Why the World Needs America: Some argue that democracy and free markets could thrive without U.S. predominance. If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.
February 12, 2012
History shows that world orders, including our own, are transient. They rise and fall, and the institutions they erect, the beliefs and “norms” that guide them, the economic systems they support—they rise and fall, too. The downfall of the Roman Empire brought an end not just to Roman rule but to Roman government and law and to an entire economic system stretching from Northern Europe to North Africa. Culture, the arts, even progress in science and technology, were set back for centuries.
Modern history has followed a similar pattern. After the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, British control of the seas and the balance of great powers on the European continent provided relative security and stability. Prosperity grew, personal freedoms expanded, and the world was knit more closely together by revolutions in commerce and communication.
With the outbreak of World War I, the age of settled peace and advancing liberalism—of European civilization approaching its pinnacle—collapsed into an age of hyper-nationalism, despotism and economic calamity. The once-promising spread of democracy and liberalism halted and then reversed course, leaving a handful of outnumbered and besieged democracies living nervously in the shadow of fascist and totalitarian neighbors. The collapse of the British and European orders in the 20th century did not produce a new dark age—though if Nazi Germany and imperial Japan had prevailed, it might have—but the horrific conflict that it produced was, in its own way, just as devastating.
Would the end of the present American-dominated order have less dire consequences? A surprising number of American intellectuals, politicians and policy makers greet the prospect with equanimity. There is a general sense that the end of the era of American pre-eminence, if and when it comes, need not mean the end of the present international order, with its widespread freedom, unprecedented global prosperity (even amid the current economic crisis) and absence of war among the great powers.
American power may diminish, the political scientist G. John Ikenberry argues, but “the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive.” The commentator Fareed Zakaria believes that even as the balance shifts against the U.S., rising powers like China “will continue to live within the framework of the current international system.” And there are elements across the political spectrum—Republicans who call for retrenchment, Democrats who put their faith in international law and institutions—who don’t imagine that a “post-American world” would look very different from the American world.
If all of this sounds too good to be true, it is. The present world order was largely shaped by American power and reflects American interests and preferences. If the balance of power shifts in the direction of other nations, the world order will change to suit their interests and preferences. Nor can we assume that all the great powers in a post-American world would agree on the benefits of preserving the present order, or have the capacity to preserve it, even if they wanted to.
Take the issue of democracy. For several decades, the balance of power in the world has favored democratic governments. In a genuinely post-American world, the balance would shift toward the great-power autocracies. Both Beijing and Moscow already protect dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. If they gain greater relative influence in the future, we will see fewer democratic transitions and more autocrats hanging on to power. The balance in a new, multipolar world might be more favorable to democracy if some of the rising democracies—Brazil, India, Turkey, South Africa—picked up the slack from a declining U.S. Yet not all of them have the desire or the capacity to do it.
What about the economic order of free markets and free trade? People assume that China and other rising powers that have benefited so much from the present system would have a stake in preserving it. They wouldn’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Unfortunately, they might not be able to help themselves. The creation and survival of a liberal economic order has depended, historically, on great powers that are both willing and able to support open trade and free markets, often with naval power. If a declining America is unable to maintain its long-standing hegemony on the high seas, would other nations take on the burdens and the expense of sustaining navies to fill in the gaps?
Even if they did, would this produce an open global commons—or rising tension? China and India are building bigger navies, but the result so far has been greater competition, not greater security. As Mohan Malik has noted in this newspaper, their “maritime rivalry could spill into the open in a decade or two,” when India deploys an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean and China deploys one in the Indian Ocean. The move from American-dominated oceans to collective policing by several great powers could be a recipe for competition and conflict rather than for a liberal economic order…
The World’s Baby Factory: It’s already the world’s second-most populous country. So why is India turning 75 year old grandmothers into mothers?
February 12, 2012
Four years ago, when she was expecting her first baby, Kisabai Biranje wanted desperately to be invisible. She tried for as long as she could to keep her pregnancy hidden behind the crumpled pleats of her floral printed cotton saris. But as the months passed, it became impossible to keep her bulging belly a secret.
Becoming a mother was Kisabai’s greatest joy. But pregnancy in the sixth decade of her life was also her greatest shame.
As her stomach began to show, it set off a trail of tarnishing gossip and innuendo in this agrarian town in India’s western sugar belt: How did she get pregnant in her post-menopausal years? Was the egg her own? Was the sperm her husband’s? Why would she want to become a mother at the age of a grandmother?
But her unremitting quest for motherhood, however risky — or risqué — at her age, kept her going. “We had nearly given up after more than two decades of marriage,” explains Kisabai, who does not have a birth certificate, but says she was born just after British colonial rule in India ended in 1947. “We went to doctors, shamans, god men — nothing worked.”
“Then we discovered a clinic that made childbearing at our age a reality,” chimes in her husband Mahadev Biranje, a 68-year-old sugarcane farmer. “When we told the doctor we were thinking about adoption, he said, ‘Why do you want to raise someone else’s child when you can have your own?’ We looked at him incredulously and said, ‘Can we really do that at our age?’”
The Biranjes discovered that in vitro fertilization (IVF) — a procreation technique that involves harvesting a woman’s egg from the ovary and fertilizing it artificially with a healthy sperm — could circumvent, if not undo, the deleterious influences of aging on female fecundity, making pregnancy possible even at an advanced reproductive age. For Mahadev, the procedure was akin to being plopped on a biological time machine that miraculously rolled back the years.
In recent years, thousands of fertility clinics have cropped up around India, spawning a new industry of “fertility tourism” for reproductively challenged couples from around the world. They are the medical equivalent of dollar stores, offering IVF treatment at a fraction of the cost in developed economies, and often without the strict regulations and waiting periods that elsewhere make the procedure a logistical nightmare. IVF — along with other reproductive specialties like surrogacy (the world-famous “womb-for-rent” business), hormone therapy, and gamete (egg or sperm) donation — are part of India’s flourishing fertility treatment business, on track to blossom into a $2.3 billion enterprise in 2012 according to the lobby group Confederation of Indian Industry. The sector, described as a “pot of gold” in a report by the Indian Law Commission, has earned India the dubious reputation of being the world’s baby factory.
Fertility clinics aren’t just serving the international market, they’re increasingly serving the domestic market as well. And regulation has not kept pace with the proliferation of clinics as India emerges as the Wild West of fertility. In recent years, facilities have been accused of a litany of shocking abuses — from exploiting impoverished women who became surrogate mothers to prescribing unapproved fertility drugs to delivering “stateless babies” who are refused citizenship by both their mother’s country and their Indian birthplace.
The Indian government is gearing up to pass a new law to regulate the fertility business, prepared by a 12-member committee of the Indian Council of Medical Research and expected to be tabled in parliament in the coming months. It mandates that all fertility clinics be registered with the government; spells out specific guidelines for the sourcing, purchase and storage of gametes; and also explicitly enumerates the health and legal rights of surrogate mothers and babies delivered by them.
But one pressing issue has remained beyond the purview of regulation: How old is too old to get pregnant?
In 2008, Rajo Devi Lohan, an Indian woman from a tiny village in the northern state of Haryana, became the world’s oldest mother at the age of 70. About a year and a half later, Bhateri Devi, a 66-year-old from the same state, became the world’s oldest woman to give birth to triplets.
In India, as in many other countries, medically assisted procreation techniques have long been the preserve of the upper-class elite. But in recent years, with proliferating clinics hawking cheap treatment, it is fast becoming the trend du jour among middle- and working-middle class couples, including the elderly. Bearing children at an old age is considered anathema to cultural norms in India, as the Biranjes have learned, but it often does not overshadow the social pressure to reproduce.
After about five decades of a childless marriage, both of the Haryana women were impregnated by fertilized eggs implanted to their post-menopausal uteruses by Dr. Anurag Bishnoi, who runs a private fertility clinic in the city of Hisar. Lohan’s health rapidly deteriorated after her caesarean delivery and she suffered internal bleeding. In various media interviews, she said she is still surviving on pain killers and wasn’t forewarned by Bishnoi about the dangers of giving birth at her age…
The title of this article is not without irony. Some readers might think of Springtime for Hitler, the intentionally absurd and preposterous Broadway musical at the heart of the classic film by Mel Brooks, The Producers. However, the words are also meant in their most literal sense. Among Nazi memorabilia there exist albums of photographs that once belonged to high Nazi officials. Such albums are visual records of the careers of these officials, as telling as any curriculum vitae, and contain more information than any mere list of “accomplishments” can. Found in the ruins of Berlin at the close of World War II, these and other such albums left Germany through channels both official and unofficial. What matters now, more than sixty-five years later, is not the story of their discovery and transport out of Germany but their ultimate fate. Some were acquired by repositories such as the Hoover Archives, where today they can be consulted by historians and other researchers, especially those interested in what might be called the psychic structure of the Nazi state.
Such items appear to have been of little or no interest to researchers immediately after World War II. Then, historians naturally had larger questions on their minds, not the least of which was the need to establish the broad outlines of what had transpired in such a vast and complex conflict. They sought to understand how such a mass horror as the Holocaust had been organized and implemented, and how the Nazi movement that perpetrated this horror had begun and taken hold in Germany. Their focus was on the usual criteria of who, what, when, where, and why. Personal effects such as the photo albums of Nazi officials were considered curiosities at best, trivial objects in the grander scheme of things.Documents and photos provide clues to the mental landscapes of these individuals.
These albums now no longer appear to be only minor trophies of war. The complexity of World War II and the Holocaust, and the enduring interest in the study of totalitarian societies, means historians and others continue to write on these subjects and may well do so indefinitely. There are always new facets, new pieces of the puzzle. Documents that reveal details about certain Nazi leaders also provide clues to the mental landscapes of such individuals, persons whose idiosyncrasies are now deemed worthy of study. The photo albums of Hitler’s associates—the extended Nazi family, as it were—now seem compelling rather than superfluous, illustrating more than the immediate scene or persons they depict.
The Hoover Archives has a small number of such photo albums: two that once belonged to Heinrich Himmler and another belonging to Julius Streicher, both among the most notorious figures in the higher echelons of the Third Reich. Filled with photos that were taken, selected, and arranged by personnel working for Himmler and Streicher, the albums have handmade covers, some with intricate designs, exemplifying what might be called the art of the Nazi book or album. They are odd relics, but the photos inside are more than just odd—they are informative.
THE POWER OF VISUAL ART
Both the Nazis and their Soviet counterparts developed sophisticated means to influence public opinion, and both totalitarian regimes made use of artists skilled in advanced techniques of cinema, design, and photomontage. The Hoover Archives has numerous examples of the art of the Nazi poster, instruments of propaganda intended to mobilize the German people first to vote for Hitler and then to support his plans for conquest and annihilation. A number of the posters illustrate the Nazi demonization of Jews as subhuman or else as all-powerful beings; in either case, they are shown as monsters or demons, as enemies worthy of persecution.
A content analysis of the photo albums of Himmler and Streicher is not as straightforward as the one for Nazi posters, but the albums’ “messages” are not recondite, either. What you see in Himmler and Streicher’s photos is the real deal: echt Nazis—the genuine articles, not those who joined later out of conformism or self-interest. Moreover, one sees little difference between the private Himmler or Streicher and their public or official personae. They seem to be Nazis on parade at all times, or at least fulltime bosses and wielders of authority.
Himmler hardly needs an introduction. As Reichsführer of the SS, Himmler was one of the Nazi chieftains, overseeing the entire security apparatus of the Third Reich, including the Gestapo, and one of the architects of the mass murder of Jews and others in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Himmler directed the infamous Einsatzgruppen (special task forces) whose troops killed as many Jews as they could by shooting, and who were relieved of this bloody task only when it was deemed more efficient, and less wearing on German troops, to instead use mobile gas vans, and finally, the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
In his collection of essays, Ethics and Extermination: Reflections on Nazi Genocide, British historian Michael Burleigh describes the “creed” of the SS as being one of “mindless obedience.” Himmler’s empire of punishment and death, as Burleigh records it, grew with the establishment of the concentration camp at Dachau in 1933 and culminated in the creation of “the massive complex at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the apogee of industrialised mass murder.” Himmler’s career in mass murder almost staggers belief, and there is perhaps no other Nazi official more closely identified with perpetrating the Holocaust.
Julius Streicher, much less well known, was also an important member of the Nazi hierarchy. A founding member of the Nazi party, Streicher participated in Hitler’s unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923, and became an important propagandist and publisher of the newspaper Der Stürmer, which whipped up hatred for the Jews. Streicher’s anti-Semitic passion even led to his publishing three children’s books in which Jews are the villains. In reward for his service to Hitler and the movement, Streicher was made gauleiter of Franconia (a region of Bavaria). He remained one of Hitler’s few intimates until very nearly the end of the Third Reich.
Susan Sontag’s memorable article on the Nazi films of Leni Riefenstahl, “Fascinating Fascism,” provides a good entry point into the meanings that can be mined from an examination of evidence such as that provided by the albums. Sontag makes the seemingly obvious but important point that “in both fascist and communist politics, the will is staged publicly, in the drama of the leader and chorus.” She includes remarks by Nazi ideologue and propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, in a passage worth quoting in full:
Politics is “the highest, most comprehensive art there is,” Goebbels said in 1933, “and we who shape modern German policy feel ourselves to be artists . . . the task of art and the artist [being] to form, to give shape, to remove the diseased and create freedom for the healthy.”
One can now turn to specific examples from the albums of such “artists” to see what they had in mind when Goebbels spoke of eliminating “the diseased” and creating “freedom for the healthy.” At the end, the reader should have a good idea of just what a “healthy” official of the Third Reich was, and what values he espoused among his family of fellow Nazis.Totalitarian regimes readily embraced art, propaganda, and cinema, turning them into veritable weapons of mass destruction…