Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Guns of August - Literally

"History is a vast early warning system" ~ Norman Cousins

This is one of my favorite quotes because of the truth that it belies. History is a vast early warning system and it would ease my worries and fears if I truly believed that the people who were in power understood this concept. But the recent conflict between Georgia and Russia this month, coupled with the signing of a missile defense treaty by Poland and the United States yesterday, has me questioning if we are going to see the eruption of another European war, if not another World War.

Why would I think that the conflict between Georgia and Russia could erupt into something broader and more deadly, especially with a ceasefire in place that is supposed to go into effect tomorrow? Because of a little book I read ages ago called The Guns of August by Barbra Tuchman, which is about the start of the First World War. This book succintly relates the story of how escalating tensions, state and ethnic nationalistic pride, and state alliances, all combined to begin "The Great War", who's affect we still see in events today. The stubborn attitudes of the leaders in power resulted in one of the most horrifying events in history and wiped out a generation of people - all because of...what? Was it for freedom? Was it to spread "democracy"? It was for territorial gains, for world supremacy, for dominion of one state over another, or the survival of a state against the forces of other states.

This very thing is what I see in this conflict between Georgia and Russia - and Georgia's ties to the West are a problem. Georgia's invasion of South Ossetia is so eerily similar to Austria's invasion of Serbia after the assassination of Archduke Franz Fernindand, and Russia's response is practically the same - they went to the aid of Serb, just as they went to "aid" the South Ossetians. However, in this, I fear the South Ossetians and the other separtist region, Abkhazia, will be getting more than they bargained for. For there is also the history of the Cold War to contend with and Russia's history of invading and staying in territories - Chechnya, anyone? And Russia's response to these conflicts are brutal and without mercy.

Our eyes have long been focused on Iraq and most have forgotten about Afghanistan, though we still have troops there and the conflict in that region continues to escalate. We have been consumed, since the fall of the USSR, with the MidEast and the conflicts there, turning our eyes away from Russia and letting it basically consume itself with corruption and power. Sure there have been news reports here and there, but I believe the recent events in Eastern Europe are a genuine cause for concern and need to be dealt with seriously. And that also scares me - the almost flippant attitude that the West, and particularly, the United States, has toward this. There is a lot at stake - Russian-Chinese ties are pretty strong and yet China has embraced free market capitalism with a vengenance, tying it extremely close to the United States - a lot of tension could be caused. Russia's willingness to place weapons into the hands of states and organizations who really shouldn't have them is also a concern. There are many more factors that give me cause for concern and they are all interwoven into a tangled web of economics and state politics.

Ultimately, I hope my concern is baseless and the conflict will go away and we all can resume our obsession with the next addition to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's multicultural family. But till then, I will be educating myself and watching this conflict with much interest - I can only hope our leaders will do the same.

Some links to other stories from different newsites:

BBC Coverage

ABC News Coverage

Yahoo News Coverage

Another BBC story...

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