History Shows That Walls Can’t Fix Rot From Within – by Dr. Rob Cohen

History Shows That Walls Can’t Fix Rot From Within

Just look at the Ming dynasty.
JANUARY 16, 2019 
Featured Image

The Great Wall of China on February 20, 2018, in Huairou, China. (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

With government shutdown now the longest in American history, we have passed a quantifiable moment by which Donald Trump’s presidency has brought America a new degree of governmental dysfunction. Our government exists to solve our largest and most complex problems, which have mounted exponentially over the decades since the last lengthy shutdown, in 1995-96.  By shutting down the government over a fake solution based on an obvious lie, Trump epitomizes the contradictory nature of his presidency: He says he wants to make America great again, but everything he does makes America worse.

His persistence on a wall stems partly from the fiction that the wall will at least solve our immigration crisis, thus helping our own struggling people.  He cites it as a “medieval” solution that works.

Medieval history shows the opposite.

The most famous wall on Earth is the Great Wall of China, built and rebuilt many times over three millennia to keep out Mongolian raiders.  The Great Wall reached its peak during the glorious Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which has been called “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history.”

Yet what became of the Ming?  As we discuss on a recent episode of the Democrises podcast, the Great Wall could not protect the Ming from its internal failings.  It ultimately succumbed to the factors that mathematical historian Peter Turchin says usually bring down great civilizations: overpopulation, elite incompetence, and collapsing state finances.

According to historian John Keay, the Chinese population grew from about 90 million in 1368 to 275 million by 1600, well over the population of 40 million to 100 million population it had maintained for the previous two millennia.

The elites especially overpopulated, with many members of the Ming lineage producing up to 50 children each.  According to Keay, “By the seventeenth century, the number of imperial dependents ran to tens of thousands,” their state stipends eclipsing the military budget as the empire’s top expense.

They tried to pay for this by heavily taxing the peasants, who soon ran out of money.  After a few generations of untenable feudalism, Ming cohesion melted away, and the society crumbled from within.  Manchu invaders easily overcame the Great Wall, conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), ruling over China as foreigners.

The Qing would follow the boom-and-bust trajectory of the Ming.  The Qing Dynasty first extended China’s borders to its all-time zenith, produced intellectual achievements like an 800,000-page encyclopedia, and initially presided over internal peace.  Its emperor proclaimed it was “the hub and center about which all quarters of the globe revolve.”

Then it again began rotting internally, and rulers tried to seal its borders.  In 1793 A.D., a delegation from Great Britain arrived requesting freer trade.

The Qing emperor, drunk with arrogance about Chinese exceptionalism, and fearful of what engagement with the world might do to Chinese culture, dismissed Britain as a “barbarian” nation from “a remote and inaccessible region, far across the spaces of the ocean,” and that only “by perpetual submission to our Throne, you may secure peace and prosperity for your country.”

A half-century later, that same remote island humiliated China in the First Opium War.  Britain destroyed the Chinese Navy, occupied Shanghai, and forced China to accept legal opium and cede Hong Kong, along with countless other degradations.  The ensuing “Century of Humiliation” brought China many tragedies, including the 1850-1864 Taiping rebellion with 18 million deaths and the 1937 Rape of Nanking.  It culminated with China’s disastrous Great Leap Forward in 1962, when famine made it the 10th poorest country on Earth.

Indeed, walls are useless under two conditions: when a society rots internally, and when it faces a wave of determined and desperate people.  Trump’s America faces both.

I am a physician, just having returned from the Congo, where I was helping to fight Ebola.  Despite its 90 percent mortality rate, Ebola’s threat pales in comparison to the more mundane challenges of poverty and overpopulation.  The population of Congo has increased from 13 million people to 80 million in only 60 years.  The Congolese live in crushing poverty, with hunger and instability stemming from their corrupt governance, anarchic violence and minimal infrastructure.

Such misery abroad has consequences for the West.  Economic migrants today stream from south to north in both hemispheres, existentially stressing our societal cohesion.  They also flee violence, especially in Latin America.  Of the top 50 most violent cities on Earth outside combat zones, 41 are in Latin America.

Walls won’t help solve this immigration crisis because—as in China—America’s greatest threats are internal, epitomized by our selfish, dishonest, and debtor president.  That may be why he focuses on fake solutions, but we cannot let him distract us.  Our opioid and suicide epidemic signal the depth of despair among America’s former middle class. Financial Times columnist Ed Luce has noted that the hollowing out of the middle of our politics reflects the hollowing out of the American middle class.  We have run up a $21 trillion debt to compensate for the many Americans suffering today, as globalization and automation keep constant pressure on their jobs, but that cannot continue forever.”

Instead of walls, America must marshal our economic potential to help struggling people at home and abroad.  Past successes in this arena like the Marshall Plan and the New Deal required America’s government operating at its best.

By instead shutting the government over his wall, Trump fulfills the immortal warning of British historian Arnold Toynbee, concluding his opus on the rise and fall of 26 civilizations: “Civilizations die by suicide, not by murder.”

Robert Cohen

Rob Cohen is a physician, Army veteran, international development worker, former John McCain campaign staffer and host of the Democrises podcast.  His book, Solving Democrises, will be published later this year.

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Augie’s War by John Brown featured in the Charleston Gazette-Mail

Native writes acclaimed novel on Vietnam, childhood

01 Jan 2019 — Charleston Gazette-Mail

By William Dean


The Dominion Post




MORGANTOWN – Decades after coming home from Vietnam, a West Virginia native and WVU graduate used his experiences from childhood and service overseas to write a novel.

“I never expected this to be published,” said author John Brown. “It was a bucket list item. I was doing it for myself and family.”

“Augie’s War” follows Augie Cumpton, from the fictional Jewel Town. Brown said the name is inspired by a song from the ’40s or ’50s, which described Clarksburg as the Jewel of the Hills. Clarksburg’s Northview neighborhood, where the 73-year-old grew up, became Riverview.

Brown worked in his grandpa’s Italian bakery as a kid, and Cumpton draws on memories from his childhood spent in an Italian bakery to help deal with the traumas of war.

“It’s almost autobiographical, but it isn’t,” Brown said.

Brown said he grew up on the same block as his large Italian family, including aunts, uncles and roughly 20 cousins, all of whom had a large influence on him.

Brown graduated from WVU in 1968, the first in his family to do so, with a degree in journalism, and shortly after went to Vietnam as a “supply guy.” His first pick, a journalist, was full, so the Army handed him his second choice.

He said 1968 was a crazy time – the North Vietnamese called America’s ability to succeed in the war into question with the Tet Offensive, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run for re-election because of criticism over his handling of the war, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and then Robert F. Kennedy.

Following graduation, Brown was drafted into the Army, and while he had the opportunity to become an officer, he said, “I figured I’d get in and out as quick as I can.”

Following basic training and advanced individual training, Brown was about to receive orders to “fix weapons in the middle of the boonies” when the Sergeant, from Beckley, asked if Brown could type.

“I looked him right in the eye and told a bold face lie; ‘Yeah, I’m a great typist,’ ” Brown said.

That lie landed him in Chu Lai, with the 23rd Infantry Division known as “Americal” – the largest infantry unit in Vietnam – as an awards writer. Brown said he would take after-action reports and turn them into award proposals to be sent up the chain of command.

After a year of working about six-and-a-half days a week, pulling guard duty and writing awards, Brown returned home in 1971, got married and started working on a master’s degree.

While decompressing from his year at war, Brown said he started to write about his experiences, but “fortunately,” life intervened, and his family and career prevented him from doing so.

In 2016, Brown handed his business, Brown Communications, to his son and retired. He said his wife was concerned he needed something to do and suggested he finish the book.

Brown said he didn’t think writing the book was therapeutic until a friend who was a forward observer in the war, “a really dangerous job,” suggested it might be.

“I never thought about it that way, but there could be an element of that,” he said. “I didn’t have many bad experiences; had a few close calls, but I didn’t dwell on it when I came back.”

Brown said he had people ask him if the “wild and crazy” stuff that happens in the book is true, and he just responded with the old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction.”

“Augie’s War” is, unconsciously, an antiwar book, Brown said. He said he noticed Afghanistan has parallels with Vietnam and that we didn’t learn from the past. Not everything about the wars is the same – the military is now all volunteer, instead of mostly draftees, he said. That might not be a good thing, though.

“These people are going multiple times.” Brown said. “I don’t think I could have gone back multiple times. I can’t imagine. The toll on the psyche of the people that are fighting in the war and instances of suicide and PTSD and all that are just off the charts.”

The number of soldiers who die shrank. The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., had 58,318 names on it as of Memorial Day 2017. During his time over there, Brown said 300-400 soldiers a week were being killed. According to the Department of Defense, between Oct. 7, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2014, 1,833 soldiers were killed in Afghanistan – the war has dragged on about three more years since then.

Another improvement is that veterans are treated with respect now, a far cry from the treatment Brown and other Vietnam veterans experienced – being spit on and called baby killers upon their return home.

The problem, Brown said, is the mission of the Afghanistan war, similar to Vietnam, isn’t clear.

“What I hope that comes through in my novel is the absurdity of war and how we don’t necessarily solve things by trying to impose our will in areas that are so far away from us,” he said.

The 235 page novel received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It has a 4.41 average review on Goodreads, a popular website for reviewing and discussing books.

“Riveting book that switches back and forth between Augie’s experience as a young soldier in Vietnam and his childhood upbringing in a small Italian immigrant community in WV. Brown has a remarkable ability to conjure vivid imagery of the devastatingly harsh and punishing time he spent in Vietnam while still injecting humor and levity into these passages,” wrote Laura Brown.

“In contrast, the stories of a childhood spent enveloped in a large and warm Italian family, while equally vivid, are first and foremost hilarious. The cast of characters Augie reflects on are delightful oddballs and warm, colorful family members that provide reprieve from his present situation, one that is riddled with ethical dilemmas, incompetent leadership and unbearable living conditions.”

In recent months, Brown considered writing a sequel or possibly turning the book into a movie. He said there’s an outline, and lots of things were left hanging at the end of “Augie’s War.”

“Augie’s War” is available for purchase on Amazon and other retailers. The novel’s official website is www.augieswar.com.