Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth nations (a.k.a. Veterans’ Day or Armistice Day) went by and I noticed the familiar annual postings on social media honoring family members who died and suffered as soldiers and civilians in the two world wars of the 20th century. It is of course perfectly fitting that we honor these people, and make war personal by remembering the impacts on our own families down through the generations. Yet the act of remembering also involves selective forgetting, and it can verge toward solipsism.

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Western nations honor their ancestors for their bravery and sacrifice, but now tend to forget the utter failure of political leaders to avoid war in the first place. They forget the socialists who called for international solidarity before World War I—warning workers not to fight a bankers’ war for the exhausted European empires. They forget that the colonized in Africa and Asia probably didn’t care which empire would win and thus guarantee a kind of freedom for their descendants to celebrate a century later. They forget that after the Great War (as it was called when it was the only world war one could refer to), Britain, France and the US continued to wage war against Bolshevik revolutionaries. They forget the cynicism of French and British leaders fifteen years later who refused an alliance with Stalin in the hope Hitler would finish off the Soviet Union, and be much weakened, before they would have to deal with him.

Shifting the name from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day also makes the day’s meaning vague. The choice of Veterans’ Day changes the day from an anti-war to a pro-war sentiment that shifts the emphasis to honoring the service of soldiers. The act of remembering is also selective. The two great wars get most of the attention, while the atrocities in Korea and Southeast Asia get little. Veterans and victims of Cold War nuclear testing are recognized only on the margins. And what about Africa’s World War that lasted roughly from 1994 to 2007 and killed an estimated six million? Who outside of Africa knows which nations fought and why? What about the ongoing wars in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen, or the fascist, US-supported coup d’état that occurred in Bolivia on Remembrance Day, 2019?

George Friedman, guest speaker at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, March 17, 2015

Video here.

SHORT VERSION (TRANSCRIPT HIGHLIGHTS)

Europe will, I suspect not return to the 31 years [of war], but it will return to humanity. They will have their wars. They will have their peace. They will live their lives. It will not be a hundred million dead, but the idea of the European exceptionalism, I think, is the one suffering the first death. There will be conflict…

[Islamic extremism] is a problem to the United States but it is not an existential threat… We have other foreign policy interests, so the primordial interest of the United States over which for a century we have fought wars—the first, the second [world wars] and the cold war—has been the relationship between Germany and Russia because united they are the only force that could threaten us.

The United States has a fundamental interest. It controls all the oceans of the world. No power has ever done that. Because of that we get to invade people and they don’t get to invade us. It’s a very nice thing. Maintaining control of the sea and control of space is the foundation of our power…

The policy that I would recommend is the one that Ronald Reagan adopted toward Iran and Iraq. He funded both sides so they would fight each other and not fight us. This was cynical. It was certainly not moral. It worked, and this is the point…

So empires that are directly governed by the empire, like the Nazi Empire, fail. No one has that much power. You have to have a level of cleverness. However, our problem is actually admitting that we have an empire…

The issue to which we don’t have the answer is: What will Germany do? So the real wild card in Europe is that as the United States builds its cordon sanitaire, not in Ukraine, but to the west and the Russians try to figure out how to leverage Ukrainians out, we don’t know the German position…

Now whoever can tell me what the Germans are going to do is going to tell me about the next 20 years of history, but unfortunately the Germans haven’t made up their mind, and this is the problem with Germany always—enormously economically powerful, geopolitically very fragile, and never quite knowing how to reconcile the two. Ever since 1871, this has been the German question, the question of Europe.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

No place is really pacific for very long. Neither is the United States. We have constant wars. Europe will, I suspect not return to the 31 years [of war], but it will return to humanity. They will have their wars. They will have their peace. They will live their lives. It will not be a hundred million dead, but the idea of the European exceptionalism, I think, is the one suffering the first death. There will be conflict. There was conflict in Yugoslavia and there’s certainly conflict now in Ukraine. As to the relationship to the United States, we no longer have a relationship with Europe. We have a relationship with Romania. We have a relationship with France. There is no Europe to have a relationship with.

[Islamic extremism] is a problem to the United States but it is not an existential threat. It has to be dealt with, but it has to be dealt with proportionately. We have other foreign policy interests, so the primordial interest of the United States over which for a century we have fought wars—the first, the second and the cold war—has been the relationship between Germany and Russia because united they are the only force that could threaten us. To make sure that that doesn’t happen, if you’re Ukrainian, is essentially to reach out to the only country that will help you, which is the United States.

Last week General Hodges, commander of the US Army in Europe, visited Ukraine. He announced that trainers would now officially becoming, not just unofficially coming. He actually pinned medals on Ukrainian fighters, which by protocol of the military is not the way it’s done. Foreigners don’t get to pin on medals on you, but he did, showing that this was his army. He then left and in the Baltics announced the United States would be pre-positioning armored artillery and other equipment in the Baltics, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, which is a very interesting point. So yesterday the United States announced that it will be sending weapons to fight. Of course they denied it, but they are. The weapons will go. In all of this the United States has acted outside the context of NATO because NATO has to have a 100% vote. Any one country can veto anything, and the Turks will veto just for giggles.

The point is that the United States is prepared to create a cordon sanitaire around Russia. Russia knows it. Russia believes that the United States intends to break the Russian Federation. I think that as Peter Lorre put it, we don’t want to kill you. We just want to hurt you a little bit. Either way, we are back at the old game, and if you go ask a Pole, or a Hungarian, or Romanian, they live in a totally different universe from a German, and they live in a totally different universe from a Spaniard. So there is no commonality in Europe, but if I were a Ukrainian, I would do exactly what they are doing: try to draw the Americans in.

The United States has a fundamental interest. It controls all the oceans of the world. No power has ever done that. Because of that we get to invade people and they don’t get to invade us. It’s a very nice thing. Maintaining control of the sea and control of space is the foundation of our power. The best way to defeat an enemy fleet is to not let it be built. The way the British managed to make sure no European power could build a fleet was to make sure the Europeans were at each other’s throats. The policy that I would recommend is the one that Ronald Reagan adopted toward Iran and Iraq. He funded both sides so they would fight each other and not fight us. This was cynical. It was certainly not moral. It worked, and this is the point. The United States cannot occupy Eurasia. The moment the first boot sets on the ground, the demographic differential is we are totally outnumbered. We can defeat an army. We cannot occupy Iraq. The idea that 130,000 men would occupy a country of 25 million? Well, the ratio in New York of cops to citizens was greater than what we had deployed in Iraq, so we don’t have the ability to go across, but we do have the ability to first support various contending powers so they concentrate on themselves with political support, some economic support, military support advisers, and in extremis do what we did in Japan, in Vietnam, in Iraq and in Afghanistan: spoiling attacks. A spoiling attack is not intended to defeat the enemy. Its intent is to throw them off balance. What we did in each of these wars, in Afghanistan, for example, is we threw al Qaeda off balance.

The problem we have, since we’re young and stupid, is that having thrown them off balance, instead of saying, “OK, job well done. Let’s go home,” we said, “Well, that was easy. Why don’t we build a democracy here? This was the moment the dementia came in. The answer, therefore, is the United States cannot constantly be intervening throughout Eurasia. It must be selectively intervening, and very rarely. That is the extreme moment. We cannot as the first step send American troops, and when we send American troops, we have to truly understand that the mission is limited to that and not develop all sorts of psychotic fantasies. So hopefully we’ve learned that this time. It takes a while for kids to learn lessons, but I think you’re absolutely right. We cannot as an empire do that.

Britain didn’t occupy India. It took various Indian states and turned them against each other and provided some British officers for an Indian army. The Romans did not send vast armies out there. It created under the Emperor kings who were responsible for maintaining the peace. Pontius Pilate was an example. So empires that are directly governed by the empire, like the Nazi Empire, fail. No one has that much power. You have to have a level of cleverness. However, our problem is actually admitting that we have an empire. We haven’t even got to that point where we don’t think we can kind of go home and it’ll be over and done…

The question on the table for the Russians is: Will they retain a buffer zone that’s at least neutral, or will the West penetrate so far in Ukraine that they’re 70 miles away from Stalingrad [Volgograd] and 300 miles away from Moscow? For Russia the status of Ukraine is an existential threat, and the Russians cannot let go. For the United States, in the event that Russia holds on to the Ukraine, where will it stop? Therefore, it’s not an accident that General Hodges, who’s been appointed to be blamed for all of this, is talking about pre-positioning troops in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the Baltics. This is the intermarium from the Black Sea to the Baltic that Pilsudski dreamt of. This is the solution for the United States.

The issue to which we don’t have the answer is: What will Germany do? So the real wild card in Europe is that as the United States builds its cordon sanitaire, not in Ukraine, but to the west and the Russians try to figure out how to leverage Ukrainians out, we don’t know the German position. Germany is in a very peculiar position. Its former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is on the board of Gazprom. They have a very complex relationship to the Russians. The Germans themselves don’t know what to do. They must export. The Russians can’t take up their exports. On the other hand, if they lose the free trade zone, they need to build something different. For the United States, the primordial fear is German technology and German capital and Russian natural resources and Russian manpower. That is the only combination that has for centuries scared the hell out of the United States. So how does this play out? Well, the US has already put its cards on the table. It is the line from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

As for the Russians, their cards have always been on the table. They must have at least a neutral Ukraine, not a pro-western Ukraine. Belarus is another question. Now whoever can tell me what the Germans are going to do is going to tell me about the next 20 years of history, but unfortunately the Germans haven’t made up their mind, and this is the problem with Germany always—enormously economically powerful, geopolitically very fragile, and never quite knowing how to reconcile the two. Ever since 1871, this has been the German question, the question of Europe. Think about the German question because now it’s coming up again. That’s the next question that we have to address, but we don’t know how to address it.