American intellectual Will Durant’s The Lessons of History—co-written with wife Ariel and published in 1968, when the Soviet Union posed a threat to the United States—still offers insightful lessons, especially concerning American-Muslim relations.
In the chapter titled “History and War,” the Durants posit some hypothetical speeches and approaches concerning war. First, an imaginary U.S. president says before the leaders of communist Russia:
If we should follow the usual course of history, we should make war upon you for fear of what you may do a generation hence…. But we are willing to try a new approach. We respect your peoples and your civilizations as among the most creative in history. We shall try to understand your feelings, and your desire to develop your own institutions without fear of attack. We must not allow our mutual fears to lead us into war, for the unparalleled murderousness of our weapons and yours brings into the situation an element unfamiliar in history. We propose to send representatives to join with yours in a persistent conference for the adjustment of our differences, the cessation of hostilities and subversion, and the reduction of our armaments…. Let us open our doors to each other, and organize cultural exchanges that will promote mutual appreciation and understanding…. We pledge our honor before all mankind to enter into this venture in full sincerity and trust. If we lose in the historic gamble, the results could not be worse than those that we may expect from traditional policies. If you and we succeed, we shall merit a place for centuries to come in the grateful memory of mankind.
Once the imaginary president concludes, “the general smiles,” write the authors, and retorts:
You have forgotten all the lessons of history and all that nature of man which you described. Some conflicts are too fundamental to be resolved by negotiation; and during the prolonged negotitiations (if history may be our guide) subversion would go on. A world order will come not by a gentlemen’s agreement, but through so decisive a victory by one of the great powers that it will be able to dictate and enforce international law, as Rome did from Augustus to Aurelius. Such interludes of widespread peace are unnatural and exceptional; they will soon be ended by changes in the distribution of military power.
Read on to see how well this hypothetical exchange, written in 1968, applies to the current situation between the U.S. and the Muslim world….