What Makes People Do What They Do?News Abroad
tags: foreign policy
William R. Polk was a professor of history at the University of Chicago. During the Kennedy and part of the Johnson administrations, he was the member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Among his books is "Understanding Iraq, Violent Politics and Understanding Iran."
As message after message arrives on my email or in the media from or about the Middle East and other problem areas, I am struck by how repetitive they are. Almost all reporters and analysts strive to contribute something new. Sometimes they succeed. But, as I have been clipping articles and essays for more than half a century, I find that they fall into something like ten-year cycles. Each new insight is offered or some new development is described, but most sound just like the ones published a decade before.
Watching this, I have been reminded of an admittedly unfair comparison: when I first went to Egypt in 1946, in the bad old days of King Faruq, I heard the story of an English journalist who made his living lampooning the Egyptians. His readers loved his silly stories. When we met, I asked him where he got such "pearls" as his report that Egyptians could not access their government files because a cobra had taken up residence in the cellar of the Foreign Ministry! Did he make them up while smoking hashish? No, he admitted, he had not made them up, but he pointed out that telling them gave him a good living. He went on to say that he had inherited a cabinet in which generations of his predecessors had filed their stories. So, as he was departing, each old reporter advised the newcomer that all he had to do was to pull out a file and repeat the stories. If he kept them in chronological order, everybody would have forgotten them. Life was easy. "No sweat." "Work" was just a matter of changing the date, resending the tried and perhaps true old story and Gibli whiskey, boy!
Unfair to my scholarly colleagues, I admit. Everyone I know is at least trying to dig deeper, to learn more, to find new insights. And the bottom line is that, certainly as viewed from America, there is a change in the situation they are attempting to understand: the situation almost everywhere has gotten steadily worse. Maybe that cobra really is there. And events do keep repeating themselves.
So one should ask why? What has changed? What is changing? What is repeating? Why, after hundreds of billions of dollars spent and the commitment of and loss of thousands of American lives, does it keep getting worse rather than better? And, what about us "experts?" What have we learned? Are there really any significant new insights? Do we know much more today than we did a generation ago?
I am not so sure. So let me speculate.
Sometimes, it seems to me that our questions get in the way of our answers and that our analytical tools themselves distort what our eyes are seeing. We get so sophisticated that we may, to use the old saw, fail to see the forest for the trees. This is not new. My generation was deeply influenced half a century ago by economists and mathematicians. We scholars all wanted to be - and particularly to show -- that we had mastered all the techniques of our professions as social scientists, that we could build models, make graphs, juxtapose trends, etc. After all, we were writing our learned books and essays for our academic colleagues and our paymasters, not for those we were describing. So, at least those who were paid by our government and its proxy think tanks often became, as the English say, "too clever by half." They and their counterparts in universities, after all, had to prove their "smarts" in order to get funded, promoted or kept on. As I will admit below, I answered this siren call myself. But now having reached an august age at which no one would think of promoting me and few, perhaps, of even keeping me on, let me duck the smart and clever and try to look at the homely and simple.
The basic question we face is, I suggest, what makes people do what they do?
I will offer a few suggestions in the following six categories. There may well be others, but these are mine. Top of the list, I think, is ignorance. Closely following ignorance is the issue of memory. Next, I suggest is suspicion. Somewhere down the line is escapism. "Why didn't we..." and "why do you remind us...." Then, there is the development process and its downside, corruption. Hard to "objectify" and impossible to "quantify," is my fifth category, the sense of identify. Finally, I reflect on the sense of dignity and its and itsviolation in shameandthe terrible burden of embarrassment. I will look briefly at these things and try to point toward answers to them that must necessarily involve both ourselves and "the others." I begin with ignorance.
Every survey on what Americans know about our world shows, objectively speaking, what can only be described as ignorance. Few Americans know even where any foreign place is, who lives there, what language they speak, or what shapes their daily lives. This appears to be true not only of the "average" American but even of those who are about to be appointed as ambassadors to represent us abroad. Paris, probably; Saigon, maybe; Kiev, doubtful (and Kyiv, impossible).
Casual conversations with people all over America indicate that few care. Such information is just not a significant part of their lives. Disturbing as some of us find it, this ignorance is not new and certainly is not solely American.
If one could have taken a poll in England at almost any time in its history one would have found the same results. I suggest that what is different, operationally, is that in England the ordinary citizen did not play a role in determining policy. That was the job of the small aristocracy. What the people knew or did not know was unimportant. They had to do as they were told. There may have been more popular opinion than is recorded, but it had little impact on the decision-making process. What the lower class or even the middle class knew or thought, at least until fairly recently, was perhaps interesting but certainly not decisive. As Tennyson put it in a different context, "theirs but to do and die."
Fortunately, or unfortunately, today not only in England, but also in much of the rest of the world and above all in America, which is the operational head of the world community, what "the people" know or don't know but believe is no longer irrelevant. It sometimes is crucial. That is because elections are more common, even if not always free, and because people almost everywhere, but particularly in the West, have been to some extent politicized. Thus, Ignorance is not new but today it is often determinant.
And ignorance is not just unidirectional; it occurs in a context. What "we" think we know about others fits into what other people think "they" know both about themselves and about us. People everywhere tend to know quite a bit about their own circumstances and the actions that shaped those circumstances. That is, much more than foreigners know about them. This necessarily creates a lopsided worldview. We often observe this in the implementation of policies abroad. These forms of mutual incomprehension or mutual misreadings often cause wars. Consider three examples:
France uplifted the downtrodden people of Algeria and Indo-China, brought them into the modern world and even offered them citizenship. That is the French interpretation; the Indo-Chinese and Algerian interpretations are almost exactly the reverse. They believe, and fought France because of this belief, that France brutally wiped out not only local societies but also local cultures in a ruthless quest to dominate and to exploit. There could be no compromise. France had to leave or be thrown out, even at the cost of millions of lives and vast amounts of suffering.
Britain developed Iran, finding and bringing into production its hitherto undiscovered petroleum, kept its fractious society in an acceptable degree of peace and protected the country from rapacious foreign powers. Of course, it got some compensation but only what the Iranians agreed to and what was fair. The English firmly believed this. The Iranians saw events rather differently. Britain was in Iran to steal its oil; it promoted corruption among the ruling class so that its actions could not be judged by the people or even by independent authorities such as the World Court and, when the people finally became able to chart their own course, Britain got the United States to overthrow Iran's elected government.
Ah, well, "realists" may say, these events are in the nature of the backwardness. As Thucydides has the Athenians say to the people of Melos, "Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” True, the Africans and Asians suffered, but in the end they became modern. Surely, the "clash of civilizations" paid off. Everyone gained in the end. And after all, as Voltaire has Candid believing, "we live in the best of all possible worlds." Or, at least, we are helping one another move into a better world. And, as some frankly proclaim, the "exotic" are really not part of the world order. So we can gently put them aside.
But, let us look at a third example, further away in time but closer to home: Our ancestors and the British at the time of the American Revolution.
Britain could not understand why -- and simply did not believe that -- the Colonial people in "British America" in 1775 wanted to break free. Britain was the "Mother Country"; the settlers were primarily English or at least British, and Britain was protecting them against the bloodthirsty Indian tribes and against the rapacious designs of the French and Spaniards. It bought their goods and calmed the oceans so that they could engage in a prosperous world-wide commerce. The colonists certainly had nothing to complain about. Their income was about double that of Englishmen, but as Adam Smith pointed out in The Wealth of Nations (which was published in 1776), they "have never yet contributed any thing to the defence of the mother country, or towards the support of its civil government." And, of course, these benighted colonials were completely disunited, groups of mutually hostile outcasts without experience, institutions and capacity to govern or protect themselves. They owed Britain at least gratitude. Why did they not show proper respect and loyalty?
Against this view, the Americans were slow in formulating their own position. Neither George Washington nor most of the Colonial leaders initially wanted to become independent. But almost everybody found an issue of exploitation, humiliation or unfairness that affected him individually. And, gradually the leaders convinced the public that the individual acts constituted an overall pattern: Britain restricted the Colonists to produce only what Adam Smith called "goods in the rude state" and we call primary products (cotton, tobacco, sugar, etc.) and sell most of them only to Britain; it refused to let the Colonists produce "value added" products (so, for example, they could produce pig iron but not steel); it would not let them trade freely even among themselves (so a maker of shoes in Massachusetts could not sell them in Pennsylvania); it forced them to buy shoddy goods, tools and other implements which often were unusable and which the English could not sell elsewhere; it drained off all their hard currency (and so kept the colonies in perpetual depression); it taxed them without letting them be represented in Parliament; and it tried to prevent them from settling the rich lands of the interior they wanted to turn into farms. In short, what Britain was doing eventually was seen as so pervasive and oppressive that the colonists revolted. Britain never understood why.
With such a different view of themselves, their needs and aspirations and the justice or injustice of their actions, war was perhaps inevitable. The ancient Hindu who told the parable of the elephant was right. Those who grab the tail cannot understand those who handle the trunk. Understanding of the whole is always and everywhere necessary for intelligent action.
Then, there is memory. Having gone through insurgency, civil war, foreign invasion, wasted treasure, misery, disease and death, how long do people remember these things? Or, put another way, for how long does memory prevent people from doing the same things again?
I confess that I don't think most people, at any level, are much influenced by memories.. Perhaps I am too cynical, but my reading of the media suggests that short- term memory lasts only a few days. Headlines and photo ops fade fast. An explosion or a murder here or there is quickly forgotten or replaced by another. Perhaps they are not worth remembering, but long-term memory, memory of big happenings like wars, may be crucial but, it seems to me, last only about a decade. Who today remembers much about American participation in the wars in Greece, Korea or even Vietnam. And "in-between" events get merged into one another or fade away entirely.
Even when we get the sequences right, we usually stop short of determining the causes, that is, the connections between events. Who, I wonder, ponders how -- or whether -- what happened in the American intervention in Greece in 1947-1949 affected the American intervention in Vietnam from 1961? Or, today, how are the interpretations of events in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 are affecting the policies we are beginning to implement again there and also in Syria? We are, after all, nearly ten years apart on both replays.
I don't pretend to know why these cycles occur, but my hunch is that as rapidly as we can, we put aside what we don't want to remember. Momentarily or even for years, as in the Vietnam debacle, our leaders had to think about what was happening because many of our sons, brothers, nephews and friends had been harmed or killed. But, instead of reflecting on the meaning of those events, our military leaders learned not to expose us to the lesson we might have learned. Best to change the cast of characters: keep "our" people out of harms way by paying others to fight our fights.
Creating a largely-socially-isolated military establishment has proven to be effective -- as our Founding Fathers warned us it would be. They did not want us to have a standing army or even permanent encampments that would remove our defenders from our society. But changing these things is only the cap on the trend. What is more important, I suggest, is that we have been able virtually to remove costly and painful events from the immediacy of daily life. Those who dwell on the costly and painful aspects of rising militarism are at best a nuisance who soon wear out their welcome. We find it so much easier to mesh our thoughts and attitudes with those of the people with whom we eat, work, sleep and play. Better not to pay attention to those who challenge "conventional wisdom" or buck the tide.
Conventional wisdom and going with the mainstream are, arguably, necessary to make society function. Anarchy is, after all, individualism. Adhering to convention is not only convenient but also healthy. Healthy, that is, unless the whole system has gone haywire or is about to do so. This raises the issue of suspicion.
Intellectually, we all know that many private people and even officials don't play by "the rules." Dirty tricks, false flags, espionage, provocations, even murder, we all know, are fairly common, but attaching any of them to any specific event or identifying the perpetrator can be dismissed as "conspiracy theory." Indeed, for most of us the line is blurred between entertainment like the James Bond spoofs and real events like the murders of foreign enemies. Those too are often relegated to the limbo of lost memory. Governments all over the world kindly help us by denying that such things happen or hiding them under secrecy for decades. Often "we" are the last to know.
Indeed, even American officials are often kept in the dark with embarrassing results. I learned about one episode during the Eisenhower administration. Our ambassador to Egypt was sent in to lecture President Gamal Abdul Nasser about morality. He was not following the rules of civilized society. He should stop his espionage against our Arab allies. He should be more like us. Nasser later told me that he listened with a feeling somewhere between amusement and astonishment because his security people had recently discovered a plot by the CIA to murder him. Old Americans, before the advent of the electric stove< would have spoken of the "pot calling the kettle black." President Eisenhower memorably spoke about the need to live under "one law," not one for us and another for them. Even then, that was rather old-fashioned.
Dirty tricks like our attempt to murder Nasser were and probably still are not uncommon. The Senate Committee headed by Senator Frank Church provided a chilling record, including cooperation with the Mafia, to assassinate Fidel Castro. Assassinations and attempted assassinations by the Russians, the British, the Israelis and others have been less subjected to sustained inquiry than Church provided, but their involvement in many deplorable incidents is not in doubt.
These activities have created throughout the world a pervasive sense of illegality and immorality. And it cannot be restricted just to foreign affairs. It spills over into domestic affairs not only, as it commonly does, into societies with fragile legal systems but also into ours. Take one proven case. As a candidate for the presidency, Richard Nixon in 1968 arranged that Anna Chan Chennault, the widow of Lt. General Claire Chennault of "Flying Tigers" fame, contact the Viet Minh during negotiations on a peace settlement and urge them to delay agreeing to the settlement until after the election so that he could charge the Democrats with failure and so win the election. President Johnson found out about what Nixon was doing and furiously (but privately) charged him with treason.
Other, comparable issues such as the "October Surprise," are still, in the legal term, "unproven." In the buildup to the 1980 election, it is alleged that someone, the usual suspect is George H.W. Bush, arranged with the Iranians not to release the American diplomatic hostages they were holding until after the election. Allegedly, he or whoever it was who met with them, told them that if they acted as requested, the new administration would reward them with the weapons they wanted to fight Iraq. We know that they did not release the hostages until minutes after the election results were announced and that soon thereafter they received a shipment of arms,
Then there is the story of "9/11." The official version of the events is that terrorists from Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida hijacked four commercial aircraft, three of which they crashed into the World Trade Center, destroying two massive steel-reinforced buildings, and into the Pentagon, penetrating two thick walls. Doubt has been cast on a number of parts of the official version. A documentary film called "Loose Change" raises issues that are impossible to square with the official account including the simultaneous collapse of a nearby building that was not struck by any of the planes and "hard" engineering and scientific evidence that the heat generated by the explosion of the planes' fuel could not have melted the steel beams of the two main buildings. Indeed, this month, a suit has been mounted in England against the BBC alleging that it either suppressed or distorted the facts. Whatever the truth is, it does not appear to be what our government has told us.
What is important, I suggest about all these -- and many other suspicious events which have never been fully illuminated -- is two fold: on the one hand, a climate of suspicion has been created that makes the achievement of security and peace far more difficult throughout the world and, on the other hand, trust in government, including the government of the United States, has been compromised. Lyndon Johnson charged Nixon with treason, but did not hold him accountable. Johnson's successors in the presidency have, similarly, not applied to political leaders the sort of legal standard to which we, as citizens, are held. Nor have they shared with the citizenry what they know has been done in our name. This is a fundamental attack on our system of government. Those who have "blown the whistle" on such activities, not the perpetrators, have been stigmatized or punished.
This adds up, I suggest, to a political form of corruption even worse than the financial corruption that so corrodes the nation "salvation" activities we have mounted in such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan. There billions of dollars have been wasted or stolen, oppression has been increased, hopes of peace aborted. Such actions dwarf domestic controversies over even legitimate domestic programs. They have been so blatant, so crudely carried out and so massive in American programs in both countries that they cannot be hidden. But do we care? This raises the issue of escapism.
What about escapism? I suggest that escapism is the child of suspicion. I would wager that if one could stop a hundred or so people on the streets of any village, town or city almost everywhere, he would find that only a handful of those he badgered would want to talk about issues some of us keep warning them that could ruin their lives. Most Americans and probably most people everywhere, simply do not want to think about them.
I have found that when such issues as war, environmental degradation, over population, hunger, pandemics, nuclear accidents or even financial collapse are raised, conversation dwindles. As the familiar expression has it, "eyes glaze over," and as quickly as politely possible, Americans flee from the person who raised the issues as though he had made a bad smell. Those things -- like bowel movements -- are better not discussed. For most people they are better kept at least out of sight if not totally out of mind. Real life, enjoyable life, life that gives amusement or pleasure right now is at hand. It is available even for the very poor on television. Sports, even in countries where hunger is widespread, jobs few, life constricted and governments oppressive, these annoyances recede before the immediate excitement of football. Huge crowds throw themselves into a frenzy over rival groups of football "gladiators."
Successful politicians, particularly in poor countries. understand the political power of gratification. The Romans had it right, bread and circuses preferably, but if there is no bread, at least circuses. In Cairo I was astonished to see vast crowds of literally hungry and often jobless and miserable people in Cairo shout themselves hoarse over the circuses of football. And not just during the excitement of the match but for hours or even days thereafter. As an outsider, I wondered why they were not shouting for the scalps of the people who were stealing them blind, Of course, that would have been dangerous, but I believe they also consider such an act. They wanted distraction not answers.
Perhaps somewhere deep down, they knew that the answers could not be good. It wasn't that x percentage of the population was below the poverty level or that the rulers were corrupt or that the economy was moribund. Maybe, they more or less knew about those things, but I don't think that was the way their minds focused. Despite the witchcraft of social science that gives us all the information on why they should be worried, that was not what moved them. Better to watch the circus.
Some of us can't. We are determined to do something about the deplorable condition of our world. But, as the great Nineteenth century Russian radical Aleksandr Herzen, wrote, we think we are the doctors but really we are the disease. I don't want to believe that, but there is ample proof that much of what we have done with the best of intentions has made many people suffer. Maybe Mark Twain, to whom I ever more frequently turn for wisdom, was right when he warned that "if you see someone coming down the street with his arms open and a smile on his fact, turn and run like hell." We were certainly smiling and had open arms in our overseas aid programs. But we were sometimes the cause of terrible problems.
Under the influence of the economists who seemed to be able to get "real," solid and mathematical answers to instability, turmoil and war, we all sought in the late 1950s and early 1960 to "objectify" and "quantify" the study of international affairs. Only with "hard" information could we attack the threats to the peace or build a more reasonable world.
Insofar as it dealt with the struggles in the Third World, our analysis suggested to some of us that what we were seeking came down to achieving a growth rate of about 3.5 percent. Deducted from that figure was population growth so something like a growth of GNP per capita of 2.5 percent would provide stability, end wars and make improvement of life everywhere happen.
I confess I was one of those planners. Dealing as I then did with American policy on much of the Third World, I agreed with the emphasis on GNP but as I learned more I caviled at the capita. As I reflected on what we were seeing in the Third World I found that that most of the population was neither affected by it nor themselves affected social and economic trends. They were the peasants and the urban poor. Often they were merely hurt by increased inflation, but even if they were not, they were not contributing. They were just sitting in the boat and not rowing.
Some governments, I found, had reached the same conclusion and were determined to man more of the "oars." Particularly in Egypt and Iran and later in Libya, Iraq and Algeria, governments were creating what I called "new men." These people differed from the traditional population by handling modern tools, even changing their style of dress, learning new skills and accepting revolutionary cultural concepts. They were not just a modern or westernized middle class, as most observers then thought of them, but were segments of the old upper and lower classes as well. And they were less often products of the universities than of the principal "modern" part of their societies, the military.
What became evident was that teaching a peasant to drive a truck or a tank or fly an airplane changed his life. That act, governments thought, gave them (but not necessarily their followers) a new kind of power. So leaders like the Shah of Iran and President Nasser of Egypt devoted themselves and their resources to enlarging this modern, usually secular and partly westernize of their societies. (I wrote up my thoughts on this in an essay in the October 1965 issue of Foreign Affairs.)
I believe I was right about the impact of these programs on economic development and social change, but what neither I nor any of my colleagues in government, think tanks or universities predicted was the disruption of tradition in programs of modernization: we were to see the reaction later in the Iranian Revolution and in the assertion of salafiyah movements in a number of Muslim countries today. What had happened was that, unwittingly, the governments, at our urging and with our help, had undermined the fundamental "possession" of their peoples, their sense of identity.
So, what is a sense of identity, how is it manifested and how do outsiders relate to it?
We coin such words as xenophobia and nationalism to identify it but often without understanding its nature. That nature takes many forms but in sum is so deep as to be instinctive almost everywhere throughout the evolution of species. We see it even among birds and even fish in the open ocean. On land, it is the oldest impulse among all "social" animals. It is at the root of relationships among groups of people everywhere.
Ethologists have shown us that it has been manifested in a sense of identity with a territory and at least originally was associated with kinship. Then, when the first cities were formed about 3,000 years ago, the inhabitants became too numerous to identify themselves by kinship. So, they elaborated their sense of belonging into custom, religion, dress, diet and language. Gradually, and over centuries, they often elaborated their definition of their identity into the concept of nationalism.
But not always. Often, particularly in smaller, more traditional, less cosmopolitan societies, identity remains either unarticulated or retains customary, religious and territorial forms. In the little Lebanese village in which I lived back in the 1950s, neighborhoods were grouped around a water well and the inhabitants built their family trees into the layout of their houses. But, whatever form "belonging" takes, it is the "glue" that hold societies together and make it possible for the members to live together.
In whatever form it takes, people desperately cling to identity. Without identity, they risk falling into angst, dejection, incapacity, violence, even terrorism. I watched examples of this process and attempts to overcome it both in Chicago's Woodlawn slum and in two Asian cities. President Lyndon Johnson wanted to apply essentially what was being done abroad in the aid programs to the American slums. What he saw was that the slums were composed of run-down buildings. To improve the lot of the people, he proclaimed that the buildings should be replaced with new dwellings that would be cleaner, better, more commodious. So his administration undertook what he called "the Great Society" program. It was a tragedy.
Neither Johnson nor his advisers understood what a slum was. In fact, Woodlawn already had most of the things that the people of Calcutta dreamed of -- clean water, electricity, sewage disposal, paved streets, etc. But Woodlawn was still a slum. What characterized a slum is a sense of incapacity and fragile or non-existent ties among the inhabitants.
Uprooting and the breaking such ties was the essence of historic experience of American blacks. Having been ripped out of their African societies, they were isolated in small groups under slavery. Then, having migrated northward to the big cities, they slowly and hesitantly began to establish new social contacts. When they were moved out of their admittedly substandard housing, those still-fragile social ties were once again broken. That was the result of razing slum neighborhoods. So quickly, the new buildings into which they were moved not only disintegrated but the inhabitants could no longer relate to one another. Their sense of identity was again weakened or even shattered. Crime, drug abuse and anti-social behavior followed.
What the residents needed was to stay put, to improve their housing, of course, but more important to be assisted in taking charge of their lives in their own pattern and at their own speed. We did an experiment at the Adlai Stevenson Institute on a small scale (affecting a few thousand people and at a cost of something like $100 per capita) that was far more successful than the multi-billion dollar, well-intentioned but socially insensitive Great Society Program. We helped them reestablish their identity and their sense of belonging.
For me, this experience threw into relief the American efforts to remake other societies as the neoconservatives urge. Their proposals urge not only to "regime change" but also to "culture change" -- indeed to disassemble -- whole societies. As played out, particularly during the George W. Bush administration, they have caused or exacerbated unrest and war. To the degree we insist on overturning what the people believe to be normal and right -- in effect of undermining the sense of identity, belonging and self-respect even to improve their physical well-being -- we can expect unrest and war to continue. Forced change from outside is rarely successful or without severe costs for both parties.
For what we have done, even with statistically proven improvements and with the best of intentions, both we and they have paid and will pay more. The Third and mainly Islamic world is now in revolt.
Last, and closely related to the sense of belonging and identity, I suggest is the deep need of human beings to avoid attacks on their dignity. This is evident in all societies and even in the whole range of political institutions, We know it in our daily lives, but we sometimes forget it when looking at the larger scale, particularly in foreign affairs. Close analysis of almost any confrontation shows that it sets the parameters within which rulers have to act or are likely to be overthrown. We neglect it at our peril.
To humiliate someone, is to court and justify murder. Its earliest literary portrayal was in the Mahabharata, but it is enshrined in literature and language of all cultures.
It is evident, even if occasionally in disguised forms, in many political problems. One particularly tragic example is in the plight of refugees. Their very existence is a critique of non-refugees. "Why us? Why did you not prevent this from happening to us? And why do you not do more to help us? These are implicit taunts of governments and host societies. And they are often bitterly resented.
We see this clearly in the treatment of the Palestinians in the "brother" Arab countries. Variations of the same theme are evident in societies all over Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America and Europe.
It seems to me that to the degree possible, everything must be done to avoid attacks on dignity and humiliation. In an earlier essay, I showed that when humiliation was recognized -- and avoided -- during the Cuban Missile Crisis, doing so perhaps saved our world from nuclear destruction. Avoiding humiliation is the essence of diplomacy. But when one has overwhelming power, the temptation is always present to push one's advantage, to put the other person in the corner, to make him "blink," to humble him, even to destroy him. We see this, today, I believe in the moves to demonize the Russians. it is a very foolish approach to human affairs. It often leads to unnecessary suffering or even to catastrophic war. And, frequently, not only to the weaker party but also to the stronger, are apt to be grievously harmed. History is full of examples. So let us hope we can learn, but strive to be sure that we do learn, from history lest we repeat them.
comments powered by Disqus
- The original Watergate lock that burglars picked open is going to auction
- Trump, Mueller And The Ancient History Of Grants Of Immunity
- Documents show Gorbachev was assured US wouldn't expand NATO into Central and Eastern Europe
- Memorial to honor 4,000 victims of lynching to be built in Montgomery, Alabama
- Study: Inequality is a phenomenon of the past 10,000 years
- Linda Gordon’s new book captures how white supremacy has long been part of our political mainstream
- Yale Civil Rights history course is a "call to action" and a chance "to be woke”
- Gil Troy back’s Trump decision on Jerusalem
- College Board revises AP European history test in response to criticism by conservatives
- AHA says it’s feasible to stop the proposed tax on grad student tuition waivers