Monday, November 2, 2015

The End of an Analogy

I have spent much time here at the Spew discussing various analogies and kinds of analogies, including how IR can be like tacos and how to make a good IR pop culture analogy.  I love using analogies, and have often used them in my teaching, even as I know that they have their limits (thanks, Robert Jervis).

But if I had to nominate one analogy to kill, to kill with fire, to destroy utterly, it would be the use of the occupations of Germany and Japan to discuss 21st century state-building/nation-building/post-war reconstruction.  I was inspired/depressed by this chain of tweets:

The various activities--occupation, counter-insurgency, reconstruction--the US and its allies have been involved in since 2001 are sufficiently different from ye olde glory daze of post-World War II occupations that we need to stop looking to them for lessons, except perhaps some humility and some budgeting (as in: this stuff is mighty expensive).

There are plenty of folks who have written books on occupation, so consult them.  The one I want to read is Michael Hechter's since he has a chapter on academic departments in receivership--a topic I know well via direct experience.  So, maybe there is something we can glean from the decisions/processes of 70 years ago.  But thus far, the only lessons we seem to have learned are the wrong ones--de-ba'athification in Iraq was supposedly modeled on denazification, and that worked out great for Iraq's ability to govern itself.

As a social scientist, I am committed to studying the past to understand the present and make suggestions about the future.   But those two occupations might be so exceptional that either there is not much to be learned or that the lessons are really, really difficult to apply and perhaps do not apply to ordinary cases of war/defeat/what-next.

Anyone got a stake or a silver bullet or some other pop culture analogical weapon to kill this particular analogy?  Anyone?  Bueller?  See, analogies and references are irresistible.

Update: PT suggested that the better analogy might be US reconstruction after the civil war, which is still going on.  Indeed, I am reminded of a US officer I met in Tuza, Bosnia in 2001 who proudly showed me his unit's patch--a purple and gray ying yang symbol.  He gave it to Bosnians to remind them that the US overcame its civil war.  And I wanted to tell at him that it took the US either 100 years (Civil Rights Act) or beyond that..

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