Exactly one hundred and fifty years ago, on April 12, 1861, today’s sole superpower but then little more than a backwater nation, the United States of America stranded itself divided when the Southern Confederate forces attacked a United States military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
President Abraham Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each state to recapture federal property. This led to declarations of secession by four more slave states. Both sides raised armies and the civil war lasted for four years. Victory for the union came at the expense of some 620,000 soldiers killed and an accounted number of people wounded and displaced. A devastating blow to the northern states’ morale came on April 15, 1865, when the president was shot and killed.
Lincoln didn’t die before reuniting his country but might have predicted that it was not the end of civil war as such. The world is witnessing similar conflict this very day, especially in the Arab world, while America itself is still struggling with an economic recession.
In India, the seeds of divisions have been sowed by the worst disease prevalent in the country today — corruption. One old man in Delhi, Anna Hazare, managed to galvanize the younger generation obsessed with Facebook to demand a better politics for India. If the American Civil War was fought between north and south, India’s clash is one of generations with an establishment that is feudalistic, inward looking and corrupted and young Indians who are dynamic, progressive and ready to announce themselves on the world stage.
For all the major wars fought for various reasons in the past across the world, the American Civil War stands out as it was waged, at least in part, for the very values upon which the American republic were founded. Up to this very day, those values remain in question in both the developed and the developing world.
One reason that today’s problems around the world are often amplified is the lack of decisive leadership, especially in democratic nations as India and the United States. Despite being the world’s largest democracy, India has watched the Arab uprisings unfold in silence and allowed the West to claim the international response. If India is to assume global leadership, it has to overcome its own clash of civilizations and win the war against corruption.
It is here that one remembers Lincoln’s statement that America was the “last best hope” on Earth, not for its economic or military might but because of the values it espoused. The only nation that India can look up to in history for mentorship is the United States. Both won independence, sustained their democratic traditions, adopted a market based economy and promoted their values outside of their borders.
There are differences however in that India won its sovereignty without a revolutionary fight. Similarly, India’s “civil war” can be bloodless — if politicians are willing to wage it.