I wonder about national enemies and why they exist. When a country is invaded or attacked, the enmity is obvious. Verbal attacks, insults, and disrespect shouldn’t count. Sometimes war and threats of war are elsewhere and optional. It is not always necessary to join an ally in defensive warfare. Most enemies, therefore, are simply what a government says they are, preparing to fight or already killing.

They change over time so that yesterday’s enemies can be today’s friends. Germany was America’s enemy for much of the twentieth century despite being the ethnic background of many Americans. It’s an ally now. In both world wars some Americans argued that we should not declare them enemies.

This variation in enemy-labeling points out that enemies are selected, not an inherent feature of a relationship. Enemies are often related peoples, cousins as it were. The broken previous relationship exacerbates the enmity. It is most intense in a “civil war” between groups that were part of one country before war.

While some former enemies can become friends, some antagonism can remain and encourage continuing rancor. Knowing history is supposed to improve us, but it can feed hatred based on events hundreds of years past. There are enough new insults, threats, and hatreds to provide new enemies without dwelling on old ones.

It’s sad that nations make enemies without being attacked. They feel threatened and fight other countries with assassinations, economic sanctions, and verbal hostility. This can happen when the other country seems to be getting too powerful. Instead of historical resentment this policy is animated by fear of the future.

It seems better to me to make friends or develop tolerance – fewer people suffer and die. Revenge, bullying, and provocation are not nice ways to relate to others and do not make peace.

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