Quotulatiousness

April 6, 2017

American “isolationism” between the wars

Filed under: Americas, China, Europe, History, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Reason‘s Jesse Walker linked to this article by Andrew Bacevich which helps to debunk the routine description of US foreign policy between the first and second world wars as “isolationism”:

… McCain is worried about the direction of world events, with Russian provocations offering but one concern among many. Patterson shares McCain’s apprehensions, compounded by what he sees as a revival of “the isolationism in Europe and America that precipitated World War II.”

Now as an explanation for the origins of the war of 1939-1945, American “isolationism” is as familiar as the sweet-and-sour pork featured at your local Chinese takeout joint. Its authenticity is equally dubious. Yet Patterson’s assertion has this virtue: It captures in less than a sentence a prime obstacle to instituting a realistic, fact-based approach to foreign policy.

In truth, isolationism is to history what fake news is to journalism. The oft-repeated claim that in the 1920s and 1930s the United States raised the drawbridges, stuck its head in the sand, and turned its back on the world is not only misleading, but also unhelpful. Citing a penchant for isolationism as a defect afflicting the American character is like suggesting that members of Congress suffer from a lack of self-esteem. The charge just doesn’t square with the facts, no matter how often repeated.

Here, by way of illustrating some of those relevant facts, is a partial list of places beyond the boundaries of North America, where the United States stationed military forces during the interval between the two world wars: China, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. That’s not counting the U.S. Marine occupations of Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic during a portion of this period. Choose whatever term you like to describe the U.S military posture during this era — incoherent comes to mind — but isolationism doesn’t fill the bill.

As for Patterson’s suggestion that the behavior of the United States “precipitated” World War II, the claim is simply laughable. World War I precipitated World War II, or more specifically the European malaise resulting from the bloodletting of 1914-1918, compounded by the Bolshevik Revolution and the spread of fascism, and further exacerbated by profoundly shortsighted policies pursued by Great Britain and France. Throw into the mix the Great Depression, Japanese imperial ambitions, and the diabolical plotting of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, and you have the makings of a catastrophe. Some few observers foresaw that catastrophe, but preventing it lay well beyond the ability of the United States, even if U.S. leaders had been clairvoyant.

March 29, 2017

You can’t really understand history without considering the geography

Filed under: Americas, Asia, Books, Economics, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait discusses Tim Marshall’s book, Prisoners of Geography:

Britain and Western Europe, and then the other parts of the world where English is the dominant language, have mostly been blessed with a degree of geographically conferred freedom of manoeuvre that is denied to the inhabitants of pretty much all other nations. That is why these places got rich first. And it also now means that we Euros and Anglos are able to believe, as a matter of practical political policy rather than merely as privately pious aspiration, in a wide range of idealistic things of very variable value – things like freedom, democracy, equality, human rights, freedom for women, “social justice”. and so on and so forth – things that geographically more constrained people can only, as yet, dream of, and which they often regard as more as a threat to their own ways of doing things than as any kind of promise.

[…]

The word “maps” being in its subtitle, along with the bombastic claim that these maps tell you all you need to know about the world, these maps ought to be really, really well done, from the graphic point of view. But to my admittedly fading eye, they seemed to be not that good. On their own, they tell you nothing like everything about the world, which is why you actually need to read the book to get the points of all the maps. I was particularly disappointed by how the mountains look in these maps. Along with rivers, mountains are a big deal in this book, as you would expect them to be. But, in these maps, the mountains often scarcely register. It doesn’t help that the maps are done only with black ink on white paper. Colour would have helped. But even black ink could have been used, I feel, with somewhat greater clarity. I had to look quite hard to work out where these various mountains were. But, as I say, maybe that’s just me. My eyesight is definitely not what it was.

The mountainous insight I recall with particular pleasure is Marshall’s observation that the hostility between India and China would have been and would now be far greater, were it not for the most impenetrably formidable mountains on earth being at the boundary between these two civilisations. Contrast those impenetrable Asian mountains with that famous gap in the mountains in northern Europe, which results in a gigantic military parade ground with no natural barriers stretching from the Pyrenees to the Urals.

In addition to knowing better about Europe’s mountains, I now sort of know a whole lot more than I did about the mountains of South America. South America is, for me, one of the less fascinating places in the world, because, being so geographically cut off from the rest of the world and being of significance mostly only to their northern neighbours, South American mistakes count for a lot less than mistakes can elsewhere, especially mistakes made by the USA and Europe of course. South America, you might say, is basically just a big clutch of European mistakes.

Speaking of European mistakes, Marshall is very good on the habit of late nineteenth century Europeans of drawing straight lines upon maps of foreign parts, in defiance of geographical and consequent social and cultural and now “national” realities on the ground. The USA gets along fine despite all the straight lines that it contains dividing its states, because these states are, fundamentally, still very united, at least in the sense that everyone in them is quarrelling about the same things within the same political institutions. But the Middle East is still trying to shake free of its baleful legacy of fake states, which Europeans and now also Americans, all motivated by the need for oil, have expended so much of their own treasure and so much Middle Eastern blood trying to keep in being.

March 28, 2017

A long history of US involvement in “regime change”

Filed under: Americas, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith goes over just the “high points” of American interference in the domestic affairs of other nations:

It makes me sick to keep hearing the mostly Democratic assertion that Donald J. Trump is a candidate foisted on us poor, gullible Americans by the Russian government. This is largely a matter of psychological projection by the left, and of mind-boggling hypocrisy. Previous American governments (mostly Democratic) have a long, shameful history of removing foreign leaders they dislike, for one reason or another, and replacing them with more agreeable figures.

It’s hard to know quite where to begin, and absolutely impossible to be exhaustive. General Smedley Darlington Butler (1881- 1940), twice winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, tells a long, bloody tale in his little book War Is A Racket, in which he demonstrates that the United States Marines were sent on gunboats to various places across our sad, scarred, and war-weary planet — notably to South and Central America — to protect the interests (with rifles and bayonets, if necessary) of corporations like the United Fruit Company. Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatamala have all suffered from this kind of interference. That’s why they’re called “banana republics”.

In 1953, the people of Iran had thrown the Shah off the throne and replaced him with an elected official by the name of Mosaddegh. British and American “intelligence” were alarmed. If the guy was a communist (he was not) he might cut off the supply of oil on which they had become dependent to enforce their will on the world, So they deposed him and set the Shah back on the throne, setting the scene for today’s unholy (and extremely dangerous) mess.

Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina was the dictator of the Dominican Republic (which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti) for many decades. He was thoroughly brutal and corrupt, but a time came when his government began to break up, threatening the “stability” of the Caribbean region. In 1961. he was assassinated spectacularly by riflemen in ambush. (Oddly, I recall his car body being blown off the frame by a bazooka.) Wikipedia teeters between blaming his dozens of political rivals and the CIA. At the time it happened, everybody I knew (I was growing up in the military — counter insurgency branch) took the latter theory for granted.

And in 1963, in the middle of the War in Vietnam, when a dictator named Diem failed to do America’s bidding, the kindly, humane, genteel, and oh-so-Democratic President John F. Kennedy had him assassinated and replaced.

March 17, 2017

Peronism, fascism, and socialism

Filed under: Americas, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Warren is in fine form:

Peronism came to Argentina and never left. Not only have the Partido Justicialista and its avatars dominated Argentine electoral politics, through their various iconic husband-and-wife acts over the last seventy years, but they have contaminated the thinking of the whole country, which adhered to their arbitrary and contradictory doctrines even during the sixteen years they were banned, and adheres to the present day when once again they are nominally out of power. Actually it is a century, now, since Peron’s “Radical” predecessors first won election (dating from Hipólito Yrigoyen, 1916). Moral, intellectual, and material squalour is their chief legacy to a country which was once among the world’s most prosperous and most free. The spiritual equivalent has now migrated to Rome.

This, at least, is the impression I have formed from afar. “Justicialism,” so far as one can read, embodies every sort of rhetorical populism, across the political spectrum, but with a heavy and perfectly consistent bias towards centralized power. It stands for “social justice” — an absolutely imaginary and therefore unattainable ideal. It is on the side of labour and of management, it is Catholic and anti-Catholic, racist and anti-racist, isolationist and aggressive, leftist and rightist and dogmatically nationalist with all the contradictions nationalism entails. Yet it is not unique.

Socialism is leftwing Fascism; Fascism is rightwing Socialism. Other than that, they are the same. They vie for the same voters, and politicians may move comfortably back and forth between their symmetrical (i.e. identical) extremes. The principle underlying both is that the government should control everything, for the government’s idea of the common good. Whether the government technically owns everything is neither here nor there. Indeed, Socialism/Fascism works better, for the government, if private actors can be made to take the blame and the losses for all of the government’s goon-show mistakes. Any “excess” income on which they fall in their government-assigned monopolist stations can then be impounded.

February 27, 2017

“Dumb Norsemen go into the north outside the range of their economy, mess up the environment and then they all die when it gets cold”

Filed under: Americas, History, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Debunking the Greenland myth in the Smithsonian:

Those tough seafaring warriors came to one of the world’s most formidable environments and made it their home. And they didn’t just get by: They built manor houses and hundreds of farms; they imported stained glass; they raised sheep, goats and cattle; they traded furs, walrus-tusk ivory, live polar bears and other exotic arctic goods with Europe. “These guys were really out on the frontier,” says Andrew Dugmore, a geographer at the University of Edinburgh. “They’re not just there for a few years. They’re there for generations — for centuries.”

So what happened to them?

**********

Thomas McGovern used to think he knew. An archaeologist at Hunter College of the City University of New York, McGovern has spent more than 40 years piecing together the history of the Norse settlements in Greenland. With his heavy white beard and thick build, he could pass for a Viking chieftain, albeit a bespectacled one. Over Skype, here’s how he summarized what had until recently been the consensus view, which he helped establish: “Dumb Norsemen go into the north outside the range of their economy, mess up the environment and then they all die when it gets cold.”

[…]

But over the last decade a radically different picture of Viking life in Greenland has started to emerge from the remains of the old settlements, and it has received scant coverage outside of academia. “It’s a good thing they can’t make you give your PhD back once you’ve got it,” McGovern jokes. He and the small community of scholars who study the Norse experience in Greenland no longer believe that the Vikings were ever so numerous, or heedlessly despoiled their new home, or failed to adapt when confronted with challenges that threatened them with annihilation.

“It’s a very different story from my dissertation,” says McGovern. “It’s scarier. You can do a lot of things right — you can be highly adaptive; you can be very flexible; you can be resilient — and you go extinct anyway.” And according to other archaeologists, the plot thickens even more: It may be that Greenland’s Vikings didn’t vanish, at least not all of them.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

February 7, 2017

Simón Bolívar – Lies – Extra History

Filed under: Americas, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Jan 21, 2017

James talks about our mistakes, and adds additional stories, for the Simón Bolívar series!

February 4, 2017

Simón Bolívar – VI: All Good Things – Extra History

Filed under: Americas — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Dec 24, 2016

Simón Bolívar hoped to bring the nations of South America together in one great federation, but he feared that people would think he meant to make himself a king. He tried to step back, but revolution threatened from within his ranks and his body had grown weak with illness.

February 1, 2017

QotD: Che Guevara and his modern fans

Filed under: Americas, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Denial is also a common factor among people on the left who want to believe in the failed experiment known as Communism. This is nothing new, since Walter Duranty of the New York Times was famous for denying the atrocities of Stalin and is still honored by the media elite to this day. Though some of the worst deniers are those who want to believe the romantic story of Cuba being liberated by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro from the evil grasp of the Batista regime. The Cuban revolution is by far one of the greatest stories ever sold.

People are always shocked to learn that the Cuban revolution succeeded with little resistance since Castro had bribed the top brass in Batista’s military to stand down. It also didn’t help that the Batista regime was so unpopular among the people that there weren’t too many who were willing to risk their lives to defend it. It’s also funny that Che Guevara is thought of as the George Washington of guerrilla warfare, but in reality Barney Fife was a better comparison. Actually I think that may be an insult to Barney Fife because at least he wasn’t dumb enough to shoot himself in the chin, like our “guerilla master” did. His failed revolutions in Bolivia and the Congo are a direct testament to his skills as a master in guerilla warfare.

The one thing that Che was good at was killing hundreds, if not thousands of unarmed people, including women and children. The man was such a humanitarian that he had a wall in his office knocked down so that he could have a nice view of the killing fields, when the “enemies of the state” were being purged. Hipsters who like to wear his T-Shirts as always shocked to hear that he wasn’t a selfless rebel who wanted to help the working class, except to take them to the killing fields of course.

To all the hippies, artists, musicians, and actors who like to venerate the man, you are the type of person that Che despised the most. If you had long hair, wore blue jeans and listened to Rock ‘n’ Roll or had any flare for the arts, you would likely find yourself thrown into a labor camp.

Sean Gangol, “Denial”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2015-07-19.

January 30, 2017

Simón Bolívar – V: Heavy is the Head – Extra History

Filed under: Americas, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Dec 17, 2016

After so many failures, Simón Bolívar finally began to find success: Gran Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia all stood free from Spanish rule. He raced to found new governments and consolidate the liberty he’d earned, but resources had been stretched too thin.

January 25, 2017

Simón Bolívar – IV: Defeat is Not Surrender – Extra History

Filed under: Americas, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Dec 10, 2016

Failure had taught Simón Bolívar one important lesson: no single state in Spanish South America could win independence alone. To succeed, he needed to form one great state, united and able to stand up to the might of Spain.

January 22, 2017

Simón Bolívar – III: Leavings and Returns – Extra History

Filed under: Americas, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Dec 3, 2016

The failure of his first attempted revolution in Venezuela only fanned the flames of Simón Bolívar’s determination to end Spanish reign over South America. Convinced that he needed to unite the entire continent in freedom, he gathered troops and set out with a new purpose. But his ferocity threatened to overwhelm his ideals.

January 19, 2017

Simón Bolívar – II: Francisco de Miranda – Extra History

Filed under: Americas, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Nov 26, 2016

When Napoleon conquered Spain, the Spanish colonies no longer had a clear leader to follow. Bolívar seized on this opportunity to promote his dreams of Venezuelan independence, but he stumbled from lack of experience. A man named Francisco de Miranda took control instead.

January 16, 2017

100 years ago today

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:26

From the Facebook page of The Great War:

On this day 100 years ago, a coded telegram was sent by German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to German Ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. In this telegram, Zimmermann instructed von Eckardt to offer Mexico a military alliance and financial support against the United States should they not remain neutral. This was a possibility since Germany was about to unleash unrestricted submarine warfare by February 1, 1917.

To understand this telegram, it is important to understand that talks about military cooperation and even a military alliance between Mexico and the German Empire had been going on since 1915 already.

The telegram was sent via the American undersea cable since the German cable was interrupted by the British when the war broke out. US President Woodrow Wilson had offered the Germans to use their cable for diplomatic correspondence. What neither Wilson nor the Germans knew: The cable was monitored by the British intelligence at a relay station in England. Furthermore, the British codebreakers of Room 40 had already cracked the German encryption.

The biggest challenge for the British now was to reveal the content of this telegram without admitting that they were monitoring the cable while ensuring it had the desired impact.

January 6, 2017

Venezuela’s journey from the “Bolivarian Revolution” to “Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty”

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jack Staples-Butler on the moral accountability for outside supporters (particularly the British left) of what has turned into a huge humanitarian disaster in Venezuela:

DENIAL in the face of catastrophic failure of one’s ideas is a predictable reaction from a believer, as per Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance reduction in response to the failure of one’s beliefs. Denial in the face of shame for one’s actions is an experience well-studied by psychologists and criminologists. One 2014 study summarises the role of ‘shame’ in creating both denial of responsibility and recidivism among offenders:

    “Feelings of shame… involve a painful feeling directed toward the self. For some people, feelings of shame lead to a defensive response, a denial of responsibility, and a need to blame others — a process that can lead to aggression.”

Combining both faces of the phenomenon of denial is the behaviour of the supporters, apologists and promoters of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, the late Hugo Chávez and the PSUV regime in Venezuela, and their response to the present state of the country. Humanitarian catastrophe of an apocalyptic scale is now unfolding in the most oil-rich state in the world. The magnitude of human suffering is indescribable. The scenes of bread queues and shortages familiar to Eurozone-crisis Greece are long since surpassed. Venezuela has become a ‘Starvation State’ which “today drowns in a humanitarian crisis”, with lawless cities and hunger for the majority. It extends beyond humans, as the country’s pets are left in skeletal starvation and the zoos of Venezuela become graveyards of wild and endangered animals. […]

The response of the Venezuelan government to a crisis entirely of its own making has been systemic and organised psychological denial of its own, and particularly to externalise blame through conspiracy theories. Fantasies of ‘economic warfare’ waged by ‘hoarders’ led by the United States are played out in government seizures of foodstuffs and crippling price controls. The most disturbing recent development is the prospect of Venezuelans becoming a population of forced labourers in government-run agricultural projects, a solution that would take Venezuela from Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty to Cambodian levels of state-led starvation.

H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.

January 2, 2017

Simón Bolívar – I: Reverberations – Extra History

Filed under: Americas, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 19 Nov 2016

Born to one of the wealthiest families in Venezuela, Simón Bolívar imbibed the ideals of revolution from a tutor who inspired him to travel to Europe as a young man. What he saw and learned, he would one day bring back to foment revolution in the Spanish colonies of Latin America.

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