PAST AND PRESENT: National Balkanization and Polarization

Published on December 10, 2014

by Clearchus
Clash Daily Contributor

My parents did an Air Force assignment at Michigan State in the mid-70s. As a high School student, I got to see High school and College ‘Die-ins’, protests, and the angst my parents lived with as an Active Duty family at a large University, far from any base or support. Watching ongoing events in Ferguson, New York City, on the floor of Congress, and even NFL games, my kids roll their eyes when I say this, but there is nothing new under the sun. The thing that is different is the velocity of information. Watching some of the T.V. coverage closely, it is almost amusing to see the quantity of iPhones, windows phones, and various flavors of Android phones up and taking video or heads down, users surfing their event coordination or texting buds to show how cool they are. This reveals that the velocity of synchronization is another important attribute.

Modern information flow transcends media, no matter how hard the press tries to catch the wave and add a little piece to the 24 hour news cycle. Spin in the moment makes it hard to know the truth. I read in Proverbs 10:19 “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” Vitriol rages across the spectrum but have we learned anything? Or are we merely discovering that sin is not lacking?

Charles Barkley, Alan West, and Rudy Giulianni speak a lot of truth that sits well at my dinner table but the spin from the right is as unappealing to the protesters as the left wing media and emotional rants of victims and protesters are to conservatives.

Interestingly, there is nothing new in this perception, either.

Working on my History master’s thesis in the 90s about the Presidency and Foreign policy of U.S. Grant, I discovered something in the Library of Congress that stuck with me a lot of years. In the decade leading to our first Civil War, fledgling practitioners of advertising and opinion polls discovered that in the national polarization of the 1850s, they could not predict what consumers wanted. Editorials screamed from both sides and that day’s media strove hard to be part of the story. Nothing New.

The Dred-Scott decision essentially legalized slavery in all states and by the election of 1860, the Abolitionist cause seemed all but lost. Again, the key is that in American polarization of citizens in all states, not just across the Mason-Dixon line, politicians and newspapers met the immediate consumption needs of the moment (getting reelected or increasing readership) but did little to lead. An entire stream of vitriolic events raged across the 1850s from John Brown to the caning of Congressmen on the floor of the House of Representatives, and guerrilla war in Kansas and Missouri.

In our present national self-flagellation, the same type of polarization is taking place but in a number of different fascinating ways. The velocity of information accelerates our polarization but synchronization between groups insures a more Balkanized type of fragmentation. Instead of North and South, we have a Balkanized polarization of groups, communities, creeds and races that looks more like broken glass on the floor than the major divisions of near nation states that occurred in the first Civil War.

Another aspect is Asymmetric warfare. James Dunnigan wrote, How to Make War: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare for the Post-Cold War Era. Most of us military Geek types probably played any number of his board and computer War games, including a few classified ones. How to Make War is a tome filled with data and charts but one of Dunnigan’s conclusions–predictions proved true across the 80s and 90s up to the present day. He theorized that modern war equips smaller and smaller groups with exponentially increasing lethality.

Dunnigan proved his point from the 1200s when an infantryman could kill about 70 people an hour to the gunpowder and machine-gun age when the numbers per hour went into the hundreds. Today, with cyber and weapons of mass destruction, lethality rockets off his charts. As our nation Balkanizes and polarizes, much of this lethality in the hands of smaller and smaller groups will only be restrained by the hearts of men.

Looking to the future after the American Revolution, John Adams said it best: “Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy.
Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

While we still have a nation, if we can keep it, we must teach our children certain truths that defy the spin. Things like, “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Thou shalt not murder.” We must also teach our children that every soul must account to the one who created us. Whether left or right…

Protester or disgusted citizen hitting the channel changer to switch off the news, Ferguson and its aftermath could be just another data point on the way to national self-destruction. Unless We the People rise to teach from our pulpits and dinner tables that life is precious.


Jay InmanClearchus is the author of three Science Fiction books; “Sunigin,” “Insurgio,” and “Certo” (Available at Amazon) about the next Texas Revolution. He is a retired Army Field Artilleryman who was one of the last men in the U.S. Army to command an M110 8″ Howitzer firing battery. He currently designs computer networks for commercial, non-profit, and government environments. Married for 32 years to the most gorgeous babe he knows, he and his wife have four kids. Their lives and perspectives straddle military assignments, combat tours, and mission trips across Europe, Asia, and the Horn of Africa.