"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro"-
noted "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson's take on the sports maxim 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going'
Although we only call the last two "World War"s, there have actually been 8 truly global wars ("global" because the major participants generally had colonies and dependencies all over the world which meant that quite distant lands were pulled into fighting re: wars primarily based in Europe) since the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648. (It was this Peace of Westphalia, by the way, that gave its name to the concept of the "Westphalian" Nation-State because this treaty formally recognized the sovereignty of independent states based on mere nationality [although these had previously existed de facto] at the expense of at least nominal suzerainty [such as that exerted by the declining Holy Roman Empire (or, for that matter, the Papacy)]- at least in the West.) Here, for reference purposes, is a thumbnail listing of these 8 true world wars:
- 1688-1697. the War of the Grand Alliance [in North America: "King William's War" (really the first of four in a series of 'French and Indian Wars')].
- 1700-1721. two major synchronic wars grouped together with a third minor one: the Great Northern War with the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) [in North America: "Queen Anne's War" ('French and Indian War II')] and the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720).
- 1733-1748. two minor synchronic wars leading into a third major one: the War for the Polish Throne (1733-1738) and the Austro-Russo-Turkish War of 1736-1739 leading into the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) [in North America: "King George's War" ('French and Indian War III'), actually dating back to 1739].
- 1756-1763. the Seven Years' War [in North America: "the French and Indian War"- but really the fourth and final one (actually dating back to 1754)].
- 1775-1783. the War for American Independence [aka "the American Revolution" or, simply, "the Revolutionary War"].
- 1792-1815. the Wars of the French Revolution (1792-1800) blending into the Napoleonic Wars (1800- 1814;1815): the former are the War of the First Coalition (1792-1798) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1800); the latter includes the War of the Third Coalition (1805-1807) and the Peninsular War (1808-1814): an important sidelight to these is the War of 1812 in North America (1812-1815).
- 1914-1918. World War I [aka "the Great War"].
- 1939-1945. World War II [aka "the Big One"].
As with the Thirty Years' War, each of these wars (or groups of related wars)- except for the last one- ended with a generalized "Peace" (always in the form of formal Treaties- usually a series of separate Treaties signed at separate locations, though there is usually one of these that gives its name to the entire "Peace"): that of Ryswick (1697), those of Utrecht (1713) and Nystad (1721), the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), the two Peaces of Paris (1763 and 1783), the results from the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), the Treaty of Versailles (1919). Only World War II didn't end with a generalized "Peace" per se in this sense (such was impossible with a divided Germany, for example, especially with the Cold War having begun to set in- though one could argue that the 4 occupying powers having agreed to the reunification of Germany in 1990 was the moral equivalent of such a "Peace" [finally!] with Germany): however, considering that the Covenant of the League of Nations had been embodied in the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, it might well be argued that the successor Charter of the United Nations after World War II was, theoretically, "the Peace of San Francisco" (1945).
One of the disagreements I had with one Laura Stormont of Scotland, who had sent in a 'vox Populi' for this website on 25 February, seemed to revolve around her perceptions of my attitude given my having referred to my America as "the sole superpower" in existence nowadays. I expressed my own concept re: Superpowers in my response to Ms. Stormont- defining Superpowers as "historically,... those Metropoles (a term used for the core of an Empire or other Sphere of Influence so as to include those based on some political entity other than- and during an era preceding- the so-called "Westphalian" Nation-State of comparably recent vintage) which have been able to project themselves politically, economically, culturally and- yes, above all- militarily over quite a wide swath of territory beyond the actual borders of the Metropole/Nation-State". Let me now list- again, in thumbnail fashion- what I think would be the consensus Superpowers of World History (based on geographical extent, political influence [centralized administration of the resultant "realm" is not required- indeed, the last superpower on this list has absolutely no direct political authority over its "sphere of influence" outside its own territory- but is a help in sifting through borderline cases (such as the Mongol Empire, for example, which fails of Superpower status because its post-Genghis polities relied far too heavily on the mere suzerainty of the Great Khan in China)] and relative longevity of such Superpower status [usually more than a century-- the last one listed technically fails this particular test but is currently well into its second half-century as a superpower]):
- Achaemenid Persia of the 5th and 4th Centuries B.C. [with the short-lived Empire of Alexander the Great as a successor-realm]).
- the Roman Realm: both the late "Roman Republic" of the 2d and 1st Centuries B.C. and the "Roman Empire" of the 1st through 4th Centuries A.D. [with the "Eastern Roman Empire" (up through its transformation into the Byzantine Empire under Heraclius in the early 7th Century] as a successor-realm).
- the Umayyad Khalifate beginning in the mid-7th Century [with the early Abbasid Khalifate as a successor-realm into the very early 9th Century].
- the Ottoman Sultanate of the 16th and 17th Centuries, the peak period of its power.
- in the same centuries (16th and 17th), the height of power for the Spanish Realm.
- the British Empire, peaking through the 18th and 19th Centuries.
- the Russian Empire, with the Soviet Union as a successor-realm: a Superpower of the 19th and 20th Centuries (with a brief break from Superpower status between World Wars I and II).
- the United States of America, from 1945 to the present (after nearly the half-century previous spent toying with so-called "Great Power"- but not Superpower- status).
[A side note here, by the way: notice that I have- in the above tabulation- used the term "realm" (both in relation to the Empires based on both Rome and Spain, but also when I write of "successor-realms"). This is by design. The term "realm" is a much more accurate description of the influence of any one of the above 8 Superpowers than what is implied by the word "empire". German historians seem to make this distinction the best: for what we call, in English, "the Roman Empire" is, in German, das Römerreich or das Römische Reich [but, in German, one refers to das Britische 'Empire' (although the term Weltreich ["world(wide) domain"] is also used for the "Empire" of the British)]. The German word reich (while it can translate into English as "empire") is best translated into English as "realm" or "domain(s)" and, of course, stems from Germany's own history, with its First Reich (the so-called "Holy Roman Empire") based on suzerainty more than sovereignty (the very issue joined by the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, as already noted above). The unfortunate side effect is that the use of the term reich in the Nazi claim that theirs was the "Third Reich" (the Second Reich being the "German Empire" of the Kaisers [Emperors] of 1871 through 1918) has now greatly tainted the very word "reich" (if one were to be historically consistent, the current reunified Germany post-October 1990 could well be referred to as the fourth "German Reich" [and the fact of republican democracy should create no inconsistency in so doing: even the Weimar Republic of 1920-1933 continued das Deutsche Reich or Deutsches Reich as Germany's official name during its short existence!] but no one, German or non-German, is going to feel at all comfortable referring to a "Fourth Reich", not when so many authors of badly-written (as well as those [very] few well written) potboiler paperback novels have spent more than five decades (mis)using "Fourth Reich" as a synonym for "Nazi resurgence" or "underground continuation of Nazi government"!!... then again, treating the Germany of today in History as the "Second Bundesrepublik ["Federal Republic"- the failed 'Weimar Experiment' being the first]" is certainly much more forward-looking in any event!!!).]
There is a method to my weirdness here in my having used so much space so far in this Commentary listing the 8 truly global wars, as well as the 8 Superpowers, in what I intend to be a rather brief, thumbnail review of World Geopolitics. Note that 5 of the 8 Superpowers in History (4 of the 5 in the West, the remaining one [the Ottoman] breaking upon Western "shores") each existed at the height of their respective power after the Peace of Westphalia in the mid-17th Century had first established the Nation-State as a de jure concept in the West: there are many interpretations possible re: this factoid- national sovereignty not really dampening the concept of suzerainty after all being just one. But also note that these 5 Superpowers, along with the 8 truly global wars fought (in which at least one- more often, more than one- of these last 5 Superpowers was always involved) and the "Peace"s that ended said wars all existed in the physical plane, a "playing field" that "Westphalian" Nation-States themselves- as polities "between the lines" in physical space- could well define. Problem is: that "playing field", for the first time in the History of Mankind, is- given the horrific events of 11 September 2001- now gone! (second problem: how many among us truly realize this?)
If there is but one thread of truth throughout the entire period of World History which produced the above 8 Superpowers, that thread is one which becomes most apparent when one peruses the list of the 8 truly global wars during the final 3 1/2 centuries following the Peace of Westphalia and that is this: there have always been two primary purposes for a Military (purposes going back to even "protoSuperpowers" as early as the Akkadian Empire of Sargon I in the 3d Millenium B.C.)--
1. to take and hold physical territory;
2. to prevent the taking and holding of one's own physical territory.
Each and every realm that got onto the above Superpower "Hit Survey" (with a bullet!) did so because it was able to achieve goal # 2 whilst also further expanding where it could best achieve goal # 1: even my United States of America became #8 on the Superpower list because it was able to achieve goal # 2 during "the Big One"-WW2 (even though it didn't continue to hold the territory it gained- at least not in the traditional manner of long-term military occupation without consent of the occupied), whilst avoiding someone else doing #1 to it [as I noted in my recent response to Ms. Stormont: "At the close of World War II, my country was- indeed- the most powerful nation on Earth (one might argue that it was the most powerful nation ever!) Unlike the other Great Powers, the U.S. had been physically untouched by the war (except for, of course, Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, some islands in the Alaskan Aleutian chain, the soon-to-be-independent Philippines [then still an American 'Commonwealth'] and a few scattered Pacific island bases)..."].
Analogies have been made over the past nearly 18 months since 11 September 2001 between Al-Qa'eda's terrorist attacks of that date and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of 7 December 1941. Once the USofA was attacked by the Japanese Empire, the resultant American military objectives were clear: a.) force Japan to surrender and- failing this, b.) take and hold (that is, militarily occupy) the home islands of Japan proper. In the end, the world's first atomic bombs- however indirectly- achieved both goals: Japan capitulated and, as a consequence of its surrender, the United States occupied Japan for some seven years after the war until a new constitutional system could be implemented (America's first true foray into "regime change"?).
But what exactly is the territory that Al-Qa'eda attacked on 11 September 2001? The simplest answer would be: the territory of the United States of America-- simple, yes-- but also rather simplistic. Certainly, Al-Qa'eda does not at all have the means and methods to take and hold the physical territory of the United States of America, let alone the rest of the Western World!! And where is the territory on the face of this earth that can be taken and held in response to September 11th in order to force Al-Qa'eda to surrender the way the Japanese Empire was forced to do so back in August 1945? With whom representing a sovereign Al-Qa'eda can one eventually sign the "Peace" that will finally and definitively end the War on International Terrorism already begun?! In the end, it is becoming more and more clear that we all have to, in effect, scrap the history represented by the entire list of truly global wars and Superpowers as I have listed them earlier in this piece in order to then begin to think about warfare in completely new and as yet untested terms!!!
Defining the problem to be solved is rather simple, really (the solution to the problem? ay!-- there's the rub!!): the "territory" from which our enemy, Al-Qa'eda, attacked us (and, presumably threatens to attack us in future) is not at all physical in the ordinary "Westphalian" sense (yes, Al-Qa'eda utilized training camps and other bases of operations [more or less, its "command HQ"] in that portion of the physical plane known as Afghanistan under the protection of the now-ousted Taliban government over there [and the first phase of the War on International Terrorism launched back on 7 October 2001 has been to destroy these facilities and- eventually- make Afghanistan less "Al-Qa'eda-friendly" (though easier said than done!)] -- but the "forward bases" from which the September 11th attacks were actually carried out were well within the urbane environment of the Western World itself!)-- nor is the "territory" that had actually been attacked physical (even though the World Trade Center in New York destroyed and the wing of the Pentagon damaged, along with the four fully-fueled jet airliners-turned-weapons of mass destruction, were all physical objects: certainly all those killed and injured on September 11th were real in the physical sense), for Al-Qa'eda invaded not our land but, rather, our peace of mind, our sense of well-being, our overall feeling of security! Al-Qa'eda is not physical territory, nor is what that group actually attacked: there is no Nation-State called "Al-Qa'eda" for those fighting it in the War on International Terrorism to take, hold and occupy- nor is what Al-Qa'eda attacked (and will try to attack in future) a Nation-State: rather, it is a State of Mind-- all of which leads to only one logical conclusion: Al-Qa'eda cannot be defeated on the traditional battlefield!
In a real sense, the battleground between what we like to think of as "the Civilized World" and Al-Qa'eda is not Afghanistan or the Philippines or Indonesia, or- for that matter- Iraq; neither is it the bank account held in the name of what turns out to be some bogus Islamic charity group really acting as a front for operatives associated with Al-Qa'eda. The battleground on which we are now engaged is, instead, well outside the physical plane: it is much like the battle regularly being waged- every day- by the "techies" watching over a server against hackers and computer virus-mongers. We have already well begun to enter the realm in which wars once solely the province of Science Fiction have started to reveal themselves as cold, where not cruel, Reality- for the battleground between groups like Al-Qa'eda and the rest of us is far more like cyberspace than physical space. Military planners will now have to stop thinking in Millenia-old terms such as "taking and holding physical territory and defending against the same" in order to effectively rout groups such as Al-Qa'eda.
And that is yet another problem with the current prospect of War with Iraq: I have already written, toward the end of a Commentary on this website dated this past 12 February, of my contention that not going to war against Iraq will not do a blasted thing to reduce the threat of Al-Qa'eda terrorism directed against the West in general and the United States in particular (for reasons I have already well addressed in that Commentary and need not again do here). Likewise, going to war against Iraq is also not going to reduce the threat of Al-Qa'eda terrorism against the USofA and, by extension, the West. Al-Qa'eda and Iraq, as adversaries in the military sense, are Night and Day, so many Apples and Oranges. As with the case re: a pacified Afghanistan, a successful military engagement against Saddam Hussein's regime might, nonetheless, take one small portion of the globe away from the phsyical territory in which Al-Qa'eda might operate, base and train but Al-Qa'eda also operates, bases and trains in many Western countries, including the United States itself! And, for such is the premise of this very piece, the struggle between Al-Qa'eda and ourselves isn't about the physical plane anyway-- but neither is it, quite unlike previous wars, on the physical plane to begin with!!
One has to then wonder just how much of the zeal of the pro-War against Iraq people in High Places is being fueled by the frustration that terrorists such as Al-Qa'eda don't, in fact, operate in the "normal" realm of traditional warfare and battle. I'm not here talking about the rather simplistic notion voiced by many of those opposed to war against Iraq that George W. Bush is taking on Saddam, at least in part, because we apparently didn't get Osama bin Laden (or to make us all forget we didn't get Osama); I'm talking about the replacing of one target (Osama) with another (Saddam) merely because too many people in the Pentagon and White House simply can't bring themselves to think in terms other than the traditional objectives of projected military power as one has seen them throughout History so far. Taking on, and defeating, Saddam is- in reality- just so much old-fashioned, pre-3d Millenium A.D. thinking (while, yes, it is also easier to achieve, as well as to wrap the ol' brain around!)-- while the real military objective of the War on International Terrorism is something well beyond seizing land that cannot all that well be couched in terms of the very words "military objective" as they have been traditionally used for some 4 Millenia-plus of Civilization previous to our own time.
We live in weird times... we now have to begin thinking "weird", the better to deal with them!