GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Really thoughtful article

Foreign Policy Magazine is one of those sites I have a love-hate relationship with, which is probably true of most of the left-leaning foreign policy websites...and yes, I consider most of them left leaning, internationalist sorta websites.

However, Foreign Policy is better than most and recently had a very interesting article.

Eve of Disaster: Why 2013 eerily looks like the world of 1913, on the cusp of the Great War.

Since we are coming up on the 100th anniversary of World War I, I expect to see a great deal of writing on all aspects of the war...no doubt driven by social, gender and racial historians (BLECH)...more on that later.
Mr. Emmerson makes a number of outstanding points about historical analogies and the use of history as a "lessons learned" tool for policy makers, strategists, and average citizens. (although not likely your "low information" Obama voter who considers Jon Stewart a news correspondent...although compared to most of the buffoons on MSNBC, he probably compares rather well.)

Here are some of Mr. Emmerson's more salient points:

In the end, the utility of history to the decision-maker or to the policy analyst is not as a stock of neatly packaged lessons for the contemporary world, to be pulled off the shelf and applied formulaically to every situation. Rather, it is to hone a way of thinking about change and continuity, contingency and chance.
Thinking historically can remind us of the surprises that can knock states and societies off course and, at the same time, can check our enthusiasm for believing that this time is different. The world of 1913, on the threshold of the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century yet by and large not expecting it, is a case in point.
Sure, there is such a sin as misusing history -- abusing history, even. But there is a much worse mistake: imagining that we have escaped it.

That last sentence really stands out for me...many Americans, and people in general, assume we are WAY too smart to repeat the mistakes of our grand-parents or great grand-parents, or that we can just pass some laws and regulations to do away with greed, stupidity or evil. On an international scale, our current Administration or even past Administrations assume that everyone wants to be an American with democracy, women's rights, gay rights, religious tolerance and touchy-feely loviness..or that a change in President from that evil George W. Bush to the ultra-cool Barry Obama will suddenly change another country's long-term strategic interests or a terrorist group's hatred of the Christian West. History is a pesky, persistent thing, and the belief that war between nations is obsolete is as naive in 2013 as it was in 1913.

The crucial point about the world 100 years ago, then, is not that it is identical to the world today -- it isn't -- but that there was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when a globalized world, not entirely dissimilar to our own, fell apart. And it wasn't because human societies were in the grip of the uncontrollable forces of destiny or that they were particularly dumb. 
Most just didn't expect things to pan out the way they did. People actually living through the year 1913 did not experience those 12 months as the moody prelude to catastrophe. In retrospect, there were storm clouds on the horizon. 
But at the time, many people found themselves living through the best of times -- or simply had other things to think about. The world in 1913 was dynamic, modern, interconnected, smart -- just like ours.
This is probably the most interesting comparison people try to make between the early 21st century and the early 20th..."Oh, the world is just to interconnected to have another war..it would be bad for international trade and business...and we're all one big happy community on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram." Of course in 1913, the telegram, airplane, the beginning of wireless communications seemed just as revolutionary...as did the flow of international trade and commerce. Yet one year later, trenches were being dug across Belgium and northern France.

Finally Mr. Emmerson concludes with a warning of sorts:
Humanity is forever condemned to live with uncertainty about the future. But thinking historically equips us to better gauge that uncertainty, to temper biases, question assumptions, and stretch our imagination. 
By understanding the history of other countries -- particularly those that are re-emerging to global eminence now -- we might better understand their mindsets, hopes, and fears. And when we've done that, we might find we need to think again about how to build a future of our own making, rather than one decided for us by events. The world of 1913 -- brilliant, dynamic, interdependent -- offers a warning. The operating system of the world in that year was taken by many for granted. In 2013, at a time of similar global flux, the biggest mistake we could possibly make is to assume that the operating system of our own world will continue indefinitely, that all we need to do is stroll into the future, and that the future will inevitably be what we want it to be. Those comforting times are over. We need to prepare ourselves for a much rougher ride ahead.
The point he makes is that one unfortunate and unforeseen event--the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, set in motion a chain of events that couldn't...or wouldn't be stopped and the carnage of World War I ensued. What are the chances of a similar miscalculation today? In the East China Sea between China and Japan? Between Iran and Israel? Or even between China and the U.S.?

His book looks very interesting...as I begin the run-up to 2014...it may be worth another look.


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