Quotulatiousness

July 18, 2017

The upcoming Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War

Filed under: Asia, History, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Stephen Sherman discusses some of the things that may or may not be given appropriate treatment in the new PBS documentary series to air this fall, covering American involvement in the former French colonies:

Indochina in 1954. Map prepared for the US Military Acadamy’s military atlas series. (Via Wikimedia).

Ken Burns correctly identifies the Vietnam War as being the point at which our society split into two diametrically opposed camps. He is also correct in identifying a need for us to discuss this aspect of our history in a civil and reflective manner. The problem is that the radical political and cultural divisions of that war have created alternate perceptions of reality, if not alternate universes of discourse. The myths and propaganda of each side make rational discourse based on intellectual honesty and goodwill difficult or impossible. The smoothly impressive visual story Burns will undoubtedly deliver will likely increase that difficulty. He has done many popular works in the past, some of which have been seriously criticized for inaccuracies and significant omissions, but we welcome the chance of a balanced treatment of the full history of that conflict. We can only wait and watch closely when it goes public.

The term “Vietnam War” itself, although accepted in common parlance, would more accurately be called “The American Phase of the Second Indochina War” (1965 to 1973). The U.S. strategic objectives in Vietnam must also be accurately defined. There were two inter-related goals: 1) to counter the Soviet and Red Chinese strategy of fostering and supporting “Wars of National Liberation” (i.e., violent Communist takeovers) in third-world nations, and 2) to defend the government of the Republic of (South) Vietnam from the military aggression directed by its Communist neighbor, the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam.

Arguments offered by the so-called “anti-war” movement in the United States were predominantly derived from Communist propaganda. Most of them have been discredited by subsequent information, but they still influence the debate. They include the nonfactual claims that:

1) the war in South Vietnam was an indigenous civil war,

2) the U.S. effort in South Vietnam was a form of neo-colonialism, and

3) the real U.S. objective in South Vietnam was the economic exploitation of the region.

The antiwar movement was not at all monolithic. Supporters covered a wide range, from total pacifist Quakers at one end to passionate supporters of Communism at the other. There were many idealists in it who thought the war was unjust and our conduct of it objectionable, as well as students who were terrified of the draft, and some who just found it the cause of the day. But some of the primary figures leading the movement were not so much opposed to the war as they were in favor of Hanoi succeeding in the war it had started.

The key question is whether the U.S. opposition to Communism during the Cold War (1947 to 1989) was justifiable. The answer is that Communism (Marxism) on a national level is a utopian ideal that can function only with the enforcement of a police state (Leninism) or a genocidal criminal regime (Stalinism). It always requires an external enemy to justify the continuous hardships and repression of its population and always claims that its international duty is to spread Communism. When Ho Chi Minh established the Vietnam Communist Party in 1930, there was no intention of limiting its expansionist ambitions to Vietnam, and he subsequently changed the name to the Indochinese Communist Party at the request of the Comintern in Moscow.

From George L. MacGarrigle, The United States Army in Vietnam: Combat Operations, Taking the Offensive, October 1966-October 1967. Washington DC: Center of Military History, 1998. (Via Wikimedia)

July 15, 2017

The MOST DANGEROUS and EXTREME RAILWAYS in the World!! Compilation of Incredible Train Journeys!!

Filed under: Americas, Asia, Europe, India, Railways — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 31 Mar 2017

This list consists 12 of the most dangerous and extreme railways in the world!!From railways That deep gorges and near vertical descents, to a 100 year old railway bridge built on sea. These are some of the most amazing, unbelievable and incredible railway routes around the world. These Railways offer daring experience to those who ride them.The Trains needs to pass through the most dangerous railroads along their journey. However, one can enjoy the scenic beauty while travelling on them.
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The Most Dangerous Railways featured in this list are :

Maeklong Railway, Thailand: This Railways passes through the congested maeklong market in Thailand.

Nariz del diablo, Ecuador : Considered most difficult train journey, the railway passed through tight cliffs and climbs steep altitudes.

Pamban Bridge, India : the trains has to pass through this breathtaking 100 year old sea bridge still operating.

Bangladesh Railways : Considered most overcrowded railways in the world where roof riding is a common sight.

Burma Railway : Constructed during world war II using forced labor, Many workers (prisoners of war) died due to rough conditions thus earning nickname ‘Death Railway’

Ferro carril Central Andino, Peru : Second Highest Railway in the World Running through the Andes.

Indian railways : World’s most busiest Railway, more than 25,000 people die annually on India’s railways

White pass & Yokon Route, Alaska : Built during Klondike Gold rush. This route boasts incredible sceneries.

Gokteik Viaduct, Myanmar : Highest railway trestle in the world.

Pilatus Railway, Switzerland : This Most steepest cogway railway offers incredible Sceneries.

Tren a las nubes, Argentina : The train Passes through dangerous curves and high bridges.

Gelmerbahn Funicular, Switzerland : Almost feels like a roller-coaster ride!

H/T to CT for the link.

July 10, 2017

The end of the British Empire

Filed under: Britain, History, India, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Kai Melling takes an unusually anti-American stand in this quick explanation of the decline and fall of the British Empire:

The common narrative is that the USA inherited the British Empire as an aftermath of World War 2. But this phrasing is misleading, because the USA actively designed and exploited the political, mental and military framework of WW2 to Britain’s disadvantage.

Churchill believed that Britain and the USA would be eternal partners, with British statesmen playing Greeks to America’s Romans. But when Britain was in her darkest hour, Roosevelt shook her down for every dime. Poring over a list of British assets in the Western Hemisphere, FDR “reacted with the coolness of a WASP patrician: ‘Well, they aren’t bust — there’s lots of money there.’” (Alan Clark)

Looking back, Alan Clark was appalled by Churchill’s groveling to the Americans: “Churchill’s abasement of Britain before the United States has its origins in the same obsession (with Hitler). The West Indian bases were handed over; the closed markets for British exports were to be dismantled; the entire portfolio of (largely private) holdings in America was liquidated. “A very nice little list,” was Roosevelt’s comment when the British ambassador offered it. “You guys aren’t broken yet.”

Before Lend-Lease aid could begin, Britain was forced to sell all her commercial assets in the United States and turn over all her gold. FDR sent his own ship to pick up the last $50 million in British gold reserves.

“We are not only to be skinned but flayed to the bone,” Churchill wailed to his colleagues, and he was not far off. Churchill drafted a letter to FDR saying that if America continued along this line, she would “wear the aspect of a sheriff collecting the last assets of a helpless debtor.” It was, said the prime minister, “not fitting that any nation should put itself wholly in the hands of another.” But dependent as Britain was on America, Churchill reconsidered, and rewrote his note in more conciliatory tones.

FDR knew exactly what he was doing. “We have been milking the British financial cow, which had plenty of milk at one time, but which has now about become dry,” Roosevelt confided to one Cabinet member. “Great Britain became a poor, though deserving cousin—not to Roosevelt’s regret. So far as it is possible to read his devious mind, it appears that he expected the British to wear down both Germany and themselves. When all independent powers had ceased to exist, the United States would step in and run the world.” (A.J.P. Taylor)

H/T to Sean Gabb for the link.

June 28, 2017

Handsaw comparison – Japanese pull-cut versus Western push-cut

Filed under: Japan, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

On Facebook, Paul Sellers posted a couple of photos showing the differences between some traditional western hand saws, which cut on the push stroke, and traditional Japanese hand saws, which cut on the pull stroke:

When you hear people say Japanese saws cut better, cut cleaner, cut faster, cut easier, usually it’s not necessarily true. In reality the Japanese saws cut on a pull stroke and the western saw on a push. When sharpened properly both cut very well. The difference for me is that one is a throwaway, the other a keeper for a lifetime. I own saws made in England and the USA that are totally functional and range in age from between the early 1800s 1860s and some up to date that I use daily. You can make any saw any thickness you like and it will work well.
Just saying.

The main difference nowadays is you throw away the Japanese saws because you can’t sharpen them whereas a decent western saw can be sharpened, well, for 200 years when you learn how. Most people can master saw sharpening with an hour of practice.


June 25, 2017

Fort Drum – America’s concrete battleship

Filed under: Asia, History, Japan, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Sep 2016

After the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain, the U.S. Board of Fortifications recommended that important harbors be fortified. This led to the development of defenses on several islands at the mouth of Manila and Subic Bays. One of these was El Fraile Island which would later become Fort Drum, America’s concrete battleship.

Read more about America’s concrete battleship, Fort Drum, here: http://www.wearethemighty.com/articles/americas-concrete-battleship-defended-manila-bay-until-the-very-end

June 12, 2017

Tank Chats #10 Crossley Chevrolet Armoured Car

Filed under: History, India, Military, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 19 Oct 2015

Armoured cars had proved so successful in India during the First World War, that shortly after its end the Indian Government ordered 16 Rolls-Royce cars. However, these proved so expensive that subsequent orders were placed with Crossley Motors in Manchester who made a tough but cheap 50hp IAG1 chassis. Substantial numbers of these cars were supplied between 1923 and 1925.

The car shown in this film was presented to The Tank Museum by the Government of Pakistan in 1951.

June 4, 2017

The Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942

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

Last month, Victor Davis Hanson recounted the American side of the Battle of Midway, which many historians see as the turning point of the Pacific War:

Battle of Midway deployment map, according to Seeschlachten der Weltgeschichte by William Koenig (German version of Epic Sea Battles) via Wikimedia

Seventy-five years ago (June 4-7, 1942), the astonishing American victory at the Battle of Midway changed the course of the Pacific War.

Just six months after the catastrophic Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. crushed the Imperial Japanese Navy off Midway Island (about 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu), sinking four of its aircraft carriers.

“Midway” referred to the small atoll roughly halfway between North America and Asia. But to Americans, “Midway” became a barometer of military progress. Just half a year after being surprised at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy had already destroyed almost half of Japan’s existing carrier strength (after achieving a standoff at the Battle of the Coral Sea a month earlier).

The odds at the June 1942 battle favored the Japanese. The imperial fleet had four carriers to the Americans’ three, backed up by scores of battleships, cruisers and light carriers as part of the largest armada that had ever steamed from Japan.

No military had ever won more territory in six months than had Japan. Its Pacific Empire ranged from the Indian Ocean to the coast of the Aleutian Islands, and from the Russian-Manchurian border to Wake Island in the Pacific.

Yet the Japanese Navy was roundly defeated by an outnumbered and inexperienced American fleet at Midway. Why and how?

Intro to the Solow Model of Economic Growth

Filed under: China, Economics, Germany, Japan — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 28 Mar 2016

Here’s a quick growth conundrum, to get you thinking.

Consider two countries at the close of World War II — Germany and Japan. At that point, they’ve both suffered heavy population losses. Both countries have had their infrastructure devastated. So logically, the losing countries should’ve been in a post-war economic quagmire.

So why wasn’t that the case at all?

Following WWII, Germany and Japan were growing twice, sometimes three times, the rate of the winning countries, such as the United States.

Similarly, think of this quandary: in past videos, we explained to you that one of the keys to economic growth is a country’s institutions. With that in mind, think of China’s growth rate. China’s been growing at a breakneck pace — reported at 7 to 10% per year.

On the other hand, countries like the United States, Canada, and France have been growing at about 2% per year. Aside from their advantages in physical and human capital, there’s no question that the institutions in these countries are better than those in China.

So, just as we said about Germany and Japan — why the growth?

To answer that, we turn to today’s video on the Solow model of economic growth.

The Solow model was named after Robert Solow, the 1987 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Among other things, the Solow model helps us understand the nuances and dynamics of growth. The model also lets us distinguish between two types of growth: catching up growth and cutting edge growth. As you’ll soon see, a country can grow much faster when it’s catching up, as opposed to when it’s already growing at the cutting edge.

That said, this video will allow you to see a simplified version of the model. It’ll describe growth as a function of a few specific variables: labor, education, physical capital, and ideas.

So watch this new installment, get your feet wet with the Solow model, and next time, we’ll drill down into one of its variables: physical capital.

Helpful links:
Puzzle of Growth: http://bit.ly/1T5yq18
Importance of Institutions: http://bit.ly/25kbzne
Rise and Fall of the Chinese Economy: http://bit.ly/1SfRpDL

May 30, 2017

The Disgusting Contents of Worcestershire Sauce (and Why It s Called That)

Filed under: Britain, Business, History, India — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 27 Mar 2017

In this video:

Worcestershire sauce, sometimes known as “Worcester sauce” is a savoury sauce that is often added to meat and fish dishes or, if you like your alcoholic beverages, the Bloody Mary cocktail. It may (or may not depending on how much you research your sauce choices) surprise you to learn that it’s literally made from fermented fish and spices.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/10/worcestershire-sauce-called/

May 26, 2017

Puzzle of Growth: Rich Countries and Poor Countries

Filed under: China, Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Feb 2016

Throughout this section of the course, we’ve been trying to solve a complicated economic puzzle — why are some countries rich and others poor?

There are various factors at play, interacting in a dynamic, and changing environment. And the final answer to the puzzle differs depending on the perspective you’re looking from. In this video, you’ll examine different pieces of the wealth puzzle, and learn about how they fit.

The first piece of the puzzle, is about productivity.

You’ll learn how physical capital, human capital, technological knowledge, and entrepreneurs all fit together to spur higher productivity in a population. From this perspective, you’ll see economic growth as a function of a country’s factors of production. You’ll also learn what investments can be made to improve and increase these production factors.

Still, even that is too simplistic to explain everything.

So we’ll also introduce you to another piece of the puzzle: incentives.

In previous videos, you learned about the incentives presented by different economic, cultural, and political models. In this video, we’ll stay on that track, showing how different incentives produce different results.

As an example, you’ll learn why something as simple as agriculture isn’t nearly so simple at all. We’ll put you in the shoes of a hypothetical farmer, for a bit. In those shoes, you’ll see how incentives can mean the difference between getting to keep a whole bag of potatoes from your farm, or just a hundredth of a bag from a collective farm.

(Trust us, the potatoes explain a lot.)

Potatoes aside, you’re also going to see how different incentives shaped China’s economic landscape during the “Great Leap Forward” of the 1950s and 60s. With incentives as a lens, you’ll see why China’s supposed leap forward ended in starvation for tens of millions.

Hold on — incentives still aren’t the end of it. After all, incentives have to come from somewhere.

That “somewhere” is institutions.

As we showed you before, institutions dictate incentives. Things like property rights, cultural norms, honest governments, dependable laws, and political stability, all create incentives of different kinds. Remember our hypothetical farmer? Through that farmer, you’ll learn how different institutions affect all of us. You’ll see how institutions help dictate how hard a person works, and how likely he or she is to invest in the economy, beyond that work.

Then, once you understand the full effect of institutions, you’ll go beyond that, to the final piece of the wealth puzzle. And it’s the most mysterious piece, too.

Why?

Because the final piece of the puzzle is the amorphous combination of a country’s history, ideas, culture, geography, and even a little luck. These things aren’t as direct as the previous pieces, but they matter all the same.

You’ll see why the US constitution is the way it is, and you’ll learn about people like Adam Smith and John Locke, whose ideas helped inform it.

And if all this talk of pieces makes you think that the wealth puzzle is a complex one, you’d be right.

Because the truth is, the question of “what creates wealth?” really is complex. Even the puzzle pieces you’ll learn about don’t constitute every variable at play. And as we mentioned earlier, not only are the factors complex, but they’re also constantly changing as they bump against each other.

Luckily, while the quest to finish the wealth puzzle isn’t over, at least we have some of the pieces in hand.

So take the time to dive in and listen to this video and let us know if you have questions along the way. After that, we’ll soon head into a new section of the course: we’ll tackle the factors of production so we can further explore what leads to economic growth.

May 23, 2017

The Ally From The Far East – Japan in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Asia, China, History, Japan, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 22 May 2017

Japan’s participation in World War 1 is an often overlooked part of their history – even in Japan itself. Their service as one of the members of the Entente marked the climax of a development that started with the Meiji Restoration, a way out of isolation and into the global alliance system. This brought Japan more power and was also very lucrative. And after fighting in the Pacific Theatre of World War 1, the Siege of Tsingtao and contributing the Japanese Navy to the war effort, Japan had a seat at the table of the Versailles peace negotiations.

May 7, 2017

The Importance of Institutions

Filed under: Asia, Economics, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Feb 2016

In today’s video, we discuss a topic critical to understanding economic growth: the power of institutions.

To better shed light on this, we’re going to look at an example that’s both tragic and extreme.

In 1945, North and South Korea were divided, ending 35 years of Japanese colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. From that point, the two Koreas took dramatically different paths. North Korea went the way of communism, and South Korea chose a relatively capitalistic, free market economy.

Now — what were the results of those choices?

In the ensuing decades after 1945, South Korea became a major car producer and exporter. The country also became a hub for music (any K-pop fans out there?), film, and consumer products. In stark contrast, North Korea’s totalitarian path resulted in episodes of famine and starvation for its people.

In the end, South Korea became a thriving market economy, with the living standards of a developed country. North Korea on the other hand, essentially became a militarized state, where people lived in fear.

Why such an extreme divergence?

It all comes down to institutions.

When economists talk about institutions, they mean things like laws and regulations, such as property rights, dependable courts and political stability. Institutions also include cultural norms, such as the ones surrounding honesty, trust, and cooperation.

To put it another way, institutions guide a country’s choices — which paths to follow, which actions to take, which signals to listen to, and which ones to ignore.

More importantly, institutions define the incentives that affect all of our lives.

Going back to our example, in the years after 1945, North and South Korea took dramatically different institutional paths.

In South Korea, the institutions of capitalism and democracy, promoted cooperation and honest commercial dealing. People were incentivized to produce goods and services to meet market demand. Businesses that did not meet demand were allowed to go bankrupt, allowing the re-allocation of capital towards more valuable uses.

Against that grain, North Korea’s institutions produced starkly different incentives. The totalitarian regime meant that the economy was centrally planned and directed. Most entrepreneurs didn’t have the freedom to keep their own profits, resulting in few incentives to do business. Farmers also didn’t have enough incentive to grow sufficient food to feed the population. This was due in part to price controls, and a lack of property rights.

As for capital, it was allocated by the state, mostly towards political and military uses. Instead of going towards science, or education, or industrial advancement, North Korea’s capital went mostly towards outfitting its army, and making sure that the ruling party remained unopposed.

And now, look at how different the two countries are as a result of those differing institutions.

When it comes to economic growth, institutions are critically important. A country’s institutions can have huge effects on long-term growth and prosperity. Good institutions can help turn a country into a growth miracle. Bad institutions can doom a country to economic disaster.

The key point remains: institutions are important.

They represent the choices that a country makes, and as the Korean peninsula shows you, choices on this scale can have staggering effects on a nation’s present, and future.

April 24, 2017

Growth Miracles and Growth Disasters

Filed under: Economics, Japan — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 Jan 2016

In previous videos, you learned two things.

First, that there can be large disparities in economic wealth among different countries. And second, you learned that one key factor drives that disparity: growth rate. As we said, it changes everything. But just how transformative is a country’s growth rate?

Take Argentina, for example.

In 1950, the Argentine standard of living was similar to that of many Western European countries. Up until 1965, Argentina’s per capita income was ahead of many of its neighbors.

On the other hand, Japan in 1950 was on the other end of the spectrum. Japan had been ravaged by war and was only just beginning to find its economic footing again. At that time, Japan’s standard of living was roughly the same as that of Mexico.

It was quite poor, compared to the Argentina of the same era.

But look at what’s happened in the past 65 years.

Japan today is one of the world’s most prosperous countries. Since 1950, it has managed to double its living standards about every eight years. Argentina, on the other hand, has stagnated. Once, Argentina had double the standard of living of Japan. But Japan now doubles them today, with a standard of living 10 times higher than the one it had in 1950.

In economic terms, Japan is what we would call a growth miracle. It’s in the same class as other growth success stories, like South Korea and China which have experienced the “hockey stick” of prosperity. (India seems like it may have started on this path as well.)

These countries are proof of one thing: with the right factors, a poor country can not only grow, but it can do so quickly. It can catch up with developed countries at an astonishing rate.

What took the United States two centuries of steady growth can now be achieved by other countries in about one-fifth the time. Catch-up can happen in 40 years — about the span of a generation or two.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, while growth can skyrocket in some countries, growth isn’t guaranteed at all.

Argentina is an example of this. It grew well for a time, and then it stalled. Even worse than Argentina, are countries like Niger, and Chad, which are the very worst of growth disasters. Not only are these countries in extreme poverty, but they also have little to no growth. More than that, these countries have never experienced substantial growth in the past.

But why does that all matter?

It matters because growth isn’t just about numbers. It’s not just about more goods and services. When a country grows, its citizens often end up with longer, healthier, and happier lives. Conversely, the countries that are growth disasters have citizens in poverty, with shorter and less happier lives.

As bleak as this seems, it’s the plain truth: while growth miracles are possible, growth disasters are, too.

Which leaves us with another question: what causes either state?

What leads to growth, prosperity, health, and happiness? And then, what leads to the opposite situation?

We’re excited to share the answer, but that’s a topic for future videos.

For now, check out this video to get up to speed on growth miracles and growth disasters.

April 9, 2017

QotD: Re-assessing the pulp era’s racism

Filed under: Asia, Books, History, India, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The skepticism I’m now developing about ascriptions of racism in pulp fiction really began, I think, when I learned that it had become fashionable to denigrate Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and other India stories as racist. This is clearly sloppy thinking at work. Kim was deeply respectful of its non-European characters, especially the Pathan swashbuckler Mahbub Ali and Teshoo Lama. Indeed, the wisdom and compassion of Kipling’s lama impressed me so greatly as a child that I think it founded my lifelong interest in and sympathy with Buddhism.

But I didn’t begin thinking really critically about race in pulp fiction until I read Tarzan and the Castaways a few years ago and noticed something curious about the way Burroughs and his characters used the adjective “white” (applied to people). That is: while it appeared on the surface to be a racial distinction, it was actually a culturist one. In Burroughs’s terms of reference (at least as of 1939), “white” is actually code for “civilized”; the distinction between “civilized” and “savage” is actually more important than white/nonwhite, and non-Europeans can become constructively “white” by exhibiting civilized virtues.

Realizing this caused me to review my assumptions about racial attitudes in Burroughs’s time. I found myself asking whether the use of “white” as code for “civilized” was prejudice or pragmatism. Because there was this about Burrough’s European characters: (1) in their normal environments, the correlation between “civilized” and “white” would have been pretty strong, and (2) none of them seemed to have any trouble treating nonwhite but civilized characters with respect. In fact, in Burroughs’s fiction, fair dealing with characters who are black, brown, green, red, or gorilla-furred is the most consistent virtue of the white gentleman.

I concluded that, given the information available to a typical European in 1939, it might very well be that using “white” as code for “civilized” was pragmatically reasonable, and that the reflex we have today of ascribing all racially-correlated labels to actually racist beliefs is actually unfair to Burroughs and his characters!

Eric S. Raymond, “Reading racism into pulp fiction”, Armed and Dangerous, 2010-01-18.

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.

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