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When Predicting the Future of Nations Goes Terribly Wrong

TOKYO - Francis Fukuyama’s ambitious The End of History wasn't the only historical blunder of epic proportions when it came to foretelling the future. Here's a 1910 report drafted by Theodor von Holleben, a former German diplomat, about a future of China, Japan, Germany, and the USA that was never meant to be -in fact, history wasn't having any of it and instead handed out the complete opposite! It should serve us well as a reminder for diplomacy’s most valuable lessons: 1) Things never turn out...; and 2) ...the way we expected:

“Now I would like to say a few words about the "yellow peril," which is much talked about.

This refers chiefly to Japan; whereas China, perhaps so much more powerful in the old days, is of little or no concern to us when discussing such things.

It is not to deny that Japan has made tremendous progress in all spheres of political and economic life. But I think that it is amply provided for the fact that these trees do not grow to the sky, and I must confess that my recently gained intuition about the whole enterprise only confirmed me in my persuasion.

The Japanese industry is, despite all efforts, still in its infancy, and if it really evolves at the current speed, as the Japanese believe it and hope for it, it will take decades just to attain a similar position as the United States of America hold compared economically against ours today -which on the whole all the same is quite bearable.”[1]

100 years later, the German Empire has long perished, Japan has almost double the GDP of Germany, the United States of America became the world’s sole superpower, and EVERYONE talks about China.

[1] Holleben, Theodore (1910). Translated text passage from German publication ‘Bericht Hollebens ueber seine Ostasienreise im Jahr 1910 an Reichskanzler Bethmann Hollweg’ in Ein Husar in Ostasian (2012), edited by Wippich, Rolf Harald, OAG-Taschenbuch Nr. 94, ISBN 978-3-86205-106-9

Image credit: Ratana21/Shutterstock.com

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