Democracy -- We Deliver
February 23, 2012 9:44 PM   Subscribe

"Still, I'm willing to bet that future generations will look back on the period between 2006 and 2008 as the real turning point. Here was the moment when what remained of the American Century ran out of steam and ground to a halt. More specifically, when Bush gave up on victory in Iraq (thereby abandoning expectations of U.S. military power transforming the Greater Middle East) and when the Great Recession brought the U.S. economy to its knees (the consequences of habitual profligacy coming home to roost), Luce's formulation lost any resemblance to reality."--Andrew Bacevich on how "The American Century Is Over—Good Riddance"
posted by bardic (76 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Future generations aren't going to look back at a three year interval in human history.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:49 PM on February 23, 2012 [9 favorites]




I want to write, "Show your work" at the bottom of this easy.

I doubt I even disagree with the guy that much, but I found little of substance here. He needs another 20 or 30 pages to make his point (and I seldom say such things).
posted by cjorgensen at 9:59 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Future generations aren't going to look back at a three year interval in human history.

Why not? Americans right now look back at US involvement in the Second World War, the Civil War, the presidency of JFK... None of these intervals are especially long.
posted by brennen at 9:59 PM on February 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


"Future generations aren't going to look back at a three year interval in human history."
Well, Americans look back to 1941-1945 as a pretty fucking important interval in human history.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:01 PM on February 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


I was looking back at that three year period before it was even over.

That said, I don't know that I'd phrase things the way he did about "Bush giving up on victory in Iraq." The issue was that we already rattled our saber, rattled it some more, started a war, run and extended occupation and had pretty much worked the military to a point of operational exhaustion and on then did Bush et al realize that their magic pixie sparkle dust victory conditions might be a skosh unrealistic.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:09 PM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would imagine Luce's "American Century" actually ended some time in the 80s or 90s, when post-war European countries finally stabilized and began their booms, when Japan did the same, and when China and India began developing into competitors.

The anomaly was the historical accident of the United States being the single large first-world economy not flattened by World War II. That situation wasn't going to last forever.
posted by chasing at 10:15 PM on February 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


It would probably be more accurate to say that George W Bush gave up on Dick Cheney.
posted by koeselitz at 10:16 PM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, I meant that people don't naturally look back at history that way. "How about 1923 to 1926, Bob? What do you think? How does that compare with 1953 to 1956?"

That's just not the way History is framed. It's more based on specific events.

I just don't like this idea that future generations will, somehow, through the supposed authority of their futureness, look back on what is happening now and pass some kind of judgement that we should care about in the present day. I don't like the idea that world leaders are acting for posterity - trying to imagine how they will be remembered - because I think they should be putting all their attention on what's happening right now.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:17 PM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


The American Century seems to me built on a bubble created by being on the winning side of a war, with a large population, and a homeland mostly isolated from destruction. IOW, things that were largely determined by chance. These favorable conditions were viewed, as the years went on, not as a fluke of good fortune, but as sometimes literal Divine destiny. The prosperity was a remarkable boom, but simultaneously a hubristic toxin.

I don't find it hard to visualize future generations looking at the Bush years as the time when the wheels fell off the working script so plainly. Perhaps a better President could have kept up the facade. But it seems to me that Bush really broke it so spectacularly, and for all to see, and some of the results are things like the Tea Party and the ratcheting up of culture war issues. A largely right wing that more and more in denial and detached from reality.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:19 PM on February 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, Bacevich has a new book out for the long version.
posted by bardic at 10:20 PM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I had a teacher in High School that claimed the end of an empire was the best part as it usually involves massive wine fueled orgies and fiddling while things burn. Much more fun to party while things go to shit than to work your ass off building an empire. I've got to say I haven't found any flaws in his argument yet.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:35 PM on February 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


That's just not the way History is framed. It's more based on specific events.

Ever hear of 'periodization'? Some examples: Dark Ages, Gilded Age, Edwardian Era. These are artificial labels historians have given to certain series of events over periods of time. It's how historians write about history. These periods are defined by some beginning or ending. The periodization of the article is in reference to "the American Century" and the author, a professional historians, sees that period as ending roughly in the 2006-08 time frame. Understood?
posted by stbalbach at 10:38 PM on February 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


"massive wine fueled orgies and fiddling while things burn"

It's great if you're in the 1%, that's for sure.
posted by bardic at 10:39 PM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't like the idea that world leaders are acting for posterity - trying to imagine how they will be remembered - because I think they should be putting all their attention on what's happening right now.

This statement doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. World leaders are judged for their actions, which occur when they are, well, leading. No one says James Polk was a great president, because he just punted. I can't imagine that most leaders want that kind of disdain attached to their names down the road. It would seem that being cognizant of the fact that civiilzation doesn't end with your death and that you will be scrutinized in the future might be helpful.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:41 PM on February 23, 2012


It's Reagan's fault. I really do think that'll be history's verdict. He (or more accurately his cadre) looked into the eye of the coming storm and decided it could be delayed for one last dazzlingly profitable generation. America first mortgaged it's future under Reagan. Those bills are still coming due by the day.

It's Reagan's fault.
posted by gompa at 10:43 PM on February 23, 2012 [38 favorites]


Understood?

I don't think twoleftfeet's take on the way history (lay history, at least) tends to attach labels is unreasonable, really. 2006-2008 isn't nearly as handy a conceptual bucket as "the Bush years" or "the Iraq War" etc.

It's Reagan's fault.

I just had this vision of some future president loathed by future 20-somethings in pretty much exactly the way that I loathed G.W. Bush, and I'm listening to an argument about this in some bar or something, and I'm all like look, this guy sucks, I grant you, but it really goes back to Bush. And then I imagined this vast chain of shitty Republican presidents receding into infinity. And now I'm all depressed.
posted by brennen at 10:55 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


America winning the cold war was a defining moment of the American Century (at least according to wikipedia), therefore it does not make a lot of sense to say Reagan was the guy responsible for the end of the American Century.
posted by H. Roark at 11:02 PM on February 23, 2012


It's Reagan's fault.

Bacevich done say roughly that in "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism", because Reagan is the one who really kicked in the "solving problems is hard, let's burn all the gas, put it on credit, and fuck the working man".
posted by benito.strauss at 11:11 PM on February 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't think twoleftfeet's take on the way history (lay history, at least) tends to attach labels is unreasonable, really. 2006-2008 isn't nearly as handy a conceptual bucket as "the Bush years" or "the Iraq War" etc.

Not sure what you are saying, that because 2006-2008 doesn't have a periodization name that it doesn't make sense to talk about it as lay person and therefore no one in the future will be talking about it as the author contends?
posted by stbalbach at 11:13 PM on February 23, 2012


I don't have the words to describe how much it pleases me to be corrected on my understanding of history by someone who chose an Ayn Rand protagonist for a username.

As a great American once said, "I'm busting, Jerry! I'm busting!"
posted by gompa at 11:14 PM on February 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


the author, a professional historian, sees that period as ending roughly in the 2006-08 time frame. Understood?

I put up with that kind of thing from Geologists. The Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras were genuinely different, what with all the development of plants during the former and the unification of the Pangaean supercontinent during the latter. But when we zoom down into fairly small time increments this whole idea is silly. Really, I'm not sure if Wednesday afternoon, which included such major developments as a Reuben sandwich and a glass of root beer, was the beginning or end of a period that ended on Thursday, with its seltzer and lasagna.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:18 PM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


No doubt this is glib, but I've been assuming that historians (at least the ones who take world-historical pronouncements by the likes of Henry Luce seriously) will view 9/11 as the end of the American Century, and will find significance in the fact that the end came within a decade of the fall of the USSR. The historical forces behind the presumed collapse of the American empire are too complex to be attributed to a single historical moment, but if you're going to pick one anyway, I don't know why you'd go with the late Bush era when there was a spectacular and highly symbolic event a few years earlier that set the stage for all Bush's failures (and those of his successor). I mean, no one attributes the third-century crisis of the Roman Empire to poor policy choices by Commodus, do they?
posted by twirlip at 11:21 PM on February 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Not sure what you are saying, that because 2006-2008 doesn't have a periodization name that it doesn't make sense to talk about it as lay person and therefore no one in the future will be talking about it as the author contends?

I think this is getting into the territory of being a pointless derail, but I'd guess that in, say, 50 years, future generations of historians (i.e., people like Bacevich) might talk about it or not, while average people probably will pin their model of the era to abstractions like the decade, the war, terms of office, etc.
posted by brennen at 11:27 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Simply put: too soon to tell.
posted by Defenestrator at 11:37 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guys, the American Century isn't over. Don't you pay any attention to Clint Eastwood? We're at halftime.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:52 PM on February 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


The Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras were genuinely different

Yes but when did one end and the other begin? In this case, with a giant asteroid on a certain bad day 65 million years ago. But if that is your yardstick for change, might suggest the world is more subtle than that.
posted by stbalbach at 11:56 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd guess that in, say, 50 years, future generations of historians (i.e., people like Bacevich) might talk about it or not, while average people probably will pin their model of the era to abstractions like the decade, the war, terms of office, etc.

But Bacevich is saying that there is a period known as the "American Century", it is a common concept, similar to the "British Empire", "Roman Empire" and other appellations that signify a nation or whatever had reached world-dominating power before its inevitable decline. So whatever it will be called in the future (American Century, American Empire etc), Bacevich is saying 2006-08 will be seen as the pivotal moment when it ended (or one of those moments). Similar moments can be seen in other eras, such as 455 in the Roman Empire, or 1945 for Britain. These are not arcane academic notions but fairly common in the popular imagination. I'm not sure why you think the common man in the future will be unable or unwilling to look at the concept of an American Century or think about when it came to and end.
posted by stbalbach at 12:08 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


a giant asteroid on a certain bad day 65 million years ago... the world is more subtle than that.

But is it, really? Who can forget where they were when they first heard that Lady Gaga released her second album? We don't want to be that subtle, do we?

I like the idea of classifying historical time periods based on major asteroid impacts. During the time between impacts, life develops. It goes in one direction or another. It could let anthropoids reach a point where they are sitting at a table and drinking tea and checking their email on their phone and then another big rock hits and the whole planet resets to almost zero for a while and then life goes on,

But that's probably too big a time scale for purposes of historical scholarship.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:11 AM on February 24, 2012


I'm not sure why you think the common man in the future will be unable or unwilling to look at the concept of an American Century or think about when it came to and end.

I don't think that. I didn't say that.

I shall now formally withdraw from this thread, and with it the argument about nothing that we are apparently having, in order to move on to the period between 1:30 and 2:00am - the time which a future iteration of myself will doubtless remember as the point at which the sober-and-awake portion of my day ground to a halt.
posted by brennen at 12:34 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, I meant that people don't naturally look back at history that way. "How about 1923 to 1926, Bob? What do you think? How does that compare with 1953 to 1956?"

That's just not the way History is framed. It's more based on specific events.
The Iraq war was an event. So was the Vietnam war. War is a useful thing for historians because they're relatively short.

If you look back at, say, Chinese history the transitions between dynasties, which lasted hundreds of years, tended to be pretty short as well. Cesars conquest of Rome and the disillusion of the senate, that was a pretty big deal.

There are gradual changes that took place too, of course. The industrial revolution, the scientific revolution. The protestant reformation probably took a while. But those are situations where the changes are apparently in the opinions and ideas people have about the world. There's no way to go back into history and take a census about how people felt, so it's difficult to track the transition.
posted by delmoi at 12:44 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great short article, surprisingly. It is witty and memorable. The quotation in the OP is easily taken out of context, given the tone of the rest of the article.
posted by polymodus at 12:59 AM on February 24, 2012


A querious third party might overlap the hubbert curve with american imperialism. One such nutcase would say that the implications are obvious.

'Night all. *closes the lid of the tin-foil shelter*
posted by mrdaneri at 1:07 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Come on, now, I thought we'd all agreed to an end of history.
posted by eegphalanges at 1:07 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Everyone who believes in "the American Century" will want an American Century collectible tin, with pictures on it of presidents and stuff.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:53 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


twirlip: "No doubt this is glib, but I've been assuming that historians will view 9/11 as the end of the American Century, and will find significance in the fact that the end came within a decade of the fall of the USSR. "

I don't know that 9/11, specifically, is a particularly good marker, but I think you might be on to something about the USSR's demise being coupled with the end of the "American Century."

It seems to me that one could argue that the end of both country's empires occurred together to some extent. It just took the USA 20 years longer than the USSR to truly tap itself out.

I suppose you could even tie in the two wars in response to 9/11 as the USA arrogantly assuming it was immune to the sort of economic realities that brought the Soviet Union down. Heck, you could even tie in the financial crisis and all the other accompanying shenanigans that were allowed to occur in the US as part of that arrogance as well.

Perhaps historians will view the two empires as both casualties of their mutual Cold War struggle. After all, twenty years is a blink of the eye in historical terms.

I'm certainly no historian, but it's kind of fun to ponder.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:56 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bardic provides a link that all articles really need. A key.

I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.

This is how you feel to realize how much more you would have done if you truly recognized what was at stake.

Five years later this new article is bleak enough. It posits the question more or less at the end; if even your victories are just the seeds of a new conflict, can they ever be called victories. There are countries in the world where they don't ritually sacrifice their young to a new conflict every few years. Those countries don't call themselves great but they might be nice places to live. Good riddance to empire is probably not a new sentiment in the history of humankind.
posted by vicx at 2:03 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ask MeFi: When was the apex of American power?
posted by Trurl at 2:09 AM on February 24, 2012


twoleftfeet: "Everyone who believes in "the American Century" will want an American Century collectible tin, with pictures on it of presidents and stuff."

Well, if we're going to commemorate the end of the "American Century", surely the Presidential wastebasket is more appropriate.

(My brother actually still has one of those, but his has Nixon on it as it must have been made after the one in the pic. I had no idea they made a whole series of them. I thought it was just a Nixon era thing, and that seemed to make it especially appropriate.)
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 2:10 AM on February 24, 2012


I think that whether one sees the series of events over a long duration of time as a continuum on which there are spikes of events or one sees it as discrete events wihtout connection to what went before and what came after (linear vs non linear) its less a matter of what history is or isn't and more an element of individual perception as well as elements of culture.

With regard to the post, I'd say the decline probably started earlier but the pivotal 2006 to 08 feels about right, as 2007 was when the first signals of the impending economic downturn with the mortgage stuff, the credit stuff and all of that became obviously discernible. Which might be why the author selected that period.
posted by infini at 2:47 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


no one attributes the third-century crisis of the Roman Empire to poor policy choices by Commodus, do they?

We don't blame a single emperor because, while one emperor may have had somewhat different priorities than another, they were all engaged in the same unsustainable imperial project.

Which is why the idea that historians will attribute America's decline to a particular Republican president is partisan silliness.
posted by Trurl at 2:49 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, no one attributes the third-century crisis of the Roman Empire to poor policy choices by Commodus, do they?

Actually, yes. I think some people do. I've heard it suggested that the precipitate withdrawal he made on his accession occurred right at the point when Marcus Aurelius' long campaign to subdue Germania was within an ace of completion. Had Commodus merely allowed the campaign to be completed, on this account, the biggest thorn in the Empire's side would have been permanently removed and it would have faced later crises and barbarian invasions from a far stronger position, with incalculable histrocial consequences.
posted by Segundus at 3:09 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


'histrocial' is what the cool kids say these days, of course.
posted by Segundus at 3:14 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


... right at the point when Marcus Aurelius' long campaign to subdue Germania was within an ace of completion. Had Commodus merely allowed the campaign to be completed...

"Do we get to win this time?"
posted by Trurl at 3:25 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


America winning the cold war was a defining moment of the American Century...

Imagine two guys who work part time at a convenience store. These two guys like to talk about paintball but never actually get around to playing. Instead, they used every spare penny to buy better guns, better parts for their guns, lager ammo hoppers, stand alone CO2 tanks, and so on. Then, one day, one of the guys gets hold of his dad's credit card and uses it to buy the ULTRA-MAX-3000 - it's fully automatic with silicone O-rings and enough anodized aluminum to build the dashboard of a high end sports car. The other guy desperately tries to keep up, but now he's overspent. Then his car breaks down and he can't get to work anymore so he looses his job. The differences between this story and the cold war are ones of scale, and instead of Reagan getting hold of his dad's credit card, he got hold of his grand children's credit card.

So, yeah, I can see a case for this being the defining moment of both the American Century and the era after that, but probably not in the way the Wikipedia editor was thinking.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:39 AM on February 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


"Still, I'm willing to bet that future generations will look back on the period between 2006 and 2008 as the real turning point.

I'll take that action. How much are you willing to bet? What odds?

What's that? You'll be dead before the issue will be resolved? Well then: that's not a bet. That's cheap talk!
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:01 AM on February 24, 2012


I was long skeptical about the US and actually warned about the last down turn. While the US will never be as powerful as it was - 50% of the world wealth was accumulated in the US after WW2 - it will always be a big power.

- it still have the biggest single market in the world (please don't call the EU -ONE- market)
- a comparably young population
- many of the finest universities in the world

People have claimed that "the world is flat" and geographics don't matter anymore. I disagree. Mexico mainly does business with the US, like Turkey mainly does business with the EU. Geography does still mater and the US is very isolated on the world map. Worse, even "close" countries like Brazil have closer economic ties now to China. Europe, if it survives the challenges, will move closer together with Asia, becoming Euroasia. Africa is close to Europe and has strong ties to France and the UK.

The geographic isolation was an asset in the past, helping to shed of enemies. It may be a liability in the future. Emannuel Todd actually pointed the importance of the geographic isolation out in "USA - After the empire" in 2001.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:15 AM on February 24, 2012


With regard to the post, I'd say the decline probably started earlier but the pivotal 2006 to 08 feels about right, as 2007 was when the first signals of the impending economic downturn with the mortgage stuff, the credit stuff and all of that became obviously discernible. Which might be why the author selected that period.

I think Bardic covered it up there ^^ second comment. The author lost his son in the Iraq conflict in 2007. No doubt, 2006-2008 is a time that resonates for him.
posted by vicx at 4:19 AM on February 24, 2012


The anomaly was the historical accident of the United States being the single large first-world economy not flattened by World War II. That situation wasn't going to last forever.

And oil at sub $3 a barrel.

In an 'expanding economy' one needs more people, more raw material for finished goods and more energy. At sub $5 a barrel oil (ending 1973) adding energy was easy.

The era of cheap energy is over. What was built on it is over unless, somehow, a new energy source is as cheap or cheaper than what oil was.

But worry not! The 1% got it covered. A return to the glory of the 1920's and before.
'In a depression, assets return to their rightful owners' - Andrew Mellon
posted by rough ashlar at 4:47 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


he got hold of his grand children's credit card.

And one day the Grand Kids are gonna wise up and say "Not my debt, not an agreement I made, not my problem." and default.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:51 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


With regard to the post, I'd say the decline probably started earlier but the pivotal 2006 to 08 feels about right, as 2007 was when the first signals of the impending economic downturn with the mortgage stuff, the credit stuff and all of that became obviously discernible. Which might be why the author selected that period.

I think Bardic covered it up there ^^ second comment. The author lost his son in the Iraq conflict in 2007. No doubt, 2006-2008 is a time that resonates for him.


Granted, but spring of 2007 was also when a well connected little bird told me I should pull my pension out of any real estate type stuff and basically pull out of the dollar for a while. No regrets since teh summer of 2007 here either.
posted by infini at 5:04 AM on February 24, 2012


And one day the Grand Kids are gonna wise up and say "Not my debt, not an agreement I made, not my problem." and default.

What is happening in Greece suggests that the grandkids may not get to make that decision.
posted by Trurl at 5:14 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


And one day the Grand Kids are gonna wise up and say "Not my debt, not an agreement I made, not my problem." and default.

What is happening in Greece suggests that the grandkids may not get to make that decision.
posted by Trurl at 5:14 AM on February 24 [1 favorite +] [!]


This reminds me of an old adage: "If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, that's your problem. If you owe the bank a million dollars, it's the bank's problem."

Maybe I've got the wording wrong but I've got the sentiment right.
posted by Thistledown at 6:07 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is happening in Greece suggests that the grandkids may not get to make that decision.

The US prints her own currency. It could do what Greece did pre-Euro and print to devalue.
posted by jaduncan at 6:20 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't like the idea that world leaders are acting for posterity - trying to imagine how they will be remembered - because I think they should be putting all their attention on what's happening right now.

How do you put all your attention on something happening right now without putting it in it's historical context, though? The historical context is part of what makes every historical event what it is, isn't it? The big picture is what makes the small picture meaningful; otherwise, all events are just noise.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:27 AM on February 24, 2012


ack. "...its historical context..."
posted by saulgoodman at 6:29 AM on February 24, 2012


Which is why the idea that historians will attribute America's decline to a particular Republican president is partisan silliness.
posted by Trurl at 2:49 AM on February 24
I... mostly agree with you, but not for the reasons someone with your perspective might predict. You see, I think historians will attribute it to a hard lurch to the right that was sold by Republicans, and which dragged the Overton window to unsustainable places. Thanks to the huge effectiveness of the Republican propaganda machine, everyone bought the narrative. So yeah, I don't think it'll be attributed to a particular president or even to the Republican party, but I think the trend will be clear.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:46 AM on February 24, 2012


I'm kind of tired of reading about the end of US Hegemony. Unlike say the Romans, if the US loses it's political and military power around the world modern Western society will not collapse; I don't even think it would/will lose any prominence, it would probably get stronger at least on the human rights front which was never going to be advanced solely through American, or any, military action. There will just be less US flags everywhere, less waving and less burning. English will lose prominence as a common second/first language.
posted by PJLandis at 7:37 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


English will lose prominence as a common second/first language.

It's not all likely that India will stop using English, so we're still talking about a billion and a half people living where English is an official (or de facto official) language.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:47 AM on February 24, 2012


I was under the impression that English was kind of a de facto global language, with many countries including it as a mandatory part of the grade school curriculum. I shouldn't have included first languages, but I would bet on less and less people learning it as a second language to be replaced by some other language or many instead of just the one prominent language.
posted by PJLandis at 8:10 AM on February 24, 2012


In this case, with a giant asteroid on a certain bad day 65 million years ago.

You are thinking of the Chicxulub impact, which ended the Mesozoic and began the present Cenozoic period. The Paleozoic/Mesozoic boundary was much earlier, roughly 250 million years ago; it is marked by an even greater mass extinction event, in fact the greatest extinction which has ever occurred, though it doesn't appear to have been caused by anything so simple as a meteor strike.

posted by Mars Saxman at 8:16 AM on February 24, 2012


I don't think that. I didn't say that.

Well you did, you said:

I'd guess that in, say, 50 years, future generations of historians (i.e., people like Bacevich) might talk about it or not, while average people probably will pin their model of the era to abstractions like the decade, the war, terms of office, etc.

What you're missing is that if Bacevich is correct and 2006-2008 is indeed a pivitol point, it will take on meaning and significance with time, historians will name it, and it will become an "event" in its own right that people will easily remember. That was Bacevich's entire point, he's predicting that something that has no meaning to anyone today will become more meaningful with time. That is how history often works, people in the time have no idea they are at an inflection point.
posted by stbalbach at 8:33 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


PJLandis: “English will lose prominence as a common second/first language.”

I don't think that will happen. I think it's much more likely that English will simply cease to be comprehensible to people in the United States and the UK. Within half a century, people living in those countries will be in the minority among English-speakers anyhow; but the "English" that is spoken out in the wide wide world is not "English" as we know it, and we'll have to get used to that.
posted by koeselitz at 8:35 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


the world is more subtle than that.

But is it, really?


Yes. But please, go back to sipping tea, don't bother with these things, other people will do the thinking, in between asteroid impacts.
posted by stbalbach at 8:40 AM on February 24, 2012


And strange at Ecbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange.
posted by kyrademon at 9:01 AM on February 24, 2012


No one says James Polk was a great president, because he just punted.

The hell he did. You may not agree with the stuff he did, but he accomplished a shitload.
posted by cereselle at 9:25 AM on February 24, 2012


I don't know that I'd phrase things the way he did about "Bush giving up on victory in Iraq."

Me either -- he didn't give up on victory, he arbitrarily declared victory.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I fail to see how the "surge" of 2006-2008 was Bush abandoning victory in Iraq. Seems to me he doubled his bets on achieving what had long since come to be the definition of victory -- a somewhat democratic and much-less-dangerous-to-others-than-when-run-by-Sadaam state. With all the modesty of that victory, it seems like Bush's surge, and Obama's staged drawback thereafter, more or less achieved the goal. This is not to say that the net value of the transaction 2002 to 2012 was positive, but that 2006-2008 didn't represent some significant decrement to the value whatever it might be in the end.

Also, it strikes me that it is way too early to draw any lessons from the end-game Iraq. After all, the lessons that people drew in the immediate past from the withdrawal from Vietnam and the fall of the left-behind South Vietnamese were about the futility of US-supported resistance to Soviet-supported indigenous Communist / nationalist revolution, and the need for "Third Way" detente that would tolerate Soviet- and Chinese-led or -inspired socialism as a governance system around the world. Instead, the US kept on fighting indigenous Communist revolts, with generally good success, and eventually the Soviet block collapsed and China abandoned expeditionary socialism (a prelude to abandoning socialism altogether) ... and now Vietnamese by the tens of thousands spend their days in factories manufacturing for export to the bargain racks at Wal-Mart. History is hard to predict.
posted by MattD at 10:02 AM on February 24, 2012


Fun little They Might Be Giants songs notwithstanding, the simple equation seems clear enough.

In 1845, two dangerous facts loomed over the nation, though very few if any knew it.

First of all, the Civil War was already all but inevitable for a host of reasons: the abolitionists were gaining momentum, the conflict between the North and South was becoming more pronounced, and the irreconcilable economic contradiction between the plantation model and the industrial revolution was already coming into being. All that was needed for this conflict to erupt into war was a series of confrontations which within a year would commence promptly.

Second of all, the North was not in any position to win a civil war. Its industry and resources didn't yet rival the economy of the South; neither did its leadership or its statesmanship. Indeed, at that time it would in some senses be rational to say that the South was the United States; and it was understandable for many to believe that the plantation system, with its inherent slavery, was ineluctably the quintessential and central American institution.

In short, a Civil War was imminent, and it was a Civil War which the North was destined to lose and the South – and slavery – was destined to win.

When Polk took office and made his four goals, all of which he accomplished, he was clearly not thinking of these two dangerous facts about the coming Civil War. But two of his goals had to do with the conquest of the continent all the way to the Pacific and south through New Mexico. It is hard to overestimate the effect of these acquisitions. They did two things: firstly and most obviously, the conquest of the West occupied the United States for a crucial decade, giving the North time to build up industrially and become an estimable rival even as the economy of the South continued its long, slow decline. Second and more importantly, the West made the death of the economy of the South – of slavery – economically inevitable. It made obvious the fact that the plantation system could emphatically not be exported or generalized, and presented a range of possibilities that could immediately come to signify the future of the United States. Even if only one person on the continent in 1860 understood this, it was nonetheless true.

What I mean is this: because of the West, and because of the presidency of James K Polk, the victory of the North in the Civil War was made possible and the death of slavery was made inevitable.

The United States has had exactly one president who understood wholly his place in history and acted accordingly to ensure that justice was done. All the others were simply men who sought to do what they believed was right and to achieve what they thought should be achieved. In the light of that fact, James K Polk is clearly one of our greatest presidents; and though he may not have known it himself, his achievements were part of a turning point in our history, and a very, very fortuitous turning point at that.

Sorry for the complete derail.
posted by koeselitz at 10:04 AM on February 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


What's that? You'll be dead before the issue will be resolved? Well then: that's not a bet. That's cheap talk!

"Why, that's nothing but a two bit ring from a Cracker Back Jox!"
"I'll sell it to you for five thousand dollars."
"Huh!? What kind of chump do you take me for?"
"First class."
posted by krinklyfig at 10:55 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jesus, did I say Polk? Sorry, I meant Buchanan, I was very tired last night.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:14 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah? Well, Buchanan was extremely important, and historically significant, because...

oh, fuck it, I've got nothin'
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]



I don't think that will happen. I think it's much more likely that English will simply cease to be comprehensible to people in the United States and the UK. Within half a century, people living in those countries will be in the minority among English-speakers anyhow; but the "English" that is spoken out in the wide wide world is not "English" as we know it, and we'll have to get used to that.
posted by koeselitz at 5:35 PM


koeselitz, let me show you my old empire.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 11:47 AM on February 24, 2012


To elaborate a bit, the portuguese had an empire too, and it also went bad for us. Later on the ex-colonies' orthography of the portuguese language diverged from the one used in Portugal, and recently, in an effort to keep the portuguese language relevant, the goverment of Portugal changed the official spelling of a bunch of words to the versions used in the ex-colonies, meeting great resistance from the public in Portugal.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 11:57 AM on February 24, 2012


English isn't waning. Quite the opposite actually. If you want to do business anywhere in Asia it's become the lingua franca out of necessity.

Will Chinese replace English some day? Possibly. But as of now if a Chinese, Japanese, and a Korean businessmen want to trade horses they do it in English.

And Chinese has far more dialectical complexity than English. As different as North American and Scottish and Australian English can be, it's nothing compared to the split between Mandarin and Cantonese.
posted by bardic at 4:57 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's funny, because what I learned from studying history is that trying to predict the future is an arrogant and futile act.

This reminds me of people in 1912 predicting that we'd all be speaking German in 100 years, or people in 1812 predicting that we'd all be speaking French.
posted by snottydick at 8:56 AM on February 28, 2012


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