Friday, August 7, 2009

Alpha dogs and who shall rule the world

As we know from experience with our symbiotic other, the dog, in any sort of “pack” a tough dog will try himself against the other tough dogs. The toughest dog will end up the leader. After everyone has had his chance to challenge, the pack will settle down – at least until the current leader gets old or weak.

The same sort of thing was true of the other species, homo sapiens, in the twentieth century. Consider the Japanese. In 1931 they began to carve an empire for themselves. They wanted as their “big-dog right,” if I may coin an expression, China, Korea, and a few other nations. Their ambitions didn’t extend to the entire world. They were close to the Germans in that regard; although had they and the Germans succeeded, it is easy to imagine a future time when they would have had a final clash to see who was going to rule the entire world.

As it is, the Japanese had their chance, and it seemed a good chance to their militaristic leaders at the time. The Japanese had the fighting ability, their Bushido code which only death could stop, and the will. In 1941 it seemed that there was no one around, no one in the vicinity of their “pack” that could challenge them. Like the Germans, the Japanese fought very hard. They weren’t interested in politics. They didn’t make many allies of people in their vicinity. They weren’t interested in making friends. They were only interested in conquering.

The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, but the militarists did not think of quitting. The Second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and still the Militarists thought only in terms of fighting on. Surely the Americans wouldn’t keep on dropping atomic bombs. Eventually, they would have to invade one of the main Japanese islands and then the Japanese, on their own soil, would make the invaders pay such a high price that they would agree to a negotiated peace.

But the “peace party” had its say, and the peace party reflected the views of the common man, and more significantly of the Emperor. He called a meeting, listened to the war party and then listened to the peace party. According to Hastings on page 505 of Retribution, the Battle for Japan, 1944-45, “The imperial conference began ten minutes before midnight on 9 August. The text of the Potsdam Declaration [which called for unconditional surrender] was read aloud. Foreign Minister Togo tabled a one-condition draft, proposing Potsdam’s acceptance provided that no change was demanded ‘in the status of the emperor under national laws.’ War Minister Anami continued to preach defiance, supported by his military colleagues. Soon after 2 a.m. on 10 August, however, Prime Minister Suzuki rose, bowed to the emperor, ignored a protest from Anami and invited the emperor’s decision. Hirohito, still seated at the table, leaned forward and said: ‘I will express my opinion. It is the same as that of the foreign minister.’ It was necessary to ‘bear the unbearable.’ Hirohito spoke harshly of the chasm between the military’s past promises and performance. Suzuki said: ‘We have heard your august Thought.’ Hirohito then left the room. Everyone present, including the military proponents of continued belligerence, signed a document approving the imperial decision.”

In 1941, for all the Japanese knew, they might turn out to be the “big-dog” in the Pacific Rim. Hirohito was willing to let his military leaders have their chance. It seemed a chance worth taking, but on August 9-10, 1945, he and the others at the table knew that they were not to be the “big-dog.” They were not to be the leader of the pack.


The Germans had an equivalent chance, but they also failed. Just as the U.S. turned out to be the “big-dog” on the pacific rim and in Western Europe, the USSR was the “big-dog” in Eastern Europe. But there were other challenges at work in the world – not the aggressive fighting it out, but the stare-down, the shoulder shoving, the baring of teeth and growling. The Communist assertion had its chance in Russia and Eastern Europe, but the Russian-Communist big-dog gave it up in 1989. They were still the toughest “dog” in their region in military terms, but other constraints made those terms less valuable then they were 50 years earlier.

If we move back in order to gain perspective and consider what the “aggressors” in the 20th century had in mind, the common denominator was ultimately global dominance. Even though the leaders of all three “aggressors,” the German, Japanese and Soviet, spoke of being content to varying degrees with portions of the world pie, their ideologies were not. Their ideologies each demanded the whole pie.

There are some who want to say that the American ideology defeated the other ideologies. I disagree with that position. It amounts, in my view, to saying that no-ideology has defeated the Japanese, German and Soviet ideologies.

Consider the “conservative” position in American politics. It favors small government. It favors putting as much “power” as possible in the hands of individuals. Yes, a central government is a necessary evil, but it is not something that ought to “rule over us.” It ought to do nothing more than what we the voters tell it to do. Now move that concept out into the world and you will see that it is very close to being the antithesis of the assertive ideologies of the Japanese (in 1931), the Germans in 1937, and the Communist Russians in 1917. The Japanese, Germans and Russians each had an assertive system they were going to force upon the rest of the world. The U.S. system was an anti-assertive system.

But is there no ideology behind the U.S. “system”? Well, maybe, depending upon who is describing it, but not in the sense of the Japanese, German, and Russians had ideologies in the middle of the 20th century. Yes, the U.S. has been in a number of large and small wars, but with a few exceptions, these wars have been for the purpose of opposing an aggressive or assertive nation.

Think of the trouble spots in the world. Iran is willing to fight to assert its right as regional big-dog. Pakistan and India have still not resolved who is to be the big-dog after the British left them in 1949. Russia is big-dog in its region, but willing to fight to keep its “near abroad” nations from abandoning their pack. China is willing to fight to keep Taiwan from completely leaving its pack. North Korea is willing to fight for reasons which seem paranoid. And, of course, the list could go on. Yes, the U.S. is willing to fight also, but always against what it perceives to be an aggressor or assertive nation.

Of course the argument has oft been presented that by fighting and being willing to fight, the US is by definition assertive and aggressive, but this is a specious argument. Is the person who defends himself as guilty of aggression as the mugger who tries to beat and rob him? Only if you abandon reason and common sense, or (which amounts to the same thing) you are a pacifist.

Consider the proverbial school-yard bully. We know he is assertive and aggressive. But if one day someone stands up to him and defeats him, does that make the victor the new-school-yard bully? Not in the typical story we hear. Defeating a bully is a good thing; so becoming the new bully would be a bad thing. The U.S. defeated the school-yard-type bully, the Japanese, but did the US become the new bully in the region? I don’t think so. A better argument could be made for Russia, having defeated the Japanese in Manchuria, and the Chinese (embracing a form of Communism equivalent to that embraced in Soviet Russia) and North Korea (similarly embracing Communism) becoming bullies.

I know that many in the world, and indeed in America, hate America. But I don’t believe the arguments for that hatred bear scrutiny. Let us pass by the emotional position which says “I don’t need logical arguments for my feelings.” And then pick a war. The Korean war was fought by America to resist the aggression of the North Koreans. The Vietnamese War was fought by America to resist the aggression of the North Vietnamese. The Iraq war was fought (in two parts) to resist Iraqi desire to become big-dog in the region. .

Looking about in the world at the present time, there may still be formidable dogs that while constrained in their own regions, fancy that they deserve to rule the world. The Islamist dog has been the most assertive in the last decade. Was he thoroughly subdued during the Bush administration, or has he decided to prove himself “alpha” in regions other than the U.S.? If he does so aggressively, the US may be inspired to engage in another war.

Some people won’t buy what I have written. The US is an assertive entity in their opinion, but if it is “asserting” small government and assertively opposing the “school-yard bully” is that the sort of assertion we want to object to? I don’t think so.

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