From Zero-Power To Super-Power in 500 Years

Eugen Leitl eugen@leitl.org
Sun, 23 Mar 2003 11:41:24 +0100


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A remarkably distasteful piece, especially now. If Wall Street Journal
is overrun by hawks, that's bad news.=20

Arrogance, the myth of
the moment, indeed. We'll see where this policy is leading, within 10
to 20 years. Given current costs of G$/h (do you know what you could do with
that money in the civilian sector? Nanotechnology, molecular medicine?),=20
the ass-kicking is bound to become
nuclear for economic reasons alone.

I've never thought I'd see the idiotic global arms race again, but apparent=
ly
I was wrong.=20

Idiots.

On Sat, Mar 22, 2003 at 11:13:13PM -0500, R. A. Hettinga wrote:
> <http://online.wsj.com/article_print/0,,SB1048214137357900,00.html>
>=20
> The Wall Street Journal
>=20
> March 21, 2003=20
>=20
> WONDER LAND=20
> By DANIEL HENNINGER=20
> =A0
>=20
>=20
> >From Zero-Power=20
> To Super-Power in 500 Years=20
>=20
> One of the most oft-heard criticisms of what the whole world is watching =
in Iraq is that the American superpower is "going it alone."=20
>=20
> Going it alone? I guess so. America has been "going it alone" since about=
 1776. Or maybe it was 1492.=20
>=20
> Once this thing is over, there will be a great, extended discussion of Am=
erica's future relationship with the rest of the world and its institutions=
 -- from NATO to the United Nations to the new notion of "coalitions of the=
 willing." But maybe now's the moment, with the superpower gone to war, to =
finally get a few things straight in our minds about some institutions that=
 are entirely America's own.=20
>=20
> Yes, the United States is indeed the world's lone superpower. We're No. 1=
.=20
>=20
> But why? How did that happen?=20
>=20
> The most immediate measure of our number one-dom is on display just now i=
n the suburbs of Baghdad. It's a long list, unique to the U.S.: JStars, JDA=
Ms, satellite-guided missiles, B-2s with reduced electromagnetic signatures=
, digital terrain-scanning systems, laser-guided bombs (LGBs), and -- from =
the Oregon Medical Laser Center -- fast-clotting bandages that deploy posit=
ively charged chitosan molecules, whatever that is (it works). But let's de=
scribe the famous, pilotless Predator, now the leading icon of number one-d=
om.=20
>=20
> As the U.S. Air Force puts it: "The RQ-1A/B Predator is a system, not jus=
t aircraft. A fully operational system consists of four aircraft (with sens=
ors), a ground control station (GCS), a Predator Primary Satellite Link (PP=
SL), and 55 personnel for continuous 24-hour operations. The basic crew . .=
 . flies the aircraft from inside the GCS via a C-Band line-of-sight data l=
ink or a Ku-Band satellite data link for beyond line-of-sight flight."=20
>=20
> Where did this superpower-only stuff come from? From holes in the ground,=
 like oil? No. From a secret basement in the Pentagon that al Qaeda tried t=
o destroy September 11? No, not there. Some suggest it's the result merely =
of "defense spending," a Home Shopping Network for unimaginably high-tech m=
unitions. Not quite. This stuff came from all over America, from heavy ment=
al lifting done by tens of thousands of people the past 10 years. Truer sti=
ll, it goes back about 500 years, when some ex-Europeans got off the boat a=
nd, starting with their first steps forward into thick forest, decided that=
 henceforth they'd be willing to try anything that hadn't been tried before=
 and risk their lives and capital to make daily life in America ever better=
 for anyone who cared to join them. At that moment, America was a zero-powe=
r.=20
>=20
> Yes, the military inventory and tactical skills on display for all the wo=
rld to see right now are one reason the U.S. has sole claim to the title of=
 superpower, but that stuff's just one piece of it. Similarly, the Caltechs=
, MITs, Georgia Techs, Boeings, Northrop Grummans, and innumerable, small h=
igh-tech start-ups who made this extraordinary military technology possible=
 are also just pieces of the more interesting American whole.=20
>=20
> The whole is in fact a system -- a philosophy of foundational values goin=
g back to Ben Franklin and before. It's a social and political system roote=
d in mavericks, innovation, risk-taking, open intellectual argument, impati=
ence, creative change, failure, the frontier spirit, competition and a comp=
ulsion to get ahead. Every American kid who doesn't sleep through school ev=
entually knows how the system works. Some go into lifelong opposition to it=
. Most just go to work -- at jobs somewhere inside the tens of thousands of=
 businesses or educational institutions painstakingly built up, piece by pi=
ece, year after year, in 50 separate states. That's the "power" that create=
d the JDAMs and B-2 Stealth bombers.=20
>=20
> We read that one source of the supposed tension now between the U.S. and =
the Continent is Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's remarks about "old Europe=
." Well, there was a time, centuries back, when Europe was the world's prim=
ary font of invention and innovation. Europe's intellectual and commercial =
values once mirrored those now ascendant in the U.S. Then, in the 19th cent=
ury, France and Germany discovered corporatism and socialism and pulled the=
 plug on homegrown entrepreneurs of the mind and commerce. Visiting Europe =
today, it's not hard to meet young, very smart Europeans in places like Bel=
gium, Germany and Switzerland who say they enjoy traveling to the U.S. but =
find it too busy, too competitive for their tastes. Fine. Free world. Their=
 choice. But having made that choice, it's a little difficult to accept the=
ir whining about an America that refuses to coast alongside.=20
>=20
> One other myth of the moment -- arrogance. That the U.S. went forward wit=
h the Iraq war when the United Nations wanted to take the negotiation game =
into double overtime is supposed to reflect the "arrogance" of a "unilatera=
list" superpower, answerable to no one.=20
>=20
> "World opinion" should rest assured that most Americans would just as soo=
n get out of bed every day, do an honest day's work, come home to barbecue =
some hamburger out back, go to the kids' soccer games, drink beer with thei=
r pals and let Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder do whatever they wish w=
ith their own people.=20
>=20
> If in the meantime one of the things America does with the system that ma=
de it a superpower is build a 21,000-pound Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb,=
 or MOAB, rest assured that has nothing to do with a desire to routinely th=
row its weight around in a resentful world. It's mainly done so that when t=
he 25-year-old down the street ends up in a Kuwait, Kosovo or Iraq -- to pe=
rsonally dismantle weapons of mass destruction -- he has the best chance th=
e system back home can provide that he'll return to his backyard barbecue a=
nd kids' soccer games. As history's superpowers go, the world could do a lo=
t worse.=20
>=20
>=20
> --=20
> -----------------
> R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
> The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
> 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
> "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
> [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
> experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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