Remembering the Future

Remembering the Future

Mini Teaser: Taking seriously the admonition that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes.

by Author(s): Paul Wolfowitz

There are some who wish that the Chinese civil war had ended with a more complete communist victory, so that we would not have to deal with the Taiwan "obstacle." One of my predecessors as assistant secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific region is reported once to have wished in jest that a tidal wave might literally wash the problem away. But this view is as unrealistic as it is morally blind. Once we accept the hand we have been dealt, obstacles can be turned into opportunities. We will not have peace in the Taiwan Strait if this promising democracy is made to disappear. We will only have peace when it is accepted as a fact of life. Only then will the friends of Taiwan be able to see why it is genuinely better for Taiwan to be joined with China, pointing the way to the kind of government that the great Chinese people deserve.

WHILE far from perfect, the only means available to us of anticipating what may lie ahead is to reflect as best we can on what has gone before. China is just one example of where reflecting on our Cold War experiences provides us a road map for the future. It is to be hoped that the next century will be one of great opportunity for the improvement of life on this planet and the expansion of human creativity, not one scarred by the deep tragedies that marked much of the last century. But we will have a far better chance of achieving that aim if we remember how we got to where we are today, rather than burying the divisions of the past in a warm and fuzzy nostalgia.

Paul Wolfowitz, former assistant secretary of state for East Asia, is dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

Essay Types: Essay