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Saturday, November 20, 2010

IN CHINA'S ORBIT by Niall Ferguson

Read your piece today. One thing is certain i will put "Civilization the West and the Rest" on my reading list and will pre-order today if possible!

I found your basic thesis very convincing and when you had the Chinese saying "We are Masters now" I could not help but think in the back of your mind the British hearing this from the Americans if not in 1918 then surely in 1945-1946 and definitely by 1956 with the Suez Crisis. My family, which immigrated from Scotland en masse from 1927-1948, witnessed the last great flowering of the British Empire -which they and their kinsmen helped build and defend- and they also witnessed when the "Empire went smash" (a favorite line of my father's and grandfather's taken from the LIVES OF THE BENGAL LANCERS with Gary Cooper and Franchet Tone. My grandfather spent 8 years in the British Merchant Marine and so saw at first hand India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Victoria (BC), Australia, Capetown, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Alexandria, Cyprus, Constantinople (1919), Malta, Gibraltar, London, Glasgow, and Montreal. My kinsmen built the railroads in Argentina (hence the Munro suburb of Buenos Aires built around the Munro train station) and South America. He later spent 5 years in the Army (August 4 1914-May 10 1919 serving with the 3rd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and transferring to the 1st Battalion ASH in Dec 1914 first seeing action at Ypres January-May 1915 and thence on to Gallipoli, Salonika, the Struma Valley and Derian ending the his military service in Constantinople in 1918-1919 as part of the Allied Army of occupation. In the Second World War most of my immediate family served in the American forces (my father, my uncles and first cousins but of course we still had close ties to the Auld Country and so my parents and I knew many people who served in the 51st Highland Division, the British 8th Army and the RAF during WWII as well as some in the Canadian and Commonwealth Forces (Australia and New Zealand). My father was a quasi colonial officer in the Philippines 1944-1946 where he was offered a promotion to Captain and a regular army commission by General Sutherland (chief of staff to General MacArthur whom my father met). My father always said that if he had been in the British Army in 1857 or 1890 he would have accepted such an offer as that would have been the best career choice for a Scot with a "red brick" education (rather than elite public school). But my father, after consultation with my mother, turned that job officer down because he felt that American post 1946 would be booming. And indeed it did right up until the early 1970's. But even then my father was concerned with our ever growing appetite for imported oil. our trade deficit and our slow slipping away from being a creditor nation to a debtor nation. My father was trained as an English and French teacher but who got his MBA at NYU and spent his life as a businessman an financier so he had great insight to America's industrial growth and decline. He financed commercial construction (chiefly diners and restaurants), mining equipment, textile machinery, Caterpillar , John Deer, Case IH tractors, and Allis Chalmers tractors. He was very close the to president of Allis Chalmers in the 1960's and early 70's who like himself was a Glaswegian born Scot. I never met the man himself but my father recounted their many meeting and lunches. They often talked about the rise of Japan and Germany and of the decline of Britain. Often their discussions turned to America's fate as both men saw the same symptoms of decline in the USA due to hubris and the corruption and selfishness of the trade unions which were making American equipment uncompetitive and also gradually losing their reputation for reliability, efficiency and high technology. Although both men were Scots they considered themselves as part of the English-speaking world and in addition they believed only the English-speaking peoples were the only truly free people in the world. Neither man feared Russia whom they considered a backwater but they believed Asia was making a resurgence, particularly in Singapore, Korea (once part of the Japanese Empire), Taiwan (also once part of the Japanese Empire), Japan and Hong Kong. They did not think China could be far behind and sometimes they talked of India as well.

And here I was looking at your projections of growth with China as number 1 and India and the USA battling it out for number 2. These projections seem inevitable and if they come true will see the Pacific Rim come under the Chinese sphere of influence. It is only a matter of time when the 7th fleet will find it self having to make a strategic withdrawal to Hawaii or even San Diego leaving the Pacific Rim at the mercy of the Chinese. The only possible counter (the British being long out of the picture) is a resurgent India as a quasi-English speaking nation. China's great Achilles heel of course is its aging population and its one child policy which has lead to an enormous imbalance of males to females. For that reason one could imagine a scenario in which India-Australia-New Zealand-Canada and the USA have enough economic, military and demographic power to check Chinese hegemony. Whither China? China is one of the great countries and civilizations of the world and it has great scholarly traditions and an ancient mercantile tradition. This is now combined with Western Style education combined with a strong oriental work ethic. The two areas which China is lacking are political freedom and religious freedom. Without an ethical and moral base for their society and without political and personal freedom China may lack essential factors it needs to become a dominant superpower. When one factors India in -and then English-speaking countries of Africa plus Australia especially, Canada and the USA I don't think we can count out the English-speaking peoples. China MAY surpass the USA individually -if everything goes according to plan- or China may enter a period of crisis when it has no clean water, a complete collapse of river and ocean fishing and a collapse in its domestic agriculture. Because Ironically China is like Britain 1900-1945 in that it will be heavily dependent on the importation of food stuffs and raw materials. In addition it may have to import foreign workers and even foreign wives to meet its needs. If China fails to do this -they they may enter a period of slow decline starting in 2030 or 2040 as Japan is experiencing now. My father was fond of saying "money makes the world go round", "money forms the sinews of war" (paraphrase of Cicero), and "Demography is destiny." HIS father, Thomas Munro, Sr. added another quote from an older tradition:” Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh [but] in vain." (Ps 127:1)

Auld Pop (Thomas Munro, Sr.) said we should always look to God's providence with great humility. In all our affairs and business of a family and nation we had to depend upon His blessing. Both my father and Auld Pop believed that the family was the basis of our culture and civilization and If God were not acknowledged there we would have no reason to expect his blessing. Auld Pop often said the "best laid plans o' mice an' men aft gang agley." For enriching a family or nation some are so grasping and avaricious and Midas-like that they forget what really matters which is love and the happiness of one's race and line. Yes, that was an expression I often heard that we should have pride in our race and line (as Munros and as Gaels) and that we should "Dread God" (Biodh T-eagal Dhe Oirre; we should reverence unto God: this is the ancient Munro motto of course). Money was important, of course, because one needed bread "but man did not live on bread alone" and also "what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?" I think it was very clear to me that my father and grandfather were unfailing opponents of the passion for wealth, advancement in society or the preoccupation with material things. Neither man played golf of spent more time than necessary with business associates preferring to spend their holidays and weekend entirely with their wives and children. My father and grandfather taught me to read and write before I went to school and gave me the rudiments of Spanish, Latin, French and Gaelic at home. They considered children to be God's gifts, a heritage, a blessing and special a reward : a thousand treasures in one. They often spoke of "our splendid ancient heritage" which I suppose was our entire civilization of music, poetry, literature, art, language, song and our faith and free institutions. My father and Auld Pop also lived through the Great Depression and had memories of the Highland Clearances and the Great Hunger of the 1840's. They had seen war, experienced hunger, exile and immigration and knew that there was no absolute security to be found in material wealth anywhere at any time. At best money could be a cushion but over and over I was told the "man was the gold and that a man could not be measured by the colour of his skin, or by his speech, or by his clothes and jewels, but only by the heart" (from Mika Waltari) Real wealth was richness of experience, joy in friends and family and delight in conviviality, music, verse, art and literature. So I wonder if Chinese society with its narrow, mean-spirited materialistic vision could ever have any inking of true justice, true freedom and true happiness. This spiritual deficit and this deficit of freedom may prove that China's greatness is house built upon sand. There is a cyclical drama in history and all national rises and falls are merely transient stages along the way though many people lack the broadness of perspective to perceive such a vision. But history remains dynamic subject to many "killer applications" as you say that drives it on and always above all else it seeks balance and equilibrium. The Greeks called this drama Hubris and Nemesis; the Indians called it the law of karma. Pride is not without trouble, Auld Pop would say so let us not be troubled by it. Supremacy, arrogance and domination are not the way of nature and they will be leveled in due course. Every nation has its age of ascendency and its age of decline. My father and Auld Pop spoke as Britons but also as Gaels and Scots who remembered a disastrous history which saw may kingdoms and empires that we served rise and fall. They knew English was the lingua franca of their age but they often said "English is the language of the banks and the long-range guns; which is why everyone speaks English including of course the English. When they cease to have gold and guns then it is vae victis all over again." You might recall vae victis was the Roman translation of one of their earliest humiliations when the Celtic Chief Brennus burnt Rome to the ground. And yes, the proud Celt got his comeuppance. "For when the beat of the kettle-drum of the steely-hard Roman come, taken were our own hill-tops, one by one." Though we face firmly towards the future, we never forget that past. RICHARD KEITH MUNRO

                                                     THOMAS MUNRO, Sr.  Acting Colour Sergeant
                                                      1st Batallion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
                                                        Military Medal for Valour, April 15 1915 2nd Ypres.

He served side by side with Captain Dick Porteous (KIA May 10 1915), Colin Campbell Mitchell Sir HLI (later Captain in the Argylls) and American Johnny Robertson. NE OBLIVISCARIS DO NOT FORGET

                                                       "The Thin Red Line of Heroes"

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