The narrative of destruction.
Could the war have been stopped before it began?
The war news seems to get worse as it gets better. The miracle of Ukrainian survival is accompanied by the reality that survival signifies endurance in suffering. Mariupol, Kharkiv, and countless other communities are reduced to Second World War-level straits. In living memory, there are only a handful of men and women over eighty years old — and not residents of Bosnia-Hercegovina — who remember anything like it in Europe.
There are voices who object to this sort of observation: there are plenty of people who remember quite a lot like it in Africa, in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia, and so on. But there is a qualitative difference. The grand-strategic phenomenon of the past three centuries is the extent to which world history unfolds as a reaction and response to Europe. It is undeniable in the twentieth century as the World Wars and the Cold War gripped the planet. In the nineteenth century, the mechanisms of empires and colonialism etched themselves upon mankind. (The key reads here are probably Jürgen Osterhammel’s 2014 The Transformation of the World, and Alexander Mikaberidze’s 2020 The Napoleonic Wars.) In the eighteenth century we get back to more meaningful and large-scale non-European agency — the Qianlong Emperor answered to no one — but it was still a time when a small colonial encounter between Europeans powers in the far Alleghenies could plunge the whole world into war.
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