Giano Della Bella Confronts The Nobility And Institutes Reforms

The city-state of Florence in the late 13th century was suffering from an imbalance of political and economic power.  In its hands, the nobility had concentrated vast powers to the exclusion of the common citizens, who were either ignored or deliberately disenfranchised.  Political leaders functioned as the hand-puppets of powerful families–the medieval equivalent of the modern corporate conglomerate or “special interest” group–who pulled the strings from behind the scenes.  Demagogues, ever-ready to prey on the innocence or gullibility of the masses, promised what they never intended to deliver; and when they could not deliver, contented themselves with distracting the populace with frights, scares, amusements, or foreign military adventures.

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Even Trivial Incidents Can Spark Disaster When Wise Leadership Is Absent

The astute observer of affairs will keep his finger on the pulse of unfolding events.  He will make his observations, draw his own conclusions, and adjust his behavior accordingly.  It is of no use to pretend that something is not what it clearly is; to live in denial is to live with a suspended sentence hovering over one’s head.  For when the conditions are right for a fire, any spark can be the cause of a conflagration.

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Military Adventurism Brings Disaster To The Reckless

In the year 1260, Tuscany was engulfed in war.  The cities of Florence and Siena were engaged in mutual hostilities.  About twenty-five miles from Siena was located the small town of Montalcino, which happened to be a friend and ally of Florence.  The Sienese hoped that by staging an attack on Montalcino they might be able to compel the Florentines to send an expedition for its relief–an expedition that, they hoped, they could lure into a trap.  To this end, the Sienese government publicly announced their intention to move against Montalcino, and watched to see what the Florentine response would be.

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The Fall Of Singapore: The Price Of Inept Leadership

It is a pleasant thing to recall our victories.  Far less pleasant is to be reminded of our defeats.  And yet there is something sublime in the recounting of a disaster; provided, of course, one does not have to be on the spot at the time of its unfolding.  Catastrophes provide more fertile material for instruction than do successes; and the conscientious historian should make a strenuous effort to discover why they unfolded as they did.

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Case Studies In Conflict: Richard Overy’s “War: A History In 100 Battles”

We hear a lot of talk about “new generations” of warfare.  Everything is supposed to be new, different, and immutably changed from previous eras of conflict.  Some people have even taken to numbering what they see as historical phases of warfare.  First generation, second generation, third generation, etc.  While there is some merit to this classification system, I think its disadvantages outweigh its advantages.  Such neat categorizations tempt us into believing that things are somehow different now than they have been in the past.

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On The Banquets Of Montezuma

There must be many times when the participants in great historical events can scarcely believe their good fortune in being present to witness the momentous events in question.  Chance has its role in history; and whether Fortune or virtue plays the deciding role in human events is a question that we must leave to the philosophers.  Cicero tells us (On Moral Ends V.5) that Theophrastus’s treatise On the Happy Life placed too much weight on the role of Fortune, and not enough emphasis on virtue.

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The Limits Of Predictive Power: Graham Allison’s “Destined For War”

The central thesis of Dr. Graham Allison’s Destined for War:  Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? is relatively straightforward to state.  When a rising power (China) is confronted by a relatively declining power (the United States), the declining one often resorts to making war on its enemy.  Allison’s term for this phenomenon is “Thucydides’s Trap,” a phrase taken from the following observation by the great Greek historian: Continue reading