Wise Czar

Archive for August 2014

I love learning and writing about the past. It should come as no surprise then, that one of my favorite emotions is nostalgia, or a sentimental longing for the past. This emotion is bittersweet. On one hand, it can elicit sadness by causing you to long for events and people that are long gone. On the other hand, it can resurrect cherished memories and experiences that make you feel wonderful.

A major avenue for experiencing nostalgia is music. With its melodies and lyrics, music can bring out nostalgic emotions like nothing else. Below I have compiled a list of what I believe to be the 10 most nostalgic songs in existence. I have also added links to all the lyrics to give you a fuller experience. Of course, there’s millions of songs I haven’t heard. If you think that different songs should be on the list, please share your suggestions in the comments. But for now, sit back, relax and maybe grab a tissue before experiencing this massive dose of nostalgia.


10. Asia-Heat of the Moment (1982)

Do you remember when we used to dance? That line seals this song as a nostalgic hit. It’s about recalling a time, long in the past, when you lived in the moment. Time had no meaning for you because you were young and had years of life ahead of you…


9. Buggles-Video Killed the Radio Star (1979)


Many people think this song is annoying. I can understand that, but I also believe that it depicts how fleeting technology is, and how things that seem so new today will eventually seem old. This music video launched MTV back in 1981 and reflected a technological breakthrough. No longer was music exclusively to be heard. Now it could be seen on your television set! The sounds and images seemed very futuristic and hip back in the 1980s. Now they seem campy and old. Back then, video had killed the radio star. Today, advances in digital technology are killing traditional video. But this too shall pass…


8. Del Shannon-Runaway (1961)


Despite the people dancing in the video, this song is chilling. It’s a man reminiscing about a woman who he loved that left long ago. His sadness and confusion reach across space and time and relate to people today whose loved ones “have run away.” Indeed, the haunting melody makes this song sound timeless, even though it is quite old. Remember, those young people dancing in the video are now probably in their seventies…


7. Bryan Adams-Summer of 69 (1984)


This is another song where a man is reminiscing about the glory days of his youth—his friendships, romances, rebelliousness, etc. “Those were the best days of [his] life.” It makes you think how quickly your teenage years fly by. Everybody will reach that point when they’ll be lying down (though maybe not on a hammock) and realizing that their youth is gone forever. If you were a teenager in 1969, you are now in your sixties…


6. Judy Garland-Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1939)


Everybody recognizes this as the famous song from The Wizard of Oz. The music is dreamlike. Judy Garland is young and innocent, beautifully staring into the infinite distance. Toto the dog is absolutely lovable. It seems so relatable. Then you remember that this video was filmed nearly seventy years ago. Judy Garland died in 1969 of a drug addiction. Could she have known this in 1939? Of course not.  She was so young there. So many people were young before us, and where are they now? Perhaps somewhere over the rainbow…


5. Bruce Springsteen-The River (1980)


The River in this song represents a place of innocence, long buried in the past, that is capable of bringing forth haunting memories from one’s youth. The singer recalls how the river brought him and his girl together long ago and gave them some wonderful experiences. Now, years later, the cruelties of life have washed that innocence away. The river has become part of a past that can never be returned to, and instead it brings forth painfully nostalgic memories. Indeed, the river is dry…


4. Cyndi Lauper-Time After Time (1983)


This song’s lyrics are brimming with nostalgic language—time, memories, fading—that extols love’s permanence, reaching across time. The girl in the music video has multiple flashbacks where she recalls falling in love, experiencing disappointment and her mother’s comforting embrace. She’s thinking about all the things that led up to her being in that cabin with her man. As we watch her nostalgia trip, we are tempted to go on one of our own. What led us to where we are today, and will we someday look back on today with that same sense of nostalgia?…


3. Cliff Edwards-When You Wish Upon a Star (1940)


Disney’s most famous song survives through the decades as a rhapsody celebrating the innocent dreams of childhood. It connects children in 1940 with those of today, joining past, present and future in the wonderful message that dreams can come true. While listening to this song, you cannot help but get swept away by the hauntingly calm sound of the chorus. Close your eyes as you listen to this song, and think about yourself when you heard it for the first time all those years ago…


2. Alphaville-Forever Young (1984)


As the video opens with the screen zooming into the infinite recesses of space, it’s easy to think of how short our lives are compared to the life of the universe. Those of us who are young now will be old in a heartbeat, and the universe will have hardly aged. The singers in the video themselves are all middle aged now, and they were so young back then. At the video’s end, we see all the people, clearly from various points in history, walking together into the light. Where are they headed? Where are any of us headed? The present will soon become the past as we move toward an infinitely vast and unknown future…


1. Celine Dion-My Heart Will Go On (1997)


The most nostalgic song ever written is fittingly the theme song of one of the most nostalgic movies ever made—Titanic. An old, old women recalls memories of youth, romance and tragedy on the ill-fated ship nearly a century ago. Life is so short and the emotions we experience today are the same ones countless individuals have experienced stretching back to the beginning of time. You cannot watch this video and listen to this music without a shiver running through your spine. You cannot help but think of yourself as an old man or woman looking back upon your youth and reliving the memories that are now the present. One day we will long for today, but it will be nothing but history…


World War I Soldier and Ukrainian soldier in 2014100 years ago, the death of one man in an obscure country set off a chain of events that would culminate in the most destructive conflict the world had ever seen. 100 years later, troubling events in the same part of the world once again threaten global stability.

I am, of course, referring to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo in 1914, which ultimately led to World War I, and to the 2014 civil war between Ukrainians and pro-Russian nationalists, which is slowly pitting the major world powers against each other. Although a full century separates these two events, both share common themes that cannot be overlooked:

The Belief that a Giant War is Impossible

Today, as the World War II generation quickly leaves us, there are less and less people who can remember a violent, global conflict. To be sure, there are many small wars, and we are used to those happening on a fairly frequent basis, but I would wager that few people in the western world can envision a devastating world war that would put all of our lives in danger. It just doesn’t seem possible, especially with the increasing economic and political interdependence among countries. After all, we have the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union, not to mention a number of other smaller international groups.

Guess what? Westerners thought the same exact thing in 1913, just a year before World War I started. Back then, Europe was still controlled by empires and emperors which competed against each other. At the same time, most, if not all of the royal families in Europe, were somehow related. The kings of Germany, Russia and Great Britain were all cousins! Who would have thought that family would fight family in a world war?

Aside from this, the great powers were strongly economically connected. In 1913, Britain, Germany and France  traded largely with each other. In fact, most of Germany’s exports went to Britain.  We tend to think of the global economy as a modern development, but it was definitely around to a large extent before World War I as well.

I shouldn’t forget to mention that Europeans and Americans visited each other quite often in 1913, just like we do today. Tourism was alive and well, although it took longer because there weren’t yet passenger planes.

In 1913, the newspaper The Economist wrote, “ war between the civilised communities of the world [is] an impossibility.” It was wrong. Tragically wrong. This should cause us to reevaluate the belief that another World War is impossible because, unfortunately, the old maxim holds true—never say never.


Franz Ferdinand Assassination

The event that sparked World War I–the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand–was a result of nationalism.

Some say that this historical “ism” was the scourge of the 20th century, and in many (many) ways it was. For those who haven’t had history in 20 years, or otherwise hate it, let me give you a brief refresher on what exactly nationalism is. The standard definition given in schools is “pride in one’s country,” but it goes beyond that. It really comes down to how do you identify or define yourself?  In the United States, we see ourselves as Americans and we are separate from, for example, Poles, who live in Poland. A nationalist, then, promotes identifying with a particular culture or country that is separate from another culture or country.

In 1914, nationalism was brewing in Serbia. At that time, the Serbians were controlled by the Austro-Hungarian empire, and they wanted their own nation, their own identity. This is why, on June 28, 1914, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip shot the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, dead in the streets of Sarajevo. This violent act of nationalism set the spark for the Great War.

Fast forward to today, and you’ll notice that the chief cause of the violence in Ukraine is…nationalism. People who are loyal to Russia in eastern Ukraine hope to separate themselves from the rest of Ukraine. They are, essentially, Russian nationalists living within Ukrainian borders. On the other side, Ukraine wants to preserve its own national identity, separate from Russia. As a result, the two forces are clashing. When it comes down to it, the conflict is an identity crisis, and such crises have the unfortunate tendency of dragging in other world players.


So how exactly did the assassination of one man in 1914 lead to a global war? After the assassination, Austria-Hungary naturally declared war on Serbia. Then the dominoes began to fall. This part always gets confusing, so I’ll try  to keep it simple. Russia was friends with Serbia. Germany was friends with Austria-Hungary. So the war expanded to include Russia and Serbia versus Germany and Austria-Hungary. Then, France came in to help Russia, and Great Britain came in to help France. Finally, the Ottoman Empire came in to help Germany. Basically (In reality it’s more complicated then this) , alliances forced the countries of Europe to all help each other, so it kind of became a gang war where friends were sticking up for friends.

Today, although the system of alliances is not as rigid, there are definitely two camps forming over the crisis in Ukraine. Despite denying it, Russia is clearly helping to directly arm and train the eastern Ukrainian rebels in their fight against western Ukraine. Naturally, Russia stands to gain if eastern Ukraine defeats western Ukraine because the east would probably try to become part of Russia in some way.

On the other side, the United States and much of Europe supports western Ukraine because of its pro-western tendencies and is putting increased sanctions on Russia for supporting eastern Ukraine. So a civil war between Ukrainians has drawn in two of the most powerful nations on earth against each other—the United States and Russia. This has not happened to such an extent since the Cold War and, in a worse case scenario, could lead to a cataclysmic global confrontation that would put every human being in danger.

Naturally, it’s easy for a historian to look back and cherry-pick similarities between two historical events. As much as the causes of World War I and the current Ukrainian crisis have in common, they have many differences. Most importantly, there are no treaties explicitly binding countries to help each other militarily in this conflict. There has been a lot of talk of sanctions and non-military aid from the west, but almost nobody supports an armed conflict precisely because history has taught us what that can lead to. Even Russia has been careful, opting for subversive methods of advancing their agenda instead of direct aggression.

So let’s hope that humanity has, in fact, learned something from history and is able to take measures to avoid another global conflict. Commemorating the hundredth anniversary of World War I with another world war isn’t a good idea, but that’s just me.