We Fail To See History Repeating in Our Own Time

(Originally Published by Howey Politics Indiana)

On October 11, 1912, George and Ollie Risley weren’t concerned with the Italo-Turkish war. On that Friday, they were concerned with the difficult task of childbirth on a small family farm in Knox County, Indiana. Lucky for your columnist, all went well, and they welcomed my great-grandfather Miles in to the world. My best guess is that the poor, Knox County farmers never heard of the small conflict that would one day impact their family.

Only seven days later would the small regional conflict come to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Ouchy. For the past 13 months, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Italy had waged war on the lands destined to become modern-day Libya.

What caused the Italo-Turkish War? One must look back 34 years to the Congress of Berlin.

The once-great Ottoman Empire was flashing weakness as its institutions of government began to erode. As a result, the surrounding powers began to annex their lands. Especially antagonistic were the Russians, who repeatedly tried to nibble away at the northern edges of the Balkans and the Caucuses. This sparked the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78.

The policemen of the world, Great Britain and the rest of the 19th century G8, had to intervene to end the conflict. The British went as far as sending a fleet of battleships to Constantinople to stop the Russians from entering the city. At the Congress of Berlin, the Great Powers carved up foreign lands lost by the Ottoman Empire. The “sick man of Europe” was humiliated and broken by the loss. At the end of the Congress, the Italians felt they had not been received their fair share of the ailing Empire.

This was a wrong they intended to right. In 1902, the French signed a secret treaty with the Italians that offered them a consequence-free invasion in to Tripoli on the northern shores of Africa. After an extended propaganda campaign by the Italians, the public shifted their support for the invasion that came on September 29, 1911. (Notably, the most outspoken critic of the war was a young journalist and activist by the name of Benito Mussolini. In September of ’12, he participated in a riot against Italy’s “imperialist war.” For this, the young socialist spent five months in jail.)

Fast-forward 13 months, and the Treaty of Ouchy is signed. The Italians were given the lands of Libya, and the Turks once again humiliated and weakened. This set off a sense in the Balkans that liberation could be theirs for the taking. A sense of nationalism spread, and Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria formed the Balkan League and launched the first Balkan War. This then led to the Second Balkan War. And that led to the Great War.

Pop history teaches that the Great War, or World War I, was caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914. The assassination then led to a crisis that led to the invoking of dozens of treaties that entangled the Great Powers in a war that killed 15 million people. If including the Spanish flu, or the Great Influenza, the toll is 65 million.

The spark that led to the killing of 3.6% of the Earths population in 4 years may have been the death of Ferdinand. The cause was imperialism and intervention of the previous 100 years. The Great Powers chose for other nations and states what paths must be followed. This led to revolts. The revolts led to wars. The wars led to treaties that failed to respect those living in the new boundaries. And the cycle began anew. For instance, the Treaty of Versailles led to World War II.

It was in World War II that George and Ollie lost a son, and Miles lost a younger brother. George Risley Jr., 25, was a fighter pilot flying over Normandy on June 7, 1944. He was killed in action.

History has two groups of people. The first are the world-shapers, the heroes and villains, and the notable exceptions. The second are the vast majorities of those in-between that fail to see history happening in their time. The first group rarely sees the effects of their decisions on the second group. And it is the second group that allows it to happen.

Any honest observer of world events today can see that history is happening around us. The governments created by fall of the Ottoman Empire now are crumbling themselves. The Arab Spring was set off by one particular moment. Mohammed Bouazizi was a Tunisian making less than $10 per day. On December 17th 2010, a female inspector slapped him, confiscated his scales, and he snapped. Outraged, he lit himself on fire outside of the local government building. Protests erupted across the nation, and his death two weeks later made him a martyr in the fight over corruption. Tunisia’s leader of 23 years, Ben Ali, fled the country two weeks later.

Was the Arab Spring set off by just this one incident? Do the dictatorial rulers that are being overthrown exist in a vacuum? Or does the imperialist and interventionist mindset still exist today?

I argue that it is softer than in the past, but the Great Powers of the 20th and 21st century manipulated lands they did not own and people they did not have the authority to control. The Great powers toppled governments. Propped up murderous regimes. Provided chemical and conventional weapons to rebel groups that eventually used them on us in future wars.

Now we are told that we “must do something” again. We should not ignore history. Let’s do nothing, and empower those in the second group to become their own world-shapers.

The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The signers of the Declaration represented the new states as follows:

New Hampshire

Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton


John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island

Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery


Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York

William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey

Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark


Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross


Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean


Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton


George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina

William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina

Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton


Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

For additional information about the Declaration of Independence, see these sites: