Friday, December 30, 2011

Op-Ed: Sibling Rivalry

Recently, the leader of North Korea, who had followed in his father's footsteps in 1994, died of a heart attack. Kim Jong-Il had a half-brother that was serving as Chinese Ambassador to Finland in 1994, having been kept out of the country to assure the ascendency of his older brother to succeed his father. Kim Pyong-Il seems happy with this arrangement, having chosen not to return to North Korea to attend his brother's funeral. As of now, he is still in Poland, his last unofficial post.

What would have become of the world's most isolated government if Pyong-Il instead of Jong-Il had become the leader in 1994? An alternative historian would have to reach back into North Korean history to "make this happen," of course, but it does present a good example of sibling rivalry and what a difference a decision on a parent's part can make concerning not just a person's life but perhaps a whole country's development.

How much difference can a single person make in history anyway? Would the choice of Esau over Jacob have made a difference in the history of Abraham's linage? These twins were dramatically difference, and Isaac had actually preferred Esau, but according to the Bible, God had a different idea! A much more robust people came out of Esau (Edom) that would one day even rule over the people as puppets of Rome. Romulus and Remus were equals - twins said to be the founders of Rome, but Remus is lost to history. Would "Reem" have been much different?

Similar histories produce similar results. It is doubtful that one brother will depart to far from his roots. However, in the case of another prominent death in recent days, as in the case of Jacob in the Bible, God's choice can make a big difference. I speak, of course, of the passing of noted atheist Christopher Hitchens. His brother, Peter Hitchens, by all accounts is as intelligent, but chose to believe in God. But as the Bible indicates this choice works two ways, God chose Peter to be a follower. Both brothers have written books, but the world remembers Christopher because he was more controversial.

And so, it seems, siblings can be different to extremes, even having grown up in the same environment. It is something beyond that environment - and beyond genetics - that guides the course of history. In that, we alternate historians must be ultimately humbled, for history has happened in just the way it has for a reason -- even if we would have it to be different.

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