There is a quote attributed to Honoré de Balzac: behind every great fortune there is a great crime. The same can be said of empires. The crime of the European empire was not simply the number dead. It was the loss of control over the futures of everyone they encountered. Whatever they touched, and Europe touched everything, some measure of choice and possibility was lost by those they visited. This was true of civilizations and individuals. The charges that can be laid against European imperialism are vast. The possibilities that European imperialism opened up to humanity are also vast. Just as a person’s life should be judged, in the end, on the whole, that is how, in the end, we will judge Europe. Judging great things is not easy, not when done properly.
— Flashpoints

BOOK REVIEW - FLASHPOINTS

 

"Flashpoints" opens up with a very personal story, the survival journey of the author's family during and after World War 2 as Jewish Hungarians. Even though his immediate family was able to survive the horrors of the war, they couldn't risk living in Europe anymore after it was over. Eventually they manage to escape to the United States where they would be far away from Europe where 'wars repeat themselves endlessly'. George Friedman spends a great deal of time reflecting to the personal, inexplicable horrors that central, higher up, ideological decisions like war causes and explains the state of the post-war Europe, with the tension rising between Russians and Americans, from the perspective of his family.

He continues with a lengthy exploration of the historical forces that shaped the European mindset. It is an opinionated but almost a poetic exploration of a subject that could have otherwise been dull and boring. I haven't read enough history books to have a strong opinion or firm knowledge about the things that led Europe to become what it is, but George Friedman provides you with a convincing and a vivid analysis of the forces in play. What is at the center stage are three (or two and a half) Germans that paves the way to the European Enlightenment, who are Gutenberg, Martin Luther and Copernicus. There is a deliberate emphasis on German angle as they have a vast role on the contemporary events as well. And then the Portuguese and Spanish explorations of the world driven by a 'Faustian' hunger for knowledge and the rise of the science and technology spearheaded by Francis Bacon. The Enlightenment that ensues places the 'man' at the center of the universe and dissipates the tight grip that religion had for a long time. But the book argues that placing the individual without providing them with a sense community left a gap that eventually got filled by Nationalism. And this notion of nationalism coupled with the technological advancements of the time and cold rationalism enabled nations commit atrocities that are unmatched to that date.

What happens after WW2 ends up shaping much of the current political and strategical landscape. US is afraid that Soviets will dominate the European peninsula so they initiate the beginning of the union among European countries with the primary purpose of cultivating frictionless trade to economically strengthen Europe. As a part of their containment strategy of Russia, US also facilitates the economic advancement of Germany and Japan. NATO gets established which forms the military power against the Russian power.

After World War 2, Germany once again rises as a leading power in Europe. European Union gets established which promises a shared fate of peace and prosperity to its members and things are good for a while. But two significant events in 2008 marks the demise of the united dream of Europe. First, Russia attacks Georgia, an American ally, and Europe can't do anything about it. The inaction towards the Georgian invasion sets the stage for the later events that took place in Crimea and Ukraine. And then comes the American housing crisis that triggers a global financial meltdown of which European Union is particularly vulnerable due to their inexperience of crisis of this magnitude but more importantly due to the shared currency that prevents individual member nations to implement solutions that might have worked for their particular circumstances.

Germany being the leading power of European Union is able to sway the outcomes of European decisions in it's favor. It also needs to do so as it is heavily reliant on export to other European countries. It's economy would suffer a great deal if the union were to decide on politics that would impose tariffs on German exports. So while Germany prospers even in the face of a crisis, countries like Greece are suffering unemployment rates that are worse than the Great Depression of America. This inequality and economical hardship is raising a nationalist, anti German, anti immigrant rhetoric in other European countries. And this drives a reactionary nationalism in Germans as well.

The book poses two central questions. First of all, given the premise of the European Union is to have a shared fate of prosperity and peace, what happens the peace when the prosperity is gone. Secondly, what is going to happen as Russia is beginning to assert itself westward again. Given these two questions, author goes on to analyse what challenges await the individual countries of Europe.

The author doesn't go as far as predicting another world war, but he does not predict peace as well. There is a mention of a book that was written around 1909 called 'The Great Illusion'. The Nobel Prize winner Norman Angell argues in that book that a war in Europe became impossible at that point since the countries of the continent is tightly coupled with economic dependency. Only few years later the country descended into a war of unimaginable scale. It is scary to think of these possibilities but the consequences of not thinking are scarier. This book does a great job in presenting the current state of Europe and things that await framed through the lens of geopolitics, economics and history.