By Chet Yarbrough
Empires of the Weak (The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the World)
By: J. C. Sharman
Narrated by: John Lee
Jason Sharman (Author, Professor of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge, PhD from University of Illinois.)
Professor J. C. Sharman offers an interesting interpretation of history. He argues one country’s domination of another in “Empires of the Weak” is widely misrepresented by historians.
Sharman argues domination of other nation-states is incorrectly believed to be the result of technical and military superiority. Sharman suggests force of arms and technology were only a part of their success. Their failures often came from not understanding the cultures of the countries they tried to colonize.
Sharman notes many historians argue early European nations had better weapons and superior military training than countries which they invaded and colonized.
Sharman argues socio-cultural and economic interests were more determinate factors than either technical or military superiority. He notes Aztec domination by Spain as an example. He explains a minor military force manages to erase Aztec governance by co-opting indigenous discontented natives and rewarding those who would fight to destroy current leadership and support their colonizers and ultimate benefactors.
The resonating truth of Sharman’s observation in modern times is shown by America’s experience in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Battles can be won but wars lost. Most battles were won with American technology and force of arms but, with the qualified exception of a negotiated compromise at the 38th parallel in Korea, America’s singular wars were lost. France’s Indochina and Russia’s Afghanistan prove the same.
Vladmir Putin is on the verge of affirming Sharman’s argument. Putin invades Ukraine with an experienced and well-equipped army, with superior weapons of mass destruction. However, Russia is losing the war.
Socio-cultural difference make domination by one country of another difficult, if not impossible. Putin presumes Ukraine has a Russian culture when in fact it shows itself to be its own cultural nation. Putin will fail because he ignores cultural difference and fails to co-opt discontented indigenous leaders.
One might wonder how Stalin managed to create the U.S.S.R. from disparate cultures and countries. One suspects it is not entirely because of Stalinist repression. Stalin eliminated leaders within Russia’s satellite countries while co-opting existing discontented natives.
New indigenous leaders of these countries understood their citizens but were beholding to Stalin for having supported their ascension. Putin may have been able to do the same with more patience and understanding of Ukrainian culture. His misstep will have future consequence, both for himself, Russia, and the world.
The idea of their always being a clear cause for every effect is false.
Precise “cause and effect” is proven untrue in quantum physics and seems equally untrue in world leadership. Leadership success is always a matter of probability, but it must be probability based on cultural understanding.
Sharman’s limited analysis holds great promise for historians and leaders of the world. Historians can offer more focus on socio-economic conditions of respective countries when determining causes of regime change. Leaders of acquisitive countries might think twice about military intervention or invasion. Leaders may become more selective in choosing ambassadors for other countries.
The threat of the future is that cultural understanding might be achieved in Orwell’s “1984” which implies China is an odds-on favorite as a world hegemon.
This is a warning to Hong Kong and a threat to Taiwan. Cultural understanding is a key to world peace.
A point made in this week’s “Economist” is that rising economic Hedgemons like China suggest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is nothing new because there are no universal rights. President Xi recounts the atrocities of the world that shows man’s inhumanity to man is based on perceived national self-interests, not universal rights.