At the height of the calamities of the mid twentieth century, an assured and distinctly American voice brought focus and attention to world events in brief movie vignettes presented at the primary American gathering place of that time, the movie house. Thomas, a very American entrepreneurial character, was in a strange way his own news
service, and invented many of the concepts that currently form our visual news services today. Thomas was the man who brought the visual media to news celebrity, finding and engaging T.E. Lawrence, helping turning him into “Lawrence of Arabia”. He helped found nightly radio national news broadcasts, was responsible for the first television news broadcast, and anchored the first telecast of a political convention. But Lowell Thomas is secured in history for going around the world in Movietone News, tying crisp and tight prose to sharply edited and dramatic newsreel footage to bring impact to the stories of the day, often in far off places ,to the contained world of the viewer. You could leave the movie theater knowing what you needed to know, because Lowell had synthesized it for you.
Well, nobody could possibly do like Lowell Thomas, but there are plenty of reminders out there of a world of ongoing events that we should keep in front of us as cascade down the year of 2016. Ramparts therefore humbly borrows the snapshot techniques of Lowell
Thomas and Movietone and takes you Around The World with RAMPARTS-TONE NEWS.
Great Britain: On June 23rd, 2016, the voters of Great Britain will contemplate in the voting booth a referendum decision to potentially overturn the political directions of Europe cultivated over the last 70 years since the end of the Second World War. Out of the calamity of war, the governments of Europe determined to bind themselves together ever more securely in a union that they hoped would sublimate the nationalist tendencies that bedeviled Europe’s peace for five hundred years. What was at first the concept of a common market, has progressively become more of a political union in which the member states have less and less to say regarding their own economic and political decisions. Great Britain, the fifth largest economy of the world, feels increasingly hamstrung by its place in the European Union, the rules of trade with any partners outside of the EU at the mercy of joint EU decisions, its monetary system based on the pound sterling unteathered to the Euro. Germany and France, the joint force behind both EU and Euro policies, is not about to let Britain make independent decisions without being lashed to the Euro. Given the economic events in Europe over the last several years, being lashed to the Euro is the last thing on Britain’s mind. What makes up a modern nation state, how do economies work, what would happen to the United Kingdom (particularly pro EU Scotland), and what is the effect on the stability of post WWII Europe are just some of the small considerations Great Britain’s voters will need to educate themselves upon before voting on June 23rd. Polls suggest that those who want to stay in the EU comprise 45% of the voters, those that wish to exit, the BREXIT voter are close behind at 40%. The BREXIT referendum currently has a volatile 14% undecided, so with so much on the line, the heat will certainly turn up as one gets towards the June referendum.
South China Sea: A great economic power inevitably looks to secure its economic future and defend it with a strong military. What is happening in the South China Sea is more complicated than China simply defending its right to commerce. China is claiming hegemony over the South China Sea and the islands within it, and it is not asking the opinion of any of its neighbors. The South China Sea happens to be one of the world’s busiest sea trading lanes, and many countries see it as vital to their independence and prosperity.
The sea lanes have been guaranteed for decades by the world’s largest military, the United States. What happens when a country such as China sees free access to a region it feels is vital to its economic self interests is a recipe for real trouble. The region is thought to contain huge oil and gas reserves, and the neighboring countries of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan, do not intend to allow China to exclude their access to the riches of the sea, or the freedom to navigate. China is forcing the issue by building up the reefs into capable islands with air and sea access for their military, and the United States, responsible for freedom of the sea lanes is none too happy. When a country like China starts determining to secure its neighborhood, the reverberations can be very,very dangerous. This is a building story that will go far beyond the calendar year of 2016.
Libya: Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, it doesn’t look like the calamity of Libya she fostered in her ill considered decisions as Secretary of State, is going away any time soon. The country was unravelled by France, Britain, and the United States by assisting in the overthrow of Muammar Quadaffi in 2011, then passively standing back as the wolves descended on the carcass of the country. Clinton’s unique role in the US disaster at Benghazi is still being investigated, but the future is much scarier than the past. The country is split in half with a General Al-Sisi like strong man, General Khalifa Haftar, running the eastern half of the country and looking to extend his control over the western half which includes the capital of Tripoli, , truly a wild,wild west, run by competing Islamic extremists, including with increasing radicalism and strength, ISIS. The formation of a caliphate with its dagger edge pointed much as in the days of Carthage
directly at the Italian and Iberian peninsulas is a dream come true for ISIS and a nightmare for Italy and Europe. In classic President Obama fashion, the lead from behind strategy has promulgated special levels of damage in a region where passivity is seen as true weakness, and ruthless strength is considered the calling of greatness. Obama, and his apparent successors in Clinton or Trump, are not exactly the type of deep thinkers that understand existential risks. It may be up to Europe, if it wants to survive, to start understanding and reacting to what is at risk from its southern exposure.
Turkey and Syria: Lawrence of Arabia, if he were to accompany Lowell Thomas today to the Middle East, would recognize the increasing calamity that is Syria and every one of its players. Events are happening on a daily basis that are rending the decisions of the day before rapidly past tense. The vestiges of the Ottoman Empire continue to vibrate in every action and reaction. Syria, converted into a horrible wasteland by marauding warriors from distant places and the corrupt and genocidal acts of its on government is at the mercy of ever larger forces.
Turkey, looking to insert its dominance on the region in an effort to reinstitute an Ottoman past, now finds itself under dual direct threat from a vicious ISIS terrorist cell and an increasingly aggressive Kurdish minority that sees a way to a greater Kurdistan across Iraq, Syria, Iran…and Turkey. Russia has masterfully succeeded in entirely usurp US influence in events to become the dominant international broker, creating strange bed fellows, but now must see how to lock in its newfound position while avoiding getting sucked in to the day to day battles. The pressure on the innocents has led to the greatest migration of people within Europe since the wars of the twentieth century, and ISIS has diabolically placed its wolves among the sheep, making for multiple threats across the continent. Iran, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are warily watching each other, knowing an emotional decision could create a real, first class regional war. The Obama United States, forever inward turning, can only watch, as 70 years of being the steadying influence, is going up in smoke.
United States of America: Can a great country overcome its desire to self destruct? Facing a world of increasing instability and threat, internal debt, and a progressively self absorbed, uninterested population regarding the hard work of a republic, the US is looking at a socialist, a populist, an ideologue, and crony capitalist would be felon, three of the four around 70 years of age, to lead it through these many events demanding innovative and assertive leadership. Sanders. Trump. Cruz. Clinton. That is the roster of talent that will be asked to handle this increasingly difficult world. Not exactly an inspiring thought. There are terrific talents waiting in the wings, but none are positioned to help the country on November 8th, 2016. Will the rest of the world be willing to wait for the US to get its act together?
Stay tuned. Now it can be shown. Maybe just like the old days…