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My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Memoirs, 1993
Postscript, 1994

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 and a copy of the paper, if possible, as we would like to know when this material is of interest and we are curious as to how it is being used. We'd like to hear from you.
© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families


It has been more than a year since I wrote the chapter entitled “Towards 2085.” Upon rereading it, I find nothing I would not say today, but I would like to focus more on the world in which my children and grandchildren will spend their lives.

During this last year, in spite of some decrepitude, I have continued my interest in computers, including a venture into the world of e-mail and Internet, which I found exhilarating. It has helped me to compensate for a decline in my ability to travel by expanding infinitely my ability to communicate allover the globe.

It also illuminates the accelerating tempo of technological progress in other fields of human endeavor: in medicine and medical technology, in understanding the origin of the world and the finality of human life on earth and in other areas of research. At the same time, there has been a gradual improvement in the economic performance of the industrialized countries and a few of the less backward developing ones. There is a growing awareness of the need to start controlling the environment and at least a tentative rapprochement between old foes: Israelis and Arabs, Irishmen and Englishmen, or of blacks and whites in South Africa.

Having said that, I still feel that secular forces are still at work in the opposite direction. The progress in technology has not slowed the growing erosion of human relations and societal cohesion in practically all areas of the world. Genocide continues unabated in such places in Rwanda-Burundi or Somalia or Bosnia, in spite of U.S. and U.N. intervention. Human rights are trampled in at least two-thirds of the world's countries. The latest example is Haiti. Even though the American invasion is only a couple of weeks old, I have no hesitation in saying it will end in a debacle. Haiti is about the last place that can be truly democratic and peaceful. It has never experienced democracy or peace and I doubt it ever will (although “ever” covers a very long time). I predict the United States will regret having sent troops once more to that unfortunate island.

And, since I specifically mentioned the United States, I have to confess a growing disenchantment with the processes that govern it. Not only has it been unable to put the federal budget on a self-sustaining basis, but also it seems less and less able to legislate urgent reforms. Congress is increasingly unwilling to tackle such needed laws as health reform or welfare reform or election reforms or elimination of control of the electoral process by well-heeled lobbies. As a result of extreme partisanship, now practiced mostly by the Republican Party, the citizens grow ever more disenchanted with government as such. In essence, they divorce themselves from the polity, further contributing to what people see as an emerging anarchy, already visible in the spread of crime, drugs and racial conflict. The deliberate destruction of a President inescapably damaged the very fabric of liberal democracy, apart from a long-term economic decline domestically and internationally. The inability of the Democratic Party to make up its mind as to whether it wishes to be a part of the left or of the center has not helped either.

The devaluation of the government and popular disenchantment is by no means limited to America. It is also apparent in Europe, the birthplace of democracy. And naturally it is prevalent everywhere else where government never really worked, except as a dictatorship.

The decline of consensus domestically, as well as the multiplication of conflicts worldwide, is in turn closely related to the growth of racial and ethnic divisions, which I have described earlier. American society especially is presently being rent by a new variety of apartheid. Not the same variety that prevailed in South Africa under the old Boer-dominated regime, the purpose of which was to keep racial minorities down. The new American apartheid is well intentioned, since it is designed to help African-Americans overcome old indignities.

However, in reality it establishes racial origin as a basic legal category and, thus, helps to continue racism -- even though this racism is positive and not negative. By definition, it is divisive and in the end it must lead to racial conflict. A good example of this new apartheid is a recent executive order providing that applicants for credit in the inner cities must first state their race, gender and ethnicity.

On a global level, I have been impressed by Samuel P. Huntington's “Clash of Civilizations,” as first presented in Foreign Affairs in the summer of 1993. His central hypothesis is that “the fundamental source of conflict in the new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.” Until now all the major wars in the contemporary world were in reality Western civil wars. Emerging conflicts will be, and increasingly are, conflicts between major civilizations. Huntington lists these as “the Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Orthodox-Slav, Latin American, and possibly African.” Not everybody's list would be the same as his; for instance many would include the Western-Orthodox as a subsystem of Western (a long-lasting division between Russians), but, in his words “the central axis of international politics in the future is likely to be the conflict between the West and the Rest.” Underlying his philosophy is the assumption that there will be in the future not one universal civilization but instead a world of different civilizations.

There might of course be other conflicts: as of now many of the violent clashes are intra-civilizational, like the present one in Rwanda-Burundi or those in Liberia or Mozambique, or the deepening split between modernizers and fundamentalists throughout the Muslim world, or the one in Northern Ireland, to name only a few. In Africa, which lags in many ways behind the rest of mankind, the basic dividing line is still between tribe and tribe. One such potential civil war threatens between Xhosas and Zulus in South Africa. It is questionable whether the war in Bosnia is one between civilizations, namely between the Western, the Islamic and the Eastern-Orthodox, or whether it is really a civil war within a largely homogenized Yugoslav society. There certainly was little divisiveness visible to a visitor during the Tito years, even less in Bosnia than in Croatia. After all, almost everybody in Yugoslavia spoke the same language, descended from the same racial stock, and lived for decades under Communism. In Bosnia especially, the fault lines were barely visible. Perhaps one more argument for Huntington' s forecast.

Another global overview that has made a lasting impression on me was an article by Robert D. Kaplan (incidentally an expert on the Balkans) titled “The Coming Anarchy” in the February 1994 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. After describing the breakdown of government in much of Africa, Kaplan writes that: “West Africa is becoming a symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real strategic danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies... provides an appropriate introduction to the issues that will soon confront our civilization.” It is his belief that Africa may be as relevant to the future of world politics as the Balkans was a hundred years ago. The African illness may spread around the globe, just as AIDS did -- also thought to be of African origin.

Kaplan too is skeptical about the future of the United States. He thinks that it is much more fragile than more homogeneous societies, like Germany or Japan. In the past it successfully homogenized its immigrants. But now, increasingly, immigration comes from other cultural areas. To quote Saul Bellow, American used to be a country, not a collection of cultures, which it is in the process of becoming. Not only is it a congress of cultures and races, but also these races are increasingly solidifying into political power groups competing for advantage over other groups, which makes consensus almost impossible.

All my life I was a believer in human rights, humanism and democracy. Masaryk's ideas have left a deep imprint from the days of my youth, when my father's store was a kind of political club where the small town' s intelligentsia congregated in the late afternoon to discuss politics and the state of the world. It dawned on me only much later how Euro-centered the world was then and for many years thereafter. In fact, I realized the full diversity of mankind only after I came to America. At that time, in the late nineteen-thirties, I also realized how America-centered America was. It was of course the heyday of isolationism.

Now, it seems, we are witnessing a similar phenomenon. At a time when the economy and information are fully globalized, human perception is returning to separation. Incidentally, the same trends have again surfaced in Europe. On the one hand, Europe is for the first time becoming more unified. The European Union is the one and only positive development in a darkening world picture. On the other hand, we now see a move towards a Europe more concentrated on its own problems. This is partly a sequel to the liquidation of European colonial empires, and partly a consequence of a gradual divorce from the United States, now that the threat of Russian imperialism seems to have disappeared. However, there is no guarantee of a steady progression to a federated Europe, as envisioned by the Maastricht treaty. Great Britain is not the only country that has second thoughts about being deprived of her separate identity.

Much as I would like to believe that men are not only equal, but also possessing an innate desire for democracy and respect for the rights of others, I must confess my disbelief. I have always had a penchant for empiricism and realism, rather than blind optimism or blind pessimism. But just about everything I have observed during these last two decades has led me to the conviction that democracy and human rights will continue for the foreseeable future to be limited to the countries of Western civilization. Others occasionally and temporarily may experiment with democracy, some a little more successfully than others, but it always looks more like an imitation than the real thing. Democracy continues to be the most difficult of political crafts. It has had ups and downs even in Europe, let alone on other continents.

I have by now pretty much concluded that democracy can only persist in those areas, which are based on ancient Greece and Rome, on the impact of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French and American revolutions, and modem liberalism. That excludes even parts of Europe, especially Russia and the Balkans, not to mention Asia, and even more so of Africa. After World War II, American occupation foisted a democratic constitution on Japan and South Korea, but they have not taken deep root and there is a strong likelihood that they will not be permanent. Similarly I would not take any bets that most of Latin America is safely in the democratic fold. And I cannot imagine a democratic China; had the students won on Tiananmen Square, China might by now have been split up between contending states or warlords.

In my younger years, I shared the belief that education and technology will lead to peace and democracy. I regret to say I do not believe it any more. After all, the best-educated nation in Europe, the Germans, used the latest technology in mass genocide. I would even say education itself may have contributed to the spread of armed conflict. There would have been no Reformation and, therefore, no Thirty Year War had Guttenberg not invented printing. Similarly, modem fascism and all the other crazy mass movements that have poisoned this century owed their spread and intensity to the invention of radio and later of television. It is now possible to spread propaganda almost universally and instantaneously, and hate spreads more easily than love. I am sure that the decline of popular participation in American elections is largely due to television, which can only too easily be bought.

Unfortunately, American efforts to convert other peoples do not seem to be doing so well. Other civilizations do not take kindly to the preaching of democracy. To a Chinese, it must seem almost comical that an upstart culture wishes to preach to the Middle Kingdom with its thousands of years of Confucian tradition, which does not encompass popular democracy. Perhaps the least promising efforts are those to spread human values by economic embargoes or military intervention. The failure of such efforts last year in Somalia may well be succeeded by a similar shortfall in Haiti in 1994.

I am far from alone in thinking so, although it goes counter to what is now politically correct. Robert H. Johnson put it succinctly the other day in The New York Times: “The fundamental problem with basing foreign policy on the defense of democracy through intervention is that the government lacks the means -- and will lack the domestic political support -- to carry out such a policy. When other countries lack the political and cultural roots of democracy, it is impossible for outsiders to create them and the use of force in support of democracy will be unavailing.” Anyway, it would be an uphill fight. It has been estimated that only some 19% of the world's population now enjoy some semblance of basic human rights, while some 55% live under oppressive regimes.

I present my latter day views with some reluctance. Not only was I reared to believe in progress towards democracy in my youth; I have also participated in two major crusades toward that goal during my mature life. These were the fight against Nazism in the thirties and forties, and the opposition to Communism in the fifties and later -- until the collapse of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev. I was actively and demonstrably engaged and committed to both efforts.

I ought to perhaps explain that my objection to Communism did not entail necessarily rejection of a Socialist economy. In fact, pre-1939 Czechoslovakia might be described as a Social Democratic state. I was an active member of the National Socialist Party and chairman of its Economic Council in the crucial thirties. I also sympathized with the New Deal in the United States and with regimes like the one in Sweden.

My opposition to Communism was based entirely on the political structure of the USSR, of Mao's China, and of their colonies and satellites. While these systems practiced a type of socialism through their economic system, the political structure was an exact copy of Fascism: a monopoly party, a monopoly ideology, a monopoly press and propaganda, a monopoly education, together with concentration camps, an oppressive police apparatus, and an imperialist foreign policy. In its political aspect, the Soviet Union was an exact copy of Fascist Italy, of Nazi Germany, or of Franco Spain. It is only now that we can observe a divorce between the economy and the political state in China: it is a marriage of brutal capitalism on the one hand and brutal Communism on the other. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn in their new book China Wakes have a good name for it: Market-Leninism.

To my surprise I have also drifted from the acceptance of Locke to a more Hobbesian concept of human relations. I still do not buy Hobbes' description of relations between men and men as fundamentally “bellum omnium contra orones” (a war of everybody against everybody else). I still believe a world government and the prevalence of democratic regimes across the globe would be preferable to dictators and conflict after conflict, but I do not expect that it will happen in the next century.

To me, the most disquieting aspect of contemporary world politics is my impression that we are not even moving in that direction, but perhaps retrogressing. The atmosphere during these last few years of the twentieth century has been described as distrust of the future or as a feeling of floating anxiety .It is probably best exemplified by Paul Kennedy, professor of history at Yale University. In his latest book Preparing for the Twenty-First Century, Kennedy takes the measure of the major challenges -- demography, technology and ecology -- ­that will dominate the scene over the next four or five decades. The likely threats, he says, will range from disquieting to catastrophic. No nation will emerge unscathed, some will be devastated, above all those that suffer most even now, Africa being the prime example. The U.S. will have a better chance, but even so he predicts “a slow, steady, relative decline -- in comparative living standards, educational levels, technical skills, social provisions, industrial leadership and, ultimately, national power.”

Somewhat the same perspective is offered by the Hungarian-born historian John Lucacs in his latest work. The title is -- rather pointedly -- The End of the 20th Centurv and the End of the Modern Age. A review in The New York Times of January 26, 1993, summarizes his views as follows: “The Year 1989, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and Eastern Europe emerged from the shadows of the Soviet Union, not only marked the end of the 20th century but also the waning of a great historical epoch, the passing of the Modern Age, which witnessed the rise of liberalism, humanism and bourgeois culture throughout the Western world.”

He, like Paul Kennedy, predicts that the 21st century will not be an American one, the decline in American power reflecting “both specific shifts in the country's fortune and the fading of the age of superpowers. “ He blames nationalism, especially populist nationalism, for the decline of the Western world and foresees a proliferation of small states and statelets. Lucas deplores the growing evidence of a New Barbarism all around us.

One reason for that relative decline is the diminishing capability of the nation state to deal with major problems. This is largely due to the tension between the emerging transnational economy and an erosion of the powers of government, due to the growing distrust of politics and politicians. New threats cloud the horizon: some of the fears are legitimate; others may be premature. One thing is clear: already the trend seems to forecast a growing spread between the well-to-do and the majority of the nation, and a relative decline of the powers of governments compared with the power of global corporations and global cartels, including the drug cartels.

I am however not entirely given to despair. Above all, I recognize that futurology is a risky business. Looking back at predictions during the whole of my lifetime, I have to admit that almost all of them were wrong. There is always the element of the unpredictable. Nothing progresses linearly, and technology always has surprises. Who would have anticipated the computer revolution, among others?

Secondly, some developments are self-corrective. In the October 1994 issue of Scientific American, Robert W. Kates has an article “Sustaining Life on the Earth.” He draws cautious encouragement from two trends: first, there are changes already apparent in the currents carrying us into the future, and, second, he points out human adaptability in the form of the emergency of new institutions, technologies, and ideas.

During known history, and certainly in pre-history, what we now call homo sapiens has survived catastrophes of all kinds and probably will in the future, barring another collision with a major celestial body like the one which doomed the dinosaurs. Nature, of which we are a part, may be more robust than we realize.

In the last analysis, says Robert Kates in the article I quoted, “Hope is simply a necessity if we as a species, now conscious of the improbable and extraordinary journey taken by life in the universe, are to survive.”

Whenever I waver in my outlook, I am encouraged when I think of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They seem so full of life and promise. They are so well educated and enterprising that I have great expectations at least for this small segment of that great experiment – the human race.


The books listed below are referenced on this page. They provide additional background on this period of history to help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.

The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking World Order; Samuel Huntington

The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War; Robert D. Kaplan

China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power; Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn

Preparing for the Twenty-First Century; Paul Kennedy

The End of the Twentieth Century: And the End of the Modern Age; John Lukacs


My grandfather did not add any additional chapters after this date. He passed away in 1999. I have posted the notes from his memorial service.

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Return to the Ragen's Family History Page


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