by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume X, No. XVIII

This Week's Clue: The Great Lesson of History

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This Week's Clue: The Great Lesson of History
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of May 1, 2006

The purpose of a military is to gain and hold territory.

That purpose is obsolete.

No military power, no matter how great its weapons or how dedicated its people, can control any land without at least the acquiescence of those who live there.

This acquiescence may be grudging. It may be a devil's bargain, freedom exchanged for comfort or opportunity. But that acquiescence must be won. Without it nothing else is possible.

This basic lesson has been building in history for centuries.

England could not project its power against the resistance of the Continental Army and the people who supported its Declaration of Independence. In the American Civil War the Union was saved because the North refused to acquiesce, troops were withdrawn from the South because it refused to acquiesce, and the long dark tunnel of Jim Crow was the result, because black people refused to acquiesce.

In both World Wars it was economic power that determined the final result. But the victory was not entirely won by force of arms. It was a victory for what Roosevelt called "the United Nations," people resisting occupation to the death. Germany and Japan were never able to totally subdue the Soviet Union or China, never able to bring the economic possibilities of those lands to bear on the battlefield.

History suggests that Great Britain lost its colonies because it was weakened by these struggles, but in fact the result was foreordained. Colonial powers learned that a new equation had emerged. The cost of maintaining territory was exceeding the economic value of that territory. Gandhi had known this, 20 years before his success. But he also knew that what worked against England also worked against India, which is why he acquiesced in the partition.

Gandhi knew that the great prize was peace. And the value of that prize has only risen with time.

It is peace that builds power, not war. Peace between nations is one prize. Peace within nations is the ultimate prize. Social peace, political stability, and an economic system acceptable to a consensus of the people allow the economy to grow. They allow infrastructure to be built and maintained. They allow human capital to be developed.

Beating swords into plowshares is the route to power.

This is not an easy lesson for those with military power to learn. It is counter-intuitive. It's a lesson that is resisted by all those who hold power.

Poor man wanna be rich,

rich man wanna be king

And a king ain't satisfied

till he rules everything

It takes a grand sweep of history to teach this lesson to the powerful. It takes great falls from power to teach this lesson to a whole people.

We learn it the hard way, through suffering, through death and destruction. Germany learned it the hard way. Japan learned it the hard way. China learned it the hard way. India is learning it the hard way. Russia continues to resist this lesson, and so do we.

Not all of us. But this lesson is the American political divide. You can learn this for yourself by asking a single question:

How did we win the Cold War?

The truth is it was our economic power, created by relative social peace, that won the Cold War. Absent the nuclear holocaust, victory was only a matter of time.

The lie told by Republicans is that it was our military power, pushed by Ronald Reagan, that won the Cold War. Vietnam, they insist, could have been won had we not been stabbed in the back. Afghanistan could have been lost had we not supported Bin Laden in the early 1980s, the Middle East lost had we not supported Saddam Hussein.

Talk to a Bush lover for even five minutes and this is the formula that will emerge. This is the heart of their political Thesis. Thus the fall of the Berlin Wall, the greatest economic opportunity ever, was rejected by these people in their constant search for enemies, for the projection of power.

What are we protecting in the Middle East? Democracy is a choice. Social peace is a choice. You can't force your choices on a people, because you can't hold territory. And you can't extract resources without some social peace - this is the great lesson of the 20th century.

Our victories of the 20th century have blinded us to reality. It was our ideals that won the day, not our fighting men. These were the decisive weapons in every struggle. Yet in the last five years we have been throwing these weapons on the fire - interfering with liberty, risking our social peace, undermining our economy - in order to occupy territory through force of arms.

That can't be done. That war can't be won. But because everyone else knew this we became "The Hyperpower," and ignored the lesson. Right now, the American military can take on and defeat, not just any other military force, but all other military forces combined.

We assume this gives us responsibility, that it makes us the world's policeman, that our military is the only guarantee for world peace and stability.


Our military is a tax, imposed on us, and our children, and our grandchildren, by politics, and by politicians who have not yet learned the great lesson of history.

It will be learned. It's just a matter of time. The only question is how much we must suffer along the way, how much America must lose or throw away in the course of learning it.

Because the lesson is true.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I have made a big decision. I have moved my main blog, formerly called Mooreslore, to under the name Dana Blankenhorn. (Hey, that's MY name.) The blog is written in Typepad and is also available at

I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.

You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Best of the Week

Harry Potter and the Great Loon

Throughout the series the young students at Hogwarts are learning to manipulate a complex and confusing world, one filled with hard-to-comprehend sciences, and with moral ambiguity. They seek a moral compass, but as they move forward they find only more shades of gray.

The Swiftboating of Juan Cole

Fund made up quotes, attributed them to Cole, and now Cole is spitting-mad. I don't blame him. But, in a wondrous proof that the times they are a changin', Cole has a megaphone of his own.

Why Blogs are a Threat

It's the links.

A Solution to the Energy Problem

A floor price.

PointCast II

The more I read about MySpace, its success in getting users, and its problems, the more one word keeps coming to mind.

The Real Political Divide

The real political divide in America is between the ascendent open source view on the one side and the proprietary view on the other.

The Democratic Fault Line

On the one side we have accomodationists, or "Clintonistas." On the other we have the Netroots, who identify first with DNC chair Howard Dean but have gone beyond him. Conventional analysts will call this split a sign of weakness. History shows it to be a sign of strength.

Proofs of Excess

Whenever a political myth reaches its sell-by date you will see attempts made to extend it in ways the majority has no wish to go:

Politics of Net Neutrality

For the loser now, will be later to win. For the times they are a-changin'



One Case Could Shuffle the Deck

New Majorities, New Tactics

The Biggest Fools in Georgia

Democrats Look to Regroup

ZDNet Open Source

Is Open Source the Way Back for U.S. Manufacturing?

Ingres to Play Possum in mySQL HenHouse

Open Source Blogger Becomes CEO of Sun

The Money Value of Time

Crystal Reports, Meet Open Source

Open Source Geocoding is Here

Proof that Desktop Linux Market is Growing

Desktop Linux Opportunity is Thick in the BRICK

Ian Murdock, Cat Herder


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Sun Microsystems. Committing to open source is the right strategy, but everything depends on execution.

Clueless are Georgia Democrats. They are still stuck in the 1930s.

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