Balancing Acts: What Nazis, Communists, Americans, Iran and Roger Federer have in common

by Matt on June 13, 2008

in Miscellany, Online Communities

Seriously, Pat? Seriously?

Oh dear, I’ve gone and violated Godwin’s Law. At least I got it out of the way early, which was unavoidable as the entire point of this post is a review I read of Pat Buchanan’s new book. The former Nixon Adviser/former presidential candidate/current MSNB correspondent hops aboard the World War II revisionism short bus, and it’s obvious the NY Sun reviewer enjoyed lumping his book in with recent far-left attempts at the same. Buchanan’s thesis, according to the review, is simple: we (in particular, Britain) should not have entered war with Germany.

From the review:

There is really only one controversial claim in “Hitler, Churchill, and the Unnecessary War.” This is the notion that Britain should not have offered to guarantee Poland against Nazi aggression in April 1939, and so would not have had to go to war when the aggression came that September. This would have been the wiser course, Mr. Buchanan argues, because Hitler had no interest in war with Britain. In fact, he admired the English as racial comrades, and more than once floated the prospect of the two nations dividing up the world between them. His real target was the Soviet Union, and it would have been better for Britain and the world to allow those two monstrous tyrannies to fight each other alone.

Extrapolating this idea made for an interesting thought experiment. The review goes on to outline how Germany, if all was quiet on the western front, would have easily been the first European to win a land war in Asia. But taking Buchanan’s ideas and expanding them, suppose Hitler had only succeeded in conquering Europe, Stalin cemented his bloc in the east, and England and the U.S. remained neutral. Buchanan argues that the conflict would have been so great between the two fraternal twin totalitarian regimes that it would have solved both, and we would be living in a western wonderland today.

My question is, besides in the great Butter Battle, when has this happened?

Buchanan’s thesis is based on the idea that the two powers would tear each other apart. Or, not unlike Republican hopes of the protracted Democratic primary, that at least two powerful forces would drag each other down until the Good Guys (Capitalism; McCain) could build themselves unmolested. It’s like in Starcraft, right? You zerg rush your Terran friend and kill his drones, but he’s turtled some marines to fend them off, all while launching a counterstrike that wounds your build order. Meanwhile, the noble Protoss player in the upper right has had time to tech up, and before you know it you have a pocket of zerglings fending off 10 carriers.

Unfortunately (erm, I guess fortunately…) history did not unfold like Starcraft. Rather, history shows that two competing forces often leads to both of those forces dominating the rest of the world. For practically all of the middle ages, you have England versus France. For more than half of the 20th century, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. fought so hard and so coldly that they were by far the most powerful players. Having a rival (or even better, an enemy) ferments fanaticism and provokes passion better than any claims of manifest destiny.

There are exceptions, of course. The Romans didn’t have an equal opponent for most of their empire. Yet their protracted war with Carthage is one of the most defining periods of their military history.

Take Roger Federer. He’s one of the greatest tennis players the world has ever produced. Had Rafael Nadal not appeared, Federer would likely hold all of the records in tennis. But Nadal did appear, and their intense rivalry has led to the two of them dominating the 1 and 2 spots since 2005.

And that brings us to Iran, which might play in to Buchanan’s point. The Iranians and the Iraqis balanced each other for years, their political and religious differences making them both powerful (but peripheral) entities in the Middle East. Their wars, plus U.N. sanctions, kept either from severely unbalancing the region. But, it also lead both to build powerful armies. Now, the Iraq threat to Iran is removed, and Ahmadinejad is the most powerful figure outside of Saudi Arabia.

Competition between two nations has two effects: it ossifies the Us vs. Them mentality, and causes both parties to far out pace those outside of the conflict. A 50-year cold war between Nazis and Stalinists might have kept both in “check,” but it would have forced the rest of the world to become satellites of either side. Then, if either collapsed, the full might of the winning side would be free to will itself on a new, far weaker target.

You hear about politicians yearning for the simplicity of the Cold War, or the Neocon nostalgia for the “Good War” of World War II. The War on Terror is an attempt to create a new Us vs. Them mentality, replacing communists with terrorists (and when rhetorically at its worst, Islam). But Al Qaida does not make for a good rival. For the balancing act to occur, both sides must be on an equal footing. Otherwise, instead of Zerg/Terran/Protoss, it’s just Rebels and the Empire in a new Star Wars. And that didn’t end well for the Empire.

Image credit: Strange Maps. If you enjoy maps, I highly recommend a visit. Link leads to a post detailing the map above.

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