Thursday, September 10, 2015
Dealing with Iran (and Other Formerly Glorious Empires)
(The following post comprises, at its core, an email I sent to a friend here in Essex County, New Jersey, about whether Americans should endorse the Obama Administration's agreement with Iran.)
What choice is there but to support a deal with Iran? Americans are ahistoric, that is, they tend both to know nothing about history and care nothing about history, even their own, but esp. not that of any other country, such as Iran. I know enuf of Iran's history to know how glorious it must seem to the people of Iran, which country has in prior eras been called Persia, Media, the Achaemenid Empire, etc. Iran, by any name, was also a very major part of the Caliphate, the Empire of Alexander (the Great), and the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Compared to Iran, the United States and indeed the rest of the West are young whippersnappers disrespectful of their elders. Iranians can in all justice say that Iran was a great empire and glorious civilization when the ancestors of all of the West's major powers were living in thatched huts (if not even caves!) and hunting animals with primitive spears, for not yet having mastered agriculture.
When you deal with a person (or country) of great past distinction, you do so RESPECTFULLY. Yes, Iran is much diminished from its earlier glory -- but, then, it was much reduced in glory when Alexander the Great conquered it from tiny Greece.
Excessive and irrational national pride can do crazy things to people. Vladimir Putin is trying to recreate the Russian Empire, not just the pseudo-egalitarian "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics". Almost no American knows why Putin is so nuts about (the) Ukraine: because (the) Ukraine was The First Russia, "Kievan Rus", which should, to his mind and that of many other Russians, never have separated from "Mother Russia". The term "Ukraine" means "borderland" (between more modern "Russia" proper and the West). But huge numbers of Russians feel much more connection with and affection for (the) Ukraine than to any other "borderland".
Some people in Communist China's People's Liberation Army have fantasies of recreating the Mongol Empire of Kublai Khan, based on China but extending far beyond the borders of present China. Note that I say "present" China, not "modern China" or any other formulation, because some people in China (but esp. in the "People's Liberation Army") may see current China's borders as much too restrictive, and aspire to enlarging China's national territory to match its aspirations to historic glory. People whose country's history goes back a very long time are esp. susceptible to the thought of exceeding the glory of the greatest of their nation's heroes. The person who fantasizes exceeding the accomplishments of the greatest of his nation's heroes can be pitiable or dangerous. Adolf Hitler had aspirations to grandeur greater than anything achieved by any (cultural) German ever before him. This turned out not to be a delusion. He PROVED TO BE the single German of greatest military accomplishments in the entire history of Germany. But at what cost, to others and to Germany itself?
My point here is that constructive ambition can turn to a fanatical quest for insatiable glory, and such a fanatic may not be held in check by realists or competitors, but might be able to carry hordes of other people along in his quest for glory, which comes to be seen as THEIR glory, not just his.
We have to be aware of these temptations to restore former glory, and help these various countries adjust to a much diminished but honorable and constructive role in the real world. They must be helped to understand that they can play a major role in world security, world civilization, and world culture; and we needn't say, bluntly or even discreetly but too much like bluntly, "Even tho you are nothing now."
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