Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Interplay of Myths and Realities

The Interplay of Myths and Realities

“Anation is a group of persons united by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbors.” Karl Deutsch’s harsh definition is being repeated frequently in the literature of ethnic conflict, becoming unfortunately more and more an appropriate black humor depiction of the homicidal struggles that appear, reappear, and fester in many parts of our world, haunting us like new and old nightmares.

This literature is by now prolific, prodigious, and interdisciplinary. Research and theories abound in trying to unearth the roots of ethnic conflict implosions and the reasons for their intractability and their metastatic nature.

Methodologies of diagnosis, mediation, resolution, and prevention are being developed and tested in the laboratories of harsh realities. The results are sometimes lasting and fruitful but more often fragile and shortlived. The failures, proving the law of “unintended consequences,” originate at times from the mismatch of the specific problem and the remedy designed for it. Other times the failures derive from the propensity of human nature to prefer often the perpetuation of misery and drama rather than to endeavor in the efforts of peacefully shared lives.

A brief review of the field of inquiry allows us to venture some observations on certain aspects of such conflicts that seem to make them particularly insidious and intractable.

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