Miscalculations


You might think that you know your dentist well. Actually, this is a myth because knowing implies conversing with the man. In this case, an exchange involves him speaking while, with gizmos in your open mouth, you suffocate silently except for distorted gargled noises. This means short attempts to give one-word responses to questions such as the meaning of life or the Laffer Curve.

A recent visit at my capable man with the drill who is always in a jolly mood -no wonder not he sits in the chair- has broken with the pattern of dentist – patient exchanges. Before “we” got started, he expressed his confusion regarding the British system’s apparent inability to extradite the country of the Brexit mess. His interest is understandable. Being Swiss, he is about to become subjugated, for little in return, to the EU which the Brits are trying to escape.

The point of Dr. R. wounded my committed appreciation of the Anglo-Saxon system of government. With my mouth still free to grind out a few words, I pointed out that not the system and its institutions are at fault; events are unfolding that no one could have anticipated. Accordingly, the tools are missing to solve an unimagined problem. With a crane you can lift a boulder but you cannot uncork a bottle. Furthermore, systems have operators. As elsewhere, the elite has become separated from the masses and feels that a “deplorable” mob is trying to rob it from its birthright to govern. Thus, Brexit, an act of insubordination, is not to be granted.

During what followed, my mouth being diverted for a purpose other than speech, I had time to reflect. My thoughts, provoked by the insinuation of failure, drifted from the specific issue at hand to the general level. Let the final observations of the analysis follow here to prepare the ground for a conclusion.

Especially in the course of two generations, Anglo-Saxon methods, products and ways, not to mention its fashion and entertainment, became a global standard. Who outside of North Korea can escape the trend-setting influence of the English-speaking peoples? Not accidentally, the typical anti-American demonstration has Berkeley-inspired folks in blue jeans marching under red flags. Due to incessant exposure, a postulate can be made. It is that exposure, imitation and adaptation should lead to an understanding. Oddly, that is hardly the case.

A good number of the modern era’s decisive miscalculations have involved the misjudgment of the globe’s Anglo-American component. Napoleon thought that he is fighting a “nation of shopkeepers”. The outcome he expected did not correspond to the realities of St. Helena. In 1917, Germany’s leadership decided to win the world war through an action assumed to drag the US into the conflict -on the other side. Not to worry; by the time they could become serious participants the war will be over. The experts misjudged both the potential as well as the speed of the wantonly created foe. Only in one detail did they hit the bull’s-eye: the war ended quickly.

When in 1941 Tokyo determined its strategy, the decision had been anything but a reaction to an impulse. To its credit, the Imperial Navy was skeptical regarding the Pearl Harbor “solution”. However, the “realists” overruled the Old Salts. The USA seemed to be a modern version of a nation of shopkeepers. Its civilian way of life, the lack of discipline, the assumed inability to bring sacrifices, the puny standing army, all suggested that a fall would follow a push. By that calculation, the destruction of the 7th Fleet would leave her with no option but to cooperate in the Pacific by voiding it.

In the abstract, the guess made sense. Indeed, America was, in the third year of the war in Europe, Africa and Asia, unprepared to respond to a global conflict. In fact, it was possible to opine that the US tried to ignore global trends and, due to the delusion of her spoiled population, committed to live as in normal times. That put her on the footing of the neutrals in Europe that were by then occupied as fast as the invader could march. Looking back, the picture projected is that, had a cunning Washington wished to lure Japan into a conflict, then its pretended careless weakness would have amounted to a clever ruse.

The war party in Japan, being partially under-informed, underrated several crucial factors. Obviously, the US, a competitor, could not become an ally. The best relationship to hope for was to have America a not too friendly neutral. However, blinded by its small island perspective, it opted to wage war to defeat an easy prey. In doing so, it failed to realize that it was not challenging a normal country but an entity that amounted to a continent. Therefore, unlike, say Holland, it could not be occupied in one blow. A quick and cheap victory’s chances were miniscule.

A long struggle implied something that also Hitler ignored when, without needing to, declared war three days after “Pearl”. In a prolonged conflict, the USA’s industrial potential and bountiful resources could be mobilized to produce arms beyond the ability of normal countries. At that juncture, by the perception of outsiders, an excusing factor entered the picture.

Without intending to, America tends to fool her observers. Foreign politicians and, as the writer experienced it, foreign students are led to think after two weeks that they know the States and understand her. Cultural misjudgments based on superficial similarities become a neck-breaking stone to stumble over. Ostensibly, there were signals to suggest that, to pursue their personal lives, the Americans might opt not to wage war against a powerful and determined enemy. So, frivolously, as ever confused and divided, peace and normalcy will be chosen over the challenge, and “America’s business” will remain “business”. Note that Hitler made a comparable calculation about Britain in 1940. Could it be that peaceful modern societies are liable to be misjudged as weak and irresolute by militant tyrannies?

A good advice might be in place here. If, as you traverse a forest, you see what seems to be a cat’s tale hanging down, you might be inclined to pull on it. Before you do, be certain that what seems to be is really what you think it is. Do not yank if a lion is attached to the other end of the tail. Let this discourse on the unseen lion and the trap of mix-up be concluded with a cute and revealing anecdote. As the last world war came, some of Hungary’s leaders assumed that Germany will lose the war. (Unrealistically they hoped that they can stay neutral and make post-war pacts with the Anglo-Saxons.) The then Premier decided to take tentative steps. A young man -subsequently he became prominent- was given a scholarship as a cover and sent to the States to assess them and to develop contacts.

By the time the “student”, Dr. Kosáry returned, the country was lured into the conflict and the PM protested by committing suicide. Therefore, the returnee reported to a new PM whose worry had been that he might miss the war. The budding scholar warned him that, due to its potential, declaring war on America should be avoided at all cost. The report received a bad reception and the PM declared that the Americans cannot fight and that they have no army. The Navy? So what?

Some days later, after December 7, 1941, Kosáry attended a year-end-performance at the opera. So did the new PM. As the crowd left, place was made for the Premier to depart. Somehow, walking through the visitors that lined up along the walls, he recognized Kosáry. He stopped and sarcastically said this: “you see, now they do not even have a navy”. That was just before the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal. What a wonderful illustration of how criminal ignorance punishes its exponents!

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