of migrations, they happen more gradually. Demographic shifts can also be caused by discrepancies in fertility rates between neighboring communities. Bad or mad men do not create these situations: They are created by the normal competition of human societies for space and resources.
While the West does all it can to alleviate the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians and seeks an emergency solution to a nearly intractable problem, we should be casting a discerning eye around the globe in an effort to anticipate future Kosovos. Sadly for America, the southwestern United States could become a Tex-Mex-style Balkan powder keg in the not-too-distant future.
CNN has broadcast images of tens of thousands of refugees, a sea of displaced humanity. Multiply this picture into the millions, and you begin to approximate the number of economic refugees who are streaming into the southwestern United States from Mexico and Central America. Again, there are no good guys or bad guys here, but an indigenous population living above the Rio Grande and a migrating population moving up from the other side. If history is any guide, the groups will eventually come into conflict. The only question is: How will this conflict be managed?
Unlike other migrations into North America over the past 300 years, this one is occurring across a contiguous border, creating a novel situation. Hispanics are entering the United States in much greater numbers than any other ethnic group has since the British colonized the eastern seaboard in the 17th and 18th centuries. Moreover, they are able to move back and forth across the common border in a way no other immigrant group in American history could do. This natural fact of geography is further complicated by historical claims—until 1846, what is now the Southwest United States was the northern part of Mexico—and governmental policies that support bilingual education, officially sanction dual citizenship, grant permission to vote in the elections of both countries, and offer federal assistance to non-citizens.
Whether this territory should belong to the English-speaking Europeans who conquered from the north or the Spanish- speaking Europeans who conquered from the south is almost a moot point. Over the next 20 years, according to projections based on current rates of legal and illegal immigration as well as sharply contrasting fertility rates and so-called “white flight” to the Pacific Northwest, the migrating population from south of the Rio Grande will become the majority in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—the former territory of old Mexico. This raises important questions. How will this affect the peace and tranquillity of the United States? Is this an inevitable development? If this does happen, how can the inherent competition between the resident and migrating populations be managed?
It is not enough simply to say, as our feel-good leadership in Washington would have us believe, that if we just “understand” and “tolerate” one another, everything will be all right. Human history has shown that ignoring the potential conflicts between human societies is a recipe for disaster. The record of recent civil strife in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Chiapas, Mexico, is hardly reassuring. In a Los Angeles school district, celebrations of both Cinco de Mayo and Black History Month were canceled recently to avoid potential violence between polarized black and Hispanic students.
Rather than picking a fight in someone else’s backyard, we should be looking to our own country and its immediate neighbors, and seeking solutions for the generation now being born—solutions that will spare them the agony of ethnic and sectarian violence or the scourge of civil war. Those who believe that “it can’t happen here” should remember that a cataclysmic civil war tore this country apart once already, only 135 years ago, when our population was much more ethnically and culturally homogenous than it is today.