Why Kim Jong-un Is Not Crazy

WHY NORTH KOREA’S NUKE IS BAD NEWS

North Korea’s miniaturized nuke is bad, bad news for the U.S. and the region. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry explains why and lays out a worst-case scenario. Read it here in this compelling piece from The Octavian Report.

THE SINEWS OF POWER

There was a time when a few volumes of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire­ suggested such a terrifying existential crisis for George III’s stumbling polity that the British effectively entered into a wave of global expansion with the mission to convince themselves that they had not, like Rome, lost their mojo to barbarians at the gate. Professor John Brewer’s The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 1688-1783 masterfully describes just how the crown’s fiscal-military bureaucracy developed to a point where the British were poised to support an explosive and successful push into Asia, the Pacific, and eventually Africa by the end of the 18th century — even as they had to deal with a successful revolt in their American colonies, the French Revolutionary Wars, and a score of other challenges that would have overloaded less organized countries.

Fans of Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” and the light it shines on the dramatic importance of logistics work might have a special appreciation for Brewer’s mission. His history outlines the most overshadowed element of successful statecraft: not diplomacy or military tact, but efficient organization — the “sinews” which held the muscles of British imperialism and domestic rule together. “Though my account is very much concerned with war,” writes Brewer, “it deals with bookkeeping not battles, with ink-stained fingers rather than bloody arms.” As will be raised in the text, what allowed the English to overcome the “Dutch disease” of amassing all the prosperity a nation could hope for while lacking the management skills to protect its new global network of colonies, ports, and trade routes? Forget about the generals and admirals who do what they will with whatever they have: it takes a disciplined and frequently unappreciated army of clerks to maintain a state capable of strategically distributing its power across the globe to provide their agents with the proper resources for success. Only then was Brittania able to rethink their imperial mission, squash Napoleon, and truly start ruling the waves.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

If it was not for Freddie Young’s chops as a master cinematographer, we might only remember Lawrence of Arabia as a thrilling war movie — an original and brutal depiction of Faisal I’s Arab revolt against the Ottomans in World War I. There certainly is a heap of strife to pour over through the lens of Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence as we watch the famous officer gradually surrender to the violent chaos of war, and you wouldn’t need to look far to find other worthwhile movies to watch which explore the battlefield’s mortal coil. What this particular picture does have over its competition, however, is a style of shooting that pays tribute to the expansive beauty of its Arabian backdrop with encompassing camerawork (even if some of the desert shots were completed in North Africa). You would probably have to turn to the likes of Star Wars Episode IV’s epic binary sunset on Tatooine to come close to Lawrence of Arabia’s ability to match the magnitude of its storyline with an equally vast and glorious setting.

Do Lawrence and his Arab allies receive a happy ending? The historical answer is no, and the film just about reflects this. Stick within O’Toole’s cinematic narrative, though, and we probably feel sorriest for the doe-eyed Englishman who believed he could bring independence to Arabia against the hidden wishes of his superiors. The empathy for Lawrence is not necessary so strong because O’Toole’s protagonist suffers more than any of his comrades; if anything, Lawrence can only vicariously understand the full extent of the intimate pain his Bedouin friends experience. Rather, Lawrence is a character who seems awfully out of place for his time, as if he’s the only person who understands what woefully vacant institutional leadership it would have taken to save the Arab world from both the Europeans and its own collection of bickering factions in 1917. The movie opens with Lawrence’s death in 1935, and that may be the only bit of justice the eponymous hero enjoys: a final escape from the misguided imperialism of the British Empire’s waning crescendo and the reassurance that he won’t have to watch for a second time as the world plummets into yet another ugly competition of greed and conquest.   

ON THIS DAY: THE BATTLE OF PHARSALUS

He knew what was needed for victory and how to keep the cards stacked in his favor. But the execution could not have gone more wrong on this day in history for Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, the traditionalist who stood against Julius Caesar in a civil war that would ultimately lead to the end of the Roman Republic and the genesis of a Mediterranean Empire without precedent. Heck, the whole notion of Julius Caesar’s largesse — from Shakespeare’s play to the Las Vegas hotel — would not have come to fruition if it were not for Pompeii so seriously messing up this battle.

After Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army in 49 BC and — defying the conventions of his country’s elite — brought his staunchly loyal army onto Rome, his rival Pompey fled to Greece in order to recruit soldiers of his own. After consolidating control over Iberia, Caesar decided to take a gamble and cross the Adriatic in pursuit. Conscious of a daunting 600-ship blockade set up by his foe, Caesar chose to unexpectedly make the journey in the winter, and he managed to slip half of his boats past the enemy fleet before the rest were spotted and had to turn back. Pompey now knew that Caesar was in trouble: cut off from half his army and encamped in the heart of enemy territory without any hope of naval reinforcements, it was only a matter of time before Caesar’s men withered away from attrition. Mark Antony eventually did come in with backup, but an unfortunate betrayal trapped Caesar even further in Thessaly and into a similarly desperate position. The Senators backing Pompey, however, grew impatient — they wanted more than starving Caesar into submission. They wanted the new champion of the Roman people defeated decisively, so Pompey caved in and battle commenced.

A crafty infantry ambush set by Caesar scattered a cavalry charge and exposed Pompey’s left flank to the most experienced of Caesar’s veteran legions who, far more battle-tested from their campaign in Gaul than Pompey’s conglomeration of rookies, began making mincemeat of the enemy. In spite of his far superior numbers, Pompey soon found himself vulnerable and had to retreat from Pharsalus in disguise as a citizen. He would later be assassinated in Egypt as Caesar continued cleaning out the rest of his critics. If Pompey had just taken a page from Caesar’s book in the art of knowing when to flout authority, he might have commanded his backers to calm down, starved out his enemy, and taken the victory.