Monday, June 5, 2017

The Moment of Momentum

On June 6, 1944, the momentum of global currents changed. Allied forces, led by Dwight Eisenhower, began an invasion into Europe that would eventually turn the tide of history in an entirely new direction. Today, we live in the wake of that momentous moment. There is very little I could say in a short space that would do justice to the magnitude of D-Day as a game-changing historic event in our modern times. Therefore, here are the words of Eisenhower himself, both his message to the troops (and the world) and his reflections on what it took to get there.

The prospect was not bright because of the possibility that we might land the first several waves successfully and then find later build-up impracticable, and so have to leave the isolated original attacking forces easy prey to German counteraction. However, the consequences of the delay justified great risk and I quickly announced the decision to go ahead with the attack on June 6. The time was then 4:15 a.m., June 5. No one present disagreed and there was a definite brightening of faces as, without a further word, each went off to his respective post of duty to flash out to his command the messages that would set the whole host in motion.[1]

While we watch with wonder and concern as our world continues to transform, consider this day, June 6, when D-Day set in motion a momentum that would change the course of a world at war. Consider also how D-Day set in motion a momentum that would also change the course of international relations in a decidedly new direction.

[1] Eisenhower, D. D. (1948). Crusade in Europe. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., p. 250.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Responsible for What, For Whom

I wanted to say something pithy or insightfully intriguing tonight, but I decided to scrap those thoughts and let words speak for themselves. Over the weekend, I had an incredible opportunity to listen to a very distinguished elder statesman and foreign diplomat talk about his experiences practicing diplomacy and international relations. Lakhdar Brahimi spoke at my wife’s graduation. He is the one for whom we now refer to the landmark UN report about peace operations in the 1990s as simply, the Brahimi Report. Certainly, it was a very interesting and engaging speech as he shared his diplomatic experiences dealing with critical global challenges in Afghanistan and South Africa.

Something struck me during his talk about the consequent doctrine that follows the UN report later in the 2000s — that is the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. We may talk more about the R2P doctrine, in particular, but I want to juxtapose the thinking behind the foundation for R2P with another set of thinking. In the early 1950s, the U.S. was entering the Cold War and positioning itself for a long struggle against an ideological foe. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union tried to describe their respective responsibilities to pursue objectives that would secure national interests on behalf of those for whom those interests mattered most. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, delivered a similar landmark speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in which he details a justification for a doctrine of “massive retaliation” based on a responsibility to protect against aggression to ideals of freedom.

We should therefore wonder, for what are states responsible, and actually for whom are they responsible? These might seem like simple questions, but after reading the Brahimi report and the 1950s speech by Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, consider, what is it we, the U.S., should be responsible for; for whom?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Reality of Realities

Sometimes — oftentimes — we can get caught into the vortex of virtual realities. These are not virtual realities like technological experiences one has wearing those wrap-around goggles in which you can fly through the air like a bird or ride a mountain bike over a cliff. I am talking about the realities we gorge ourselves on as we consume worldly information from all-you-can-never-eat virtual buffets. Experiencing the world near us, the world around us, and the world before us is an important part of growing. We develop understanding; we confirm preconceptions; we reject biases. However, we have to be very mindful that the vicarious experience is a sensory one, not necessarily a thoughtful one.

Thus, we must alert our cognitive senses to the thought vacuum that the vortex of news and Twitter, and Facebook and talk shows and podcasts and gossip portend as reality. This week is a good one for spring cleaning. Use it to clean out the clutter — including the clutter of the mind. Set aside a handful of minutes to escape the back-and-forth exchanges between a smorgasbord of similarly different viewpoints that stoke the senses, and instead, think about a heated debate that occurred almost 900 years ago.

This week, we should consider one of the ultimate divides between one set of realities and another. Here is a fascinating conversation between the Mongol Khans and European Christians that took place in the mid-thirteenth century. There are several things to notice in their back-and-forth exchanges. First, notice their sincerity, as each side tries to portray to the other side how correct their point of view was. Second, see if you can pick up on the passion each side represents. The Mongol Khans and the European emissaries, representing Pope Innocent IV, believed — they believed deeply in their respective correctness, in their respective authority, and in their respective rightness of interpreting the world. These realities, were argued, in a virtual sense, over the course of several years as each side exchanged letters — and other forms of pressure — to spread their messages.

These were loud and cacophonous virtual exchanges — through letters — between one continent and another, between one set of ideologies and another, between one base of power and another. Finally, notice the seriousness of their intellectual impasse. Both sides view of reality were equally real. They both believe they were both right, and they were both wrong at the same time. What would have happened had one party given in to their understanding of the world, their preconceptions, and their biases? Therefore, consider do we think about which realities are really real?

   Voegelin_MongolOrders by Joe Royo on Scribd