Ra McLaughlin on contraception


Tonight we began a natural family planning class. The instructors took the opportunity to discuss the evils of contraception, which was not surprising since the class is offered through a Roman Catholic hospital. What was surprising to me was that they said that until 1930 contraception was universally condemned by all Christian churches, Catholic and Protestant. They quoted Luther, Calvin, and Wesley as saying that it is a form of murder and sodomy, and that people who use contraceptives can lose their souls. Does the Bible implicitly or explicity teach that contraception is sinful, even for married people? If not, what did the early Protestant leaders make such bold statements?


It does appear that many, many Protestants wrote or spoke against the practice of birth control on the basis of the Onan incident (in Gen. 38:8-10 Onan “spilled his seed on the ground” every time he slept with Tamar). The traditional Protestant arguments based on this passage have been the same as those put forth by the Roman Catholic Church. Simply put, many Protestant exegetes have agreed with the Roman Catholic interpretation over the years.

This should not be surprising. After all, the Protestants didn’t hate everything Roman, but merely disagreed over some key points of doctrine. Calvin and Luther both had great affinities for the Roman Catholic Church. They rejected some of its teachings, but certainly not all of them. Their focus was on foundational doctrines, such as the gospel, and in lesser matters they did not do nearly as much study or reforming.

In any event, it probably cannot be substantiated that all Protestant Churches rejected all forms of birth control, or even of contraception, prior to the Anglican Church’s decision to permit certain forms of birth control in 1930 (at Lambeth). The fact (if indeed it is a fact) that church documents authorizing the use of birth control do not appear until 1930 does not prove that prior to that time birth control was disallowed. More likely, because the matter was neither central to the faith nor distinctive to any particular church, most church documents probably did not bother with the issue at all. This would leave most denominations not with a stand against birth control, but with no official stand whatsoever on the issue. This is not to deny that the majority of individuals may have objected to birth control, but only to contest that every church officially opposed it.

The change in 1930 must have reflected a sentiment which had existed previously in the church. It did not become an issue for the first time in 1930, and it did not begin to gain support for the first time in 1930. Rather, 1930 simply marked the first time a church bothered to make an official statement in support of the practice of birth control. Perhaps this change came in response to the growing political and social opinion that the poor ought to limit the size of their families (e.g. Planned Parenthood was founded in 1921).

Since the Protestant churches tended to embrace birth control so totally and rapidly after 1930, one is left with the distinct impression that the opposition to birth control could not have been so deep-seated prior to that time.

It may have been that certain representatives of churches opposed birth control, but these cannot rightly be interpreted as official denominational stances. Consider for example that many churches are “confessional,” having detailed official statements of faith or confessions that outline their doctrine. I know of no confession or catechism based thereon that mentions contraception, and many such confessions still in use today are hundreds of years old. It’s true that many confessional churches also have official policy stances that are not in their confessions (such as those contained in their books of church order or in position papers), but the likelihood that every Protestant church had such documents opposing birth control prior to 1930 would be incredibly difficult to prove, and I have found no research demonstrating that anyone has actually gone to the trouble to verify it. As far as non-confessional churches go, there is almost no way to prove that the entire denomination did nor did not repudiate contraception — their unity is identifiable primarily by their example in major doctrines. Then too we have the congregationalist churches, whose representatives lack the authority to speak for the entire denomination.

At any rate, sound biblical exegesis does not support the condemnation of many forms of contraception. Those forms of contraception that actually kill or cause the expulsion of a fertilized egg, by my account, fall into the category of abortion and should be condemned. However, there are many forms of contraception that simply prevent fertilization. Some of these involve preventive sexual practices, such as abstinence, the rhythm method, and coitus interputus (sometimes called “Onanism”). Others involve technology (condoms, diaphragms) or even physical sterilization (vasectomy, etc.). The Bible, however, contains prohibitions against none of these.

In Onan’s case, his sin was refusing to raise up a child to his brother, and spilling his seed on the ground was the means by which he prevented Tamar’s insemination. The Roman Catholic Church argues that his sin was spilling his seed, this on the bases that: 1) God killed Onan for his crime; 2) the punishment for failing to have a child by one’s brother’s widow was far less than death; 3) the punishment for failing to obey one’s father (Judah commanded Onan to fulfill the levirate dutues) was likewise not death; and 4) death was the appropriate punishment for many other sexual sins which were not designed to inseminate (homosexuality, bestiality, etc.). Based on these facts, the Roman Catholic Church makes its argument that Onan’s sin was not failing to raise up a child to his brother, but rather was engaging in a sexual act not designed to inseminate.

The problem with this argument is that it does not sufficiently account for many other facts. First, in the levirate situation, the purpose of sex was specifically to raise up a child to one’s brother. In fact, Genesis 38 does not even say that Tamar was Onan’s wife, but only that Onan was to lie with her in order to get her pregnant. The fact that Onan eagerly engaged in sex with Tamar but refused to give her his seed indicates that he was in effect committing adultery with her — not because it is wrong to prevent pregnancy, but because the only reason he was allowed to have sex with her in the first place was so that she would get pregnant. When the Law was later instituted, adultery was a crime punishable by death (Lev. 20:10).

Second, the Law contains no statutes condemning or even concerning contraception of any form. If sexual acts not designed to inseminate were really so heinous to God that they were punishable by death, it would seem that this would have been important enough to find its way into the Law, but the Law is silent here.

Third, there is no biblical evidence that the Israelites interpreted Onan’s actions as an instruction that contraception was punishable by death, or even that it was wrong at all.

Fourth, the Law does mention times when a man’s seed might be wasted, but never attributes anything worse than ceremonial uncleanness to it (Lev. 15:16-17,32; Deut. 23:10). It even mentions that when a man has sex with a woman and there is an emission of seed (i.e. in a manner not designed to inseminate), the two of them are unclean and must bathe (Lev. 15:18). There is no mention of death or punishment for anyone involved.

Fifth, the argument assumes that God is not free to punish people in ways that exceed the maximum penalty of the Law. But in fact, the Bible nowhere limits God’s authority in any way, shape or form. Besides this, the Law had not yet been given when Onan spilled his seed.

The Roman Catholic Church also argues against contraception on the grounds that men with crushed testicles were not allowed to serve as priests in the tabernacle (Lev. 21:20), claiming this was a form of contraception, and that the passage demonstrates the evil of contraception. However, the language about crushed testicles does not refer to contraception but to defects. Crushed testicles appear in a list which also speaks of being dwarfed, or hunchbacked, or lame, or blind, or disfigured, or deformed, or crippled in the hand or foot, or having eye defects, or having open sores. No other item in this list has anything to do with sin, or is the result of voluntary activity. This is a strong indication that crushed testicles in this context were not contraceptive, but rather were mere defects. Moreover, even in this text, those who had crushed testicles were not sinful, but only ceremonially imperfect.

Further, I have also heard a Roman Catholic argument that Hebrews 7:10 proves that sperm may be living people apart from a fertilized egg since Levi may be considered to have paid tithes to Melchizedek because he was seminally present in Abraham. However, the author of Hebrews spoke figuratively here (compare “so to speak” or “one might even say” in Heb. 7:9). Moreover, this would indicate that men lose millions and millions of children during the course of their lives — but the Bible never speaks about such a tremendous loss of life. In any event, the Bible never employs this type of argument to prove that human seed is equivalent to human life.

The other Roman Catholic arguments are based on things like natural law and the magisterium, which Protestants do not accept as authoritative.



The Good Place


I’ve been watching The Good Place. It’s a silly sitcom centered around a morally horrible girl who dies and goes to “the good place” (heaven) rather than “the bad place” (hell). She soon realizes someone must’ve made a huge mistake because she obviously doesn’t belong in the good place.

The show’s idea of who goes to the good place is based on simplistic merit. People get points for the good they did on earth and points subtracted for the bad they did. At the end of their lives, the points are tallied up. If their points are high enough, then they go to the good place. Otherwise, the bad place. The show’s idea of what constitutes positive points happens to be things like raising millions for charitable organizations, being a Buddhist monk who takes a vow of silence, being an academic who teaches and writes on ethics, etc.

By contrast, the Bible teaches no one can do anything to earn their way to heaven. The Bible teaches our most moral acts are often morally tainted (e.g. giving to charity in order to look good to others). The Bible teaches a good act doesn’t cancel out a bad act; there still needs to be forgiveness for the bad act. And the Bible teaches all have done wrong and as such deserve to go to hell.

Also, the show’s idea of religion is every religion has around 5% of the truth. It’s pluralistic. Still, the broad ideas underpinning the show seem to be Judeo-Christian based. For one thing, there’s a good place and a bad place. For another, there are angels and demons. There are architects who have designed the good and bad places. There’s an omniscient judge. And so on.

The bad place is more akin to Dante’s idea of hell than anything in the Bible. Such as demons or monsters made of fire and brimstone torturing people.

Major spoiler alert! There’s a huge reveal: the good place wasn’t actually the good place (i.e. heaven), but the bad place (i.e. hell) made to look like the good place. What’s more, the four main characters on the show illustrate two ideas: we are our own worst enemies and hell is other people. Outwardly, the characters live in paradise. They each have beautiful homes, fancy clothing, fine dining, fun events to attend, they can do anything and everything their heart desires (e.g. flying like Superman), their every whim is instantly met. Nevertheless, they not only torture themselves (e.g. they’re wracked with guilt for various wrongs they’ve committed), but they torture one another endlessly throughout the season through sins big and small (e.g. grating peccadilloes of one person’s personality which annoy another person). What’s interesting is this is a picture of hell that’s arguably consistent with the biblical hell. End of spoiler.

In addition, The Good Place broaches classic philosophical problems. Such as the trolley problem. At best, the show is superficial in its treatment of moral and ethical dilemmas, but I guess at least there’s an attempt made to figure out how to be ethical and moral i.e. “good”.

The Good Place is a Michael Shur production. For those who don’t know him, Shur has been heavily involved in other television series. Most notably: The Office (USA), Parks and Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. If you appreciate the humor of these shows, then you’ll most likely enjoy The Good Place‘s humor too.

Breaking Bad


Breaking Bad is quality literature in depicting how a mild-mannered scientist devolves into an evil drug lord. Walter White is a former promising chemist (PhD, Caltech) who through various difficulties ends up working as a high school chemistry teacher. White has been living for years dissatisfied with his lot in life, suppressing his seething bitterness at the hand life has dealt him underneath a meek and unassuming visage, until a terminal cancer diagnosis rouses his true nature awake. He thinks he deserves more in life so he turns meth maker then criminal kingpin. He calls himself Heisenberg.

However, White aka Heisenberg’s reign ends in destruction. Heisenberg’s hubris destroys all his hands have built, his drug empire, for what he built was an empire of dust, built on lies and murder and worse. An empire built on shifting, sinking sands like quicksand. After all, sin is a bedeviling, crafty and deceptive beast, which beguiles and entices, only to drag its victim under its monstrous wake. Genesis 4:7: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Most of all, White is a drug lord who not only destroys himself in the process, but likewise destroys those closest to him, those whom he most loves.

There are deep lessons to learn from his terrible tale.

Among other things, the show reflects the biblical truth that all are sinners (Rom 3:10-18):

There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.
The poison of vipers is on their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Indeed, it’s quite possible each one of us is capable of the worst sins if given the right opportunity or circumstances. Certainly that’s true of me. There but for the grace of God go I!

All this said, the finale seems so discordant with the rest of the series. The finale turned Walter White into a good guy or hero. At the least, it gave Walter White something of a redemptive arc. Of course, I’m all for redemption, but the problem is there wasn’t significant build-up to his redemption, it practically came out of the blue, and as such White’s actions in the finale seemed out of character. How and why would someone who has been so utterly morally depraved, so warped and twisted throughout the entire series, finally decide to do some good? In other words, it felt like Breaking Bad had suddenly and unexpectedly become Breaking Good. It’s as if the show couldn’t bear to reckon with the evil inside White (inside each of us!) so it pulled its punches at the last moment. It’s as if the show felt it needed a happier ending.

Instead, despite loose ends, perhaps Breaking Bad should have ended the series with White isolated and alone in a wintery cabin in the granite state, destitute of everything save his cold hard millions, forsaken by all whom he once knew, bereft of the slightest hope or love, withering away, dying by degrees, inevitably succumbing to cancer. That is to say, perhaps the show should’ve ended White’s troubled and troubling tale with their episode “Ozymandias”:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

A liberal case against diversity

Below is a review of The Multicultural Mystique: The Liberal Case Against Diversity by Harriet E. Baber.

Kevin Currie-Knight
July 2, 2011

The idea that multiculturalism is a good thing is quite uncontroversial in today’s world. Many colleges and universities (such as the one in which I teach) have a “multicultural requirement” meant to sensitize students to cultures other than dominant “white” culture. We learn in history books and social studies classes that immigrants have and continue desiring to maintain their own culture, and that attempts to integrate them into the “culture of power” is a form of oppression.

H.E. Baber questions all of this… and she is NOT a conservative! She is not jingoistic, anti-immigrant, or in any way arguing that “Western culture” is superior to every other culture. But here’s what she is questioning: she questions whether, all things being equal, most immigrants actually prefer to stay with the culture they moved away from rather than integrate to the one dominant where they chose to move to, whether “live and let live” multiculturalism “essentializes” those of different ethnicities by imposing “scripts” about how “ethnics” should behave, and whether immigrants at very least should have the choice to integrate without well-meaning multiculturalists accusing them of inauthenticity, etc. She then makes a (unfortunately) brief case in support of an affirmative action meant to give immigrants (and historically oppressed groups) a type of equality of opportunity to integrate if they so choose.

In the first several chapters, Baber questions whether people generally like their cultures and whether the choice to retain their native culture rather than integrate MIGHT have more to do with the high costs of integration than actual love for the native culture. She discusses a trip to Kenya where, the more she talked with natives, the more she realized that none of them really loved Kenyan culture and all had a desire to move away from it. She discusses the many reasons why people might stay with their native cultures that have nothing to do with actual love for the culture: social pressure, high cost of learning a new language and customs, force, and other high costs of exit. In fact, multiculturalism, she notes, may make exit costs even higher because a nation ingrained in multiculturalism will look oddly upon those who want to assimilate (which we are told, people wouldn’t do if they were self-loving). In this way, multiculturalism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more we suggest that a key part of the self is the native culture one was born into, the more we discourage people who may not love their native culture from moving away from it.

In the middle section of the book, the talk turns to the costs of multiculturalism by way of the “scripts” that are imposed onto people from non-dominant cultures. The author is fond of saying that there is ‘no free lunch” and, by this, she means that pushing multiculturalism often imposes “scripts” onto people of particular ethnicities about what their behavior should look like and how they should be. (And vice versa, if we pushed aggressive integration, we’d stigmatize those who may actually want to stay “traditional”.) In a chapter subtitled “why Everyone Wants to Be an X,” the author reminds us that virtually no one wants to be known as an “average,” “stereotypical,” or “representative of their race/class/gender” person. But often, that is exactly what we (inadvertently) do to members of ethnic groups (and, in the states, blacks): we expect the Indian student to have particularly insightful things to say about the book read in class by the Indian author; we expect black people to love black history month (rather than be disappointed, as I’d be, if my history were relegated to 30 days of the year); we do a double take when we see someone who looks Chinese who doesn’t speak with a Chinese accent. (When I dated a black woman many years ago, she talked of the heartache that came when her black friends found that her favorite author was Charles Dickens.)

The last section of the book discusses the history of multiculturalism and why (my words, not the authors) the genetic fallacy is responsible for our leeriness toward the word “assimilation.” First, multiculturalism largely got its start in the “anticolonial” 1960s. People were largely concerned with colonialism in the US and elsewhere, and took to a strategy where, rather than being dominated by the dominant cultural groups, minorities could just be left alone, their cultures respected rather than forcibly exterminated. It was largely aided by a self-esteem movement that taught people that feeling good about oneself was remaining “true to oneself” and that desiring to change oneself was often a sign of ‘self hatred.’ Add to this the fact that the US, as elsewhere, has a lengthy history of forced assimilation, nativism, race-based eugenics, and race-based social darwinism, which served to associate the very idea of assimilation with colonialism and forced subordination. This, of course, is an example of the genetic fallacy – the idea that since assimilation has historically been associated with eugenics, et al., that it must always be so associated.

The very brief last chapter highlights the author’s vision of an affirmative action policy that would give minority groups the option – not force them – to integrate into the dominant culture. My concern with this approach is that, while I can see the author’s argument, I wonder whether a policy like this “essentializes” these groups just as much as she says multiculturalism does, by giving everyone the idea that they need some artificial help to get jobs, educations, etc. (I also wonder whether policies like this are counterproductive for their risk of breeding resentment; as the author says, there is ‘no free lunch’).

All in all, this is a very timely book. Many countries in Europe are having difficulty steering the murky waters of multiculturalism, and my guess is that those tensions are just below the surface in the United states (even 10 years after 9/11). As a former public school teacher, I can attest to how much damage can be done when we develop different expectations for different people based on their ethnic histories, that we still expect them to cling to. And as a recent college instructor, I can attest to the buzz that the word “multiculturalism” has become, both for good and ill. (I recall trying to explain to a colleague that Brown v. Board was not about multiculturalism; the kids and their parents WANTED to integrate!) And since almost every tome against multiculturalism has been written by an “our culture is the greatest” conservative (with the exception of John McWhorter’s books about ‘black culture’) this is a book that needed to be written.


Modern China: A history of Guangdong


A Comprehensive History of Southern Chinese from Guangdong Province
by Him Mark Lai (abridged by u/Icm2)

Note: the references to the various coasts of the Pearl River Delta may be confusing because of the change in shape of the estuary over the centuries due to silting. This map of population density during the Han dynasty is helpful for its accurate depiction of the historical, more-open shape of the Pearl River Delta estuary.

Continue reading

Modern China: Pearl River Delta


Since Indonesia’s GDP is ranked #16 in the world (#1 USA, #2 China), then that’d make the Pearl River Delta at least #15 in the world if it was its own nation.

Also, I suppose it’s no surprise China’s three major economic areas are centered around its three major rivers – the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and the Pearl River. By the way, the Yellow and Yangtze have their sources in Tibet, which is one big reason China will never free Tibet, because to do so would risk whoever owns Tibet damming two major water sources around which Chinese civilization has been built.

[T]he big Wow on this trip was learning how China’s Pearl River Delta region (PRD) is outpacing the rest of the country in terms of economic growth and innovation. Briefly, the PRD is home to nine mainland Chinese cities including Shenzhen and Guangdong (formerly Canton) in Guangdong Province and to China’s special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau along its South China Sea coastline. Not too long ago, the World Bank declared the PRD is the world’s largest megacity, surpassing Tokyo. With more than 108.5 million residents in the 2015 census, its population is about a third the size of the US.

Equally important to note is that the Pearl River Delta is one of the world’s most successful economies. Its GDP, at more than $1.2 trillion, is bigger than that of Indonesia. It has been growing at an average rate of 12% a year for the past decade. As a global trading partner, the region is outranked only by the US and Germany. For China, the PRD is critical. Though accounting for less than 1% of the country’s territory and just 5% of its total population, the PRD generates more than 10% of its GDP and a quarter of its exports and has attracted more than a trillion dollars-worth of foreign direct investment.

The PRD is the southern pillar of the 3 major Chinese coastal growth areas. In the middle is the Yangtze River Delta region which includes Shanghai and has a population of 130 million and GDP of $2 trillion. To the north is the Beijing-Tianjin-Bohai corridor, covering 10 cities with a population of 100 million and GDP of $1.3 trillion. Along with the PRD, these 3 clusters account for 21% of China’s population and about 40% of its GDP.

Of the three regional clusters, the PRD has the smallest population, but the highest income per capita and it forms an important link between China and the rest of the commercial world. Because of its geographical location and excellent connectivity with other parts of China, the PRD has always thrived on commerce and trade. In fact, the area was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road as far back as the 13th century. Even so, the area remained mostly rural until the mid-1980s when China designated it the Pearl River Delta Special Economic Zone to attract foreign investors. Soon thereafter, Guangdong province was granted additional powers to make its own decisions in terms of tax, finance, wages, foreign trade, investments and resource allocation. Its location close to Hong Kong was also a major factor in the area’s transformation.

It wasn’t long after being granted its special economic regional designation that thousands of Hong Kong-based manufacturing businesses relocated to the PRD, thereby turning the region into the world’s factory. By the year 2000, the economic base of the PRD had become recognized for heavy industrial manufacturing and the production of high technology equipment. Eventually, the PRD also became one of the world’s largest consumer markets.

Today, the PRD is once again transforming its economic base – from labor-intensive and high-energy consumption manufacturing to high-tech sectors such as telecommunications, biomedicine and new energy industries. As a result, the PRD is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most innovative city clusters. Examples: an intercity rail transport network featuring three circular and eight outbound routes will connect all PRD cities by 2020, creating a “one-hour intercity circle;” and Shenzhen, once a city of migrant laborers, has rapidly morphed from a city of sweatshops to one featuring advanced manufacturing, robotics and genomics. It is now home to Huawei and Tencent and global tech giant Apple is building an R&D center there.

Orchestrating transformation on such a grand and rapid scale requires a form of specialization that is rarely seen in urban development. But, the PRD has evolved into a well-balanced and competitive region. Hong Kong is a hub of international finance and services, Macao has established itself as a global gaming and entertainment center; Shenzhen is focusing on technology; Guangzhou is a global trading hub; while Foshan and Dongguan are prime manufacturing centers.


Modern China: USA

The following is from the chapter on the United States in Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics.

The United States is still in the opening phase of what in 2011 then secretary of state Hillary Clinton called “the pivot to China.” It was an interesting phrase, taken by some to mean the abandonment of Europe; but a pivot toward one place does not mean the abandonment of another. It is more a case of how much weight you put on which foot.

Many US government foreign policy strategists are persuaded that the history of the twenty-first century will be written in Asia and the Pacific. Half of the world’s population lives there, and if India is included it is expected to account for half of the global economic output by 2050.

Hence, we will see the United States increasingly investing time and money in East Asia to establish its presence and intentions in the region. For example, in Northern Australia the Americans have set up a base for the US Marine Corps. But in order to exert real influence they may also have to invest in limited military action to reassure their allies that they will come to their rescue in the event of hostilities. For example, if China begins shelling a Japanese destroyer and it looks as if they might take further military action, the US Navy may have to fire warning shots toward the Chinese navy, or even fire directly, to signal that it is willing to go to war over the incident. Equally, when North Korea fires at South Korea, the South fires back, but currently the United States does not. Instead, it puts forces on alert in a public manner to send a signal. If the situation escalated it would then fire warning shots at a North Korean target, and finally, direct shots. It’s a way of escalating without declaring war-and this is when things get dangerous.

The United States is seeking to demonstrate to the whole region that it is in their best interests to side with Washington-China is doing the opposite. So, when challenged, each side must react, because for each challenge it ducks, its allies’ confidence, and competitors’ fear, slowly drains away until eventually there is an event that persuades a state to switch sides.

Analysts often write about the need for certain cultures not to lose face, or ever be seen to back down, but this is not just a problem in the Arab or East Asian cultures-it is a human problem expressed in different ways. It may well be more defined and openly articulated in those two cultures, but American foreign policy strategists are as aware of the issue as any other power. The English language even has two sayings that demonstrate how deeply ingrained the idea is: “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile,” and President Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim of 1900, which has now entered the political lexicon: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

The deadly game in this century will be how the Chinese, Americans, and others in the region manage each crisis that arises without losing face and without building up a deep well of resentment and anger on both sides.

The Cuban Missile Crisis is generally considered an American victory; what is less publicized is that several months after Russia removed its missiles from Cuba, the United States removed its Jupiter missiles (which could reach Moscow) from Turkey. It was actually a compromise, with both sides, eventually, able to tell their respective publics that they had not capitulated.

In the twenty-first-century Pacific there are more great-power compromises to be made. In the short term, most, but not all, are likely to be made by the Chinese-an early example is Beijing’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone requiring foreign nations to inform them before entering what is disputed territory, and the Americans deliberately flying through it without telling them. The Chinese gained something by declaring the zone and making it an issue; the United States gained something by being seen not to comply. It is a long game.

The US policy regarding the Japanese is to reassure them that they share strategic interests vis-à-vis China and ensure that the US base in Okinawa remains open. The Americans will assist the Japanese Self-Defense Force to be a robust body, but simultaneously restrict Japan’s military ability to challenge the United States in the Pacific.

While all the other countries in the region matter, in what is a complicated diplomatic jigsaw puzzle, the key states look to be Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. These three sit astride the narrow Strait of Malacca. Every day through that strait come 12 million barrels of oil heading for an increasingly thirsty China and elsewhere in the region. As long as these three countries are pro-American, the Americans have a key advantage.

On the plus side, the Chinese are not politically ideological, they do not seek to spread Communism, nor do they covet (much) more territory in the way the Russians did during the Cold War, and neither side is looking for conflict. The Chinese can accept America guarding most of the sea-lanes that deliver Chinese goods to the world, so long as the Americans accept that there will be limits to just how close to China that control extends.

There will be arguments, and nationalism will be used to ensure the unity of the Chinese people from time to time, but each side will be seeking compromise. The danger comes if they misread each other and/or gamble too much.

There are flash points. America’s treaty with Taiwan states if the Chinese invade what they regard as their 23rd province, the United States will go to war. A red line for China, which could spark an invasion, is formal recognition of Taiwan by the United States, or a declaration of independence by Taiwan. However, there is no sign of that, and a Chinese invasion cannot be seen on this side of the horizon.

As China’s thirst for foreign oil and gas grows, that of the United States declines. This will have a huge impact on its foreign relations, especially in the Middle East, with ramifications for other countries.

Due to offshore drilling in US coastal waters, and underground fracking across huge regions of the country, America looks destined to become not just self-sufficient in energy, but a net exporter of energy by 2020. This will mean that its focus on ensuring a flow of oil and gas from the Gulf region will diminish. It will still have strategic interests there, but the focus will no longer be so intense. If the American attention wanes, the Gulf nations will seek new alliances. One candidate will be Iran, another China, but that will only happen when the Chinese have built their blue-water navy and, equally important, are prepared to deploy it.