On the Brink

I’m fascinated by the Edwardian Age, that period from the 1890’s to World War 1 when civilization had seemingly reached a pinnacle.  The world had been at peace for decades, and it seemed like war itself was a thing of the past, outmoded, irrelevant.  A new age of civility and manners had dawned on mankind, and industrialization had created immense wealth and widespread prosperity.  In America, this was the Newport era where the wealthy (“Robber Barons”)  built their “cottages” by the sea.   The wealthy on both sides of the “pond” enjoyed themselves with extravagant leisure activities like the new game tennis or endless summer lawn parties for the “in” crowd.

The arts were thriving, and culture had seemingly fused the best of old traditions with amazing modern innovations like the automobile and the bicycle.  In one area the Edwardians did achieve a zenith in culture that had never been reached until then or since, and probably will never be reached again: high fashion.  Men wore the perfect tuxedo and top hat, while curvaceous women — shaped by the devilish corset — enjoyed outrageously stylish big hats and stunningly elegant dresses.  Their high fashion really  puts our Kentucky Derby fashion statement to shame — there simply is no comparison.

Many wealthy young American women married into the British and European aristocracies —  a clear trend.  They brought their financial assets with them, and therefore restored the fortunes of a great number of old European houses, so that European aristocracy witnessed an unexpected renewal and flourished once again.   It was a golden age that looked out upon the future not just with mere hope but with bright confidence — nothing could ever possibly go wrong again, and everything would certainly always go right, to bigger and better things, to a higher and higher state of civilization.

Then Sarajevo happened.  Entangling diplomatic alliances took a very local incident and inflamed it into a general European crisis.  And so war burst upon the Europeans suddenly, like a steamroller exploding out of the night.  And what war!   Trench warfare, “no man’s land,” machine guns, heavy ordinance with gigantic cannons, a new and formidable weapon called “tanks,” airplanes with machine guns and bombs, gas attacks, and a horrendous new affliction dubbed with the apt name “shell shock” — all the horror that modern military technology could bring to bear upon the art of killing large numbers of human beings.  In this diabolical type of war, humans were not really individual soldiers anymore, but so many ants to be crushed en masse under foot by the war machine.

And no one in the Edwardian Age — busy whiling away their leisure time playing tennis at a lawn party in Newport — saw it coming.  Busy with social media and our smart phones, are we not the same today as the Edwardians — without a clue we are on the brink?  Our threat — lest you forget — is nuclear.  Whole cities can be destroyed in a blink.  But that can’t happen, right?

(Still one of the classics, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front was banned in Nazi Germany because it was thought it would demoralize the military.  In my opinion, the book is a must read for anyone who considers themselves educated, but, if you prefer, there was also a fine early film made based on the book.)

Edwardian Era

Edwardian Fashion

The Edwardians — a novel

Sarajevo

Shell Shock

All Quiet on the Western Front

A Speech Like No Other

LBJ

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A Speech Like No Other

It was the greatest speech ever given in American history: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at the dedication ceremonies at Gettysburg, given on November 19, 1963.   The speaker before Lincoln, Edward Everett, a very famous orator in his own right, droned on for over 2 hours.  After the respectful — and perhaps thankful — applause upon the conclusion of Everett’s speech, Lincoln took the podium.  His speech lasted less than 2 minutes.  When it ended, there was dead silence from the massive audience that had assembled to hear the speeches and pay their respects at Gettysburg.  There was dead silence because no one realized  the speech, so brief and to the point, had actually ended.  Slowly there was hesitant clapping from the audience.  This — silence and confusion — was the immediate and ironic response to the greatest speech ever given in American history.  Of course, all the Northern newspapers picked it up for their next edition, and when those 272 words were actually read by the public, an immense reaction took place that reverberates to this day.  Such is the power of the printed word.

Gettysburg Address Text

Gettysburg Address History

Where Is Our Leader?

LBJ

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North Korea — What to Expect

It is hard to see what direction Secretary of State Pompeo will take negotiating with North Korea.  I say this because the ultimate objective for the United States is for North Korea to denuclearize, but having nuclear weapons is really the only card North Korea has to play.  So why would they give them up?   They wouldn’t.

If they do give up their only winning card, the question remains, how would North Korea be protected from a US attack, which is what they really fear?  A treaty could be arranged so that Russia or China, even Russian and China, would guarantee the North Korea borders from attack — that if North Korea were attacked by anyone, one or both would come to their aid.  But why would North Korea trust such an agreement, as it would put one or both of these countries at odds with the United States without much to gain from it themselves?

Furthermore,  everyone is keenly aware of what happened in Libya.  The United States negotiated with Muammar Gaddafi to back away from having nuclear weapons.  He agreed, but subsequently the United States became very involved in his overthrow.  Remember the once all-powerful Gaddafi hiding in a storm drain, and then slaughtered by his angry captors?  That lesson of how vulnerable a country and its leader are without having the ultimate weapon was not lost on Kim Yong-Un or anyone else.  So that the United States might guarantee the North Korean borders if the regime agrees to denuclearize — all of that rings kind of hollow in this light.

Consequently, I see the basic negotiation of denuclearizing North Korea going nowhere.  But does that mean there is no benefit from further negotiation?  Here there is some hope, for there is a subtle benefit that is realistic and achievable.

North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war.  What was signed way back in 1953 was an armistice, not a treaty that ended the war.  So technically they are still at war.  In fact, up until recently, the tension in the demilitarized zone was palpable and very threatening.  The two sides down through the years have shown recurring bouts of open hostility, including an active series of “war games” with American participation in South Korea and unrelenting warlike broadcasts by North Korea.

It could very well be the case that some wars are not started from a sudden decision, but rather a series of small steps and irritations that slowly lead to a crescendo of outrage on either side, so that the slightest spark reaches — to use a nuclear metaphor — critical mass,  and so you have an explosion of outright hostilities.  You have yourself a war.  This was certainly the case in World War 1 where the spark was the assassination of  Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.  Just imagine — an entire world set ablaze because just one person is shot dead.

But it might be that peace works in the opposite direction — a series of small steps at forgiveness and reconciliation until the parties involved become surprised at and even taken aback by any animosity, so that the thought of war seems preposterous, remote.  That first step toward peace in this case might be a much ballyhooed peace treaty that finally ends the war between North Korea and South Korea.  That’s the achievable benefit.  It would in fact change little about the current circumstances, but it would change the mood dramatically, and would be that tiny but real first step away from war, away from the abyss.  A journey of a 100 miles begins with the first step.

But, unfortunately, there is further reason for pessimism about the Korean predicament.  It has to do with the prospects for the country to become unified again.  What you have in South Korea is a Western-style democracy and a capitalist society.  It is a wealthy, industrious, and innovative country with its citizens used to quite a bit of personal freedom as well as civil rights and voting rights.  In short, the people are independent, well to do, and exercise a good deal of self-determination in the conduct of their own lives.

Contrast all of that to what exists in North Korea.  North Korea is a hereditary military dictatorship based on the cult of a supreme leader.   It is a poor country that is barely able to feed itself.  We’ve all seen the satellite night photographs of a pitch black North Korea.  Much of the country’s productive capacity is spent on developing an overly massive military or wasted by the regime for showy propaganda structures that serve no useful benefit for its society.  Its people have no rights and have been thoroughly indoctrinated in a Stalinist-like regime where individuals who voice the slightest disagreement with the regime simply disappear, either permanently or to Gulag-like prisons.  So there is no dissent to speak of, and the people are like robots in their total submission to the state and its supreme leader.  I submit that two such disparate regimes will never ever be reconciled, certainly not without a lot of bloodshed and civil war.

It’s interesting to sit back and look at the Korean situation from the point of view of what would be the worst case scenario from the American perspective and from the North Korean perspective.  The American perspective is pretty easy to understand.  We would not want to see South Korea overrun by North Korea.  This could happen in either of two ways.  The United States might negotiate to leave South Korea if there was sufficient guarantees that North Korea would not invade.  But the United States having left, North Korea might renege on this agreement and invade anyway.  Alternatively, an outright war could break out.  Seoul would be destroyed by the artillery bombardment, the tactical nuclear weapons used by the United States might not be effective in deterring the million-man North Korean army that invades South Korea, and so the whole peninsula, or what’s left of it, would fall to North Korea.  In either of these possibilities, the net result would then place Japan at severe risk — the next domino to fall.  And there is also the outside chance of a North Korean nuclear-armed missile managing to hit American soil.  That’s the American nightmare.

The North Korean worse case scenario is pretty obvious.  The United States military always has its “hawks” recommending that now is the time to take advantage of the enemy — that any further delay is to our disadvantage.  The hawks are always there pressing this argument in every international conflict.  After all, fighting and killing are what they do.   Actually, in this case, the hawk argument, that time is not on our side, is not a hard one to make.  North Korea today probably does not have the reentry technology or the accuracy to hit specific targets in the continental United States, but in 5 years?  Today it is estimated they may have 15 nuclear weapons, but in 5 years?  The clock is ticking.

Nevertheless, should the perception unfold that the North Korean regime is consciously trying to play us along in order to deceive the United States to gain the upper hand in a game of nuclear chicken, such a growing perception would play into the hands of the hawks who would merely reiterate that time is running out on our advantage to ATTACK.  The worse case scenario for North Koreans unfolds when leadership in Washington becomes persuaded by this argument and ultimately agrees with it.  If that synergy between Washington and the hawks were to happen, all of North Korea would hang by a nuclear thread hovering above an annihilation one can scarcely imagine.

Crimea

Nuclear Winter

European Union (EU) and Tariffs

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Nuclear Winter

68_Statue silhouette black flat

The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was signed in 2011, replacing START 1, and runs until 2021.  It limits the number of warheads of the US and Russia to 1550 each. It’s interesting to try to imagine what the United States would turn into if 1550 nuclear warheads were to hit their target here.  These modern warheads are not comparable to the two nuclear bombs dropped in WW2, which are puny in comparison.  The modern warheads are much more powerful – some, for instance, more than 3000 times the explosive capacity of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Major targets are assumed to be hit with not just one but multiple warheads to ensure that at least one warhead gets through.  So it is safe to assume that all major cities would simply be obliterated, given the magnitude of these weapons, leaving intense radiation in the surrounding area.  Most of the smaller cities would also be hit, creating more radiation zones.  All the strategic military sites would be targeted, of course, as well as major industrial sites, producing still more radiation zones.  Basically, every missile that struck would create a large radiation zone where it would be hazardous for humans to tread, perhaps for decades.

The electrical grid would be destroyed so that there would be no power and no electricity.  All 61 of the nuclear power plants in the US, without power, would no longer be serviced with the necessary cooling process and so they would all have unstoppable melt downs, creating radiation zones around them of approximately 50 miles in every direction – and these radiation zones would be permanent and very lethal.  Food distribution would simply end; and most of the population would not know how to grow food and therefore would be unable to feed itself, so that perhaps 90% of the population would die from starvation within a few months, or even sooner, depending on when their existing food supplies run out.  Tap water would be a thing of the past, so that finding and purifying water would be a major and constant challenge (the human body can be in starvation mode for prolonged periods of time and can go without food entirely for up to 3 weeks, but cannot do without water for more than 3 or 4 days at most).  There would be no government and no law and order, and those who managed to survive the initial attack would quickly drop the thin veneer of civilization and turn into savages willing to do anything for food and water.  There would be no hospitals or medical services, and cadavers would not be buried, as there would be no one to bury them. All the radiation would of course have an enormous impact on wildlife as well as the once fertile soil.

There would be small pockets of survivors in the remote countryside far removed from urban areas and from the various radiation zones.  These rare individuals would survive because they just happened to know how to survive in the wild, like the fabled mountain men of the Old West.  They would also be able to survive because they would be able to  separate themselves and stay far away from the desperate.  The survivors in the northern states would consider their predicament facing harsh winters without heat.  Many would attempt to migrate to the south to avoid severe winters.  But this trek would be on foot, as the roads would be a shamble and many sections would simply be destroyed by missile strikes.  And the trek would have to give a wide berth to urban areas, as these would be a radiation hazard.  One option for survivors in the northern states like New England, facing the difficult urban corridor from Boston to Washington, might be to go north instead, to Canadian communities that were still intact.

All of the above would also take place in Russia.  It would start in just 20 minutes and be over in a matter of hours.  To the rest of the globe, these two countries would be considered no-go zones to be avoided at all cost.

Nuclear Weapons Around the World

Map of the World’s 17,000 Nuclear Weapons

North Korea — What to Expect

On the Brink

Crimea

European Union (EU) and Tariffs

What do you get for a one dollar contribution? My gratitude.

If you enjoyed the post, you can help me keeping blogging along with just a one dollar contribution. You can contribute more by increasing the quantity — each increase by 1 is an additional dollar. Thanks for your support in this blog-eat-blog world.

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