I know nothing about music. I can’t play an instrument, nor can I read music. My singing appalls even me. Yet music has defined my life. When I hear a song it conjures in me, as it does in others, a particular place on a particular night with a particular person. Or it conjures a phase of my life. Cyndi Lauper’s songs remind me of the time when I said to hell with duty. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is gender neutral. Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” – “No, I Do Not Regret Anything” – reminds me of a thing that had to be done but ought not to have been done. When I hear the Christian hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” I think of my wife and the choices we’ve had to make. Music is the sound that happens to be permanently linked to a memory, and the memory fixed to an emotion that I felt then. The emotions can be exuberant or thoughtful, but they are always tinged with sadness. They all speak of the past that I cannot forget but cannot relive. I discovered the music that will always remind me of […]
Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to argue that World War II, and much of the suffering wrought by it, was the responsibility not just...
When I was a child, I learned that history moves forward, sometimes gently and sometimes brutally, but that I had no control over what happened. I heard the stories of the Holocaust and the communists, and I learned that they happened not because Hitler and Stalin were monsters but because history unfolds as it does, sometimes monstrously. I saw the lives of my parents and myself as trapped in the tides with millions of people, each confined in their lives, each acting as they must, and the sum total leading to whatever came. I wondered why my father did not take arms and fight the evils that history imposed on his life, and his answer was this, if not in his words: courage is a self-indulgence. It allows you the illusion that you can control history. All that was possible for him was to try to live or make a small decision about how he died. No one would know, no one would care. His only guide was fear, and his only goal was the vague possibility that he could somehow shape the fate of the few that he loved. I learned to watch history unfold not because I thought […]
Foreseeing what will happen is not difficult. It requires only that we face the fact that life always repeats itself if not perfectly, then roughly. As Mark Twain famously put it, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” We are born of a woman, are nurtured and grow, live our lives as best we can, and die, and within a generation or three, our names and lives will be forgotten, along with what little we have done. There are variations within the rhyming tune, but on the whole this is what we are. We cannot predict everything about life, but we can grasp the pattern that grips us and within which we struggle to live. It is conceited to claim that the pattern that grips the individual does not also grip humanity and all of its parts. It is more difficult to grasp the song that is being sung than to grasp its rhyme. An individual is born to his life. Where he was born and to whom tells an observer a great deal about what his life will be. The place you were born and the people to whom you were born is both a comforting cradle […]
Editor’s Note: The following analysis was published on the anniversary of D-Day in 2019. It has been lightly edited. Over 70 years after it was fought, D-Day remains one of the most vividly recalled battles in history. It was also one of the most decisive. There are those who will argue that the Allies would have won World War II regardless of the outcome of the Battle of Normandy. Indeed, similar arguments are made for most decisive battles. Two years ago, I wrote about the Battle of Midway, on the 75th anniversary of that campaign, and argued that a defeat there would have been disastrous to the global balance. But some readers rejected this, saying that, even if the U.S. had been defeated, it would have deployed ships into the Pacific and recovered. That might well be true, but as I will try to show, the invasion of France’s Calvados coast was a turning point in the war. Had it failed, the Allies likely would not have been able to recover. Far From Over The pivot was the Soviet Union. By the time the D-Day invasion was launched, the Soviet Union had been fighting the Germans for three years. Germany […]
A number of people have asked me if the events this week are what I was predicting in my book, “The Storm Before the Calm.” They asked because they thought my predictions were arriving too early. This is very much the kind of thing I was expecting and about the time I was expecting it to start. But we are not even close to the end. I wrote that this will be a decade of social, economic and international instability. Not all crises will be this intense. Many, particularly the economic crises, will be less intense but will last longer. To get a sense of where we stand, think of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, Martin Luther King was murdered and riots broke out across the country, with the police and National Guard using force to control the rioters. In summer 1968, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, thousands of anti-war protesters showed up against the Democratic Party, which they saw as the party of imperialist wars and domestic oppression. Richard Nixon was elected that year, and in 1971, facing what was really minor inflation compared to what came later, he imposed wage and price controls, […]
Jacek Bartosiak, a close friend and collaborator, wrote a piece earlier in the week that concluded with a discussion of U.S.-China relations. He and I don’t so much disagree on this as arrive from different perspectives, one Polish and the other American. In that sense, I’m not responding to him; I’m creating a parallel universe. At the end of the article, Jacek calls for American collaboration with China. It reminds me of calls for detente with the Soviet Union. The argument for detente was reasonable, had the foundation for it not been so tenuous. It treated the Soviet Union as a peer power. It also assumed that there was a danger of war. In retrospect, neither claim was true. The United States feared a Soviet invasion of Europe. Washington counted the number of divisions Moscow could field, the number of tanks it had and the technology it proudly left available for viewing. All of these were real. It presented a glamorous force. But the Soviets’ weakness was in far less glamorous form. Their ability to supply advancing forces with needed petroleum was severely limited. The command structure, particularly at the company level and lower, was chaotic. They lacked a noncommissioned […]
On an ordinary weekday, my wife and I went for a drive for no reason other than after weeks of being in lockdown we had to get out of the house, as the distinction between days had worn thin. We drove west on Fitzhugh Road, which took us along the Pedernales River and ended in Johnson City, the town founded by the family of Lyndon B. Johnson and home to the house in which the late president grew up. The road there was empty, and as we rose up into the hills, we recalled that we were near the edge of the Comanche Empire. Deep into the 19th century, the Comanche raided the scattered homes that European settlers had built. Legend has it that one raiding party once rode without a stop from Kansas to San Antonio and back again. The Comanche had been a minor nation in the 18th century, wedged into the canyons of the American West, until they mastered the technology that the Spaniards brought with them when they had explored this untamed frontier: the horse. The Comanche understood that whoever could move on horseback could ride far and fast, could strike unexpectedly and could thus impose […]