the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2004 July 1


For ten dollars, an ordinary person can walk into a perfectly-legal business and become the owner of what may be the most subversive set of documents in print. I have long owned a set myself. It is a colony of mildew, though, and I recently replaced it, taking advantage of my employee discount at this business. But even at full price, it would have been a deal too good to pass by. And the item can be purchased with cash, without providing identification, should the buyer fear a subsequent subpoena of the store’s records by the Department of Homeland Security. It is unlikely, though, that the DHS realizes the explosive anti-social power contained in a historical atlas. And one needn’t use the atlas to bash Vladimir Putin or Jiang Zemin over the head, although the idea deserves consideration. One need only read it, and not for long, either. Twenty minutes with a historical atlas, and the world is no longer the static place the world’s masters would have us believe.

What is Prussia, exactly? Europe is the cultural home of the present world hegemony, the origin of the emerging common culture, and familiar even to the willfully-ignorant intellectual autarks of the United States. Prussia is quintessentially European, and yet it appears on no current map of Europe. Prussia is prototypically German, and yet no German territory bears the name. Prussia is a great power of the past, obliterated from existence in part by its own success. No reality on the surface of the earth is permanent. My Hessian ancestors could say “Ich bin Berliner” before Jack Kennedy, and with more truth, and still they were essentially saying the same thing. The idea represented by the political reality of any part of civilization can be true for any other part, regardless of physical separation, from Berlin to Neustadt or all the way to Boston. We have ceased to exist many times over, but remain unchanging and cannot be moved. We are all Prussians.

Prussia enters the scene as a small land (originally Prūsa) at the eastern end of the Baltic Sea, around Königsberg, just south of present Latvia and Lithuania. It was the homeland of the third of the so-called Baltic peoples, speaking a dialect related to Latvian and Lithuanian, but now extinct. (Lithuania was itself once a great power, but that is another story.) The Prussian tongue was supplanted by the German, and Preußen, to use the modern German, began its geographical expansion from Königsberg to the west. But this was more than the expansion of a state, of a political territory. It was the expansion of a conception. Prussia expanded along the Baltic coast, past Danzig, so that the area around Königsberg was merely east Prussia. It expanded into the Brandenburg territory around Berlin, and became so identified with Brandenburg that the eastern origin was basically a vestige ― the Prussian state was the territory controlled by Berlin, whether it included Königsberg or not. Prussia expanded further to the west, to the Rhineland, and its unification of northern Germany became the foundation of the modern Germany. We could easily say that modern Germany is Prussia. But when Prussia became Germany, its self-conception outgrew its power. It fought and lost two great wars in the twentieth century, and in punishment lost all of its eastern territories, including, finally, Königsberg and the Prussian homeland. Danzig is now Gdańsk, belonging to Poland, Prussia’s chief whipping boy; and Königsberg is now Kaliningrad, belonging to Russia, one of Prussia’s great rivals. Germany is in the process of uniting with, among others, the Austrians and the Franks; and Prussia, which a century ago was among the most important entities on the planet, is literally ignominious. Ich bin kein Berliner.

This story will appear, more colorfully, in any good historical atlas. It is, needless to say, entirely typical. Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Jiang Zemin’s China are still realities of the world, but they are subject to change. And they are quite different from the Russia and China of a century ago, or sixty years ago, or in Russia’s case, fifteen years ago. Of course, Russia and China, like Prussia, are not just shaded areas on a map. They are conceptions existing in the minds of the world’s persons. Each of those persons has a different conception, and so we must go further, and note that Putin’s Russia of today is not Grigory Yavlinsky’s Russia of today, or Aslan Mashadov’s Russia of today. Jiang Zemin’s China of today is not Martin Lee’s China of today, or Chen Shui Bian’s China of today. Putin must silence Yavlinsky to attack Mashadov. Jiang must silence Lee to attack Chen. When they do so, Putin and Jiang point to their own maps and say, “This is Russia”, or, “This is China”. For twenty dollars and a shipping charge, I could send Mashadov and Chen the evidence that Russia and China are in fact something else. If it were not obvious that the Russian invasion of Chechnya was an act of conquest, or that the threatened Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be one, we could easily produce before-and-after pictures of Russia conquering Chechnya, or China conquering Taiwan, shaded nicely on a map, with dates and rulers and even lines of invasion.

George Bush is generally in the service of dominion, even if, as I believe, his invasion and conquest of Iraq was in balance an act against dominion. His discussion of Iraqi sovereignty merely reinforces the usual lies of international power that keep Putin and Jiang free from effective challenge. Is the “full sovereignty” that has supposedly just been given to “Iraqis” (in actuality, a small group of Iraqis picked by local and foreign powerbrokers) a term that has any real meaning? One hundred thirty-eight thousand US soldiers will remain in Iraq, with their coalition allies, and will certainly not be subject to the control of anyone outside of the US government. While I recognize the hypocrisy of a Christian-conservative government preventing the rise of an Islamic-conservative government, I am nonetheless grateful; but Iraq will not be meaningfully sovereign if it cannot choose Islamic conservatism, which it probably would do. It would probably also limit women’s rights (and not just for religious reasons), participate in price-fixing for oil, and boot out the US military. While Bush personally may care little about women’s rights and may have a direct interest in higher oil prices, his political interests will surely dictate pressure against the “sovereign” Iraqi government on those points. That pressure will be as nothing compared to the invasion of Iraq, which was up to that point sovereign in a meaningful way ― though offering Iraq’s sovereignty as a reason to oppose intervention, which was done not merely by Putin and Jiang but by many who claimed to be liberal, was shameful. Rights are for individuals, not peoples, and certainly not states; I would never recognize the right of even a democratic state to do as it pleases, to say nothing of a state whose sovereign control rested on its willingness to imprison, torture, and kill all of its opponents.

The US will, through its presence, and with the collaboration of its allies and of the United Nations, prohibit independence for the Kurds. For Putin and Jiang, an independent Kurdistan is the equivalent of an independent Chechnya or Taiwan, an assault on their own sacred rights. (For Bush, the main problem is surely that there is no room on the map for it.) That independence is the will of the individuals who freely identify with Kurdistan is hardly ever questioned. The question, which is generally answered negatively, is whether those individuals have the right to create that independence as a reality, which in reality they have already done. A historical map from the last century would show that a Kurdistan with both real and theoretical sovereignty was planned when the Ottoman Empire was defeated ― though it was never allowed to exist. A historical map from the next century would show that a Kurdistan with real (but not theoretical) sovereignty exists today. If Kurdistan is folded, against the will of its overwhelming majority, back into the Iraqi state, that change will be reflected on a map also. Kurdistan is a less-conspicuous version of Prussia, coming into existence and going out of existence as if that sort of thing were possible. Have these cartographers not studied the First Law of Geopolitics, that states are neither created nor destroyed?

That Law, clearly, is a lie of dominion. It is made, contrary to documented realities past, to preserve the control of those who have it at the moment ― and only at the moment. Winston Smith, the protagonist of ‘1984’, once briefly held in his hands a document showing the innocence of three enemies of the state. He destroyed the document, but it remained a touchstone in his memory, as did the fact that Oceania had once been at war with its current ally and at peace with its current enemy. He held to simple truths ― two plus two make four ― as his salvation. But Big Brother could control information in Oceania; he could control the truth. “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” In contrast to the totalitarian Oceania, or even China and Russia, much of the world is free to study the past as it truly was and the present as it truly is. When our masters lie to us, we can defy them. We can counter them with reason and with evidence. In any case, these are obvious lies; they are easy to counter. Ten dollars and a simple question: “Is that so?” The conservative force for the status quo is not merely asserting that change is unnecessary. It is asserting that change is impossible. That is not so, as any Prussian can tell you.


Original version


Home of the Stewardship Project
and O.T. Ford