Is the U.S. an Empire?
Tens of thousands of German civilians died of starvation or malnutrition-related illnesses before Britain finally lifted the blockade once Germany signed the Versailles treaty. Bribed by the Allies with promises of territorial gains, Italy entered the war in against Austria-Hungary and in against Germany. Orlando stormed out of the conference in April when it became clear that Italy would not receive all the territory it wanted. After decades of propaganda and mythmaking, however, it is time to set the record straight by revealing what the Treaty of Versailles did not do.
First and foremost, a stake should be driven once and for all through the heart of the most egregiously false claim about the Treaty of Versailles — that Germany was unfairly saddled with heavily punitive, disastrously costly war reparations that destroyed its postwar economy, caused crippling hyperinflation and doomed the democratic Weimar Republic. In fact, requiring defeated nations to pay reparations to the victors was a long-standing feature of treaties ending European wars.
The French promptly paid in full, even though the cost was equal to 25 percent of their national income. The next important point is two-fold: First, the reparations Germany was required to pay were for civilian damages caused by its invasion and occupation of Belgium and northern France.
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Another revealing fact is that the figure Germany supposedly was required to pay for reparations — a hefty billion marks — was intentionally misleading. The Allies never intended Germany to pay such a huge sum. As historian and economist Sally Marks, among others, has pointed out, the actual figure the Allies intended Germany to pay, and which they had calculated Germany could pay, was a more modest 50 billion marks.
In fact, during treaty negotiations, the Germans had offered to pay 51 billion!
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Yet Germany never paid even that much lower figure. Between and when Germany suspended reparations payments indefinitely it paid only 20 billion. But even this figure is misleading, since only Moreover, the Germany not only received far more money in U. Yet as noted, from to , Germany, with the help of U.
Instead of imposing taxes to pay for the war, they decided to fund it by borrowing. The effect of this decision was to begin a steady devaluation of the German mark against foreign currencies.
Predictably, this caused inflation, and as more money entered circulation, inflation rates increased. Moreover, the claim that hyperinflation led directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis flies in the face of reality. Only German politicians — both for their own domestic political reasons and as a means to gain international sympathy — chose to interpret Article as unfairly placing blame for the entire war on Germany.
And, as noted, even that was further limited to what the Allies calculated Germany could pay. Yet that claim assumes that the league would have been successful at preventing another world war if the United States had been a member. As we know from the Manhattan Project, the stakes of war have a way of sharpening the scientific mind.
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Still others have accused premodern China of insufficient curiosity about life beyond its borders. Notably, there seems to have been very little speculation in China about extraterrestrial life before the modern era. Whatever the reason, China paid a dear price for slipping behind the West in science and technology. After sending , laborers to the Western Front in support of the Allied war effort during World War I, Chinese diplomats arrived at Versailles expecting something of a restoration, or at least relief from the unequal treaties.
Deng evinced a near-religious reverence for science and technology, a sentiment that is undimmed in Chinese culture today.
It remains an open question whether Chinese science will ever catch up with that of the West without a bedrock political commitment to the free exchange of ideas. China has learned the hard way that spectacular scientific achievements confer prestige upon nations.
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China has largely focused on the applied sciences. Now China is bringing its immense resources to bear on the fundamental sciences. It is also eyeing Mars. Nothing except, perhaps, first contact. A t a security station 10 miles from the dish, I handed my cellphone to a guard. A different guard drove me on a narrow access road to a switchback-laden stairway that climbed steps up a mountainside, through buzzing clouds of blue dragonflies, to a platform overlooking the observatory. It was Nan who had made sure the new dish was customized to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Apart from microwaves, such as those that make up the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, radio waves are the weakest form of electromagnetic radiation. Collecting these ethereal signals requires technological silence. After making a shortlist of candidate locations, Nan set out to inspect them on foot. Hiking into the center of the Dawodang depression, he found himself at the bottom of a roughly symmetrical bowl, guarded by a nearly perfect ring of green mountains, all formed by the blind processes of upheaval and erosion.
After the dish is calibrated, it will start scanning large sections of the sky. Liu Cixin told me he doubts the dish will find one. If a civilization were about to be invaded by another, or incinerated by a gamma-ray burst, or killed off by some other natural cause, it might use the last of its energy reserves to beam out a dying cry to the most life-friendly planets in its vicinity. Previous observatories could search only a handful of stars for this radiation. In Beijing, I told Liu that I was holding out hope for a beacon.
I told him I thought dark-forest theory was based on too narrow a reading of history. It may infer too much about the general behavior of civilizations from specific encounters between China and the West. Across history, it is easy to find examples of expansive civilizations that used advanced technologies to bully others. But even if these patterns extend back across all of recorded history, and even if they extend back to the murky epochs of prehistory, to when the Neanderthals vanished sometime after first contact with modern humans, that still might not tell us much about galactic civilizations.
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And no civilization could last tens of millions of years without learning to live in peace internally. The Milky Way has been habitable for billions of years. Anyone we make contact with will almost certainly be older, and perhaps wiser. M oreover, the night sky contains no evidence that older civilizations treat expansion as a first principle. Maybe the self-replicating machinery required to spread rapidly across billion stars would be doomed by runaway coding errors.
Or maybe civilizations spread unevenly throughout a galaxy, just as humans have spread unevenly across the Earth. Some seti researchers have wondered about stealthier modes of expansion. Some have even searched for evidence that such spacecraft might have visited this planet, by looking for encoded messages in our DNA—which is, after all, the most robust informational storage medium known to science. They too have come up empty. The idea that civilizations expand ever outward might be woefully anthropocentric.
Liu did not concede this point. To him, the absence of these signals is just further evidence that hunters are good at hiding. He told me that we are limited in how we think about other civilizations. First contact would be trickier still if we encountered a postbiological artificial intelligence that had taken control of its planet.
Its worldview might be doubly alien. It might not feel empathy, which is not an essential feature of intelligence but instead an emotion installed by a particular evolutionary history and culture. The logic behind its actions could be beyond the powers of the human imagination. It might have transformed its entire planet into a supercomputer, and, according to a trio of Oxford researchers , it might find the current cosmos too warm for truly long-term, energy-efficient computing.
It might cloak itself from observation, and power down into a dreamless sleep lasting hundreds of millions of years, until such time when the universe has expanded and cooled to a temperature that allows for many more epochs of computing. The first thing I noticed at the top was not the observatory, but the Karst mountains. They were all individuals, lumpen and oddly shaped.
They stretched in every direction, all the way to the horizon, the nearer ones dark green, and the distant ones looking like blue ridges. Amid this landscape of chaotic shapes was the spectacular structure of the dish. Five football fields wide, and deep enough to hold two bowls of rice for every human being on the planet, it was a genuine instance of the technological sublime. Cool and concave, the dish looked at one with the Earth.
I sat up there for an hour in the rain, as dark clouds drifted across the sky, throwing warbly light on the observatory. Its thousands of aluminum-triangle panels took on a mosaic effect: Some tiles turned bright silver, others pale bronze. It was strange to think that if a signal from a distant intelligence were to reach us anytime soon, it would probably pour down into this metallic dimple in the planet. The radio waves would ping off the dish and into the receiver. International protocols require the disclosure of first contact , but they are nonbinding. Maybe China would make the signal a state secret.
Even then, one of its international partners could go rogue. In Beijing, I had asked Liu to set aside dark-forest theory for a moment. I asked him to imagine the Chinese Academy of Sciences calling to tell him it had found a signal. How would he reply to a message from a cosmic civilization? He said that he would avoid giving a too-detailed account of human history.
I reminded Liu that distant civilizations might be able to detect atomic-bomb flashes in the atmospheres of distant planets, provided they engage in long-term monitoring of life-friendly habitats, as any advanced civilization surely would.