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Post Sartre on Hell
Created by John Eipper on 01/28/18 4:09 AM

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Sartre on Hell (John Heelan, UK, 01/28/18 4:09 am)

Ric Mauricio (25 January) discussed Heaven and Hell in the afterlife. Sartre claimed that "Hell is other people" in his play No Exit, on the basis of the shame one feels if caught in a disreputable act. Other peoples' knowledge of that act increases the shame.

Monotheist religions use the shame/guilt motivation as a means of controlling their disciples.

JE comments:  Aldona teaches No Exit in her European literature course, and the Sartrean concept of Hell is a great discussion-starter for the students.  Hell can be other people, yet solitude is also Hell.

WAIS prefers light and peace to fire and brimstone, but should we open up an infernal conversation?  What--and more importantly, why--is Hell?  How about this quote for starters:  "I don't give them hell.  I just tell them the truth and they think it's hell."  Of course, this one's from the "Give 'em Hell" guy himself, Harry S Truman.

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  • Give 'Em Hell Harry and MacArthur (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/28/18 2:48 PM)
    John Eipper's comment about Harry Truman being the "Give 'em Hell" guy made me think of him juxtaposed to Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.

    Truman was a folksy guy with clever words. He projected a slightly macho man personality to counterbalance his wimpy persona while growing up. MacArthur always measured himself against his dad's great military accomplishments, including the Medal of Honor.

    When I contrast Truman and MacArthur in more detail, the part that I don't get is that after the brilliantly successful Inchon invasion, as any macho man would, full of bravado, MacArthur carelessly assumed he could squeeze the enemy all way up against the Yalu river and China (perhaps even a little beyond if necessary). His bravado turned into a disaster when American soldiers were trapped by Chinese intervention and had to drag themselves back under fire and murderous cold weather. That is likely to be his greatest blunder in his famous military career.

    On the other hand, Truman, listening to his advisors, was much more careful and sacked MacArthur, perhaps saving us from WWIII. Did the two macho man part company because one was forced to think strategically as a US President, while the other could only behave as a great military leader in a war theater, with no global strategic understanding?

    JE comments:  WAISer Miles Seeley served in Korea, and he wrote a vivid account of how much the GIs hated "Dugout Doug" MacArthur.  See link below.

    (When searching for Miles' post, I was shocked and extremely saddened to find his obituary.  Miles passed away in March of last year, at his home in Kansas City.  I never met him in person, but he was a model WAISer and a wonderful correspondent.  More to follow.)


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    • Truman and MacArthur: A Political Rivalry? (John Heelan, UK 01/30/18 4:24 AM)
      Tor Guimaraes asked on 29 January: "Did the two macho man [Truman and MacArthur] part company because one was forced to think strategically as a US President, while the other could only behave as a great military leader in a war theatre, with no global strategic understanding?"

      On the other hand, the politically astute Truman might have just been removing the threat of a potential future presidential candidate. After all Eisenhower was successful in leveraging his prestige as commanding general of the victorious forces in Europe during World War II.

      JE comments:  Truman (I just checked) did dip his toes in the water for the 1952 elections, but after a poor showing in New Hampshire he chose to drop out.  (HST had already served most of FDR's fourth term, plus one of his own.)  LBJ would follow suit in 1968.  Note the similarities between the two:  both were VPs who ascended upon a president's death, and both were mired in unpopular wars.

      MacArthur, on the other hand, was already 72 in 1952, probably past the "due date" for the White House at that time.  Eisenhower was ten years younger.

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    • Appraising Mao (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/30/18 12:40 PM)
      A short while ago several WAIS postings addressed the accomplishments of Chairman Mao and compared him negatively against Hitler and Stalin. The discussion produced more heat than information, but it made me realize a few things:

      When we compare national leaders like Stalin and Mao who are responsible for the death of millions of their compatriots, should we not take into account what the motivation and objective was, whether the killings happened through war or a deliberate extermination attempt, whether they enjoyed support from a majority of the population, etc. Those things are important to me.

      Another consideration is that compared to the judgment from their respective national populations, the personal opinions from armchair experts from the other side of the world are somewhat hollow. We need evidence and clear reasoning before name-calling.

      Last, how do we compare the disgusting atrocities by the governments of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, etc. to the more "civilized" systematic long-term devastation Western colonial powers imposed on many weaker nations all over the world including China, Vietnam, several African nations, etc. Ditto for imperial powers dictating law and order, replacing governments, causing everlasting civil wars costing trillions of dollars and millions of lives, etc. to suit their own interests.

      JE comments:  Another crucial distinction:  Mao was never overthrown or discredited.  Stalin was at least discredited, although he is still seen with nostalgic affection by some Russians.

      We should all take Tor Guimaraes's final paragraph seriously.  Before decrying the beam in another system's eye, acknowledge the possibility of motes in one's own.  (In the previous sentence, switch beam and mote if desired.)

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    • Truman and MacArthur (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/31/18 9:27 AM)
      I appreciated Tor Guimaraes's post (28 January) on the personalities of MacArthur and Harry Truman.

      MacArthur was consistent with his theory: no substitute for victory. Truman, on the other hand, first killed a dead enemy (Japan) and then chickened out before a strong enemy, thus starting the long list of unwon wars.

      Anyway the most disastrous president who wanted to measure himself against his father was George W. Bush.

      To comfort myself, however, this evening I am going to watch one of the most amusing war films on TV, Operation Petticoat.

      JE comments:  That one's a classic, with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis (1959).

      One of the several things Truman and MacArthur had in common:  combat experience in the Great War.  No US president besides Truman saw action on the Western Front--Harry S definitely was not a chicken.  (Eisenhower was never in Europe during WWI.)

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      • Truman a Coward? Mao Misunderstood? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 02/01/18 5:13 AM)

        Gary Moore asks:

        A riddle for WAIS courtesy: What to reply when there is no reply
        and yet a reply seems demanded?

        Eugenio Battaglia says Truman was chicken and Tor Guimaraes says
        Mao is a victim of armchair experts, so that, like, we need more evidence.

        Do these things come in waves? Should we ask the astrologers: Is the moon
        in Jupiter or something?

        I do sort of agree with Eugenio on George W. Bush, and with Tor (I think) on God. Is that riddle-reprieve enough?

        JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia (next) has qualified his earlier appraisal of Truman, and to be fair, Eugenio said HST "chickened out," not that he was a chicken per se.  For his part, Tor Guimaraes never said Mao was a victim, only that we judges in Western (if Chinese-made) armchairs should not overlook the deaths that have resulted from our own military adventures.

        I think I got that right.  As for world leaders, what is preferable, cowardice or bravado?  The latter invariably results in one thing:  war.

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        • Truman Appraised: Cowardice, Bravado, Neither? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/02/18 3:52 AM)
          John Eipper asked, "As for world leaders, what is preferable, cowardice or bravado?"

          Both characteristics if shown by world leaders should be cause for dismissal. Both can become way too expensive to be tolerated by the nation, which will ultimately have to pay the cost. In other words, world leaders should be honest, sober, measured, courageous, and preferably good-looking.

          The bravado by Douglas MacArthur was only human: After helping win WWII over the Japanese, he also won the peace in my estimation with an outstanding administration of post-war Japan. Then he implemented against Washington's advice/pressure the brilliant Inchon invasion in Korea. I believe most humans might indulge in some bravado in this context. Proud teenagers love any opportunity for bravado. Cowardice is what bad guys show when their goose gets cooked à la Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, etc.

          MacArthur was a proud human being, thus he indulged in what he probably thought was the coup de grace against the North Korean military by squeezing them against the Yalu river (Chinese border), totally neglecting to consider what he would have to do if the Chinese Army entered the fight. The result was a very embarrassing defeat for the USA and the worst military result for any MacArthur military campaign. He deserved to be canned by Truman for the extremely difficult conditions the American troops had to suffer.

          Commenting on Eugenio Battaglia's post, JE wrote, "Regarding Truman, History's jury is still deliberating. Would HST have been a greater president had he not used the Bomb? Or was he 'great' precisely because he took that weighty decision?"

          Eugenio is correct, the Japanese nation was already on its proverbial last leg. The overwhelming invasion of Manchuria by the Russians (which by then had run over the "invincible" German army all way to Berlin) was a huge shock to the Japanese. Once the US government limited the wording of the unconditional surrender demands to "armed forces," the major obstacle was removed. Japanese surrender was delayed only because they would not compromise their living God and because the military leadership alone preferred to commit suicide rather than surrender.

          A better person (i.e. Eisenhower) would not have dropped the bomb. The aggressive and nasty Japanese military deserved to get burned, but not civilians who had no choice to surrender. Truman knew the A-bomb was justifiably popular at the time, because an invasion of Japan would kill many thousands of American soldiers. A million is likely a huge exaggeration, given the enormous military superiority the US then enjoyed over Japan. Generals MacArthur, Bombs-Away Le May, and other hawkish generals held the opinion that the A-bomb was not necessary for the surrender. That is conclusive enough for me.

          JE comments:  Was Eisenhower a better person than Truman, or was he "better" because he didn't drop the Bomb?  If you use marital fidelity as a yardstick, Ike comes up lacking.

          About once a year, WAIS raises the question of whether Japan would have surrendered anyway (i.e., without Hiroshima and Nagasaki), and at what cost to the US.  A million more casualties?  "Only" a few thousand?  We'll never know, but Truman in 1945 would have had a hard time justifying even a single additional US death to spare the lives of the despised Japanese.  On the other hand, there's also the conspiracy interpretation that the Bomb was primarily a warning signal to the Soviets.

          Now, to Mao (Istvan Simon).

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        • Mao and "Armchair Experts": Response to Tor Guimaraes (Istvan Simon, USA 02/02/18 4:19 AM)
          I would like to start this comment by thanking Gary Moore for his riddle (February 1st) and all that he said in his post. It needed to be said, and he did it with truly extraordinary skill, admirable tact and diplomacy. Thank you Gary. I much admire your skill in saying things diplomatically.

          Still, while I am in awe at Gary's diplomatic skills, I am much less refined than he is in saying things with riddles. I am usually much more direct and explicit and even prefer, at least for myself, the not-mincing-words approach, while still, I hope, remaining within the bounds of civility.

          John Eipper said commenting on Gary's post that Tor Guimaraes did not say that Mao was a victim. I am sorry John, but I believe that this is inaccurate or at least misleading. I understand and applaud you that you made the comment with the best of intentions to fulfill your role as moderator, but nonetheless I feel that I need to point out the inaccuracy. Tor very much said that Mao was a victim. Worse, he did so by personally criticizing WAISers in the process qualifying their criticisms of Mao as that of "armchair experts." Further, he said that the discussion produced more heat than information, a second criticism of his fellow WAISers, and in my opinion an unfair one.

          I am no doubt one of the armchair experts to which Tor's remarks and criticisms were directed. Both his critical remarks were in part clearly directed at me. Tor did not name me explicitly, but he did not have to. I was clearly involved in the discussion that he responded to. Let me state that I do not take offense for his criticisms, for I am, paraphrasing Harry Truman's words, able to take the heat and do not need to get out of the kitchen.

          Nonetheless, I must respond to Tor, and I shall do so much more forcefully and explicitly than Gary's diplomatic and magistral post.

          I do not take offense for him calling me an armchair expert, nor that the posts he referred to, mine included, on the subject produced more "heat than information". If Tor wants information, he can read George Zubin Gu's magnificent posts on WAIS, so full of detail, names, references, and what is still more important for me, humaneness. Or he can read Mao's personal physician's account in his superb book that I referred to in my post. Here is the explicit reference for interested WAISers' enlightenment:


          I will not waste any more of this post with the criticism that Tor directed at me. It is irrelevant for my purposes and does not deserve any further comment. Rather, I will reserve my fire to the overall tone of his post. For I consider Tor Guimaraes' post one of the most callous ones ever published in WAIS. His remarks and defense of Mao should be offensive to any human being in my humble opinion. It exhibits a level of callousness and indifference towards the deaths of 70 million human beings, and the unspeakable sufferings of their families that Mao's misrule produced. Tor asks an irrelevant question, which he says is important for him, that is to examine Mao's motivation. I must comment on this further, for when one is responsible for the deaths of 70 million human beings, motivation is really irrelevant. For the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

          But beyond that, Mao was truly evil, and not at all even mildly well-intentioned. Consider the vile, despicable and ruthless methods that he used to remain in power. After the disasters of the killings of sparrows and the stupidity of the Great Leap Forward, Mao was criticized in the Politburo. He first appeared to accept the criticism--in reality he never did, as it will be apparent shortly. Mao actually generalized it. He invited people to freely criticize him and his regime, and to offer well -intentioned suggestions for improvement. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese responded in good faith, and wrote about what they thought could be improved. Having invited such criticism, what did Mao do? He used the invited criticisms as a means to identify people in opposition to his rule. He had them arrested, tortured, murdered. Good intentions Tor?

          Further, Tor said that "compared to the judgment from their respective national populations, the personal opinions from armchair experts from the other side of the world are somewhat hollow. We need evidence and clear reasoning before name-calling."

          As for evidence, I think we armchair experts have provided plenty. Second, I could write volumes about the judgment from their respective populations. I reported on my conversations with Chinese people in a previous post. When I mentioned to one of my Chinese acquaintances in 2004, who asked me where I had been, that I was in Beijing visiting Mao's corpse in his mausoleum, he had this to say: " A terrible man, a horrible despot, a Saddam Hussein." He was being too kind to Mao, for though Saddam was an unspeakable villain, he was never responsible for 70 million deaths. But in any case this is typical of the answer of many many native Chinese I have spoken to, and it makes it clear that Mao is regarded as a bloody despicable despot by quite a few Chinese. Among these of course is George Zubin Gu. Likewise my wife and her friends. This is also the view of my Chinese students, many of whom candidly appraised Mao as absolute evil.

          But suppose, for the sake of argument, that this was not the case. Why would my opinion be somewhat hollow? It isn't. I am entitled to my opinion regardless of whether the Chinese themselves view Mao favorably or unfavorably. So, no Tor, my armchair expert opinion is not at all hollow.

          Finally let me address another point in Tor's post, which I found also offensive. He asks:

          "Last, how do we compare the disgusting atrocities by the governments of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, etc. to the more 'civilized' systematic long-term devastation Western colonial powers imposed on many weaker nations all over the world including China, Vietnam, several African nations, etc. Ditto for imperial powers dictating law and order, replacing governments, causing everlasting civil wars costing trillions of dollars and millions of lives, etc. to suit their own interests."

          So why do I find this offensive? I don't find any of what he said about colonial wars, the sins of the West and so on, offensive at all per se. Tor is welcome to discuss and excoriate them all to his heart's content. What I vehemently object to is the comparison to Mao Zedong's murderous misrule, the juxtaposition of the West's sins to Mao's rule. This juxtaposition is deeply offensive, because even if we accepted Tor's possible thesis, that the sins of the West are far worse than Mao's misrule, which by the way I do not accept, even in that case two wrongs do not a right make. So it can never be an excuse for Mao's evil rule.

          JE comments:  A large part of the WAIS moderator's job is to unruffle feathers.  Having said that, I did not interpret Tor's comment as drawing a moral equivalency between Mao's "disgusting atrocities" (Tor's words) and the military adventures of the West.  Am I being too indulgent?  Tor?

          I plan to read Li Zhisui's book (above link).  Mao's physician died in 1995, in exile in Carol Stream, Illinois.  Did anyone in WAISworld know or meet him?

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          • A-Bomb Revisited: Japan Would Have Surrendered Anyway (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/04/18 7:15 AM)
            John Eipper commented on the February 2nd post of Istvan Simon: "I did not interpret Tor's comment as drawing a moral equivalency between Mao's 'disgusting atrocities' (Tor's words) and the military adventures of the West. Am I being too indulgent? Tor?"

            I believe John's interpretation of my earlier statements is exactly right. I greatly appreciate his careful reading of all WAIS postings, his attempts at reducing misinterpretations and toning down any aggressive language which only adds unnecessary heat to the discussion but little new information. Thank you, John. Keep up the good work.

            Regarding the first two uses of the A-bomb, the evidence is clear that the US had the moral high ground due to how the Japanese started the war and the continuous Japanese atrocities against soldiers and civilians alike all over the war theater. Nevertheless, the results in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are considered by most people to be a nasty blow to humanity. Was it necessary? I already explained the reasons why it was clearly not necessary, but let me elaborate.

            1. The Japanese was badly beaten.  They had no air power or naval power to speak of. The civilian population was starving and honor-bound and trained with sticks to fight to death if necessary. But they were hardly a worthy opponent against American forces.

            2.  The overwhelming invasion of Manchuria by the Russians (which by then had run over the "invincible" German army all way to Berlin) was a huge shock to the Japanese.

            3. The Americans in the best position to know, Generals MacArthur, Bombs-Away Le May, and other hawkish American generals, held the opinion that the A-bomb was not necessary for the surrender. That is conclusive enough for me.

            4. Once the US government limited the wording of the unconditional surrender demands to "armed forces," the major obstacle (threat to their living god) was removed. Only the military leadership preferred to commit suicide rather than surrender, the rest of the cabinet knew resistance was futile and was ready to surrender.

            5. Above all Truman was a politician. He knew the A-bomb was justifiably popular at the time because an invasion of Japan would kill many thousands of American soldiers. A million is likely a huge exaggeration, given the enormous military superiority the US enjoyed over Japan at the time. Any military resistance could have been vaporized by our overwhelming conventional military power.

            JE comments:  Howard Zinn's People's History argues that the Bomb was used for two reasons only:  to shock and awe the Soviets, and to justify the enormous capital investment.  Francisco Ramírez has forwarded a thoughtful critique of Zinn's categorical thesis.  Tune in later today.

            Thank you for your kind words, Tor.  I do try to give every incoming WAIS post a thorough and open-minded reading.

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            • Howard Zinn and the Dropping of the Bomb on Japan (Francisco Ramirez, USA 02/05/18 3:49 AM)
              Below is a critique from Sam Wineburg of a very popular textbook, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

              Part of the critique focuses on the question of whether Japan was ready to surrender and we dropped the bomb to either punish them or impress the Soviet Union. The critique relies on more recent archival data and charges Zinn of sticking to his earlier thesis and ignoring recent evidence relevant to the thesis.

              This is not my area of expertise, but I thought it would be good to consider evidence when putting forth our opinions on historical events.

              Using nuclear weapons is not the sort of decision I even remotely have ever had to make. Informing some faculty that they are not getting tenure was bad enough for me.

              JE comments:  Tenure denial feels like getting nuked, if it happens to you.

              Wineburg takes issue with Zinn for his historiographical certainty, the cocksuredness of his iconoclastic interpretations.  Zinn has no use for nuances or the "perhaps," even when discussing counterfactuals.  Regarding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Zinn sees two (and only two) explanations for the US decision:  to justify the massive capital investment, and to awe/intimidate the Soviet Union.  Wineburg presents evidence against the "imminent surrender anyway" thesis, specifically the peace overtures sent by Japan to the Soviet Union.  The Soviets did not see the communication as anything other than a Japanese play for more time.



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            • Peace/War, Humility, and Armchair Experts; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 02/05/18 4:07 AM)
              Ric Mauricio writes:

              "War is over, if you want it." --John Lennon

              But there is something called the ego. There is something in humankind that causes us to compare ourselves to others, and to base our self-worth on whether we are more superior than others. Whether it be in the corporate halls or the halls of government, it causes humans to degrade others by calling them names, by bullying, by destroying others with innuendo.

              This ego leads to arrogance, and arrogance leads to destructive behavior. This is why empires rise and fall. And of course, this is why wars happen. But the only way to stop the maddening crowd and the insanity is to humble ourselves. Yes, we are but armchair experts, but at least we are attempting to flail against the futility of the insanity exhibited by humankind.

              MacArthur's arrogance led to his downfall. How many times, my dear General, did they have to photograph you stepping back on Philippine soil on that beach? And why did you, my dear General, leave the Philippines when you were the most needed, only to return after the Japanese annihilated and beheaded many Filipinos and Americans in Bataan? But yes, you staged it well, with your "I Shall Return" speech and the photo op. Oh, what an ego.

              I heard the justification that dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to save American lives. Shock and awe? No, my ego demands that my MOAB is bigger than your MOAB.

              JE comments:  Economists understand warfare as societies competing for limited resources, but the psychological explanation is perhaps more convincing:  we have wars because enough people want them.

              Mother of All Bombs, yes, but how about brain-altering electromagnetic waves?  Boris Volodarsky (next) gives details.

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      • Re-Appraising Truman: an Apology (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/01/18 7:25 AM)
        I want to apologize for the second part of my recent post of 31 January, with reference to President Truman. It was an overly easy occasion to engage in bad polemics, for which I am sorry.

        In reality I recognize that the decision of Truman to stop MacArthur and to reach an armistice with North Korea was not a "chickening out," but was rather a fantastic, almost unique, example of wisdom that saved an infinite number of lives and avoided infinite destruction which could have impacted all humanity.

        I remain convinced, however, that Japan was ready to surrender even without using the atomic bomb, considering its approaches to the USSR and its internal discussions. A request for unconditional surrender by the victors is never the wisest choice.

        JE comments: Negotiated peace or unconditional surrender? History has ample examples of both, and each has its disadvantages. Going back to Korea, was MacArthur correct in wanting to take the war into China?  Did the US have the stomach for an all-out war against a major power?  I would say not.

        Eugenio Battaglia has shown admirable humility in this post.  The Missourian in me thanks him.  Regarding Truman, History's jury is still deliberating.  Would HST have been a greater president had he not used the Bomb?  Or was he "great" precisely because he took that weighty decision?  Any verdict probably reveals more about the person issuing it than about Truman himself.

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        • If MacArthur had Stayed Away from the Yalu... (Timothy Brown, USA 02/02/18 2:38 PM)
          On Truman v MacArthur: During my post-Korean War 1961-65 tour at FMFPAC/CINCPAC, I recall having heard several times that the real problem had been that Truman had given MacArthur a direct order not to go near the Yalu but MacArthur had disobeyed him. It was one thing for MacArthur to energetically disagree with his "commanding officer," but another for him to deliberately and knowingly violate an order from the President.

          Both knew that Chinese troops were massing on the Chinese side of the Yalu, and neither knew for certain their intent. MacArthur believed they were bluffing: Truman wasn't sure but, since we had pushed the North Koreans out of most of the peninsula already he did not want to challenge China.

          Speculation on what "might" have happened on the peninsular had MacArthur obeyed his orders is always easier than confirmation. But, in my view, had MacArthur not provoked China into entering the Korean War, the peninsula would probably not have been divided into North and South Korea--and we might (I say might) not be faced with the potentially disastrous threat we face today.

          JE comments:  This is a profound "what if," and one I had never considered.  Was MacArthur directly on the border when China entered the fray?  How much of a distance would have been enough?  Ten miles?  Fifty miles?

          A fascinating point, Tim.  Imagine a united Korea today.  Would it be a true world power, or was the Peninsula's division itself one of the principal motivators for the South's vertiginous development?

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