History teaches us that the Western Roman Empire fell. But did it? The act of falling tends to have an immediacy of effect that flows from a rapid unfolding of the action: to fall.
I want to suggest that the falling of the Roman Empire did not happen in the snap of a finger, but was more of a slow grazing process. In many ways, the Romans themselves were responsible for their own demise, and it seems that we are doing the same to our present World.
America has millennia of history behind her, though the United States is not yet 250 years old . This country can still clean the mess it has made by labeling Asian communities as the enemy during this pandemic.
“[The United States of] America is what Rome once was to hustling Jews, Greeks and Numidians,” says Victor Davis Hanson, author of the hybrid-genre book Mexifornia, “The freedom and material dynamism of the West are drawing millions to its shores."
But if the United States doesn’t act fast people will no longer be so attracted to its land, and the country’s leaders’ reluctance to look back and learn from others might constitute the beginning of the nation's end.
Historia Magistra Vitae
In his “De Oratore,” Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero was the first of many to refer to history as an essential teaching about life with the literal expression "Historia magistra vitae." Notwithstanding the distance in time and space between a 2020 World citizen and Cicero, his reflection couldn’t be more relatable to the present situation.
The Western Roman Empire slowly declined from 363 A.D. until 476 A.D. It all began with the first invasion of the Huns, a nomadic people from the central Asian steppes. This event sparked a multi-generational migration phenomenon of Germanic tribes into Roman territory. The Romans and the Germans began mixing up very fast, to the extent that the Germans did not consider themselves foreign conquerors, but people who deserved stakeholder status in the empire. Still, a great majority of the Romans did not realize this fusion had happened.
“Lots of changes were taking place simultaneously in the 4th and 5th centuries, and the migration of Germanic peoples was only one of them,” said John Bauschatz, professor of history and classics at the University Of Arizona. “It's also worth pointing out that the largest sections of the western empire that survived after A.D. 476 were run by pseudo-’Germanic’ peoples. So it's possible to argue...that the Germanic peoples successfully carried the legacy of Rome onward for several centuries after the fall,” he continued.
The fusion was not enough to make Roman people understand they could not extirpate the Germans from their social structure, but instead that the new tribes could be a helping hand. Ignoring this caused the Western Roman Empire, the cradle of modern civilization, to fall.
What could we learn from this historical nuance about our present time? In a World as globalized as ours can we let ourselves believe that sidelining any group of individuals along with their history, their beliefs and their teachings can be of any good?
COVID-19: How A Disease Generated Waves Of Hate.
COVID-19 is spreading hate and fear throughout our World.
For many, the fear of the virus has transformed into fear of the bit "Other" – which in this case happens to be any person of Asians descent. This phenomenon is referred to as xenophobia. The word xenophobia speaks for itself. Its etymology comes from the ancient Greek words ξένος, meaning “foreigner” and -φοβία, which means "fear". From this mere linguistic analysis one can easily date the start of this phenomenon to Classical Antiquity, even if its most concrete developments occurred far later in time.
Millennia have passed, but the public opinion today looks like it could use a history refreshing. In Classical Antiquity, epidemics more often brought societies together rather than divided them – much less civilized peoples, without any of our hyper-communication technologies. Yet we are struggling to do the same. Pandemics reshuffle power, deconstruct social structures, modify human behavior. Fearing them is a natural human impulse, but what we are doing today is an additional step; we are projecting this fear on other peoples.
Many countries are ousting Asian people, but we are not in the position to allow our leaders to make such decisions. “This virus China unleashed on the World,” “I beat this crazy horrible Chinese virus,” “It’s China’s fault!”
Former President Donald Trump did not hesitate to make sure his side of the story was heard. He arbitrarily chose to refer to COVID-19 as “Chinese virus” anytime he needed to mention it.
This same narrative has been embraced by many other World leaders, to the extent that Wang Jisi, a scholar at Peking University, said “The virus fallout has pushed Sino-US relations to their worst level since formal ties were established in the 1970s.”
I had the chance to discuss the same matter with Lincoln Mitchell, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University N.Y. who told me “On one end we’re in competition...on the other end we have deep economic relationships with China. We need China and China needs us. It’s a too-big-to-fail bilateral relationship.” Furthermore, looking at the current status of international relations between the United States and China, Professor Mitchell was particularly clear on one point, “We have to have a relationship with China. A smart president has to figure out that we can’t get along with China on everything, but we need to have a balance. We need relationships more than ever right now.”
Despite all of this, the amount of hate that has been spread cannot be undone. But is it really China’s fault? According to an article published on the Journal of Siberian Federal University in 2019, anthropogenic pressure and unhealthy lifestyles are the main factors involved in the birth and spread of pandemic diseases.
WHO Did What?
The World Health Organization (WHO) is an institution that aims at providing mediation among nations to ensure the best health environment possible. Since the pandemic spread in 2019, never has WHO referred to coronavirus with any term related to China or the Chinese population. That is, of course, not just by chance.
In 2015, after understanding how in the past viral diseases were frequently associated with the regions where the first outbreaks occurred, the WHO introduced guidelines to stop this practice and reduce stigma directed towards those regions or their people.
Was all the effort for nothing? Looking at where America stands right now Patrick Corrigan, Professor of Psychology at Illinois Institute of Technology, wrote in one of his blogs “Calling COVID-19 the Chinese virus...does nothing to help understand the threat, instead fanning the flames of ethnic bigotry that already exists across some groups.” The ongoing pandemic has brought to the surface many pre-existing prejudices which are unravelling the U.S. societal fabric, just as WHO’s 2015 guidelines forecasted
Asian American Communities Pay The Price Of America’s Failure
The virus was never under control in the United States. No regulation was approved, if one doesn’t consider the numerous “stay at home advisories” from local entities.
The United States' leaders firstly ignored that the virus was actually dangerous and then proceeded to put the blame for the catastrophe on China. This happened quite fast, but the country is still coping with the fact that they have failed in the battle against the virus because they were never eager to take advice or look at what other countries were doing. Now coronavirus has put the United States in critical conditions. Not only because of the heartbreaking number of losses, but also because of the social earthquake the virus provoked.
Joyce Gu, a Chinese-American student attending Illinois Institute of Technology, told me about how the stigma against her birth country changed her life. She is now uncomfortable being surrounded by people, and has come to internalize the shame and guilt this stigma has placed on East-Asian people.
“I feel like everyone will just be better if I am not out there.” Joyce said. She recalled seeing crowds at the grocery store and on public transportation and thinking “Today I’ll do something else.” Not only did COVID-19 limit her ability to do things, but Joyce also said “I have always been very proud of my descendants, but ever since [COVID-19] hit I am no longer in a position where I am allowed to be proud. I am more conscious about when and if I have to tell people about my origins.”
This pandemic and the stigma which resulted from it, have played a major role in enforcing the already existing disparities in healthcare and justice amongst people of different ethnicities living in the United States. For more on this, read the article "Persistent inequality during the desperate time of COVID-19" from TechNews Business Manager Arika Ho from our second issue of spring 2021.
“The Romans didn't know about the New World,” said John Bauschatz, Professor of History and Classics at The University Of Arizona. “There were no rivals to Rome's power in Rome's ‘world’...and the empire wasn't brought low by a competing empire. Today, of course, there are lots of competing empires.” Rome didn’t have any rivals and didn’t know about the World. The United States has a lot of internal and external conflicts to solve but also a deep knowledge of the modern World’s functioning.
The United States have no excuse for not making it right with China.