Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Necessary Knowledge

During the weekend and most of last week, I watched 4 DVDs about the end of World War II. Particularly, the last campaigns in Europe that ended with the destruction of Berlin and the suicide of Hitler. My fascination with the last world war started with Erik Larsen’s excellent book ‘In the Garden of Beasts’ and Ken Burns’ documentary ‘The War.’ I learned new things from these works that I wanted to increase my knowledge of the war – particularly the remaining days of the Nazi regime, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Pacific war especially the liberation of Manila. My knowledge of these subjects is from Hollywood movies so it was a revelation to see actual documentary photos and news reels of the period. I learned new stuff from the DVDs like the geopolitical strategy of the Nazis who were influenced by strategists like Karl Haushofer who proposed the Axis alliance with Japan and Italy. Haushofer was a Major General as well as a strategic thinker and professor who widely visited the Orient - visiting Japan, Korea and China.  After the war, it was reported that he committed seppuku or Japanese ritual suicide.

Learning about the world war and the various strategies were a good supplement to my study of the American Civil War.  I watched an excellent DVD a few weeks back about the life of Robert E. Lee where I learned things like the early years of his generalship before he was appointed commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and overlord of the overall Confederate armed forces. This was to supplement the lectures I attended in Furman University recently about the Civil War and the subsequent civil rights struggle in the Deep South. I thought I needed to know about these subjects to deepen my understanding of my new country. One realizes that America is a war state despite its peaceful inclinations. There is always a parade in some small town in the country that honors veterans of the wars especially recent ones like Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a country that became a world power because of war when other world powers were destroying themselves in their own major struggles. The English General Kitchener is reported to have said to the German strategist Karl Haushofer that America will be the next world power if they are not stopped.

Rudolf Hess, a student of Haushofer escaped to Scotland in 1941 supposedly to prevent war between Germany and England. The object was to strike an alliance so the combined powers could fight Bolshevism in Russia, Communism in China and perhaps make America a colony of Germany. But Churchill proposed the alternate and, subsequently, victorious plan to side with America and, thereby, assure its rise as a great power. (Philip Roth wrote a book about an alternate history ‘The Plot against America’.) It is interesting to read about how a society can be corrupted by evil; like Nazi Germany and perhaps antebellum South with slavery. It takes a great endeavor to cleanse the ills of a corrupt society. The great example is Churchill and Roosevelt in World War II and Lincoln in the Civil War. Learning about these alternative histories, one could say that not everything is as it seems. One wonders about the alternative realities or strategic theories that brought forth 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab spring and the fall of governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and possibly soon Yemen and Bahrain. Interestingly, the UN General Assembly met this week where the Palestinian PM Abbas raised a petition to declare a Palestinian state. The subsequent speech of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu sounded like old cold war rhetoric that did not account for new realities.

There is a schism in the conservative right where allies like Pakistan are now being accused of attacking the US embassy in Kabul using the Taliban network (from orders of the American right wing?). None other than Admiral Mullen of the US armed forces is making the accusation. Allies like Israel are now considered a strategic liability with its continued construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories. It all seems related if one considers geopolitical strategies. I borrowed Ellie Wiesal’s book ‘Night’ about his experiences in the Nazi concentration camp. I hope this would end my studies of the world wars which takes too much of my time. I felt that I should spend time learning about this stuff because it was necessary knowledge for me. But necessary for what? I had thought it was something like research for a writer but in fact may be delaying me. Unquenchable curiosity is draining time from practical activities. Intellectuals (elitists?) are not appreciated here – the American hero is the underdog, not an intellectual but someone who is hard working, using his common sense and follows the rules. Intellectuals seem like arrogant people like Al Gore and don’t win elections. This may explain Obama’s recent difficulties as compared to Clinton who had similar problems but did not talk down to people (‘Bubba’ as term of endearment).   

My quest is not really to get ‘necessary knowledge’ but a waste of time that distracts one from actual work. One does not need this knowledge to be successful. Satisfying one’s curiosity is like indulging in a vice like drinking alcohol or eating too much. For example, I did not have to read the “Gnostic Gospels” but it’s a good read for serious Christians. One needs to focus on practical knowledge as espoused by Henry Ford. Perhaps that is why I also watched DVDs on Yoga (Kundalini and Ashtanga) and Spanish cooking. I think Kundalina Yoga is a good fit for me and will keep me centered, quiet the churning mind and keep me fit.  My continued readings of Eckhart Tolle should help me, too. Meanwhile, learning Spanish cooking is like returning to my roots and I hope to cook more dishes to help in the weekend. I am also thinking of learning Spanish with the free library resource to help my career in the future. Therefore, one should make a distinction on knowledge (is it necessary?) to save one’s time. I remain a disciple of Steven Covey with his ‘sharpen the saw’ technique. One should focus on developing one’s whole person: social, intellectual, spiritual, physical and emotional.  Or work, family, relatives, friends and church. The idea is to grow holistically as a person which explains wide reading.

On the subject of personal development, our Toastmaster club had an induction ceremony last Friday. We invited 2 other clubs in our area. It turned out to be fun and I was emcee of the event. We had excellent speakers and I tried to keep things going while cracking a few jokes. I think I was able to elicit some laughter but I think I could have done better by practicing and preparing a repertoire. I find that I am an instinctive speaker with flashes of humor during the occasion rather than someone who prepares for the event.  This is actual experience that one can learn from. I read Robert Kiyosaki’s latest book ‘Unfair Advantage’ and there is a section that says one learns more if one practices experientially. One only retains 10% of the knowledge a week later when one reads a book as compared to about 70% when one actually practices it. That’s experiential learning which goes to show that one learns about wine by drinking rather than reading about wine. The same goes for public speaking, writing and yoga. The challenge is reducing temptation (stop going to the library?) by keeping the mind focused.

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