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By Smaller Means: The demise of giants, elites, and superpowers

Professor J. Rufus Fears[1] in his lecture series, The Wisdom of History, alleges that Lesson/Law One of history is, “We do not learn from history.” This short phrase sums up the tragedy within many past and current events and the woeful reflections of this Déjà Vu blog.

Why is it that so many “giants,” elites, and superpowers consider themselves the exception to the déjà vu of “By Smaller Means”?

Consider this small sampling of “smaller means”:

1. Gideon and his 300 rout the hosts of the Midianites, Amalekites, and children of the east (circa 2nd century BC; see Old Testament Judges 6-8).
2. David slays Goliath (circa 1000 BC; see Old Testament 1 Samuel 17).
3. The allied city-states of Greece conquer the mighty Persian navy of Xerxes at Salamis (480 BC).
4. The fatal sickness[2] of battle-hardened Alexander the Great at age 32 (323 BC).
5. The victory of the outclassed Thierry against the superior warrior Pinabel as described in the French epic poem, Song of Roland (circa 1100s AD).
6. The victory of a vastly outnumbered English army over the French one at the Battle of Agincourt (1415 AD).
7. The victory of French forces over superior numbers of British forces in the Battle of Carillon (aka: 1758 Battle of Ticonderoga) during the French and Indian War.
8. The fragmented 13 colonies of the barely-united states defeating, against impossible odds, the vastly superior forces and navy of the British Empire (1775-1783 AD).
9. IEDs used in almost every theater of war since 1943 (from Germany to Vietnam to Ireland and beyond) by insurgents, guerillas, rebels, etc, against superior armies and armaments.
10. Revelations of infidelities of Gary Hart (1987), Bill Clinton (1998+), James McGreevey (2004), Eliot Spitzer (2008), John Edwards (2008), Mark Sanford (2009), John Ensign (2009), David Letterman (2009), etc., etc,. etc.

Yes, giants, elites, and superpowers can prevail for a time, but when obsessions, hubris, expansionism, imperialism, etc. become dominant, “smaller means” often bring downfall, whether sooner or later. These various “smaller means” are like bits and helms to which the giants, elites, and superpowers seem blissfully ignorant (even when self-imposed), until their whole lives or agendas are turned in directions they had no intention of going.

Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. (New Testament James 3:3-4)

[1] University of Oklahoma
[2] some allege poisoning