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These pages contain the complete rough draft manuscript of the new book
Generational Dynamics for Historians,
written by John J. Xenakis.
This text is fully copyrighted. You may copy or print out this
material for your own use, but not for distribution to others.
Comments are invited. Send them to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
The major findings of Generational Dynamics begin with the discovery that there are two kinds of wars: crisis (or generational) wars and non-crisis (or mid-cycle) wars.
Crisis wars are cyclic within a society or nation. They're the most horrible kinds of wars. They're so horrible and they traumatize a nation so much that there's unanimous agreement to do everything possible to prevent any such war from ever happening again. When the last generation of people who lived through the crisis war disappear (retire or die) all at the same time, then the nation enters a new crisis period, leading to a new crisis war. That's why a new crisis war typically begins around 60 years after the previous one ends.
In an analysis of over 100 crisis wars in nations around the world throughout history, the number of years from the end of one crisis war to the beginning of the next varied from 40 to 117 years, according to the following table:
Fraction # years of total ------- -------- 0- 40 0% 41- 49 11% 50- 59 33% 60- 69 25% 70- 79 16% 80- 89 4% 90- 99 6% 100-117 5%
These results, along with the theoretical explanation, are extremely significant, and unfortunately little understood.
The Iraqi war provides the most dramatic recent example. The above table shows that there cannot be a massive civil war or anti-American uprising in Iraq, since only about 15 years have passed since the end of the genocidal Iran/Iraq crisis war. For two years, my web site has been mocking and contradicting journalists and analysts who were warning about civil war or uprising, and I was consistently right, and they were almost always wrong.
Crisis wars are the worst kinds of wars -- the genocidal wars.
Some people would argue that America has never fought a genocidal war, but indeed we have -- twice since the nation's founding.
The most recent crisis war was World War II. Before it was over, we firebombed and destroyed major cities like Dresden and Tokyo, with the intention of destroying the cities and their inhabitants, including millions of civilians. And we dropped nuclear weapons on two Japanese cities for exactly the same reason.
I'm not blaming the Allies for taking these genocidal actions. But I'm making the point that genocidal actions like these always occur in crisis wars. In fact, I don't assign blame to anybody for the actions I describe in this book. I'm simply describing what happens, what always happens.
By contrast, the Vietnam War did not exhibit any of this kind of genocide by the Americans. Let's face it: We could have beaten the Vietnamese if we'd been willing to use nuclear weapons on Hanoi, but nothing like that could ever have happened. (Incidentally, the Vietnam war was a genocidal crisis war for the Vietnamese, which explains not only the Tet offensive, but also the massive civil war that engulfed Cambodia in the mid-1970s.)
Nor did World War I exhibit this kind genocidal behavior in western Europe. I've found that those who compare WW I and WW II rarely have the vaguest idea what WW I was about, and simply assume that it was identical to WW II. I'll give just one stark example of the difference between the two wars: In WW II, Germany and Japan refused to surrender, even when it was certain that they would lose, and even when their cities were being firebombed and millions of civilians killed. But in WW I, Germany capitulated long before it had to; there was no genocidal climax, which is what characterizes a crisis war.
Prior to World War II, America's previous crisis war was the Civil War. At the climax of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln OKed a "scorched earth policy": General Sherman marched through Georgia killing not only everyone in sight, but also destroyed all homes and crops so that any survivors starved to death.
This kind of genocidal behavior did not occur in any of America's other wars -- the Gulf War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War I, the Spanish-American War, or the Mexican-American war.
Non-crisis wars are political wars -- they come from the politicians. They can start at any time a politician decides, and they can end at any time.
Crisis wars come "from the people" rather than from the politicians. They're almost like sex in their emotional ferocity. The recur in any society at roughly 70-90 year intervals. Crisis wars may get off to a bumpy start, but once they pick up speed they can't be stopped, and end with a genocidal fury.
Here are some other examples of crisis wars:
Crisis wars are embedded in human nature, and are part of the "survival of the fittest" process. Throughout history, it's crisis wars have permitted people of one religion or ethnic group to annihilate people of a different religion or ethnic group.
These are wars that come "from the people," rather than from the politicians. Wars that come from politicians are never that ferocious; for America, the Gulf War, the Vietnam War and World War I came from the politicians, and were ill-supported by the people, resulting in enormous political controversy. But there was little political controversy for World War II or the Civil War.
It's the crisis wars, the ones that come from the people, that are embedded in human nature, that are part of the process of "survival of the fittest" of different tribes, religious, ethnic groups and nations. Like it or not, these are the wars that are as much part of being human as sex is.
And, like sex, crisis wars always end with a major explosive crisis. A crisis war is like a ball rolling downhill. It may get off to a slow start, it may bounce around for a while, it may stop and start, but after a while it starts gathering speed.
I like the analogy that Leo Tolstoy used, as he described the momentum that drove the French forces to Moscow:
The forces of a dozen European nations burst into Russia. The Russian army and people avoided a collision till Smolensk was reached, and again from Smolensk to Borodino. The French army pushed on to Moscow, its goal and its impetus ever increasing as it neared its aim, just as the velocity of a falling body increases as it approaches the earth. Behind it were seven hundred miles of hunger-stricken, hostile country; ahead were a few dozen miles separating it from its goal. Every soldier in Napoleon's army felt this and the invasion moved on by its own momentum.
The more the Russian army retreated the more fiercely a spirit of hatred of the enemy flared up, and while it retreated the army increased and consolidated. At Borodino, a collision took place. Neither army was broken up, but the Russian army retreated immediately after the collision as inevitably as a ball recoils after colliding with another having a greater momentum, and with equal inevitability the ball of invasion that had advanced with such momentum rolled on for some distance, though the collision had deprived it of all its force.
Tolstoy disputes historians who claim that Napoleon might have won the battle of Borodino and changed the course of history if he hadn't had a cold that day. Tolstoy rejects any such concept, and says that these battles and wars go on because of their own unstoppable momentum.
Many historians say that the French did not win the battle of Borodino because Napoleon had a cold, and that if he had not had a cold the orders he gave before and during the battle would have been still more full of genius and Russia would have been lost and the face of the world have been changed. ...
If it had depended on Napoleon's will to fight or not to fight the battle of Borodino, and if this or that other arrangement depended on his will, then evidently a cold affecting the manifestation of his will might have saved Russia, and consequently the valet who omitted to bring Napoleon his waterproof boots on the twenty-fourth would have been the savior of Russia. ... [That] argument seems not merely untrue and irrational, but contrary to all human reality. To the question of what causes historic events another answer presents itself, namely, that the course of human events is predetermined from on high - depends on the coincidence of the wills of all who take part in the events, and that a Napoleon's influence on the course of these events is purely external and fictitious. ...
[S]trange as it may seem to suppose that the slaughter of eighty thousand men at Borodino was not due to Napoleon's will, though he ordered the commencement and conduct of the battle and thought it was done because he ordered it; strange as these suppositions appear, yet human dignity - which tells me that each of us is, if not more at least not less a man than the great Napoleon - demands the acceptance of that solution of the question, and historic investigation abundantly confirms it.
At the battle of Borodino, Napoleon shot at no one and killed no one. That was all done by the soldiers. Therefore, it was not he who killed people.
The French soldiers went to kill and be killed at the battle of Borodino, not because of Napoleon's orders but by their own volition. The whole army - French, Italian, German, Polish, and Dutch - hungry, ragged, and weary of the campaign, felt at the sight of an army blocking their road to Moscow that the wine was drawn and must be drunk. Had Napoleon then forbidden them to fight the Russians, they would have killed him and have proceeded to fight the Russians because it was inevitable.
Tolstoy's is an extremely powerful insight into the nature of what we call a crisis war.
The fact that historians have been unable to generalize this concept into an understanding that there are two different kinds of wars is a source of constant amazement to me, because the difference between crisis and non-crisis wars is as plain as the nose on your face.
The genocidal nature of World War II and the Civil War is clear and stark to anyone who thinks about it. The political, and decidedly non-genocidal nature of Vietnam, WW I, and other wars, is just as clear and stark.
Even professional historians have difficulty understanding this distinction, and that may simply be because of the nature of historical study itself.
Historians get their kicks out of validating the tiniest details about past times. Did Lincoln have fried eggs for breakfast on the day he signed the Emancipation Proclamation? Proving or disproving that claim would be a major find in the world of historians. Thus, if a 1920s book says that he did eat fried eggs, but a more modern discovery showed that he had pancakes instead, then it's worth throwing a party to celebrate.
This attention to the tiniest detail is both the strength and the weakness of historians. The distinction between crisis and non-crisis wars is a big picture kind of thing, but historians miss the differences because they can't step back and look at the bigger picture.
This was illustrated in a discussion I had with a history professor. I compared World War II to the Vietnam War. I said something like, "We dropped nuclear weapons on Japan in WW II, but in the Vietnam War we prosecuted soldiers for harming civilians."
Well, he got all excited. "No, we didn't prosecute all the soldiers who harmed civilians in Vietnam. There were a lot more soldiers who didn't get prosecuted."
Listening to him I got this weird feeling that I always get that people are sometimes totally oblivious to what's going on. I stared at him for a second, and then raised my voice a little. "WE DROPPED NUCLEAR WEAPONS ON JAPANESE CITIES!"
I hope he got the point. It's like not being able to tell the difference between a summer drizzle and a raging typhoon because you're focusing on only one raindrop at a time.
I was trying to explain that it didn't matter how many dozens of soldiers were or were not prosecuted for harming civilians in the Vietnam War, because the number was tiny compared to the huge masses of civilians who were killed in the explosive ending to World War II.
This little anecdote illustrates some of the difficulties I've found in explaining Generational Dynamics to a general reader, even someone with the background and discipline of a professor of history.
I've now had over three years of experience in understanding and evaluating crisis wars, and I've found that if you look at the big picture about a war, then it's rarely difficult to evaluate it as a crisis or non-crisis war.
However, in chapter xxx (p. [algorithm#1755]), there is a detailed evaluation algorithm that anyone with sufficient understanding of history can use.
Once the existence and frequency of crisis wars has been established, the next task is to show how crisis and non-crisis wars relate to each other through history.
The following graphic depicts both kinds of wars in America's history:
What we're discussing is the following: That a country has a crisis war every 80 years or so -- at exactly the time that the generation of people who lived through the last crisis war, and have a personal memory of it, all disappear (retire or die), all at approximately the same time.
The interval 80 years is only approximate, and it represents the approximate length of a maximum human lifespan (which has been fairly constant for millennia). In actual practice, most crisis wars are 70-90 years apart, and occasionally they're as little as 60 or as many as 100 years apart. In the hundreds of cases I've looked at, there has never been a case where a new crisis war began less than 40 years after the end of the previous one.
Thus, on the American timeline, the Civil War occurred 86 (=1861-1775) years after the Revolutionary War, and World War II began 80 (=1941-1861) years after the Civil War.
The previous graphic shows the crisis and non-crisis wars for America during the last two centuries.
Now let's expand the graphic by adding Mexico and Vietnam to it:
(We are not displaying all wars in other countries; to do so would make the diagram too complex to read.)
This graphic shows some interactions between America and the other two countries.
In 1848, Mexico and the U.S. fought the Mexican-American war. This was a minor war for the U.S., which is why we've labeled it a non-crisis war.
But from Mexico's point of view, this was no minor war. Mexico was invaded and occupied by American forces, and dealt with several internal uprisings, including a war with Mayan Indians in the Yucatan, culminating in a massive peasant revolt in Queretaro.
This illustrates a very important point: That two countries might fight in the same war, but the war can look very different to them.
It's just like a husband and wife having an argument over money or sex. Any husband and wife can tell you that they might be having an argument, but it later turns out that they were arguing over completely different things that neither of them understood at the time. There are hundreds of "relationship books" available on subjects like this.
Similarly two countries may fight the same war, but if you look at the war from the separate points of view of the two countries, it's almost as if they're two completely different wars.
In order to understand Generational Dynamics, you have to do something most people don't do: You have to look at things from the point of view of other people, other nations. You can read the history of almost any war ever, and the description from the different sides will make it seem like different wars.
So later we'll be describing how to evaluate a war to determine whether it's a crisis or non-crisis war, and it will be necessary to evaluate the war separately for each country fighting in the war.
Returning now to the last graphic, we can see that the Mexican-American war was a crisis war for Mexico, and that the next crisis war was the Mexican Revolution, which began 64 (=1911-1846) years after the Mexican-American war.
The same kind of story applies to Vietnam. Our Vietnam war was a political disaster. America was not united -- it was polarized, with antiwar riots on college campuses, "days of rage" on the streets.
But not so for the North Vietnamese. This was total war for them. They were willing to sacrifice everything to win this war. And it didn't end with the Vietnam war: During the 1970s there was a massive genocidal civil war in Cambodia that killed millions of people.
So our Vietnam war was a non-crisis war, but it was a crisis war for the Vietnamese. It occurred a little over 80 years after their last crisis war - the French Indochina war of the 1880s and 1890s.
Finally, let's add Western Europe, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire to the graphic:
This graphic shows numerous wars among these countries, and the type of war for each country.
This diagram is, I believe, a fascinating way to look at wars. Instead of seeing wars as more or less random events that occur at various times, the above diagram organizes wars and shows their relationship in a way that adds to our understanding.
In developing Generational Dynamics, I had to come up with a solid working definition of genocide. This isn't the standard legal or dictionary definition, but my research indicates that it's closest to what genocide really is.
I needed this definition because I needed a method for identifying crisis wars. A basic principle of Generational Dynamics is that every nation has a genocidal crisis war every 70-90 years, and this has been shown to be true in over 100 cases in dozens of countries throughout history. This requires a solid definition of "genocidal" that can be applied to any war at any place and time in history to determine whether or not it's genocidal.
Here are some of the factors that indicate that a war exhibits this kind of genocidal violence:
In World War II, genocidal acts by the Germans included: The Holocaust (execution of millions of Jews), and Hitler's refusal to capitulate when it was clear that Germany would lose. Genocidal acts by Japan included: Murder and torture of prisoners of war at Bataan; refusal to capitulate when it was clear that Japan would lose; Genocidal acts by America included: Massive D-day assault (willingness to risk everything for victory); firebombing Dresden and Tokyo; use of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities.
In the American Civil War, General Sherman's march through Georgia in 1864 was a genocidal act, since it involved a "scorched earth policy" that killed as many civilians as possible.
From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, genocide is a force of nature, and is neither good nor evil, any more than an earthquake or tsunami is good or evil. This may seem a heartless way of looking at it, but everything about crisis wars is heartless.
Various authors have attempted to discern war cycles throughout history, without much success. Usually these are attempts to relate wars to economic growth cycles in some way, such as to economic upswings and downswings, and variations in stock prices or currency values.
Generational Dynamics shows why such attempts must fail: There are two kinds of wars, and it makes no sense to try to discern cycles without separating the two kinds of war.
The above graphic makes this point: Suppose you remove the lines from the graphic, and color all the large and small dots black:
In this form, it's much harder to see a pattern. But let's take it a step further, and merge the dots from the same time period:
In this form, there's no longer any pattern whatsoever. Comparing this with the next-to-last diagram, you see that a great deal of information has been lost.
And yet, this is the form that most researchers use. They don't consider each country separately, and so they have to struggle to try to find patterns in wars around the world.
It's only when you can trace the path along each country line do you see each the cyclic pattern for each country. This illustrates why it's impossible to detect cycles or patterns in wars generally. The patterns arise only on a local basis.
This is the Generational Dynamics Principle of Localization. It says that generational patterns can be found on a local basis, not on a global basis.
In chapter xxx, we'll do some additional modeling to show the following:
Authors of various stock market and wave theory schemes, including Kondratiev cycles, err when they fail to separate out these two different kinds of cycles. We'll use a simple model to show that technology cycles dominate up until around 1850, and generational cycles dominate since then, which explains the behavior of various cycle schemes.