Category Archives: American Thought

Abandoned Military History

Peter Berkowitz: Our Elite Schools Have Abandoned Military History – WSJ.com.

The study of war elucidates some of mankind’s noblest virtues and bitterest vices. So why do colleges seem afraid of it?

The Union’s victory in the Civil War, whose opening shots were fired by Confederate forces 150 years ago this month, established that the United States, which had been conceived in liberty, would endure as a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Many college students will hear in that assertion echoes of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Few will know much about the bloody three-day battle of Gettysburg that Lincoln’s revered speech commemorated.

There is little chance today’s college students will study the strategy that underlay Gen. Robert E. Lee’s decision to lead the Army of Northern Virginia on a second invasion of the North, or the tactics that Gen. George Gordon Meade and his commanders of the Army of the Potomac adopted to repel the attack. They are probably no better versed in any other Civil War battle.

One reason for this ignorance is that our bastions of liberal education barely teach military affairs. No doubt the same post-Vietnam hostility to all things military that impelled faculties and administrations to banish ROTC from campus is a major factor.

To be sure, military history continues to command popular audiences through best-selling books and television documentaries. It is taught at the service academies and flourishes at a few, mostly public, universities including the University of North Carolina, Ohio State, Texas A&M and the University of Wisconsin.

Where it is taught, courses in military history attract impressive numbers of students. But as military historian Edward M. Coffman (professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin) notes, only about 5% of America’s approximately 14,000 history professors identify military history as an interest.

The study of military affairs has not disappeared from the college curriculum, yet the neglect is dramatic. In history departments, survey courses may discuss the social, political and economic dimensions of wars. But the traditional topics of military history—how wars begin, how they are waged, and how they end; the cultural foundations, the recruitment and training of military forces; logistics, tactics and strategy—receive scant attention.

As for courses that focus on military affairs, one would be hard-pressed to find more than one or two courses offered during the 2010-2011 academic year among the approximately 80 courses that Harvard’s history department listed for undergraduates, the 150 undergraduate courses listed by Yale’s history department, and the 130 classes listed by Stanford’s history department. Yale’s wonderful “Studies in Grand Strategy”—an interdisciplinary course developed by Profs. John Lewis Gaddis, Charles Hill and Paul Kennedy—stands nearly alone.

The situation in political science departments is better, where courses in security studies are routine. But these usually provide a narrow and attenuated view of military affairs. They typically explore decisions taken by high officials in matters of war and peace in terms of theories of international relations, such as realism (emphasizing the primacy of power) or idealism (focusing on the advancement of democracy and human rights).

Or they adopt a game-theoretic approach that models such decision-making. Stanford Prof. Scott Sagan’s course, “The Face of Battle”—which examines the translation of military strategy into tactics in critical battles in American history—is a rare exception.

Expanding the study of military affairs in history and political science departments is only a first step. The core curriculum of any self-respecting liberal education should require a course on the subject.

An introduction to military affairs might begin with classic works—Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War,” and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani’s “The Islamic Law of Nations.” It might include classics of modern strategy beginning with Clausewitz’s “On War,” explore the dilemmas of nuclear deterrence and the challenges posed by asymmetric warfare in an age of weapons of mass destruction. Finally, the course might study closely the background, conduct and consequences of several landmark battles.

If a liberal education is to acquaint students with the variety and complexity of human affairs, and prepare them for the responsibilities of citizenship, the study of military affairs is essential. War is coeval with human civilization and pervasive in human history.

From time immemorial, it has been waged by tyrants to acquire and conquer. It was a vital instrument of expansion for successful imperial states including democratic Athens, republican Rome, and liberal-parliamentary Britain. In today’s dangerous world, even affluent liberal and democratic nations that seek to resolve disputes through diplomacy and are increasingly averse to both suffering and inflicting pain must remain prepared to defend themselves.

War, moreover, displays as do few other undertakings the grim and the great in human nature. It produces death and destruction while generating innovation in organization, technology, ethics and law. It unleashes cruelty and exposes cowardice while inspiring camaraderie and courage. It produces regimentation, obedience and a concentration on self-preservation even as it cultivates leadership, instills a sense of duty, and honors principles worth dying for.

The United States faces novel and difficult national security challenges, but too few intellectuals and political decision-makers have served in the military, personally know someone who has, or have studied the history of war. In particular, the failure of our leading universities to teach military affairs impairs the nation’s capacity to defend itself and wage war effectively and justly. Such study would yield better proponents, and better critics, of America’s national security policy.

What is critical is to recover the wisdom embodied in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: The preservation of liberty and democratic self-government depend on learning the lessons of what has been lost and gained on battlefields.

Mr. Berkowitz is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and the chair of its task force on national security and law.

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Age of America nears end.

IMF bombshell: Age of America nears end – MarketWatch.

Maybe the best article of the year…

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BOSTON (MarketWatch) — The International Monetary Fund has just dropped a bombshell, and nobody noticed.

For the first time, the international organization has set a date for the moment when the “Age of America” will end and the U.S. economy will be overtaken by that of China.

And it’s a lot closer than you may think.

According to the latest IMF official forecasts, China’s economy will surpass that of America in real terms in 2016 — just five years from now.

Put that in your calendar.

It provides a painful context for the budget wrangling taking place in Washington, D.C., right now. It raises enormous questions about what the international security system is going to look like in just a handful of years. And it casts a deepening cloud over both the U.S. dollar and the giant Treasury market, which have been propped up for decades by their privileged status as the liabilities of the world’s hegemonic power.

According to the IMF forecast, whoever is elected U.S. president next year — Obama? Mitt Romney? Donald Trump? — will be the last to preside over the world’s largest economy.

Most people aren’t prepared for this. They aren’t even aware it’s that close. Listen to experts of various stripes and they will tell you this moment is decades away. The most bearish will put the figure in the mid-2020s.

But they’re miscounting. They’re only comparing the gross domestic products of the two countries using current exchange rates.

That’s a largely meaningless comparison in real terms. Exchange rates change quickly. And China’s exchange rates are phony. China artificially undervalues its currency, the renminbi, through massive intervention in the markets.

The comparison that really matters

The IMF in its analysis looks beyond exchange rates to the true, real terms picture of the economies using “purchasing power parities.” That compares what people earn and spend in real terms in their domestic economies.

Under PPP, the Chinese economy will expand from $11.2 trillion this year to $19 trillion in 2016. Meanwhile the U.S. economy will rise from $15.2 trillion to $18.8 trillion. That would take America’s share of the world output down to 17.7%, the lowest in modern times. China’s would reach 18%, and is rising.

Just 10 years ago, the U.S. economy was three times the size of China’s.

Naturally, all forecasts are fallible. Time and chance happen to them all. The actual date when China surpasses the U.S. might come even earlier than the IMF predicts, or somewhat later. If the great Chinese juggernaut blows a tire, as a growing number fear it might, it could even delay things by several years. But the outcome is scarcely in doubt.

This is more than a statistical story. It is the end of the Age of America. As a bond strategist in Europe told me two weeks ago, “We are witnessing the end of America’s economic hegemony.”

We have lived in a world dominated by the U.S. for so long that there is no longer anyone alive who remembers anything else. America overtook Great Britain as the world’s leading economic power in the 1890s and never looked back.

And both those countries live under very similar rules of constitutional government, respect for civil liberties and the rights of property. China has none of those. The Age of China will feel very different.

Victor Cha, senior advisor on Asian affairs at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me China’s neighbors in Asia are already waking up to the dangers. “The region is overwhelmingly looking to the U.S. in a way that it hasn’t done in the past,” he said. “They see the U.S. as a counterweight to China. They also see American hegemony over the last half century as fairly benign. In China they see the rise of an economic power that is not benevolent, that can be predatory. They don’t see it as a benign hegemony.”

The rise of China, and the relative decline of America, is the biggest story of our time. You can see its implications everywhere, from shuttered factories in the Midwest to soaring costs of oil and other commodities. Last fall, when I attended a conference in London about agricultural investment, I was struck by the number of people there who told stories about Chinese interests snapping up farmland and food stuff supplies — from South America to China and elsewhere.

This is the result of decades during which China has successfully pursued economic policies aimed at national expansion and power, while the U.S. has embraced either free trade or, for want of a better term, economic appeasement.

“There are two systems in collision,” said Ralph Gomory, research professor at NYU’s Stern business school. “They have a state-guided form of capitalism, and we have a much freer former of capitalism.” What we have seen, he said, is “a massive shift in capability from the U.S. to China. What we have done is traded jobs for profit. The jobs have moved to China. The capability erodes in the US and grows in China. That’s very destructive. That is a big reason why the U.S. is becoming more and more polarized between a small, very rich class and an eroding middle class. The people who get the profits are very different from the people who lost the wages.”

The next chapter of the story is just beginning.

U.S. spending spree won’t work

What the rise of China means for defense, and international affairs, has barely been touched on. The U.S. is now spending gigantic sums — from a beleaguered economy — to try to maintain its place in the sun. Pentagon spending is budget blind spot .

It’s a lesson we could learn more cheaply from the sad story of the British, Spanish and other empires. It doesn’t work. You can’t stay on top if your economy doesn’t.

Equally to the point here is what this means economically, and for investors.

Some years ago I was having lunch with the smartest investor I know, London-based hedge fund manager Crispin Odey. He made the argument that markets are reasonably efficient, most of the time, at setting prices. Where they are most likely to fail, though, is in correctly anticipating and pricing big, revolutionary, “paradigm” shifts — whether that be the rise of disruptive technologies or revolutionary changes in geopolitics. We are living through one now.

The U.S. Treasury market continues to operate on the assumption that it will always remain the global benchmark of money. Business schools still teach students, for example, that the interest rate on the 10 Year Treasury bond is the “risk-free rate” on money. And so it has been for more than a century. But that’s all based on the Age of America.

No wonder so many have been buying gold. If the U.S. dollar ceases to be the world’s sole reserve currency, what will be? The euro would be fine if it acts like the old Deutschemark. If it’s just the Greek drachma in drag … not so much.

The last time the world’s dominant hegemon lost its ability to run things single-handed was early in the past century. That’s when the U.S. and Germany surpassed Great Britain. It didn’t turn out well.

Brett Arends is a senior columnist for MarketWatch and a personal-finance columnist for The Wall Street Journal

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“Spring spheres.” – I’m not making this up.

Writer Matt Gurney at the National Post, April 15, commenting on the Seattle school that required Easter eggs to be called “Spring spheres“:

The argument against calling them Easter eggs, of course, is that that might lead kids to ask what Easter is, which could lead—gasp!—to having to reference the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ after the crucifixion. . . .

It’s reasonable to keep religious preaching out of schools. It’s silly to try and pretend that Christianity doesn’t exist in the hope of not offending someone who’s not content to simply raise their children in a non-Christian faith (or no faith at all), but must actually try and pretend that there is no faith. . . .

We’re not doing kids any favors by bringing them up abjectly ignorant of religion. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to come to the shocking realization that some people out there still believe in God, and celebrate events relating to that faith. One suspects that the world will not be forever ruined for these kids when they discover this harsh truth.

What’s even worse than the reflexive political correctness demonstrated by this desire to wash the Easter out of the springtime is that the symbol being targeted—Easter eggs—is itself already absurdly removed from the original meaning of Easter still marked by the devout Christians. There is simply no way that a child, presented with a chocolatey oval, would possibly conclude that only those who seek forgiveness for their sins through Christ’s love may attain salvation. This is an attempt to water down an already watery offering.

For this crime of extreme political correctness, let us all hope the school officials responsible receive a lump of carbon-based fuel in the cloth tube-sack they hang next to their December Light-Festooned Interior Coniferous Vegetation this Winter Holiday.

via Notable & Quotable – WSJ.com.

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