First do no Harm

The old Hippocratic admonition to would be physicians was interpreted to mean

that sometimes inaction is preferable to such actions that could result in harm to the patient; it is unfortunate that practitioners of foreign policy follow no such constraints. A nation’s foreign policy should advance its position and protect its national interests; once those interests are identified, policies are implemented to safeguard them. The most important part of foreign policy is consistency; the English consistently opposed French expansion into Belgium and would intervene by any means necessary to make sure that no continental power became too strong; likewise, the Russian Empire’s consistent objective was to secure access to year-round ice free ports; both empires continued their respective policies regardless of the government that happened to be in power any any given time.

It is unfortunate that the only consistent trait of American foreign policy is its inconsistency; governments we support at one time, we throw under the bus at other times depending on whatever notion is currently fashionable. One such notion was the much fawned over Arab Spring which was heralded in the press as proof of the Arab peoples yearning for freedom and democracy. That the flash point of the demonstrations centered in Tunisia, where a street vendor set himself on fire to protest the police corruption that extorted money from him and other vendors and that at no time was he, or any of the other protesters demanding democracy, as it is understood in the West, was glossed over in the press. The US condemned the Tunisian government, an American ally and at the time one of the most liberal in the Arab world; after the president fled, Tunisia has become a bone of contention between secularists and fundamentalists.

We reversed decades of support of Egypt’s Mubarak and demanded his resignation; as a consequence, the Muslim Brotherhood, in an election worthy of Chicago, came to power -much to the delight of the State Department- only to be overthrown, after much turmoil and bloodshed, by the Egyptian military. The latest move by the US government was to block the sale of F-16 fighters, which Egyptians claim are needed to fight the terrorists -unleashed by the Brotherhood- in Sinai.

We backed the rebels fighting the Khadaffi regime without proper vetting and ignored the reported presence of Islamic fundamentalists in their ranks; after Khadaffi’s gruesome demise -under the delighted eyes of Hillary Clinton in the Situation Room- it has come to light that Khadaffi’s arsenals were looted and thousands of weapons of all kinds disappeared -to surface later in the hands of the rebels in Mali and the Maghreb. Among the missing weapons are thousands of Stinger shoulder missile launchers, feared to be in the hands of Al Qaida. In Yemen, the president -another American ally- survived the demonstrations and the White House calls for his resignation. One more item: it must be pointed out that the terrorists who attacked the American consulate in Benghazi and murdered four Americans, including our ambassador, were most likely empowered by the US.

In August 2013, reports came to light that the Assad regime in Syria had used chemical weapons against the rebel forces fighting to overthrow him. The world saw the spectacle of the American president putting on the war paint and beating the war drums and threatening military action in retribution for the 1,400 victims of the chemical attacks; it all sounded very humanitarian if not for the fact that at the time over 100,000 had already been killed; would the reaction had been the same if those 1,400 had been killed by more conventional means say, by bullets and bombs? The world also saw the same president, the one that had previously drawn a red line over the use of chemical weapons, swiftly backtrack. The red line had been drawn by Congress, then by the world, he had to refer the matter to Congress….etc, etc. Secretary of State Kerry had a rambling press conference in which he stipulated that only Assad’s willingness to get rid of all his chemical weapons would save him from swift and punishing military action -only to have Vladimir Putin call his bluff and agree the next day to do just that. In his next press conference, Kerry declared that the planned attack would be “unbelievable small” -and was promptly contradicted by President Obama, who stated “the US does not do pin pricks”. The net result is that Putin gained the moral high ground while Obama looked weak and indecisive after he flatly denied drawing the imaginary red line himself.

The latest crisis is the Russian annexation of Crimea. Whatever the level of rhetoric, facts are facts. Crimea had been Russian for well over a century and most of its inhabitants are ethnic Russians. The area became part of Ukraine only because of Khruschev’s arbitrary decision to make a gift of it to his “adopted” Ukraine; another fact is that what triggered this crisis was the EU and NATO’s offer to Ukraine of possible membership in both organizations. The legitimate elected president, Viktor Yunokovych declined the EU’s offer and opted to accept Russia’s offer instead, triggering protests in the western part of Ukraine. We meddled in the crisis, as was evident from the sight of Victoria Nuland, from our State Department, mingling with the demonstrators in Kiev. We stepped on Putin’s toes and he pushed back. Crimea seceded via a referendum, which the West has declared illegal; it was a bloodless secession, which contrasts with the bloody amputation of Kosovo from Serbia.

We have no national interests in Ukraine and much less in Crimea; all we have succeeded in doing is to place ourselves in an untenable position, from which it would be wise to extricate ourselves -after we make some high sounding and meaningless statements that can be interpreted any way you want.

Have any of these actions improved the US position in the world? Has the notion of the US armed forces acting as Al Qaida’s surrogates -as in Lybia and possibly in Syria- sunk in yet? More important, the pattern of the US foreign policy seems designed to undermine and destabilize America’s allies while strengthening America’s enemies.

The continuing stream of platitudes coming from the State Department’s mouthpieces brings to mind the story of the prizefighter who was being pummeled by his opponent round after round; at the end of one particularly disastrous round, he staggered back to his corner and mumbled to his distraught manager “Don’t worry, I’m wearing him out”

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The Intrepid Nation Builders and their Legacy

On March 16, Crimea voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and join Russia, much to the displeasure of the European Union, which immediately threatened to impose sanctions on Russia. That the people of Crimea much rather be Russians than Ukrainians seemed not to matter much to anybody, except perhaps to the Crimeans themselves.

It seems, however, that the secessionist bug is spreading. The other shoe dropped when on March 22, a scant six days after the Crimean vote, 89% of voters in Venice and surrounding areas cast their ballots in favor of leaving Italy and forming their own independent republic, the “Republicca Veneta”, which ultimately could include the 5 million inhabitants of the Veneto region, parts of Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The Rome government does not recognize the validity of the non- binding referendum so it seems that there will be much bickering between the two sides in the near future.

The region’s residents oppose the high taxes they pay to support the poorer regions of southern Italy; Venice sends some 71 billion euros annually to Rome in exchange for which she gets about 21 billion less in grants; add to the mix that Venice has been part of Italy for only a little less than 150 years. The “Serenissima Republicca di Venezia”, the Queen of the Adriatic and powerful military and trading force in the Mediterranean, existed for a thousand years before Napoleon conquered it in 1797 and stamped it out as an independent entity. It was swallowed by Italy in 1866 in the aftermath of the 3rd Italian War of Independence, which united the disparate conglomeration of city-states and principalities scattered all over the peninsula. There are also hints that Sardinia might follow suit.

On September 18, 2014, there will be a binding referendum in Great Britain following an agreement between the Scottish Governemnt and the Government of the United Kingdom. The only question to be asked is: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. Scotland had been a sovereign state for some 800 years and had a tumultuous and sometimes bloody relationship with England until the Acts of Union in 1707 created the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Catalonian secession movement seems to be gathering steam; whether or not it succeeds depends on many factors, including cooperation from Madrid, which does not seem to be forthcoming. If it is successful, it might encourage the separatist Basque regions in Spain and France. Venice and Catalonia sent observers to study the Scottish Independence Referendum implementation.

Following WW I, as punitive measures against Germany and Austria-Hungary, the countries of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were created. The first finally dissolved peacefully as the Soviet iron grip disappeared; the latter, made up of disparate elements of Croatian Catholics, Serbian Orthodox plus a large Muslim segment, broke apart in bloody civil wars into six separate and distinct countries, which recreated the same distinct regions that were part of the old Austro-Hungarian empire.

The Berlin Conference of 1884-85, called to regulate the European colonization and trade in Africa, which at the time was mostly under traditional local controls, resulted in the partition of the continent into unnatural and arbitrary regions determined solely by latitudes and longitudes. It separated kindred tribes and lumped together unrelated peoples who not only had nothing in common but actively hated each other. These borders are still maintained today, all with predictable results; just witness the bloody civil war in Nigeria in the 60’s when Biafra tried to secede and its present violent conflict between Christians and Muslims. The genocidal wars between Sudan and Darfur, the massacre of some 800,000 Tutsis at the hands of Hutus in Rwanda and Burundi and the bloody conflicts in the Congo region are the result of this unnatural lumping of peoples whose only commonality is hatred of each other.

At the onset of WW I, the British encouraged Hussein bin Ali, Shariff of Mecca, to rebel against the ruling Ottoman Empire, then in control of Arabia and most of the Middle East. In return for his support of the Arab Rebellion, he was promised his own kingdom, which would comprise the entire Arabian Peninsula plus Syria and what was then Mesopotamia; however, in 1916 and behind his back, there was a secret agreement between England and France, with the assent of Russia, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire -except the Arabian Peninsula- into areas of future English and French control. Britain was given the coastal area between the sea and the river Jordan, southern Iraq, Haifa and Acre. France acquired control of south eastern Turkey, northern Iraq and all of Syria- which at the time included Lebanon. Russia was to get Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and Armenia. When the Bolsheviks toppled the Tsar, they came across copies of the agreement, which they were delighted to make public, much to the Allies embarrassment.

To placate the rightfully indignant Hussein, his sons were made kings of Transjordan (Jordan), Syria and Iraq. Even though his son Faisal had been proclaimed king of Syria by the Syrian National Congress, the French swiftly ejected him from Syria; the English promptly carved the territory of Iraq for him to rule as king. The French loped off part of Syria and established the country of Lebanon. The English found themselves trapped between the conflicting statements of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the text of the Balfour Declaration. Unable to resolve the conflict, they eventually pulled up stakes and left the mess for somebody else to clean. As a footnote, Hussein bin Ali was unable to repel the attacks of Ibn Saud after the British refused him help. He fled to Cyprus and died in Amman in 1931.

In 1947, as a result of Indian independence, the country of Pakistan was created, split, as only the English can do, into two separate entities: West Pakistan and East Pakistan, on opposite sides of the subcontinent, separated by many hundreds of miles of hostile Indian territory. Under this setup, what could possibly go wrong? After a short and violent war, East Pakistan split from West Pakistan and became Bangladesh.

The latest attempt at quasi-nation building is the European Union, which is already showing signs of strain. The UK, France and Germany show dissatisfaction with the arrangement. The future will tell if the EU is a really viable entity.

Nations are not created by fiat; they are born out of the commonality of ethnicity, language and traditions and these are not things that can be imposed from the top down; sometimes they are the result of geographical accidents, sometimes they are the result of the conscious decisions of peoples of different languages who realize that their geography and common interests trump the linguistic differences, as in the case of Switzerland.

Nation building is the domain of the arrogant elites who determine what the world should look like and how people should live because they think they know what is good for us better than we know ourselves; however, their record is dismal. The result, throughout the centuries, has been one of wars, blood and untold misery that continues to this day.

Vlad the Impaler…not the one you think, though

In the spring of 1462 the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II (1) conqueror of Constantinople, master of psychological warfare and renowned for his cruelty, crossed the Danube at the head of an army of almost 60,000 soldiers plus an estimated 30,000 irregulars and burst into the principality of Wallachia – in present day Romania- which he considered to be a tributary of the Ottoman Empire. Confronting this formidable force was Vlad III, prince of Wallachia (2) at the head of a force of at most 40,000 men. Vlad was well aware that his forces would not be able to stop this human torrent and accordingly, decided on a strategy of small attacks and ambushes, effectively waging guerrilla warfare. At that time, the Turks were the most feared warriors, the army which took Constantinople by storm and put an end to the thousand-year old Byzantine Empire; Mehmet did his utmost to foster this fear by the cold and calculated executions of a sufficient number of his subjugated peoples. However, Vlad was not one to frighten easily, as he would soon demonstrate.

On the night of June 17, Vlad launched a surprise night attack (3) on the Turkish camp with the object of killing Mehmet; after a furious fight and the realization that the attempt had failed, Vlad withdrew his forces and disappeared into the night. The outraged Mehmet broke camp, gathered his army and marched it toward Targoviste (4) Vlad’s capital at the time; as the vengeance seeking Turks irrupted into the Targoviste plain and approached the city, they froze at the sight that confronted them. Between the army and the city stood a forest of 20,000 rotting, gut strewn bodies impaled on very tall and thick poles. The ghastly spectacle, combined with the stench of the decaying bodies unnerved the Turks to such an extent that they retreated. Mehmet II, disgusted at the sight, left his army in the hands of his immediate subordinates and did not stop until he reached Constantinople. It is said that the incident traumatized him to such an extent that it caused him to have nightmares to his dying day.

The future Vlad III was born in Sighsoara (5) Transylvania, then part of the kingdom of Hungary, in 1431, probably in the winter. His father, Vlad II, was a knight of the Order of the Dragon (6), an order founded to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe. In the Romanian language, the word for dragon is drac and since the definite article is postponed, “the dragon” comes out as Dracul. Descendant of the dragon” is Draculea. He had two brothers, Radu cel Frumas and Mircea II of Wallachia. In 1436 Vlad II Dracul became prince of Wallachia. The region was divided into rival factions and in 1442 a coalition of Wallachian boyars (nobles) and Saxon merchants allied with Hungary deposed him. Vlad Dracul secured help from the Ottomans and with their help he returned to the throne in exchange for his promise to pay tribute to the Sultan; additionally, he sent his sons, Vlad and Radu, as hostages to the Ottoman court; during his stay there, Vlad was educated in logic and the Koran, learned Turkish, which he spoke fluently, warfare, horse riding, Turkish politics -and their systematic cruelty. However, hanging over his head was the Damocles sword of uncertainty as to his safety, depending as it was on the decisions and actions of others; this left psychological scars that lasted a lifetime. His brother Radu eventually converted to Islam and entered the service of the Turkish court.

In 1447, the boyars, in league with the Hungarian regent John Hunyadi (7) rebelled against Vlad II Dracul and killed him in the marshes near Balteni; in addition Dracul’s eldest son, Mircea, was blinded and then buried alive. To keep Wallachia from falling into Hungarian hands, the Turks invaded Wallachia and put Dracul’s son, Vlad on the throne, as Vlad III. This prompted a Hungarian invasion. Hunyadi deposed Vlad and in his place installed Vladislav II as prince. Vlad fled to Bulgaria under the protection of his uncle Bogdan II. When Bogdan was assassinated in 1451, he had to flee again, this time to Hungary.

In an age of uncertainty and facile alliances, Hunyadi and Vlad became reconciled, probably prompted by the shock of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which opened the doors of the Balkans to the Ottomans. Hunyadi took his army in 1456 to relieve Belgrade, besieged by the Turks and Vlad took his forces into Wallachia, reconquered his land and killed the usurper installed by Hunyadi, Vladislav II, in what some say was hand-to-hand combat.

Once again in power, Vlad’s wrath was not long in coming; he blamed the boyars and the Transylvania Saxons for the deaths of his father and brother and the constant turmoil in the land. He expelled the Saxons and had a number of them killed; he then turned on the boyars. He had the eldest among them impaled and their positions given to persons of obscure origins who would be loyal to him. The younger men were forced to work on his castle at Poenari (8) perched on an inaccessible cliff overlooking the river Arges. Today, modern visitors need to climb 1,480 steps to gain access to the castle. The unfortunate boyars worked year-round in the blistering sun and in shivering cold weather; when their clothes wore out, they worked naked until they died of exhaustion. Then, their bodies would be thrown off the cliffs into the river below.

In 1459, the Sultan Mehmet II sent envoys to Vlad to urge him to pay the delayed tribute of 10,000 ducats and 500 young men as recruits into the Ottoman forces. When the envoys refused to uncover their heads to him, citing religious reasons, Vlad responded by nailing their turbans to their heads. Mehmet retaliated by sending a force of 1,000 cavalry, under the command of Hamza Pasha to either make peace with Vlad or eliminate him. Vlad ambushed this force and had them all impaled, with Hamaz on the highest pole to honor his rank.

In 1462 he crossed into Bulgaria and devastated the area between Serbia and the Black Sea. In a letter to the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus (9) -son of John Hunyadi- he wrote:

I have killed peasant men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Nosovelo, where

the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up

to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we

burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers. Thus, your Highness, you must

know that I have broken the peace with Mehmet”

Mehmet responded by sending a larger army under the command of Radu cel Frumas, Vlad’s brother, no expense spared. Initially, he failed to subdue Vlad and most of Radu’s cavalry was destroyed, but as the war raged on, he was able to push deeper into Vlad’s territory and laid siege to Poenari castle. The Turkish Janissaries inspired such fear that Vlad’s wife, terrified at the prospect of Turkish tortures and gripped by blind panic, climbed onto the castle’s parapets and threw herself over the cliffs and into the river. To this day, it is known as the Princess River.

Vlad and his meager forces escaped; legend has it they turned their horses’ shoes around to give the impression that they were riding in the opposite direction. He fled into Hungary. Mattias Corvinus had meanwhile turned against him and using a forged letter, allegedly from Vlad to Mehmet proposing peace, had him imprisoned for close to 10 years. In the meantime, Mehmet had Radu installed as voivode of Wallachia. Years later. Ottoman pressure north of the Danube was a strong factor in Vlad’s eventual release.

Radu’s sudden death in 1475 prompted Vlad to declare his third reign in 1476. He started preparations for the reconquest of Wallachia but sometime between the end of October and the end of December 1476, he was killed in battle against the Turks in an unknown location somewhere near Bucharest. His head was cut off and sent to Constantinople, to be exhibited as a trophy; his body was buried in an undetermined location, some say at the monastery of Comana (10) , which he had generously endowed in years past. Some modern historians point to Snagov (11), an island monastery near Bucharest, as his burial place; however, it has been established that there was no tomb under the alleged tombstone of Vlad III; only the bones of numerous horses.

The number of his victims range from 40,000 to 100,000 and his preferred method of execution was impalement, which earned him the moniker of “Vlad the Impaler”, or “Vlad Tepes” in Romanian. The Turks called him “Kaziki Bey” (Sir Impaler). The Turkish soldiers, the terror of Europe, turned back in fright when they encountered thousands of corpses rotting on stakes along the banks of the Danube.

Vlad’s reputation for cruelty was legendary, though some think it was somewhat exaggerated by the German chroniclers who had no reason to love him; it was also promoted by king Matthias Corvinus as an explanation for his failure to help Vlad in his fight against the Turks in 1462. Corvinus had received large sums of money from the Pope and from most Catholics states for the fight against the Turks; instead, he diverted the money for personal purposes. There were numerous pamphlets and etchings of Vlad, some of them depicting him seated at an outdoor meal table amid a forest of impaled bodies, dipping his bread in blood; these were mostly Saxon etchings.

Vlad was undoubtedly a most cruel man, even in an age of cruelty; confronted with a brutal enemy, he outdid them in brutality and inspired fear, if not terror, in an army notorious for its vicious depredations and tortures. Conversely, in Romania he is regarded as a folk hero for his protection of the Romanians north and south of the Danube; a great number of Romanian and Bulgarian common people and even some boyars moved north of the Danube to be under his care following his raids on the Turks. His birth place in Sighsoara is now a restaurant and a plaque is affixed to the building.

Though he was very well-known in the 15th and 16th centuries he was eventually forgotten. In 1820, William Wilkinson, British Consul to the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia wrote a book with the lengthy title of “Accounts of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia with Political Observations Relative to Them” This book served Bram Stoker (1847-1912) as inspiration for the title of the most famous Gothic novel of all time “Dracula”.

References:

  1. Mehmet II

  2. Wallachia

  3. The Night Attack

  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Târgoviște

  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sighișoara (Scroll down to see photos of Vlad’s birthplace)

  6. Order of the Dragon

  7. John Hunyadi

  8. Poenari Castle

  9. Matthias Corvinus

    1. Comana Monastery

    2. Snagov Monastery

The Music of the Spheres….of influence that is

The Crimean referendum took place Sunday, as scheduled, and the result should not have taken anyone by surprise. The overwhelming majority of voters -or those who showed up at the polls- decided in favor of returning to the folds of Mother Russia. Done deal, fait accompli, turn the page, it is time to return to basics and review what the old term spheres of influence meant. The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia defines Sphere of Influence as “a state’s claim to exclusive or predominat control over a foreign area or territory”. Ukraine is well within Russia’s sphere of influence and it shares strong ties with her; the very name of Russia comes from the Rus, Norsemen who settled around Ladoga and Novgorod, reached Kiev about 880 and founded the Kievan Rus. It was Vladimir the Great of Kiev (980-1015) who turned the Rus to Byzantine Christianity. The relationship has been rocky; someone commented -I wish it had been me, it is so good- that Russia and Ukraine are like twins joined at the hip who hate each other but have no choice but to put up with each other. Ukraine has been brutalized by Russia; witness the starvation caused by Lenin in the 1920’s and the deliberate famine caused by Stalin’s imposition of collective farming; some six to ten million Ukranians literally starved to death and the memory still lingers like a ghost that knows no rest.

There is a distinct Russophobia still present in US policy, a knee-jerk reaction from the days of the Cold War. It is time to realize that Russia today is not the Soviet Union of yesteryear; they are not out to destroy our society and impose a brutal and totalitarian form of government; rather they are engaging in the pursuit of their own national interests, much as the Russian Empire did in the time of the Tsars. Putin is an autocrat wearing the trappings of democracy, but an autocrat at heart, ruling a land that has been ruled by autocrats since time immemorial. So what else is new? Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Warsaw Pact forced alliance, NATO has enlarged to include former members of the Warsaw Pact: The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Albania, Slovakia, Croatia and Slovenia, the last two part of the former Yugoslavia. Since the demise of the Warsaw Pact, these states filled the role of buffer nations and could have remained as such if it had not been for the weakened condition of the Russia that emerged from the ashes of communism, which encouraged NATO expansion, bringing it closer to the borders of a nation famous for its historical distrust, bordering on paranoia, of external influences, particularly from the West. NATO pushed the envelope when it courted Georgia and Ukraine; from the point of view of Moscow, this looked like an encirclement. Ukraine has a poison pill included in its territory: Crimea, which has been Russian longer that the American Southwest has been part of the US and which never would have been Ukranian if not for Khruschev’s drunken “gift” to his “adopted” land. Considering that since 1991, Russia paid millions to Ukraine to “rent” their naval bases and submarine pens in Crimea, that it is their only year-round ice free port and sole access to the Mediterranean Sea and the possibility existed that NATO could establish bases close to Sevastopol, is it really surprising that Putin’s reaction is so drastic? We stepped on Russian toes and they are pushing back. Question: Had Crimea, with its population of 2 million not been part of Ukraine, would the pro Russian Viktor Yanukovych had been elected?

There is another problem with Russophobia and it has historical precedents. The Byzantine and Persian empires were so preoccupied with their struggle for supremacy that they ignored a common enemy from the south: the Arabs, who eventually conquered and destroyed both. In the 18th century, France and Austria were deadly enemies and in France everything Austrian was hated. When Louis XV and the Austrian emperor realized that the emergent Prussia was a threat to both, they cemented an alliance by the marriage of the future Louis XVI and the Austrian Marie Antoinette; upon her arrival in France, she was hated and marginalized and by extension, the monarchy. No need to elaborate on how well that went. We have a different geopolitical situation from that of the Cold War. Russia is no longer the deadly enemy, but a trade an economic rival. We have a common enemy: Islamic terrorism, which knows no borders or nationalities. We are both under the same threat. We can maintain the rivalry, but as competitors, not as mortal enemies that hate each other so much that we will either ignore or worse, ally with those who have no other aim besides destroying both of us. There is also a third power on the rise: China, which has territorial designs of her own and who is chomping at the bit, ready to let loose.

Quote of the week: Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) House Intelligence Committee chairman on Fox News Sunday with Mike Wallace, March 2, 2014

Putin is playing chess, we are playing marbles” And not very well, I might add.

The Age of Arrogance, part 2

Ideas and ideologies, when implemented, have consequences, mostly unintended. We take justifiable pride in our scientific achievements, without realizing that those achievements are like a stool  missing one leg. In the 18th century, the so called Age of Reason, we cast off the mantle of “superstition” and finally embraced science as the ultimate truth. We contrast it with the 17th century -the Age of Faith- and present it as proof that all religions are, at the core, intolerant and irrational. This view, however, is not supported by the facts when compared with the centuries that followed. There was nothing religious about the French Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars -which killed more people than the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries combined-  nor were the nationalistic  wars of the 19th century religious by any means. WW I and WW II were completely secular in nature, as were the more local wars that followed.

We have traveled the long route from fallen angel to risen ape and during the journey we have acquired much knowledge but little wisdom. We have a wealth of scientific information at our fingertips but we are missing the fourth leg of the stool: moral compass. We pushed God off  center stage and took his place; we manipulate the genetic code of plants and animals and soon we will be able to manipulate the human code as well in spite of how many laws we enact to forbid it. Humanity’s first experiment in genetic engineering, eugenics, led to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands in the US and Europe and culminated in the death of millions in the extermination camps. What the manipulation of the human genome will lead to is unknown, but given the historical precedents, the prospect is not reassuring.

Since the inception of Roe v Wade, it is estimated that some 55 million abortions have taken place. Put in perspective, that is more than the total populations of California, Oregon and Arizona combined and close to the total loss of life, military and civilian in WW II, not to mention the intangible loss in human potential and achievement.

The combination of artificial birth control and abortion has created a sharp decline in the birth rates of the industrial nations. In Europe, this decline of the native populations, coupled with the vigorous growth rate of the North African immigrants, for whom birth control and abortion are alien and repugnant concepts, projects the latter as the potential majority, perhaps by 2050. The prospect of “Eurabia” looms and is not as far fetched as it sounds. Recall that between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, the Roman Empire’s population shrank from an estimated 70 million to about 50 million. -some caused by epidemics but also by the realization that childless couples “have more fun”. There was a group that rejected the notion of childless marriages and condemned abortions: Christians, whose numbers grew steadily. When Constantine I recognized Christianity, he was probably acknowledging the fact that Christians were already, if not a majority, a large enough group poised to become that majority.

In the US, the declining birth rate presents an unexpected problem: the looming bankruptcy of the Social Security system, which, despite the sanctimonious pronouncements of politicians, is a Ponzi scheme dependent on the steady influx of newcomers into the system. At one point, for  every retiree receiving payments there were from 4 to 5 workers contributing into the fund; as it stands today, the combination of increasing unemployment, longer life spans and decreasing birth rates is reducing this ratio to a dangerously unsustainable  level. Another consequence of the unnatural decline of the birth rate is the too real possibility of an ageing population without anybody to take care of it.

A parting thought regarding the survival of the eugenics mind set.  In an interview conducted by Emily Bezzelon for the New York Times magazine, Supreme Court justice Ruth Beda Ginsburg made the following startling comment on Roe v Wade” “there was concern about population growth, and particularly those populations that we don’t want to have many of”  (Italics mine) No challenge from the interviewer.

Which populations was she referring to? And no less important, who are the “we” that do “the not wanting”? The elitist minority that decides who breeds and who does not? The arrogance is supreme.

The Age of Arrogance

     The ancient Greeks had a word to define excessive pride: hubris. Hubris was more than just arrogance; it denoted the unbridled confidence in one’s own abilities to the point of disdainfully ignoring other points of view.  Greek myths and literature abounded with cautionary tales about this most grievous fault. Throughout the ancient world, arrogance was deemed a sin that would elicit swift retribution from the gods.  Christianity promptly listed it among the seven deadly sins.
     Judaism and Christianity developed our creation story; in it,  man was molded by God, in his image, from the clay of the earth and given the breath of life . Placed in paradise, this idyllic time did not last long. The serpent appealed to man’s sense of pride and in defiance of God’s orders, ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree and was swiftly evicted from the Garden of Eden as punishment for his arrogant desire to equate himself with God.
     Man was viewed as born with a flawed nature, with an “original sin” that required redemption, in constant struggle with his darker impulses; ultimately, though, he had the power to choose between the divergent paths. The view of man as a fallen angel was prevalent from biblical times to the beginning of the 18th century, when a vastly different view arose.
     Man began to be viewed as a creature inherently good at birth but corrupted by society, born free but reduced to slavery, made to submit to artificial authorities, both secular and ecclesiastic, through the imposition of unnatural and oppressive customs and beliefs.  God, acknowledged at first, was relegated to the role of a supreme deity, the Creator who, after finishing the work of creation, retreated to the position of uninterested observer. The notion of “the noble savage”, living far from the corrupting influence of civilization, was hailed as representing the true nature of man. Unfortunately, the proponents of this philosophy never laid eyes on any “savages”, noble or otherwise, so they enlisted the help of the next best thing: shepherds. Thus, a whole genre of “pastoral” poetry flourished, especially in the French court, where kings had, for some generations, gathered the nobility, always prone to rebellion, in an effort to keep an eye on them. These pastoral frolics amused both royalty and idle nobility and even Marie Antoinette indulged in them, along with the ladies of the court. This can dismissed as so much 18th century nonsense, but an inescapable reality is that ideas have consequences, and one of them was the French Revolution, which resulted in the destruction of the kingdom and the deaths of tens of thousands of people in a blood bath that only ended when Napoleon Bonaparte came to power.
     The 19th century became, after some sputtering starts, an age of optimism; science, humanity was told, would free man from his endless toil; Charles Darwin published “The Origin of Species” and turned the world upside down. For the first time, there was a coherent, scientific explanation that accounted for the bewildering variety of life on the planet; the biblical creation narrative became  an improbable,  amusing and totally irrelevant fairy tale not to be taken seriously. However, as attractive as Darwin’s hypothesis was, it had one glaring flaw: it described the evolution from one species to another, but failed utterly to explain its mechanism. That distinction went to an obscure Austrian monk, Georg Mendel who, working with peas, finally formulated the laws of heredity. He published his findings in an obscure local scientific journal where they laid, forgotten,  until rediscovered decades later. New terms were introduced:  genetic mutation, recessive and dominant genes and genetic inheritance. These new concepts, together with the Malthusian ideas of global population increases outstripping global resources, mixed with the statist tenets of the Progressive movement, converged in the creation of a brand new pseudo science: eugenics. Eugenicists maintained that people should not be allowed to reproduce at random; instead, they were to be tested and declared to be free of genetic defects. Those deemed to be “defective” –the “feeble minded”, those with a history of family diseases, poverty or simply those belonging to ethnic groups the eugenicists frowned upon- would be dealt with; remedies ranged from forced sterilization to euthanasia, as recommended by the American Breeders Association.  Eugenics concepts were embraced by some of the most illustrious members of the American and European intelligentsia  (For an excellent history of eugenics, refer to Edwin Black’s “The War against the Weak”)
     The old concept that every human being was imbued with a spark of the divine was replaced by twisted notions of genetic manipulation all in the quest to create a new super race; humanity would then soar to heights unlimited once we cast off the dead weight of “defective” people. The 1927 case of Buck v Bell, brought by Carrie Buck, a victim of forced sterilization, reached the Supreme Court. The court upheld the constitutionality of the 1924 Virginia Sterilization Act. Writing for the majority opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes closed with the following” “three generations of imbeciles is enough” The Nazi eugenics program was taken, almost word for word from the American model. After the discovery of the Nazi death camps and much American embarrassment at the Nuremberg tribunal, eugenics went into hibernation.
     Social engineers continued their work in the 20th century but the terminology changed and the newly revived eugenics ideas were disguised under new monikers; Progressivism itself changed names and became “liberalism”; some of the most distinguished names in American intellectual circles joined its ranks to lend to it the glamour and prestige that had worn off the old “progressive” label.
     Two things fundamentally changed the social landscape: the introduction of the “pill” and the Roe v Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortion on demand. The first divorced sexual behavior from its consequences. True, condoms had been in existence for the longest time, but now it was not only easier, but it became “cool” to have multiple partners. The second not only complemented the first;  for the first time, abortion lost its back alley stigma to become main stream. However, in order to achieve that, some concepts had to change. Babies in the womb were now “fetuses”, a term previously used almost exclusively by the medical profession. That was not impersonal enough, so “cluster of cells” was coined to denote those pregnancies up to and including 20 weeks, which was the then agreed upon limit to legally abort a baby. Other concepts, such as referring to the new born as “parasites”, come to pollute and rob the planet of its natural resources, as one prominent actress declared recently, came into fashion. The abortion supporters call themselves “pro choice”. Choice, however, implies a decision to be made between alternatives; this runs into trouble when the pro choice proponents are asked what it is  they choose. Ultimately, no matter how sophisticated and ingenious the answers, it becomes clear that the choice is simple: life or death. People who question the morality of abortion, or the fact that abortion providers are frequently located in or near poor neighborhoods,  are dismissed as participants in “the war on women”, a term that precludes any form of rational discussion and has become enshrined in the progressive lexicon.
     One recent and highly disturbing trend came from England, where a panel of intellectuals brought forth the concept of “post birth abortion”, arguing that the parents of a new born should retain the right to “terminate” the life of the baby up to close to a year from birth. Of course, this is very distant from becoming a reality and most likely will not become so, at least not in our lifetime; on the other hand, things that were unthinkable in 1900 not only became thinkable in the 20th century, but have taken place. In the stillness of a quiet evening we might just hear the cries of the victims of the Armenian genocide or get the faint whiff of burned flesh coming from the ovens at Auschwitz or experience the chill emanating from the Soviet gulags. Perhaps Kermit Gosnell was ahead of his time. Truly our age could be called The Age of Arrogance.

What is Good for the Goose is also Good for the Gander

By a vote of 78-0 (with 8 abstentions) the Crimean parliament approved a referendum, to be held on March 16, that would ask the region’s voters whether or not they want to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, more specifically, the Russian Federation. Oleksander Turchinov, Ukraine’s interim president, wants to dismiss the duly elected Crimean legislators and called the referendum “a farce and a crime perpetrated by Russia” The European Union also condemned the plan and offered  15 billion euros in economic aid, followed by a US offer of $1 billion in loan guarantees to offset the probable loss of Russian gas subsidies. In addition, president Obama made the following statement Thursday “Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which has led us to take several steps in response in coordination with our European partners” What exactly these steps will be -with the exception of the transfer of American fighter planes to Europe- is still being debated. Considering that Russia is the largest supplier of natural gas to the member countries and that Chancellor Merkel will most likely veto any sanctions, it remains possible that the “steps” will consist of  statements and  gestures devoid of any substance.

Crimea is vital to Russia. Her navy and submarine pens are based there and provides the only year-round ice free port and  sole access to the Mediterranean Sea; it should be obvious to  students of geopolitics that any Russian government would react swiftly to any perceived threat to the peninsula. Crimea has been part of Russia since 1783, longer than Texas has been part of the United States, and only became part of  Ukraine in 1954, when Nikita Khruschev, perhaps after one glass of vodka too many, “gave” Crimea away to Ukraine, as a “gift”,  to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s union with Tsarist Russia (1654). There is some speculation among the cable news talking heads and some members of Congress that Putin intends to re-absorb Ukraine into Russia but so far, there is no indication of such intentions. He does not have to; Russia controls the flow of natural gas through Ukraine’s pipe lines -which incidentally also feed most of Western Europe;  her subsidies prop up a large chunk of Ukraine’s economy,  Russia’s military far outnumber Ukraine’s and she sits right next door.  Putin only has to nudge a little to have his way without setting another foot in Ukraine proper.

The statements of “violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity”, as morally upright as they sound, turn as hollow as the clink of a counterfeit coin when we recall the statements made during the Kosovo war. Presently, the Crimean referendum, set to take place March 16 will most likely result in a vote to leave Ukraine and rejoin a country with which most Crimeans share historical, cultural, emotional and linguistic bonds. In contrast, in 1999, from March 24 to June 10, NATO forces conducted an aerial bombing campaign designed to amputate the Kosovo region from what was left of Yugoslavia. That Kosovo had always been an integral part of Serbia and that most Serbians regard Kosovo as the cradle of their culture, mattered little to the would be nation builders. The cost of the campaign? Between 489 to 528 Yugoslav civilians were killed, plus 3 journalists when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed accidentally on May 7 and one F117 Nighthawk stealth fighter shot down on March 27 by a Yugoslav missile. The wreck of the plane most likely ended up in Moscow to be examined and studied at leisure.

Why is the possible secession of Crimea via a referendum regarded as a “crime” while Kosovo’s amputation from Serbia is viewed as a “humanitarian intervention”? Good question. Only the arrogant progressive nation builders can supply the answer. In the meantime, it is wise to remember that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

PS As a footnote to the Kosovo war. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), including the son of the president of Kosovo, have been tied to the trafficking of human organs. The number of victims range from 50 to 300, mostly ethnic Serbs from Kosovo. Nice company we keep.