Amid the western world’s preparations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I, maybe it’s a good time to think about World War III. Maybe not. It’s a depressing subject, and most of us prefer to live our lives removed from both the threat and the reality of war. But that’s not so easy in a world where war seems to be everywhere, including places where we spent many years, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars to avert it. “You break it, you own it,” Colin Powell famously told George Bush before the Iraq war, and we certainly broke it. But what does it mean to own it? Clearly, we don’t control it, and it seems foolish and dangerous to think we can. Moreover, whenever we concentrate on one war, others break out elsewhere. What’s a great power to do?
We can no more disengage from the world than control it, much as Americans might like to, and, as the big business of tourism demonstrates, the world beyond our borders is not just a dangerous place. It’s also an interesting place. Perhaps for us armchair policy makers, that’s a start. We can’t change the world, but we can engage it differently. Just as the movement to reclaim city parks considered too dangerous to enter began when people refused to cede them to muggers, so, instead of pulling up the drawbridge, we can go out into the world with curiosity and an open mind. Just be careful.