lördag, oktober 30, 2004

Thirteen Minus Nine

Svt showed 'Thirteen Days' on friday night, the Kevin Costner movie about the Cuba Crisis. Excellent timing, as it ended exactly 42 years ago, and with the presidential election four days away.
I'm not alone in beeing struck by the contrast in how the Kennedy admin. managed the Cuba crisis compared to the Bush admin's handling of Iraq. Of course, it's a very hollywoodian movie with "good guys" that can do no wrong (Kennedy & his team,) and "bad guys" (the military top brass) that are just bastards*. Still, I can't help thinking how the tables have turned; now the civilian leadership recklessly drives for war while it's the military's turn to try getting out of their clusterfucks.

The detail that struck most though, was Kennedy mentioning 'the Guns of August'. He was afraid, that just like European leaders in the early days of august '14 got caught by the cogs of a mobilization machine through sheer bellicose foolishness, he and Chrushtshev were on the inescapable path of mutual assured destruction; black rain would have fallen down if Kaiserish types on any side had prevailed.

Reading history books is not a sure-fire way of avoiding mistakes however; I read somewhere that Dick Cheney sought solace in Victor Hanson's books** during the run-up of the Iraq war in late '02, how people were thrashing antique leaders for taking them to war and then build triumph arches for them when they came back with a 'veni, vidi, vici' on their lips***.

Another book by Barbara Tuchman I've read that is even more relevant is 'the March to Folly: From Troy to Vietnam'; folly she defines as 'the pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest'. Was she alive, she would probably add it as the fifth folly; her four examples are the Trojan horse, how Renaissance popes split Christiandom, how King George (not dubya) lost America, and the Vietnam war.

A few years from now, the debacle in the middle east will be held up as another example of such a pursuit. A high price in gold, blood and tears to pay for something we already knew.

*although it had more than its fair share of people like Curtis LeMay.

**scroll down past the reviews of the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey', to 'Carnage and Culture'. It was written partly in response to Jared Diamond's excellent 'Guns, Germs, and Steel'. I think that Hanson, as far as his points about Western cultural superiority are valid, misses the question of where those cultural factors come from. Fascinated as I am by all things evolutionary (which Hanson cannot tell apart from geographical determinism), I can only note it as another example of how little influence evolution theory has on people's thinking compared to, say, newtonian mechanics. Everybody's familiar with the concept of 'action' and 'reaction', but even doctors and psychologists have a rather dim grasp of it. Like engineers beeing taught math as a nice to have, but not really essential subject...

***if at least 'our' leaders had the honour of living by what Gorgo said to her husband the king of Sparta, when he went fighting at Thermopylae: 'come back victorious or on your shield', which would correspond to a flag-draped coffin in our times...
their style is like, more kind of WWI château generalship.