Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is It World War? Or Not?

With the turmoil in the Middle East, there are two possibilities.  Either this is the end of the world as we know it, or it is not.  Either the ISIS fighters will take over Iraq, or they won't.  Either it's the end of the Pax Americana or it isn't.  Either Islam is going to take over the world, or it isn't.

It's the difference between the Mongols, that spread westwards across the Asian steppe to the borders of Europe, and the Boxer Rebellion in China that was defeated by western forces at the turn of the 20th century.

The Boxer Rebellion was an anti-western movement in China that rose up in 1898.  Of course, they didn't call themselves "Boxers;" they called themselves the "Righteous and Harmonious Fists."  It was a movement of young men driven to desperation by the dominance of the western powers in China at the end of the 19th century.  The Boxers thought that they were invulnerable to western cannons and rifles.

Then there were the Ghost Shirt dancers of the North American plains, also in the late 19th century.  The dancers, driven to desperation by the western migration of the white man, thought that their shirts had magical properties that would protect the wearer from western bullets.

There are some -- I am thinking of chaps like David Goldman -- that interpret the upsurge in Muslim terrorism as a movement of desperation, similar to the Boxers and the Ghost Shirters.  On this view the suicide bombers and ISIS fighters are fighting a desperate rearguard action against western culture and dominance.

Of course, it also happens that backward but aggressive fighters overwhelm a more powerful empire that has gone soft.  The Mongols defeated the Chinese in the 13th century (admittedly during a time of troubles).  The British barbarians came to India in about 1700 and dominated that vast and populous subcontinent for the next two centuries.  The Germans rose up in Europe during the 19th century, lost two world wars, and still ended up dominating the continent. Anything can happen.

Everybody is worried about Vladimir Putin's Russia.  But Russia's economy runs on selling hydrocarbons.  Everybody is worried about the Middle East.  But without oil, the Middle East would be a poverty-stricken desert.  Everybody is worried about China, but China is about to enter a demographic death spiral, courtesy of the One Child policy.  Nobody is worried about India, but then they never are.

The point is that we don't have a clue what is going to happen.  We don't know if the US will descend into entitlement program chaos, or a war between the races or a war between the religions, or a war between the classes.

In all this chaos fear there is probably only one thing that Americans can agree upon.  President Obama is probably the worst president ever.

But he sure has succeeded in getting Americans' attention.  That might be the best thing ever.

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