From Zero-Power To Super-Power in 500 Years

R. A. Hettinga
Sun, 23 Mar 2003 08:48:02 -0500

--- begin forwarded text

Status: RO
From: Somebody
To: "R. A. Hettinga" <>
Subject: Re: From Zero-Power To Super-Power in 500 Years
Date: Sun, 23 Mar 2003 00:35:16 -0500


This is a great piece.  There are three or four plain spoken truths here
that are anathema to old Europe, and even some government scientists I know.

1. Stuff makes a superpower.

2. Know-how makes the stuff.

3. Competition makes the know-how.

4. Economic incentive makes the competition.

I find that most of my government customers believe this.  But a not
inconsiderable fraction of them subscribe to Franco-Germanic socio-statist
notions that lead them to stake out scientific turf and engage in
rent-seeking behavior.  Those folks tend to feel they own the problem and
get to decide which method gives the right answer.  Not surprisingly, they
usually decide that their own answer is the right one regardless of the
evidence against it.  Many of that type think that scientific competition is
an active evil, and insist that others slow down so as not to make them look

Their politics are usually consistent: the latter group argues
Democrat/Green positions and the former advocates Republican/libertarian

Fortunately, the latter types are self-limited, and get passed by the former
eventually.  One of the latter types in a position of authority can hold up
progress for quite a while.  Generally some other group passes him and his
people by, to the disgust of the better people who work for him.


----- Original Message -----
From: "R. A. Hettinga" <>
To: "Clippable" <>
Cc: <>; <>
Sent: Saturday, March 22, 2003 11:13 PM
Subject: From Zero-Power To Super-Power in 500 Years

> <,,SB1048214137357900,00.html>
> The Wall Street Journal
> March 21, 2003
> >From Zero-Power
> To Super-Power in 500 Years
> 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."
> Going it alone? I guess so. America has been "going it alone" since about
1776. Or maybe it was 1492.
> Once this thing is over, there will be a great, extended discussion of
America'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.
> Yes, the United States is indeed the world's lone superpower. We're No. 1.
> But why? How did that happen?
> The most immediate measure of our number one-dom is on display just now in
the suburbs of Baghdad. It's a long list, unique to the U.S.: JStars, JDAMs,
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 positively
charged chitosan molecules, whatever that is (it works). But let's describe
the famous, pilotless Predator, now the leading icon of number one-dom.
> As the U.S. Air Force puts it: "The RQ-1A/B Predator is a system, not just
aircraft. A fully operational system consists of four aircraft (with
sensors), a ground control station (GCS), a Predator Primary Satellite Link
(PPSL), 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
link or a Ku-Band satellite data link for beyond line-of-sight flight."
> 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 to
destroy September 11? No, not there. Some suggest it's the result merely of
"defense spending," a Home Shopping Network for unimaginably high-tech
munitions. Not quite. This stuff came from all over America, from heavy
mental lifting done by tens of thousands of people the past 10 years. Truer
still, it goes back about 500 years, when some ex-Europeans got off the boat
and, 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-power.
> Yes, the military inventory and tactical skills on display for all the
world 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 high-tech start-ups who made this extraordinary military technology
possible are also just pieces of the more interesting American whole.
> The whole is in fact a system -- a philosophy of foundational values going
back to Ben Franklin and before. It's a social and political system rooted
in mavericks, innovation, risk-taking, open intellectual argument,
impatience, creative change, failure, the frontier spirit, competition and a
compulsion to get ahead. Every American kid who doesn't sleep through school
eventually 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
piece, year after year, in 50 separate states. That's the "power" that
created the JDAMs and B-2 Stealth bombers.
> 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
primary font of invention and innovation. Europe's intellectual and
commercial values once mirrored those now ascendant in the U.S. Then, in the
19th century, 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 Belgium, 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 their whining about an America that refuses to coast alongside.
> One other myth of the moment -- arrogance. That the U.S. went forward with
the Iraq war when the United Nations wanted to take the negotiation game
into double overtime is supposed to reflect the "arrogance" of a
"unilateralist" superpower, answerable to no one.
> "World opinion" should rest assured that most Americans would just as soon
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 their
pals and let Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder do whatever they wish with
their own people.
> If in the meantime one of the things America does with the system that
made 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 throw its weight around in a resentful world. It's mainly done so
that when the 25-year-old down the street ends up in a Kuwait, Kosovo or
Iraq -- to personally dismantle weapons of mass destruction -- he has the
best chance the system back home can provide that he'll return to his
backyard barbecue and kids' soccer games. As history's superpowers go, the
world could do a lot worse.
> --
> -----------------
> R. A. Hettinga <mailto:>
> The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
> 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'

--- end forwarded text

R. A. Hettinga <mailto:>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
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'