With growing concern over the situation in Iraq, it brings relatively recent and prolonged combat in the Middle East into the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens. Not to mention the bill we footed for it, and continue to do so. More importantly, it brings to mind the loss of life over the span of these numerous conflicts.
One could sum up the current situation in one word: uncertainty. Uncertainty in our own country’s future on the world stage.
Let us forget the Middle East for just a moment and consider military history in terms of what type of actions have both yielded success as well as have been sustainable long-term.
I was on my honeymoon a couple years ago and I sat down to read USA Today during breakfast one morning. One of the headlines read that Britain was selling off another one of their naval ships due to increasing deficit.
As a historian, this truly caught my attention. It is important to understand that the study of history is not about a specific event or date, but change over time. That time can be framed in a very large context or a much narrowed one.However, if we just take world affairs in terms of who would control the New World (North America) in the 17th century, the English were a top contender. Following the Seven Years War, in the 18th century, they were inarguably the top military power in the world -- their navy being a force to be feared.
By the end of WWII, what was left was only a legacy of the past. Then, in 2011, I see that headline. A fall from power that, framed within the wide context of human history, was relatively short. Why? Too many battles, both within Europe and overseas.
Although oversimplified for the purpose of this article, it is nonetheless correct.
Setting aside extended Canadian-Britain relations, virtually every European power that staked a claim in North America within a hundred to two hundred-year period is politically gone (with exception of their cultures). More to the point, their position as a leading power on the world stage is on the path to being diminished.
Despite that fact that one could argue that present day U.S. intentions differ greatly from those of European powers in the past, intentions are irrelevant. Whenever someone mentions Britain, the next thought in my head is naval power -- through the lens of a historian at least.
However, this is incorrect. Their efforts to impose power overseas were unsustainable. Historical trends reveal that truth. What should come to my mind is what county is next to fall from world power. Perhaps more importantly, who will be the next to rise?
Let us learn from history.
Photo Source: Reuters