Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Steam to Smoke

Myths! Legends! Epics! Stories! Theatre! Movies! Have you ever wondered why we humans are so enthralled by the various arts of storytelling? The twists in the tale excite us. The ups and downs of the protagonist always seem to relate to our own stories.

But, even though we humans are so absorbed with our own story, we fail to acknowledge that all of us are a part of a much bigger story. A story, which is yet to see its end. A story, which has dominated the social, economic and political scene. This is the story of us humans; and it began around 350 years ago.


Long time back, even before the formation of the great United States of America. There was this inquisitive boy named James. He used to a dream a lot. He used to ask questions about the wonders of nature. He wondered about how the earth, the moon and the stars moved. To some of the questions, he found an answer. To others, he kept on searching.

One day, when James was much older, he sat in the kitchen of his house, in his usual pondering mood. As he munched on his breakfast, he kept his eyes on stove. More specifically, he kept his eyes on the kettle boiling the water for tea. Within a few moments, he could hear the rumbling of the boiling liquid inside. He did not blink an eyelid as he saw
the steam come out of the nose of the kettle. And as the whistle sounded, the cap on the kettle shook. The steam was looking for a way to escape the utensil.

Many years later, while working in a workshop, James enacted the same action. But this time on a much larger scale. The onlookers stared dumbfounded at James mechanical wonder. Thus was invented, the steam engine.
The invention spread quickly. From factory to factory! From city to city! From country to country! From continent to continent! And within a half a century, there were hundreds of innovations made of James’ original engine.

Industries boomed. People migrated from villages to the
towns in search of new jobs. They worked under hazardous conditions. They lived in slums. They got little money. But that did not seem to matter to them. They took whatever was given to them.

The entrepreneurs exploited the use of cheap labor. They reaped million
s, but gave the workers peanuts. But no oppression can go unnoticed for too long. And soon enough, a philosopher in Germany came up with a theory, which at that point seemed to be quite an interesting answer to the problems of the workers.
Karl Marx, along with a close aide, Engel, came up with the theory of the communism. He detested the bourgeoisie style of living. He believed that the workers should earn the right to the profits. In fact, production should lie with the masses.

Marx prophesized, an armed revolution of the workers. They would seize everything. The richer class would be driven out. There wouldn’t be any classes anymore. There wouldn’t be any more states. There would just be one society. All the man made boundaries will be erased.

Marx proclaimed this; and like all great visionaries, never saw his dream come true. But the seed that he sowed would grow. And the farmer who would water this plant was a Russian revolutionary, Lenin.

The dawn of the 20th century saw things going from bad to worse in Russia. The royal family headed by the czar, didn’t really care for the troubles of the masses. Blindly they followed the advice of the villainous vicar, Rasputin.

Rasputin was a tyrant without any legal power. He had mysterious powers. He won over the royal family with his sweet talk. Rumors spread that the “man of God” was having an affair with the czarina.

But the anger against Rasputin wasn’t amongst the masses. The remainder of the aristocrats felt jealous of his personal relations with the royals. Hence one fine day, they killed him. Not once, but 3 times! He was poisoned, stabbed and shot.
But the killing of Rasputin left a big hole in the government. There was no other person as charismatic and brilliant who could manipulate the people. And by now, Lenin had returned from his exile in Germany and within months the revolutionary war began.

The red army, which would become the hated name in the west, began an all out attack against the bourgeoisie as well as the royals. The czar’s family, while trying escape, was captured. They were made to face a firing squad.
The communists came to power in 1919. The renamed the world’s largest country Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) This spread a shockwave throughout the world. Marx’s words, no matter how theoretical, were coming true. The western countries, especially, the US of A, were scared that a similar uprising would happen in their own country. The universally proclaimed super power of the modern world was mostly run on donations from rich businessmen; the same class that the communists wanted to eliminate.

And with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 followed by the great depression, led to the belief that maybe the free market economy was going to fail. But during this same time, Lenin died and Joseph Stalin came into power, and communism took a whole new turn.

F.D. Roosevelt has been the only President in USA, to be re-elected 4 times. He might have continued to do so, had he not passed away. FDR, as he is so fondly called, was man with a remarkable will power. In his youth, he was struck with polio and by the time he was 29, his lower body was completely paralyzed.
And from this state, he got up. He sat on wheel chairs. He did his campaigning on crutches. And he won the elections. He introduced economic reforms, which though criticized at the start, got America out of depression. The stock market rose again. Things were going normality. And then world war 2 happened.
On the onset of the Second World War, USSR was an ally of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler. Stalin knew, who by now had gained dictatorial status in the government by eliminating all other rivals, knew that the Soviets were not in a condition to face the Nazis in war. So he bought time, by allying with the Hitler, so that he could re-build his army.

Meanwhile, Hitler went from strength to strength. He conquered the eastern and the western front with utmost ease. He received a set back in Britain. Then he turned towards Russia. Stalin was smart. He had anticipated this move. He was ready for the attack.

He stalled the marching German army till winter fell. And that was that. The Soviets were better equipped to fight a war in the sub zero temperatures. They pegged the Germans back out of USSR.

By now USA, had already been attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. They declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan. They joined USSR and Britain in an effort to liberate Europe. And by 1945, after leaving a million dead and even more homeless, the war was done.

Have you ever seen a pack of hyenas? After they have hunted down a prey, they fight within themselves as to who would get the larger part.
That is what happened. Whatever peace was expected after the war was shattered with the passing away of Roosevelt. Truman and Stalin didn’t get along. Germany was divided. USA despised the communists. USSR hated the capitalists. Each one claimed that they played a bigger role in ending the war. America had the Atom bomb, to show their power. And within months, USSR came up with the hydrogen bomb. An iron curtain fell upon the globe. The Cold War had begun.

Over the next 40 years many incidences rocked the world. Beginning from Berlin Blockade to Korean War to Vietnam, to Spy planes to Cuba, the things didn’t show any signs of improving.

By now, a little known group, called the Ayatollah Komeni, came into power in Iran. They publicly denounced the neo-colonialism approach of the Americans. The Americans were looking to tap the rich oil resources lying in West Asia.
Now, America was afraid that Iran would be attacking Iraq and then head on to Kuwait, which has a very rich oil base. So the Americans then supplied a healthy stock of weaponry to the Iraqi government, which was very soon toppled over by Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, USSR, feeling left out in the entire Asian political scenario, attacked Afghanistan. America, disapproved of this, but did not want to do anything in the open. At least not until a US Congressman named Charlie Wilson sympathizing with the Afghans, pushed the government to help them.

The Taliban who were supplied with the state of the art weaponry and training headed the Afghans rebels. Osama Bin Laden, a charismatic soldier headed the Afghans. The Soviets were defeated. And soon after, the communist regime in USSR fell.

America had won the cold war. Now, they were the undisputed leaders of international politics. But, trouble was still brewing in West Asia.
Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait. USA, as always disapproved all attacks, which are not made by them. They sent their aircraft carriers and dessert troopers to push the Iraqi’s back. In the process, they had to built air force base in a neighboring country. The country was Saudi Arabia.

This angered the Islamic world. Foreign flag flying in their holy land was something they could not tolerate. That is when Osama Bin Laden proclaimed
that USA was now a sworn enemy of Islam.

And over the next one decade, Osama built an international network of ter
rorists called the Al-Qayeda. A multi-billion dollar industry, they made small attacks on America. But they reached their peaks when on September 11 2001; a series of ingeniously planned attacks hit USA. The Word Trade Centre collapsed. The Pentagon was damaged. The war on terror was on.

7 years later, Al-Qayeda threat still looms large. Terrorism still poses a great threat to the modern civil society. It has affected other countries like Britain, India, Indonesia and Spain. Despite investing Billions of dollars, USA hasn’t been able to uproot terrorism.

This story hasn’t seen its end yet. No one knows how it will end. But, I guess
all of it can be traced back to a very humble beginning when a young man wondered if steam had enough capacity to move objects.