What’s ahead for Angela Merkel? The new “leader of the free world” has an uphill struggle after her disappointing election results. Former German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg explained what’s going on behind the scenes with Germany and the E.?U, in this prescient interview from The Octavian Report.
“Typically, however, the winner is just the player who made the next-to-last mistake.” If there’s anyone you should trust on what it takes to win a showdown one careful move at a time, it’s chess world champion Garry Kasparov. A man who has spent a great deal of his life one step ahead of both his professional competitors in chess and authoritarian opponents in the vicious arena of Russian politics, Kasparov is a handy guy to learn from. So, if you missed the author’s name, definitely do not dismiss Kasparov’s 2015 book Winter is Coming as little more than a foreign policy wonk pumping out another generic take on Putin’s Russia underneath a title cheekily inspired by Game of Thrones. This is very different. Kasparov knows first-hand what it means to live underneath and in conflict with an oppressive regime.
When Winter is Coming first hit store shelves in 2015, Kasparov’s criticisms against Obama for allowing Putin to rapidly build power both internationally and domestically without any heavy consequences met with skepticism in certain quarters. Flash forward two years, and it’s clear how right he was and to what extent Russia has forcefully undermined democratic values abroad and on America’s own soil. As Kasparov himself notes in the text, “It is cold comfort to be told, ‘You were right!’” How many more times will Kasparov’s warnings go unheeded — will Putin or America make the last mistake? These are rich questions which make for an excellent read.
He’s not exactly a strong man in the same style of Putin, but if we’re dealing in interesting parallels we still better mention King Rat. Released in 1965 and starring Georges Segal as Corporal King or “King Rat,” the film takes place in a Japanese POW camp mostly filled with captured British and Australian soldiers. Here, one slick American thrives in a world of primal needs and desperate situations. Whereas scores of high ranking British officers struggle to survive on meagre rations and miserable living conditions, it takes a less-than-honorable opportunist to break out ahead. Virtue, morality, wisdom: they have no place in the POW camp. The “rattiest” is the one who wins when order finds itself thrown out the window. And frankly this is where it becomes very entertaining to say that Vladimir Putin is his own sort of King Rat with his sly but determined methods of seizing power in the post-Soviet vacuum.
Can a rat have human friends? “You worked for me a couple times. I paid you for it. That’s all we had,” claims Corporal King to the one other man in the prison camp who starts to see King as a companion, not just an agent of conniving power. In between whiffs of class conflict and the underlying cultural thesis that Americans apparently thrive in settings of extreme social mobility (if not Darwinism) compared to the Brits, it’s Corporal King’s peculiar relationship with a British RAF officer turned business associate that is the real treat to watch.
Still, not every King earns his crown by thinking like a rat. There are certain situations that lend themselves to the conniving self-starters, but there are others which require a more straightforward kind of power: may the best warrior win. William the Conqueror — or William the Bastard depending on how much stock you place on royal lines — was not going to scheme his way onto the English throne after Harold Godwinson seized power after the death of King Edward the Confessor, who had a longtime relationship with William’s family and, as was the argument for some at the time, intended for William to inherit the realm. No, if William the Bastard wanted to be remembered as William the Conqueror, he had to go ahead with an audacious confrontation that changing the course of English history.
So just a few days after King Harold repulsed invading Norwegians in the north, William set sail from the mouth of the River Somme on this day in history 1066. Tactically, it was a brilliant move: he could patiently fortify his forces in the South for weeks as he waited for King Harold’s beleaguered army to return from the North. If he ever wanted for something, no matter — there was no real army around to stop him from raiding the interior of England from his coastal base. We may remember the eventual Battle of Hastings as the true decisive moment in William’s invasion, but it took a well-placed surprise landing of troops on the English coast to make that all happen. Had William had launched his transports at the wrong time, his entire invasion might have ended in a disastrous ambush the moment his troops trudged off the beaches. Honestly, maybe William was a little bit more conniving than we give this famous Norman warrior credit for.