The Ghost at the Feast

From The Wall Street Journal:

From the beginning of the 20th century until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, international balances of power were more weirdly skewed, more out of joint, than at any time before or since. The 19th-century world was emphatically multipolar, even if the British Empire held outsize influence in some areas outside Europe. The decades after 1945 were dominated by two nuclear powers—America and the Soviet Union. But the years before World War II cannot be summarized simply, or explained in a sentence or two. The awkward fact was that even then one of the Great Powers, the United States of America, possessed the economic and productive heft of two or three of its rivals combined; on occasion, its single gross domestic product was nearly equal to all the rest put together.

Yet for all that time, except for President Woodrow Wilson’s brief appearance at the center of the world stage in 1918-19, the American giant kept to itself, focused upon its domestic affairs, maintained a minuscule army and refused an international leadership role, to the puzzlement of most foreign observers. It was an economic force, all right, but it usually declined membership in international bodies or security arrangements. In 1919 the experienced British diplomat Harold Nicolson had called it “the ghost at all our feasts.”

This curious and lopsided diplomatic story has attracted the attention of columnist and scholar Robert Kagan, who takes Nicolson’s term for the title of his new study. “The Ghost at the Feast: America and the Collapse of World Order, 1900-1941” is rather different from Mr. Kagan’s previous works, including his best-known one, “Dangerous Nation: America’s Place in the World From Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century.” This latest is a professional historian’s product through and through, sharply focused on its period and supported by amazingly detailed endnotes, plus a huge bibliography. Mr. Kagan’s account is probably the most comprehensive, and most impressive, recent analysis we have of how Americans regarded the outside world and its own place in it during those four critical decades.

”The Ghost at the Feast” is neither strictly a diplomatic history nor an analysis of the unfolding of American grand strategy (if it ever had one) in those unusual years. Mr. Kagan recounts presidential decision-making and official actions in great detail, yet offers even greater analysis of the swirls of U.S. public opinion, the arguments of the press and pundits, the evidence in Gallup polls, and the ever-important actions of senators and congressmen. Only when all these elements are taken together, he argues, can one see the way the American mind was going. And most of the time that “mind” was for staying out of the world’s troubles and tending to its own garden, especially as international crises multiplied during the 1930s.

This attitude was not just a benign sort of inertia that regarded the outcome of a ballgame in Cincinnati as more important than the fate of Czechoslovakia; there were also very strong public strains of antisemitism, fears of Communism, a loathing of Wall Street and a deep suspicion of British and French imperialism: Mr. Kagan’s chapter on “Kristallnacht and Its Effect on American Policy” is particularly powerful. Yet America was not completely isolationist, and its leaders did not intend to be taken for granted. If the nation didn’t play a larger role in world affairs, that was because it felt it didn’t need to. It was bigger than anyone else; it couldn’t be intimidated, and if America were to be compelled to take military action abroad, no one—isolationist or interventionist—imagined that it could be defeated. America was unique and America was unpredictable. Everyone is wary of the ghost at the feast.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG thinks that, as described in the OP, not enough understanding of the ongoing emotional and financial effects of the stock market crash of 1929 and the following Great Depression is considered.

Not long after many Americans learned the wisdom of depositing their money in a bank for safekeeping, 9,000 banks failed–taking with them $7 billion in depositors’ assets. There was no source of reimbursement for deposits that were lost.

PG has spoken with enough people who experienced the Depression to understand how badly many parts of the US economy were damaged and the emotional impact of suddenly losing all your money and having banks desperately foreclose on loans as fast as possible in an attempt to remain solvent only to discover that security for those loans was worth a small fraction of its value only a few years earlier.

With that sort of pall hanging over a great many parts of the country and the voters who lived there, any politician proposing to spend a lot of money to help out with a dispute between nations halfway around the world would have a realistic fear of losing his job as well. When every working-age member of a family had to take whatever pay was offered in the local economy, nobody wanted to send a healthy 18 or 19-year old family member across an ocean to settle disputes between kings and dictators.

PG has often speculated about how history might have been different if the Japanese hadn’t decided to attack the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Before that shocking event, concerns about military disputes in Asia were even farther from the collective mind of the general population than what was happening in Europe.

In May 1940, a Gallup poll found that only 7 percent of Americans believed the United States should declare war on Germany.

17 months later, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and sank a great many US Navy warships, US public opinion quickly changed.

One day after the Japanese attack, President Roosevelt gave a speech to a joint session of the US Senate and House which included what would become the most-remembered statement of his time in office.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

One week following the Japanese attack, only 7 percent of Americans wanted the country to stay out of war. Only one member of the US House of Representatives voted against a declaration of war that followed.

29 thoughts on “The Ghost at the Feast”

  1. One of the main reasons that the US did/could maintain a sense of isolation — leaving aside the obvious one, geography, and it shouldn’t be underestimated — is that the US “ruling class” was most emphatically orthogonal to the European and Asian ruling classes. For all of the serious nepotism problems in the US — again, they shouldn’t be underestimated — there’s been an almost continuous influx of new people into it, both as the nation grew and otherwise. That automatically makes the local seem much more important… and in combination with the geographical issues is a better explanation.

    In 1939, a threat to the US required both overcoming the US Navy (not as good as it thought it was, but better than Japan and about two-thirds of Europe thought it was) and its superior logistics and dealing with an… obstreporous population that could and would fight. The European powers were scared to death by the potential demonstrated in the Second War of American Secession, and private letters from leading figures across the continent shied away from poking the eagle with a stick — lest the demonstrated logistical superiority and greater individual technical sophistication overwhelm them. They had, after all, observed the US learning curve in 1918.

    • American internal water transport (the mississipi river system) is unrivaled and it is layered atop the world’s largest contiguous high grade soils. In barely a century the country went from a dozen exploited colonies hugging the ¶2coast to the largest economy on the planet, a lead it has only expanded upon.

      A little known fact of globalization is US economy is so big and inherently strong it has the smallest dependence on foreign trade (<15%, most of which is with Mexico, Canada, and Latin America). The economy's exposure to deglobalization is on the order of 3% (of $21T). None of it in food, energy, finance, or high tech. Most of it is in a handful of minerals and cheap consumer electronics. (Watch Apple's iPhone travails. Not getting better any time soon.)

      Mind you, hard times are coming, mostly IdiotPolitician™ inflicted but easily fixed with a few rational bills (like killing the Jones act). There's only four regions coming even close in prospects to NorthAm, five if Argentina gets their head out of their…assets: Australia/New Zealand, France (and neocolonies), Sweden/Norway/UK, Turkey.

      Combined NorthAm still outranks them.

      Basically we're headed back to the prewar era: geography is back.

      As to the “Ghost at the feast”; that title now belongs to (your choice of zombies: Russia, China, EU) fading wannabe power.

      Oh, and Happy New Year, folks.

      • If there is a present “ghost,” it’s Northeast Asia. And the ghost’s chains are rattling; Japan is reinterpreting its constitutional pacifism, and the Republic of Korea (“South”) is finding more ways to limit its not-irrational obsession with the traditional Tsarist government on its northern border.

        Unlike the US as to the rest of the world — who should have asked the indigenous peoples of the continent the likely result of Manifest Destiny — there’s recent-enough memory of Japanese aggression to keep it to just chain-rattling for at least another couple decades. Presuming, of course, that the ghost manifesting itself (pun intended) is an accurate metaphor at all.

        • Thing about Japan is that a major driver behind its expansion into Asia in the early 1900s was its burgeoning population.
          That is, ah, not currently the state of Japan’s demographics, and it’s fairly evident that its newfound assertiveness is more a response to a rising China than anything else.

        • Oh, it’s accurate. Those chains *are* rattling.
          Look at the demographic pyramids.

          And yes, Northeast asia is in it deep deep: china has the worst demography on the planet, followed by South Korea and Japan, but Italy, Germany, Spain, and most of Europe isn’t far behind.
          Japan, however, has been dealing with their aging population since the 80’s/90’s and have evolved a measure of stability while the rest haven’t begun to do anything effective. The key difference in Asia is Japan and SKorea, managed to get rich as they grew old, China got old before they got rich (their per capita GDP is a third of Japan).

          China’s economic strength is based on body count but their labor force peaked in 2005 and is no longer cheap. Meanwhile “one child” is the gift that keeps on giving and Zero COVID is gifting them three years of Covid evolution in three months. Omicron is running rampant in what amounts to a virgin field (90% of unvaccinated elderly, vaccines that are useless, tiny medical facilities, and zero “herd immunity”).

          Originally, the UN projected China to lose half its population by 2100. They quietly updated it to 2050 before the pandemic. Last year, the Chinese held back publishing the 2020 census data without explanation. Unoficial/academic reports leaking out indicate that (since central funds for schools are allocated by student count) local governments inflated enrollment data by north of 100M, almost all female, to boot (1 child+misogyny= sex-based abortions). The missing kids would now be in the 20-40 range, the most productive labor and child bearing years.

          China’s population was scheduled to begin its decline by 2030. Was. Now…who knows. Nobody knows exactly what is going on there post Zero Covid with estimates running as high as 250M infections by late ’23. (What little factual data leaks out say crematoriums are running full tilt with backlogs weeks long and hospitals are shutting down from lack of healthy personnel.) And XBB is lurking out of Indonesia.

          Me, I suspect that since the CCP knows exactly what they face and it never has hesitated to let/”help” people die, cutting Zero Covid cold turkey is their way of “culling the herd” of the non-productive elderly. The surplus males? Those are likely headed to Taiwan by ’25.

          Those chains are *really* rattling.

          As to the EU, between their rickety banking system, dependence on the German economy (41% of which depended on exports fueled by cheap russian gas), and inverted pyramid demographies of their own, well…those chains are rattling too: between Russia’s self inmolation, withering of globalization, the return of American isolationism and the incipient transatlantic trade war, and the need to rearm (or, actually arm, in the case of Germany–whole new story there) they have their plates full.

          Ghosts in the making in both regions.

        • That rattling can easily be ignored. Ukraine has silenced it regarding Germany. I suspect China will do the same with Japan. Japan is allowed a self-defense force. Lots of ways to interpret that.

          • The rattling isn’t a sign of vigor but of approaching doom. Of the ghostly chains tying them to non-viable economies, unstable regimes, and declining population bases.

            Russia? Putin wanted a short victorious war and instead drove the country to the edge of the chasm. The demography was awful *before* losing the best 100,000+ young troops and their equipment; driving 700,000 young, well educated, productive men, to exile; and among other disasters, gutting the marketability of their weapons, which was their third biggest revenue stream. he’s painted them into a corner where the very survival of the state is at risk even if he “wins”.

            China? To get to Taiwan they first have to deal with Omicron and whatever it mutates into. And the financial crisis they’ve been trying to hide. Their chains are the ones holding the rickety structures of their state together. Unlike Putin, the CCP might survive if they kill/let die enough of the “right” people but their longer term messes will remain.

            Chief among them: American isolationism.
            The US is disengaging from the global scene, militarily and economically, moving to a pick-n-choose model of both. Some countries will be embraced (like it or not, Mexico and Canada), some will be strongly supported (Japan, Australia), others lightly (UK, Poland, Scandinavia), and others tolerated at best, as long as they’re useful (India) or not too annoying (France, Germany).

            Basket cases and threats will get no more favors. This has been bren coming since 1992. The last president that tried to preserve a rational post cold war global system got voted out of office for talking about about a “new world order”. It’s been creeping isolationism since. Bipartisan. Everything the orange guy did the geezer has doubled down on.

            Doubt it? Look to what they told Macron over the subsidies to NorthAm-only companies.


            Basically: build where you sell, with local components.
            Or, the EU can try to match the subsidies.

            Macron is threatening to go to the WTO, which is *exactly* what DC wants. An excuse to leave. After all, the US has all the bilateral trade deals it *needs*. A twofer, that; slap down France, gut China as a bonus.

            That’s coming sooner or later.

      • Speaking of Argentina, their new year’s gift from Bolivia was the warning next (southern hemisphere) winter (july-aug) they will be reducing the natural gas they will be providing them. They need it at home.

        Bolivia’s Morales nationalized the oil and gas industries in 2006 and have managed them about as “well” as his heroes in Venezuela. So their capacity is going down just as the market wants more.

        Argentina is one of the few places with significant energy reserves (but unexploited because…Argentina) that are now starting to play with shale. They *can* feed themselves (without much fertilizer) and their neighbors so if they act quickly they might weather the 20’s okay. Their population is stable and growing…s-l-o-w-l-y which isn’t bad but they still shackle themselves with Peronism and fiscal instability.

        Fate TBD.

        • The biggest barrier to Argentina’s future is its past. Peronism is actually the least of it; it’s currently spending the GDP of a Carribean nation annual on legal fees related to its… best case shenanigans, more likely outright fraud by multiple parties… relating to immense issues of defaulted government bonds from 15 to 40 years ago. And one cannot rely on the private market/private interests/private lenders, given the history of kleptocracy and nationalization (both de facto and de jure) throughout Latin America that has its epicenter in Buenos Aires. No further lending means that all future development is going to be restricted to either cheap labor or cheap natural resource extraction. Hmm, how well has that worked for Honduras, Venezuala, and Nigeria? (I suppose it’s worked OK for Nigerian princes, but almost nobody else.)

          • Yup: financial resources are almost as important to societies as food and energy. In some cases (import driven countries) more so. Ultimately the biggest threat to the EU isn’t Russia but financial disfunction.

            Well, Argentina would be a world power…
            …if it weren’t for Argentineans.

            And yes, Peronism is only part of it. He was a sympthom, not the cause.
            The cause is the unholy blend of statism–>populism–>kleptocracy. Which is where Peron dropped in. At this point Peronism infests all political parties, government largesse buying votes and making folks look the other way as their IdiotPoliticians™ line their pocket at their expense (I disease already in the US.)

            Other countries, as mentioned, have built similar regimes without Peron and taken the next step to outright dictatorships. Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador are tottering. Colombia and Chile are taking the first steps along that road so it remains to see which way they go once American isolationism sinks in. Both have free trade deals with the US so they aren’t doomed but their recent politics are worrying.

            The other place to keep an eye on in SouthAm is Guyana: they have oil. They could be Venezuela or Norway or something in the middle.

            Stressful times tend to bring out the worst in societies.
            No need to go further than Huey Long.

  2. While 9,000 US banks did indeed fail in the Depression, no Canadian bank failed.

    US banks were prohibited from having branches in states other than where they were chartered. So, an Illinois bank could not have a branch in Ohio.

    The result was lots of US local, independent banks that were totally dependent on the local economy. Canadian banks had no such restraints, and had risk spread over a much larger and more diversified economic base.

    Some lessons are simple.

    • In addition to your points, E., some states also prohibited branch banking, so a bank could have only one place of business.

      • One other additional point: During the Great Depression, Canadian banks could count on some backing/nagging/regulation/inherited-thought-processes from the Bank of England — they were still intertwined. Due South, the worship of laissez faire (and “the business of America is business”) meant that US banks didn’t have an equivalent backstop.

        This is a note only of differences. Canada actually took a lot longer to recover from the Great Depression than did the US, particularly more than 50km from Toronto and/or Montreal. It’s really a question of “pain allocation” more than anything else.

  3. Just remembered this:

    A sample of how isolationist the US was 100years ago.

    “Beyond Thirty is a short science fiction novel by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was written in 1915 and first published in All Around Magazine in February 1916, but did not appear in book form in Burroughs’ lifetime. The first book edition was issued by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach’s Fantasy Press fanzine in 1955; it then appeared in the collection Beyond Thirty and The Man-Eater, published by Science-Fiction & Fantasy Publications in 1957. The work was retitled The Lost Continent for the first mass-market paperback edition, published by Ace Books in October 1963; all subsequent editions bore the new title until the Bison Books edition of March 2001, which restored the original title.”

    “The story was heavily influenced by the events of World War I, and reflects U.S. sentiments at the time of writing. When the war broke out, Americans were predominantly isolationist and wary of being drawn into a European war. Burroughs imagines a future two centuries onward in which that view prevailed and the western hemisphere severed contact with the rest of the world. Consequently, the eastern hemisphere has exhausted itself in war and Europe has descended into barbarism while the Americas, sheltered from the destruction, have continued to advance and joined peacefully into the union of Pan-America. By the twenty-second century the entire world east of the 30th meridian west and west of the 175th meridian west has become terra incognita to Pan-America.

    In 2137, Pan-American Navy Lieutenant Jefferson Turck is commander of the aero-submarine Coldwater, tasked with patrolling the 30th meridian from Iceland to the Azores. Disaster strikes when the vessel’s anti-gravitation screens fail, dooming it to wallow upon the surface of the ocean, and the engines fail, leaving it adrift. As its wireless radio has failed as well, Turck cannot even summon help. While the crew attempts repairs Turck and three subordinates, Snider, Taylor and Delcarte, go fishing in a small boat to reprovision the vessel. While they are out the Coldwater is successfully repaired and flies off, leaving the fishermen to their fate. It is implied that Turck’s second officer Johnson, who has clashed with his superior, is behind both the original sabotage and subsequent abandonment.

    Adrift, Turck and his companions are forced to make shore in forbidden England. They find it a wilderness inhabited by savages and overrun by lions descended from zoo animals. The British royal family has been reduced to the precarious leadership of a small tribe based near the ruins of London.”

    Standard early ERB adventure story on the surface, typical ERB playful social commentary a bit deeper.

    In this case he was mining the anti-war currents of the day as well as the resentment of european “snotiness” towards Americans. A theme he mined often in the ‘teens and twenties.

    Anyway, the takeaway is that historically, isolationism has been the default posture of the US body politic with only a minority elite actually interested in internationalism. It is also the root of the various pacifist movements.

    • Let’s not forget the undercurrent of racism and religious bigotry in there, easily visible today regarding “immigration reform” and… well,… this (sorry, SCOTUS, you misread the record; the Fourth Circuit had it right). It behooves one to recall, when analyzing “American Isolationism,” that (for example) Italians were disfavored immigrants in the late 19th century on strictly bigoted grounds… and that one of the most-common signs in shop windows from Boston down to Richmond during the Great Depression was “NINA” — “No Irish Need Apply.”

      tl;dr It’s not nearly as simple, or as single-factored or easily-identifiable-handful-of-factors, as it ever seems in facile analyses seeking to sell screeds. Or to indoctrinate with orthodox values appropriate to “Real ‘Murikans,” whatever those might be at the moment. (Yes, it’s Monday, I’m grouchy.)

      • Nativism is a whole different can of worms altogether (ditto for the other social “-isms”) though it shares with isolationism the idea that the US is better off without “foreign entanglements”.

        It’ll be interesting to see how the isolationists deal with the ethics of growing corn for gasohol while a good chunk of the world faces famine. The next of the “coming attractions”.

        • Side note: Washington’s warning against “foreign entanglements” referred to political obligations, not engagement or trade or influence. Whether he was correct or not, his fear was that treaty obligations — at that time, joint/mutual defense treaties being the most-obvious examples — shouldn’t force the US to be hostile to country X just because country X attacked our “friend” country Y, perhaps halfway across the world. The example of how the War of Jenkins'[s] Ear so nearly got out of hand shortly before Washington took up arms for the King, and the example of how the Thirty Years’ War and Seven Years’ War both doubled their length due to such treaties, weighed rather heavily on him.

          • That was then.
            Today the gradual disengagement is of political, military, and economic ties. The country is more interested in navel gazing than what goes on outside. Note how the US is fighting Russia: at a remove. With deniability. Training, intelligence, second-tier gear, yes. Sanctions that mildly hurt and help obscure the inflation that predates the war, that too.
            Boots on the ground, no.

            German rearming, encouraged. Ditto for Japan, Poland, Australia.

            Assisting Japan vs China, probably.
            Defending Taiwan? 50-50.

            And that’s today. Ten years from now? Doubtful unless somebody lobs a nuke.

            Everybody out there is arming because they know they can no longer count on automatic US intervention. (C.F., Crimea, 2014.)
            Strategic ambiguity is no longer on Taiwan.

    • Thanks for the book, I had somehow missed that.

      If we had wisely stayed out of WWI:

      – I would never be born.

      – World population would be less than three billion.

      – Britain would still Rule the waves.

      – The big cities would be just now reaching 1950s levels.

      – No Atomic bomb.

      – Technology would be 1950s.

      – No Interstate system here in the US.

      – Trains would be the norm.

      – No jet planes.

      – No satellites, computers would still be Analog, no cell phones.

      What else would be missing or different?

      • France. 😀

        (Seriously, think on it.)

        If you’re not familiar with early ERB, he did a dozen or so stories in as many genres before settling on fantasy/adventure. I’m very fond of THE RIDER, a fun trifle RomCom of the mistaken identity comedy of errors set in central Europe in the immediate pre-WWI era. It holds up well a century later.

        • [What else would be missing or different?]

          You say that like it would be a bad thing. Besides, we’d still have Belgium — waffles, deep-fried potatos (look it up, they’re not French!), Poirot, the Congo, Rwanda… ok, maybe not such a good alternative (King Leopold’s Ghost barely touches the surface).

          More to the point: No Treaty of Versailles would have meant no conditions ripe for the rise of one Adolf Schickelgrüber — which is, of course, 20/20 hindsight and doesn’t contemplate what might have happened east of the Vistula without French “unofficial participation” in the Russian Civil War.

          It would probably also mean no Hans Gruber, and that would be a bad thing for holiday movies.

          • By Jove, he gets it! 😀

            Also, don’t forget how happy the Algerians and Vietnamese, among many, would be.

            (That would be a good subject for alternate history fiction. I’ll have to see if anybody has gone there.)

            • (That would be a good subject for alternate history fiction. I’ll have to see if anybody has gone there.)

              Possibly Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk trilogy? where the Ottoman Empire was not destroyed by WWI, and petroleum was not developed extensively.

              Review of Pashazade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

              WWI never having expanded beyond the Balkans, the geo-political outlook of Grimwood’s Arabesk is different than our own. The Ottoman Empire has taken over North Africa, and a liberal yet Islamic state occupies the upper part of the continent, including Alexandria, which in the novel is called El Ishkandryia. A 21st century city with 21st century problems, Grimwood does not appropriate a nostalgic or jaded view of traditional Arabic and Islamic values for entertainment purposes, rather incorporates them into a setting that seems to fully synergize Western urbania with familiar ideas of the Middle East. Muezzins can be heard, muddy coffee is served, and nobility still hold place. Simultaneously, social ills, the latest technology, and the vice of all humanity exist in proportion. Never once digressing into info dump territory, El Ishkandryia is fully exposited through character and plot—a testament to Grimwood’s skills and the quality of the book.

              Possibly also George Alec Effinger’s Marid Audran series.

              In America:

              – No J. Edgar Hoover creating the FBI, thus no internal police infiltrating all aspects of society.

              – No Espionage Act of 1917, thus no mass incarceration of people protesting involvement in the war.

              – No Committee on Public Information that was the Propaganda Bureau that was privatized after the war and became Ad Agencies that weaponized public relations and propaganda using the technics developed by Edward Bernays, a nephew of Freud, i.e., driving rampant consumerism and the development of the Post-truth society we now live in.

              – No Prohibition to fuel Organized Crime(Mafia) built on “soldiers” who came back from the war with military training but no jobs.

              – No WWII to push technology from cloth covered planes to metal high altitude bombers in less than four years.

              – No Cold War thus no endless Red-baiting.

              – No CIA destabilizing countries around the world, or assassinating US Presidents.

              – No Operation Paperclip thus no ICBMs or space program.

              – No Margaret Thatcher inventing Global Warming to battle the British Coal Mine Unions.

              – No screaming children throwing soup at great art.

              I basically lay all of the evils of the last Century at the feet of Wilson for getting us involved in the “Cousin’s War” because J.P. Morgan was funding both sides of the war and needed the US to save his bacon. Morgan also ran the US War Bonds and made money from America being in the war as well.

              What else?

              • 1- About the books: note taken.

                2- About WW1 – Amusing though it might be to ponder what if’s, the “Great War” was *always* going to happen. If it didn’t start in the Balkans it would start in Alsace or the Po or the Caucasus. The problem being that the Northern European Plain has no insurmountable geographic borders, not then–not now. (That’s why the germans are grudgingly decoupling from Russia over Ukraine. It’s killing their industry but if Russia takes Ukraine they won’t stop until they’re back in Poland.) The region is economically productive but it doesn’t host a single nation like the US but a bunch, all afraid of each other, covetous of their land, with growing populations, and armed to the teeth. War was inevitable, not optional.

                3- The same geopolitical imperatives that drove the continental war was always going to draw in the US. And it could have been either side. (Britain was still the big bad and there were a lot of germans in the US.) The US stayed out as long as it did not out of disinterest as much as out of conflicting interests. Just remember that it was a war of empires: once started it would (and did) impinge on american geopolitical interests. It was at that point that the primary US geopolitical imperative to this day was born: “There must be no single dominant eurasian power.” And that is why the US joined the Allies: the Central Powers were winning. Russia was on the ropes. (Lost anyway.) France was next.

                4- If not in the Balkans in 1914, the War most likely would have started in the Caucuses or Central Asia between the Ottomans and Russia. That would’ve triggered the alliances anyway.

                5- Finally, Climate Change (the proper term) is real. What is debateable is the degree to which human activity *contributes* to solar variability and the Milankovitch cycles.

                In other words, both camps are wrong. Climate Change is real but totally eliminating carbon emissions (impossible as it is) isn’t stopping it. “Pox ‘pon both houses”.

                • Reading about Milankovitch cycles makes me queasy.

                  That reminds me, that essentially the Moon does not orbit around the Earth. The Earth and Moon orbit the Sun together. They have known this since Newton.

                  Path of Earth and Moon around Sun

                  In 1871 a guy wrote a book chastising people for not teaching this in school. There is a third edition available in Google Books.

                  An Elementary Treatise on the Lunar Theory
                  With a Brief Sketch of the History of the Problem Before Newton
                  By Hugh Godfray · 1871

                  It is also available from Amazon if you want paper.

                  The xkcd comic, “Sky” number 1115, comes to mind when I look at stuff like this.

                  I see the Milankovitch cycles, with the Moon floating beside us, and it gets worse when I read through the stuff about Growing Earth Theory and start feeling the ground shift beneath my feet as well, but that is another post.

                • It’s been decades since I read There Will Be Time. I have it on my “to be read” shelf. I’ll read it next. Thanks…

                  I collected the Stratfor books during the 90s as background material. I have the latest Zeihan book since you mentioned them last. I also have a multi year run of Utne Reader from the 90s. They come in useful when writing “Collapse” stories.

                  “Collapse” stories have replaced the “Lost World” stories of a Century ago. A Century ago the world was still filled with undiscovered territory while “Progress” seemed unlimited. Now Tomorrowland seems to be the rule.

                  Tomorrowland Official Trailer #1 (2015)

                  The thing to remember, is that the machine in Tomorrowland was driving the “Collapse”.

                  The question:

                  “What happens when the people ‘planning’ for the ‘Collapse’ get out of the way of regular people simply living their lives and going about their own business.”

                  That concept comes in handy with my latest WIP.

                • Similar reading lists.
                  I found Zeihan most useful for world building.
                  Also as a baseline for judging the idiocy level of IdiotPoliticians™. I don’t take his stuff as gospel but it’s useful for tracking global affairs.

                  As in: given the validity of what he points out (~80%?) which crew of “fearless leaders” does anything to minimize the damage?

                  So far, Putin accelerated Russia’s fall while Poland is proactively preparing to step in a likely power vacuum. So is Japan. Turkey is both boosting its regional power while wrecking its economy. There’s an election coming. Will Erdogan exit gracefully of dig in for life?

                  Xi? Too early to tell if setting COVID loose is desperation or “culling the herd” of elderly to minimize the demographic mess.

                  Argentina is Argentina but they’re dabbling in shale to offset the Bolivia degradation. Surprisingly timely.

                  And so it goes.
                  There will be winners as well as losers. Not a total collapse but some things *are* going away.

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