The Thucydides trap

The White House is full of aficionados of Thucydides, the Greek historian and chronicler of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.  In fact, Thucydides is very much in vogue today among lots of diplomats and foreign policy experts.  In the White House, Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security advisor H. R. McMaster, and Trump’s key advisor Steve Bannon are way into Thucydides.

Recently, international affairs scholar Graham Allison was invited to the White House to brief staffers on the subject of his new book:  Destined for War:  Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?

He applies Thucydides’ explanation of the Peloponnesian War:  “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”

Established powers fear the rise of new powers.  Just as the United States fears the rise of China.  Or might come to fear the rise of China as it becomes more and more powerful and influential in the world.

Which raises the question:  At some point, will there be a war between China and the United States?

We think of fear as a deterrent, but, as Thucydides has shown and as history often bears out, fear can also motivate war.  Do you think that will happen with China and the United States?

Illustration:  “The Fall of the Athenian Army, ” by J.G.Vogt, Illustrierte Weltgeschichte, vol. 1, Leipzig (E.Wiest) 1893. (fonte) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Russia threatens to shoot down U.S. planes over Syria

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In the course of supporting a rebel faction battling not only President Assad but ISIS, U.S. fighter planes shot down a Syrian jet.  Now Russia, which supports Assad, is threatening to shoot down American and coalition aircraft.

 

Photo of Russian fighter plane by Vitaly V. Kuzmin (http://vitalykuzmin.net/?q=node/464) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Forgetting what Memorial Day means

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I learned that it is not good form to wish each other “Happy Memorial Day!”  This is a day to remember service members who have died.  That is not “happy,” though it should make us feel grateful, and gratitude is arguably a part of happiness.

Veterans Day honors everyone who has served in the military.  Memorial Day honors those who have given their lives in that service.

In some regions, such as here in Oklahoma, the custom is to remember all of the dead.  It is sometimes called “Decoration Day” because this is when we decorate the graves of our loved ones with flowers and (for veterans) flags.

But today Memorial Day has become reduced to the kickoff of summer, a three-day weekend, a time for cookouts and good times.  An article excerpted and linked after the jump laments how Americans have tended to forget what Memorial Day means.

While acknowledging the point, I don’t know that we need to make each other feel all guilty over this.  Having a good time with family and friends is one of the benefits of the freedom that those military men and women gave their lives for.

But even as we celebrate, Memorial Day should be a day for memory, for remembering. [Read more…]

The Reformation wars as board game

Right after Luther’s death, the Holy Roman Emperor resolved to undo the Reformation by military force.  The Lutheran princes formed the Schmalkaldic League to fight against him.  In the ensuing Schmalkaldic War, the Emperor defeated the Lutherans–taking away the princes’ lands and titles and re-imposing the Roman Catholic faith.  But that was not the end of the story.  In a bizarre and providential turn of events, Lutheran theology became legalized after all.

UPDATE:  What happened was this:  The Emperor bribed one of the Lutheran princes, Maurice of Saxony, with lands and titles if he would change sides.  He did.  As a direct result of this treachery, the Lutherans were defeated and the Reformation, evidently, was over for good.  But later, Maurice felt the Emperor reneged on some parts of the deal.  So he changed sides again and went to war with the Emperor.  Even though he was fighting the vast Imperial army pretty much by himself, he defeated the Emperor!  And made him legalize the Reformation!  And so we see how God uses even sinners and acts in ways we could never expect.

Now there is a board game in which you can re-enact the military exploits, the political intrigue, the personality conflicts, and the theological commitments that played out in this strangely-forgotten but pivotal moment in history.

The game is called the League of Confessors and it’s available here.   You have got to check out the website.  The cards that are pictured there and that you play with in the game amount to a who’s who of the late Reformation:  John the Magnanimous, George the Pious, Ernst the Confessor; and on the other side Ferdinand I, Albrecht Alcibiades, and the perfidious Maurice of Saxony.

And if you order the Reformation 2017 edition, you will also get the Franco-Ottoman extension, in which the “unholy alliance” of France and the Turks takes advantage of the war between Catholic and Lutheran “confessors” for their own global-political advantage.

This game is clearly the brainchild of a gamer who is both a confessional Lutheran and a history fanatic.

This would make a good 500th Reformation Anniversary present to oneself or others, although I’m not aware of any Reformation Day gift-giving customs.  But still, there are at least some of you who would love to play League of Confessors. [Read more…]

The little nation that defeated the Soviets

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Simo Häyhä, the “White Death”

A nation is defined by its history and its people’s common experiences.  That is especially true of nations whose citizens, for the most part, share a specific ethnic identity.  In Finland, where I spent some time recently, history is a living force.

For some 500 years, Finland was part of Sweden, a region in the East where members of the Finnish tribe dwelt.  Finland was Swedish during the 17th century when that kingdom was a world power, as the Swedish kings saved Lutheranism during the Thirty Years’ War and dominated much of Northern Europe.  To this day, Finland has a Swedish-speaking minority.

But then, in 1809, Sweden lost a war with Russia.  Finland, on Russia’s border, was ceded to the Czar, who made it an autonomous Grand Duchy under his authority.  So Finland went into its Russian phase, though it resisted assimilation.

When the Communist Revolution broke out, Finland saw its chance.  It declared independence and established itself as a free republic.  This happened in 1917, so that this year Finland is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The Communists had their own problems in 1917 so basically let Finland go.  Some Finns, however, were on the Bolshevik side, so the new nation fought a bloody civil war, with the “Whites” defeating the “Reds.”

But in 1939, Stalin resolved to take Finland back.  Soviet troops poured over the Finnish border.  In this conflict, known as the “Winter War,” the Soviets outnumbered the Finns three to one, with 30 times more airplanes and 100 times more tanks.

I was told that the president of Finland then was a devout Christian.  He called upon all Finns to pray.  And they did. [Read more…]

Religious liberty in the military

 

U.S. Army Capt. John Barkemeyer, a chaplain, conducts mass for Soldiers on a remote contingency operating base in Ramadi, Iraq, Sept. 20, 2007. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kieran Cuddihy) (Released)The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod may yet again be headed to the Supreme Court, at least to the extent of having filed an amicus brief in the case of a female Marine corporal who was given a bad-conduct discharge for refusing to take down a Bible verse in her workplace.  (“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” [Isaiah 54:17])  It remains to be seen if the court will take her case.

But there are other religious liberty issues in the military.  Some relate to chaplains being ordered to compromise their faith.  Many relate to LBGT issues.

The Synod is weighing in on some of these issues in various channels.  The Lutheran Reporter has a story on the problem and the church’s efforts. [Read more…]