In 1421: The Year China Discovered America (2002), aspires to rewrite world history on a grand scale. He maintains that Gavin Menzies)four Chinese fleets, comprising twenty-five to thirty ships and at least 7,000 persons each, visited every part of the world except Europe between 1421 and 1423. Trained by Zheng He, the famous eunuch-admiral, Chinese captains carried out the orders of Zhu Di (r. 1402–1424), the third Ming emperor, to map coastlines, settle new territories, and establish a global maritime empire. According to Menzies, proof of the passage of the Ming fleets to the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and Polynesia is overwhelming and indisputable. His “index of supporting evidence” (pp. 429–462) includes thousands of items from the fields of archaeology, cartography, astronomy, and anthropology; his footnotes and bibliography include publications in Chinese, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, Arabic, and Hebrew.
Menzies claims that Chinese mariners explored the islands of Cape Verde, the Azores, the Bahamas, and the Falklands; they established colonies in Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia, California, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island; they introduced horses to the Americas, rice to California, chickens to South America, coffee to Puerto Rico, South American sloths to Australia, sea otters to New Zealand, and maize to the Philippines. In addition, Chinese seamen toured the temples and palaces of the Maya center of Palenque in Mexico, hunted walruses and smelted copper in Greenland, mined for lead and saltpeter in northern Australia, and established trading posts for diamonds along the Amazon and its tributaries.
Inasmuch as Menzies believes that he has collected a veritable mountain of evidence, he is not disheartened by skepticism about some of his astonishing assertions. As he told People Magazine (24 February 2003) after 1421 hit the New York Times bestseller list, “[t]here’s not one chance in a hundred million that I’m wrong!” He regards his investigation as an ongoing project: a website (www.1421.tv) provides yet more evidence, further revelations will appear in the forthcoming paperback edition, and a team of researchers currently is assisting him in combing medieval Spanish and Portuguese documents for added proof of his contentions. 1421, he informs the reader, will be published in more than sixteen countries, a PBS series is in production, and television rights have been sold around the world.
Menzies is contemptuous of professional historians who ignore evidence of Chinese influence in the Americas, “presumably because it contradicts the accepted wisdom on which not a few careers have been based” (p. 232). He explains that he has uncovered information that has eluded many eminent historians of China, even though it was right before their eyes, “only because I knew how to interpret the extraordinary maps and charts that reveal the course and the extent of the voyages of the great Chinese fleets between 1421 and 1423” (pp. 11–12). A former submarine commander in the British Royal Navy, he has sailed in the wake of Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and James Cook, hence he recognizes that those mariners, who navigated with copies of Chinese maps in hand, were themselves merely sailing in the backwash of Zheng He’s fleets (pp. 9, 12).
Menzies intends his work for the general reader, and his style is vigorous, clear, and informal. Most strikingly, he makes his own search for evidence of the Ming fleets the narrative framework for recounting their achievements. He describes his frustrations and triumphs as he travels everywhere following “an elusive trail of evidence,” sometimes discouraged but never defeated (p. 83). He also brings his narrative to life by recounting his own experiences in places visited by the fleets of Zheng He, including savoring rum toddies and roast lobster on Guadeloupe beaches, braving the dangers of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, and rounding the Cape of Good Hope into the South Atlantic. The underlying message of these frequent vignettes is that the author’s astonishing conclusions are validated by the unique personal experience he brings to his research as well as by his transparent account of how he struggled toward those conclusions. This approach makes for a lively, engaging work that surely will attract many readers who otherwise would never open a 500-page tome on Chinese maritime enterprise and European exploration.
The good news conveyed by 1421 is that there are big bucks in world history: Menzies received an advance of £500,000 ($825,000) from his British publisher, whose initial printing runs to 100,000 copies. The bad news is that reaping such largesse evidently requires producing a book as outrageous as 1421. Menzies flouts the basic rules of both historical study and elementary logic. He misrepresents the scholarship of others, and he frequently fails to cite those from whom he borrows.  He misconstrues Chinese imperial policy, especially as seen in the expeditions of Zheng He, and his extensive discussion of Western cartography reads like a parody of scholarship. His allegations regarding Nicolò di Conti (c. 1385–1469), the only figure in 1421 who links the Ming voyages with European events, are the stuff of historical fiction, the product of an obstinate misrepresentation of sources. The author’s misunderstanding of the technology of Zheng He’s ships impels him to depict voyages no captain would attempt and no mariner could survive, including a 4,000-mile excursion along the Arctic circle and circumnavigation of the Pacific after having already sailed more than 42,000 miles from China to West Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines (pp. 199–209, 311). 
Portraying himself as an innocent abroad, forthrightly seeking truths the academic establishment has disregarded or suppressed, Menzies in fact is less an “unlettered Ishmael” than a Captain Ahab, gripped by a mania to bend everything to his purposes. His White Whale is Eurocentric historiography, which celebrates Columbus (a thief and fraud, pp. 382–383) and Vasco da Gama (a terrorist, p. 406) without realizing they merely aped the epic deeds of the Chinese. More generally, Menzies, in an unacknowledged echo of Joseph Needham, laments that China did not become “mistress of the world,” with Confucian harmony and Buddhist benevolence uniting humankind. Instead, the cruel, barbaric West, secretly and fraudulently capitalizing on Chinese achievements, imposed its dominion around the globe (pp. 405–406).
The wounded leviathan of Eurocentricism no doubt deserves another harpoon, but 1421 is too leaky a vessel to deliver it. Examination of the book’s central claims reveals they are uniformly without substance: first, that the 1421–1423 voyages Menzies describes could not have taken place; second, that Conti played no role in transmitting knowledge of Chinese exploration to European cartographers; and third, that all Menzies’s evidence for the presence of the Chinese fleets abroad is baseless.
1421 concentrates on what Menzies terms “the missing years” of the sixth voyage of Zheng He, that is, the two and a half years between March 1421 and October 1423, during which the fleets of Zheng He supposedly roamed the globe. Menzies is not interested in the well-known, much-studied voyages of Zheng He, and he ignores the extensive literature on them.  He dispenses with six of the seven expeditions (between 1405 and 1433) in one page (pp. 54–55). He singles out the sixth voyage because it was the only one in which Zheng He returned to China early, leaving his subordinate eunuch-captains to carry out their mission of returning tribute envoys to their kingdoms. This circumstance offers Menzies a window of opportunity to imagine that the armada left the Indian Ocean to seek new lands in the Atlantic and Pacific. Since he claims that the mariners sailed about 40,000 miles in their world-girdling odysseys, two and a half years is just barely enough time for them to journey such a vast distance while also charting coasts, mining ore, meeting alien peoples, and founding colonies.
In addition, Menzies feels free to speculate about “missing years” because of a presumed dearth of sources. He casually dismisses the principal source of information on Zheng He’s voyages, Ma Huan’s Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan [The overall survey of the ocean’s shores], by declaring that its author, an official translator on the staff of Zheng He in 1421, “left the treasure fleets at Calicut” (a port on the Malabar coast in southwestern India), hence he did not take part in the global exploration (p. 87). Menzies provides no evidence for his assertion, which, in any case, mistakes the nature of Ma’s account. The author sailed on three of the Ming expeditions, and his book is a protoethnographic survey of the places visited by the fleets over several decades, not “diaries” (p. 229) of his participation in a specific voyage. He incorporated information on countries he did not visit, and he apparently continued making revisions to his book until it was published about thirty years after the last expedition. Menzies does not address the awkward question of why Ma, a stickler for detail and an aficionado of novelties, never mentions the wondrous excursion of his comrades to the Americas and Australia.
Throughout 1421, Menzies places great emphasis on imperial officials in 1477 destroying many of the documents regarding the Ming expeditions in order to prevent a renewal of the project. In a manner of speaking, the author sails the ships of Zheng He through that supposed evidentiary void. There are plentiful surviving documents on the expeditions, however, that prove there were no “missing years.” The sources indicate that an imperial order for the sixth voyage was issued in March 1421, although the flotilla did not leave China until the turn of the year. It reached Sumatra around July 1422, after many stops in Southeast Asia; Zheng He returned home to Nanjing by September 1422, leaving his subordinates to sail on to thirty-six ports in Ceylon, India (both Bengal and the Malabar coast), the Persian Gulf, and East Africa. The last of the squadrons returned to China on 8 October 1423, having completed their journey of some 11,000 miles in the expected time, about one year and three months after departing Sumatra. Thus there are no “missing years” for the Ming fleets, no time for even a portion of the extraordinary exploits narrated in 1421.
Even taking Menzies’s account at face value, however, it is farfetched. The author asserts that Zheng He arrived home in November 1421 and that his captains completed their errands in the Indian Ocean in July of the same year, a mere three months after departing Sumatra. After rendezvousing at Sofala (across from Mozambique on the East African coast), they doubled the Cape of Good Hope in August and headed north to the Cape Verde Islands, reaching them in late September; a month later, they made landfall off the Orinoco River in Brazil, and by November they were approaching Cape Horn in the South Atlantic (pp. 83, 99–100, 113–116). In other words, Menzies proposes that Zheng He’s captains completed a voyage of some 17,000 miles in mainly unknown seas in seven months, including dozens of stops in the Indian Ocean, while Zheng He took the same amount of time to journey about 3,500 miles from Sumatra to Nanjing. 12
By this account, then, Zheng He sailed sluggishly but his captains made spectacularly rapid progress. Menzies claims that the average speed of Zheng He’s vessels over their seven voyages in the Indian Ocean was 4. 8 knots (or 132 miles per day) (p. 100). Menzies has no basis for this estimate since an average speed can be calculated only for the 1431–1433 expedition, for which a detailed itinerary survives. Naturally, speeds differed considerably, depending on the time of year and the passage being traversed. In the seventh voyage, distances covered varied from a high of 106 miles per day (3.8 knots) to a low of 37.5 miles per day (1.4 knots), with an average of 69 miles per day (or 2.5 knots). Menzies assumes, however, that his undocumented estimate of 4.8 knots for the Indian Ocean voyages holds as well for the global cruises of the Ming fleets. His calculation helps him narrowly fit the agenda of the fleets into the alleged “missing years”: having doubled the time the junks actually were away from China (from fifteen months to thirty), he also hurries the ships along by granting them an average speed 52 percent higher than what they generally achieved in the steady, familiar monsoon winds of the southern seas. On its own terms, then, Menzies’s scenario is highly implausible. Taking into account the surviving evidence for the timetable of the sixth expedition, it is impossible.
Menzies’s evidence for the role of Conti in transmitting Chinese geographical knowledge to European cartographers is even flimsier than his argument for “missing years.” A native of Venice, Conti lived in Asia for some thirty-five years, and when he returned to Europe around 1441, he sought absolution from Pope Eugenius IV (r. 1431–1447) for having converted to Islam. As instructed by the pope, Conti told the story of his travels to the humanist Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), who incorporated it into his De Varietate Fortunae, completed in 1448. His account was widely read, for Conti provided the best source of information on the East, especially India and Southeast Asia, that Europe had received since Marco Polo’s Travels (c. 1298).
Conti is essential to Menzies’s argument since he represents the sole vehicle by which Chinese geographical knowledge reached the West. Much of 1421 is devoted to interpreting European maps in the light of that knowledge, and without Conti as “the crucial link” in the chain of evidence, the central thesis of the book collapses (p. 93).
To establish the relevance of Conti, Menzies splices into one quotation a passage from Poggio and another from Pero Tafur (c. 1410–c. 1484), a Spaniard who met Conti at Mt. Sinai (Egypt) in 1437, when the Venetian was planning to return home (p. 85). Poggio refers to large Indian ships, with five sails, many masts, and hull compartments. Since only Chinese ships possessed the latter, it is generally assumed that Conti actually described Chinese vessels, evidently without knowing their origins.11 Tafur writes of ships “like very large houses” [como casas muy grandes], with ten or more sails and large cisterns of water inside, that delivered cargo to Mecca.12 Neither Poggio nor Tafur refer to Calicut in connection with the large ships, to Chinese vessels visiting India, or to the fleet of Zheng He; neither chronicler provides a date for Conti’s stay in Calicut. Still, Menzies takes for granted that Conti was in Calicut in 1421 when the Ming armada anchored there, and since both Conti and Ma Huan describe similar scenes in Calicut, Menzies surmises that Conti must have met the Chinese chronicler in that port (p. 86).
Based on these presumptions, Menzies creates an incredible scenario: he declares that Conti boarded Zheng He’s junks for their voyages to the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Patagonia, Australia, New Zealand, North America, and Mexico. Moreover, after the fleet returned to Southeast Asia and China in late 1423, Conti dashed home to Venice, where in 1424 he was “debriefed” by the Infante Dom Pedro of Portugal (d. 1449), older brother of Prince Henry (1394–1460), the so-called “Navigator,” and where Conti handed over copies of Chinese charts produced during the great voyage (pp. 351–354, 435). Those charts, Menzies asserts, formed the basis for all subsequent European maps that showed lands across the Atlantic, including, inter alia, the Pizzigano map (1424), the (disputed) Vinland map (1420–1440?), the Cantino planisphere (1502), and the Waldseemüller maps (1507, 1513). Furthermore, Conti’s information prompted Prince Henry to secretly dispatch settlers to Puerto Rico in 1431, where (Menzies suggests) they perhaps found evidence of a previous Chinese colony (p. 359). European copies of Ming charts also explain Columbus’s ambition to voyage across the Ocean Sea, Magellan’s conviction that he could sail around South America, and Cook’s alleged “discovery” of Australia.
Even though “The Travels of Nicolò di Conti” is silent about the global journey of the Venetian—one wonders why he kept that thrilling news from Poggio—Menzies repeatedly claims the document proves that Conti “sailed with the Chinese fleet from India to Australia and China.” Thus with no more warrant than a passing mention by Poggio and Tafur of large ships in the Indian Ocean, Menzies concocts a scenario in which Conti tours the world on Zheng He’s junks, collecting information that transforms European cartography and inspires European overseas expansion. In a book bloated with extravagant arguments, Menzies’s assertions regarding Poggio’s well-known text stand out for their obdurate distortion of evidence.
Menzies’s claims regarding the fleet’s “missing years” and Conti’s global cruise clearly cannot be sustained. The author’s proof for the presence of the Ming argosy in new lands also lacks substance. In his first two chapters (pp. 19–75), he lays the groundwork for his claims when describing Zheng He’s fleet before its departure from Nanjing. Although the portrait lacks any documentation, it provides the foundation for virtually all the evidence Menzies later cites for Chinese exploration. His depiction, then, does not represent mere scene setting aimed at engaging the reader—a rhetorical tactic that perhaps does not call for footnotes—but assumptions read back into the narrative itself. In effect, the author stocks the ships on their exodus from China with the very items that will confirm that the mariners reached their far-flung destinations.
Thus while no evidence survives of the garb worn by Zheng He’s sailors, Menzies describes them as wearing long white robes because legends and folklore from Australia and the New World speak of visits from white-robed aliens. Although sources are silent on the presence of women in the fleet, Menzies assumes that many prostitutes were aboard because the colonies supposedly founded during the voyages required Chinese mates for the men.17 In like fashion, he infers that many coops of Asiatic chickens were loaded on the junks (as “valuable presents for foreign dignitaries,” p. 42) because the presence of chickens in the New World is a central part of his proof of the passage of the Ming fleets.18 Since Central American natives used chicken entrails for divination, Menzies presumes they were “indoctrinated” in the practice by the fowl-bearing colonists of Zheng He (pp. 225, 420).
There is no evidence for masons and stone carvers in Zheng He’s flotilla, but Menzies believes they were aboard because no one else could have carved the numerous stone markers supposedly left behind by the fleets in the Cape Verde Islands and other landing spots, and they must have built the “pyramids” and astronomical “observation platforms” found just about everywhere else.19 The latter, Menzies claims, were needed by Chinese astronomers, indispensable passengers in the fleet since they had to carry out the (undocumented) imperial command to detect “guiding stars” in order to “correctly locate the new territories” (pp. 28–29). Teak was not used in building Zheng He’s fleets, as sources supposedly consulted by Menzies make clear, yet he regards any appearance of teak in marine excavations as marking the presence of the Ming vessels.20 It is highly unlikely that the Chinese junks (or any ships at any time) carried specially carved stones for ballast, as Menzies imagines, yet he elaborately describes how the mariners built a slipway to refloat grounded junks at Bimini in the Bahamas, the evidence for which is “tongued and grooved” rectangular rocks found underwater there—ballast, the author declares, from the Ming ships (pp. 63, 265–277).
Zheng He’s armada almost certainly included some horses used by the admiral and other high commanders. Menzies claims, however, that thousands of horses were transported, many being used to stock the Americas and to explore the interior of Australia. At sea for months at a time, the mariners allegedly nourished the horses with boiled, mashed rice and with water distilled from seawater, “using paraffin wax or seal blubber for fuel” (p. 67). Although Needham states that there is no evidence that the Chinese knew how to desalinate seawater, Menzies asserts that a ship wrecked off the Oregon coast is reported to have carried paraffin wax, hence he regards the rumor as implicit verification of his contentions about both desalination and hordes of junk-journeying steeds.
The seamen, prostitutes, and eunuchs were kept in fresh fish at sea by “trained otters, working in pairs to herd shoals into the nets …” (p. 39). These marvelous creatures, alas, remain unheralded in any document, but since some wild ones “have been seen swimming in the fjords of South Island” (New Zealand), Menzies infers that their forbears must have jumped Zheng He’s ships there (pp. 173, 185). Chinese sharpeis must have sailed with the Ming flotilla because an animal resembling the dog appears in a Mexican painting discovered in the nineteenth century (pp. 42, 223). One audacious sharpei, Menzies proposes, absconded from the junks in the Falklands and mated with an indigenous fox, giving birth to a now-extinct animal called a war-rah—DNA results, the author promises, will be posted on the website (p. 135).
Menzies also goes beyond his portrait of Zheng He’s armada in Nanjing to point to evidence deriving from its global adventures. He suggests that the Chinese captured a few giant South American sloths (or mylodons) in Patagonia. This deduction arises from the author’s notion that a “dog-headed man” depicted on the Piri Reis map of 1513 —which, of course, Menzies regards as based upon a copy of a Chinese map from Conti’s collection—is in fact a mylodon, an animal (he assumes) that Zheng He’s captains desired for the emperor’s zoo (pp. 118–119). He further supposes that one of the sloths aroused itself enough to escape Chinese incarceration in Australia because a stone carving near Brisbane (he thinks) looks something like the Patagonian beast (p. 185).
It is impossible to keep track of how many self-confirming assumptions are at work in such citations of alleged evidence. Piling supposition upon supposition, Menzies never considers a question that he does not beg: every argument in 1421 springs from the fallacy of petitio principii. The author’s “trail of evidence” is actually a feedback loop that makes no distinction between premise and proof, conjecture and confirmation, bizarre guess and proven fact.
Thus just as Menzies describes the junks as supplied with all the paraphernalia that will prove they sailed where he contends, he also reconstructs the routes of the voyages by treating European maps, supposedly based on Conti’s cache, as the by-product of those very voyages. This inevitably leads to some curious conclusions. Since the Waldseemüller map of 1507 seems to show an open sea passage between the Arctic Circle and Eurasia from the Barents Sea to the Bering Straits, a distance of more than 4,000 miles, Menzies concludes that the route was surveyed by a Ming fleet taking a shortcut home after its exploration of Greenland, boldly going where no eunuch had gone before (p. 311). The author, however, does not discuss this epic voyage except to observe that the Waldseemüller map proves it took place.
Similarly, since Menzies believes that the Chinese first navigated around South America and that the Piri Reis map is proof of that achievement, he declares that the map does not show a landlocked Atlantic, with an eastward extension of the Americas linking up with the peninsula of Southeast Asia, but, rather, “what appears to be ice connecting the tip of South America to Antartica” (p. 116). Rivaling his mistreatment of Poggio’s “Travels,” Menzies makes this claim even though his own reproductions of the Piri Reis chart patently contradict it (pp. 117, 122, and color illustration). Not only that, Piri Reis himself states the contrary, for he noted on his map that Spanish and Portuguese explorers “have found out that coasts encircle this sea [that is, the Atlantic], which has thus taken the form of a lake ….” Menzies does not think it necessary to inform his readers of this evidence.
Unfortunately, this reckless manner of dealing with evidence is typical of 1421, vitiating all its extraordinary claims: the voyages it describes never took place, Chinese information never reached Prince Henry and Columbus, and there is no evidence of the Ming fleets in newly discovered lands. The fundamental assumption of the book—that Zhu Di dispatched the Ming fleets because he had a “grand plan,” a vision of charting the world and creating a maritime empire spanning the oceans (pp. 19–43)—is simply asserted by Menzies without a shred of proof. It represents the author’s own grandiosity projected back onto the emperor, providing the latter with an ambition commensurate with the global events that Menzies presumes 1421 uniquely has revealed, an account that provides evidence “to overturn the longaccepted history of the Western world” (p. 400). It is clear, however, that textbooks on that history need not be rewritten. The reasoning of 1421 is inexorably circular, its evidence spurious, its research derisory, its borrowings unacknowledged, its citations slipshod, and its assertions preposterous.
Still, it may have some pedagogical value in world history courses. Assigning selections from the book to high-schoolers and undergraduates, it might serve as an outstanding example of how not to (re)write world history. Instructors seeking to provide some light relief to a sometimes heavy-going subject also could encourage students to vie with one another in nominating the most peculiar or amusing passage in the book. A top contender surely would be the notion that the Ming mariners transported to the Americas “millions of tiny glass beads the size of those used by the Chinese as a sex aid,” intended to be stitched into the skin around the head of the penis to increase the pleasure of one’s spouse (p. 227).24 Indeed, if the eunuch-captains of Zheng He’s fleets tried to indoctrinate the peoples they encountered in this exotic practice, it is little wonder that all the fabled Chinese colonies in the New World floundered and faded in the years between 1421 and 1492.
Legendary Soviet photographer Evgeny Khaldey, together with his Leica camera, passed all 1,418 days of the war from Murmansk to Berlin. Photos of Evgeny Ananievich Khaldey (23 March 1917 – 6 October 1997) have become a classic of military photo coverage. Well known to the whole world, they are often cited as illustrations in a huge number of textbooks and encyclopedias. First of all, it was the picture “The Banner over the Reichstag” created in May 1945, which became a true symbol of the Victory, as well as the famous photo “The First Day of the War”, taken in Moscow on June 22, 1941. At the Nuremberg trial, one of the physical evidence was photographs of Khaldey. Participated in the liberation of Sevastopol, the storming of Novorossiysk, Kerch, the liberation of Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Austria, and Hungary. Member of the filming of the Potsdam Conference, the Paris Conference and the Nuremberg Trials. After the war, he created a gallery of images of soldiers in peace work.
The regulator Masha (Maria Filippovna Limanskaya) became Madonna thanks to Evgeny Khaldey. Together with the Soviet troops, Maria Limanskaya reached Berlin. On May 2, Maria Filippovna was already at the Brandenburg Gate, on the other side of the Reichstag. A well-known military photographer made a promise to himself at the beginning of the war: if he lives to see Victory, he will necessarily take pictures of the trampled Brandenburg Gate. Today this photo is a symbol of Victory over fascist Germany: bullets and shrapnel gates, at the top – banner “Glory to the Soviet troops …”, and in the foreground – a young regulator Masha, who suddenly became Brandenburg Madonna.
Now Maria Limanskaya lives in a small village of Zvonarevka in the Saratov region. By the way, the granddaughter of Maria Filippovna married a German. She left for Germany, and together they bring up six children. The guys found the very place where their great-grandmother stood at the Brandenburg Gate, and took pictures there. However, the gate is now completely different – restored. (Source: newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda”)
Born in Yuzovka (now Donetsk), he lost his parents killed during the Jewish pogrom on March 13, 1918. And the one-year-old child Evgeny Khaldey received a bullet wound in the chest. He studied in heder, from the age of 13 began to work at the plant. First shot he, 13 year-old boy, made with a self-made camera. From the age of 16 he started working as a photojournalist. Since 1939 he was a correspondent of the “Photo chronicles of TASS”. He photographed Dneprostroy, reported about the work achievements of Alexey Stakhanov.
Besides, he represented the editorial office of TASS on the naval front during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). All 1,418 days of the war, he went with the camera “Leica” (sold at auction “Bonhams” for 200 thousand dollars in 2014) from Murmansk to Berlin. He took photos of the Paris meeting of foreign ministers, the defeat of the Japanese in the Far East, the conference of the heads of the allied powers in Potsdam, the hoisting of the flag over the Reichstag, and the signing of the surrender of Germany.
In 1995, in Perpignan (France), at the International Festival of Photojournalism, Yevgeny Chaldei received the most honorable award in the art world – the title “Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature”. Yevgeny Khaldei died on October 6, 1997, buried in Moscow at the Kuntsevo Cemetery.
Human life is constantly experiencing crises, that is, acute problems which require immediate remedial action, but a general crisis in a civilization is quite a different matter. A general crisis has unique characteristics because a civilization has unique characteristics, in comparison with other kinds of social groupings. We cannot understand the nature of a general crisis unless we understand the distinctive nature of a civilization, because the unique character of a civilization rests in its structure and the general crisis of any civilization is an organizational crisis in that structure.
A civilization is the highest level of social aggregate. As such it has four inferior levels of such aggregates below it: (1) collections of persons, whose only significant relationship is that they are in the same place at the same time (like passengers in a bus); (2) groups of persons, whose relationships are sufficiently patterned for members of the group to be able to identify who is, and who is not, a member of that group; (3) societies, which are groups whose patterns serve to satisfy most of the members basic needs, with the result that the members of a society have most of their relationships with each other, and their mutual, reciprocal adjustments while doing so make a society an integrative social aggregate; and (4) producing societies, which are societies whose economic patterns serve to increase the amount of food in the system, in contrast with non-producing societies, whose activities reduce the amount of food in the system and in its natural environment since they are simply parasites on nature. A civilization (5) is a producing society whose patterns include an organization of expansion.
This last definition means that a producing society becomes a civilization when it is organized in such a way that its patterns of relationships and behavior provide three things: (a) an incentive to innovate new ways of doing things; (b) an inequitable distribution of the social product so that there accumulates within the society a surplus of wealth (that is, wealth which its possessors do not wish to consume immediately); and (c) that the society be organized in such a way that the surplus being accumulated is used to mobilize resources to exploit the innovations being made. Such a triplex of organizational patterns is what I call “an organization of expansion”. Any producing society which develops such an organization of expansion is a civilization; accordingly, it will expand as all civilizations do, but as non-civilized societies do not.
By “expansion” here I mean that the civilization grows in four ways: (a) in population; (b) in geographic area; (c) in production of wealth per capita; and (d) in knowledge. When a civilization is expanding in these ways, we say that it is in its “Stage of Expansion”, which is Stage III of the seven distinct stages in the life of any civilization. This stage of growth follows the logistical curve of growth found in the curve of any growth process. This is the familiar elongated S-curve, whose slope, as shown by the tangent to the curve, reflects the rate of growth. As we move in time from left to right along this curve, the rate of growth increases to a certain point, after which the rate ceases to increase and soon begins to decease. In the early stages of a civilization, the rate of growth is close to zero, and the slope of the curve is almost horizontal (that is, zero); as growth begins, this slope of the tangent begins to turn in a counter-clockwise direction as the rate of growth increases. The civilization enters Stage III of its civilization process as soon as the tangent to the curve begins to turn, and it continues in this State III until the rate of growth begins to decrease, as indicated by the fact that the tangent ceases to turn in a counter-clockwise direction and begins to turn in a clockwise direction. At this point, although growth continues for a considerable period, the rate of growth is decreasing, and the civilization has entered upon Stage IV in its life-span; that is, it enters its Age of Conflict or General Crisis (Stage IV).
The Age of Conflict of any civilization can be identified by the fact that it has four characteristics different from the four characteristics of the Age of Expansion. These four indicators are: (a) decreasing rate of expansion; (b) increasing class-conflicts; (c) increasing imperialist wars among the political units which make up most civilizations; and (d) growing irrationality. As we shall see in a moment, other characteristics are also to be found in an Age of General Crisis, which help to identify it.
The reason for the decreasing rate of expansion is that the organization of expansion ceases acting as an instrument of expansion and becomes an institution. The tendency for all organizations to begin as instruments and to end as institutions is a general characteristic of all organizational patterns of any kind. It can be recognized from the fact that there appears to be a drastic decrease in the effectiveness with which the purpose of the organization is achieved, a decrease which arises from the fact that the organization and its members begin to assume other purposes different from the goals of the organization as a whole. The members of the organization and its operational patterns become vested interests more concerned with defending their own interests and their own methods of operation as elements in the organization than they are with the organization’s macro-goals. There are many reasons for this situation which cannot be explained here, but we might mention two: (a) each part of the organization has a subsidiary function which is distinct from the function of the organization itself and the egocentricity of all human actions tend to make this micro-goal of the individual part take priority over the macro-goal of the whole organization; and (b) even if a part of it continues to achieve its micro-goal with continuing effectiveness, the social context of the organization changes, requiring modifications of the micro-goals and micro-functions of the parts, but such changes will be resisted, or simply not observed, by those parts long enough to reduce the effectiveness of the achievement of the macro-goals and macro-functions of the organization in the new social context.
It is a basic rule of social processes that instruments tend to become institutionalized and that institutionalization leads to decreased effectiveness in achieving macro-goals. When this occurs, not only are macro-goals underachieved, but a dichotomy of interests (and potential conflict) emerges between the desires of the society for the fulfillment of macro-goals and the desires of the organization and its parts to fulfill their macro-goals. This phenomenon can be observed in any society in all its activities, from churches where religion is replaced by clericalism, through schools where the struggle for credits, curriculum, and examinations become obstacles to real education, to the military aspect where weapons, inter-service animosities, SOP, and thirst for promotions become threats to defense and even to national security.
This process of the institutionalization of organizations is the chief cause of the decreasing rate of expansion and of class and group conflicts as Stage III of any civilization passes into Stage IV. Somewhat more remotely it is also the chief cause in the onset of imperialist wars. This third characteristic of an Age of General Crisis is but one example, though a major one, of the general tendency of this Stage to seek to increase its rate of expansion by the use of force and of political action, as this rate ceases to be maintained at an adequate level by organizational processes based on accepted structural patterns. The most obvious manifestations of this general tendency are to be found in three phenomena: (a) a tendency, as the disappointing rate of growth in the whole social product is recognized, for the diverse parts of the system to seek to maintain or to increase their own shares of the dwindling total at the expense of the shares going to other parts of the system; (b) a growing tendency to use conscious political action and power to force continued growth; and (c) a tendency for the chief entities of group action in the civilization (usually states, but sometimes other groups or communities) to attack other such entities in imperialist warfare.
The nature of this process and the tendency to move toward imperialism as a response to decreasing rates of growth can be seen most clearly in economics, although it takes place in all aspects of civilized life. The purpose of economic activity is to obtain economic goods which can be consumed or otherwise enjoyed. All such activity takes the form of application of tools and patterns of action to resources. If we designate such artifacts and patterns as “an organization”, we can indicate a productive relationship thus: an organization (O) applied to resources (R) yields Goods (G), thus O + R ] G.
In this relationship, G can be increased in either of two ways: (a) by applying the same O to an increased R; or (b) by applying a more effective O to the same or even a reduced R. We call the former “extensive expansion” and the latter intensive expansion”, a contrast which is most easily seen in agriculture, where intensive expansion has been prevalent for decades, if not centuries, so that we now get greatly increased output of G with decreased use of land and labor, by the use of new methods, organizations, and techniques. This is in sharp contrast to other aspects of economic, such as transportation, where we are constantly told that private, individual, mobility by the internal combustion engine is the ultimate achievement in transportation organization, so that organization changes are thus excluded, and expansion of transportation as an economic good G cannot be achieved by any changes in O, but must be sought through more R, that is, increased vehicles, horsepower, and highways. Similarly, experts in education or in national defense almost unanimously and automatically exclude new organizations or methods and insist that they must have more resources – more money, personnel, buildings, hardware, etc.
The general tendency to seek more G by increasing R, rather than by reforming O, is simply a part of the general tendency for instruments to become institutions. In any social process, O tends to become a way of life, the patterns of thought, feeling, and action which is “our way of doing things.” Accordingly, vested interests accumulate around O, but not around R (which are simply resources to be used and even used up). There is always, in social activities, a tendency for intensive expansion to be transformed into extensive expansion. When that shift of emphasis takes in the organization of expansion of a civilization, that civilization passes from its Stage of Expansion into its Stage of Conflict or General Crisis. This leads almost inevitably to conflicts of classes, groups, generations, and states, and thus imperialist wars. Such wars could be defined as conflicts arising from efforts to obtain by force or power an increase in R, as a means for continuing growth in G without conscious or deliberate reform of O. These imperialist wars of Stage IV of a civilization are quite different from the conflicts which may have appeared in Stage III; in the latter, such conflicts arose from the growth of the civilization itself from its improvement of its organizational patterns (that is, of O).
A fine example of this whole process can be seen in the history of the defeated powers of WWII. Before the war, Germany, Japan, and Italy refused to consider any significant reforms of their political, financial, and economic organizations, insisting that higher standards of living for their citizens could be obtained only by increased resources, even if those could be obtained only by force from their neighbors. The efforts of these fascist states to obtain more resources by force led to World War II. As a result of the defeat of these aggressors in 1945, all three countries suffered a sharp reduction in resources: land, population (counter-balanced, to some extent, by repatriation of nationals), of monetary resources (such as foreign exchange balances), and raw materials. Yet in all three cases, as a result of the actions of the United States, the fascist organizational structure which had made the war was replaced by a different and more effective organizational structure, in economics, in government, and in finance. In each of the three countries, this new organization, after 1952, achieved a spectacular increase in standards of living and did so on a smaller resource base than had existed in 1938. As a result of the defeat, which was essentially a defeat of the fascist organization itself, a new O with a reduced R achieved an output of G which astonished the world and which gave the inhabitants of all three countries a higher standard of living than they had ever had in history. In all three the rate of expansion is now slowing down, as the post-1950 O becomes institutionalized.
This process of institutionalization of social instruments (or the shift from intensive to extensive growth) in a constant in all human life and in all processes of historical change. As I have explained in detail in another place (my EVOLUTION OF CIVILIZATIONS, Macmillan, 1961, pp. 49-65, 74-78), this tendency gives rise to three possible responses which I called reform, circumvention, or reaction. In the first case, the institutionalized organization is reformed and growth resumes; in the second case, the institutional organization is left many of its privileges and emoluments, but its social functions are given to a new parallel organization, which serves as a new instrument so that growth resumes; and, in the third case, the institutionalized O is able to become a fascist structure which uses power and force to prevent either reform or circumvention, thus condemning the people of the society to a reduced or declining level of satisfaction of their needs and desires for an indefinite future. In this third case, the Age of Conflict continues, and the civilizational process continues into growing frustration and weakness, until a single political unit, a Universal Empire, conquers the whole area of the civilization. At that point, Stage IV ceases, and replaced by Stage V. It is, of course, possible in theory for the civilization to fail to achieve a Universal Empire and to continue in conflict and general crisis, as the society declines slowly to disintegration, with mixed patterns of reform, circumvention, and reaction. In such a case, which is quite rare, Universal Empire will be omitted from the civilizational process, and the society will move from Stage IV, Conflict, to Stage VI, Decay, without experiencing Stage V.
General Crisis affects all aspects of life from intellectual, religious, and artistic, through social (concerned with human gregarious and emotional needs) and economic, to constitutional, political, and military. Efforts to deal with all these aspects by political action, or even by force, means that all aspects tend to be become politicized, even such “private” matters as relationships between the sexes, between the generations, within families, etc. In the Age of Conflict this culminates in a great effort to fuse into a single system three quite distinct social organizations: the community, the state, and the civilization itself. The last two of these usually do reach a point where they obtain coterminous boundaries (as a Universal Empire), but the effort to pretend that this huge social aggregate is a community is always a failure. There are two reasons for this failure. A community is a social aggregate (group, society, or civilization) whose members trust each other until they have explicit reasons to distrust a particular person; such reasons for distrust can be found very easily in an age of general conflict and general politicization, in which power intrudes into all human relationships. More important than this, however, is the second reason, the fact that human emotional needs can be satisfied only by contacts with nature and with other humans on an existential, unique, face-to-face basis in which individuals know each other personally. An institutionalized society is too cluttered up with artifacts, institutions, and power factors to permit the achievement of any “global village,” a McLuhan myth which is typical of McLuhan’s efforts to please the contemporary institutionalized establishment. Any large social aggregate, especially a highly politicized one as a Universal Empire must be, has to operate through artifacts, general rules, abstractions, permanent status, and generalized, non-personal (that is, not “face-to-face”) behavior. All these things are obstacles to the unique, existential relationships among persons and with nature required by human emotional needs. The effort to make a Universal Empire into a community, or to pretend that it is, is bound to fail from the cumulative frustration of unexpressed emotional energies. Contemporary student hatred of the IBM card as a symbol of what is wrong, in their minds, with today’s world is a notable example of this reaction.
Eventually, in the course of the Age of Conflict, individuals begin to reject the effort to make the state and the civilization into a community and begin to seek emotional satisfaction by what I call “misplacement of satisfactions” or by opting out of the system. The first of these responses is too complex a problem to be dealt with in any adequate fashion here. It includes a general tendency to seek satisfaction of human needs on the wrong levels: to seek security in the acquisition of property, or in sex, or in unquestioning allegiance to an ideology as a secular religion; or to seek emotional satisfaction in power, in violence, in status, or in artifacts; and so forth. The second of these responses, opting out of the system, includes the use of narcotics, alcohol, or other irrationalities, as well as the effort to lose oneself in a niche of the system, but it is most notable as a renunciation of any ambition to create a community from the whole society or the state, in favor of an effort to find emotional and social satisfactions in some voluntary “little community” or commune. Such efforts appear in the Stage of Conflict and have a fluctuating history until they finally become so pervasive (usually late in the Universal Empire) that the whole system disintegrates. This “opting out of the system” involves a shifting of allegiance and emotional attachments from the state to small communities. It is clearly seen, for example, in the Greek-speaking Classical world after it reached it reached its Age of Conflict about 450 B.C. The first famous case is Epicurus, who renounced allegiance to the state, to war, and to military service, and invited men to find their true satisfactions by sitting with their friends, eating and conversing “in a quiet garden.” Later, the Cynics, the “hippies” of the ancient world, sought similar “anti-social” but inter-personal satisfactions. This trend continued, vigorously resisted by the state, (especially by Rome after the Latin world entered its Age of Conflict about 250 B.C.) but with decreasing success after the time of Augustus Caesar. By that time, Lucullus had abandoned all politics to devote himself to feasting, while men like Apollonius of Tyana and Christ pointed the way to the satisfaction of human social and emotional needs in religious communes. However, only in the Second Century A.D., when the Universal Empire of Classical Civilization was almost two centuries old, did this trend become a torrent. At that time, tens of thousands joined the church, finding in its catacombs the emotional, religious, and intellectual satisfactions which had been left frustrated by the Classical over-emphasis on military, political, and economic concerns. After A.D. 311 Constantine and his successors tried to regain the political and military allegiance of the Christians by adopting Christianity as the religion of a new Imperial system centered on the Persian doctrine of Providential Empire. This effort created a new civilization, Byzantine, in the east, but in the west, civilized life collapsed into invasions and the Dark Age of a new Western Civilization. Classical Civilization died everywhere.
General Crisis, Stage IV, of a civilization can be viewed from other aspects. It is the central stage of a process by which society shifts from an organization of kinship groups and local communities (clans, extended families, villages, parishes) to an organization of atomized and alienated individuals, many of whom are vainly seeking community in a universal brotherhood of man within a universal state. In Stage II most human behavior controls and many human rewards of behavior are internalized, in neurological and hormonal patterns resulting from social and religious training in face-to-face local groupings. In the latter parts of Stage IV (Conflict) and in Stage V (Universal Empire), most controls and rewards are externalized, the controls from organized forces of “law and order” (that is, organized power and force, as police, government, and military units), and the rewards equally externalized as possessions of wealth and power status. The civilization, as it passes from Stage II to Stage V, finds that individual relationships are based, successively, on processes of socialization (Stage II), commercialization (III), politization (IV), and ultimately, militarization (V).
This process marks a shift in emphasis downward from the higher levels of human experience (religious, intellectual, artistic, and emotional) to the lower (economic, political, military, and physical). As a result, the civilization faces acute problems in its higher manifestations, so that fundamental cognitive assumptions and value priorities which prevailed in the earlier stages are challenged and replaced by cognitive and symbolic patterns of a more atomized and less social character. From these changes emerge powerful emotional frustrations which give rise to growing misplacement of satisfactions and an increasing tendency for individuals to opt out of the system. At some point these frustrations and shifts of loyalties create a situation in which the civilization as a functioning entity can no longer continue, and especially can no longer defend itself, from lack of support from its members. This leads to wholesale collapse of its military, political, and economic structures.