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Political Science General

Crawling from the Wreckage

by (author) Gwynne Dyer

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2010
General, General, 21st Century
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    Aug 2011
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    Sep 2010
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Gwynne Dyer is cheering up. Sure, the past decade has had more than its share of stupid wars, obsessions about terrorism, denial about climate change, rapacious turbo-capitalism, and lies, lies, lies. But signs of progress actually do abound. While the world is far from perfect as we embark on a fresh decade, Dyer believes that the "sense of sliding out of control towards ten different kinds of disaster has gone." When things go wrong it’s always easy to pin blame — but singling out the forces that lead to positive change can be trickier.

In this illuminating collection of columns from the last five years, Gwynne Dyer ferrets out the signs of hope — without overlooking the issues that remain seemingly intractable. Mining the events of recent history, Dyer contextualizes the recent past and anticipates what the future might have in store. This journalist’s beat is global: from Africa to South America, from Europe to the Middle East, and any other region with a political pulse.

Acerbic and iconoclastic, Dyer has never been afraid to call ’em like he sees ’em — and we are all the better for his trademark candour and the breadth of his knowledge and expertise. For anyone seeking to understand the larger forces that shape our society and our world, Crawling from the Wreckage makes for necessary reading.

About the author

Contributor Notes

GWYNNE DYER was born in Newfoundland and entered the Canadian navy at seventeen. He has served in the Canadian, British and American navies. He holds a Ph.D. in war studies from the University of London, has taught at Sandhurst and served on the Board of Governors of Canada’s Royal Military College. Dyer writes a syndicated column that appears in more than 150 newspapers around the world. He lives in England with his wife and children.

Excerpt: Crawling from the Wreckage (by (author) Gwynne Dyer)


History doesn't really have a plot, and even the patterns that we imagine we see depend mainly upon our own standpoint. The arc of the past five years would seem very different from a Chinese perspective than from a Western one, and different again from a Middle Eastern one. But from my Western perspective, our recent history is about a painfully slow recovery from a very bad time.

So, here are some articles about the United States, because that country still sets the tone. I've been going to the U.S. fairly frequently for most of my life, but it never felt as alien as it did in 2004. They were even going to re-elect George Bush. How could they possibly have failed to notice?

I was starting to lose patience - and then my son Owen (aka "Nameless") put me back on track.

October 21, 2004

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants George W. Bush to be re-elected, Osama bin Laden undoubtedly wants him to be re-elected, and the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council has just endorsed him for re-election, so it's hardly surprising that one of my sons has done the same. He must remain nameless, of course, but he has given me permission to quote his exact words on the subject of Mr. Bush's candidacy: "He has sown the wind; let him reap the whirlwind."

This nameless offspring of mine has never worked for the KGB, planned terrorist attacks or been nominated as a member of the "Axis of Evil," but he does share with the three gentlemen above a rather Machiavellian turn of mind. His point is that Iraq will go to hell and the U.S. economy will run into heavy weather in the next four years no matter who is president. Those things are already practically set in stone - so let the man who actually caused them carry the can.

There is no way that Iraqi hostility to the American occupation can be turned around at this point, and the current outbreak of fiscal irresponsibility in the U.S. - a huge budget deficit and a huge trade deficit, amounting to almost half a trillion dollars each - will certainly result in a great deal of economic pain and misery for ordinary Americans in the coming years. We all know who got the U.S. into Iraq and who created the budget deficit, but the man who is president when military defeat and economic crisis can no longer be denied will bear the political blame.

The main concern of Nameless was that a Kerry election victory, followed by a humiliating scuttle from Iraq and a crash in the U.S. dollar at home, would generate a "Dolchstoss" myth on the American right. He was referring to the alleged "stab in the back" by the German left that was used to explain Germany's defeat in the First World War. (In fact, the German left had loyally supported the war, but had little say in its conduct - until, after Germany's generals admitted irretrievable military defeat on the Western Front, the government was swiftly handed over to the Social Democrats, so that they could surrender and take the blame.)

The Dolchstoss myth, which denied that it had been a mistake to start the war and instead blamed Germany's defeat on a failure of will, poisoned all subsequent efforts to create a healthy democratic republic on German soil. No analogy is perfect, but similar myths exist in U.S. politics.

Many on the American right still believe that the Vietnam War could have been won if only the spineless traitors on the left had not weakened American "resolve" - and they say this even though President Richard Nixon, who was elected on a promise to end the Vietnam War and presided over the whole latter phase of it, was a Republican. What could they do with a lost war on a Democratic president's watch?

My son's point was that the mess created by the last administration cannot be fixed and forgotten before the 2008 election, no matter who wins next month - so why not vote for George W. Bush to ensure that the blame is pinned on the right man? That way, there can be no "stab-in-the-back" legend that haunts the Democratic Party in years to come, or that fuels a drive by hard-right radicals flying the Republican banner to regain the White House in 2008.

The downside of this, from a Democratic point of view, is four more years out of executive power, a Supreme Court packed with Bush appointees, and significant damage to both America's reputation and the U.S. economy. The negative consequences from Iraq's point of view are even bigger: years more of violence and death.

It is Hobson's choice, and I am almost glad I do not have a vote in this election: it saves me from the responsibility of choice. If I were an American, however, I would probably abandon all these "tactical" voting calculations: one look at Vice-President Dick Cheney and you know that it's just not worth the risk.

Sin comentario.

November 3, 2004

Looking at that extraordinary electoral map of the United States with all the liberal, quiche-eating, Kerry-supporting states of the northeast and the west coast coloured Democratic blue, while the "heartland" and the south are solid Republican red, the solution to the problem suddenly occurred to me: "Blueland" should join Canada.

It is getting harder for the two tribes of Americans to understand or even tolerate each other. Once again, as in 2000, the country is divided with almost mathematical precision into two halves, one of which adores President George W. Bush while the other loathes him. And it goes far deeper than mere personalities or even the old left-right split; the clash now is about social norms and fundamental values, about which few are willing to compromise.

Opinions on the foreign issues that seemed to dominate the election - the war in Iraq and the "war on terror" - just mapped onto that existing cultural division. People who go to church regularly and oppose abortion and gay marriage were also far more likely to believe that U.S. troops had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein had sponsored the terrorists of 9/11, so they voted for Mr. Bush. People who don't hold such beliefs, didn't.

"Irreconcilable" is the word that springs to mind. Two separate populations have evolved in the U.S., and they are increasingly unhappy living together.

One subspecies, Homo canadiensis, thinks universal health care is a good idea, would rather send peacekeepers than bombers, and longs for the wimpy, wispy liberalism enjoyed by their neighbours to the north. The other breed, Homo iraniensis, prefers the full-blooded religious certainties and the militant political slogans - "Death to [fill in the blank]" - that play such a large and fulfilling part in Iranian public life.

It is cruel to force these two populations to go on living together, especially since American political life has lost its centre and now pits these two irreconcilable opposites directly against each other in a winner-takes-all election every four years. Since the pseudo-Iranians slightly outnumber the proto-Canadians, the obvious solution is for the latter group actually to go to Canada - and indeed, I have lost count of the number of American friends who have told me that if George W. Bush wins again, they are going to move to Canada.

There are problems with this solution, however. A mass migration northwards would leave large chunks of the U.S. virtually empty, and the parts of Canada where people can live in any comfort are pretty full already. Besides, the winters in Canada really are severe, and Californians might not be up to the challenge. Then, looking at the two-colour map of the electoral outcome, the solution hit me. You don't have to move the people; just move the border.

It would all join up just fine: the parts of the U.S. inhabited by Homo canadiensis all lie along the Canadian border or next to other states that do (although the blue bit dangles down a long, long way in the case of the Washington-Oregon-California strip fondly known as the Left Coast). True, the U.S. would lose its whole Pacific coast, but we could arrange for an American free port in, say, Tijuana. Plus, lots of Canadians could move to a warmer clime without actually having to leave their country.

At the global level, everybody else would be quite happy with a bigger Canada and a smaller United States. That smaller U.S. would have to pull in its horns a bit, as it would no longer have the money to maintain military bases in every country on the planet, but it would retain enough resources to invade someone every year or so. And the new Canadians would be free to have abortions, enter into gay marriages, do stem-cell research and engage in all the other wickednesses that flourish in Canada. They could even speak French if they wanted to.

No solution is perfect: there would be limp-wristed liberals trapped in the U.S. and God-fearing rednecks who suddenly found themselves in Canada, so some degree of population exchange would be necessary. It's even possible that a few right-wing bits of Canada - parts of Alberta, for example - might prefer to join the U.S. But you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and think how happy every body will be when they are living exclusively among like-minded people.

Fast-forward four years, and the Bush era is finally stumbling to a close. A man we had barely heard of four years ago is heading for the White House, and we are all trying to figure out whether he can really make a difference. How much of the disaster has been the personal fault of Bush and his friends, and how much is implicit in the system?

May 7, 2008

It is now a near certainty that Obama will be the next American president. The media will try to maintain the illusion of a race for the Democratic nomination until Senator Hillary Clinton finally retires from the race - which may not be until the convention in August - because such an illusion helps to fill the awful gap between the twenty-four-hour news cycle and the actual amount of news available. But, as leading independent pollster John Zogby put it on Wednesday, "To all intents and purposes the race for the Democratic nomination is over."

Having seen off the Hard Man of the Democratic Party, Obama must now defeat the Hard Man of the Republican Party in November. (Senator Hillary Clinton promised to "obliterate" Iran if it attacks Israel; Senator John McCain has threatened North Korea with "extinction.") But it will be hard for Obama to lose while the United States is plunging into a deep recession and the Republican candidate is still shackled to the Bush administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So Obama gets the presidency - and then what? He will probably be able to depend on solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress but he will inherit a ravaged economy and two lost wars, so he has little room for expensive domestic reforms or dramatic initiatives abroad. Also, he will not be able to cut bloated U.S. military spending, so there is no early "peace bonus" waiting for him on the fiscal front.

Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama will ultimately have the job of repairing the huge budget deficit bequeathed to him by his Republican predecessor, but the only step he can take in the short run is to roll back the huge Bush tax cuts for the rich. So what else can the Democrats do in the meantime that doesn't cost too much?

Obama has said very little about this during his campaign (and Hillary Clinton, haunted by her failure to reform health care in her husband's first term as president, has said even less). But the fact that one-sixth of the American population has no access to high-quality medical care is an astonishing failure in a rich democracy, and Obama has travelled enough to see it for the scandal that it is. He may be unconvincing as a gun-loving, truck-driving, fast-food-addicted son of toil, but he is the candidate of the American poor, even if many of the white poor don't recognize him as such. No single reform would do as much to improve the lives of poor Americans as a fully comprehensive health-care system that is free at the point of delivery. Obama has given us few clues about his intentions but my money says that this will be his first priority in domestic affairs. He might even succeed.

Well, I got that right. I just never imagined that it would take up a full year of congressional time, while everything else had to wait. Neither did he. But I'm a much happier camper now. Let nobody tell you that the United States doesn't matter anymore.

Editorial Reviews

“It is his clear-eyed realism, coupled with an apparently encyclopedic knowledge of international affairs, that makes [Dyer’s] commentary so bracing. . . . His analysis is pointed and refreshing.”
 — Steven W. Beattie, Quill & Quire
“Piercing and provocative.”
 — The Vancouver Sun
“Smart, at times pithy, and always witty . . . Dyer’s collection has something for everyone.”
 — Winnipeg Free Press

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