The world we live in is very much the product of the world our parents grew up in. Sure, fashion, music, media, technology and the like have advanced or regressed, dependent upon your taste, but the groupings that the nation-states of the world are in are a product of the Cold War. NATO, the UN, and the EU are perhaps the most obvious examples of this, especially without the Warsaw Pact, but there is also SEATO, the African Union and the OAS, to name a few.

There is some argument that NATO, ostensibly a mutual defense pact against the Soviets has outlived its usefulness, but there are others that disagree. NATO was the driving force behind the interventions in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. Another indicator that perhaps this is untrue is that France, a country that had pulled out of full membership in 1966 under President De Gaulle, returned two weeks ago to reintegrate its military function with the organization.

The move was immediately criticized as it would “bring France further under the American thumb,” so to speak, and there is some truth to this since the overall commander of NATO forces (SACEUR – Supreme Allied Commander, Europe) is always an American, although his deputy is always a European. From a participatory sense this makes sense as the United States provides far and away the most manpower and equipment, yet it also breeds resentment (though NATO actions must be approved unanimously and any “no” prevents action from being taken).

President Sarkozy offered his position up for a confidence vote as a result, which is took place today. My personal take is that this is an overreaction, but one that is typical of the French who want to preserve their position in the world. Of course this is best done by them holding the United States at arm’s length while fostering the strength of the European Union, of which they are a driving member. As unhelpful as this is, France and the United States are operating and have been operating in very similar ways; both want to be leaders, and both want their military to operate solely under their guidance.

I don’t know how to resolve this issue and there will always be jostling for predominance, but the world has also been becoming more closely knit over the past 50 years. Countries from around the world are less and less isolationist and certain parity is required in interactions. No country wants to give up their sovereignty and yet all must do so at some level if organizations such as the UN are to work.

The conclusion of the story is that Sarkozy survived the vote, winning approximately 60% of the vote. This fact suggests both that a slim majority believe that NATO is still the predominant western military alliance in the world and that France should have more input into the operations of it, and that a large minority believe that if France did not need NATO for the past 40 years and should never surrender military command into this outdated system. Both groups likely support the EU as the most important vehicle for French foreign policy, one simply believes that the wider military alliance has a place in the world for the foreseeable future–to the extent that France should rejoin fully.

Edit: I lied. This very well could be that most French do not want the reintegration, but that this one policy issue is not enough to drive the President from office.

History and the human experience

“A single thread in a tapestry
though its color brightly shines
can never see its purpose
in the pattern of the grand design”
~Through Heaven’s Eyes, The Prince of Egypt

Even those historians who promote a sweeping narrative generally do so for a small region or group of peoples. At a certain level it is impossible for there to be an all inclusive history text and invariably those texts that cross cultures are either segmented by culture or have chosen certain facets with which to restrict their inquiry, or both.

One of the tasks of historians is to investigate how the cultures and events throughout history play into the growth and development of humanity as a whole. Of course the study of each culture as an individual and its place within the grand tapestry is as important as those points where they intersect with others; without the whole portion, the specific part that intersects would mean far less. Thus the study is both that of individual pieces in isolation and filling out the richness of the human story.

It is the discussion that takes place among people who have read history, who like history and who want to understand history that bring these isolated and esoteric factoids and stories together into this tapestry. No matter how much one person studies history there is simply too much for one person to know it all. Each person will take away a different nuanced message from readings, notice a different section, interpret it differently. This richness makes history among the most frustrating to study, but also makes it among the most rewarding.