Category Archives: Doctrine

Impressions of “The Three-Body Problem,” by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem was a landmark for me. It is the longest novel I’ve read in a half decade, since John Derbyshire’s historical fiction Fire from the Sun. I’ve been away from fiction for a long time. Three Body Problem is a great way to return.

By genre, Three-Body is hard sci-fi, with philosophy of science, history of science, and political history thrown in. It evokes both 5GW and the religion. Structurally it is a combination of mystery (the modern-day scenes, beginning in Beijing and concluding in the Chinese countryside) and drama (historical scenes, with the reverse progression). It has a third thread, a narration of experience in a computer game, that ends up being critical to understanding both main threads.

Long-time readers of this blog will remember discussions on the “5th generation of war,” or 5GW — a type of war that is fought with one side not knowing who it is fighting. The military action within Three-Body comprises all three kinds of 5GWinsurgent 5GW of a small armed group against a society, a state-within 5GW where a clique inside the host society attempts to transform it, and state-without 5GW where a government attacks a society.

The author is an engineer who was born and lives in the People’s Republic of China — an officially atheist society. So the discussion of religion were especially intriguing. Buddhism seems to be disparaged, described (unlike Christianity) as not being person-centric, and with pilgrims who appear to be in a daze. By contrast St. Joseph’s Church is one of the landmarks of Beijing held out for special admiration. The definition of ‘God’ used by characters tends to be deistic (belief in an orderly universe created by a minimally involved God). The religious feeling and looked-for purification created by certain interactions in Three Body recalls the supernatural struggle the Book of Ezekiel and other second temple literature.

Three Body problem reminds me of primarily of other books: C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength and John Derbyshire’s Fire from the Sun. There is also similarity to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, as well as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six. That Hideous Strength is so similar to the mystery thread of Three Body Problem I wonder if it was intentional: the character known as the “the Commander” in Three Body is a composite of the Head and the Deputy Director in Strength. Like Fire from the Sun it is a beautiful and tragic look at the experience of Chinese youth who came of age during the Cultural Revolution. Rainbbow Six contributes an interesting ecological narrative, while Red Mars is a clear inspiration in hard (or technically plausible) science fiction.

It was quite the treat to discover this book, a great mix of history, science, and fiction that ties into so many of my interests. No wonder it won the 2015 Hugo Award.

Now, on to the sequel…

Public Servants and the Castle Doctrine

My friends Curtis Gale Weeks, Brendan Grant, and Fred Leland, Jr. used Facebook to discuss the following news story: “Indiana Bill on Using Force Against Police Wins Approval

The scenario under discussion is terrifying. Imagine an innocent man at home with his family in a bad neighborhood. Because the area is without police protection, the man sleeps with a gun under his mattress to protect his loved ones from armed intruders. Suddenly, the door is kicked in. He hears screams. He is rushed by strangers.

The man now faces the following dilemma

The Intruders are Police The Intruders are not Police
The Man Defends His Family The Man Becomes a “Felon” The Man Becomes a “Hero”
The Man Does Not Defend His Family The Man Becomes a “Good Citizen” The Man Becomes “Dead”

Without strong “castle” laws like the one recently passed in Indiana, the law is increasingly unfair to you the less more criminals live around you.

What’s tragic about this situation, of course, is that (good) cops and (law-abiding) citizens both want peace.

There are three methods to establish peace, with respect to how we trust cops and citizens

1. Trust the police but not citizens. This is the status quo without the strong castle doctrine
2. Trust citizens but not the police. Give limited immunity to citizens for violence against police, while hold police strictly criminally liable for false imprisonment, kidnapping, etc. Anarchists tend to support this position
3. Place limited trust in the police and limited trust in citizens. Provide limited immunity for actions that either commit based on reasonable fear and self-defense. Criminally prosecute those that overstep their bounds.

We should place limited trust in the police, as we place limited trust in professors, bureaucrats, teachers, parents, and others. We should have systems of control to reward behavior we like, while recognizing that no one is all-knowing. A home-owner facing a home-invasion should be no more afraid of defending himself than a parent, faced with a failing school, should be afraid of enrolling his child in another school.

Government workers are not monsters. Nor are they angels. They are human beings, who respond to incentives, who dislike responsibility and accountability, who care for their families, and who do their job well enough not to be fired.

Whenever there is an information asymmetry — that a citizens and a government workers cannot be sure of where each other stand — the law should recognize that every person (citizens and government workers) are attempting to act in their own self-interest. People and organizations with understanding and empathy will do well, and others will do poorly, but everyone is flawed in their own unique way.

Partisanship as a Strategy of the Weak

If you listen to anti-education-reform activists like Diane Ravitch, you’ll notice an odd-pattern

First, a long list of enemies, ranging from liberals such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Andrew Cuomo; independents such a Mort Zuckerman and Michael Bloomberg; and conservatives such as George Bush, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney.

Second, rhetoric associated with the political left, including “Governor 1%,” “I won’t turn my back on unions,” “rightwingers,” and “Tea-Party teacher-basher.”

Why do anti-reform activists use the rhetoric of the left, when the leadership of the  left and right are united against them?

Some people will say that this is evidence of the lobotomized nature of the teaching activists. Those people will say that if you treat a political group as badly as teachers have been treated — if you pay them very little for generations until you finally run the professionals out of teaching — you should expect foolish and self-defeating rhetoric and policies from that group. After all, the teaching profession was foolish enough to lose its leadership position in the education arena, and to allow its once dominant political network to be encircled by hostile stakeholders. If teachers were so smart, so the argument would go, why would academics and bureaucrats be setting the terms of the education reform debate?

I’ve harshly criticized teachers for being politically deaf, and even opponents of education reform (such as my friend Mark Safranski) readily agree the teacher leadership is not up to the job

You are particularly right on in saying the union leadership was incapable of dealing with this challenge and in denial (minus one guy in the 90′s, Bob Chase, who saw all of this coming and tried to reform the NEA to no avail. His current successor is a fool and a potential sell-out to find a comfortable place for himself)

There is, however, another possibility. It is possible that anti-reform activists are trying to start a political battle over education reform. If a rational actor finds himself in a position with no friends, and without the capacity to express empathy to other actors, the next best thing is to gain friends through the tactic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Activists like Diane Ravitch may be trying to incite a Republican-Democratic divide over education policy, and hope that their membership in one party’s coalition provides them protection.

There is evidence that this tactic has shown some success. For instance, the 2011 Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protests led to a flurry of anti-Reform anti-Republican sentiment on partisan Democratic sites, including articles like these:

Whether or not partisanship is the intention of Diane Ravitch and others, it certainly an outcome of their rhetoric. And, if partisanship is the strategy of the weak in this case, it is hardly the first time. The early Christians threw their lot into the pro-Roman faction of Imperial politics, even though the Romans were actively hostile to the Christians. If Paul could endorse Caesar, is it that surprising that Ravitch would use leftist rhetoric?

Americans who support education reform should thus be careful to avoid falling into traps set by anti-reform activists. In particular, elite-level consensus is probably a smarter strategy than political mass movements, as mass movements can more easily be hijacked by partisan rhetoric.

Organizing my Thoughts on Platforms

While reading more about education reform, I came across this post by my friend Mark — “Two Links on Political Economy” — that in term referenced to articles by John Robb, “BOW-TIE CONTROL SYSTEMS,” and “JOURNAL: Global Financial Cancer. While John’s rhetoric is typically melodramatic, he uses the terms “bow-tie” and platform” to refer to what I’ve called a “bank” and a “central actor.” I like the term “platform,”so I went back to understand where else I’ve used the idea on the blog.

Under the Term “Central Actor”

Social Platforms

Transportation

Warfare

Referencing Other Writers

How Science Works in the Context of 5GW

Larry’s post, “How Science Works,” is definitely a blog post to read with a “shot of tequila” — very thoughtful, but full of unexpected connections

The Carter Doctrine keeps everything “foreign” out of the Middle East, except the implicit image of the Nation State to Observe.

The coolest thing, of course, is that this is all reaction of a line of mine…

I don’t believe that we are educating Americans appropriately. Large portions of critical industries are in the hands of foreigners because of the failures of US education. These failures are deep and systematic — all stakeholders share blame — but must be addressed.

… from a comment on my post, also titled “How Science works.” And even cooler, this recalls my work from 2005, on looking at 5GW in the context of the OODA Loop

Thanks Larry!

Education in the Context of War

People form States in order to protect their rights. The most important of these rights is the right to life. The most important reason people form governments is to protect the lives of the people. In some way, a Government forms to rule the State. A good Government is one in which the State uses its resources to protect the lives of the people, and the other rights of the people.

States have many tools available to protect human life and other rights. One of these tools is war. There are many types of war, some of such are genocidal and have a lot of unfocused violence, others of which are very careful and have so little violence that the object of the war may never realize that there was a war! When people think of wars in this way, they separate wars into gradients, with one extreme called the 0 Gradient of War or “0GW,” implying a holocaust, and the other extreme called the 5th Gradient of War or “5GW,” implying very subtle maneuvers.

Wars change different types of things, depending on their gradient. The sort of “war” we think about when we think of Napoleon Bonaparte, or Kaiser Wilhelm, or Emperor Hirohito, focus on military reality. These types of war are relatively low on the gradients of warfare, but fall short of genocide. These types of war fall between the first and third gradient of warfare. The sort of “war” we think about when we think of Algeria, or Vietnam, or Afghanistan focus on political reality. Instead of defeating armies in the field, insurgents in the 4th Gradient of Warfare or “4GW” try to collapse the political legitimacy of their enemy. Very subtle wars, or 5GWs, focus on altering the economic reality of the object. Both 5GW, by changing economics and 0Gw, by killing entire societies, also focus on changing the cultural geographic reality of the objects.

People use States to wage Wars to protect life and human rights. A short-term and inefficient way of not losing wars is to win wars. But even winning wars has costs. It is better to never have to fight wars in the first place. The short-term way not to fight wars is to be able to intimidate other States into peace. Of all the gradients of war, 5GW is the one most focused on the long-term. As 5GW is the type of war that is focused on changing economics and societies, it follows that we should wage a 5GW to create a long-term future in which other countries do not want to go to war, either.

Different thinkers call the time and place where war becomes unthinkable by different terms. Tom Barnett calls it the “Core,” and other researchers call it the Cartel of States or even globalization.” Marxists use terms like “State Monopoly Capitalism” and “Ultra-Imperialism,” and the global bourgeoisie.” Whatever you call it, extending extending this core of peace around the world has functioned as the grand strategic objective of the United States since at least 1942. While not all wars are fight wisely, to the extent there appears to be a consistent objective to United States warfare, it appears to be “shrinking the gap” that is outside our global system.

While the United States focuses on building peace around the world, it should not loose sight of single disasters that could delay things by a century or more. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan is probably the single most dangerous thing that could happen to the world. Even though it is short-term thinking to focus primarily on deterring a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, it would be foolish not to do nothing to prevent it. Other tricky spots of the world also exist.

Unfortunately, our broken education system means that our critical infrastructure is run by Chinese (and Indians, and Russians, and other foreign nationals). A globally integrated work force of course is a natural part of the peace, and is a good thing. But it is a bad thing that our educational system is so awful that foreign governments might try to take advantage of the fact that we have no choice but to have their nationals supervising our infrastructure in a time of crisis.

Education reform is important. Both teachers and publishers seek to profiteer from the need for education reform at the expense of our nation.

Our country deserves better than that.

The Bank of the Federal-Academic Complex

The battle for education reform is being occurring along three major axes — power (among States and Districts), childcare (among Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers and Parents) and money (Teachers and Publishers). Tradtionally, Teacheres were able to oversee all three of these axes through united front organizations they created — such as the NEA, AFT, NPTA, and Districts whose boardmembers were elected by the NEA, AFT, and NPTA activists. Unfortunately for Teachers, Democrats created a new power nucleus which is now overseeing a radical transformation in the teaching profession.

In 1950 President Truman created the National Science Foundation, and in 1979 President Carter created the Department of Education. As outline in Jonathan Cole’s excellent book, The Great American University, the NSF was created to use America’s excellence in the practical sciences to better society. The Department of Ed was a tentative move to subsidize teachers while removing a small amount of power from both States and Districts.

As the NSF & DOE matured together, it created a federal-academic complex unlike any other player in the political economy of education. DOE bureaucrats wanted more power, the NSF “Research Directorates” wanted more funds, the academics who won NSF grants wanted more freedom to research, all these players interacted with advocates for childcare. The Federal-Academic Complex contains interests at least as aligned as other blocs such as “teachers” or “publishers,” so is capable of political action, but it became interested in all of the axes in the education debate (power, childcare, and money), due to its diversity of operating environments.

In short, the interlocking relationships between DOE and NSF stakeholders created a federal-academic complex, or “bank.” Both Parents and Large-Scale Consumers of Education Workers were always able to translate their interest in childcare into money, but the DOE/NSF (“the federal-academic complex”) made it easier to translate their interest in money into political power over education. The same of course was true for Districts and States, who had the standing Federal-Academic complex to lobby and influence. Likewise, Teachers and Publishers could invest funds (and expected funds) harvested from education funding and translate that into power through the Federal-Academic Complex.

With the exception of States (who viewed the Federal-Academic Complex as essentially an arm of the federal government, and so focused on opposing it), every rational actor began using the bank of the Federal-Academic Complex to pursue its interests. States rationally opposed the Federal-Academic Complex, other rational players rationally used it. Teachers, suffering from the lobotomy of low wages and arrogant in their united front organizations, stupidly saw the complex simply as another source of profit and ignored the changing political landscape.

Districts put up propaganda posters in favor ofhe NSF and DOE, and fawned over funding for NSF Computer Labs and other sources of funding that could be used to weaken State power. Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers used the Federal-Academic Complex to push for a better educated workforce. Publishers, observing the possibility to increase their revenues, used the Federal-Academic Complex to push for changes that would require buying more goods and services from publishers. Parents, the easiest of all forces to satisfy, slept soundly knowing that entrance of a new force meant it was even less likely would have to care for their own children.

Politically naive teachers imagined the Federal-Academic Complex would mean higher pay without greater responsibilities. And so they voted in blocs in favor of intiatives that aggrandized the Federal-Academic Complex, and subsidized the step by step the encirclement of their own united front organizations.

The Encirclement of a United Front

According to the Communist International, a “united front” is

simply an initiative whereby the Communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie

Except for Cuba, the remaining Communist countries still have bureaucratic offices to manage the ‘United Fronts,’ which are now just shadows of their former selves. No one imagines that the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese KMT or China’s other “democratic parties” have any real power, and hence they have no legitimacy. “United Front Work Departments,” or their equivalent, exist in Vietnam and North Korea.

But as the example of North Korea shows, even a “United Front” can be encircled by hostile forces. North Korea’s incompetent leadership has acted so erratically, empathetically, and selfishly. And its emasculated United Front partners are unable to help it.

Teachers in the United States are the analog of the North Korean Kim Family Regime. US teachers have emasculated their United Front partners, alienated all but one outside force, and have allowed a massive brain drain to lobotomize their movement.


Under previous, smarter, leadership, teachers had created a United Front that remained relevant until the late 20th century.

  • Teachers allied with labor unions, even though as public workers teacher wages were paid from funds partially taken from labor. To this day, the National Education Association is the largest labor union in the United States, and the American Federation of Teachers is the second-largest.
  • Teachers allied with parents to form the National Parent-Teacher Association. While the NEA and AFT use labor-rhetoric to form alliances, the NPTA uses the rhetoric of childcare, used the rhetoric of childcare.
  • Teachers allied with Districts, using a quirk in US election law to dominate the boards. In the US, even though local elections have the greatest impact on the lives of citizens, these elections also have the lowest turn-out. Therefore, an organized minority can regularly influence the outcome of local elections. Using both individual initiative and the NEA/AFT/NPTA alliances, teachers regularly take school board seats, allowing them to also act as stake-holders in districts.

Yet this “united front” is now as worthless as North Korea’s. The labor movement union has passed the teachers by, and the main utility of the NEA and AFT seems to be to obtain divisive partisan allies (which increases the stakes greatly). Parents are lukewarm allies, as they only want to make sure nothing wrong with child care. Districts have been under assault from the States for more than a Decade, and the harm caused by Teachers to Districts influence in that fight outweigh the influence Teachers are able to exert through local elections.

Teachers have allowed themselves to become encircled.

By failing to prepare workers for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), teachers have alienated Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers. By not flattering State power, they have alienated States. By refusing to help Districts in political battles against States, they have alienated the local school boards, too. By virtue of their position as a consumer of education resources, they naturally alienate Publishers. And by refusing moves to allow the measurement of their performance, they have alienated the Federal-Academic Complex.

The encirclement of the Teacher’s united front has happened because the teaching profession has been lobotomized. Previously, highly discriminator labor norms effectively closed off many professions to ambitious women, funneling “the best and the brightest” into teaching. A small number of people may be able, for a short amount of time, to ignore their own interests for a political cause, but everyone else requires economic incentives. De facto and de jure discrimination against women in other fields had the effect of economically incentivizing smart and ambitious women into teaching. Now, however, those same incentives have the effect of moving smart and ambitious women away from teaching. As the ambition and sharpness of the teaching profession has declined, it is not surprising that this has effected the political abilities of teachers as a bloc.

The situation is not hopeless for teachers. The high-reward, high-risk movement of publicly aligning with the Democratic Party raises the possibility of a new set of political allies. But this is risky, and the agitators like Diane Ravitch appear to criticize Democrats (President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Chairman Gates) at least as much as Republicans. The old united front is now to emasculated to carry water for teachers. And teachers have shown no signs of being empathetic to other stakeholders in the education reform debate.


I don’t know what will happen to North Korea. And I don’t know what will happen to Teachers. Both groups built earlier success using a clever United Front, both emasculated their traditional partners, and both now find themselves surrounded by hostile enemies. The future of both is bleak, but not hopeless, and there’s always chance a great leader might be waiting in the wings…

Being Lovingly Kind by Letting the House Burn

Recently on Facebook my publisher, Fred Zimmerman, pointed me to this article, titled “Tennessee family home burns while firefighters watch

Vicky Bell told the NBC affiliate WPSD-TV that she called 911 when her mobile home in Obion County caught fire. Firefighters arrived on the scene but as the fire raged, they simply stood by and did nothing. “In an emergency, the first thing you think of, ‘Call 9-1-1,” homeowner Bell said. However, Bell and her husband were forced to walk into the burning home in an attempt to retrieve their own belongings. “You could look out my mom’s trailer and see the trucks sitting at a distance,” Bell said. “We just wished we could’ve gotten more out.”

South Fulton Mayor David Crocker defended the fire department, saying that if firefighters responded to non-subscribers, no one would have an incentive to pay the fee. Residents in the city of South Fulton receive the service automatically, but it is not extended to those living in the greater county-wide area.

The firefighters did the moral and ethical thing, which was to allow the home to burn.

The Bible repeatedly instructs us that the State is a tool of social order (this was a theme of my series, “Jesusism-Paulism,” and my monograph, Revolutionary Strategies in Early Christianity. Because it’s been a while since I talked about the concepts, some major themes of my work were

But anyway…

An unstated thought behind the entire series — one that is so obvious it is often missed — is that the State is a provider of security. This is the core competency of the State, and one that it does better than any other form of institution — indeed, when other service providers become effective in the security spaces, they in effect become micro-States unto themselves. (Indeed, the United States is explicitly designed to have multiple levels of security providers, one level of which are called “states” and the other is the “United States”!)

The State can achieve the scale necessary to provide security through its relationship with violence the State can MIHOP (make it happen on purpose) or LIHOP (let it happen on purpose). The State can throw individuals in prison, or simply direct local security officials to not intervene when violence befalls individuals. The State’s power to provide security is thus intertwined with the State’s power to tax: Without this understanding of what the State is for and what it does, Christ’s and Paul’s directives to embrace State power make no sense.

So, back the the story: a family chooses not to pay a State tax, and the State, in line with its policies, withdraws either MIHOPs or LIHOPs the family. This is as unremarkable as stating that a a man chooses to ignite a stove, and the ensuing flames warms his food. If the object (the State, the stove) did not have this function, why would we even have it?

Of course, whether MIHOP or LIHOP is a better method of collecting taxes is a policy question, that depends on the time, the place, and the culture. In more individualistic cultures, the Christian thing to do is probably co-opt the self-reliant streak in the culture and rely in LIHOP; in more collective cultures, MIHOP might be more appropriate.

In this case the State chose LIHOP. As the State in question is not only American but in an area where the Scotch-Irish frontier strain is predominant (Kentucky), LIHOP seems appropriate.

Good show!

Review of “On China,” by Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger is the famous American diplomat. His new book, On China, is a fine history of the “Central State” focusing on the late Qing and early Communist periods. On China is destined to be assigned reading in graduate schools for years, because of its fine application of “realist” thinking to the survival of a strong country facing a multitude of high-tech strategic rivals. On China is clearly aimed at the informed political class: professional analysts, thoughtful policy professionals, and opinion makers. The narrative of On China appears to be distorted, either because of Kissinger’s focus on his own time period, his keen insight on what to clarify on what to clarify and what to obfuscate, or both. This is most notable in his incorrect depiction of Deng Xiaoping‘s political standing, as well as the near- complete absence of discussion of the KMT or the contemporary Communist Party.

On China is a good book for anyone interested in how the most radical and dangerous of Communist states managed to position itself in the winning anti-Soviet coalition with a minimum of leadership turnover or domestic discontent. Aside from hints as to Kissinger’s own thinking, however, it contains little new as far as history goes. Kissinger’s purpose is not to write a history. It is to write an introduction to Reality.

The Decline of China and Lessons for the United States

The reaction that many foreign policy teachers will have when reading On China book is, “I hope my students are familiar with the arguments in this book!”The two most striking are Kissinger’s view of the late Qing dynasty’s foreign policy, as well as China’s participation in the Third Vietnam War. Most scholars view both late Qing Diplomacy and the Third Vietnam Wars as failures, where China paid a grievous price for a worsening of relations with its neighbors. Kissinger argues that both of these were calculated triumphs: the late Qing, faced with being surrounded by enemies each of whom was stronger that China, nonetheless maintained regime survival and territorial integrity (more or less) for as long as possible. In other words, the Qing accepted defeat after defeat in vertical, short-term scenarios and were playing to survive in a long-term, horizontal scenario.

As Kissinger writes, “[The Qing] judged that it befell the court’s ministers to repeat what the Middle Kingdom’s elites had done so often before: through a combination of delay, circumlocution, and carefully apportioned favors, they would sooth and tame the barbarians while buying time for China to outlast their assault.”

The Empire of the Great Qing

Kissinger also views the the war between China and Vietnam as a success. He repeatedly uses the Chinese phrase “touching the buttocks of the tiger” to demonstrate how China discredited the Soviet Union’s security guarantee. Kissinger also repeatedly uses the phrase “Indochinese Federation” to refer to Vietnam and its satellite states (Laos and Cambodia), and argues that China’s attack in Vietnam may have prevented Thailand from being the next country to be conquered.

In all time periods China’s strategic situation was basically the same: the country faced high-tech and potentially hostile powers whose interests were a combination of geostrategic expansion and trade. Whether the high-tech enemies were Mongol light-cavalry, Russian gunpowder brigades, or British gunboats, China cleverly used diplomacy to maneuver around its enemies. Indeed, the historic strategic situation of China appears identical to that of Byzantium, as described by Lars Brownsworth in his popular work.

Kissinger’s purpose is clear: the historical position of the Middle Kingdom will soon be shared by that other “central state,” the indispensable nation — the United States of America. The Qing example demonstrates how a superpower can maintain its own national and cultural continuity as long as suicidal decisions do not occur in close order, as they finally did under the disastrous Dowager Empress. Likewise, China’s policy against Vietnam aggression shows how a superpower can use calculated attacks on the client of a rival to maintain the peace.

Kissinger relays some now-famous advise from Deng Xiaoping, which is often considered to be Deng’s version of the “speak softly and carry a big stick” line:

Observe carefully, secure our position, cope with affairs calmly; hide our capabilities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.

Kissinger continues with Deng’s secret explanation of his advise — advise which Kissinger clearly wants U.S. leaders to understand and appreciate:

Enemy troops are outside the walls. They are stronger than we. We should be mainly on the defensive.

The Nature of Chinese Communism

Like the Chinese news agency (or any good editor, for that matter), Kissinger argues his point not so much by stating an opinion but limiting what facts he shares. This is most obvious on the time period that he focuses on. Later in the book, however, Kissinger’s power of selecting facts appears to fail him, and he makes statements that are simply untrue.

I think this is intentional.

The greatest hope for peace in our day is probably a United Front between the Chinese KMT on Taiwan and the Chinese Communists on the mainland. That both the Chinese mainland and “Chinese Taipei” are governed by pro-business, pro-trade, patriotic, and mildly corrupt regimes which share a common history is amazing. Yet the KMT regime is nearly absent in the book, which serves as a problem for anyone wanting to understanding China’s “near abroad.” This is especially frustrating in places where Kissinger seems to almost bring it up, like in this transcripts:

MAO: Our common old friend, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, doesn’t approve of this. He calls us Communist bandits. He recently issued a speech. Have you seen it?

NIXON: Chiang Kai-shek calls the Chairman a bandit. What does the Chairman call Chiang Kai-shek?

ZHOU: Generally speaking we call them Chiang Kai-shek’s clique. In the newspapers sometimes we call him a bandit; we are also called bandits in turn. Anyway, we abuse each other.

MAO: Actually, the history of our friendship with him is much longer than the history of your friendship with him.

Misstatement replaces silence later on, however. For instance, consider this:

Deng’s Reform and Opening Up was designed to overcome this built-in stagnation. He and his associates embarked on market economics, decentralized decision making, and opening to the outside world — all unprecedented changes.

Kissinger is probably right about the first and last element in the list, but definitely not the second. Indeed, the disasters that Mao is most associated with — the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolutions — were examples of distributed decision making in extremis. Indeed, Mao often appears to be used the term “Left” to mean distributed and “Right” to mean bureaucratic, which leads to the obvious conclusion that, at least as far as decentralized decision making went, Deng did not so much replace statistics” with sensible goals and measures. At the same time, Mao’s Leftward tilts toward distributed decision making were unsuccessful, and so in between revolutions Mao relied on “Rightist” governments led by Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, and Deng Xiaoping.

Mao was willing to sacrifice the lives of 100 million Chinese to build a Leftist future of distributed decision making for China. He was willing to experiment and try new things, at an unfathomable cost in death and destruction, to do so. But in between attempts, when disorder threatened to do away with his power, Mao used Rightist bureaucrats to recharge — to set up the next stage.

Just as Kissinger teases us by raising the issue of the KMT, but not relating it to the Communists, Kissinger also teases the reader here, too. Kissinger writes:

[Mao] stressed his personal goodwill to Nixon, both personally and because he said he preferred dealing with right-wing governments on the grounds that they were more reliable. Mao, the author of the Great Leap Forward and the Anti-Rightest Campaign, made the astonishing remark that he had “voted for” Nixon, and that he was “comparatively happy when these people on the right come to power” (in the West, at least).

The Right are reliable bureaucrats. Mao’s statements is no more shocking that the view of the Soviet Union presented by Tom Clancy: menacing, dangerous, rational, and painfully boring.

(To tie this in with a recent book I read, Lord of the World, under Mao’s use of the terms, the British Communist Party would have been a Right-wing government, while the order established by Pope Sylvester would have been a left-wing movement.)

The effect Kissinger’s silence is compounded by the very next thing he offers, a transcript between Nixon and Mao, in which Kissinger allows the reader to think the line about DeGaulle is a laugh-line, instead of an elaboration of Mao’s view of the Right and the Left:

NIXON: When the Chairman says he voted for me, he voted for the lesser of two evils.

MAO: I like rightists. People say you are rightists, that the Republican Party is to the right, that Prime Minister Heath is also to the right.

NIXON: And General DeGaulle.

MAO: DeGaulle is a different question. They also say that the Christian Democratic party of West Germany is also to the right. I am comparatively happy when these people on the right come into power.

DeGaulle was a “different question” not because the French were quirky, but DeGaulle was unpredictable, and (liked Mao) viewed his government as a dangerous tool and was willing to sacrifice entire provinces to preserve the national essence. The Republicans, the Tories, the CDP, and even the Soviet Communists, however, were lifeless, bureaucratic automatons.

Kissinger tantalizes the reader with parallels left unstated. For instance, Kissinger traces the use of the phrase “peaceful evolution” as first described by John Foster Dulles as a method of ending the Communist threat, then to Deng Xiaoping as identifying a threat to regime survival, then to Warren Christopher as a goal of the United States. But Kissinger writes:

The heir of Mao’s China was advocating market principles, risk taking, private initiative, and the important of productivity and entrepreneurship… Deng’s advise was that China should “be bolder,” that it should redouble its efforts and “dare to experiment”: “We must not act like women with bound feet. Once we are sure that something should be done, we should dare to experiment and break a new path… Who dares claim that he is 100 percent sure of success that he is taking no risks.”

But Deng’s statement is almost word-for-word a copy of Mao’s rhetoric at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward. Indeed, both Mao in the late 1950s and Deng in the early 1980s were attempting to weaken the power of central bureaucrats in the economy. Indeed, it was Mao who first recognized the enormous economic potential of experimenting peasants: “As is clear to everyone, the spontaneous forces of capitalism have been steadily growing in the countryside in recent years, with new rich peasants springing up everywhere and many well-to-do middle class peasants striving to become rich peasants.”

A Love to Learn

On China‘s a good book. Kissinger, deservedly, has a very high reputation. So I truly wonder if the problems and omissions in On China are by accident or design. For instance, in the epilogue Kissinger writes:

In all of China’s extravagant history, there was no precedent for how to participate in a global order, whether in concert with — or in opposition to — another superpower.

But this is simply wrong! China and Russia are both successor states to the Mongol Horde. Russia was the first state that China recognized as “sovereign.” Russia had a de facto embassy in Beijing for centuries before any other westerners were even allowed to live in the city. Kissinger even explicitly refers to the history of the three-way continental politics between Russia, Turkestan, and China in in a footnote:

The story of Qing expansion in “inner Asia” under a series of exceptionally able Emperors is related in rich detail in Peter Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2005).

So what’s going on?

The answer is that On China is not really a memoir, or a history book, or a country guide. It is a tool to teach foreign policy. Kissinger is following his advise. Quoting a Qing official:

In your association with foreigners, your manner and deportment should not be too lofty, and you should have a vague, casual appearance. Let their insults, deceitfulness, and contempt for everything appear to be understood by you and yet seem not understood, for you should look somewhat stupid.

and quoting Confucius:

Love of kindness, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by foolishness. Love of knowledge, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by loose speculation. Love of honesty, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by harmful candour. Love of straightforwardness, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by misdirected judgment. Love of daring, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by insubordination. And love for strength of character, without a love to learn, find itself obscured by intractability.

So it is pointless to go on — to challenge Kissinger’s statement that Mao followed Confucius, or Kissinger’s lowballing of the death figure in the Great Leap Forward, or Kissinger’s statement that Deng Xiaoping lost control of the press in the early 1990s, or any of the weird statements that Kissinger makes.

The purpose of On China is learning. While the audience is people who want to learn about China, the intention is to teach Americans international relations.

Kissinger uses the term “reality” 27 times. The 27 instances 27 quotes by Kissinger, which contrast “Reality” with idealism, misapprehension, chaos, hope, friendship, disappointment, expectation, and so on. The purpose of On China is to focus the reader on Reality, and not on the fluffery which so often get in the way.

On China‘s a brilliant book, and succeeds at its goals.