World War III or The Chinese Cold War

Will America return to the Cold War?  Will there be World War III with the Chinese?  Is China preparing for a massive invasion of Russia?  Taiwan?  Japan?  A friend of mine made an interesting statement yesterday while we argued some of the above questions.  He’s a high school science teacher and he said, “Ask the typical high school student how many Jews died in the Holocaust and most will answer six million.  They’ll get fairly close.  Ask them how many Chinese died in World War II and they’ll answer, China was in World War II.”

I’ve failed you.  As an Historian I’ve failed you.  I’ve read estimates that place the number of people who starved to death in China because of World War II as high as fifty million.  China suffered from the chaos of WW II well into the sixties and only now is beginning to emerge on the world as one of the great players in world politics.  Which has me wondering why it took so long for a country with the world’s largest population to emerge as a world leader? China should have always been a world leader.

We argued about the potential for World War III with China.  I like to believe that Chinese leadership isn’t that stupid, and that the United States won’t get caught flatfooted like at Pearl Harbor or 9/11.  A sneak attack on an unsuspecting United States with nuclear weapons could be a very bad thing.  It would probably involve the west coast and that personally would be a sad thing because their are several family members of mine and friends whom I love in California.

Is China planning to start World War III?  I doubt it.  From the information I have the Chinese still only maintain about twenty inter-continental ballistic missiles.  The really big ones that are capable of hitting the United States.  The Chinese believe this is enough of a deterrent to keep the United States from launching on them.

Are they planning on attacking Russia?  There again doubtful.  When I was in the seventh grade I had a teacher who taught a Core curriculum class.  Core was one of those liberal programs that was tried way back when I went to school and it included studying English, History, Social Science, and Geography in one two hour class that met daily.  A typical assignment from that Core class involved reading a book about history and reporting on it, which would cover English and History.  

Being the budding young history genius, at the time, I found a book that had about two hundred pages of pictures with short one line captions to report on.  I learned a lot about photo analysis from trying to use that book.  The book itself had pictures of the German Army and its exploits during World War II, from the redevelopment of the German Army through to the final defeat of Germany.  The teacher picked one picture in that book and proceeded to challenge my mind and taught me a lot about looking at pictures.  The picture involved three Germans who had gotten their Kubelwagen stuck.  One German was steering and two were pushing.  The two pushing were covered in mud and quite obviously from the huge smiles on their faces having a joyous time being stuck in the mud.

“What do you see?” He asked.

“Three happy Germans in Russia.”

“Why are they happy?” 

“It’s early in the war and they’re winning.”

“Good.  What else do you see?”

“It’s raining and they aren’t wearing rain gear, and they’re stuck in the mud.  It’s probably late September, or October, 1941.”

“Good.  What else?”

Confusion set in because their wasn’t anything else to see.  I looked at him with one of those kid looks that asked, what in the hell do you want from me old man, but of course didn’t say it.  “I don’t see anything else.”

“Ok,” he stated and asked, “what don’t you see?”

“There aren’t any buildings.  No other people.  There are some trees.”  Is it the trees my mind questioned? Is there something in the trees that I’m supposed to be seeing?

“Ok, what’s all over the Germans?”



“Because it’s raining and the Russians have crappy roads.”

“Very good!  What about the Russian roads?”

I thought for a minute and then he coaxed the answer out of me.

“What are our highways made of?”

“Concrete or some other kind of pavement,” I answered, still somewhat confused.

“Why do you suppose that is?”

“So they won’t turn to mud when it rains.”

“And what kind of vehicles need paved roads?”

Realization overwhelmed me as I got it.  “Heavy vehicles like tanks and trucks that would easily get stuck in the mud.  Tanks that fight and trucks that re-supply them so they can fight.”

“Very good!”

The lack of Russian roads bogged the Germans down and allowed the Russians the time they needed to reorganize their defense.  Now, what does this have to do with whether or not China is planning on invading Russia?  We don’t drive tanks to the battlefield.  We carry them.  We carry them on trucks or, more preferably, on trains.  Trains can carry hundreds of tanks and their troops to the battle or staging area where an impending invasion is to begin.  This link will take you to a map of Chinese population density current for today:  http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Research/LUC/ChinaFood/data/maps/pop/all_1_h.htm.

The second map shows the development of US population in 1990.  The original United States is east of the Mississippi.  The western states are where people were going; states like California, Washington, or Oregon.  They went there because they could.  They went their because there was a reason to.  The original intrepid explorers went by wagon, but after 1870, most went by train.  In the China map there is no such movement toward the Russian or India borders because it is too difficult to get there and there is no reason to go there.  They don’t have the trains or the highways to carry their armies to the border.  If the Chinese did population centers would spring up along the rails and highways and at the extreme ends of those roads.  The Chinese population is still centered along the rivers and coastal regions because their primary form of transportation is water. 

Map courtesy of :http://www.cast.uark.edu/local/catalog/national/html/Population.htmldir/USpop1990.html.

Is China going somewhere?  Of course.  They’re going wherever they can go.  Are they going to Taiwan?  I’m fairly certain that China and Taiwan will formalize a relationship similar to what China has with Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is part of China but maintains semi-autonomous control of Hong Kong.  They govern themselves but are watched over by Beijing.

Is China going to start World War III?  The greatest challenge facing the world today is socio-economic dependence on oil.  China needs oil as badly as anyone else.  They can’t take it from the Russians because they can’t get there.  China pumps oil from the East China Sea in areas that are in dispute with the Japanese.  There is the potential for this to be a flash point that could trigger a wider greater war.  While still a possibility these countries still have too much to lose by going to war.  The economic gain is not greater than the economic loss that would be incurred by going to war, which makes the war highly unlikely in this decade.  But things do change.  Maybe in the next decade.

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July 2008

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