Summer reading: Hannah Pakula’s ‘The Last Empress’

July 28, 2010 | By Bernie Quigley

Turning East may be the most difficult thing we as a nation will ever have to do. We have already used nuclear weapons in our ongoing conflicts in the East. We have had a foot in Asia for hundreds of years and have been at war there just as long. And as British gunboats sank Chinese junks in the 1830s, so today American gunboats proudly cruise the South China Sea, showing our “commitment to stability” in the region.

The postwar period has sent two out of the four generations to war in the East, Don Draper’s and my own, and those who dodged then proudly display their manlies today. Note to Secretary of State Clinton: The 1830s called. They want their foreign policy back. Even the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were designed by William Kristol and Robert Kagan and their MSM propagandists — “Project for the New American Century” — to keep our minds off China.

This will end where it began, in China. Hannah Pakula’s recent book, The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China, can bring perspective and provide links between the opium wars of the 1800s and Secretary Clinton’s forays today.

China’s history is difficult, but none is more fascinating. Mastering it can take years, but Pakula brings it together with grace and ability. It is a story everyone in power should know and understand, because we Americans have become — temperamentally — a Pacific nation only in the last 30 years or so. This is a door that has opened that will not be closed.

A second book that might be read this summer has been around for a while: The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. It recalls the Roman and Taoist outlooks, which divide historic cycles into 10 80- to 100-year links. Good to know, because the Anglo-American arc of power is receding now to the end of its seventh link, heading into the night and fog.

But China — and, incidentally, Israel — can be seen as leaving an amorphous, mythic and timeless state and entering a new concretization of politics and culture. These two have just completed their first link. Both should rise now for another 900 years. And they will be rising from prehistory as we yield to post-history.

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