- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

Oswald Spengler has been called the "creator of the modern thesis of historical decline." His surname has become an adjective as in "spenglerian pessimism," although that philosophical doctrine is to be found in the speculations of Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer. But Spengler's book, "Decline of the West," published in 1922, is still regarded as a major and influential contribution to the philosophy of history. In 1942, James Burnham published "Suicide of the West" and Patrick Buchanan has topped them with his forthcoming "The Death of the West."
Spengler argued that every civilization is a living organism in its own right and recapitulates the story of the individual man childhood, youth, manhood and old age. And then, of course, the grave. Thus the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations had their day and died. Western civilization, he wrote, has not yet completed its life cycle.
John Farrenkopf's Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics (Louisiana State University Press, $65 cloth, $24.95, paper, 304 pages), an intellectual biography of one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, is a superb piece of writing and research. Its timing couldn't, unhappily for us, be more appropriate in the Day of Osama bin Laden, AIDS, weapons of mass destruction, ethnic conflict, Saddam Hussein and who knows what other joys are ahead.

Africa: A Continent Self-Destructs by Peter Schwab (St. Martin's Press, $26.95, 212 pages) is another cheerless report on sub-Saharan Africa which follows the usual formulation of academic specialists. The United States, global miracle-worker, could, had it really tried, rescue this tormented continent from any one or all of these afflictions: civil wars, ethnic conflict, the AIDS epidemic, hunger, human rights abuses, serfdom, kleptocracy, soaring infant mortality rates and all other Pandoran tribulations.
The author, a political scientist at the State University of New York, is a well-known human rights activist and a fine scholar. A lot of the blame for the African disaster, he says, is due to America's "bungling," its refusal, regardless of what party is in the White House, to get involved. But is that accusation correct?
No post-colonial area got as much U.S. attention, interest, investment as sub-Saharan Africa going back to the days of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. White House dinners, presidential and vice-presidential visits to Africa, scholarships, AFL-CIO union activity, Peace Corps, vocational training schemes and money, money, money. It's no secret where all the money went. And 50 years later we have tens of millions dying of AIDS and tens of millions already dead, no access to clean drinking water by 70 per cent of Africans, child slavery, genocidal attacks on neighbors, dictatorships everywhere.
What many Africanists fail to consider is that sub-Saharan Africa may represent a problem which no single Western country, let alone the United Nations, can solve. Bernard de Jouvenel has suggested that political scientists ought to consider that certain political problems are insoluble. I wonder whether sub-Saharan Africa warrants such consideration.

Geoffrey Blainey, the author of A Short History of the World (Ivan R. Dee, $27.50, 480 pages, maps) is a controversial Australian historian who has dared to do the impossible: Write a history of the world in 500 pages. (The original edition was 669 pages but it's been cut for some reason.) Others have had the same ambition, most notably H. G. Wells, A.J. Toynbee and Hugh Thomas. I am for historians who undertake to condense all that has happened to our planet and its inhabitants over, say, the last five million years. I have skimmed the book and enjoyed every minute of it, especially since the author discusses the growth of the United States and its influence as a pleasant development in world history. American historians, please copy.

The 70 million people who live in North and South Korea are testimony to the fact that the Cold War has not yet come to a close. And if ever there was an example of an evil state endangering not only its neighbors but the entire world, North Korea fills the bill. Both countries went through a trying war, initiated by North Korea with Joseph Stalin's approval in 1950. Yet despite the threat from its northern neighbor, South Korea has become a successful modern democracy with a dynamic free market while North Korea's lifeless economy seems capable of producing only weapons of mass destruction and very little food for the ill fated inhabitants of this communist dictatorship,
Robert J. Myers, the author of Korea in the Cross Currents: A Century of Struggle and the Crisis of Reunification (Palgrave, $49.95, 200 pages) is a former Central Intelligence Agency executive who was stationed in the Far East for many years. Presently a fellow at the Hoover Institution, he is an admirer of President Kim Dae Jung, 77, who became a Nobel laureate in 2000 for his efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula despite a half-century confrontation which continues to this day. While reunification of the two states is a slim possibility, says the author, relations between the two will continue to improve. Here I disagree. Peaceful coexistence of the two Koreas would rob the Pyongyang dictatorship of its legitimacy.

I never knew when I stayed at London's St. Ermin's on Caxton Street pursuing my doctoral researches in the 1970s that this baroque hostelry had once been the secret headquarters of a World War II British intelligence agency, whose members "hatched a campaign of European-wide sabotage, subversion and revolt." Its orders in 1940 from Winston Churchill were three rancorous words: "Set Europe ablaze."
Headed by Hugh Dalton, a socialist Laborite whom Churchill, heading a coalition government, disliked but had to appoint, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) training camps pretty quickly spread over England and Scotland. One of the early trainees was a Soviet agent, Kim Philby. But there was another Soviet mole, Ormond Uren, who was caught before he apparently could do serious harm and jailed for seven years.
There are some marvelous yarns in Secret Agent: The True Story of the Special Operations Executive's Covert War Against Hitler by David Stafford (Overlook Press, $29.95, 254 pages, illus.) and many sad ones. Some 200 SOE agents in occupied France were captured by the Gestapo, of whom about 30 survived. As for the actual SOE records, they were burnt in a mysterious fire; perhaps, too many secrets which could not have withstood the light of postwar day.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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