Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Robert "Bob" Robinson: Why Nations Go to War

WHY NATIONS GO TO WAR 9/21/2010

THIS YEAR IS THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF MY MEMBERSHIP IN THE SUPPER CLUB. IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO LAST JANUARY THAT I MADE THE FIRST OF MY EIGHT PRIOR APPEARANCES BEFORE THIS AUGUST BODY. MY TOPIC FOR THAT FIRST SPEECH WAS “GERMAN UNIFICATION AND THE IMPACT OF THAT LONG, TORTURED PROCESS ON THE HISTORY OF MY OWN FAMILY.” IT WAS JUST AFTER THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL, AND GERMAN UNIFICATION WAS IMMINENT. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, FOR THE WORLD AT THAT TIME, IT SIGNALED THE END OF THE COLD WAR, AND OUR COUNTRY BEGAN THE DIFFICULT PROCESS OF DISENTANGLING ITSELF FROM THAT WAR AFTER FORTY YEARS OF PERSISTENT EFFORT.
TONIGHT OUR COUNTRY IS AGAIN INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS OF DISENTANGLING ITSELF FROM WARS – TWO OF THEM – ONE IN IRAQ AND ONE IN AFGHANISTAN. SO, I FEEL MY TOPIC TONIGHT WILL BE AS APPROPRIATE AND TIMELY AS WAS THE TOPIC I CHOSE TWENTY YEARS AGO.



WHY NATIONS GO TO WAR

TONIGHT'S TALK IS BASED – IN PART -- ON A BOOK BY JOHN G. STOESSINGER ENTITLED “WHY NATIONS GO TO WAR.” AND – IN PART – ON THE FACTORS THAT COME INTO PLAY WHEN ENDING A WAR. I WILL COVER SIX WARS: TWO IN EUROPE, ONE IN NORTHEAST ASIA, ONE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, ONE IN SOUTH ASIA, AND ONE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. THIS WILL GIVE US A GREAT DIVERSITY OF DECISIONS RELATED TO HOW THE WARS STARTED, AND IN SOME CASES, HOW THEY WERE ENDED.
THE ONLY TIME I EVER PONDERED THIS SUBJECT IN ANY DEPTH WAS ON A SHORT FLIGHT IN A VERY SMALL AIRPLANE ALONG THE COAST OF SOUTH VIETNAM ONE DAY IN 1968. AS I WAS LOOKING DOWN AT THE LONG STRETCH OF BEAUTIFUL WHITE SANDY BEACHES I THOUGHT TO MYSELF: “IF THESE DAMN FOOLS EVER STOP KILLING EACH OTHER, THEY MAY FIND THAT THEY HAVE A FRENCH RIVERA DOWN THERE.” SO, WITH THAT INTRODUCTION, LETS GET STARTED.
DR. STOESSINGER'S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF WAR MAKES HIM SPECIALLY PREPARED, I FEEL, TO WRITE THIS BOOK, AND TO DIG MUCH MORE DEEPLY INTO THIS SUBJECT THAN I EVER DID.
HE WAS AN AUSTRIAN JEW, LIVING IN PRAGUE WITH HIS PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS EARLY IN 1941. THE PARENTS AND HE ESCAPED THANKS TO A TRANSIT VISA FROM THE USSR, A VISA TO TRANSIT JAPAN, AND AN ENTRANCE VISA FROM CHINA. (HIS GRANDPARENTS STAYED BEHIND AND DIED IN THE HOLOCAUST). HE ARRIVED IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN SHANGHAI AT ABOUT AGE 14, AND ATTENDED SCHOOL THERE IN THE BRITISH PART OF THE INTERNATIONAL SETTLEMENT. IN 1946 HE MET A YOUNG AMERICAN ARMY LIEUTENANT FROM IOWA, NAMED PETER DELEMATER, WHO WAS IN THE POST-WAR ARMY OF OCCUPATION, AND WHO WROTE A LETTER ON HIS BEHALF TO HIS ALMA MATER – GRINNEL COLLEGE – WHO GAVE HIM A SCHOLARSHIP. AND THE REST IS HISTORY.
HE TOOK A UNIQUE APPROACH TO THE STUDY OF WAR. IN HIS OWN WORDS: “WHAT INTERESTED ME MOST IN EACH CASE WAS THE 'MOMENT OF TRUTH' WHEN LEADERS CROSSED THE THRESHOLD INTO WAR. TO BLOW UP THAT FATEFUL MOMENT, TO CAPTURE IT IN FLIGHT, AS IT WERE, IN ALL ITS AWESOME TRAGIC MEANING.” BUT SOMETIMES, AS YOU WILL SEE, THERE ARE MANY DECISIONS THAT BLUR THAT “MOMENT OF TRUTH”.
WE WILL START WITH WORLD WAR I. IT WAS HARD FOR ME TO STAY FOCUSED ON STOESSINGER'S APPROACH, SO I REVIEWED BARBARA TUCHMAN'S WONDERFUL BOOKS “THE PROUD TOWER” AND “THE GUNS OF AUGUST.” THE FIRST DESCRIBING SINGULAR EVENTS IN EACH PARTICIPATING COUNTRY DURING THE QUARTER CENTURY PRECEDING 1914, AND THE SECOND DESCRIBING THAT FINAL FEW WEEKS IN THE SUMMER OF 1914 WHEN EUROPE SLID INTO THE ABYSS. WHEN RE-READING “THE PROUD TOWER” I HAD
THE WEIRD FEELING THAT I KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, AND THE POOR, MISGUIDED SUBJECTS IN THE BOOK WERE BLISSFULLY UNAWARE OF THE HORROR THEIR FUTURE HELD. I ALSO BOUGHT AND READ A NEW BOOK: GEORGE, NICHOLAS AND WILHELM – THREE ROYAL COUSINS AND THE ROAD TO WORLD WAR I. MY CONCLUSION AFTER READING THIS BOOK WAS THAT THESE THREE MONARCHS COMBINED LACKED THE TALENT TO MANAGE A MAID-RITE IN MARSHALLTOWN, LET ALONE GOVERN EMPIRES. BUT – BACK TO WORLD WAR I.
AS WE ALL KNOW, THE AUSTRIAN HEIR TO THE HAPSBURG THRONE, ARCHDUKE FERDINAND AND HIS WIFE SOPHIE, WERE MURDERED ON JUNE 28, 1914 IN SARAJEVO, BOSNIA BY A TERRORIST. BOSNIA, A FORMER PROVINCE OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE HAD BEEN ANNEXED BY AUSTRIA A FEW YEARS EARLIER. AUSTRIA BLAMED NEIGHBORING SERBIA FOR THE OUTRAGE AND PRESENTED THEM WITH AN ULTIMATIM. AUSTRIA AND GERMANY HAD A MUTUAL DEFENSE TREATY. ON JULY 5TH THE GERMAN KAISER TOOK THE FATEFUL STEP OF ASSURING AUSTRIA THAT SHE COULD COUNT ON GERMANY'S “FAITHFUL SUPPORT:” EVEN IF THE PUNITIVE ACTION SHE WAS PLANNING AGAINST SERBIA WOULD BRING HER INTO CONFLICT WITH RUSSIA.” IN OTHER WORDS, HE GAVE AUSTRIA A BLANK CHECK. THE KAISER USED A SPECIAL TERM IN HIS PLEDGE THAT WAS CRUCIAL TO THE OUTCOME: NIBELUNGENTREUE. THERE IS NO ADEQUATE ENGLISH TRANSLATION FOR THIS TERM. THE NIBELUNGENLIED WAS A COLLECTION OF GERMAN SAGAS PEOPLED WITH HEROES WHO HIGHEST VIRTUES WERE HONOR, COURAGE, AND LOYALTY. THE PLEDGE OF A NIBELUNG IS A BLOOD BOND THAT IS SACRED AND IRREVOCABLE: ONCE GIVEN, IT CAN NEVER BE RETRACTED. I CALLED THE DEPARTMENT OF MODERN LANGUAGES AT UNI AND TALKED WITH A PROFESSOR OF GERMAN LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE TO DISCUSS THIS WORD NIBELUNGENTREUE AND HE CONCURRED THAT THIS, WAS INDEED, THE CASE. AND THE REST IS HISTORY. KAISER WILHELM RECEIVED INFORMATION ON THE ASSASSINATION OF HIS FRIEND WHILE ON BOARD HIS YACHT ABOUT TO DEPART FOR A SUMMER CRUISE. HIS OFF-HAND COMMITMENT TO AUSTRIA, CLOTHED IN LANGUAGE THAT BOUND HIS NATION TO AUSTRIA, WAS THE DECISION THAT, IN DUE COURSE,
DESTROYED EMPIRES AND KILLED MUCH OF A GENERATION OF EUROPEANS..
THE SECOND DECISION I WILL ADDRESS WAS HITLER'S FATEFUL DECISION TO INVADE THE SOVIET UNION. IN A MASTERPIECE OF UNDERSTATEMENT, DR. STOESSINGER SAID: “THE KEY TO AN UNDERSTANDING OF ADOLF HITLER'S INVASION OF RUSSIA IS MORE LIKELY FOUND IN THE REALM OF PSYCHOLOGY THAN IN POLITICAL SCIENCE OR STRATEGIC THOUGHT.” HIS DESIRE TO DESTROY RUSSIA PRECEDED HIS RISE TO POLITICAL POWER. IN MEIN KAMPF, PUBLISHED IN 1924, HE SAID: “WE TERMINATE THE ENDLESS GERMAN DRIVE TO THE SOUTH AND WEST OF EUROPE, AND DIRECT OUR GAZE TOWARDS THE LANDS IN THE EAST . . . IF WE TALK ABOUT NEW SOIL AND TERRITORY IN EUROPE TODAY, WE CAN THINK PRIMARILY ONLY OF RUSSIA AND ITS VASSAL BORDER STATES. THE COLOSSAL EMPIRE IN THE EAST IS RIPE FOR DISSOLUTION, AND THE END OF THE JEWISH DOMINATION IN RUSSIA WILL ALSO BE THE END OF RUSSIA AS A STATE.” SO YOU SEE, FROM THE EARLY DAYS OF THE NAZI MOVEMENT, WHILE HE WAS STILL IMPRISONED AND WRITING MEIN KAMPF, HIS HATRED OF RUSSIA AND THE SLAVIC PEOPLE WAS INTERTWINED IN HIS WARPED MIND WITH THE DESTRUCTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. “AS A YOUNG ARTIST IN VIENNA, HITLER HAD ACCUMULATED A FAIR AMOUNT OF KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH, FRENCH, AND ITALIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE, BUT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT HE HAD THE SLIGHTEST ACQUAINTANCE WITH RUSSIAN CIVILIZATION OR THAT HE HAD EVER READ A BOOK BY A RUSSIAN WRITER.” IT WAS NEVER A MATTER OF “IF”, BUT ONLY OF “WHEN.” SO WHEN HE WAS FRUSTRATED IN HIS EFFORTS TO BRING DOWN BRITAIN IN THE SUMMER AND AUTUMN OF 1940, HE TURNED HIS EYES EAST. IN THE AUTHOR'S WORDS: “THUS HITLER'S BOUNDLESS HATRED FOR THE SLAVIC PEOPLES WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR ONE OF THE GREATEST BLUNDERS OF HIS CAREER.”
THE THIRD WAR I WANT TO TALK ABOUT TONIGHT – THE KOREAN WAR -- IS DIFFERENT FROM THE PREVIOUS TWO IN MANY WAYS, BUT FOR OUR PURPOSES TONIGHT, THE PRINCIPAL DIFFERENCE IS THAT WE DO NOT KNOW WHO GAVE THE FATEFUL COMMAND. THE AUTHOR DESCRIBED FOUR POSSIBLE ANSWERS IN DESCENDING ORDER OF PROBABILITY:
FIRST, THAT STALIN ORDERED A PROBING ATTACK AGAINST THE WEST. THE THREE PRECEDING YEARS HAD SEEN HIS SEIZURE OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA IN FEBRUARY 1948, THE FORMATION OF NATO IN 1949, SUGGESTING THAT HE COULD MAKE NO FURTHER INROADS IN THE WEST. IN JANUARY 1950, SECRETARY OF STATE DEAN ACHESON, IN A SPEECH BEFORE THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB IN WASHINGTON, OUTLINED THE “MILITARY DEFENSE PERIMETER” OF THE UNITED STATES; KOREA WAS NOT INSIDE THAT PERIMETER. THIS MAY HAVE ENCOURAGED STALIN TO ORDER THE NORTH KOREAN ATTACK.
A SECOND POSSIBILITY IS THAT STALIN WANTED TO CREATE A PROBLEM FOR CHINA. PERHAPS HE DID NOT TELL THE CHINESE ABOUT THE ATTACK IN ADVANCE, IN THE HOPE THAT THEY WOULD BECOME ENTANGLED WITH THE U.S. MAO HAD COME TO POWER WITHOUT STALIN'S HELP, AND PRESENTED STALIN WITH A RIVAL FOR LEADERSHIP OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST MOVEMENT.
A THIRD, BUT UNLIKELY POSSIBILITY IS THAT THE CHINESE ORDERED THE ATTACK. MAO HAD BEEN IN POWER FOR LESS THAN A YEAR, AND HAD HIS HANDS FULL CONSOLIDATING HIS POWER AT HOME.
FINALLY, KIM IL SUNG MAY HAVE ORDERED THE ATTACK ON HIS OWN, IN THE HOPE OF BECOMING AN ASIAN “TITO” AND ACQUIRING STATUS AMONG ASIAN
COMMUNISTS COMPARABLE TO THAT ENJOYED AMONG EUROPEAN COMMUNIST PARTIES BY MARSHALL TITO IN YUGOSLAVIA. BUT, ONCE THE FIGHTING BEGAN, THERE FOLLOWED THREE MORE CRITICAL DECISIONS THAT DIRECTED THE FINAL OUTCOME OF THE WAR: FIRST, PRESIDENT TRUMAN'S DECISION TO COME TO THE AID OF SOUTH KOREA, BUT ACTING THROUGH THE UNITED NATIONS. SECOND, STALIN'S DECISION TO BOYCOTT THE SECURITY COUNCIL OF THE U.N. BECAUSE THE COMMUNIST CHINESE HAD NOT BEEN GIVEN THE CHINESE SEAT ON THE SECURITY COUNCIL AFTER CONQUERING THE MAINLAND THE PREVIOUS YEAR, AND THIRD, THE DECISION OF GENERAL MACARTHUR TO PURSUE THE DEFEATED NORTH KOREAN ARMY TO THE CHINESE BORDER, CONVINCED AS HE WAS THAT THE CHINESE WOULD NOT INTERVENE.
THUS, ASSUMING STALIN ORDERED THE INITITAL NORTH KOREAN INVASION OF THE SOUTH, THE ULTIMATE OUTCOME WAS LARGELY A RESULT OF BAD DECISIONS BY STALIN AND MACARTHUR, AND A GOOD DECISION BY TRUMAN. WHY DID IT END IN JULY 1953? THE ELECTION OF EISENHOWER? THE DEATH OF STALIN? WE DON'T KNOW.
THE NEXT AMERICAN WAR TO INFLICT ITSELF UPON US WAS VIETNAM. THE AUTHOR TITLED THIS CHAPTER OF HIS BOOK: “A GREEK TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS”. AT THE TIME, IT WAS THE LONGEST WAR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL SINCE THE CIVIL WAR, AND EXTENDED OVER FIVE PRESIDENCIES. I AM ONLY GOING TO ADDRESS THE DECISIONS MADE BY THE FIRST AND LAST PRESIDENTS INVOLVED IN THIS WAR: TRUMAN AND NIXON. IN NIXON'S CASE, WE WILL BE ADDRESSING DECISIONS MADE TO END THE WAR; AND THIS – AS WE KNOW IN TODAYS WORLD – IS OFTEN MORE DIFFICULT THAN ENTERING A WAR. PERHAPS WE CAN DISCUSS THE OTHER THREE: EISENHOWER, KENNEDY AND JOHNSON DURING THE DISCUSSION PERIOD, SINCE SO MANY OF OUR LIVES WERE IMPACTED BY DECISIONS MADE BY THESE THREE.
FIRST, THE TRUMAN INVOLVEMENT. WHEN THE FRENCH WENT TO WAR WITH HO CHI MINH IN 1945 TO RECLAIM
THEIR COLONIAL POSSESSIONS IN INDOCHINA AFTER THE DEFEAT OF JAPAN, PRESIDENT TRUMAN OPPOSED THEM, AND REFUSED TO AID THEM IN ANY WAY. BUT BY 1952 HIS ATTITUDE HAD CHANGED DRAMATICALLY. WHAT HAPPENED DURING THOSE SEVEN YEARS FROM 1945 TO 1952 TO CHANGE HIS ATTITUDE? AND PERHAPS THE SUPREME IRONY IS THAT THIS CHANGE IN ATTITUDE WAS UNRELATED TO EVENTS IN ASIA. IT WAS ALL ABOUT SOVIET EXPANSION IN EUROPE. SO LETS REVIEW THOSE SEVEN YEARS. THOSE OF YOU OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER MAY RECALL HOW TRUMAN FACED DOWN STALIN IN IRAN AND FORCED THE SOVIET WITHDRAWAL FROM THAT COUNTRY IN 1946. THAT SAME YEAR CAME CHURCHILL'S IRON CURTAIN SPEECH, AND KENNAN'S FAMOUS “LONG TELEGRAM” DEFINING A POLICY OF CONTAINING THE SOVIET UNION. IN 1947 CAME THE TRUMAN DOCTRINE TO SAVE GREECE AND TURKEY FROM SOVIET TAKEOVER. IN FEBRUARY 1948 CAME THE SHOCK OF THE SOVIET TAKEOVER OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA. THAT SUMMER CAME THE BLOCKADE OF BERLIN AND THE BERLIN AIRLIFT. IN 1949 NATO WAS FORMED AND THE CHINESE COMMUNISTS WON THE CHINESE CIVIL WAR. AND THE NEXT YEAR CAME THE KOREAN WAR. ALL OF THIS LED TRUMAN TO EXTEND THE CONTAINMENT POLICY IN EUROPE TO THE WHOLE WORLD, AND START THE CREATION OF THE ALLIANCE SYSTEM THAT WOULD ENCIRCLE ALL COMMUNIST STATES, INCLUDING SOUTHEAST ASIA. THUS, THE COMMUNIST MOVEMENT IN VIETNAM WAS REGARDED AS SIMPLY AN EXTENSION OF THE SOVIET LED EFFORT TO SPREAD THEIR IDEOLOGY. AND AT NO TIME WAS THERE A SHRED OF EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THIS THESIS. BUT ONCE STARTED, HOW COULD IT BE ENDED? IN SOME WAYS, THE TWENTY YEARS FROM THE FRENCH ATTEMPT AT RECONQUEST OF VIETNAM IN 1945 TO THE AMERICAN COMMITMENT OF GROUND TROOPS IN 1965 HAS AN EIRIE SIMILARITY TO JULY 1914 – THAT MONTH -LONG SLIDE INTO THE ABYSS OF WORLD WAR I IN EUROPE STRETCHED
TO THE AMERICAN TWENTY YEAR SLIDE INTO THE ABYSS OF VIETNAM. AFTER OUR TROOP COMMITMENT, IT CONTINUED FOR ANOTHER TEN YEARS, UNTIL 1975.
SO – HOW COULD IT BE ENDED? THIS BECAME THE FATE OF PRESIDENT NIXON, AND PERHAPS WAS A MAJOR FACTOR IN THE ULTIMATE DESTRUCTION OF HIS PRESIDENCY. SO, WHAT DECISIONS AND EVENTS SET THE STAGE FOR PRESIDENT NIXON'S APPROACH TO THE PROBLEM OF VIETNAM, AND MORE SPECIFICALLY, HOW TO CARRY OUR HIS CAMPAIGN PLEDGE TO GET US OUT OF THERE?
IN THE FIRST THREE MONTHS OF 1968, THREE HISTORIC EVENTS OCCURRED THAT SET THE STAGE FOR THE DECISIONS THAT LED TO THE TERMINATIION OF THE VIETNAM WAR.
THE FIRST OCCURRED IN LATE JANUARY, WHEN THE USS PUEBLO, AN INTELLIGENCE GATHERING SHIP OPERATING NEAR THE NORTH KOREAN COAST, AND LOADED WITH THE MOST HIGHLY CLASSIFIED EQUIPMENT, WAS SEIZED BY THE NORTH KOREANS AND HELD FOR A YEAR. OUR INTELLIGENCE GATHERING ABILITY WAS COMPROMISED AND IT TOOK YEARS TO REBUILD IT. BUT THE REAL SHOCK WAS THAT WITH ALL OUR POWER IN THE PACIFIC, THERE WAS NOT ONE, SINGLE AIR OR SEA ASSET THAT COULD GO TO THE RESCUE OF THE PUEBLO. WE WERE JUST THAT OVEREXTENDED. ONLY DAYS LATER THE TET OFFENSIVE BEGAN, AND ALTHOUGH IT WAS A MILITARY DEFEAT FOR THE VIETNAMESE COMMUNISTS, IT WAS A POLITICAL DEFEAT FOR THE UNITED STATES. AND FINALLY, ON 31 MARCH 1968 PRESIDENT JOHNSON WENT ON NATIONAL TELEVISION AND ANNOUNCED HE WOULD NOT RUN FOR REELECTION. IT WAS THESE THREE EVENTS THAT SET THE STAGE FOR THE ELECTION OF RICHARD NIXON AND SADDLED HIM WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR ENDING THE WAR, AND FOR MAKING THE DECISIONS NECESSARY TO ACHIEVE THAT GOAL..
NIXON AND HIS NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR, LATER, SECRETARY OF STATE – KISSINGER – THEIR GOAL WAS EXTRICATION FROM COMBAT, WITHDRAWAL OF OUR GROUND TROOPS, BRINGING OUR PRISONERS OF WAR HOME FROM HANOI, AND “PEACE WITH HONOR”. IN ADDITION, NIXON WAS FACED WITH THE CHALLENGE OF REBUILDING OUR RELATIONS WITH MOST OF THE WORLD, WHICH HAD BEEN SOURED BY JOHNSON'S HANG-UP IN VIETNAM– ESPECIALLY WITH CHINA AND THE USSR. (THIS MAY REMIND US OF THE CHALLENGE FACED BY PRESIDENT OBAMA TO REBUILD THE RELATIONSHIPS WRECKED BY THE BUSH POLICIES IN IRAQ) . NIXON BEGAN IN 1969, IMMEDIATELY AFTER HIS INAUGURATION, BY WITHDRAWING GROUND FORCES AT THE SAME TIME WE INCREASED AIR SUPPORT FOR THE SOUTH VIETNAMESE ARMY. BY 1971 WE HAD REDUCED AMERICAN GROUND FORCES TO THE POINT THAT THE PRESIDENT COULD DESIGNATE 1971 AS THE “YEAR OF VIETNAMIZATION”. I WENT BACK TO VIETNAM THAT SPRING FOR A FEW WEEKS WITH A GROUP OF NAVAL
OFFICERS PLANNING THE TRANSFER OF LOGISTIC AND TRANSPORTATION ASSETS TO THE VIETNAMESE NAVY. NIXON ORDERED THE AIR WAR EXTENDED TO CAMBODIA AND LAOS, AND ACTUALLY SENT TROOPS INTO CAMBODIA, LEADING TO KENT STATE. BUT NOTHING WORKED OUT AS PLANNED. LETS HOPE THE CURRENT WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ ENDS DIFFERENTLY.
BUT JUST AS EVENTS IN EUROPE LED TRUMAN TO ENTANGLE US IN VIETNAM, SO EVENTS ELSEWHERE LED THE VIETNAMESE TO RECOGNIZE THEY BETTER END THE WAR SOMEHOW. AND THESE EVENTS WERE NIXON'S SUCCESSFUL OPENING TO CHINA IN 1972, FOLLOWED BY HIS SUCCESS IN PURSUING THE RUSSIAN INTEREST IN DETENT. NIXON ORDERED THE ROUND THE CLOCK BOMBING OF HANOI AND HAIPHONG IN DECEMBER 1972 AT THE SAME TIME HE WAS IN MOSCOW SIGNING AN ARMS LIMITATION TREATY. THUS, THE VIETNAMESE FEARED THEY WERE ABOUT TO BE ABANDONED BY THEIR TWO MAJOR SUPPORTERS, AND IN JANUARY 1973 AN ACCORD WAS REACHED. AND SO THE WAR WAS ENDED BY DECISIONS MADE BY NIXON AND BRESHNEV AND MAO, WITHOUT REFERENCE TO HO CHI MINH OR TO THE EVOLVING SITUATION ON THE GROUND IN VIETNAM.

SO NOW WE MOVE ON – TO OTHER PEOPLE'S WARS. TO SOUTH ASIA. THE TITLE OF CHAPTER FIVE OF DR. STOESSINGER'S BOOK IS: “FOUR BATTLES OVER GOD.” HE CONTINUES – THE MOST SAVAGE RELIGIOUS WAR IN HISTORY WAS NEITHER THE CHRISTIAN CRUSADES AGAINST ISLAM NOR THE THIRTY YEARS WAR THAT PITTED CATHOLIC AGAINST PROTESTANT. IT WAS THE WAR OF HINDU AGAINST MOSLEM IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. TO PUT THIS IN PERSPECTIVE – ONE HISTORIAN I READ ESTIMATED THAT THE THIRTY YEARS WAR SET BACK THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT OF GERMANY BY ABOUT 100 YEARS. WHAT PRICE HAVE INDIA AND PAKISTAN PAID FOR SEVEN DECADES OF MUTUAL HOSTILITY AND MINDLESS HATRED?
INDIA AND PAKISTAN FOUGHT FOUR WARS IN 1947, 1965, 1971, AND 1998. I WILL TALK ABOUT THE SECOND ONE, 1965, BECAUSE THERE IS NOT TIME TO DISCUSS ALL OF THEM, AND BECAUSE THE ISSUES DIVIDING THE TWO COUNTRIES IN THE 1965 WAR ARE PRETTY MUCH REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ISSUES IN ALL OF THEM.
FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND. WHEN THE BRITISH WITHDREW FROM INDIA IN 1947 AND GRANTED INDEPENDENCE, THE COUNTRY IMMEDIATELY DIVIDED INTO TWO COUNTRIES: INDIA AND PAKISTAN. THOSE PRINCELY STATES THAT WERE NOT UNDER DIRECT BRITISH RULE WERE GIVEN A CHOICE OF ADHERING TO EITHER COUNTRY, OR GAINING INDEPENDENCE. ONE OF THOSE STATES WAS KASHMIR. AT THE TIME OF INDEPENDENCE THE RULER OF KASHMIR WAS A HINDU, BUT THE POPULATION WAS ABOUT THREE QUARTERS MOSLEM. THE RULER CHOSE TO JOIN INDIA. THIS SET THE STAGE FOR THE RECURRING CONFLICT WHICH CONTINUES TO THIS DAY.
SO, WHAT EVENTS OR DECISIONS BROUGHT THEM INTO CONFLICT IN 1965? IN THE FALL OF 1962 – WHILE WE AMERICANS WERE DISTRACTED BY OUR CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS – A SHORT, VIOLENT BORDER WAR BROKE OUT BETWEEN INDIA AND CHINA IN THE DESOLATE, FROZEN MOUNTAINS WHERE THEIR BOUNDARIES MEET. THE INDIANS SUFFERED A SHARP DEFEAT. IN 1965 A BRIEF CONFLICT BROKE OUT BETWEEN INDIA AND
PAKISTAN, AND THE INDIANS WERE AGAIN DEFEATED. THESE DEFEATS ENCOURAGED THE PAKISTANI LEADER A THAT TIME, A GENERAL AYUB KHAN, TO BELIEVE THAT NOW WAS THE TIME TAKE OVER KASHMIR. HE INVADED KASHMIR WITH 90 PATTON TANKS AND ALL THE NECESSARY SUPPORTING TROOPS AND EQUIPMENT, BUT THE INDIANS HELD THE LINE, AND IN A FEWS WEEKS OF VICIOUS FIGHTING, FOUGHT THE PAKISTANIS TO A STANDSTILL, AND IN DUE COURSE FORCED THEM FROM KASHMIR. THE WAR ENDED WHEN THE SOVIET PREMIER, ALEKSEI KOSYGIN, BROUGHT BOTH COUNTRIES TO A PEACE CONFERENCE IN TASHKENT AND ENDED THE CONFLICT.
SO HERE WE HAVE AN IMPROBABLE SCENARIO: A RELIGIOUS CONFLICT STEMMING FROM THE OVERCONFIDENCE OF A PAKISTANI GENERAL, ENDED BY THE RESILIANCE OF A HINDU ARMY AND FINALLY SETTLED BY AN ATHEIST POLITICIAN. FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO BELIEVE IN DIVINE PROVIDENCE, WHAT DO YOU SUPPOSE GOD WAS THINKING ABOUT ALL THIS?
NEXT I WILL ADDRESS WHAT THE AUTHOR TITLED: “THE FIFTY YEARS' WAR IN THE HOLY LAND: ISRAEL AND THE ARABS. AND AS THE AUTHOR PUTS IT: “HISTORICAL TRAGEDIES DO NOT ARISE FROM ENCOUNTERS IN WHICH RIGHT CLASHES WITH WRONG. RATHER, THEY OCCUR WHEN RIGHT CLASHES WITH RIGHT.”
SO, RATHER THAN FOCUS ON A SINGLE DECISION AND DECISION MAKER, I WILL REVIEW DECISIONS OVER TIME THAT SET THE STAGE FOR THE ARAB AND ISRAELI WARS. AND AS YOU WILL SEE, AGAIN, SO MANY DECISIONS ARE TAKEN OUTSIDE THE AREA IN QUESTION, AND FOR REASONS OFTEN UNRELATED TO EVENTS IN THE CONTESTED AREA.
BY THE THE END OF WORLD WAR I THE JEWS HAD PURCHASED AND SETTLED ON OVER 100,000 ACRES OF PALESTINIAN LAND. AT THE SAME TIME, THE BRITISH HAD DRIVEN THE OTTOMAN TURKS OUT OF PALESTINE AND WOULD SHORTLY RECEIVE A LEAGUE OF NATIONS MANDATE TO GOVERN THE AREA. THE LEADERS OF THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT PRESSURED THE BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY AT THAT TIME – LORD ARTHUR JAMES BALFOUR – TO ISSUE A PLEDGE TO SUPPORT THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A JEWISH STATE IN PALESTINE. ACCORDINGLY, THE BALFOUR DECLARATION WAS ISSUED IN 1917.
I WANT TO READ IT IN ITS ENTIRETY. IT IS ONLY ONE, LONG, AMBIGUOUS, SENTENCE THAT BEAUTIFULLY ILLUSTRATES THE IDEA MENTIONED A MOMENT AGO ABOUT RIGHT CLASHING WITH RIGHT.
“HIS MAJESTY'S GOVERNMENT VIEWS WITH FAVOR THE ESTABLISHMENT IN PALESTINE OF A NATIONAL HOME FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE, AND WILL USE THEIR BEST ENDEAVORS TO FACILITATE THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THIS OBJECT, IT BEING CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD THAT NOTHING SHALL BE DONE WHICH MAY PREJUDICE THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF EXISTING NON-JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN PALESTINE, OR THE RIGHTS AND POLITICAL STATUS ENJOYED BY JEWS IN ANY OTHER COUNTRY.” THIS DECISION SET THE STAGE FOR THE JEWISH EXPECTATION THAT THEY WOULD ONE DAY HAVE A STATE OF THEIR OWN IN PALESTINE.
THE SECOND DECISION OCCURRED IN 1947 WHEN THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT CAME TO THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT AND TOLD US THAT THEY COULD NO LONGER AFFORD TO SUPPORT GREECE AND TURKEY IN THEIR RESISTANCE TO A COMMUNIST TAKEOVER, AND FURTHERMORE, THAT THEY WOULD WITHDRAW THEIR FORCES FROM PALESTINE IN MAY 1948 AND RETURN THEIR MANDATE TO THE UNITED NATIONS. PRESIDENT TRUMAN PROMPTLY ACCEPTED RESPONSIBILITY FOR GREECE AND TURKEY. BUT HE RESISTED SUPPORTING THE JEWS IN PALESTINE, AND FOR GOOD REASON. THE MARSHALL PLAN TO REBUILD EUROPE WAS JUST GETTING UNDERWAY, AND MIDEAST OIL WAS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO ACHIEVE THIS PURPOSE. ANYTHING THAT CREATED CONFLICT WITH THE ARAB STATES MIGHT WRECK HE MARSHALL PLAN. IN DESPERATION, THE JEWISH LEADERS CALLED ON TRUMAN'S OLD BUSINESS PARTNER – EDDIE JACOBSON – TO INTERVENE WITH THE PRESIDENT. JACOBSON MET WITH THE PRESIDENT, AND ACCORDING TO ONE ACCOUNT, PRESIDENT TRUMAN, AFTER A LONG SILENCE, LOOKED JACOBSON STRAIGHT IN THE EYE AND SAID: “YOU WIN, YOU BALDHEADED SON-OF-A-BITCH.” TRUMAN MET WITH DR.
WEIZMANN, THE ZIONIST LEADER AT THAT TIME, AND PROMISED THE JEWISH LEADER THAT HE WOULD WORK FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT AND RECOGNITION OF A JEWISH STATE.”
THE NEXT DECISION WAS BY THE ARAB STATES. THE U.N. HAD APPROVED A PLAN TO PARTITION PALESTINE INTO TWO STATES, WITH JERUSELUM UNDER A U.N. TRUSTEESHIP. THE JEWS ACCEPTED; THE ARAB STATES ALL REJECTED. THIS MEANT WAR, WHICH BROKE OUT ON THE DAY THE BRITISH MANDATE ENDED – MAY 14, 1948.
SO YOU SEE – IT TOOK FOUR DECISIONS TO START THE 1948 WAR: FIRST, THE BALFOUR DECLARATION THAT GAVE THE JEWS HOPES OF A NATIONAL HOME; SECOND, THE DECISION BY AN IMPOVERISHED BRITISH EMPIRE TO GIVE UP ITS MANDATE OVER PALESTINE AND WITHDRAW ITS FORCES FROM THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN; THIRD, A DECISION BY AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT TO FILL THIS VOID AND SUPPORT THE CREATION OF A JEWISH STATE; AND FOURTH; A DECISION BY THE ARAB STATES TO REJECT THE UNITED NATIONS PARTITION PLAN.
THERE WERE THREE MORE ARAB/ISRAELI WARS AND MANY OTHER SKIRMISHES AND CAMPAIGNS, BUT I WILL ONLY TALK ABOUT ONE MORE: THE 1956 SINAI CAMPAIGN AND THE SUEZ CRISIS OF THAT YEAR, BECAUSE IT ILLUSTRATES JUST HOW COMPLICATED AND DIFFICULT THINGS CAN GET FOR THE UNITED STATES. IN 1952 GAMEL ABDUL NASSER BECAME PRESIDENT OF EGYPT AND IN DUE COURSE, BLOCKED ISRAELI ACCESS TO THE SUEZ CANAL. THIS VIOLATED THE INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION THAT GUARANTEED FREE ACCESS TO THE CANAL BY THE SHIPS OF ALL NATIONS. LATER HE NATIONALIZED THE CANAL AND SEIZED THE PROPERTY. THE BRITISH AND FRENCH, WHO OWNED THE CANAL, SENT IN FORCES TO RECLAIM THE CANAL. THE ISRAELIES, SEEING AN OPPORTUNITY TO HURT THEIR ARAB ENEMIES, JOINED THE CAMPAIGN
AND SEIZED THE SINAI. AT THE SAME TIME, THE HUNGARIANS REVOLTED AGAINST THEIR SOVIET MASTERS, AND THE RED ARMY SENT IN THE TANKS. IF PRESIDENT EISENHOWER CAME TO THE AID OF HIS BRITISH AND FRENCH NATO ALLIES, HE WOULD APPEAR TO BE DOING TO THE EGYPTIANS WHAT THE RUSSIANS WERE DOING TO THE HUNGARIANS. TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT, HE ORDERED THE BRITISH, FRENCH AND ISRAELIS TO GET OUT OF EGYPT, WHICH THEY DID, AND SENT IN A U.N. PEACE FORCE TO PATROL THE BORDER BETWEEN EGYPT AND ISRAEL.
AND SO, ONCE AGAIN, THE OUTCOMES ON THE GROUND IN THE MIDDLE EAST WERE DICTATED BY EVENTS FAR AFIELD – BY AMERICAN REACTION TO AN UNRELATED BUT COINCIDENTAL SOVIET ACTION IN HUNGARY.
AS A PERSONAL ASIDE, TWO YEARS LATER, IN 1958, I WAS SUPPLY OFFICER ON AN LST IN THE SIXTH FLEET. WE ENTERED VALETTA HARBOR IN MALTA ONE DAY AND PASSED A BRITISH TROOP TRANSPORT TIED UP TO A WHARF, WITH HUNDREDS OF TROOPS STANDING ALONG THE RAILS. THEY BOOED US AS LONG WE WERE WITHIN EARSHOT. THE BRITISH WERE STILL STUNG BY OUR FAILURE TO BACK THEM AT SUEZ TWO YEARS EARLIER.

I COULD GO ON AND ON ABOUT OTHER RECENT WARS – SADAM HUSSEIN'S WARS WITH IRAN AND KUWAIT, AND THE WARS THAT TERMINATED THE EXISTENCE OF YUGOSLAVIA. BUT TIME DOES NOT PERMIT. SUFFICE IT TO SAY – THEY WERE, AS WERE ALL THE CASES I HAVE DISCUSSED, LARGELY THE RESULT OF LEADERS MISUNDERSTANDING THE INTENTIONS AND THE CAPABILITIES OF THEIR OPPOSITION.
DR. STOESSINGER DESCRIBES AMERICAN PRESIDENTS AS BEING ONE OF TWO PERSONALITY TYPES: CRUSADERS AND PRAGMATISTS. THE PUREST CRUSADER WAS WOODROW WILSON. THE PUREST PRAGMATIST WAS JOHN KENNEDY. PRESIDENT BUSH STARTED OUT AS A PRAGMATIST AND ENDED AS A CRUSADER.
TO GIVE YOU SOME IDEA OF A CRUSADER IN ACTION – WHEN WILSON ARRIVED IN PARIS IN 1919, HERE IS WHAT HE SAID TO THE ASTOUNDED EUROPEAN DIPLOMATS:
“WHY HAS JESUS CHRIST SO FAR NOT SUCCEEDED IN INDUCING THE WORLD TO FOLLOW HIS TEACHINGS IN THESE MATTERS? IT IS BECAUSE HE TAUGHT THE IDEAL WITHOUT DEVISING ANY PRACTICAL MEANS FOR ATTAINING IT. THAT IS WHY I AM PROPOSING A PRACTICAL SCHEME TO CARRY OUT HIS AIMS.”
COMPARE THIS TO PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S THOUGHTFUL AND MEASURED ANALISYS OF SOVIET INTENTIONS AND CAPABILITIES, AND HIS THOUGHTFUL AND MEASURED RESPONSE TO THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS. A PRAGMATIST ALL THE WAY.
PRESIDENT – BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN -- BUSH'S RESPONSE TO 9/11 WAS MUCH MORE LIKE WILSON THAN LIKE KENNEDY. TO ILLUSTRATE THIS POINT, I WILL NOW READ AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK “AGAINST ALL ENEMIES” BY RICHARD CLARKE, ANTI-TERROISM CZAR UNDER CLINTON AND BOTH BUSHES.
:LATER ON IN THE EVENING OF THE 12TH OF SEPTEMBER 2001, I LEFT THE VIDEO CONFERENCING CENTER IN THE WHITE HOUSE, AND THERE, WANDERING ALONE AROUND THE SITUATION ROOM, WAS THE PRESIDENT. HE LOOKED LIKE HE WANTED SOMETHING TO DO. “LOOK”, HE TOLD US, 'I KNOW YOU HAVE A LOT TO DO AND ALL …. BUT I WANT YOU, AS SOON AS YOU CAN, TO GO BACK OVER EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING. SEE IF SADDAM DID THIS. SEE IF HE'S LINKED IN ANY WAY....'.
I WAS TAKEN ABACK, INCREDULOUS, AND IT SHOWED. 'BUT MR. PRESIDENT, AL-QAIDA DID THIS.' ' I KNOW, I KNOW, BUT …. SEE IF SADDAM WAS INVOLVED. JUST LOOK. I WANT TO KNOW ANY SHRED.' 'ABSOLUTELY, WE WILL LOOK AGAIN.' 'LOOK INTO IRAQ, SADDAM. THE PRESIDENT SAID TESTILY AND LEFT US.”
DOES THAT SOUND LIKE A MAN WHO WANTS TO START A CRUSADE? DOES THAT SOUND LIKE A MAN WHO IS ABOUT TO ANSWER THE QUESTION: WHY DO NATIONS GO TO WAR?
AND WITH THAT LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – I YIELD THE FLOOR.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Are Humans Fit for Civilization? By Thomas H. Thompson

For the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Supper Club
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Are Humans Fit for Civilization?
By Thomas H. Thompson

INTRODUCTION

I begin tonight with an explanation and an apology, followed by an abstract of the remainder of this address.
My university education was conducted in an atmosphere suspicious of metaphysics, redolent of logical positivism and dedicated to small-scale analysis—analysis which foreswore speculative imagination.
In an Oedipal way I am currently in rebellion against these strictures. This paper is an example of my attraction to highly speculative questions about the human condition and its future. I must apologize for the lack of hard facts and the presence of a certain amount of vagueness in the conceptual basis of my speculative journey. I also must warn you that in treating my source materials, I have not striven for completeness or even for total accuracy. Instead, I have harvested what I need for my purposes from certain celebrated authors.

ABSTRACT
This paper asks the question whether humans are by their very nature adaptable to the demands of civilized life. My account is inspired by Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, but I will leave mention of Freud to the end. I begin by assessing Christianity’s relation to civilization, then move on to Hobbes’ Leviathan, to Locke’s Second Treatise, to Marx’s Manifesto, then on to Freud. But the conclusions I draw, admittedly inspired by the examples cited, will be mine alone.
And, before proceeding, I will specify what I mean by “civilization.” Before humans were civilized, they lived in migratory groups, hunting and gathering. With the coming of the Neolithic Revolution, agriculture introduced a division of labor that made food production the task of farmers and permitted city life with a leisured class of rulers and priests, private property, and the origins of art and culture. Such developed civilizations eventually resulted in the Greek city states, the Hellenistic world and Rome. But my use of “civilization” will contain a normative component. I propose to commit to the full meaning of “civilization” only when that social grouping is rational. What I intend by “rational” will be developed as I go along.

CHRISTIANITY
From the viewpoint of one major Christian tradition, man is fallen, tainted with original sin and quite incapable of ridding himself of this terrible moral disease by his own efforts. The only route to salvation is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and, subsequently, the faith of the tainted human in Christ as savior. The result is everlasting life for the faithful or possibly a second coming and the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In any event, this ordinary world is transcended, left behind in its sorry and bloody state to fend for itself. I conclude that Christianity, whatever its promise for the community of faith, has no basis for dealing with my question of the fitness of humans to civilization. Except, I suppose, to say that my question is irrelevant to the more important question of the ultimate and eternal destination of the faithful human.
Hobbes’ Leviathan
Now I skip to mid-17th century and look at Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Hobbes’ point of view was influenced by the experience of the English civil wars, leading him to believe that anything less than an absolute government with no chance of rebellion was the only way to ensure a peaceful human existence.
Famously, then, Hobbes asks us to contemplate the life of humans in a state of nature—a condition, that is, with humans living without government. Given the nature of untrammeled human desires interacting, such a state must be a state of war—a war of all against all. And the “life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
The result is that humans will submit themselves to some form of absolute political power to escape the ruinous and dangerous implications of the state of nature. Any deviation from absolutism threatens a resumption of civil war which is worse than the dictates of any absolute political authority.
Now, to depart from Hobbes for a moment, consider that is it plausibly contended that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And is it all that clear that humans, in a state of nature, are psychological egoists—lashing out uncontrollably with selfish desires?
Locke’s Second Treatise
Moving now to the latter part of the 17th century, we encounter a view of the state of nature vastly different from Hobbes. John Locke, inspired by the Glorious Revolution that brought William and Mary to the English throne, sees humans in a state of nature living quite peacefully in the absence of government. Instead of those selfish Hobbsians, Locke’s humans are rational and they are acquainted with a law of nature. However, the state of nature has certain “inconveniences.” When humans must judge in their own case, they are likely to misapply the law of nature and thus injustices can occur. So, in order to take care of those inconveniences, humans contract to establish a common judge, a government. That government rests on the consent of the governed. Locke’s notion of representative government was a strong influence on both the French and the American revolutions.
Government also exists to protect private property. One might think that private property introduces unjust inequalities, but Locke determines that property is made private by mixing one’s labor with the land. And, since he believes there is as much and as good common property left to be entitled, there is no inequality. Locke saw America as a vast territory, practically uninhabited, open for exploitation. (The world nowadays is somewhat different.) If government oversteps its authority, the people have the right to revolt and dissolve the tyranny. Some of you will remember that Thomas Jefferson copied Locke in this respect.

Karl Marx, Manifesto
You will recall that Marx started out by turning Hegel on his head and adopting materialism as the basis of society. Believing in a labor theory of value, Marx declared that the bourgeoisie relentlessly exploited the proletariat. For the workers created all the value in a product, while the owners simply paid sustenance and stole the rest as profit. Once the local markets were exhausted, the greed of the bourgeosie drove them to expand their search for ever more profit to the whole world. Hence, the Communist International. With the help of an elite of intellectuals, a revolution finally displaces the oppressors and a dictatorship of the proletariat is established. Its purpose is to destroy the last remnants of middle class oppression. Once that happens, the state withers away and a classless society, free of all oppression emerges. History comes to a stop; all contradictions have been resolved.
Note that Marx is a thorough-going Enlightenment fundamentalist. Humans are perfectly rational once freed. In this he agrees with Locke—though he never mention’s Locke’s “inconveniences.” Marx’s end-point is a purified Lockean state of nature. A kind of utopia realized.
Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
Freud, as it were, takes something from Locke and Marx and something from Hobbes and blends these incompatible motives.
Eros and Thanatos are in competition within us. They merge. They interact. Take, for example, the closeness between soldiers, brothers-in-arms, fighting to kill and bonded to each other by affection. The Spartan warriors had homosexual connections which, presumably, made them really excellent warriors. (Hmm—Don’t ask and don’t tell?)
One can speculate that aggression and bonding are carried in our DNA. We are, after all, the product of eons of evolution in which the merger of aggression and cooperation made for survival.
On the dark side of our nature, I ask you to recall the myth of Aryan superiority that good Germans believed and which eventuated in the Holocaust. But “Aryan” is not a race; it’s a language. And the myth of so-called Aryan superiority is sufficiently dispelled by the examples of Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein, both very superior, both Jewish.
So, finally, I accept Freud’s description of the motives at war within us. A war which leaves us with the problem of adapting imperfect humans to the demands of civilization.
I propose a scheme of global governance for that adaptation.

Global Governance for the 21st century
The world is a far different place than it was in 1815 when the Congress of Vienna produced the dominance of the nation-state. In Tom Friedman’s words, the world is hot, flat and crowded. Civilization must be based on a global polity wherein the influence of the nation-state has been superceded as the following examples will illustrate:
• Nation states will become states within a world civilization, similar to the position of states within the United States.
• The constitution of the United States of the World will be adapted from the U. S. constitution, based on the principles of the 18th century Enlightenment.
• National standing armies are dissolved as the shift to global governance takes place.
• The Supreme Court of the World is empowered to make decisions on disputes within states and to enforce those decisions as necessary.
• Problems not solvable by nation-states, will be addressed by global governance: E. g., cap-and trade and the end of dependence on fossil fuels, which, in turn, will address the problem of climate change. Global governance will enforce zero nuclear and biological weaponry. Global governance will have a policy to deal with water scarcity and disputes over access.
• Relations between nation-states breed war, seemingly unceasingly. Testosterone-driven male rulers have made a sorry mess of statecraft. Global governance will set a goal of fifty percent of government leaders to be composed of women.
• Global democracy will be carried out by voting utilizing the most advanced information technology. The franchise will be restricted to those world citizens who qualify as politically literate.
Conclusion
While global governance will help to make humans more fit for civilization, it will not achieve perfection. Aggression will have to be repressed; the unhappiness and frustration that is the result has to be endured. Perhaps, as William James proposed, we can find some better substitutes for war.
Thus, my answer to the question posed by this address is: Yes, humans are fit for civilization, but the fit is not perfect. Global governance will have before it the task of continually adjusting its domain to the skittish personality of the human being.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hollowing out the Middle

Hollowing out the Middle: Causes and Consequences
Supper Club
Mike Dargan
April 20, 2010

The rural areas of the Midwest are losing population. Between 2000 and 2008, Iowa's rural counties declined by 4.2% while urban counties rose 8.5%. The state as a whole grew to just over 3 million for the first time, but our size and consequence relative the other United States continues to plummet. In 1930 Iowa boasted 11 seats in the U.S. Congress. We now have five. It appears that we will be down to 4 in 2012.

A disproportionate portion of this decline is occurring among young adults. The best and the brightest are packing up their childbearing potential and heading for the big cities, either in or out of the state. This phenomenon began with the transition from an agricultural to manufacturing society, and has been accelerating as we move from the industrial age to the information age.

Iowa is growing slowly, getting older, and losing political, economic, and social influence.

Frank and Debra Popper argued in their 1987 article, The Buffalo Commons as Regional Metaphor and Geographic Method, that rather than persisting in attempts to civilize the Great Plains--the primary result of which has been predictable boom and bust cycles, it would be wiser to restore the plaines to their natural state; in other words, let nature take its course. The Popper's metaphor was scorned by the plaines men and praised by environmentalists.

Twenty-three years later, the Poppers' figurative language is well on its way to becoming a literal reality: Nature is taking its course; the rural population of the Midwest and Great Plains continues to dwindle despite attempts to slow the trend. It appears that that the depopulation will continue. Adequate rainfall for crops on the Great Plaines is unreliable and the cost of irrigation is growing. In the Midwest, manufacturing jobs are rapidly evaporating. Communication is difficult in rural areas and the remaining population becomes ever more hostile to change as each generation grows older.

Sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas examine this issue in last year's non-fiction best seller, Hollowing out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America. The assertions, conclusions, and solutions of Carr and Kefalas provide the basis for this evening's talk.

Carr and Kefalas's study of Ellis (er, Sumner), Iowa was part of a larger research project: The Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, conceived by Frank Furstenburg and funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The initial project design called for interviews of young adults from metropolitan areas in the vicinity of New York, San Diego, Detroit, and Minneapolis/St. Paul, in an attempt to discover how they make decisions on education and occupations as well as where they're going to live, work, and raise families. Late in the design of the project, Furstenburg felt that young adults from non-metropolitan areas should also be examined; after all, they do account for about 20% of the population.


They decided that they wanted to study a town somewhere, out there, in the "middle." Not near to a big city, or ocean, but maybe in a "red" state; with lots of bible beaters! At first they were stumped. Their normal interaction with such states was limited to glimpses of itsy bitsy square patches under the clouds from 35,000 feet at 600 miles per hour. Luckily, they didn't have to break out the darts: One of the researchers, Carr, recalled meeting a small town Iowa native who was a fellow exchange student in Dublin, Ireland back in the 1980s. They decided that her town, Ellis, (Sumner) 15 miles from the nearest MacDonald's, 40 miles from WalMart, and 80 miles from Starbucks, would do just fine.

With their location settled, Carr and Kefalas set forth on their adventure to gather data about the natives that they would then subject to "qualitative" analysis. While they felt the need to be close to the townies, these gownies were not about to "go native." Carr and Kefalas, being associate professors armed with grant money, rented a house and got down to doing interviews.

After a series of interviews with local political leaders, educators, and the young people who had recently graduated, or should have graduated from Sumner High School, they divided the young adults into four categories:

The Achievers--those who are driven to succeed and are also praised for their talent and achievements. They get high ACT scores, earn prestigious college degrees, and must live elsewhere because Ellis doesn't have the infrastructure necessary to provide them with meaningful employment. They rarely return, except for visits. The city is very proud of its achievers and allocates substantial resources to support them. The very best go to the "Crown Jewels" of Iowa's Regents' Institutions: the University of Iowa or Iowa State University.

The less accomplished Achievers may attend one of many private colleges or a second tier university, such as the University of Northern Iowa or Upper Iowa University. In any case, only about 1 in 7 of Ellis's residents holds a bachelor's degree or better. Most likely they are school teachers or health care professionals. And, we all know that declining enrollment begets consolidation which provides even fewer opportunities for degreed professionals.

The result? A town with dwindling opportunities for college graduates pushes its best and brightest off to college and subsequent employment elsewhere.

Carr and Kefalas also identify the Stayers: those who think that Ellis is "good enough," and don't want to leave their homes and families. They see Ellis as a great place to raise children, but self limit their own economic and social potential by not acquiring the education necessary to be employable beyond factory and service sector jobs. Their narrow skill set leaves them one plant closure from economic and social disaster.

The Stayers are identified early on as less worthy of support by the larger community. They tend to have less access to the four-year schools. When they do attend colleges or universities, they are less likely to succeed. Often, they take advantage of the nearby community colleges where they may earn associate degrees that lead to careers as CNAs, dental hygienists, welders, or other trade-like occupations. Carr and Kefalas note the irony: Substantial community resources are devoted to supporting people who will go away and never come back. On the other hand, at best, the Stayers get meager educational support, and at worst, indifference from the community.

Yet another self-defeating aspect of the Stayer class is their tendency to pursue work while in school so that they might acquire symbols of adulthood: cars, motorcycles, guns, clothing, etc. The Stayers are often admired for their hard work and diligence, while the opportunity cost is ignored: Hours spent working in the convenience store, or at the feed mill, are hours not devoted to classwork and extra-curricular activities that could lead the Stayers to higher paying careers. The hard working Stayers may be first out of the gate, but the Achievers catch them at the turn and run away on the back stretch. The Achievers are clearly better able to defer immediate, superficial, gratification in anticipation of greater long term rewards. Stayers, on the other hand, are admired for self-limiting behavior.

When the Ellis school board and administrators were confronted with this assertion, rather than disagree, the high school principal replied that "that this is what we set out to do."

Next, are the Seekers--As Carr and Kefalas put it, "What the Seekers know, with the utmost certainty, is that they do not want to stay in the countryside all of their lives." Like achievers, the Seekers know that they want to get the hell out of Ellis. However, like the Stayers, Seekers have missed out on the educational opportunities that would make life on the outside viable.

As a result, the Seekers are easy prey for military recruiters. An 18 year-old high school senior, contemplating life as a waitress or a gut puller at the local slaughterhouse, is extremely vulnerable to trim, articulate, and well-dressed recruiters armed with videos and pamphlets promising excitement, travel, employment, money, and something that the community of Ellis has denied them: educational opportunites both during and after their hitch.

Next in the Carr/Kefalas taxonomy are the Returners: The Returners may be either Achievers or Seekers, but in either case, they are willing to forgo greater career opportunities elsewhere in exchange for the familiar comfort of living in their home town.

Examples of returners may include a few health care professionals, but there's a reason why 60% of Iowa's counties are short of doctors: It's hard to pay off a half million in student loans treating diabetic geezers on Medicare. Other returners might be people who can telecommute, but broadband Internet access is spotty in the hinterlands. Air travel opportunities are sparse. (On the other hand, Iowa's farm-to-market blacktops are a bicyclist's paradise!)

In any case, Achievers who choose to return typically forgo a higher standard of living, as well as urban amenities, for the familiarity of rural Iowa.

Some returners are female Seekers, wanting to marry high school sweethearts and raise families in their home town. However, those sweethearts are likely to be poorly skilled blue collar workers whose economic prospects grow dimmer with each passing year.

The primary purpose of the Carr and Kefalas's project was to describe the decision making processes of Sumner's youngsters. However, as Carr and Kefalas observed what was happening in Ellis, and realized that the town was emblematic of rural decline across rural America, they became horrified by the enormity of the implications of the demographic shift to an older, poorer, less well-educated, and less fertile population and were thus moved to write Hollowing out the Middle.

What difference does the rural brain-drain make? Why should we care? According to Carr and Kefalas's interviews with rural Iowans concerned about the decline of rural America, and seeking solutions, we should care because much of the nation's natural resources and the world's food comes from this region and this alone should be reason to devote resources to reversing the trend towards depopulation.


In fact, if we've learned anything from the past 100 years or so of agricultural progress, fewer people can grow more as mechanization and science supplant physical labor. For most individuals, moving to town means moving up in life.

Carr and Kefalas's research also yields claims by locals that alternative forms of energy and food production are waves of the future and that Midwestern farms are "ground zero" for rolling out the green economy and sustainable agriculture. Once again, a non-sequitur. Alternative forms of energy, especially biomass based, are not now, nor will they be in the future, economically viable solutions to either national energy needs or to rural depopulation. And, even if they were viable, neither solution will be based on masses of human labor. The economics of gathering biomass and transforming it into usable energy are problematic.


[mention the futility of bio-diesel and wind energy without huge subsidies]

Carr and Kefalas's subjects note that rural America has a "historical centrality" that is essential to the health of the nation, and that manufacturing might come back and if it does, "thousands of small towns could, with the right policies in place, once again thrum with success."

I don't think so.

During the industrial age, location and physical communications, like seaports, trains, canals, highways, mattered a lot. In the information age, adding value to data and moving it rapidly from place to place is what counts. High speed electronic communication allows us to effectively transcend time and space. Iowa, with its antique telecommunications infrastructure is lagging behind the nation in Internet access and future looks bleak. Don't believe me? Pull out your iPhone and look for your 3G access. Good luck!

Carr and Kefalas also claim that losing the Midwest would be as problematic as losing the South to rebellion in the mid 19th Century. As we approach the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, counter factual historians are not certain that the war was worth fighting. Before we sink vast treasure into saving those who will not help themselves, let's think it over.


Not satisfied with the arguments of the locals, Carr and Kefalas take a stab at explaining why national policy should be applied to save rural America. "[rural depopulation should be prevented] because we (Carr and Kefalas) believe that there are more than quaint postcard images of sepia-toned Main Streets at stake. We should care because the Heartland is the place that helps elect our Presidents--who would doubt the centrality of winning in Iowa for Barack Obama's campaign?--and it is the place that sends more than it's fair share of young men and women to fight for this country. The future of many towns that give the Heartland its shape and its sinews is of vital importance, and we believe that ignoring their hollowing out will be detrimental in the short and long terms."

I'm no better at counter factual history than I am at sociology, but who is to say that President Hillary Clinton wouldn't have been as good, or even better, than President Obama? Can we be certain that farm boys from Iowa make better cannon fodder than the boys from the ghettos or barrios? Maybe. Maybe not.

Carr and Kefalas do not share my indifference towards the end of the rural American culture. What they perceive as an oncoming disaster, I see as evolution. However, they see a problem and they want to fix it. Their solution? Small towns should take steps to foster the return of the creative class: Engineers, business owners, scientists, designers, artists, and, no doubt, sociologists. Making the Ellis's of the Midwest attractive to the creative class is easier said that done. Bike trails, fancy libraries, parks, latte bars, and DSL (seriously? Why not 4G?) are a start, but hardly enough to attract the critical mass of creative people necessary to sustain Ellis or any other small town.


Carr and Kefalas note that rural America is suffering from the effects of globalization. In order to survive, small towns must take steps to compete on a global scale. Obvious steps include getting rural America high speed Internet access and changing educational practices to exploit the possibilities of moving information long distances at high speed. In other words, human capital investment into the Stayers and Returners, namely bio-tech and digital, is the best bet for long term viability.

Maybe so, but recall that Ellis's high school principal was quite candid about where the resources were going: to the best and the brightest who would leave town at the earliest opportunity. Left unsaid was the huge disparity in resource allocation to different generations. Keeping a young person in a typical Iowa public school costs about $7-10,000 / year. When the elderly go on Social Security and Medicare, their actuarial burden on the government is estimated at around $25,000/year for the 17 or so years of remaining life. Any attempt to throttle growth in entitlement spending risks contact with the "third rail."

Meanwhile, we resent high property taxes to support schools and services to young people, who might actually derive some benefit for themselves and society.

If you drive down the main drag of Ellis you'll see a fabulous hospital, lovely, $6,000/month nursing homes, and schools that are starved of resources. What would Ellis look like if at birth, society were to allocate $25,000 a year toward that child's development through age 17? Would Ellis become a more attractive place for young parents?

We're getting what we're paying for: Vast numbers of elderly people consuming huge allocations of public treasure. Richard Lamm's suggestion that the elderly have "a duty to die" went too far and I'm not suggesting that we start bumping off geezers who seem to be circling the drain. However, if we pay people to grow old and dependent, why should we be amazed when that's what we do?

By the same token, if we ignore children in their developing years, why should we be amazed when they turn out badly?

If we do want to save Ellis from demographic oblivion, wouldn't it make some sense to expend the same effort on behalf of the dependent young as we do on the elderly?

I've said my piece, and I've asked asked my question. Now, it's your turn.


A "Tree View" Revisted: Loree Rackstraw

A “TREE VIEW” REVISITED:

SPECULATIONS ON THE FUTURE OF LIFE ON EARTH

Supper Club Speech

March 23, 2010

Pulitzer Prize winning author, Marilynne Robinson, recently observed that “Nothing could be more miraculous than that we have a consciousness that makes the world intelligible to us and we are moved by what is beautiful.”

I was moved by that statement, and found it interestingly parallel to the view of the late author Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Power of Myth. Campbell famously revealed that “myths are metaphors of spiritual potentiality in the human being… the same powers that animate our life animate the life of the world.”


This past summer I was invited by the organization called Humanities Iowa to discuss how Iowa had influenced my writing. That led me to focus on just what it is that animates my life and has helped make my world intelligible. I found it a rewarding effort I’d like to share with you tonight.


Since I’ve lived in Iowa most of my lifetime I began with my earliest memories, recalling my concerns as a five year old during the time of the Great Depression. I had moved with my parents to Forest City, Iowa, in 1935, where my father had a new job -- I think with a loan company -- which often required his absence from home. My mother’s pregnancy at that time was complicated by fragile health. Whenever I felt frightened or lonely, what always comforted me was playing outdoors in the sensory beauty of trees and birds and butterflies. Three plump goldfish lived in a little pond in our shady backyard. If I held bread crumbs near the pond’s surface, the fish nibbled from my fingers. They were my first friends in Forest City, a town so-named because of its plentiful wooded areas.

Once kindergarten began, I would pretend to read stories to my fish like my teacher did to our class. Our wonderfully kind teacher was Miss Fahr, who even let us children tell our own stories.


The first time it was my turn to tell a story in class, I told about my Native American grandfather who had taught me how to make a fishing boat. (I actually didn’t have any grandfather at all, but my dad had read me a story about how Indians made canoes by hollowing out a seasoned tree log with fire.) I had trouble making my Indian story credible until dear Miss Fahr rescued me with some kind of closure. I agonized several days of guilt after that, until she convinced me that making up stories was different from telling lies.

And as I think of it now, I realize the story I made up really might have been what I later learned from Joseph Campbell – about how myths can empower us. He said a myth is “a song of imagination inspired by the energies of the body.” I never did get over loving stories, whether they were true or only made up.


The more I think about ways Iowa’s natural environment inspired my young life, the more I realize how nature functions much like myths do, by giving meaning and purpose to the cultural and intellectual values that connect me to the world I inhabit, then as well as now.

After my new baby sister was born, my mom needed extra help, so by the time of second grade, we moved to Mason City to live with my grandmother. To get to my new school I had to walk several blocks along River Heights Drive, a street separated by dense woods from the limestone bluffs overlooking Willow Creek below.


I was the only new pupil in Garfield Elementary. My classmates teased me and definitely didn’t want me to walk home from school with them. So, I began walking home alone through the woods. I especially loved finding wild flowers to make a bouquet for my mom. By the time I was in third grade, my dad had a room built onto the back of my grandma’s house, where mom could live in a quiet, sunny place until she got well.


Those woods were my welcoming refuge. I created a path down to the Creek that ran under the wooden foot bridge spanning the water. Once down by the river, I could walk along its edge to a limestone cave I’d discovered. That shallow cave was a secret I never told anybody. I loved to watch the flowing water and daydream about ancient times when only wild animals lived here, or about early pioneers who built a mill downstream to grind up grain for making bread. Once I even found what looked like a bed in my cave that someone had built out of a pile of soft pine boughs. I pretended it had been made by a friendly Indian who was exploring the Creek in his dugout canoe.


More likely, the “bed” was an overnight resting place for one of the hoboes who sometimes rode in the box cars of the train that ran near my grandma’s house. (We called the train the “M and Saint L” for the Minneapolis and Saint Louis railroad.) Between the train tracks and my grandma’s house was an open field where a huge, gnarly old box elder tree grew. It was a great climbing tree and perfect for hiding.


On my tenth birthday, I got a bike of my own, so I could ride across the wooden foot bridge to the town’s beautiful new library built on the other side the Creek. Every Saturday afternoon, the Children’s Reading Room held a story hour where kids could sit on the semi-circle of window seats overlooking Creek and listen to a lady read stories. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever been. I even loved how it smelled, and I brought home new books to read up in my tree each week. I always felt safe there and nobody interrupted my stories. It was my most favorite reading place.


Several of the now-famous “Prairie School” homes and buildings were located near the Library in the Rock Glenn area across Willow Creek where my friend Doady lived. Doady’s mom was a beautiful opera singer, and her dad was a doctor who still had his old uniforms from the First World War.


Doady and I got to dress up in some of her dad’s old Army jackets to play WAR in the big grassy lot between my grandma’s house and the “M and Saint L” tracks. – and we could climb my big tree nearby to watch for pretend Nazi soldiers trying to blow up troop trains when they came through. I could always hide there if I was scared or lonely. Or I could pretend the tree was in a jungle where I was protected from “the Japs,” who had bombed Pearl Harbor and started the War. Sometimes my tree was a ship I steered from the captain’s lookout I built in the high fork of two big branches.


After I joined Girl Scouts, we pulled our coaster wagons through neighborhoods on weekends to help win the War by collecting cans of grease and pieces of foil and scrap metal to be recycled. In the summer I helped weed my Grandma’s “Victory garden” where we grew vegetables. After my mom started to feel better she and Grandma would seal boiling hot tomatoes and green beans and beets from the garden into glass jars, to save for eating later, when winter came. That way we could save our ration stamps for the things we couldn’t grow, like meat and butter.


Toward the end of World War Two, my dad had a house built for our family right in that big vacant lot next to my grandma’s house, and not far from my big box elder tree. I used leftover lumber scraps to build a shelf for my books and a sea captain’s helm for my fantasy sailing ventures. It was in that tree that I made my first attempts at writing stories just for fun.


And it was from that tree that I first spied the hoboes’ encampment a half- block away down the railroad tracks. I must have been in sixth grade when I first heard them one fall evening just before dusk. I could see the light of their campfire where they were cooking something and having great fun singing and laughing, even though they were poor homeless men. I knew about hoboes, because every time my grandma made doughnuts one would knock on her back door. My grandma called them “tramps,” but she gave them doughnuts anyway.


Grandma made cookies, too, and she even let me carry plates of them over to the railroad tracks when the troop train went through, so the soldiers could lean out the windows and take some. The soldiers were always hungry.


When I was in seventh grade, I had to ride my bike down Carolina Avenue across the railroad tracks to the Roosevelt Junior High School. I especially liked Miss Oliver’s Mythology class. We read about ancient gods and goddesses of the Greek people who lived even before Jesus. I knew about Jesus because I went to Sunday School at the Congregational Church where I had perfect attendance. But I liked mythology stories best, because they were a lot more interesting than Bible stories. By then my sister and I shared an upstairs bedroom in our new house, and I used to tell her some of those myths. Sometimes I even made up stories of my own.


So as a shy kid growing up in Iowa, I felt magically enfolded into the wooded neighborhood and natural heritage of my community, which strengthened my body and nourished my resourcefulness even as it stimulated my imagination and curiosity. In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, author Jonathan Haidt speaks of how the human mind is like a rider on an invisible elephant that empowers and drives one’s life. For me that elephant was the natural world – the fundamental base of life itself. It seemed like powerful magic to me and I never got bored by what the earth revealed.


I felt the same way about Iowa farms I visited with my dad when he became a John Deere dealer. Farmers in those days all practiced what we now call “sustainable farming.” I loved the sensory experience of new life budding out of those fields, from what seemed like an inexhaustible source.


Joseph Campbell said experiences like these are “Life stories,” what he called sustainable myths –natural cyclic powers that energize humans who themselves are participants in the same natural cycles. As a child I felt newly alive when new leaf buds appeared on seemingly dead branches after a long winter. I still do. AND as an ADULT I now know that forty percent of the world’s oxygen comes from our forests, which absorb deadly carbon dioxide and recycle it as life-giving oxygen. No wonder they made me feel alive.

But the problem, as we’re now realizing, is that dangerous imbalances in crucial cycles like these are increasing. Our whole world’s climate is being altered, largely by our increasing overuse and overpopulation of land without adequately sustaining soils and forests and rivers. And too many of us are transforming minerals extracted from the earth, like coal or oil, into fuel for heat and power. Forests replaced by concrete and cities cannot absorb the poisons which ensue and threaten the purity of air and water on which we all depend, to say nothing of climate stability.


I had the great opportunity this past fall to visit the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, a small part of worldwide forests like these that cover five percent of our planet, a total area about the size of our 48 United States. Here’s one of the things I learned: although these forests provide nearly half the world’s oxygen, more than 80 thousand acres of trees every day are now being destroyed by lumbering. I find that pretty shocking. And scary.


In a little more than a year I’ll be eighty years old. But as a somewhat fragile child growing up in Iowa, I was lucky enough to experience with some intimacy a part of the natural world whose life force and cyclic energies both comforted and empowered me. It was a gift of consciousness that made the natural world intuitively intelligible to my own childhood and still has a major influence on my intellectual and spiritual life. In the tenuous steps I made as a child, a student, a mother, and eventually a teacher and writer, I continue to be grateful for and strengthened by what I find beautiful and wise in nature, as well as in the human creative arts. I recognize the insignificant role I play in the vast and awesome universe I inhabit, but I’m inspired by how and what it continues to teach me. I only wish it were inspiring my grandchildren as much as their Ipods and Facebooks are.

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As a retiree, recently I’ve had the leisure to read some of the work of writers outside my discipline, including that of Janine Benyus, a biologist who shares this sense of nature’s wisdom, and has refined the ancient way of understanding and benefiting from the powers of nature into a new discipline she calls “BIOMIMICRY.” It is defined as


“The science and art of imitating Nature’s best biological ideas or nature’s wisdom, to solve human problems: like non-toxic adhesives inspired by geckos, energy efficient buildings modeled after termite mounds, and resistance free antibiotics invented by studying red seaweed. These are all examples of biomimicry happening today.”

Imitating nature’s ideas makes a whole lot of sense. Dr. Benyus has clarified Nature’s abundance of wisdom and processes from which we can learn: photosynthesis is one, along with natural selection, and self-sustaining ecosystems. Entrepreneurs are beginning to copy these natural designs as manufacturing processes to solve our own need to live in balance with the natural world. Innovation inspired by nature provides sustainable models for changing the way we grow food, make materials, harness energy, heal ourselves, store information and conduct business. We live on an intelligible Earth as well as a beautiful one.


But Dr. Benyus’ new science of biomimicry is doing more than just teaching us new ways to sustain our daily economies. It’s quite insistently clarifying our need to recalibrate the laws of humans to harmonize with the laws of nature to assure the future rights of human and all life in regard to what is obviously an evolving planetary climate change. This change can dramatically threaten the very Nature that fundamentally sustains us unless we undertake a significant paradigm shift to get our legal rules and guidelines re-aligned with environmental realities.


Nature’s laws are showing us that what is “good for us” can no longer be simply (or only) “profitable.” Instead, Nature provides imperative design guidelines such as: “How does it fit in?” “Will it last?” “Does it use only the energy it needs?” “Does it fit form to function?” and “Does it reward cooperation?” “Does it curb excess from within?” And perhaps most importantly, “Is it beautiful?”

By observing a healthy natural system, we learn that any properly scaled economy must allow a rich diversity of other creatures to thrive within it. But as Earth’s diversity is now eroding, it could soon smother the natural wellspring of good ideas, if not life itself. Some indisputable (and terrifying) facts warn us that: 95% of all virgin forest has been cut down in the last 200 years; 60% of all wetlands have been drained and filled; half of all native ecosystems are degraded to the point of endangerment. These are current facts. The human addiction to simply “growing the economy” is childishly and pitifully na├»ve given the inevitable consequences of imbalance and self-endangerment in what’s left of the natural world.


Predictions have it that under our present system, we will be doubling our population before we level off between 9 and 10 billion by mid-century. (presently: 6 billion 808 million) [U.S: almost 398 million]


Even so, if current rates of deforestation are maintained, only 10% of our forests will be left by 2050 (40 years from now). We depend on these existing natural patterns, but we’re only partially accommodating their complexity and diversity. Of crucial importance is that the only way to LEARN from nature is to both recognize and safeguard its naturalness – its complexity -- (both its and our own).

Unfortunately, here in Iowa, cash crop agriculture usually mimics industry, not nature. And the more we hybridize and shelter our annual crops, the more they depend on human care and lose their natural, inborn defense, which we mostly try to shore up with destructive pesticides and fertilizers, which in the end are inevitably DEnaturalizing .


This is why the prairie diversity of perennial agriculture being developed by Wes Jackson at his famous Land Institute in Kansas is so important. Perennial plants hold the soil against wind, and break the force of rain. They improve seed yield, re-establish growth without replanting, and increase yield. By contrast, a typical wheat field produces eight times more eroding run-off than Jackson’s prairie. And he has proved that diversity is also the cheapest form of pest control. Wes practices living off of nature’s wisdom: the best hedge against disaster is variety. It reduces competition for rain, increases yield, improves plant health, fights off disease naturally, contains invasions, and reduces erosion. Get this: Every component on Jackson’s land has multiple functions of shading, fertilizing and stabilizing, which all enhance its ability to adapt well to changes.


This is to suggest that learning from natural systems: “Biomimicry” can function as a new MYTHIC system to energize and sustain life, but also to give new meaning and purpose to the enterprise of modern agriculture. Dr. Benyus notes: “The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.”

As I think back on it, I realize how my childhood in the woods and my tree helped sustain my rather fragile life as a child, and connected me with the powerful energy and regenerative intelligence of nature. In his book, The Living Universe, Duane Elgin says that “the entire universe is being continuously regenerated” and is “permeated and sustained by an unimaginably immense amount of flowing energy… [what he calls] the primary reality.” The energies of the universe and those of our bodies are the same. ALL of life depends fundamentally upon that energy, even though many of us are still out of synch with it, as dramatic changes in weather and climate continue to make their case. But our planet’s environmental realities dramatically reveal that only a recalibration of both values and laws can assure the natural regeneration of life on our planet. Climate change is real, even though not all our leaders take this as a serious priority.


Recalling my childhood has helped me understand it truly IS miraculous that we have a consciousness capable of perceiving the intelligibility of our world. And that we are “moved by what is beautiful.” NOW, more than anytime in my life, I believe it is crucially important for us to USE our miracle of consciousness to learn from the rich intelligibility of nature and help to sustain ITS life-enhancing wisdom. And beauty.

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Afterword: I live in a sort of forest of my own:

When my husband and I bought our house on Walnut Street in 1970, it had three big oaks on the property PLUS a huge old box elder tree like the one I grew up with/in. It was the oldest box elder tree in Iowa, may it rest in peace. Since then I have planted 13 more trees and several dozen high shrubs. (Alas, the box elder died naturally, probably aided by carpenter ants. But it served our children (AND ME) very well until then.)

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