Friday, January 16, 2009

Great Betrayals - populist historians reworking reality

Heard an interview with Dr Peter Stanley on the ABC, about his new book Invading Australia. The basic premis of his argument, is that Australia was never under threat of invasion, as the Japanese never had serious plans for an invasion. So he has issues with a commemoration day for a battle that 'saved' Australia.

Good on him.

This is the sort of issue that I came to know well when working (briefly) as a Research Assistant on a book of the experiences of Australian POW's of the Second World War. The author wanted to talk about prisoners of war of the Japanese, whereas my contacts at the RSL and other places were incandescent about the complete dismissal of the experiences of the thousands of men captured by the Italian's or Germans. It seems to be a constant of many modern Australian academics, that the first half of Australia's wartime experience can be discounted, while they focus on the dramas involved in a supposed direct threat to Australia.

Let us deal with these issues separately.

Australia's contribution to the world war as a whole cannot be written off in this fashion. Australian troops fought bravely and successfully, or bravely and unsuccessfully, in the Western Desert, Greece, Crete, Syria, and the advance through Libya and into Tunisia. Australian flyers were a mainstay of the fighter and tactical air force campaigns throughout the Middle East, as well as of the bombing campaign which was the main offensive against Germany for the majority of the war. The Australian Navy participated in patrol and convoy throughout the North and South Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean, long before there was a threat from Japan. Like my RSL contacts, I am unhappy about the disinterest in this era shown by most modern Australian historian's - particularly those who apparently have political axes to grind.

I am not claiming that Dr Stanley is one of these, quite the opposite. My initial response is delight of someone else sees the fallacy of having a commemoration day from semi-mythical event.

We run the risk of repeating the myth-making that led to the idea that Australia as a nation was defined by the 'sacrifice' at Gallipoli. There are always been a couple of problems with this myth. The first is that it discounts the far more significant effects Australians had on war world history during the great War, particularly on the Western front. The second and more worrying one, is that the idea that Australians were sacrificed needlessly. The truth, of course, is that the British took more casualties on that campaign than the Australians did, with the French not far behind. Also, that the campaign was a genuinely a valiant attempt to get the conflict away from the meat grinder on the Western front. If the campaign had succeeded, it would rightly be lauded right along with other desperate and casualty riden, but ultimately successful invasions, such as D-day and Okinawa.

The entrenchment of this concept of failure and sacrifice, was most appallingly evident in a series of radio ads a few years ago. One old soldier, actually uttered the line "the brass hats, back in Whitehall, landed us on the wrong beach". It is appalling enough that the poor old soul actually believed that arriving on the wrong beach was the fault of someone 1000 miles away, rather than some junior naval officer trying to navigate in a row boat. (Like many modern Australian historians, he was apparently not aware that the much more technologically advanced American invasion of Omaha beach on D-Day arrived in the wrong place after merely crossing the English Channel, rather than the entire Mediterranean.) Far more appalling, is that the professional production team who put the radio spots together, apparently accepted this as fitting with their preconceptions about how the world worked.

It is, I suppose, a stirring thing to believe that your nation has shown its valour in appalling circumstances. It is certainly possible to see the attraction of such myth-making. However one should never forget that the real Australian contribution to modern world history was in its successes on the battlefield, rather than tales of woe or despair.

Dr Stanley argued cogently that the Japanese never had the intention, or indeed the capacity, to invade Australia. This was in fact the belief of all the world's political and military leaders at the time - with the possible exception of Australian politicians who had "lost it", or of a particular American General who were trying to boost his political importance. The Combined Chiefs of Staff felt that Australia was never seriously threatened. The British Chiefs of Staff constantly promised that if Japanese troops did actually invade, then divisions rounding South Africa on their way to the Middle East would be immediately dispatched (such as the ninth British Armoured division in April 1942); but they were equally certain that the Japanese would not attempt such an operation. The Australian Chiefs of Staff had to prepare as though an invasion of Australia was likely, that after all is the job, but they too were far more realistic than Prime Minister Curtin and his amateur government.

This range of perspectives has been ignored by all too many supposedly professional historians, aided and abetted by the sort of politicians who feel that making emotive claims will gain them temporary distraction from anything else that is annoying the voters. Thus both David Day and Paul Keating bang on with more myth-making, such as calling the collapse of Singapore in 1942 'a Great Betrayal'.

A few significant points about Singapore...
* All the Dominions and Colonies were supposed to contribute to Imperial Defence, and all failed to live up to their guarantees - notably Australia, where most parties cut defence expenditure throughout the interwar period (the ALP in particular undermined Imperial Defence to pursue Continental Defence, and then whinged about everyone else's failures later).
* Singapore was a naval base, not a fortress (politician speech not military description).
* Everyone in the concerned military and government services was kept continually aware that once war in Europe broke out, it was no longer promised that the main fleet would arrive in '90 days to Singapore', but 120 - later 180.
* Nonetheless within 120 days of the Japanese attack the British Eastern Fleet at Ceylon included 5 battleships and 3 aircraft carriers, with another 3 battleships and two aircraft carriers due before the 180 days were up (at this point the American Pacific fleet was 3 aircraft carriers and no battleships).
* While waiting for the fleets arrival it had become clear that Singapore would probably fall. Churchill suggested evacuation of Singapore, and Curtin refused to allow it. (Thus sacrificing not only the Australian and Indian troops who could have been withdrawn, but also extra British troops - the 18th division - who were foolishly committed after this decision. Any of those troops could claim that the real Great Betrayal was by Curtin's government not Churchill's.)

It is not quite as simple as noting that the British kept as many promises as were possible, and the Australians were not lily white. The truth of the matter is that all politicians in democratic societies are at the mercy of their parties and their voters. No political party in any western country has much to be proud of in the interwar period. Nor do voters.

What does need to be acknowledged though, is that modern myth-makers should avoid fantasies like 'Anzac Sacrifice', 'Great Betrayals' and 'Battles that Saved Australia'. The truth is imposing enough, without needing fantasy to drive implausible emotiveness.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Australian ‘Republicanism’ – in pursuit of a failed model?

There appears to be a strange misconception for some Australians that to be a Republican makes you somehow a ‘modern’, or even a progressive thinker. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ‘ideal’ of Republicanism is not only old fashioned, but largely discredited.

Republicanism in the ‘modern’ world, is one of the ideals of the Age of Reason, an eighteenth century development. It is in fact quite an old fashioned concept compared to the much more recent ideals of Parliamentary Democracy/Constitutional Monarchy (as practiced by Australia); or indeed of Communism, Socialism, or Fascism. Nor should it be considered naturally more desirable than any of the others named.

The romance of modern republicanism is largely attached to the revolutionary fervour, which is often mistakenly associated with the establishment of the American, French, or South American republics. Somehow this has been detached from the very similar ‘revolutions’ of the many Socialist Republics (read Soviet Socialist or People’s Republics – otherwise known as Dictatorships). In fact the common theme of each and every one of these romances, has been violence and repression. Whether you take the examples of the ‘Yellow’s, Red’s, and Black’s’ in the US Revolution – all of whom were on the British side, as were hundreds of thousands of white ‘loyalists’ who were forced to flee the country; or the ‘enemies of the people’ who were slaughtered in such vast numbers by virtually every republic you care to name from eighteenth century France to twentieth century Russia, Turkey, China, and almost anywhere in Africa ever called a republic of any sort: you would be unable to find any system of government in history which has shed more blood, and more of it’s own people’s blood, than states called Republics.

This is because Republics – particularly the overly ‘democratised’ modern versions of them – are inherently unstable, and almost inevitably collapse into chaos and/or dictatorships. Dictatorships of individuals, such as the Wiemar Republic when it voted in Adolf Hitler; or dictatorships of the all righteous ‘majority’, such as the Republics which have unloosed bloodbaths on their minority groups – from Turkey in the 20’s, to Rwanda more recently.

Here we run into the problem with Churchill’s often quoted statement that Democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the other ones. (People usually forget his other quote on democracy – that the best argument against one was ten minutes conversation with the average voter.) It would be impossible to quantify the number of people who have confused the word Democracy with the concept of Republicanism. In fact democracy – from the Greek ‘demos’ which simply means rule by the many (or common), and implies ‘for the many’ – is in many ways opposed to overly democratised ‘Republicanism’, which in practical terms usually means ‘rule by the majority’, and rarely pays more than lip service to the concept of ‘for anyone other than the majority’. The Greek states were actually small enough for all the voters to gather and agree, and there were self-evident dangers in threatening any important minority in such a system, which are not so obvious at the modern ballot box.

Democracy can be an excellent component of a balanced system of government. Unfettered Democracy however – the concept that 50.01% have the right to over-rule everyone else - is one of the great evil’s of the world, and most correctly identified with the Roman concept of ‘Bread and Circuses’. Many Republicans seem appallingly enamoured of unfettered democracy.

Machiavelli wrote and excellent two page summary of the cycles of human government in his Discourses. He pointed out that there are only three basic types of government: Monarchy, Oligarchy, and Democracy. Monarchs arise when the people need good leaders to provide them with security and stability, and many early kings were chosen, or even elected, by their people. However if the positions become hereditary, there is the danger that after several generations the monarch will no longer rule for his people’s good, but for his own. In which case eventually a strong group of disaffected Oligarchs will overthrow the Monarch, and place themselves into the role of ‘protectors’ of the people (Republics like Venice and England - the English civil war; and the American, French and Russian Revolutionary wars come to mind). Eventually these Oligarchs will also become corrupt – often in much less time than a monarchy: at which the people will rebel, and usually attempt to install some sort of Democracy. Unfortunately these democracies are rarely competently organised, and usually break down into ‘Bread and Circuses’ disasters. The mess is so complete, that the people – seeking security – soon elect or follow a new Monarch (sometimes – as in the cases of Napoleon, Stalin or Hitler - called a dictator). Many of these new monarchs become hereditary (see Napoleon the Third, Kim Il-sung, and the Suharto clan amongst others), and the process begins again.

Monarchies, by their nature, can last for centuries without becoming too corrupt. Oligarchies, by their nature, might last decades. Republics, particularly those with unfettered democracy? Well a few years anyway. But all have the seeds of their own destruction embedded in the system. They are all unstable. (Indeed Mancur Olson invented the concept of the time horizon of Rulership, which makes it clear that citizens are better off with a hereditary family that thinks in centuries, rather than an oligarchy that thinks in decades, or a popularly elected official who thinks in months – often only weeks. Considering this principle, it is no wonder that hereditary government has been the dominant form for most of human history.)

Machiavelli rightly pointed out that the only system of government that was not unstable in the long term, was one which combined the strengths of each system. The long-term perspective of the Monarch, the balancing of interests of the Oligarchs, and the popular consent of the Demos. If these three are in balance, then any two of them can combine to prevent a takeover by the third.

In theory this is what happened in miniature during the English Civil War. The King looked set on the path towards European style Absolute Monarchy, until brought to heel by the English Oligarchs. Unfortunately the civil war required the oligarchs to get the support of the English, and even more importantly Scottish, commons: which threw up all sorts of Demos movements such as the New Model Army, the Presbyterians, and the Levellers. Eventually the English Republic (sorry – Commonwealth), found itself with a new Monarch/Dictator – Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector – who passed on his job to his son. Fortunately the dictatorship was overthrown by a combination of Monarchy, Oligarchy and Commons which then set up the carefully balanced Constitutional Monarchy with both Lords and Commons – the system which developed into that used by almost all stable long term democracies today.

The founding fathers of the United States designed their constitution partly by doing a careful assessment of the strengths and weaknesses, and eventual reasons for failure, of previous Republic – Oligarchic and restrictive like Sparta and Venice (still going at that stage), or so called ‘Demos’ based like Athens and Rome. They did this both because they were planning an Oligarchic and restrictive state – with no votes or even rights for yellow’s, red’s or black’s; and because they were planning a Demos with something resembling unfettered democracy - at least for white males of appropriate status and income. Being limited by a revolutionary movement which was theoretically anti-monarchical, they came up with a slightly different form, where (it appears) the Supreme Court is supposed to consider the long term; and the Congress – both Senate and Representatives – theoretically look after special interests and state rights; while the executive – the President and his appointed advisers – are the result of the say of national unfettered Demos. They made a reasonable fist of achieving something approaching a balance - save for the occasional civil war, and the ongoing ‘resistance’ of many in the south and the reservations who still claim to be conquered and second class citizens. It is true that the balance between the Monarchical, Oligarchical and Demos components is neither as neat nor as effective as Machiavelli might have preferred. But, despite increasingly absolute-monarchist behaviour by popularly elected US Presidents, nobody could really call the United States a sample of unfettered democracy.

As a sidelight here, there is an amusing episode of The West Wing where White House officials beg the Belo-Russians to go for a Constitutional Democracy, by pointing out that only four Presidential Republics have lasted more than 30 years. They then decry the number of states that have been sacrificed to the illogic of attempting to copy the US system. They recommend a Prime Minister, just to take much of the executive power OUT of the President’s hands. (They can’t go quite as far for US television as the modern crop of US Science Fiction writers – David Weber, Eric Flint, etc – who frankly recommend that a constitutional monarchy is definitely the way to go.) These ideas are, of course, a bit too advanced for the real White House, and it is a constant source of amusement to imagine how heartbreaking it must be to these writers to contrast their ideas with what is being attempted in the Iraq and Afghanistan. (If ever any country was designed for a House of Lords, it is Afghanistan, but the same could be said for a proper regional interests Senate in a multi-tribal country like Iraq).

By contrast the Australian Commonwealth has re-named its Monarch, Lords and Commons; as Governor General, Senate, and House of Representatives: but they fill the traditional functions of representing respectively the ‘long term’ perspective of the Queens representative; the ‘balancing of interests’ of the Senate (in our case both the states, as designed, and the ‘special interest parties’ as they have developed); and the ‘popular consent’ of those governed. In fact it would be fair to argue that during the only great test of the system - in the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government - it worked exactly as it should. When the house of the Demos started attempting some highly questionable legal actions – attempting to override some interests in the name of unfettered democracy; attempting to govern without legal funding; forcing unconstitutional bank loans; etc: the other two components of the system – the Senate and Governor general – combined to restrain it by… calling an election to assess whether the Demos themselves agreed with what was being done, supposedly in their name.

It is telling that many Australian Republicans seem to think that the events of 1975 are an argument in favour of Republicanism. They seem to have missed the point that A) unfettered democracy should never be allowed to over-run all other interests, and B) that when the Demos were asked to adjudicate in 1975: they agreed, and delivered an overwhelming endorsement of the principle!

Even more spurious is the mistake many people make of claiming that under a Republican system the deadlock of the Australian Senate by a state government appointing someone of a different party could not have happened. Have these people read the US constitution they admire so much? (Have they noticed a US Governor facing impeachment for selling Obama’s old Senate seat to the highest bidder!) A senate, any senate, is specifically not supposed to be just another expression of populist numbers. A senate is designed to protect the rights of whatever sub-sets they are built around. That is exactly what is supposed to happen in a federal republic. (This is exactly what good party men like Premier Bracks have attempted to undermine by making Victoria’s upper house more ‘democratic’.)

It is hard to imagine how any person, who actually considers long term consequences: could be in favour of a system that would not put a brake on the sort of activities that were being pursued by the Whitlam government. Even those who honestly believe that the Prime-Minister in question was a cross between a saint and a demi-god (I believe the correct term is ‘demagogue”), should consider the effects of parliaments which have previously bowed to such abuse of process by popular leaders – Cromwell, Robespierre, Mussolini, and Hitler come to mind. It may appear far fetched to imagine an Australian dictator – even one who may have considered himself doing it from the most noble and self sacrificing of reasons (such as did Cromwell, Robespierre, Mussolini and Hitler for instance). However the point is that the system is specifically designed to prevent such concentrations of power, for ‘good’ as well as ‘evil’ purposes. History is replete with ‘thin end of the wedge’ scenario’s.

So this leaves the basic problem with Republicanism. The only states that came close to being the unfettered, democratic republics of popular mythology; were the small and exclusive city states of Greece and Rome. The main things they had in common were a very limited body of similar and right thinking, male and property owning citizens, who could get together and agree in open assemblies. Oh, and slavery.

Modern Republics by contrast have attempted to some extent or other to expand the franchise beyond just ‘people like us’. Property franchises have been expanded or abolished; sex franchises expanded; race franchises expanded; age franchises expanded. (There are people seriously campaigning for the vote for 16 year old’s – often the same people who are pointing out that modern research shows that adolescents brains are not completely developed on the concept of consequences until they are in their twenties, and that therefore these children should not be held responsible for committing crimes until they are 21, or 25 maybe!) As a result modern republics have almost universally failed. ‘Consensus’ is rarely achievable by such disparate masses. Unfettered democracy leads to bread and circuses corruption, or to dictatorship, or both.

Consider a list of the two hundred or so Republics or Democracies established in the last quarter millenium, then write down the ones that have not collapsed in chaos; fallen to dictators; or indulged in bloody civil wars or racial cleansing. The second list will not take long to compile. Neither the United States, or France, are on it. The countries that are on it, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a few other Commonwealth countries: as well as such constitutional monarchies as are common in Scandinavia and parts of Asia: have largely followed Machiavelli’s advice and achieved ‘balance’ in their governments – as has Switzerland, the closest thing to a long term and stable ‘republic’ on any list. Admittedly all of them have suffered in the last decades from Republican style movements that claim to want to ‘democratise’ their societies further. (Blair’s disgraceful attempt to replace the old fashioned special interests House of Lords with a democratised ‘Peers for Loans to the Labour Party’ lap dog house, being a stellar example which will probably have appalling long term effects on the rights of British citizens, as their ‘popular’ house legislates more and more restrictions on their behaviour.)

As the 1975 election, and the more recent referendum on Republicanism seem to demonstrate: the average Australian voter doesn’t want to give their supposedly ‘Demos’ house and its party machines more power. By and large we like the balance of power system inherited from the Magna Carta via the English Civil War. We certainly dislike the sort of ‘gerrymanders’ that idealistic Labour politicians invited into Queensland by their scrapping of the upper house, and the ruining of any system of ‘balance’ in that state (much to their eventual discomfort). We even have a penchant for voting a strong government in the Demos house, and then selecting a more varied group of special interest parties in the special interest house (no wonder the party machines hate it/us).

What we don’t want, don’t trust, and don’t need: is anything that weakens the beautifully balanced system we have. That includes a popularly elected President (which would destroy the ‘long term’ component of our system). Those of us who have even the slightest concept of history – and despite the damage the pro ‘reformers’ have done to the education system, that is still a handy number (perhaps boosted regularly by immigrants who have come from unstable and bloodthirsty republics and dictatorships because they value the safety and tranquillity of Australian society) - know that a Republican ‘reform’ is not the way of the future. It is the way of the past.

Traditional Republicanism is largely the failed experiment of the ancient (and modern) slavery based societies. Modern Republicanism is largely the failed Enlightenment concept of unfettered democracy, that has quite often - would it really be an exaggeration to say 'more often than not' - led to the sort of gulags and pogroms and terrors and dictatorships which have made Ghenghis Khan look like a dilettante. Let the Republican’s appeal to the ‘future’. Let them sing praises to states without monarchs or oligarchs (except of course themselves). Let them, in their wilful ignorance, believe that unfettered bread and circuses will make a better and more modern world. In fact let them continue living in cloud-cuckoo land. We, the Demos, are largely happy with our ‘old fashioned’ checks and balances.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Empires of Britain and the United States - Toying with Historical Analogy

One of the recurrent concepts in the study of history is that of the ‘natural cycle’, and its most enticing form is that of ‘collapse’. The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. The Rise and Fall of Feudalism. The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. All of these are, of course, ridiculous oversimplifications.

Arguably the evolution of the British Empire into a Commonwealth of 70-odd self-governing nations, many of them with stable democratic governments, who can all get together and play cricket and have Commonwealth Games (and impose sanctions and suspensions on undemocratic members): cannot be considered much of a ‘collapse’ when compared to say the Inca or Aztec civilisations. Nor can post Medieval Europe be considered a ‘collapsed’ version. Even Rome left a series of successor states across Europe – some successful and some not. (Though there was clearly a collapse of economics and general living standards in these successor states.) The fact that the Roman Empire survived in various forms both East – Byzantium – and west – Holy Roman Empire, Catholic Church, Christendom, etc – would also argue somewhat against total collapse. Still the idea has been popular with both publishers and readers.

Yet the ‘natural cycle’ theory has been revisited recently by economic historians in such appalling works on ‘Imperialism and Collapse’, as The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. [That’s the one where the Paul Kennedy explained how US power “has been declining relatively faster than Russia’s over the last few decades” (p.665) – just before the Berlin Wall came down.]

Personally I have great reservations about trying to make long-term arguments about inevitability from disparate facts about very different societies, but the game can provide some amusing pointers.

So let us compare the US imperial experience to its British model. A whimsical exercise in comparative dates.

England was colonised by the Norman Empire (a tribe that spread across France, Britain, Italy, and the Middle East can be referred to as an empire I believe), in 1066. After some initial fierce resistance, they settled well, integrated with the local economy, and started developing a more advanced economic society.

North America was colonised by the British Empire (and Spanish and French of course), in the sixteenth century. After some initial fierce resistance, they settled well, integrated with the local economy, and started developing a more advanced economic society.

Norman England spent the next few centuries gradually taking out its neighbours. Wales, Ireland, and eventually Scotland (though the fact that the Scottish King James I & VI actually inherited England confuses this concept a bit). The process was fairly violent.

The North American ‘English’ colonies spent the next few centuries taking out their neighbours. Indian tribes, Dutch, Spanish and French colonists, etc. The process was fairly violent.

England fought a number of wars over peripheral areas, particularly the Hundred Years war over claims to lands in France.

The North American Colonies enthusiastically joined (if not blatantly incited) the early world wars, with the desire of taking over nearby French and Spanish colonies

The English fought a civil war in the 1640’s to 50’s over the issue of how to share power between the executive government, the oligarchs, and the commons. It appears that the oligarchs incited the commons (which was not very common in those days anyway). It was extremely bloody, and those on the periphery – particularly the Scots and Irish - came out badly (and with a long term bad taste for their over mighty neighbour).

The Colonies fought their first civil war over the issue of how to share power between the executive, the oligarchs and the commons in the1770’s to 80’s. It is clear that the oligarchs incited the commons (who in the US were still not very common - every male except those Yellow, Red or Black. An improvement? Certainly not considering the theoretical philosophical base of the so-called Revolution!). It was not really so bloody, but those on the periphery – particularly the Indians and slaves (both of which were pro-British), and the Loyalists and Canadians – came out badly. (60-100,000 ‘citizens’ were expelled or forced to flee for being ‘loyalists’, let alone Indians and ex-slaves). Naturally the Canadians and their new refugee citizens developed a long term bad taste for their over mighty neighbour – who attempted to attack them at the drop of a hat thereafter.

The British spent the next century and a half accumulating bits of empire – the Dominions, the Crown Colonies, and the Protectorates - in a haphazard fashion. Usually, but not always, troops followed traders and settlers.

The United States spent the next century and a half accumulating bits of empire - conquests from the Indians, purchases from France and Russia, conquests from Mexico and Spain, annexations of places like Hawaii, etc – in a haphazard fashion. Usually, but not always, troops followed traders and settlers.

Let us pause and emphasise a point here. The above sounds a bit contemporary. It is not really. Britain had been in the business of direct conquest in the 16th and 17th century, but came more into treaty and association in the 18th and 19th century. The US was into direct conquest in the 19th and even 20th centuries – see wars with Spain and Mexico – and have come more into treaty and association since World War Two. Also the British have pretty much pulled out of the expanding Empire business. The US is still in full swing.

The British spent most of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries as the world’s policeman, responsible for keeping the peace, and for maintaining a balance of power. They were usually pilloried by all about them for this role, particularly by up and coming powers who wanted a ‘place in the sun’ - Germany and the United States being the stand out examples (though there is a lot of whinging from old allies like Russia). For the last half of that period, the British voter was having serious second thoughts about the whole concept.

The United States took on the mantle of world’s policeman in the post Second World War world. They have spent much of the last 60 years trying to keep the peace, and, interestingly, to maintain the balance of power. (Do not be fooled by the concept of the overwhelming superpower. Britain was a lot closer to being able to take on the rest of the world in the 19th century, when it really could defeat every other navy in the world combined; than the US is now, where it could perhaps face Iran, Russia and India simultaneously, as long as the European Union is friendly. Whoops, forgot China, the Balkans, Palestine, Syria, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and other little blips on the US horizon. Well let’s be honest, no one has ever been able to take on more than a few of the other powers simultaneously. NO one.)

For their troubles, they are usually pilloried by those all about them, particularly by up and coming powers who want their place ‘in the sun’ – the Soviet Union and China being the stand out examples. (Though there is a lot of whinging from old allies like France). For the last forty years (since Vietnam, and certainly since Gulf War One), there have been signs that the US voter is having serious second thoughts about the whole concept.

Britain was quite reluctant to take over later imperial dependencies, particularly leftover states of defeated Empires like Turkey, such as Iraq and Palestine: but also parts of Africa and Asia ‘of interest to no bugger’. They were never part of the British ideal of commercial empire, and were almost impossible to govern. They were abandoned as soon as possible.

The United States is currently experiencing the joys of taking over, or being responsible for unwanted bits of empire. Strangely the names Iraq and Palestine are occurring on that list, as well as Afghanistan and possibly other commitments to come. (The US has interfered in these areas far longer than Britain had before she was stuck with them). They cannot be considered part of a logical geopolitical empire (not even for oil conspiracy nuts), and will be abandoned as soon as possible.

The British voter responded to the world wars by wanting out of empire. Now. Some of the states thus ‘released’ were well-developed societies with decent infrastructure and good literacy and rule of law concepts. India, Malta, Ceylon, Bermuda and Singapore spring to mind. Others were abandoned prematurely: without literacy, rule of law, good infrastructure, a developed civil service, practice of voting, or any of the other minor necessities for establishing a democratic state. See any list of African dictatorships.

The US voter is responding to current events by wanting out of the Middle East ASAP. They are intent on abandoning states to ‘democracy’, regardless of a lack of literacy, rule of law, good infrastructure, a developed civil service, practice of voting, or any of the other minor necessities for establishing a democratic state. Whoops.

Britain suffered from an immense artificial economic high after the Napoleonic war. This left the British economy extremely artificially inflated for eighty years, and still well above its realistic weight in the world for another fifty (and only really brought back to the field by the immense economic losses of two world wars). In the last twenty years Britain has held a more realistic place in the world economy for its population and industrial level (though still relatively inflated by an immense backlog of prestige and sometimes reluctant respect.).

The US suffered from an immense artificial economic high after WWII. This left the US economy artificially inflated for the rest of the century, and still well above its realistic weight in the world to the present. (Whether the early 21st century economic downturn is as serious as it might be will not become evident for decades). Sometime in the next few decades, the US will probably return to a more realistic place in the world economy for its population and industrial level. (Minor variables like World War III may make this projection uncertain as to actual timing, but it will happen: simply because the US will not be able to largely sit out most of the next world wars and profiteer from everyone else’s ruin the way she could in the last two).

All these concepts are amusing. They imply a cycle of national maturity and development, which takes a certain time to process through. Note that the cases have not been affected as much by differing technological and philosophical worlds, as by where the nation is in its development. The only real sign of a modern world effect is that the US is moving through the stages a bit faster. Hooray for mass literacy within your society – presumably.

Does this convince you that someone should rush out and write a ‘natural cycles’ book with an inane title such as The Ebb and Flow of Great Power? I hope not. Amusing parallels in a limited case study hardly makes for convincing historical generalisations.