Part Thirteen


Persia 2500 years ago could be classified as a superpower.
It had a strong bureaucracy, an immense territory, the
greatest army, and rich cultural underpinnings.
It had no peers. It could not always get its way,
as the Greek city states demonstrated.

The Roman Republic and Empire superpower endured
800 years, between 300 B.C. and 500 A.D.
It was perhaps the only nation deserving the title
until the few years when America would possess it,
1945 to the end of the twentieth century.

Other qualified nominees would be:

China under the Ming, 1368-1644,
Spain 1450-1650,
Great-Britain 1720-1920,
France 1350-1450, 1790-1940,
Germany 1870-1918, 1939-1945, might qualify.
Russia 1750-2000 also may have qualified.

The "true" superpower, we should say,
ought to have unsurpassed military forces.
It should (in the long run) be able to overcome
any possible combination of enemies.

This should not suggest that a Superpower is a boon.
The Soviet Union stood low in almost all aspects of
our value system except brute force,
applied internally and externally.
Even where it monopolized power, disastrous failures
caused millions of deaths and economic ruin.
It was less orderly internally and externally
than the USA, which is not regarded
in these pages as a paragon of national virtue.

The inconsistency and hesitancy with which America
conducted its diplomacy from the end of one World War
to the end of the next hardly denoted a Superpower.
Yet all the pieces fell into place in the end and
the U.S. became obviously a Superpower,
with a weaker opposing Superpower, the USSR,
with only Great Britain and France as Important Powers,
and the remaining powers (even the People's Republic of China)
capable only of harming their neighbors.

Japan, Germany, and Italy were thoroughly vanquished.
Bulgaria and India had large armies, poorly equipped.
China had substantial forces, Nationalists fighting Communists.
France was disarticulated socially. The British Empire was shedding.
All traditional types of overseas colonies were
impatiently demanding freedom.

Dominating ideas of the American world order were several:

that both the victorious and the vanquished nations
should be helped to achieve political and economic stability
as soon as possible;

that economic freedom should characterize the whole world's
trading operations, a world "Open Door" policy; and

that the United Nations should succor the poor countries and
serve as a central rallying point, where presumably the
large majority of nations would sing chorales to America.

What the history of a single memorial generation showed
was that this powerful nation could within ten years
come to stand astride the world,
letting another also be called a Superpower,
as if to test its own strength and patience,
then goad the other Superpower into collapsing,
while itself undergoing a meltdown of
substantial proportions in
its own esteem around the world.