My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories
from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his
memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as
long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one
request: if you reference this material in any way, please send us email at
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© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families
If you think that
is a somewhat distant date, may I point out that it is no more remote than 1993
is from the date of my birth.
This century has
generated more revolutions than any previous one and there is no indication that
the rate of change will slow down. On the contrary, it is quickening at a dizzy
pace. These revolutions happened in the fields of politics, economics, social
manners and family relations, but above all in technology. The world of 1993
would have been unimaginable in my youth. Suffice it to point out that none of
the following existed then, at least where I was growing up: automobiles, radio,
television, movies, airplanes, computers, rockets, space travel, nuclear
weapons, nuclear power--not to speak of man on the moon. Not only have they been
invented since then, but they are in universal and everyday use now.
As a matter of
fact, technology has outpaced all other perimeters of development and it is
doubtful if they can catch up. No wonder the end of this century can better be
fin de siècle.
For the first time in the history of the human race our very survival may be at
stake. We are just beginning to realize the possible finality of the earth
environment, the impact of overpopulation and the conflict between inflamed
expectations and limited resources.
I am also skeptical
about claims of a New World Order and universal democracy. So far democracy is
workable (and not always at that) only in parts of the world where it has grown,
as it were, organically. Democracy is viable in Western Europe and those parts
of the world settled by West Europeans, or, perhaps more precisely, by some West
Europeans. I doubt if it can be more than temporary in Central and South
America, Asia, and most certainly not in Africa.
The trials and
tribulations of democracy are clearly visible in Eastern Europe. I am doubtful
that democracy will emerge or survive in Russia and the other succession states
of the Soviet Union. Nor would I bet on the ultimate triumph of capitalism in
that part of the world. My guess would be some sort of mix. The mix will also be
visible in the other East European countries and it will be different in each,
with more market-oriented industries in Czechia and somewhat more Socialist
orientation in Slovakia, Poland, and the Balkans.
Already the idea of
free and unfettered capitalism is losing some of its appeal as the social costs
of underemployment and inflation take their toll. Opposition is growing, except
again in Czechia where Prime Minister Klaus keeps his faith in the teachings of
Adam Smith. It is probably useful in providing the necessary energy for the
transformation of the economy, but its fervor will gradually wane and give way
to a traditional European state-private mix.
Underlying all of
this is a general devaluation of all ideologies, leaving the world, and more
especially European society adrift in what has been called an ideological void
"in a world where the clash of Soviet Communism and Western democracy no longer
provides clear lines for their positions."
To me the most
important change is represented by the decline of what was the central belief in
my youth, namely the very concept of progress. It began to tatter during the
First World War, was revived by Wilson, restored by F.D.R., given artificial
respiration by the implosion of Communist societies, and pretty much given up in
the last two decades. At any rate the idea of inevitable progress has become a
The central belief
of my mature years was the necessity of creating an international community, or
at least communities. That was the ideological basis of many of my activities,
especially those supporting the League of Nations, the United Nations, the
Atlantic Community, and the European Community. I still believe each of these
was a step forward and deserving of support, but I now clearly see the obstacles
in their way.
To me and to many
other observers and analysts the chief surprise is the recent rise of
nationalism and tribalism all across the globe resulting in the disintegration
of existing political entities, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia being the latest
victims. I see the same tendency in the United States, usually parading under
the guise of multiculturalism. It has a positive and a negative side. On the
positive side it recognizes the need for ethnicities to enjoy their own cultural
identity. On the negative side it breaks up national unity by organizing racial
and linguistic minorities (and even women) as antagonistic political groups,
either competing for political power or arriving at an incoherent system of
quotas and practical, if voluntary,
As an immigrant myself, I have no hesitation in saying that I prefer the melting
pot to the present tendency to create separate, feuding racial and linguistic
communities. To me it is racism, even though it is positive racism, and it can
only lead to disintegration. I am in favor of a society in which color or ethnic
background would play no role.
I have occasionally
been nicknamed "Gloomy Gus," but I do not feel that way. I have just been "more
stricken in years and well seasoned by life," as I read in a recent review of a
book by George Kennan. I have been for the most part happy and satisfied with my
life: it was interesting, creative, and always challenging. I was particularly
lucky to have found (and kept) a marvel of a wife: a real beauty at 19 and still
beautiful at 90, solid as a rock, full of kindness and understanding, a devoted
mother and always a friend, in good times and bad. And an excellent cook, too.
I wish you, my
readers, and especially my progeny, the same happiness and contentment that are
mine, and I hope that you may find some occasional interest in my life and
ruminations. With this I conclude my Memoirs.
the chapters in his postscript
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