So the United States has done a full kowtow, begging China's pardon for having the audacity to land a plane, crippled by the antics of a hot-dogging Chinese pilot, on a Chinese airfield, without first securing the written approval of 43 bureaucrats in Beijing. The President has also, by implication, blamed U.S. military personnel for that pilot's death. In the words of the wire release I have just been reading:
"Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss," said the letter, which was released by the White House. China has accused the U.S. pilot of illegally entering Chinese territory by making the emergency landing without obtaining permission in advance, and the letter goes on to say Washington is "very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance."
This is folly. It is, in fact, very little short of madness. The greatest danger to the peace of the world at the present time is the rabid, psychopathological nationalism of the Chinese, which is being carefully tended and nurtured by the Communist dictatorship for its own purposes. That monster has just been fed a big, nourishing meal by the U.S. administration.
Where is the sense in this? To begin with, we actually do not know what happened over the South China Sea the other day, and have no way to investigate the matter since all the material evidence is in Chinese hands. On circumstantial evidence, the high probability is the one I stated above: that it was the Chinese pilot's fault. If this turns out to be right, how is an apology appropriate? How, even, is an expression of "regret" appropriate? If you try to run me off the road, and the end of it is that you trash my car but kill yourself, will I feel "regret" for your death? Not bloody likely. So what do we do if, once an investigation has been done, it turns out that this is, indeed, what happened? Withdraw our apology?
You see here the great difficulty people raised in the Anglo-Saxon democratic tradition have in dealing with Leninists. To a Leninist, every fight, even over the most trivial matter of words and phrases, is a fight to the death. Nothing can be surrendered, nothing can be compromised. Meeting the other guy half-way is not part of this mindset. If forced to make a tactical retreat, the Leninist will do so; but the setback will rankle, and will be taken as an occasion for fierce revenge in the future. The people we are dealing with in Beijing do not play by Harvard Business School rules. China's current leaders are men in their seventies, born in the 1920s. They got their political education under early Maoism, when today's friend was tomorrow's enemy and the game was played with live ammo. As Bill Gertz has said: "These are not nice people. They do not wish us well." They are tigers, who live only to kill and eat.
China is an un-democratic, in fact anti-democratic, country with a state ideology centered on racial superiority, rabid nationalism, historical grievance (real and imagined) and the restoration of ancient glories (ditto). She is, in short, a fascist dictatorship. This is the beginning of wisdom about China. China's leaders are not pushing any universalist creed. Fascism is never universalist. It is introvert and parochial, a doctrine of autodidacts and narrow, clouded minds. Hitler never started out with any intention to Nazify Africa, or the Americas, or Indonesia. He could not have cared less about those places, though I dare say they turned up in his table talk from time to time. His goal was to assert German control over what he believed to be Germany's rightful sphere of influence: Europe and European Russia. Mussolini talked, with what degree of real conviction I do not know, of restoring the Roman Empire. (It is true that he coveted a bit of Africa, too … but then, so did the Romans.) Early 20th-century Japan was not bent on world conquest, only a Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere — precisely what China wishes to construct in Central Asia and the West Pacific.
One conversation-starter I overheard roughly 1,000 times as a child, from older people in my parents' generation, was: "At what point did you know that there was going to be a war?" [Referring, of course, to WW2. For British people of that age, WW2 was "the War," and WW1 was "the Great War."]
The commonest answer was: "When Chamberlain came back from Munich," i.e. in September 1938. Now, I think a lot of people were kidding themselves here. Chamberlain's reception on returning to London from the Munich conference was, in fact, ecstatic. On the historical evidence, the British public believed him when he said that he had achieved "peace with honour. I believe it is peace in our time." Skeptics — notably, of course, Winston Churchill — were a minority. It was only in the following weeks and months, as the nature of Hitler's ambitions became clearer, that the inevitability of war really sank in. But to hear people talk about this in the 1960s, everybody was a skeptic. Said one of my uncles: "When I saw Chamberlain waving that damn fool piece of paper [i.e. the agreement with Hitler], I thought to myself: 'You silly bugger'."
Thirty years from now my grandchildren may be listening to myself and some other old bores sitting on the porch in our rocking chairs asking each other: "When did you know that war with China was inevitable?" My answer will be: "When George W. Bush gave them that damn fool apology." You silly bugger.