Two weeks ago I discussed in a blog that we here at CFPUP will be focusing a lot of attention on the cyclical nature of the circumstances we find ourselves in as a country.  We can’t peer into the future with a crystal ball.  But, we may find valuable insights by looking into the past.

As I was perusing a magazine from the 1930’s I came across an article on Spanish Civil War orphans.  That war started in 1936.  The article was dated 1939, the year the war ended.  It is believed as many as 500,000 people died as a result of the war.  As I was reading the article my mind went to a recent 60 minutes show that featured Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan to escape their war ravaged country.  That war started roughly three years ago but there is no end in sight.

Spanish and Syrian War Orphans

On the left, a picture of Spanish Civil War orphans circa 1939 ( Look Magazine June 1939). On the right, a picture of Syrian children orphaned by the war 2015 (Photo by Lauren Gelfond Feldinger)

War, rumors of war, economic stagnation, and civil discontent appear to be brewing much the way they were some 80 years ago.  When I was a child in the 1960’s and 1970’s we seemed to be better at dealing with conflict.  I can recall the term “shuttle diplomacy.”  It was practiced by our Secretary of State when a conflict had broken out somewhere in the world.  Now, it seems if the United States isn’t busy fanning the flames of conflict, we have no interest in forcing all sides to come to an agreement to end hostilities.  Perhaps this is more a sign of the time; a manifestation of the cycle we find ourselves in.

Historian and demographer Neil Howe, co-author of the book the Fourth Turning believes the United States has just entered a Fourth Turning. “A Fourth Turning is a Crisis period. This is an era in which America’s institutional life is torn down and rebuilt from the ground up—always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. Civic authority revives, cultural expression finds a community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group.

Cartoon from a 1935 Saturday Evening Post article.

Cartoon from a 1935 Saturday Evening Post article.

In every instance, Fourth Turnings have eventually become new “founding moments” in America’s history, refreshing and redefining the national identity. America’s most recent prior Fourth Turning began with the stock market crash of 1929 and climaxed with World War II. The generation that came of age during this Fourth Turning was the Hero archetype G.I. Generation (born 1901 to 1924), whose collective spirit and can-do optimism epitomized the mood of the era. Today’s Hero archetype youth, the Millennial Generation (born 1982 to 2004) show many traits similar to those of the G.I. youth, including rising civic engagement, improving behavior, and collective confidence.”

“In Talcott Parsons’ terms, a Fourth Turning is an era in which the availability of social order is low, but the demand for such order is high. Examples of earlier Fourth Turnings include the Civil War in the 1860s and the American Revolution in the 1770s—both periods of momentous crisis, when the identity of the nation hung in the balance.”

If the theory of the Fourth Turning is valid, is total war inevitable?  Do the citizens of this country require a crisis, do we have to be backed in to the corner before we unite to effectively deal with our predicaments?  We are in many ways shaped by history, but we also have the ability to shape history.  My sincere hope is with the knowledge of the great historical cycles we will be able chart courses where peace is not only preferred over conflict but the more practicable course of action.

In closing I will leave you with a speech from what I believe was a time of another Fourth Turning, but this one goes back to antiquity.  It is the speech made by the Greek, Hermocrates at the Conference of Gela, in which a peace was brokered between the warring powers of Athens and the Syracuse.

“Yet when I consider the dangers of the future, I am prepared to give way to others. I do not think it right to do such injuries to my enemies that I ruin myself, nor, out of mad love of aggression, to imagine that can command fortune, which is out of my control, in the same way as I can be master of my own designs.”


The Death of Socrates