A couple of turned-down corners from recent book review reading. First, in ‘Is the UN Doomed?’ (subscribers only) in the New York Review of Books, 15 February 2007, Tony Judt briefly mentions the costs of the UN’s international peacekeeping efforts: “in 1993, peacekeeping expenses alone exceeded the UN’s entire annual budget by over 200 percent.” Which seems like crazy money until you read the related footnote:
The peacekeeping budget issue should be kept in proportion, however. In 2006 all of the UN’s worldwide peacekeeping operations together cost $5 billion. The American adventure in Iraq is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost vastly more than this — $6 billion each month.
Makes the UN’s efforts seem like a bargain. For some reason I have a soft spot for the UN. Despite its flaws it seems, on balance, to be a force for good and something that wouldn’t be created today if it didn’t already exist. Like the BBC.
Anyway, later in the same article some interesting figures on war casualties, to illustrate why European countries “are predisposed to accept that cooperation, not combat, is the necessary condition of survival”:
British military casualties at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 alone exceed all US losses in World Wars I and II combined. The French army lost twice the total number of US Vietnam casualties in the course of just six weeks’ fighting in 1940. Italy, Poland, Germany, and Russia all lost more soldiers and civilians in World War I — and again in World War II — than the US has lost in all its foreign wars put together (in the Russian case by a factor of ten on both occasions). Such contrasts make quite a difference in how you see the world.
Next, in ‘The Surge’, NYRB, 15 March 2007, Peter W. Galbraith writes:
[David] Frum, who wrote the most famous phrase of the Bush presidency, “the axis of evil,” provided a comment that neatly encapsulated the President’s governing style and the neo-conservatives’ belief that ideas trump the practical:
I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that, although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.
I find this quote fascinating, quite aside from it illustrating that Bush doesn’t mean what he says. Something about words on a page being expected to create actions in the world.