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The “S” Word: Secession

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.”

With that historic claim, the United States of America was conceived. The Declaration then listed 28 separate grievances that the colonies harbored against Great Britain. This was the first ever revolt against a European “Mother” country (an appropriate metaphor). The leadership of the revolt, from George Washington on down, had pledged loyalty to the Crown. They had now broken that pledge and thus were “traitors” by any definition. They also represented a fairly small percentage of the American colonists, with all the others remaining British, since condemned by history books as “Loyalists” (or “Tories,” an even more diabolical symbol.)

Washington is the “Father” of the country (equally appropriate) and will always remain as the brave and noble “Patriot” that led the successful revolt to independence. The symbolism of expressions identifying the roles of each side in the conflict (mother, father) approximates a much-more familiar break in modern society: Divorce (the “D” word). On a far-higher level the break in political relations has forever been labeled as the “S” word, Secession.  Essentially, they’re the same.

Washington’s legend depended upon a military victory. Without that (aided and abetted by France), Washington would probably hold no more sympathy in history than Benedict Arnold or Jefferson Davis. The equally noble reputation of Robert E. Lee is currently undergoing a metamorphosis, inside an ideological reversal that demands erasing the memories of any and all vestiges of southern secession.

But like divorce, secession has been a normal and often rightful break in association. We can erase concrete symbols and street signs but not the word nor the reality. The “S” word, in fact, is one of the most persistent and critical explanations for the geopolitical contour of the globe. When all is said and done, we have all seceded from something, at least once. In 1945, there were 51 countries in the United Nations; now there are 193. Where did the other 142 come from? Like the U.S., almost all were colonies. Whether they seceded violently (Vietnam, Kenya, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaya, all of the Middle East and Latin America, etc.) or peacefully like the British Caribbean spots (Jamaica, Barbados, Bermuda, The Bahamas) they all have one main experience in common: they valued independence over any benefits that a colonial association might bring.

While the United States is not responsible for the word or its many disciples, it was, in fact, the first to advance the notion to its fruition. It then went global. After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson shocked the victorious Allies (and the Germans) with his appeals for “national self-determination.” Had this idea been applied comprehensively, the UN today might have hundreds of member-states. The U.S. is still now, 242 years after conception, the beacon for liberty and sovereignty throughout the political globe. The ultimate answer to the question as to the lasting effects of the American Revolution remains apocryphal: “it’s too soon to tell.”

Today, in a so-called “globalized” and advanced technical world, secessionist movements plague every quarter. Challenges to governance exist in practically every sovereign entity in the world; rare is the completely tranquil population. In Europe alone, the home of national sovereignty, 28 countries face ongoing and recognized independence movements (Spain with 17 and Italy with 11 head the list). The Brexit victory in 2017 has sent political shockwaves throughout the continent, with the lasting effects of this also still unknown (we may have to wait at least a couple of centuries).

In Africa, 35 countries face similar movements, 18 countries in Asia (Tibet against China probably the most recognized), 17 in North America. In the U.S. today, there are six main geographic independence movements (California, Texas, “Cascadia” (northwest), Vermont, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico). But these are minuscule groupings, nostalgic and cultural rather than substantive. The deeper challenge to American unity now is political, not geographic.

 The Red-Blue divide that has taken shape lately threatens the very fabric and identity of any future American “nation.” This divide also has a geopolitical core: rural middle (red), urban coastal (blue), the red twice the size but half the population. The very idea of secession may seem a fantasy to some, but secession still remains the worst event in American history. Like other shocks (Pearl Harbor, 9/11), secession can appear without adequate warning, but we are warned.

Having divisions in society is common; how to respond is the question.  An analogy: you have a severe cut, how do you treat it? One thing is certain: if you constantly scratch and dig it will grow into gangrene, which is fatal. If one side finds society intolerable and needs transformation, that side will not be satisfied with anything less. Half-measures will avail us nothing.

Today’s divisions threaten unity. “Nationalism” is now discredited, at the bottom of the several “isms” currently in vogue. The social movements now competing should, in reality, be reversed, as follows: “#Me First, America Too.” The divide is real.

Be careful of what you want, you might just get it.