In his autobiographical book Goodbye To All That, the English poet Robert Graves describes the disappearance of the hopeful, rational Europe in the trenches of France during the First World War. Millions were slaughtered as a result of the stupidity and arrogance of their leaders and commanders.
The result was the collapse of three multinational empires, Ottoman Turkey, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, and their replacement by truculent national states and totalitarian régimes, followed by a further, and bloodier World War, that in turn ushered in the collapse of the European colonial empires and a "Cold" war in which millions also died. China, in its turn, was taken over by a bloody totalitarian state.
Not so long ago, the Soviet empire collapsed with relatively little violence, and ushered in what it seemed might be a period of relative tranquility, with the exception of failed states such as Haiti, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The First World War was long a-brewing, but its trigger was Sarajevo, where a Serbian assassin's bullet was the tossed pebble that launched the avalanche of mobilizations and declarations that began the World War.
We learn from Sarajevo and its aftermath that prediction and calculation in statecraft are often ludicrously wide of the mark. I will not venture either an apocalyptic scenario like Dr. Bob's nor a call to arms like Gerald Baker's. It will be enough for me here to list some of the factors that make some kind of sudden downward spiral plausible, and whisper for the appearance of the Four Horsemen, War, Pestilence, Famine and Death.
- The apparent acquisition by North Korea's Kim Jong Il of nuclear weapons, and the inability or unwillingness of the Five (China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the U.S.) to bring the little tyrant to heel.
- The increasing instability of China itself, barely a whisper in the news media so far. Popular protests and land confiscations and local corruption have been meeting increasingly violent resistance, and the régime, seeing the Mandate of Heaven slipping away, has been slow to devise institutions to allow for some kind of orderly transition. A war in the Taiwan Strait, or a nationalist campaign against Japan, might be a tempting tactic to postpone internal collapse. China is acquiring the means.
- The progress of Iran's nuclear program, combined with the rise to a position of prominence (who knows how much real power?) of the strange Ahmadinejad, apparently a believer in the reappearance of the occulted Twelfth Imam. Even if Ahmadinejad is restrained in normal times by the more cautious sectors of the Mullahocracy, what would transpire if the Iranian people were about to toss out the régime? Like Hitler, would the mullahs conclude that a faithless people deserved destruction and mass death?
- There are parallel political upheavals in Israel on the one hand and the West Bank and Gaza on the other. There are enough people on both sides who believe they have God's telephone number, while an unstable Syria and an armed, Iranian-subsidzed Hezbollah lurk to the north, to make events unpredictable. War (as opposed to bombings, roadblocks and raids) could easily lead to a second Nakbeh, the mass expulsion of Palestinians to Jordan and perhaps Egypt.
- Although, unlike some, I believe a Lebanese-style compromise could emerge in Iraq, the situation is hardly stable. A civil war could break out, with Iran, Turkey and Syria all potential paticipants.
- Europe has gone completely feckless, incapable even of bringing Iran to the Security Council. Meanwhile, sterile ex-Christian majorities are being nudged by new, growing, immigrant Muslim minorities. The French rejection of the European Union is unlikely to be reversed. If it is not already too late for the old Europeans, their eleventh-hour response to the threat may well be brutal and extreme.
- Meanwhile, Africa seems hopeless and Latin America is in the grip of a leftism that has repeatedly failed it, with organized racial resentment now thrown in.
- The potential is there for some or many of these brewing crises to interupt energy flows and thus to provoke economic turmoil or collapse.
- Our own country seems torn between an administration that understands national secuirty but is less than wise, and a totally feckless opposition that repeatedly panders to its own moonbat left wing. Whether we as a nation will make sacrifices, take risks, or endure privation to defend our interests and our freedom, and whether our leadership, now and post-2008, will be up to the challenge, is in question.
But I believe that danger lurks, and fear that our suburban world of Starbucks and soccer is about to be shaken. Hard.