The Guns of December


Reading Bill McKibben and others today on the real Climategate—the seeming dedication to failure stalemating the world leaders at Copenhagen—I’m reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. Her Pulitzer Prize winning history detailed the class of idiot-leaders circa 1914 who paved the way to World War I.

If I could cast the WWI story circa 2009, here’s how it’d look:

  • For Germany in WWI, obsessed with military superiority, I’d cast America today
  • For France in WWI, obsessed with winning back lost territories, I’d cast Britain today
  • For Britain in WWI, hesitant to get involved in a war on the Continent, I’d cast Canada today
  • For Russia in WWI, huge and malfunctioning, I’d cast China today

As we know, World War I, with 15 million dead, was the warm-up for World War II, with its own class of world leaders leading the world to 70 million dead.

One of the most affecting museum’s I’ve ever visited is the Mémorial pour la Paix (Peace Memorial) in Caen, France, a town utterly devastated in the course of the D-Day landings in 1944. The epicenter of the museum is an exhibit called the Failure of Peace, built along a spiral ramp corkscrewing underground. You descend the ramp from bright and sunny ground level, and along the way you track past the timeline of failure: the Versailles Treaty (the Kyoto Protocol), the appeaser, Neville Chamberlain (Barack Obama), Adolph Hitler (dare I say it? the naysayers). It gets darker, colder, more and more hopeless as you descend into the inevitability of war and chaos.

You know I’m mad about the likelihood of failure at Copenhagen. But, really, I’m sad.
 

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.