Thursday, February 23, 2017

One China and Wishful Thinking

“Geopolitical realists like Henry Kissinger warned at the time that this set of circumstances could not last, that international competition was embedded in human nature and would return.”
Kagan, page 11, as below

Hello reader,
Got wishful thinking?

All my life, I have felt both fortunate and lonely. Unlike most of my generation, I was lucky: I raised myself on old high school history textbooks from when my parents were in school, back in the 1930’s. Fascinating books. Thereby I knew my world. When my fellow longhaired students, during social studies, wishfully said “violence never solves anything” and “this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” well, I knew better. And that was lonely.

What the “establishment” writers of high school textbooks, born in the 19th century, took for granted, are certain grim truths, as surely as air fills a vacuum, enduring through the past two millennia: If a state can conquer militarily, then it will. If it can expand power over other states economically, then it will. Yes Virginia, the Yankees imperialize. This does not, of course, apply to the gracious, humbler, gentleman states with little power: Of course they would resist the tendency to be corrupted into wanting more.

In East Asia today, the largest state is China. How much resistance to corruption would there be in the “workers paradise”? In theory, as in their magazine, China Reconstructs, the Chinese workers call each other comrade, never using feudal titles, while feeling solidarity with all the workers of the world. But some theories are disproven over time.

You might think, in this enlightened age, all nations should be equal. Yes, but the grandiose Chinese Communist Party leaders would add that China should be “more equal than others.” Special. With national glory, and special respect from their Asian neighbors. A belief straight out of the nineteenth century.

Before me is a news article, datelined Beijing, (Saturday Feb 11, 2017) headlined Trump reaffirms ‘One China’ policy. The story:

QUOTE “…The (U.S.) policy in place since 1979 requires Washington to maintain only unofficial ties with Taiwan, which China clams as its own territory.

China views any hint of official U.S. recognition of the island as an anathema to China’s revival as a great Asian power…. Trump agreed to honor the ‘one China’ policy, the White House said.” UNQUOTE —The Associated press

It seems President Trump has backed off on the idea of two states of Chinese people. The People’s Republic of China says the democratic Republic of Taiwan, on the island of Formosa, should belong to them, because it did in the past, before people fled there from communism. In a way, this is like how Argentinian children were taught to believe the barren Falkland Islands belonged to Argentina.

But Taiwan is not a barren rock supporting only sheep farmers; it supports 24 million people, more than lived in Canada at the time of our hundredth birthday in 1967. No, Beijing reasons more like the way Arab Iraq thought Arab Kuwait should be the thirteenth province of Iraq—at least, they did right up until Operation Desert Storm. I can understand that, because I understand that human nature doesn’t change as fast as a wall tumbles down, even if we wish it would.

When it comes to people, it’s so easy to fool ourselves. Take peaceful international trade, for example. Business guru Peter Drucker once wrote that the world was learning that tariffs did more harm than good: like wearing a sling to “support” your arm, it only end up making you weaker after you take it off. Drucker said the globe was moving towards sensible, practical “free trade,” a movement that stopped, he said, in the face of Japan (then the world’s second largest economy) practicing “adversarial trade,” for which the imperfect remedy was trading blocks.

Did he have wishful thinking? I wonder if the blocks are in fact a part of alliances from love-of-power. Because if he was right, then why is Japan a part of the proposed Pacific Trade Partnership? And why would there be some talk of the European Union angrily not trading equally with Britain once Britain exits the EU? You might call such behavior by the EU “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” I would call it, “the human factor.”

We see such human nature even in peaceful everyday life, right here in Canada.

Here the federal government might politely reduce its funding to the provinces, but never its power. This might be morally wrong, perhaps, because when Canada was formed in 1867, the number of cities was only two. Our “founding parental units” didn’t foresee that many cities would one day have gargantuan responsibilities. Result? Out of our individual wallets, none of our sales tax or income tax goes directly to the cities or municipalities, even today. (The cities are stuck with funding solely from property tax) You can bet the other levels of government are not about to say, “Oops, that was an 1867 oversight, let us fix it.”

No, the snobs say the city leaders, unlike the snobs themselves, can’t be trusted with reliable funding. Instead, cities have to keep applying for grants. Cynics say it would be easier to legislate brand new taxes for the cities, taking still more from my wallet, than to expect those powerful leaders to redistribute my taxes now flowing to the provinces and the feds. Ouch, my poor wallet!

Traditional human nature is why, in the middle of Southeast Asia, if the kingdom of Siam (Thailand) was never a European colony, if it remained independent, then this was only because the other colonizers saw Siam as a neutral zone between them. Try telling that to one of my idealistic peers in social studies, who would wishfully cry, “But that’s ancient history! People aren’t like that anymore!” Really? Can you spell Tibet? “But that’s only because of communism!”

When I was a boy, when China invaded Tibet, that country was too isolated to be militarily supplied, too far away for us to care to fight to save it. Now there is a railroad up to the Tibetan capital from China, like a fire hose relentlessly flooding Tibet with settlement by “real” Han Chinese. I am told that Chinese imperialism includes massive timber exploitation with resulting soil erosion, but I don’t know. And Taiwan? Their only hope for keeping their independence is that instead of being surrounded by remote mountains on the roof of the world, they are totally surrounded by sea. Accessible by the U.S. Navy. Still, if you were the nephew of President Trump, would you risk your life for Taiwan?

During the Age of Enlightenment, which occurred in the “space-time” of “Europe-1700’s,” folks came to believe the middle class was just as important as the ruling class—a truly revolutionary thought. And that science was at least as important as superstition. Such an exciting age!

In Europe, music changed from complex baroque era music, featuring music hard to play, and not for singing, to classical era music, which finally featured melodies the common man could relate to, and could sing. And this new music did not have a “national” characteristic. This equality and internationalism was something new under the European sun. 

In America, Thomas Paine galvanized the colonies to believe in revolution, with his pamphlet Common Sense (still in print here today—I wonder if they read it in Taiwan?) He explained the practical economics of independence, including the Common Sense fact that his countrymen could forge enough steel nails, and cut enough timber, to create a navy great enough to safeguard their independence.

It’s as if Paine believed not just in ideals, but also in having the power to violently protect those ideals. That proposed navy, of course, within a century, would be why the European powers, during the American civil war, didn’t dare break the northern blockade to buy southern cotton and sell food to the starving rebels—lest the U.S. Navy retaliate once the war was over.

As for human nature and the civil war, many of the horrors of the First World War were foreshadowed by that war, for example trenches with barb wire, (as in the movie Cold Mountain) and awful “total war.” (as in “marching through Georgia”) Yet, due to the weakness of grandiose European snobbery, the American experience was ignored: The reality of stinking trenches came as a complete surprise to the Europeans. Call it the human factor.

We of the here-and-now are just as bad. Living under our gracious Queen Elizabeth II, we believe the Muslim world should have freedom of thought just like us, and not murder people for what they say out loud. We forget their reality: Arabs, with hundreds of princes in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone, have not yet entered the 1700’s, they are still at the stage of Queen Elizabeth I. (And they still don’t politically separate mosque and state) Such is our snobbery, or, at least, our wishful thinking. The rest of the world is not magically tied to us with a piece of string, advancing as we advance.

We can only wish they were attached. After the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, many world leaders and experts in Europe and the U.S. thought nineteenth century power politics was over. Nobody, in their wildest dreams, thought that forcibly replacing the Ukraine’s nuclear weapons with a promise of U.S. defense, would lead to Russia annexing the Crimea. We thought the word “annexing” was in history’s rubbish bin.

“In a globalized economy, most believed, nations had no choice but to liberalize, first economically, then politically, if they wanted to compete and survive.” Partly because “… growing middle classes would demand legal and political power, which rulers would have to grant if they wanted their nations to prosper.” Page 5.

This was wishful thinking. We know now they were wrong, just as they were wrong after 9/11 when they would say terrorism “comes from poverty and despair.” (The attackers of 9/11 were rich middle class; Osama Bin Laden was filthy rich)

The page 5 quote is from a lovely Vintage Press book (2008) of only 100 pages, plus notes, The Return of History and the end of dreams by Robert Kagan. On page 96 is a quote regarding quarreling nations having the temptation to close crucial sea-lanes:
“If this hasn’t happened in recent decades, it is not because the nations of the world have learned, evolved and adapted new norms of international behavior. It is because the American navy dominates the oceans.”

Well. Maybe “Yankees imperialism,” or at least the U.S. Navy, is a Good Thing. (Despite those ignorant youth, in our longhaired days, saying the armed forces should all be disbanded. Remember?)  

My heritage is the enlightenment; my culture is North American. During World War II, we Americans believed that people who originally came here as children from the axis countries of Germany, Italy and Japan, people who were raised here to be assimilated, would fight fiercely against those fascist states when war broke out… Years after the war, when nations such as South Africa believed in lesser rights for “guest workers,” well, our belief was that the children of such workers, born and raised in the only land they’ve ever known, deserved to vote as free and equal citizens. “One person, one vote” we told the South Africans.

As children back home in Vancouver, and in your hometown too, I’m sure, we had a code in our schoolyard. Remember? If we saw a smaller boy being bullied by a bigger boy, then if the small kid were trying to punch back, we would go and join his fight. Years later some of those schoolboy fighters, as adults of British, Japanese and Chinese heritage, would be jolly sailors together in the navy. Today our navy would include young men of Chinese and Taiwanese heritage.

Taiwan? It’s obvious. People who fled “mainland China” (red China) as toddlers would be senior citizens now. Angrily shaking their canes against communism. Everybody younger would have grown up assimilated, knowing only democracy, loving the green hills of Taiwan, proud of their flag and their armed forces.  Calling themselves Taiwanese.

As surely as North Americans love freedom, if China invades Taiwan, and if the Taiwanese are willing to throw their first punch, then we will fight alongside them.

Sean Crawford

~For Peter Drucker’s writings I am going by my memory, I forget where he published.

~Everything I know about how “music mirrors culture” is from Professor Robert Greenberg through his course How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, through The Teaching Company, distributed by The Great Courses. He said the music of the enlightenment came to be called classical because it embodied the principles of beauty expressed by the classical democracies of Greece and Rome.

~ “only two cities,” and the messed up tax funding, comes from Canadian visionary Jane Jacobs, best known for her The Death and Life of Great American Cities, as reported in her last book, Dark Ages Ahead.

~Of course terrorism does NOT come from “poverty and despair,” not according to science. See my essay John Kerry likes Terrorists, archived march of 2016

~ “red China” was a cold war term, to separate the two Chinas, later superseded by “mainland China.” Taiwan did not merely become a new home for a few politicians and the palace guard, but for a vast army and vast numbers of refugees.

Was there ever a red Russia? No, because the white Russians ended up driving cabs in Paris, cooking short orders in New York City, existing in rotting tenements in Shanghai.
At the end of WWI, parts of the Canadian army, and others, instead of going straight back home to Canada, went to Russia to help the white Russians defeat the revolution. (like in Animal Farm) The reds won, the whites lost—and the unfortunate whites had no island to retreat to.  

~I could have guessed: (Page 30) “For the first time in centuries, China thinks of itself as a sea power.” As for propaganda: (Page 110) “The Chinese are now taught to think “of sea as territory… and to understand that their ‘sovereignty’ includes three million square miles of ocean and seas.””

~Unlike American Muslims during Vietnam and apartheid, U.S. Muslims today are not visibly seen as trying to educate folks overseas that Islam means peace. Such a pity.

But if they did so, using their credibility of being fellow-Muslims, born overseas from Arabia, then I wonder what would be the effect, both in Muslim countries and over here? In America it surely couldn’t increase fear of Muslim terror, and it might well decrease the fear.


  1. Thanks for the history lesson Sean. I always enjoy your posts. I've been reading the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and came across this verse which perfectly describes why I don't often watch the news. "Reflect often how all the life of today is a repetition of the past; and observe that it also presages what is to come. Review the many complete dramas and their settings, all so similar, which you have known in your own experience, or from bygone history;...The performance is always the same; it is only the actors who change." The news is: Different Day, Different Characters, Same Crime.

  2. Wow. How awesome, that you are reading such a classic. I hope to read his work some time this year.

    Speaking of history, I believe Marcus was one of the "five (in a row) good emperors." Rome never had such a winning streak again.

    I suppose that it was because they lacked democracy, and therefore had no way to remove a bad emperor, that they had to build them up as gods. Sort of like how the Chinese built up Chairman Mao, and then, after he died, hated his wife as being one of "the gang of four." Meaning: No one dared say he was a gangster too.

    Strange how everyone there used to own a copy of the Quotations of Mao, (from essays) often in a plastic red book. Now his stuff is out of print, at least over here (I won't lend my copy) while the thoughts of Marcus will last for millennia.