I am giving a broad lecture on the Second World War this week, and as always that sets me thinking about the world that war created, the way my entire (and subsequent) generations have benefited from it, and the issue of whether its legacy might finally be lost along with the generation that lived through it with young adults. As I have noted here before, the 2000s are looking more and more like the late 1920s and early 1930s in many respects, and two small, relatively unnoticed events this week have set off some alarm bells in my unconscious.
The extraordinary achievement of the Second World War, in retrospect, was to bring nearly the entirely industrialized world into a single community led (but not really dominated) by the
In the 1920s
Disarmament was once again an official priority of the victorious coalition in the Second World War, and both the
The first SALT Treaty followed only three years later but immediately became a principal target of the emerging neoconservative movement. Arms control, to them, implied that we could trust the Soviets not to unleash a general war—a view that both ideologues like Richard Perle and politicians like Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush totally rejected. Only superiority and the willingness to use it if necessary, they believed, could guarantee our superiority. But when Gorbachev gave clear evidence of a new direction in Soviet policy, Reagan (led by George Schultz) resumed arms control, at least in
The post-cold war era of the 1990s looks a lot like the 1920s now, even though it was a much more prosperous economic era. Every major power drastically cut back its military forces. The United Nations in 1990-1 actually did what it was meant to do, undoing Iraqi aggression against
The selection of George W. Bush by the Supreme Court and 9/11 gave the neocons—of whom the President was now clearly one—their chance. Only the naked application of American power in defiance of any restraints, they believed, could solve this new problem (even though no sane person could possibly compare the threat of Islamic terrorists to those posed by the Nazis, the Japanese in the 1930s, or the Soviet and Chinese Communists.) In 2003 the
So what were the two events of last week that brought this whole pattern into sharper focus? First, Russian President Putin—who has restored authoritarian rule to
And on the same day—Friday—it emerged that
“No, I -- what I'm expressing is what the President believes, which is that we have lots of different areas of cooperation with
She got no question about the Russian move.
Historically, world order (and often, domestic order) has often been established with the help of a massive exertion of force. (That is simply another way of restating the idea of a crisis every 80 years—even though some such crises do not involve widespread violence.) Those explosions put an end to anarchy and can create as many as six decades of stability. That is what the Second World War did; but it also proved (especially at