Thursday, May 31, 2012

800 Words: My Cultural Heresies - History (part 1)

-          Harry Truman was entirely justified in dropping the Atomic Bomb. The war in the Pacific showed no signs of ending, and the historical evidence that Japan was on the verge of surrender is specious indeed. The two atomic bombs killed 210,000 people – an horrific death toll. The other option was an invasion of the Japanese mainland, which could have easily resulted in another million deaths on either side. One of Japan’s highest wartime officials, Kido Kochi, later testified that in his opinion, the atomic bombs saved another20 million Japanese lives.

-          Britain should never have gotten involved in World War I. Even if a response to German aggression was entirely justified, they should have just let the Germans get what they want and let bygones be bygones. Any amount of continued monarchy and imperial overreach would have been preferable to the seventy-five years of reverberations which World War I caused on the European continent.

-          There is currently a more than 50% chance that Barack Obama will lose the next election. That may change, but if what seems likely eventually happens, it will be an absolute shame. In time, he will be vindicated as one of the great figures of history – unfortunately, perhaps one akin to Walther Rathenau in Weimar Germany, who tried everything to save his country from the gathering storm before it was too late, even as his most fervent supporters deserted him. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, may be another Herbert Hoover, elected because he was an extremely intelligent businessman, but utterly without the vision it takes to find solutions to the precariousness of America’s economic situation  – which currently resemble nothing so much as 2008 Greece.

-          The French, Russian, and Iranian Revolutions were doomed from the very beginning. None of them overthrew their governments with any serious plans in place for enacting a liberal rule of law, and in each case the liberals thought that they could manage and minimize the extremist forces with which they worked to topple their moderately authoritarian regimes. It was therefore inevitable that the most totalitarian forces would rise to the top because they were the most ruthless and willing to commit more heinous crimes than anyone else to establish their rule. Let that be a lesson to the liberal revolutionaries of Egypt and the other liberal revolutionary parties of the Middle East – you may one day be misty-eyed for the good old days of Mubarak.

-          For all the terrors and over-reach which Vladimir Putin has visited on so many people, some of which we probably don’t even know about (the 2010 airplane crash in Smolensk which killed nearly the entire Polish ruling government seems almost too unspeakable to have been an accident), one has to give the devil his due. Neither America nor Turkey gave as much freedom to as many citizens 20 years after overthrowing an Empire’s rule.

-          African and Asian territories under 19th century British and French imperial rule should have considered themselves insanely lucky, unfortunately. Colonialism is a tragic fact of history, and one in practice long before Western Europe implemented it (and will be long after Western Europe ceases to exist as a prosperous part of the world). Had the British not arrived first, those territories could have been under the jurisdiction of the French, the Spanish, the Germans, the Portuguese, or worst of all – the Belgians. The British and French built roads, educated their subjects, prohibited slavery, and had many figures at the highest levels of government who stood up for maintaining human rights in their colonies (often unsuccessfully). The French even allowed an African colonial subject into its parliament. The imperial governments of these two powers, relatively, did not pursue violence against their subjects unless the subjects resisted rule. Compare this to Belgian rule of the Congo, where enacting slave labor was considered a privilege and duty of the White Man, and the colonial subjects were kept in conditions of famine and disease-ridden squalor when they were not conscripted into slavery or kept in concentration camps. During the 25-year reign of Leopold II, as many as 10 million West Africans died senselessly.

-          Considering oneself lucky to live in a relatively lenient authoritarian state should never be mistaken for condoning it. The true great men of history are the figures who maximize gains in liberty even as they realize they must make all sorts of heinous compromises in order to enact it. It gains neither a country, a leader, nor his party anything to stand on principle against the winds that will tear them all asunder. Along with a passion for justice must come a cold-hearted realism which recognizes that politics is the art of the possible. This is why truly great leaders are so rare in history – to have the mixture of warm and cold-heartedness, and to hold on to both when given the reins of near-absolute power is a nearly impossible task.

-          There is no party in any country who did more to establish more liberty for more people than the Democratic Party of the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Between 1941 and 1965 they enacted the liberation and rebuilding of Western Europe, all the while forcing Western Europe to rescind their colonial holdings, and all that in addition to ending segregation laws in the American South. If America and Western Europe are still prosperous, we owe it to the liberal Democrats of that era. Tragically, our freedom came at all sorts of terrible prices, as freedom inevitably does – giving up Eastern Europe to Stalin, dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, and keeping good relations with military dictators around the world. Those of us lucky enough to be born into a free country with a good economy ought to realize that someone paid a terrible price, perhaps a price not worth paying, so that we are born into liberty and privilege.

-           The great American liberalism of a half-century ago has utterly shattered and may very well be beyond repair. The student revolts of the late 60’s were an incredibly dumb rebellion of entitlement by a spoiled student class which flattered itself into thinking that by resisting the draft and occupying student buildings they were acting altruistically to build a better world when in fact they were born into a world that was better than any the world had yet known. By acting as they did, however insignificant their actions seemed to the world stage, the disproportionate reaction to them of the American public set off a chain reaction that destroyed the postwar liberal consensus long before its time. The end result of the 60’s was half-a-century of conservative Republican rule and all the income disparities, neo-imperial foreign policy, and spiraling national debt that goes with it. Most of those liberals who did not join the progressive/protest movement become, in a sense, neoconservatives who were poisoned by as much resentment at the state of the country as their liberal foes. When neoconservatives saw the rebellions of the young, they decided that the country had gone much too far in allowing for civil liberties – to a point at which liberty was exploited, and they reacted accordingly: first Nixon, then Reagan, then the Bush dynasty. While I have absolutely no patience with the delusions, the resentments, or the militancy of the neoconservative movement, I can’t pretend I don’t understand why they believe what they do. Rather than join them, I despair at their overreaction and their utopian desires for America. Conservatives made America what it is today, but every liberal who stood on principle rather than make the compromises it takes to create change has done his/her part to create contemporary America.

-          A person’s feelings about the State of Israel are a stunningly reliable barometer for the person’s general connection with reality. I could explain this theory at length, but it comes down to this: the moment a person starts frothing at the mouth about how the “Israel Lobby” controls American foreign policy, I assume they eat their own feces too.

…to be continued at some point.

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