Could It Happen Here?


January 16, 1993|By DANIEL BERGER

Americans should see the worst situations in the world as logical end results of developments that, if not reversed, might lead to something similar here.

This does not mean that the anarchy of Somalia, with mass starvation imposed by comparatively few thugs, is what West Baltimore will endure tomorrow. It does mean that the resemblances should be understood.

First is weapons proliferation, guns all over town. In Somalia, the guns were provided to a supposedly reputable army, by the Soviet Union and then by the United States. Under revolutionary pressures, the army disintegrated, the guns walked away, gun markets opened. It wasn't long before the clan militia and extortion gangs had them.

In other words, the NRA argument that guns don't kill, people do, applies equally to Somalia and Baltimore: It is absurd in both places. The guns are sold or burgled or otherwise change sides, in Somalia or Towson. The guns get into the hands of the teen-age food robbers of Somalia and narco-terrorists of Baltimore.

The second similarity is the breakdown of law and order. Policing in Somalia vanished. In Baltimore, it merely retreated, progressively ineffective in halting drug street markets, illegal gun possession and crime. Narco-terrorists may never get large parts of Baltimore as fully in their grasp as the thugs did Mogadishu and Baidoa. But unchallenged success by gangs here will inevitably lead to expansion of their activities at the expense of the people on their turf. You can expect not monopoly of the food supply but greater extortion and terror of slum people if the gunmen are not curtailed.

The other situation that looks like a logical end result of dynamics found here is in Yugoslavia. That is the breakdown of nationality. Ethnic strife by whole armies is not likely here, but it is the mad end of the breakup of nationality that is beginning here.

Yugoslavian nationality, invented after World War I, may never have worked except when enforced by brutal governments. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was overly Serbian at the expense of everyone else. Tito's communism was overly everything, at the expense of Serbs.

The army was always ''Yugoslavist,'' and one-fifth of the people might be in ethnically mixed families. But Serbian, Slovenian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Muslim, Albanian and Macedonian nationalists are entitled to assert that true Yugoslavian nationality never existed voluntarily. That claim cannot be made against American nationality, which indisputably exists. But it is true that some groups long seemed left out of its benefits.

The leap from there to the politics of group identity has become fashionable on college campuses. In extreme form, it is an attack not only on individuality but also on American nationality. So is its first achievement in the outside world, the curricula changes advocated or introduced in some school systems.

One example is insistence in some places on teaching Hispanic-surnamed children in Spanish, even children from English-speaking homes ignorant of Spanish.

To discourage their mastery of standard American English is not only an effort to get them to grow up in a different nationality. It willfully reduces their educational and career opportunity.

The same is true of encouraging children to talk exclusively in Black English or Yinglish or some other variant. It unfits them for careers for which standard English is the gateway. It destroys their horizons.

Diversity is properly taught as the heritage behind American nationality. But the leap to inculcate diversity as a substitute for that nationality is destructive.

Is it wicked for schools to teach patriotism? Anyone can understand that an Ireland or an Israel or a Mexico or a Senegal is going to inculcate pride in its culture and independence as part of the curriculum. Why is it wrong for a United States to do the same thing?

The logical end result of separate nationalities across North America is a Yugoslavia. And when there is no correlation between nationality and geography, it is Bosnia writ huge.

No, the United States is not going to become a Bosnia overnight or ever. But trends now taking place will send the U.S. some distance in that direction.

If the willful disintegration of nationality is not reversed, if the proliferation of guns is not reversed, if the retreat of law is not reversed, American society will become a lot more uncivil before it becomes more civil again.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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