The Enigma

A country like Luxembourg, to an American at least, is at once perplexing. Such a small slice of land, sandwiched between two world powers which have often played the lead role in major events of world history. Luxembourg often has seemed merely collateral damage in the bigger stories we read in the history books. Honestly, I think the only reason I even know that it’s there is because I chose to memorize maps as a kid rather than make friends; a trade-off that kept me out of trouble as a high schooler and paved the way for me as an adult to be the guy that challenges you at a bar to a game of “name that world capital” (Oh, yes. I am that cool), a challenge which has shocked more than a few Europeans who consider Americans geographically illiterate. But what is Luxembourg’s significance in European history?

Again, Maybe it’s my American-ness…. perhaps growing up with the undertone of Manifest Destiny which drove the early Americans has made me wonder why France or Germany wouldn’t simply cause a place like Luxembourg to cease to exist simply because they could. Setting aside the fact for a moment that a particular person in the 1940s did just that, the realization that this is not exactly how the rest of the world operates made me even more aware of my American-ness.


There is a fascinating equilibrium in Europe of mighty powers co-existing with tiny plots of land like Andorra, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Monaco… all of them form the tapestry of Europe which has materialized after centuries upon centuries of wars and conquests on the continent. I would consider myself only a casual observer of geo-politics, diplomacy, and the subtleties that underlie the borders of the nations of Europe today, but it seems clear that the principle, “to the mightier military belong the spoils,” does not dictate all the outcomes in this land.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, that being somewhere else actually helps you learn more about yourself and where you came from. In America, we take our borders as a given. Why would there be some annoying foreign border interrupting the land which spans from sea to shining sea? It is not easy to draw a parallel in American history to what may have caused a piece of land like this to stand in the way of America’s Manifest Destiny. Maybe if an accomplished warrior and diplomat like Tecumseh had occupied an impenetrable fortress high on a mountaintop overlooking the Mississippi from which he was able to dictate trade, usage of the water and roadways, and with a keen sense of strategy and force made it in the best interest of the tribes in the West and the settlers of the East to work with him rather than fight him? It’s a slim comparison at best, as the factors at play in the expansion of the American West and medieval Europe are completely different, but interesting to consider nonetheless.

Lessons from The Past

It’s popular now to draw comparisons between those that upset this equilibrium and the man who, in 1939, if not for a worldwide effort costing millions of lives, might have been successful in doing so. But the comparison is worthwhile to remember… how does that saying go? “Those that forget the past are cursed to repeat it…” or something like that? Living in Europe has caused this to become more real for me. If just from our Ukrainian neighbors whose mom has left her home and moved in with them to escape the dangers affecting her war ravaged place of origin.

It’s difficult for me to imagine having loved ones living in a place where they could simply wake up in the morning and be unalived by a cruise missile crashing into their bedroom window. I have found myself at times feeling embarrassed and not knowing what to say to those whose lives have been so directly impacted by all of this. After all, I have never actually spoken with someone who has effectively fled a war zone.

I have seen its effects: the bullet holes left in the walls of still-burnt-out buildings in Mostar, Bosnia. The restricted zones in the DMZ in Vietnam which still contain unexploded mines which make it dangerous to walk with your children. But never the people. Never the human impact. The exhausted look in the eyes of the mother of one of Jacob’s classmates when I awkwardly referenced the billions of dollars of aid and material that have been pledged to Ukraine by the USA. Her words said that her people were indeed immeasurably grateful, but the exhausted look in her eyes said that it had not made her cousins, brothers, nieces, and nephews feel any safer when they went to bed each night. It had not made her any less heartbroken knowing that I got to go home to my family and friends, to break bread, celebrate the holidays, while her whole world has been turned end over end due to the whims of a tyrant (sound familiar?).

The Edge of Equilibrium

Yes, Luxembourg reminds me of the beauty of the equilibrium that Europe has found where all the kids play nice in the sandbox, but being close to the people for whom this is no longer a reality also reminds me how fragile it all is. Only a few hours from Amsterdam there are those who live through an unimaginable hell for which I have no ability to comprehend. And just a few hours further from that there is a hornet’s nest erupting that has caused such seemingly apolitical events as a Holocaust museum opening in Amsterdam to arouse violent protests and require as much security as a Trump rally.

From the day I opened the “W” encyclopedia in 6th grade and decided I was going to learn everything there was to know about World War II (remember encyclopedias?), I have been fascinated and consumed by the story of how this epic and world-changing conflict unfolded, but it all reminds me that the tremendous firestorm on this scale arose from seeds sown by those who believed in equilibrium. Those who believed that it was so worth preserving that a place like Luxembourg might be worth sacrificing for the “greater good.”

And so those were some of the things running through my mind in the peaceful silence of the car **cue the scratching noise of a record being prematurely removed from a turntable** the crying and shouting in the car as the family left Luxembourg early in the morning after our brief one-night visit. And with apologies that my post about Luxembourg was not really about Luxembourg, I hope you enjoyed the turbulent and frightening ride of what goes through my troubled mind on what should have been a cheerful last leg of the road trip on our family Christmas vacation.

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