Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Blue Wound - part VIII - the war of 1950

Check here for parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII of the Blue Wound live blog.

Chapter 14 was the final major chapter in Blue Wound. (Chapter 15 is but a brief epilogue to the plot.) Chapter 14 applies all of the allegories of the first 13 chapters to the future of America. Mered, the key character, gives his traveling companion - the narrator - a glimpse into the world of 1950.

Chapter 14 is Garrett's opportunity to predict one potential future for the United States. Essentially, Garrett predicts World War II with one major difference. Garrett, knowing nothing more than the world of 1921, foresees a military alliance between 1950 Germany and other European powers and one [unnamed] "of the great Asiatic nations." (p. 165). The major difference that Garrett foresees is that the United States, by 1950, has descended into a state of dependency that we would not, in fact, experience until our own time.

The U.S. of the early 21st century is dependant on foreign goods as never before. Not only manufactured goods and consumer products, but raw materials such as oil flow into this country through vulnerable umbilical cords. Even agriculture is headed in that direction. Garrett has unknowingly projected the United States of the 21st century onto World War II. America's dependence in Chapter 14 of the Blue Wound creates predictable results.

Much of Garrett's story centers on U.S.' dependence on the foreign chemical industry.

Predictions for the future are often less "wrong" than they are ill-timed. In this case, Chapter 14 was "wrong" only insofar as Garrett's facts occurred all at once. In the real world, these facts have occurred at different times. America's dependence on foreign industry arose long after World War II.

Garrett provides numerous additional predictions for the world of 1950, most of which I will not explain in detail. Each similarity is like a buried treasure to be discovered in Garrett's pages. Garrett predicts changes in the news distribution business that are vaguely and crudely reminiscent of our own information age. (p. 147). Garrett anticipates the age of nuclear warfare (as much as one could expect from a man writing 24 years before Hiroshima) - fictionalizing a chemical process by which an entire city (and more) could be destroyed with one bomb. (pp. 174-181). Garrett could not predict exactly how the introduction of the submarine and the airplane would affect shipping. (pp. 154-155). Garrett hinted at the third world debt forgiveness movement of our time. (pp. 166-167).

Blue Wound, including Chapter 14, hints at the themes present in Bubble that Broke the World. Because the financial crisis had not exploded by 1921, the financial themes took a back seat to the industrial and military themes in Blue Wound.

The biggest focus of those who would learn from Chapter 14 should be on the modern U.S.' relationship with and dependence on China for manufactured goods. This Chapter (and the entire book) can be promoted as a blueprint for avoiding a future disaster resulting from our dependence on China.

Chapter 14 should not be used crudely as proof that the U.S. should be either pro-war or anti-war. This Chapter has few lessons for our present battle against the jihadis (except for our dependence on foreign oil). While Garrett did not foresee the environmental regulations that make it difficult to build oil refineries in our time, such policies fit perfectly into the theme of Chapter 14.

America's current dependence on foreign industry is not popular to discuss because the solutions are difficult to arrive at and implement. But a book like Blue Wound that warned us of and even fictionalized this problem long before it occurred is a good place to start.
click here for part IX.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Blue Wound - part VII - the Earth and its resources; isolationism and independence

Check here for parts I, II, III, IV, V and VI of the Blue Wound live blog.

Chapter 12 is entitled, "The Answer" and includes a major step in the plot. I don't want to reveal plot twists, so I will focus on a few interesting points from that chapter.

Page 127 briefly explores the proper roles of man and the Earth. The Earth is a resource for us to use - not a god to be worshipped or protected for its own sake.

Most of the chapter explores Garrett's views on international trade and self-sufficiency. I know that the previous sentence sounds boring and will undoubtedly send readers to the bookstore looking for something more lively, but Garrett does not discuss trade deficits, currency fluctuations or other such temporal minutiae. He discusses broader concepts such as the survival of civilization, the umbilical cords of civilization, the stability of civilization, the natural state of man's social organization and the relation of trade to war.

I note here also that Garrett often writes extensively about industry. The railroad industry formed the backdrop for The Driver. Cinder Buggy was labeled "a fable of iron and steel." Satan's Bushel focused on agriculture - specifically wheat. While Blue Wound has been more comprehensive, industry and agriculture have formed the background for the plot and the fables contained therein.

Chapter 13 is the most anti-war sounding chapter thus far. I use the word "sounding" because Garrett's writings have sometimes been used by the modern anti-war crowd in their attempts to justify retreat before any enemy. But Garrett's opinions were more subtle than that. In this chapter, Garrett sought not peace at any price, but isolationism. Garrett sought to prove that Germany could have survived indefinitely without going to war had she remained independant of foreign trade. To prove this thesis, Garrett's main character pointed out that Germany survived for four years during (what we call) World War I without access to its overseas markets.

If any war served as a good example to support the concept of isolationism, World War I was that war. Had we not interfered in that war, we would have avoided needless deaths and weakened the great credit bubble that would pop more than a decade later. Garrett would provide more details of this argument in The Bubble that Broke the World in the beginning of the 1930's. The difference between the two books is that Bubble made arguments from specific facts related to the war and war debt. Bubble cited speeches, specific policies and specific financial consequences. Blue Wound was an allegory based on the simplest elements of the story. [And Garrett did not know, in 1921, that the credit expansion that funded the war would contribute to a financial crisis within a decade after Blue Wound's publication.]

Garrett's arguments regarding trade, independence and isolationism will become more relevant as our own modern dependence on foreign products creates bigger problems. The umbilical cord stretches thinner and thinner in our time.

Despite the ominous warnings contained in Blue Wound, it is almost comforting to read a story in which a character with special knowledge and insight accompanies the narrator and provides a window into the past, the future, other places or the entire world at once.
Check here for part VIII.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Blue Wound - part VI - Ivory and Apes and Peacocks

Check here for parts I, II, III, IV and V of the Blue Wound live blog.

The key to understanding Garrett's writing is the New Deal. The New Deal was the defining moment not only for the United States and its journey from republic to empire, but for Garrett's writing. Read the Foreward to People's Pottage for more details. With the coming of the New Deal, all of the class envy propaganda that had existed for decades found an outlet and came sharply into focus. As a result of this revolutionary government program, the battle lines were drawn. All other issues took a back seat. Garrett (and others) would write specifically against the very concepts of class warfare, envy and anti-rich demonization.

But in the decade prior to the New Deal, it was not unusual for Garrett to pursue arguments on tangential subjects in which the class envy issue was obscure. In "Ivory Apes and Peacocks" - Chapter 11 - Garrett appears to be critical of wealth and ostentation. In fact, the truth is more subtle. Garrett is critical of those who waste labor for the purpose of ostentation. He points out that the "unrich, aping the rich, waste very much more in the same spirit." (p. 104). Garrett argues that ostentation is one's way of showing superiority by wasting the labor of others. Singled out for special criticism are those who waste the labor of others while complaining about waste, ostentation and their own poverty.

The character Mered refers to ostentatious waste as "conspicuous . . . and for that reason it provokes social complaint and excites envy in the hearts of the multitude." (p. 102). This sentiment conflicts with Garrett's "Notes of These Times," October 8, 1932 (chapter #1 of Salvos Against the New Deal). The difference is that by 1932, Garrett was more focused on the class envy issue and the need to be clear that his opposition to destructive conduct was not intended to support class warfare and other weapons that the left would exploit for the purpose of social revolution.
Click here for part VII

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Monday, August 13, 2007

The Blue Wound - part V - Apex - Japan


Check here for parts I, II, III and IV of the Blue Wound live blog.

Chapter 10, "Apex" describes the history of Japan from the middle of the 19th century until 1921. Garrett does not use that name, but it becomes obvious what country he writes about.

Garrett provides the best explanation I have ever seen for an isolationist trade policy, which explanation he summarized on page 89:

The point never to be lost sight of was that the people who made their own things so far as they could, instead of buying them from foreigners, were always more prosperous than those who sold the raw produce of their fields and mines and bought manufactured goods from others.

The reasons for this belief were greater than the mere desire to increase wages for laborers or promote special interests. Garrett told the story of how this island gradually lost control of its own formerly idyllic way of life and then fought to establish itself as a leading economic power and contend for control of greater Asia.

The reader could only guess how the story would end, as Garrett's characters predicted vaguely the outbreak of World War II 20 years later (". . . the feud will reach its apex").


update - Click here for part VI of this live blog.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Blue Wound - part IV - looking down on the Earth

Click here for parts I, II and III of the Blue Wound live blog.

I have read Chapters 8 and 9. Here are some random thoughts:

  • I am glad I am reading this book slowly. The chapters are small enough that I could read this book in a much shorter time, but the material needs time to sink in. The book is short, but deep.

  • The Blue Wound includes a plot, even though I haven't focused on it as much as the deeper lessons. The allegory is presented as part of the plot, which the main characters discuss and observe. I have tried to downplay the plot, as it is part of an unfolding mystery.

  • Garrett's political views may be confusing, as one of the characters refers to employees in the same category as slaves and does not recognize the liberating effects of technology. This discussion does not reflect's Garrett's views as expressed in The People's Pottage (especially the Foreward) and many of his writings for the Saturday Evening Post.

  • Chapter 9 applies the lessons of Chapters 3 and 4 (and others) to the Earth as a whole. The characters stand inside a mysterious domed structure looking down on the Earth watching the 19th century take shape. The characters observe the industrialized countries becoming dependant on the third world for labor and raw materials, much like the cities of Chapter 3 depended on the outside world for sustenance, and could thus be destroyed by marauding barbarians.

    The characters watched plumes of smoke emerge where cities had become industrialized. They watched ships travel oceans and become more advanced as the years passed quickly before their eyes. They watched armies push against each other as the famous wars of the 19th century unfolded.

    The European powers were vulnerable because they depended on virtual slave labor in the colonies for raw materials. The United States avoided this fate because the native populations of North America would not be enslaved. The Europeans could not use them the way they used the Chinese, Indians or Africans. The colonists found that they had virtual unfettered access to the continent. This access produced control and independence from Europe and the old world.

    The threat to this independence comes from political attempts to obtain cheap labor through unfettered immigration. Remember that Garrett wrote these words in 1921 (and remember what I wrote in Part II about Garrett's predictive abilities):

    "Meanwhile, finding more drudgery to do than it had the patience or time to perform for itself, your country imported tame slaves from all over the world, in vast numbers, to make railroads, build highways, dig in the mines, tend the furnaces and gut the forests - calling it immigration."

    "Immigrants are not slaves, however," I said. "They are admitted to citizenship and enjoy full political rights."

    "They are free to come and go," said Mered. "Therefore you do not call them slaves. But they call themselves slaves - wage slaves. Their part is drudgery. Upon it you have reared an edifice of wealth unique. It is insecure. Those whose toil it consumes in a reckless manor have eyes to see and hearts wherewith to be envious and revengeful. They pity themselves as oppressed. They complain, then demand, and at length revolt. Then the terrifying discovery is made that their toil, though it has been despised, is vital. If the sultry masses who dig the coal and mine the iron suddenly refuse to be docile hewers and bringers, what will happen? You may say they will in that case destroy
    themselves. That is nothing. People are continually destroying themselves, and yet they go on forever. But civilization is rare and fragile. The power to destroy it lies in the hands of those whose labour it wastes contemptuously and by whom it is hated accordingly."

    pp. 75-76

    This speech addresses the real problems with immigration - problems that cut to the heart of any civilization. I believe that many of today's ordinary opponents of increased immigration somehow feel the danger to our culture and civilization - even though the issues end up being expressed in terms of minutiae and explanations that mean little after today's headlines fade.
    update - click here for part V.

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    Saturday, August 11, 2007

    The Blue Wound - part III.

    Click here for parts I and II of the Blue Wound "live blog."

    In the past couple of days, I have read chapters 4 through 7. I believe that Chapters 3 and 4 should be required reading at the beginning of every history class in every school.

    I wrote about Chapter 3 here, in which I discussed Garrett's description of the rise and fall of cities.

    Chapter 4 is a more comprehensive description of the rise and fall of one city and one civilization. This chapter, entitled "All East of Eden," appears to describe most closely the life of ancient Rome. Not every civilization follows exactly the same formula, but human nature remains a constant. Every great civilization fits somewhere on to this continuum. History can be reduced to the discovery of where any particular civilization fits, at any given time, into the arc described in "All East of Eden." It would serve us well to learn this lesson, as the end of any civilization is usually long and painful. Garrett's fictional city, which had begun in idyllic circumstances, was ultimately reduced to using slaves, enforcing tribute, outright piracy and other programs necessary to pay for a lifestyle that a free economy would not support. "All East of Eden" ends when a barbarian horde "mercifully terminated the tragedy."

    But these chapters are more than a mere history lesson. Garrett presents no dates, names or facts. He tells a simple story in brief allegory form. It is almost as if Garrett has reduced large portions of Will Durant's "The Story of Civilization" to a work of art. Ayn Rand wrote that art serves the purpose of objectifying man's values and placing them into a form that all can experience. If that description is accurate, then Garrett produced a work of art in these chapters, by reducing history to an objective, simple story that we can experience and a framework in which we can understand almost anything that has happened in man's past.

    Chapter 5, "The Wages of Thrift," is also a true classic. This chapter should be required reading at the beginning of every economics class. But it is much more than economics. This chapter is about morality, philosophy and much more. And it presents the least dry treatment I have seen of these subjects outside of Ayn Rand. The point of this Chapter is the inevitable punishment that those who work, earn and produce must endure at the hands of those who would reap the benefits. Again, the lesson is presented in the form of a brief story, starring fictional valley dwellers, being observed silently by the narrator and the mysterious man that started "the war" referenced at the beginning of the book.

    At this point, I believe Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of Blue Wound rival Absalom Weaver's speech from Satan's Bushel or the Foreward to People's Pottage as true classic gems from Garrett's writings.

    As I proceed through these chapters, I come closer to an explanation of how these stories relate to that devastating war. Today's pundits, rather than endlessly debate the minutiae of today's war, would do better to step outside of today's debate and examine Garrett's simple allegories.
    update - click here for part IV.

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    Friday, August 10, 2007

    Blue Wound - part II - the perspective of time.

    Click here for part I or here for part III.

    I have read three chapters of the Blue Wound thus far. I have noticed an element that I often see in Garrett's writings. Garrett writes allegorically.

    It is often impossible to discuss ultimate issues in the language of a simple narrative. It is impossible to understand ultimate issues unless the writer adds some element to the story. In Garrett's case, that element is perspective. Garrett's writings have always been about perspective and Garrett always finds a way to provide perspective.

    In the early chapters of Blue Wound, Garrett provides the perspective of time. Garrett presents the image of an open plain in which many cities rise and fall, such as would happen over many centuries. The main character is permitted to watch, from a distance, as cities spring into being, become wealthy and ostentatious and are destroyed by marauding hordes. He provides the following explanation:

    A city is like a giant hanging by the umbilical cord. Its belly is outside of itself, at a distance, in the keeping of others. Cut it off from its belly and it surrenders or dies. As the first city was so the last one is. No city endures.
    pp. 23-24 (italics added)

    The narrator then sees multiple cities rising on the same distant plain, only to attack one another. The surviving city possessed a "great tower" and ". . . was the most beautiful one and I had almost prayed that it should have the victory, for I hated to see it fall."

    But even that city succumbed. It succumbed to internal strife instead of marauders from beyond its walls. The result was the same. "The tower burned and fell." (p. 25).

    I read and promote Garet Garrett not because I believe him to have possessed psychic powers. I read his works because he had perspective. He could observe events of the 1920's and draw the right conclusions. By thinking forward, ignoring petty political arguments of the moment, and remembering history, he could write words that future generations might confuse with prophesy.

    In fact, Garrett drew on the lessons of Rome, Athens, Constantinople, Babylon, Dehli, and countless other cities that fell to internal strife or marauding hordes or both. From those lessons and the trends Garrett observed in his own time, it was not hard for Garrett to filter out the "issues of the day" and predict the events of the future.

    Garrett presents his story by speeding up the chronology and allowing one observer to narrate centuries of history in two or three pages. When we see the centuries unfold before our eyes, we gain perspective. We see the forest instead of a few trees.

    Garrett was not some Nostradamus, predicting specific future events like an oracle to be deciphered. He possessed wisdom and experience, not intuition. He provides perspective, not revelation.

    Garrett wrote in the age when the skyscraper was rapidly overtaking the landscape of modern cities. Knowing the fate of previous civilizations, knowing the reasons for those fates and seeing the path upon which America was then beginning to embark - it was not difficult for Garrett to foresee the future of our greatest cities. He never knew of the World Trade Center and did not predict which marauders would destroy it. But had Garrett seen the film from our own recent history that has become ingrained in our own memory, he would not have been surprised.

    At the time of Blue Wound's publication (1921), the New Deal was little more than a decade away. The intellectual forces that propelled us down that road already existed. Those forces had found voice in academic institutions and were rapidly remaking the intellectual landscape of our culture. By the 1920's, those voices were quite loud and militant. Those voices had already found safe haven around the world. America was one catalyst away from crossing a Rubicon of its own making.

    I don't expect all of the answers from Blue Wound. But I expect a little more insight into the world of 1921 and how we fell into the clutches of the New Deal and, ultimately, our present situation.

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    Wednesday, August 08, 2007

    The Blue Wound - "live blog"

    As promised, I begin my "live blog" of Garet Garrett's Blue Wound, published in 1921. Blue Wound was Garrett's first novel.

    Prior to this week, my only knowledge of this book came from Bruce Ramsey's brief description in the "Introduction" to Salvos Against the New Deal. Ramsey (p. 12) described Garrett as having imagined, in 1921, a war of the future taking place in 1950.

    I have read the foreward (or "Proemial"), which begins the plot by depicting a newspaper office. A mysterious visitor leaves a manuscript describing the visitor's quest to discover and interview the man responsible for starting "the war".

    On that note, the story is off and running. I will not provide spoilers in this "live blog." I will not describe the plot twists as I discover them. Instead, I will provide my own impressions and the lessons that Blue Wound has for all of us.

    The Garrett works I have read have always been imaginitive. His fictional works create scenarios out of historical events that provide insight and perspective. My experiences reading these works have created expectations for me. The Proemial has sharpened these expectations. I hope not only to enjoy a story but to benefit from Garrett's message about the world of 1921 and his expectations for the world of 1950.

    I want to see not only how close Garrett's predictions were to the actual world of 1950, I want to learn something about 1921 that the intervening years prevent us from seeing. Garrett's novels have always remained as mysterious as the fictional manuscript that the editor found on his desk in Blue Wound. Little is known about these novels, as they have become quite rare. But Garrett was favorably reviewed and somewhat influential in his time.

    Today, with a financial crisis looming over the United States and government growth out of control, I am driven to discover how Garrett's writings may help lead the way back to the Republic that once existed in this country.

    update - click here for part II.

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