by Rachel McIntyre

DISTINGUISHED British historian and Spanish scholar Professor Hugh Thomas was one of the speakers at 21st Century Thought seminar organised by the Fundació Balear at Sa Nostra's cultural centre. He was introduced by Majorcan writer Baltasar Porcel.
His paper dealt with the background to the war in Iraq, or more specifically, the difficulty inherent in accepting that our “great protector”, as he called the US, has become embroiled in a pre-emptive war of which, the Professor claimed, we cannot approve. It also discussed the implications of America's role as leader of a potential “world empire”.
The US became a superpower following the collapse of communist Russia and, according to Thomas, is the only world power capable of intervening in global affairs, although, until now, it has always seemed reluctant to do so. Thomas quoted the argument that with the end of the Cold War, another power struggle was inevitable, this time between the Christian and Muslim worlds. He also suggested that what is occurring now is not as threatening as the 40 years spent with the “US and USSR poised to attack each other.” The Professor claimed the current war with Iraq breaks with the UN's attempts to introduce international rule of law, as the US ignores the old legal bonds of the UN whenever it is deemed necessary. He described how the relative stability of the post-Cold War years ended abruptly in 2001 with Al-Qaeda´s attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon which prompted the US to overcome its reluctance to claim itself the single great world power. He illustrated this by explaining how Dr Condoleeza Rice, head of the National Security Council, asserted in a paper issued by the White House that the US must build its “defences beyond challenge.” The document also linked Al Qaeda to Iraq and made clear that “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed...In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace is the path of action.” That America may lead this “new world” is, according to Thomas, an idea subscribed to by certain members of the Bush administration.
He suggested that US policy is influenced by historian W. H. McNeil's hypothesis that the world´s population, tired of war and violence, would willingly surrender independence to a world empire in return for guaranteed security and stability. This philosophy was behind a plan to attack Iraq four years before the events of September 11 in order to “reconstruct” the Middle East on North American, liberal and democratic lines. If there were to be a single world power, Thomas claimed that America would be better than alternatives such as China, Japan, a Muslim coalition or a revived Russia. However, he was doubtful whether modern Americans have the level of commitment running the planet entails, citing learning foreign languages as an example. He also implied that the average American would fear that a commitment by the US to world power would be certain to transform the country domestically.
As to Britain, he said that she should look to Europe rather than the United States.
Hugh Thomas was born in Windsor and studied at Queens College, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne in Paris.
His history of the Spanish Civil War, published in 1969, was banned by Franco for many years.


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