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My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Memoirs, 1993
Postscript, 1994

Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one request: if you reference this material in any way, please send us email at and a copy of the paper, if possible, as we would like to know when this material is of interest and we are curious as to how it is being used. We'd like to hear from you.
© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families


If you think that is a somewhat distant date, may I point out that it is no more remote than 1993 is from the date of my birth.

This century has generated more revolutions than any previous one and there is no indication that the rate of change will slow down. On the contrary, it is quickening at a dizzy pace. These revolutions happened in the fields of politics, economics, social manners and family relations, but above all in technology. The world of 1993 would have been unimaginable in my youth. Suffice it to point out that none of the following existed then, at least where I was growing up: automobiles, radio, television, movies, airplanes, computers, rockets, space travel, nuclear weapons, nuclear power--not to speak of man on the moon. Not only have they been invented since then, but they are in universal and everyday use now.

As a matter of fact, technology has outpaced all other perimeters of development and it is doubtful if they can catch up. No wonder the end of this century can better be described as fin de siècle. For the first time in the history of the human race our very survival may be at stake. We are just beginning to realize the possible finality of the earth environment, the impact of overpopulation and the conflict between inflamed expectations and limited resources.

I am also skeptical about claims of a New World Order and universal democracy. So far democracy is workable (and not always at that) only in parts of the world where it has grown, as it were, organically. Democracy is viable in Western Europe and those parts of the world settled by West Europeans, or, perhaps more precisely, by some West Europeans. I doubt if it can be more than temporary in Central and South America, Asia, and most certainly not in Africa.

The trials and tribulations of democracy are clearly visible in Eastern Europe. I am doubtful that democracy will emerge or survive in Russia and the other succession states of the Soviet Union. Nor would I bet on the ultimate triumph of capitalism in that part of the world. My guess would be some sort of mix. The mix will also be visible in the other East European countries and it will be different in each, with more market-oriented industries in Czechia and somewhat more Socialist orientation in Slovakia, Poland, and the Balkans.

Already the idea of free and unfettered capitalism is losing some of its appeal as the social costs of underemployment and inflation take their toll. Opposition is growing, except again in Czechia where Prime Minister Klaus keeps his faith in the teachings of Adam Smith. It is probably useful in providing the necessary energy for the transformation of the economy, but its fervor will gradually wane and give way to a traditional European state-private mix.

Underlying all of this is a general devaluation of all ideologies, leaving the world, and more especially European society adrift in what has been called an ideological void "in a world where the clash of Soviet Communism and Western democracy no longer provides clear lines for their positions."

To me the most important change is represented by the decline of what was the central belief in my youth, namely the very concept of progress. It began to tatter during the First World War, was revived by Wilson, restored by F.D.R., given artificial respiration by the implosion of Communist societies, and pretty much given up in the last two decades. At any rate the idea of inevitable progress has become a myth.

The central belief of my mature years was the necessity of creating an international community, or at least communities. That was the ideological basis of many of my activities, especially those supporting the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Atlantic Community, and the European Community. I still believe each of these was a step forward and deserving of support, but I now clearly see the obstacles in their way.

To me and to many other observers and analysts the chief surprise is the recent rise of nationalism and tribalism all across the globe resulting in the disintegration of existing political entities, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia being the latest victims. I see the same tendency in the United States, usually parading under the guise of multiculturalism. It has a positive and a negative side. On the positive side it recognizes the need for ethnicities to enjoy their own cultural identity. On the negative side it breaks up national unity by organizing racial and linguistic minorities (and even women) as antagonistic political groups, either competing for political power or arriving at an incoherent system of quotas and practical, if voluntary, apartheids. As an immigrant myself, I have no hesitation in saying that I prefer the melting pot to the present tendency to create separate, feuding racial and linguistic communities. To me it is racism, even though it is positive racism, and it can only lead to disintegration. I am in favor of a society in which color or ethnic background would play no role.

I have occasionally been nicknamed "Gloomy Gus," but I do not feel that way. I have just been "more stricken in years and well seasoned by life," as I read in a recent review of a book by George Kennan. I have been for the most part happy and satisfied with my life: it was interesting, creative, and always challenging. I was particularly lucky to have found (and kept) a marvel of a wife: a real beauty at 19 and still beautiful at 90, solid as a rock, full of kindness and understanding, a devoted mother and always a friend, in good times and bad. And an excellent cook, too.

I wish you, my readers, and especially my progeny, the same happiness and contentment that are mine, and I hope that you may find some occasional interest in my life and ruminations. With this I conclude my Memoirs.



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