The more things change, the more they stay the same. This has all happened before; this will all happen again. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Cliches aside, there is truth in the cyclical nature of human experience. As Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath the Bodhi tree and contemplated existence, he came to that same realization. While he sought to free humanity from the chains of eternal suffering and pain, we true historians seek to end human ignorance, hate and fear.
Like many Americans, I was heartened when President Obama used the iftr observance at the White House to express — in courageous terms — the principled commitment of his administration to the First Amendment’s guarantee, regardless of the opinions of Sarah “stab the heart” Palin and her ilk.
Sure, he did it after the construction of the mosque near Ground Zero was essentially a fait accompli and the issue was safely put to bed, but better late than never, right?
Then he “walked back” his support of the First Amendment. And like many of my progressive kin, I was crushed by his disappointing hedging. Why? Why would you equivocate on such a fundamental issue, Mr. Obama?
It’s a staple of science fiction … building a time machine to undo the mistakes of the past. Some people would go back in time and stop the assassinations of John F. Kennedy or Abraham Lincoln. Others would go back and murder Hitler before his rise to power, thus preventing the Holocaust.
Others, like John Boehner, R-Ohio, would consider preventing the 14th Amendment from coming into law.
In my listless bobbing about the doldrums of unemployment, I’ve tried to make it through a few IR “classics” that have somehow escaped my reading list to this point. One of these that I’m very much enjoying is Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Even twenty-odd years after its publication, this work on the interplay between manufacturing, finance, military strength and great power status remains an engaging and relevant read.
The story Kennedy tells, which repeats itself in various individual permutations from the Habsburg Empire to the USSR, is one in which states rise to prominence on the backs of strong financial and productive apparatuses, which they are then able to convert into military power, and fall from such lofty heights through overextending their resources, running up insurmountable debts and (sometimes) fighting counterproductive wars.
I thought about Kennedy’s book while reading this piece by James Rogers on whether or not Britain should go ahead with its plans to build two new supercarriers over the course of the next decade. Without commenting on the specifics of that question — I’ll leave the specific disposition of the Royal Navy to those who both know and care more about it — I think there are some larger points to be made about balancing out (and correctly timing) defense expenditures, national budgets, and international ambitions.