Robert D. Kaplan, in a thoughtful piece in today’s New York Times, suggests that we are living in “the Asian Century.” His argument in “Lost at Sea” is that China, India, Japan, and South Korea are modernizing their militaries, especially building “big decks” and enlarging their fleets. The United States Navy, he notes, will have to share the sea’s lanes with ships from other nations. Writes Kaplan: “The military trend that is hiding in plain sight is the loss of the Pacific Ocean as an American lake after 60 years of near-total dominance.”
Kaplan is right to highlight the growing militarization of Asia. But he’s too hasty in arguing that the continent will, therefore, dominate the 21st century. If anything, Asian militarism probably will be the reason that historians will call this era “the Second American Century.”
In the twentieth century it took two all-encompassing wars and one decades-long struggle to resolve the most pressing matters in Europe. In Asia, Japan and Russia have yet to settle their differences resulting from World War II, and the Korean War still has not been concluded by peace treaty. More important, the animosity among the great powers of Asia—China and India, India and Pakistan, and China and Japan, just to mention the most prominent of them—continues to flare. And then there is always Taiwan, essentially the unfinished Chinese civil war.
Last week, the boldest and most outspoken advocate for liberty in Zimbabwe—Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city—resigned his position because of a sex scandal. This summer, after speaking out against the Mugabe regime, Ncube incurred the dictator’s wrath; state newspaper and television stations propagated photos of Ncube with a married woman, whose husband has since filed an adultery charge against the Archbishop. As Ncube made the painful decision to step down, he nonetheless denounced the “crude machinations of a wicked regime.”
But earlier this week, seemingly hopeful news emerged from Zimbabwe, in the form of a tentative political agreement between Mugabe’s long-ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The details are sketchy at this point, but they indicate an agreement on the preconditions for free and fair elections to be held next year. Predictably, the government of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who had been tasked by the Southern African Development Community, a regional group, with bringing the parties together, applauded the breakthrough as progress toward “a lasting settlement.”
For the next few weeks, I will be traveling back and forth to Stuttgart, Germany, where I am serving on the jury of a triennial lieder (classical song) competition. The contest is the brainchild of the Internationale Hugo-Wolf-Akademie, directed by the pianist and accompanist Hartmut Höll. Among his other accomplishments, Höll was the longtime accompanist in concerts and on CD’s of the legendary German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Among the other jurors is Japanese-born mezzo-soprano Mitsuko Shirai, known as the “Maria Callas of classical song,” whose CD’s with Höll of music by Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms on the excellent small record label Capriccio are among the most exciting in recent decades. Shirai’s stark emotional expressivity and Höll’s spiky, freewheeling playing, and the way both performers yield to one another, all make for a fascinating dialogue that sets the bar high for younger contestants.
It will also be intriguing to see how the 44 piano-vocal teams from 25 countries, including China, Brazil, and Israel, fare (the finale is not until October 8, so stay tuned). Meanwhile, Stuttgart, which I last visited a decade ago, continues to grow as a bustling business town, focused on Neue Messe Stuttgart, its vast new Trade Fair Center. There is a new Mercedes Benz Museum, and next fall it will be joined by a Porsche Museum. When I was last in Stuttgart in the 1990’s, I was presented to the town’s then-mayor, a nattily attired elderly gentleman who stuck out his hand and said, “Rommel.” Turned out it was Manfred Rommel, son of the notorious “Desert Fox” Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who served as Stuttgart mayor from 1974 to 1996, during which time he showed a distinct interest in the local arts scene.
Regarding Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak this coming Monday on the Columbia campus, the Columbia Spectator today reports:
David Feith, CC ’09 and editor of the Jewish affairs publication the Current, expressed his concern that there was a difference between refusing to suppress hateful speech and actively inviting and providing a platform for it. Bollinger responded that the invitation very well may serve to help controversial speakers, but that the negative is “far outweighed by the importance of confronting ideas and not shielding ourselves from the world as it is.”
And what ideas will the Columbia community confront when it hears President Ahmadinejad of Iran? Denial of the Holocaust and pleas for the destruction of Israel. As Victor Davis Hanson writes on the Corner, “This is not a matter of free speech but of common decency and the most elemental common sense.”