Thursday, October 30, 2014

Modern Day Roosevelts and US Hegemony (What Makes a World Successful?)

After watching the Ken Burns series on Teddy, Eleanor, and Franklin Roosevelt it is easy to wonder where the bigger than life visionary leaders have gone in the last 30 years. Are they really gone or have circumstances not provided the need for those kind of people? 

Teddy was a complicated person that on one hand was a social progressive who was the first to prosecute anti-trust cases, expanded the national park system, regulated industry, supported striking coal miners, and took on the party bosses who controlled legislation and maintained a corrupt political system. The other side of Teddy was an almost neanderthal guy who believed men had to fight in wars to be men, started wars for almost the express purpose of being able to fight, and expanded executive powers in a way that changed the presidency forever. 

FDR did not start out as a dynamic personality but when circumstances like his polio and WWII dominated him, he rose to those challenges and made this a different world. He was also a social progressive like his wife, Eleanor, who changed our country forever with the introduction of social security, reduced workweek, child labor laws, and many other progressive social changes that no one hardly questions anymore as basic rights of being human.

The result of the Roosevelt era is what is referred to today by many as Pax Americana. Is Empire inherently evil or is there a need and place for it in the world today? While the US has certainly had its excesses, the overriding answer is that far more good has come from the US playing world policeman than harm from US overreaching. David Brin summarized the current and previous Pax eras very well.
"Pax" referred originally to Pax Romana or the Roman Peace that kept the Mediterranean placid and open to commerce for 600 years. Pax Sinica refers to similar epochs across China and east Asia. Pax Hispania was the greatest empire the world has ever known, in which Columbus's discoveries -- then Magellan's -- led to a "peace" that preached its own absolute goodness while it spread deliberate genocide for 400 bloody years. But at least there was no hypocrisy.

Here is the crux. With the likely exception of Pax Hispania, almost every pax era has been better for average people on planet Earth than almost every era without a pax empire, when competing kingdoms would send armies slashing and burning and looting across each others’ territories. The Chinese, for example, admit that the First Emperor Chi'in, who unified the five warring states, was something of a murderous madman. But he also made it safe to travel and trade and paved the way for the Han Dynasty renaissance. He was hell on scholars and dissenters, but made things better for average folk who just wanted to live out their lives, pay taxes, practice a trade and be left alone.
The amount the US spends on playing the Pax Americana role is staggering outspending the nearest country (China) by 3 - 5x in total dollars depending on whose numbers you use. The long and short of it is that the world has overall enjoyed an unprecedented degree of peace and prosperity during Pax Americana.

Many Americans want the world to respect their country more and be more grateful for all the resources spent on maintaining relative peace. They cannot understand how our largesse could go so unappreciated. Many other countries only see the hegemonic side of the equation feeling dominated by US military power and economically by US corporations. Both sides are correct. Finding and maintaining a balance is always the difficult part. 

So, Dems rail about the military excesses of George W Bush which is legitimate. And, Pubs are upset about relinquishing any military power that would create a vacuum only to be filled by chaos and barbarians. And, we wonder where the leaders like Teddy and FDR went. Maybe they are not around because we don't need them.

We live in difficult times, but, thankfully less difficult than other times in history. Have a wonderful day, hopefully enjoying a war-free life like 95+% of the planet.

David Brin on Pax Americana
Military Spending on Wiki
Teddy Roosevelt


Anonymous said...

Mike not sure on this how true it is, maybe you can go through this

Sojka's Call said...

An example on a smaller scale of what happens when the cop is not on the beat, would be Yugoslavia, Iraq and Egypt. When the strongman in both countries were forced out, chaos ensued.

Those leaders used brutality to one extent or another to control countries of disparate and competing groups. While Saddam was brutal and people died, the country as a whole ran as a fairly modern country with hospitals, universities, electrical power and basic safety. Contrast that with the time period since he was forced out and there is no comparison. The average Iraqi is much less safe and has almost no opportunity.