War with China: How many divisions does Bart Simpson have?

Since former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield popularized the idea of “the Pacific Century” in the 1970s, all military eyes have shifted East. That brings us to a dilemma, actually lots of them, if, as the Financial Times reports this morning, China looks to redraw Asian air space. Chinese planners, if kung fu is any indication, still draw from two classics: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and the great source of its inspiration, Lao Tzu’s The Tao de Ching. While American governance today is crippled by politics and consumed by marginal, ersatz and even occult thinking, like the widespread belief in the rise of the great satan in the Middle East that contributed to the invasion of Iraq. Sun Tzu would suggest to Chinese President Xi Jinping that now would be a good time to act.

Lao Tzu recognizes that the common stone of the culture tells the true story. National policy and philosophy will only be as good as the singing on "American Idol." It would suggest to his able student Sun Tzu that Americans have now come even to the end of music, the end of everything.

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Lao Tzu would spot the two qualities of brokenness: First, the absence of what he calls the knights of “dark and mysterious confluence.” Subtle, like Jedi, they were agents like Ruth Benedict, author of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword; and Carl Jung, employed by President Eisenhower to advise on conquest and redemption. They read the “sacred manna,” the psychological patterns beneath the hubris. They could see around the corners. They have been banished by ideology, politics and hubris.

Lao Tzu would see denial manifest in the most arcane detail. Maybe eight years ago, I brought one of my sons to a famous and ancient New England college where the great Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain was once president. Not only was he great, he actually single-handedly turned the tide in the Civil War and subsequently American history, his small Yankee band out of ammunition and fighting off the Confederates with stones and knives until reinforcements arrived. The student guide of the campus conspicuously left him out of the tour. When asked about it, she countered that they were so not into all that. But today you had the opportunity to follow the anthropology and development of Bart Simpson in seminar. Sun Tzu would get it right away. This would not be a war against Douglas MacArthur. This would be a war against Bart Simpson. (To paraphrase Stalin: “How many divisions does Bart Simpson have?”)

Other issues: Mission drift. Japan and Germany came under the American tempo by military conquest. That we could govern their futures should have come with an expiration date, sometime around the time when East Germany collapsed. It should have been established in 1946. Otherwise, it would seem a conquest. And Japan and Germany thus, American colonies and agents of America. Because that is how Sun Tzu would see it because that is what it is.

And finally, America needs now to find its edges and abandon plans to grow corn on the moon. We will be lucky to retain Australia and New Zealand in 50 years. These should be our edges: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the British Isles and America all loosely thrown together as a civilization by fate, language, culture and history. Because that is all we can count on.