Robert Gerwarth (German Author, historian, specializing in European history, graduate of University of Oxford.)
At times, a reader/listener becomes jaded by books written about war. However, Robert Gerwarth’s “…Vanquished” is a timely review of the origin of war, particularly with Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling empires. He argues post 20th century wars are a result of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Japanese, French, Romanov (Russian), and British empires demise. Gerwath explains future generations of fighters from these former empires live on. Many continue to bare grudges for their lost existence as part of an empire. This reminds one of Vladimir Putin’s life as a KGB agent in the former U.S.S.R.
Gerwarth explains in detail the wandering fighters of dismantled empires who do not accept their defeat. They raid, rape, and pillage countries (often as mercenaries) that were part of their former empire. Of course, there are other circumstances that motivate these fighters, but loss of empire demeans and unmoors identity which energizes anger, motivates reprisal, and initiates atrocity.
Few historians disagree about the unfair reparations demanded from Germany after WWI. That unreasonableness weakens the post war German government which is soon overrun by Nazis; ironically, not led by a German citizen, but by an Austro-Hungarian citizen named Adolph Hitler. Hitler is a former fighter for the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Hitler’s extraordinary ability to martial rage with his rabid antisemitism rallies German extremists to believe Germany can establish a new European empire.
Hitler’s success is largely made possible by a weak German government and Germany’s war-ravaged poverty, exacerbated by worldwide depression.
Putin is a fighter for an empire that lives in his heart and mind but not in reality. One might conclude from Gerwarth’s view of history that Putin will fail in his effort to make Ukraine a part of Russia.
None of the 20th century empires have been resurrected, and like Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again”, only force of arms can hold empires together. Empires are too big and culturally diverse to remain one entity.
Though Gerwarth does not address China, it seems China’s effort to gain control of outlying China interests is limited to government will and martial suppression.
Uighur Re-education camp in China.
The suppression of Uighurs is a first step to concentration camps.
It seems cultural difference and interests between Xi’s followers, and Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and Taiwanese will require suppression to make them part of the supersized Chinese nation-state. It is likely that future generations of fighters will resist China’s enforcement if it pursues its present course.
Gerwarth offers an interesting historical perspective; supported by a lot of detail. It would seem the only hope for peaceful empires is through federalism. There needs to be an acknowledgement of cultural difference, with access to equality of treatment and opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Of course, that is what America has tried, and only partly achieved, among States. It would seem a greater task for empire, or within large multi-ethnic nation-states like China.
Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, Kathrin Kana, Martha Hall Kelly
“Lilac Girls” is a long historical novel. Some may be tempted to quit but may be drawn back by its message to the future. It is a reminder of WWII. It is a warning to our present and future. Martha Hall Kelly’s extensive research on the Ravensbrück concentration camp offers relevance to Uighur re-education camps, Taliban repression, Russian/Ukraine atrocities, and the consequence of human isolation and incarceration.
Kelly’s book is about Ravensbrück rabbits, young women experimented on by Germany’s Nazi leaders.
The Ravensbrück concentration camp evolves into a chamber of horrors. It is managed by Nazi physicians and followers who purposely create damaged human bodies to test drugs and medical treatment for war wounds. A number of healthy young women have their bodies mutilated to test the efficacy of drugs and surgery to repair damaged limbs. They become known as the Ravensbrück rabbits
Ravensbrück is in northern Germany. The concentration camp was created exclusively for women. At its peak it housed 132,000 women, of which an estimated 48,500 were Poles, 28,000 Russians, 24,000 Germans, 8,000 French and a few other nationalities. Their incarceration is for reasons ranging from resistance to Nazi governance to disbelief in the false notion of race purity.
Kelly contrasts New York’ socialite living in the 1930s through the 1950s with European and war veteran survival. The author begins her story with the rise of Hitler, and Germany’s invasion of Poland, France, and Russia. As the German invasion of Russia portends defeat of Germany, Kelly unravels the atrocity of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, the ignominious defeat of France, the unjust western and Russian split of Poland after the war, the subjugation of Poland to Russia, and the rise of the U.S.S.R.
It is the intimacies of living that give Kelly’s book weight. For the romantic, there is some romance. For the historian, there are the revelations of Ravensbrück, for the futurist, there is the warning of the risks of human isolation and confinement based on race, religion, or ethnicity.
Uighur re-education camp in China.
Many countries, including the United States, have made the mistake of isolating and confining human beings based on race, religion, or ethnicity. This is the first step that may lead to Ravensbrück’ atrocity.
Kelly shows there is no redemption, either for victims or perpetrators. At the end of her novel, what happened to the primary victims of Ravensbrück stays with those who survived. The primary victim loses her mother in the camp. Her life after the war leaves her crippled emotionally and physically because she was one of the Ravensbrück rabbits.
Herta Oberheuser (1911-1978, died at age 66, physician at Ravensbruck concentration camp.)
As Germany nears defeat, the doctor who manages surgery tries to murder the women who were mutilated because they are witnesses to Ravensbrück atrocities.
She is convicted at Nuremberg. She serves 5 years of a 20-year sentence. Her ambition seduced her into atrocity at Ravensbrück. Her wish to be a surgeon, when there are few women surgeons in Germany, outweighed the guilt of her actions. After serving her sentence in prison, she starts a medical practice. She is tracked down by a primary victim of her surgical mutilation. Kelly writes about the rise and fall of Herta Oberheuser. With her exposure by a victim of Oberheuser’s surgical work at Ravensbrück, her medical license is revoked. Ms. Oberheuser dies in obscurity.
There is no redemption for atrocity. All human beings in the Russia/Ukrainian war, as well as the rest of the world, need to remember the lessons of WWII.
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal History of Our Times
By: Howard Zinn
Narrated by: David Strathairn
Howard Zinn (1922-2010, died at age 87, Author, Historian, Pacifist.)
Howard Zinn’s personal biography suggests being brilliant does not mean being good. Zinn is a controversial historian who grew up during the depression. He became a famous anti-war activist during Vietnam and wrote a controversial book about American history.
Zinn characterizes his family as poor with a father and mother who were factory workers with little formal education. He tells of his early life and how it influenced his political and social beliefs. He joins the Army Air Force during WWII and becomes a bombardier. That experience reifies Zinn’s early anti-war beliefs that become a consuming passion during Vietnam.
In some ways, Zinn’s enlistment in the Air Force seems a contradiction but the fascist nature of Nazi Germany, subsequent realization of the holocaust, and his Jewish heritage undoubtedly influence his decision to join the military.
Zinn’s role in bombing civilians creates an ambivalence about WWII; particularly when the atom bomb is dropped on Japan.
One wonders what Zinn would write about the Russia-Ukrainian war?
America did not militarily enter WWII when Poland was invaded. Similarly. America has not militarily entered the Russia-Ukraine war. However, in both circumstances America financially invested in a western alliance against war. Eventually that financial investment turned into American military participation. One wonders how Zinn would view America’s financial investment in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Is our investment a prelude to military intervention?
Returning to the biography, the nuclear attack on Japan is considered barbaric and unjustified by Zinn.
Some, like President Truman reason the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings avoided loss of thousands of Americans and Japanese that would have been killed in an invasion of Japan.
A question is whether those thousands are different than the thousands killed immediately and later from radioactive fallout? To some Americans, the answer is yes because none of the added deaths would have been American. Presumably, Zinn would say using an atomic bomb is a step too far.
Zinn survives WWII and uses the GI Bill to get a college education. He becomes a professor at Spelman College, a Black women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia.
Roslyn Zinn (1922-2008, Artist, Activist, Social Worker, Teacher)
Howard Zinn and his wife live in a low-income, largely Black neighborhood.
The Zinn’s become political activists for equal rights. In the 50s and early 60s, the Zinn’s become acquainted with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and civil rights activism in the South.
Later, Zinn tells the story of his life as a professor at Boston University. He becomes a tenured professor, having written some novels and a controversial academic book about American history.
In his life at the University, Zinn continues political activism against the war in Vietnam. This is in the 70s. Nixon is bombing North Vietnam and Cambodia in an effort to get Ho Chi Minh to the table for a negotiated peace. Daniel Ellsberg becomes one of Zinn’s acquaintances. Zinn also becomes friends with Reverend Daniel Berrigan and his brother who become jailed activists because of the Vietnam war.
Daniel Ellsberg (analyst who became famous for Pentagon Papers disclosure about American government lies about Vietnam. Shown here at age 91.)
A theme of Zinn’s anti-war story is reflected in his experience at Boston University in conflicts with the President of the University. Zinn’s reputation with students is characterized as a highly popular. That popularity and his political activity put him in direct conflict with the President of the University.
John Silber is the seventh President of Boston University. He is from Texas but earned a PhD in philosophy from Yale University. Though Zinn does not mention this, Boston University is having financial problems at the time of Silber’s hiring. Zinn’s story is that Silber is overpaid for his work and disliked by several professors and their staffs.
Zinn characterizes Silber as a misogynist who denies tenure to women professors. A female professor takes Silber to court over denial of tenure. She wins her case, and the Judge requires Silber to give her tenure. The judge fines the University and orders a $200,000 settlement for Silber’s unfair treatment. (Despite Zinn’s proof of Silber’s misogyny, a brief review of Silber’s Boston University’ history suggests the faculty and financial picture of the school substantially improved under Silber’s management.)
Misogyny, inequality, and war are unforgivable human tragedies to Zinn and most rational human beings. It seems the smart ones are the greatest perpetrators of these tragedies.
Brilliance takes many forms. No leader of any country is dim witted. Each has their own kind of brilliance, or they would not be leaders.
John Hersey (1914-1993, Author and journalist, won a Pulitzer for–“A Bell for Adano”.)
John Hersey is the son of American Protestant missionaries who was born in China.
Hersey is considered one of the first journalists to use a “storytelling” style for news reports. His most well-known news story is published in a 1946 “New Yorker” article, later published and expanded as “Hiroshima“, a book about the consequence of the first nuclear bomb blast of WWII.
“Hiroshima” is printed by Alfred A. Knopf and has never been out of print. Hersey reports an estimated 100,000 were killed by the bomb. His book tells the story of the long-term impact of nuclear fall-out on six Japanese survivors of the June 6, 1945’ blast. (Today, the estimate of those who died from the bomb’s long-term impact is 140,000 to 350,000.)
One hopes 9/11/22 #rumors of former Russian supporters of Putin’s Ukraine/Russian War are asking him to resign. Putin’s decision to reinstitute the draft may be a turning point in the Ukrainian war based on his Czarist behavior.
In looking back at Russia’s 1917 revolution, it is discontent of the military and resistance to participation in WWI that aided Lenin’s overthrow of Czar Nicholas. Putin may be repeating that history. Many kleptocratic leaders of his administration are in the same spot as wealthy landowners of the Czarist era.
At least three of the six survivors in Hersey’s story are searching for solace by turning to belief in a Christian God. One presumes, these survivors were chosen by Hersey because of his life as a son of missionaries. As you listen to the six personal stories of Hersey’s choice, one wonders how non-believers cope with the aftermath of the bomb.
Hersey’s report of six survivors tells of broken bones, burned flesh, scarring, chronic fatigue, social isolation, and concomitant unemployment because of symptoms of these six survivors.
THESE ARE THE SIX SUBJECTS CHOSEN BY JOHN HERSEY FOR HIS STORY.
Left to Right–Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto (3,500 yards from explosion, Methodist), Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura (1,350 yards from explosion, Widow of a tailor with 3 children), Dr. Masakazu Fujioio (1,550 yards from explosion center, a live in the moment hedonist), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge aka Makoto Takakura (1,400 yards from explosion, a German priest of the Society of Jesus), Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (1,650 yards from explosion, young surgeon at Red Cross Hosp.) and Miss Toshiko Sasaki (1,600 yards from explosion.)
Hersey notes some women who are pregnant when the bomb bursts have children who suffer from the consequence, even though not yet born. He tells of a formally successful physician who must start over again to establish his practice. He has little money and no credit but needs to have a place to treat patients for income. He must work from his home which is only rented because he cannot afford to buy.
Hersey writes of a woman who is too fatigued to work at a regular job and decides to use her sewing machine to work at a pace her health will allow. She finds she cannot make enough money to house and feed herself. She sells the sewing machine and finds part time work collecting subscription payments for a newspaper that pays her fifty cents per day.
Hersey writes of recurring scars that occur from the flash and burn of the nuclear bomb explosion. The disfigurement requires plastic surgery.
Without money needed for cosmetic surgery, the young are reliant on financial gifts from others. Some Americans rise to the occasion.
In one instance, the TV program, “This is Your Life” generates contributions for a few victims’ who need plastic surgery.
Incongruously, on “This is Your Life”, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay meets with a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear blast. Some consider this among the most awkward TV appearances of all time.
The fundamental point of Hersey’s stories is a nuclear weapon in war goes beyond immediate physical destruction and mental injury. Radiation from a nuclear bomb stays with victims for their entire, often shortened, and always compromised lives. It is more than the death of thousands, it is the remaining lives of every human being, whether born or yet to be born, who is exposed to the flash and burn of nuclear detonation.
No Good Men Among the Living (America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes)
By: Anand Gopal
Narrated by: Assaf Cohen
Anand Gopal (Author, Journalist, formally embedded with the Taliban in Afghanistan.)
“No Good Men Among the Living” should be read or listened to by Presidents, Senators, Representatives, and Ambassadors of the United States. Anand Gopal gives a journalist eye view of errors and consequences of America’s intervention in Afghanistan where neither language nor culture are understood.
In the beginning of Gopal’s book, one is skeptical of its objectivity. However, as Gopal’s interviews of Afghan Taliban and non-aligned Afghanis accumulate, a listener begins to believe what is being said and reported.
The trials of Afghan women are appalling to Americans. What is missed is the struggle younger Afghan women have with the older generation.
Grandparents are appalled by what they perceive is abandonment of a life of duty to Allah and men in their families, whether fathers, husbands, or sons. This duty is based on generations of a culture that protect the tradition of male and female relationship. That protection is anathema to freedom, which is an inviolable tradition in America, but not Afghanistan.
The experience of Russian intervention and American training of the mujahideen led to a culture of non-Islamic terrorism.
The violence of interventionist states and training of mujahideen became fertile ground for Taliban revitalization. Violence, repression, and religious zealotry became tools of Taliban growth, resistance, ascendance, and resurgence.
Gopal notes Afghani women were raped and killed by American trained Mujahadeen after Russia was expelled. The Taliban restored order. Later, when America chose to dismantle the Taliban because of the Afghanistan leader’s refusal to release bin Laden, Afghanis began to see America as a new occupier rather than liberator.
Afghanis began to see America as a new occupier rather than liberator. The Taliban secretly regained power and influence as the perception of America’s intervention changed.
The cause of the change in perception of America as an occupier grew because of its dependence on self-interested tribal Afghanis who used American forces to eliminate rivals. All a respected Afghani translator had to do was identify a rival as a Taliban ally. America would arrest, jail, or kill the translator’s rival.
Internecine tribal conflict in Afghanistan creates an all-against-all culture with survival of the fittest as an objective assuring Taliban resurgence. The Taliban could maintain a level of peace and relative stability between tribes; America could not. America’s lack of understanding Afghan culture and American dependence on self-interested translators assures its failure.
America’s ignominious Afghan abandonment is a tragedy for both countries.
The fault lies with America’s failure to define a limited objective, execute a plan, and leave when a defined objective is achieved. It is unrealistic to believe an interventionist country can understand another country’s culture well enough to offer benefit to both invader and invaded.
There is a slender hope drawn from Gopal’s interviews of a young Afghan woman. She becomes a regional representative in Afghanistan despite the murder of her husband by the Taliban. She is supported by a tribal leader who respects her independence. The road traveled by women in Afghanistan is certainly more difficult now that America has left, but Gopal shows there is a road. However, Gopal infers help can only come from those who understand the culture in which they live.
With the qualified exception of Korea, America’s interventions in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are national tragedies for both interventionist and subject nations. Today’s contest is in Ukraine with Russia, once again, testing intervention.
Arkady Ostrovsky (Author, Russian-born, British journalist spent 15 years reporting for the Financial Times from Moscow.
Arkady Ostrovsky’s book offers a personal perspective on post-1917 Russian political history. Of particular interest today is in how Vladimir Putin came to power and how he may become an author of his own destruction.
Some listeners may conclude Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will doom his future as Russia’s leader. Others will conclude Putin will survive this political mistake because of Russia’s political history.
Putin’s ascension after Gorbachev/Yeltsin seems foretold by Russian history. As noted in Mark Steinberg’s lectures on Russian governance–since the 16th century, popular leaders (whether Czars or revolutionaries) prudently balanced authority and freedom.
Though Gorbachev and Yeltsin were quite different as Russian leaders, they led Russia with an emphasis on freedom. Both offered freedom without adequate economic support for Russian Citizens. In contrast, Ostrovsky argues Putin emphasizes authority with a measure of economic support that improves Russian lives.
Yeltsin fails because his reforms were largely political with little improvement in economic security for most citizens. Yeltsin’s support base came from oligarch’s economic gain rather than from policies designed to improve Russian citizens’ lives. The early years of Putin’s reign emphasize authority with the help of media to influence public perception.
Putin uses secret service personnel and media to detain and restrain public opposition to the government.
Ostrovsky notes the Chechen uprising is brutally suppressed by Putin. Chechens opt for a level of peaceful coexistence as a part of greater Russia.
Russian government control of media coverage emphasizes Chechen brutality while lauding Russian soldiers’ success in abating Chechen independence. Ostrovsky suggests the reality of Chechen brutality is real but Russian soldier’s success in abating brutality is exaggerated by government-controlled media. Ostrovsky reports many Russian’ innocents are murdered in the process of rescuing children and teachers from a school attacked by Chechen rebels.
Ostrovsky explains the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, personally endorses Putin as his successor. Yeltsin is nearing the end of his life after a fifth heart attack. He views Putin as the best hope of Russia to return to national prominence because of Putin’s relative youth and experience as a former KGB officer. Putin has political experience as an aid to the former Mayor of Moscow.
However, Ostrovsky notes Yeltsin discounts the paranoia of Putin and how his experience as a KGB officer makes him suspicious of any activity over which he has no control. Ostrovsky suggests KGB training gives Putin the ability to hide behind a persona adopted to sooth the concerns of whomever he meets. That ability disguises Putin’s personal thoughts when dealing with controversial issues.
(The KGB is dismantled in 1991 but its apparatchiks remain in Putin’s government.)
The media during the Gorbachev/Yeltsin years grows as an independent oligarchic organization. The two edges of power in media are telling convincing truths as easily as lies. Yeltsin owes his electoral success to media according to Ostrovsky. Yeltsin, before his last election as President, has a single digit approval rating from the Russian public. With the help of a media oligarch and Yeltsin’s populist skill, he wins the election. On election day, Ostrovsky notes Yeltsin is nearly dead from a fifth heart attack.
Ostrovsky explains the growth of oligarchs begins with Gorbachev and gains momentum with Yeltsin. The communist party leaders are losing their hold on governance, but they are well positioned to understand how things get done and can be controlled with acquired individual wealth. Some of these former communist party leaders use their position to start personal companies with the financing of government money over which they have control. They become behind-the-scenes movers and shakers for the Russian economy. Their personal wealth grows, and the general economy begins to improve.
In the short term, these new barons of wealth improve the lives of many Russian citizens. However, this unrestrained capitalist revolution begins to rot at its core. Political power follows money. Money supports political leaders that kowtow to oligarchic demand. An oligarch’s demand may or may not benefit the general public.
When political leaders act in ways that support oligarchic demand, they improve their prospect for re-election. In some cases, dynamic political leaders gain some independence based on their popular appeal. Putin seems to have achieved some level of that power. With the help of popular appeal, public support can become a source of power to challenge oligarchic demand. It seems Putin may have achieved both power bases, but invasion of Ukraine may change that support.
Robert Kagan finely reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals the mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could become world hegemons by force.
Robert Kagan (A neoconservative Republican scholar and member of the Council on Foreign Relations of the Brookings Institute.)
Kagan notes America became a world force by virtue of economic growth which led to a choice by other nations to recognize American hegemony. Rather than capitalizing on the natural resources of Russia, Putin chooses to waste his country’s wealth on a war Russia will lose. It is a lesson one hopes China realizes in its pursuit of its sphere of influence. Sphere of influence is determined by economic growth, not military power.
Ostrovsky argues media is reality in Russia. World media is not the same as the Russian media that is tightly controlled by government leadership. Further Ukraine invasion is not a Chechnian rebellion. Chechnya is a small area within Russia–with an estimated 1.2 million people. Ukraine is an independent country of 44.3 million.
Russian media might be controlled within Russia, but the world’s news will seep into Russian citizen’s knowledge, either by the internet or other means.
Russia may be an invention as Ostrovsky suggests but all nation-states in the course of history are inventions. History changes with information. Dissemination of information is increasingly uncontrollable.
In time of war, Nagasaki and Hiroshima show what uncontrolled fission can do in the event of a nuclear bomb. Fukushima shows what uncontrolled fission can do in time of peace.
Invading Ukraine may lead to loss of Putin’s power and influence in Russia. The tragic consequence of Putin’s decision is the unnecessary death of many Ukrainians and Russians. The decision to invade Ukraine may lead to Putin’s dismissal, imprisonment, or execution. It has certainly changed his reputation in the world.
Destined for War (Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?
By: Graham Allison
Narrated by Richard Ferrone
Graham Allison (Author, American political scientist, Professor of Government at Harvard.)
Allison briefly reviews the history of war to reinforce an argument about its causes. He suggests wars come from the rise of competing hegemonic powers. A quibble one may have with Allison’s argument is that it diminishes reasons beyond power that led to WWII. The rise of Hitler may not have occurred if reparations for WWI had not been excessive. However, his main point is that cultural differences are seeds from which power and conflict grows. Allison suggests, when nation-state’ cultures are different, countries competing for political and economic power incline toward war. He gives many relevant and convincing examples.
Graham Allison suggests the cause of war is defined by Thucydides (Greek Historian of the Pelopnnnesian War, Born 460-455 B.C., Died 400 B.C.) in the fifth century BC.
The “Thucydides’s trap” is when one country achieves a competitive level of political power it challenges existing hegemonic powers, leading to conflict and probable war.
Allison argues that war is not inevitable but that to avoid it requires acceptance of spheres of influence. This is not a new concept. The terms “sphere of influence” became legally significant in the 1880s when Africa was being colonized by European countries. It was meant to explain a colonizer’s political claim for exclusive control of a particular area of the world.
Allison notes that China’s Chairman Xi is, in a singular respect, the same as America’s Ex-President, Donald Trump. That “sameness” is Xi’s goal of making China “Great Again”. In no other respect, does Xi seem comparable to the bombastic Trump.
Allison explains China is culturally unique based on its history, reaching back to 1600 B.C. Like Ancient Egypt (3400-3200 B.C.), China is as culturally different as any nation-state in the world. Allison offers a highly intelligent and informative analysis of how different Chinese culture is from American culture.
To avoid war, Allison argues America, the current hegemon of the world, must couch its political behavior and power in ways that acknowledge cultural difference between itself and rising hegemons of the world.
Allison recalls the history of England’s dealings with America after the 1776 revolution. England reluctantly accepted America’s eventual rise to hegemon of the world. (Some would argue, England’s decision to remove itself from the European Union accelerates that decline.)
The United Kingdom’s economic, military, and political power (its sphere of influence) diminishes as America’s flourishes. England remains a power in the world, but its sphere of influence steadily declines.
Russia struggles with their sphere of influence because of the collapse of the U.S.S.R. In 2021-22 Russia may invade Ukraine, just as they did Crimea in 2014, to re-expand its sphere of influence. Russia maneuvers to politically enlist China as an ally to accomplish that end. Putin undoubtedly cultivates China’s objection to America’s attempt to expand its sphere of influence in the far east.
The issues of Ukraine and Georgia are more precarious for Russia than the rest of the world. Putin’s demand to expand Russia’s sphere of influence renews a cold war that will inevitably become hot. The only question is where the heat will lie.
Robert Kagan reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could remain or become world hegemons by force.
Kagan’s point is Great Britain adjusted to its changed role from hegemon to a nation among nations. England prospered and maintained its integrity as an independent nation, capable of improving the lives of its people without falling on the sword of its hegemonic past.
Ukraine and Georgia will become Putin’s Vietnam. It is a war that can only be resolved at the expense of many Russian’, Ukrainian’, and Georgian’ soldier’s lives. The most other countries can do is support Ukrainian and Georgian resistance while pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects sovereign independence.
The inference one draws from Allison’s book is that America must recognize the cultural difference between itself and China to avoid war. Like the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and other hegemons of world history, America must gradually adjust its behavior as a hegemon of the world. America, like all hegemonic powers, effectively operates within a sphere of influence. America’s sphere of influence is being challenged in the Far East by China.
Allison’s view of the world gives weight to Putin’s great concern about Ukraine’s independence and implied wish to join NATO. The fear Putin has is a reminder of even Gorbachev’s opposition to western encroachment on eastern bloc independence.
The sense one draws from Allison’s insight about culture is that no country in history has ever treated its citizens equitably. In America, the stain of slavery and native Indian displacement remain festering wounds. When and if those wounds heal, America’s sphere of influence will either grow or diminish. In China, it may be the wounds of Uighur discrimination and Han superiority that wounds its future as a hegemon. In Afghanistan, the unfair treatment of women may doom its sphere of influence. In Russia, it will be the mistakes Putin makes in violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia.
Every nation’s sphere of influence is affected by internal cultural errors and external cultural influences. Only a state that adjusts to the demands of its culture will survive. Culture is not exportable, but it has weight. Foreign cultures can only be an influencer to other countries. A culture imposed by force will fail as both America and France proved in Vietnam. Cultural change must come from its own citizens as it did with the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
Spheres of influence evolve. They are not static.
America’s goal should be to understand other cultures. In that understanding, there must be acceptance of a competitor’s sphere of influence. Allison is not suggesting America withdraw from the world stage, but that engagement be along the lines of a containment strategy like that proposed by the former ambassador to Russia, George Kennan, in the 1950s. Kennan’s long memorandum is born of an intimate understanding of Russian culture.
Allison argues America should pursue a policy of minimizing conflict while promoting democracy to citizens who seek freedom and equality.
Allison recommends engagement with rising hegemonic powers with an eye on their respective cultures. Allison argues, only with understanding of cultural difference is there a way to avoid Thucydides’ trap.
One cannot deny the economic success of China. At the same time, anyone who has visited China in recent years knows of dissidents who object to communist monitoring and control of citizen freedom. Tiananmen Square remains a rallying point for mainland China resistors. Hong Kong continues to demonstrate against Xi’s influence on the lives of local business owners. Taiwan objects to Xi’s intent to repatriate their island country. Tibetans are denied their rights as followers of Buddhist belief.
Allison’s enlightening history of spheres of influence discounts many conflicts occurring within nations that have little to do with national interests or international conflicts. Of particular concern are tribal and religious conflicts occurring in Africa, Latin America, and parts of the Middle East. Warlord and gang-like leaders have little nationalist interest beyond self-preservation. The consequence is displacement and impoverishment of millions who have no future.
The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War-A Tragedy in Three Acts
By: Scott Anderson
Narrated by : Robertson Dean, Scott Anderson
Scott Anderson (Author)
“The Quiet Americans” is an investigative reporter’s view of the American spy service. It is written by a veteran war correspondent and son of a former foreign aid officer. The author, Scott Anderson, is raised in East Asia. He reviews America’s spy network during and after WWII.
The American independent spy agency is formed after WWII to provide intelligence on growing clandestine activities of the U.S.S.R. The author notes there were intelligence operations during WWII, but they were not independent. During the war, Intelligence services were defined and executed by the military. It is only after WWII that an independent branch is formed along the lines of British intelligence.
In Anderson’s opinion, President Harry Truman is an inept manager of the nascent American intelligence service.
There are several surprising facts and interpretations of history compiled by Anderson. Kennan is characterized as a great diplomatic analyst, but capable of lying to protect his reputation.
George Kennan is viewed as an influential diplomat in the creation of what becomes known as the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Dulles brothers solidify the role of the CIA in American clandestine operations in the world. Their modus vivendi for CIA operations prevails today. Their intent is to have an agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully. However, Anderson shows their action belies their intent.
Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)
Parenthetically, as an example of Stalinist ideology, Anderson notes Adolph Hitler’s remains were not found in a burned bunker in which Hitler is alleged to have committed suicide. His burned remains were secreted by Joseph Stalin and placed in an archive in the U.S.S.R. Stalin’s motive for secrecy is unknown.
An independent spy agency is initially opposed by Truman, and perennially opposed by FBI Director Hoover.
J. Edgar Hoover–Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. (Died in May of 1972 at the age of 77)
Anderson notes Ambassador Kennan’s prescient analysis (the long memorandum) reflects the duplicitous nature of Joseph Stalin. Kennan recommends a surreptitious and aggressive American containment policy enacted through the practice of espionage. Kennan plays an important role in the formation of the American Intelligence service. The first director of this operation is a close friend of Kennan’s, a man named Frank Wisner.
“The Quiet Americans” Anderson profiles are Edmund Michael Burke, Frank Wisner, Peter Sichel, and Edward Lansdale. In their stories, Anderson reveals the beginnings of the CIA and a history of minor espionage successes and significant failures. In the back of a listener’s mind is the consequence of American espionage—their cost in human lives and dollars, and American truths about what measures are taken to presumably secure freedom and equality in other countries.
This is not a pretty picture. American efforts to change the world for the better through covert action is shown to be, at best, questionable, and at worst horribly misguided. As an American, it seems clear that most covert activity is meant to do good but the definition of good is distorted by human nature.
America’s role in Albania, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan raises the hopes of many but at a cost of too many lives and dollars. Hope of many of these country’s citizens becomes despair. How many lives and dollars could have been saved and repurposed for freedom and equality, rather than destruction of cultural difference. What Anderson makes clear is that national purpose (American or other) is distorted when it is undisclosed because human beings are seduced by self-interest, whether that interest is money, power, and/or prestige.
Government disclosure offers visibility to the public. Disclosure offers opportunity for public influence on government policy. America prides itself on being a government of, and by the people–through popularly elected representatives. Covert government action that is undisclosed to elected representatives gives no opportunity for citizens to influence government policy.
The idea of full disclosure discounts poor intelligence like that given about “weapons of mass destruction” that compelled America to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. False disclosure by American intelligence misled both citizens and elected officials about what America should do in Iraq.
Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)
Anderson’s exposure of John Foster Dulles’s tenure as Secretary of State and his brother Allen, as the fifth CIA Director, exemplifies the worst characteristics of covert activities without oversight by elected representatives.
Anderson’s view is America’s opportunity to change the course of history after Stalin’s death is lost because of Dwight Eisenhower’s actions based on the Dulles brother’s political influence.
To Anderson, the course of the U.S.S.R. and American relationship may have been entirely different if the Dulles’s had not run Eisenhower down the wrong diplomatic road. It is impossible to judge what may have happened if a different course had been taken, but Anderson infers the Dulles’ Road led to years of lost opportunity. On the other hand, hindsight is always more perfect than foresight.
Though Burke, Wisner, Sichel, and Lansdale are great patriots, Anderson implies their patriotism and actions often failed to serve American ideals.
Burke’s extraordinary life led him to Italy, Albania, and Germany. He served his country by trying to save Albania from communism, and Germany from further encroachment by the U.S.S.R. At best, his success is limited to non-existent. Albania remained in the fold of communism and success in Germany is the split of Berlin from the eastern block at the expense of food deliveries by air and an agreed upon East and West Berlin.
Wisner kept the light on for covert operations of what became the CIA but failed to get the top job or temper the excesses of secret operations.
Sichel survives them all but appears to compromise a principle of not using bad actors who participated in the holocaust that murdered over 6,000,000 Jews and Nazi resistors.
And finally Wisner, who manages to gain the trust of Philippine and Vietnamese leaders, many of which America abandons by leaving them to fend for themselves.
Trapped, as all humans are, by the times in which they live, they were the instruments of many wasted lives. How many people must die because of undisclosed covert Intelligence operations?
Listening to “The Quiet Americans” makes one understand how important freedom of the press is to America.
Americans must lead by example, not by covert action. More recent episodes in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan show America continues to ignore history’s lessons.
“Cherry” is classified by critics as a semi-autobiographical novel. It is written by an Army veteran of the Iraq war.
The author, Nico Walker, judiciously introduces his novel as a work of fiction. However, his life history parallels much of what he writes. He is a veteran of the Iraq war and is now serving 11 years in prison for bank robbery.
He marries and divorces a beautiful woman who is also an addict.
It is difficult for many Americans, particularly those of us who have lived long, to understand how a handsome young man can waste his life. That seems the underlying story of Walker’s main character.
Walker’s main character experiments with drugs early in his life.
Some Americans choose the military because they are making a life transition. The transition may be to escape parental supervision. Or enlistment may be related to mistakes in one’s life and a court order tells them to join the service or go to jail. Some young men and women just can’t figure out how to make a living on their own. Any one of these reasons might apply to Walker’s main character.
Walker’s character joins the Army because he doesn’t know what else to do. His reasons are not clearly identified.
Cherry is slang for a green soldier newly arrived in a combat zone.
Like all new recruits, Walker’s main character takes a military aptitude test which steers him toward assignment as an Army medic. After basic, he is sent to Iraq. He gets a front row seat to the carnage of war. On the one hand, it appears war carnage may have driven Walker’s main character to drug addiction. On the other, this fictional character has experience with drugs before Iraq.
The troubling part of “Cherry” is that it conflates atrocities of combat with drug addiction. The main character in “Cherry” uses drugs before he goes to war. One doubts a veteran who did not use drugs before war is either more or less likely to become an addict after war.
The story of addiction is bigger than war.
Putting atrocity of war aside, Walker offers a profile of a person hooked on drugs. Anyone who reads or listens to Walker’s vision of human addiction will be appalled by the downward spiral of an addict’s life. Life revolves around an addict’s next fix. It makes no difference if one is good or evil if one is an addict. The only thing that matters to the addicted is the next euphoric high.
Wars are a broadly shared political atrocity; drug addiction is a singular personal tragedy that infects society. Both may lead to the end of humanity.
Max Hastings (British author, journalist, editor, military historian.)
The parallel tragedies of Vietnam and Afghanistan are appallingly similar.
There is no perfect government, whether authoritarian or democratic. Anyone who has traveled outside the United States understands how great it is to be American. Though American wealth and freedom cannot be taken for granted, it is not an exportable commodity. Failures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan do not suggest America should become an isolationist country. However, America must let independent nation-states manage themselves.
Thomas Jefferson’s slaves.
America’s human rights are far from perfect. More importantly, they are not an exportable commodity. Only through a country’s cultural acceptance can human rights be achieved by indigenous populations.
There is a difference between America’s role in WWI, WWII, the first Gulf War, and modern 20th and 21st century American military interventions.
Military intervention is folly when it is for any other purpose than preserving nation-state borders. Vietnam is a pre-historic nation and Afghanistan has been a nation since 1880. Their cultures have been formed over hundreds of years of experience.
All nation-state cultures are flawed. They are flawed in their own ways. Enforcement of human rights is determined by the culture in which they exist. Every country in the world violates human rights but human rights only change within existing cultures.
Enforcement of human rights stops at geographic borders. Political and financial influence are the only tools interventionists should use to influence a foreign nations’ adoption of human rights.
Despite Russia’s long history with Ukraine–military intervention in sovereign countries only leads to injury, death, destruction, and anarchy. Evidence for both Americans and Russians is in Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Those who argue that a foreign country harbors terrorist leaders is true but irrelevant. That the Taliban in Afghanistan harbored Al Qaeda is true but military invasion of a sovereign country does not make America or the world any safer. Al Qaeda operated in many countries, not just Afghanistan. Historians have shown Osama bin Laden proselytized for revolution and terrorism in African nations, Pakistan, and other middle eastern countries.
To cite Afghanistan as the country that harbors terrorist cells is a red herring to justify interventionist beliefs. Any number of countries are potential havens for terrorist cells. Some would argue military intervention only increases terrorist potential in the world.
Max Hastings’ history records intimate personal stories of participants in America’s failure in Vietnam. America’s fundamental mistake is the same mistake made in Iran, Iraq, and now Afghanistan. Military intervention by a foreign power does not give indigenous citizens true experience of the interventionist’s culture. Without cultural understanding on both sides of a military intervention, there is no prospect for peace. Further, it is unrealistic to believe a combatant will truly understand or care about another nation’s culture.
Heart rending accounts of America’s military intervention in Vietnam make one wonder how forgiveness could be given by either Vietnamese or Americans that served in the war.
Hastings explains Vietnamese and Afghanis have no choice to join or resist a culture they do not know. Neither could they become citizens of America. They did not have the interventionist’s cultural experience, or a foreign country’s willingness to allow unregulated immigration. Interventionist countries are always outsiders to the indigenous.
Hastings notes invaded countries’ citizens know the culture in which they live, and that culture is something they understand and can choose to join or resist.
Hastings recounts the tragic mistakes made by France in Vietnam and then shows similar mistakes made by America. Hastings shows how France and America have different cultures and motivations for military intervention, but they are equal failures. Like France’s and America’s failures in Vietnam, America repeats Russia’s failure in Afghanistan.
Hastings explains how North Vietnam soldiers were more committed to winning the war than South Vietnamese soldiers.
The North clearly understood what they were fighting for, the South knew only the idealism of America, a concept clouded by Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese could resist or join a North Vietnam culture because they were part of that culture. In contrast, they could not join American culture because it was not a part of their experience. They had no choice while North Vietnamese had communist indoctrination and an ideal that fit within their cultural inheritance. Those Vietnamese who fought communism had little understanding of American culture and were not likely to be offered citizenship.
Tragically, what is happening in Afghanistan threatens women’s human rights.
It is a threat that may be better understood with America’s intervention, but Afghan women’s alternative is only to resist or join the culture they know and understand. They can either resist or join the Taliban way of life. They cannot join the American way of life because it is not a part of Afghanistan, and they do not have America’s cultural experience.
Misogyny is a python that swallows its prey whole, crushes it, and smothers it to death.
This is a cruel irony. Misogyny exists in America but not in the same way as Afghanistan. The Taliban have won but it is a pyrrhic victory because human rights are universal, and resistance will grow. It is a resistance that an interventionist outsider cannot join for the same reason the resister is unable to join the outsider.
As Mark Twain said, if history does not repeat, it certainly rhymes. Change can only come from within. Military intervention only works when nation-state sovereignty is at stake.
George H. Bush, in the first Iraq war knew what is possible and correctly chose to stop America’s intervention in Iraq when Kuwaiti borders were secured. His son ignored his father’s example and America failed in Iraq.
Francis Fukuyama notes every society grows via its own cultural norms which suggests sovereignty should be inviolable. Only Iraqis, Iranians, and Afghanis can decide who they want to be. America can only lead by example and offer political and financial support to resisters of tyranny in other nation-states. Hastings marks the limits of outsiders’ military intervention. America can only lead by example and offer political and financial support to resisters of tyranny in other nation-states. The sole exception is when nation-state borders are violated by foreign nations. Even then, other nations must come to agreement on the inviolability of borders for a military intervention to be justified.