It’s amazing how little most policy makers know about history. If it’s not about Neville Chamberlain and appeasement, they probably haven’t heard of it. This is a real problem. As the stewards of a power that might actually have a few real competitors a couple decades from now, they really need to start learning.
This week I’ve been in Bavaria, a formerly independent region of Germany. This prompted a number of ruminations on Germany, France, and their relative power throughout history. All that inspired this video, which reveals the central fact Washington, DC is missing: There is nothing worse for the power on top than war.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. This week I have been lucky enough to stay with friends in Bavaria, a southern region of Germany. It’s been a super traditional Oktoberfest trip.
It’s been fun, but walking around Bavaria has gotten me thinking about the ends of empires, and how powerful states lose their place on top. I’m from the United States, and I think a lot about American Empire, or the American world Order, and how it’s going to end. I’m not a big fan of American empire, but what I want is a peaceful evolution, an evolution into a system that everybody can buy into. What I don’t want is a fiery crash into war.
And that’s exactly what I think Washington, DC is working towards. I’m not just talking about Donald Trump. US policy, from Clinton through Bush and Obama Has been geared towards more war. They don’t know much about history in Washington, DC, and they’re missing one of history’s central lessons. There is nothing worse for the traditional power on top than war. Bavaria illustrates this very nicely.
For centuries Bavaria was an independent country, and it wasn’t the only one. Germany was a mess of separate states up until 1871. They had different interests, and they’d frequently go to war against each other. For two hundred years, France had been the most powerful country in Europe. It always took massive coalitions of European powers to defeat France. So what changed all of this? What made France lose its traditional position on top? It was War. Bavaria was tremendously proud of its independence, it still is to some degree today. But French aggression was the main driver of German unification. Over centuries, before and after the French revolution, Kings, Republican Dictators and Emperors thought that invading German states was the right way to prop up their power. That’s what Napoleon III, the French leader in 1870, thought as well. He attacked Germany one last time. It was the final catastrophe. It convinced the Bavarian king to join the German Empire. France lost to Germany in 1870. It took the United States to save France from Germany in 1918, and France lost to Germany completely in 1940. Germany remains the most powerful country in Europe today, even after losing two world wars, and it’s the French love of war that made this happen more than anything else.
We see this again, and again and again in history. The Austro-Hungarians, and Ottomans thought that World War One would save their tottering empires. Instead, the war destroyed both of them. The British won World Wars One and Two, but the cost of those wars ended their empire as well. The central point I’m making here is that there is nothing more dangerous to the country on top than war. Even if you win, you lose valuable resources, and you create resentment. Nobody in Washington, DC seems to understand this simple principle. Not Trump, not the generals who are keeping the government functioning, and nobody in Congress either, Republican or Democrat.
The United States is not France in 1870. But we may be France in 1800. It’s a horrible thing to contemplate, but we still have the power to utterly destroy Iran or North Korea. We’re still the first Napoleon rather than the Third. But we’re at the start of a bad process. Napoleon III’s failure was set up by the first Napoleon’s successes. Our constant aggression is already turning the rest of the world against us. The American world order really does have the potential to survive long after the Chinese and Indian militaries are larger than ours. But it won’t survive if we keep inventing reasons to start wars. After having the stage set by 16 years of desperately stupid Middle East policy, Trump now risks creating a grand coalition of countries against us. The Trump Administration, and all of Washington, DC desperately needs to learn this simple lesson. There is nothing worse for the country on top than War.
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