Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Real Force of Hope

It's kind of funny, but America was exceptional as a force to defend the West before America existed. But what can revive the West's confidence in itself now?

Consider Western Europe--the only part of the West to exist then--in 1492 (from Admiral of the Ocean Sea, pp. 3-5):

At the end of the year 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science, and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. ...

Throughout Western Europe he general feeling was one of profound disillusion, cynical pessimism and black despair. ...

Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nurenberg were correcting their proofs proofs from Koberger's press [which saw Judgment Day imminent], a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon, with news of a discovery that was to five old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. ... "A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future."

I'd be tempted to compare this closely to current thinking in Western Europe:

Rome’s problem, like so many other places in Europe, is that it has essentially become a theme park, heavily dependent on tourism but contributing next to nothing to the sum total of human knowledge or prosperity these days. Far too many Europeans are content to snooze the rest of their lives and cultures away; meanwhile, beasts like ISIS are licking their chops. Scenes from the ruins of Christian civilization[.]

But the picture of despair in 1492 is so much worse than today, which is not so much hopelessness about the threats but willful ignorance:

The blood of the likes of Charles Martel no longer runs in the veins of today’s cafĂ©-dwelling Europeans. They sip coffee and their (excellent) wine and, in Spain, drink their bizarre cerveza/lemonade and rioja/Coca-Cola combinations, oblivious to what’s coming. Perhaps it’s mere ignorance, perhaps it’s a choice. It will end the same way regardless—in blood. When the time comes to choose between picking up a rifle and dying, we’ll find out if the human instinct for self-preservation has successfully been bred out of the men of Europe. I know where I’m putting my money.

I'd bet my money differently:

Europe has a bloody history and talk of how Europeans have lost the ability to fight is short-sighted.

Ours is only the latest generation to imagine that brutal warfare is a relic of the past. In 1851, Edward Creasy wrote, "It is an honorable characteristic of the spirit of this age, that projects of violence and warfare are regarded among civilized states with gradually increasing aversion."

He could write that conclusion since no major European war convulsed the continent since 1815. Yet 36 years without war did not mean that Europeans were permanently pacifists despite that growing aversion in civilized states. The Crimean War of 1853-1856, the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, and the Great War (though they still had the honorable spirit of the age to believe it was the war to end all wars. Only later would it be World War I.) were yet to come. The Russians and Turks went at it yet again in that time, too.

Europe will return from their vacation on Venus, if pushed enough.

And the military balance is tilted in Western Europe's favor (if ill-deployed) compared to the forces that push on their borders from the south and east. It is only the will to resist that pushing that is lacking--not the ability to do so.

Most important, America is no longer a hope for the future, but a fact of life in sustaining the West.

Yet if the Europe of 2015, content to enjoy what was built before them, is not hopeless in its view of the future, is it on the way to hopelessness?

And what could revive Europe's hope for a better future? Could new frontiers in the Solar System provide that spark?

Or must something else akin to new worlds be found right here?

I just don't believe that the West is doomed. As strategic planners would agree, while intent is highly changeable, capabilities are more predictable. Europe could change as it has changed before.