Monday, January 14, 2008

Imperial hubris: lessons for America

A bombastic leader, a country at war and a nation at war with itself? German history holds a cautionary tale for America

By Fritz Stern
(emeritus professor of history at Columbia University, is the author of Five Germanys I Have Known)
The Guardian

"The United States, with its claims of exceptionalism, is usually thought of as free of historical analogies. But comparisons with the fate of earlier empires are becoming more common......

Wilhelm had his terrifying flaws, and he operated at the head of a deeply flawed political system. But, ultimately, his chief failure had been to hand power to military and civilian hawks - wrongly called conservatives, for their vision was a radical reordering of Europe.

Of course, America is not like imperial Germany. But there may be a lesson from a country whose wartime rulers, quarrelling among themselves, inflicted unimaginable harm on their people and to the world with their mendacious, secretive and paranoid style. The consequences of their leadership became manifest only later, as an aggrieved nation's people turned against each other in their deep political and moral divisions and hatreds.

It took a worse catastrophe, a world-historical scourge, to teach these people a lesson. Let us hope that Americans learn their lesson about the dangers and follies of imperial hubris sooner. "

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