Tag Archives: Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Ways the World Became Better on Christmas


Some of the stated goals of Christmas seem absurd when applied to the international relations forum. Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men, unless you’re locked in a zero-sum struggle for finite resources, have historical antipathies dating back millennia, or simply have worldviews that are irreconcilable. You’ll have to forgive me for today, however. Today we sit with family and friends recounting times long gone while Christmas music reminds us explicitly to do just that. It’s a strange syrup for the soul, and I simply can’t help myself.

Of course, even when you’re wearing glasses rosier than Santa’s cheeks, one must still acknowledge that there are Christmases that were less than merry. Englishmen probably do not remember the coronation of William-who-conquered-them fondly, and Koreans would probably prefer that their old relations with Emperor Hirohito, who ascended the throne on Christmas, be forgot and never brought to mind. I think we all would like to imagine what the world would have been like if the The Little (War) Drummer Boy wasn’t pa rum pum pum pum-ing in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. Like seemingly any other calendar day, one can find events that reshaped the world, for better or for worse. Today, though, we look at the brighter side.

Christmas Truce

Although it is difficult to imagine that any event during the ramp-up of the First World War could be considered positive, today we celebrate the 99th anniversary of the unofficial Christmas Truce between French and German soldiers. No man’s land became spontaneously populated with soldiers exchanging gifts and harmonizing carols. For a time, at least, “O Tannenbaum” (“O Christmas Tree”) mingled with “Minuit, Chrétiens” (“O Holy Night”) and soccer was the only pitched battle taking place. It’s maybe the most famous of the events that happened on Christmas, and likely only could have occurred in 1914. At this point, the only poison gas that had been used was tear gas, Verdun had yet to become a killing field, and “shell shock” was not yet a phrase with any meaning in English. One could argue that the August Madness had not yet dissipated and both sides still were overly optimistic about the realities of war. This would belittle the true power of the event though. It takes a sort of monomaniacal madness to propel towards war, and that Christmas offered a context that reminded the soldiers of their duty to common humanity. It did not stop the war, but it did offer a very powerful reminder that, with deference to Hobbes, man’s natural state is not one of war, but rather community and association.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s Resignation as President of USSR

I admit that I may have more enthusiasm about this one as somebody with an American perspective, but there is no doubt that the globe has benefited immensely from the peaceful disintegration of the Soviet Union. While sitting around the dinner table this past week, the geopolitical jokes that I heard often involved communists and East German spies. Apart from dating some individuals in my family, it truly made me appreciate what a different world we live in. The US no longer has to seriously worry about entering state-on-state total war and developing nations are no longer subjected to open conflict induced by “Great Game” machinations of a bi-polar world. US foreign policy is free to focus on trumpeting human rights and holding allies and aid recipients accountable (alas, not perfectly, of course). Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and, indeed, Russia itself still have a long way to go to fulfill the promise of the road that Gorbachev laid before them, but if the current situation in Ukraine can be read the way I think it should, then they are much closer today than they were in 1991.

First Successful Trial Run of the World Wide Web

I was actually alive for this event. Given how much the interconnectivity has taken over our lives, it’s difficult to imagine how the world operated prior to the Internet’s inception. I admit, this one is a little more light-hearted geopolitically than the previous two, but it has no doubt made the world a better place to exist. Apart from allowing us to order our gadgets, boost work productivity immensely, and, most importantly, read this article, it has also brought us closer and made us more aware of the world and each other. Mohamed Bouazizi would have been a tragic story known by few, rather than a symbol of oppression that ignited a region and defined an era; MOOC would be a silly acronym understood by nobody rather than a revolution in education that have the potential to eliminate barriers to access for a real education; and we never would have known the biting social critique that is Gangnam Style or had space to wonder what the fox says.

Who knows whether this Christmas will live up to the others? Probably not, but it’s tough to argue with hot apple cider flowing freely. We here at The Korbel Report hope you’ve had time to step away from the Foreign Affairs, spend time with friends and family over the past month, and recharge for 2014. We’re sure there will be plenty to discuss.

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Welcome to The Korbel Report

Welcome to The Korbel Report, a blog by Masters graduates of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. We are a diverse group of people with many different perspectives and opinions on world affairs. We are human rights campaigners, security analysts, scholars, journalists, and people that just want to make a difference. Even our choices of second (or third) languages are very likely to be widely variant. What binds us is that we are interested. Over the past two years, there simply has not been a single international issue of significance that we did not find ourselves debating and dissecting with each other. This blog aims to continue that experience. Hopefully it produces some thought-provoking and interesting reading along the way.

Below are our priorities for this blog, not necessarily in order of importance:

  1. An open discussion of world issues: The basic idea is that this blog gives us a chance to think aloud and become better practitioners of our chosen field. We will not claim to be experts in any given area-there are many blogs by people much more renowned-but we will endeavor to use our expertise to write timely and informative material. The sky is really the limit here, unless somebody posts about space policy. We will cover the unfamiliar, such as electoral politics in Papua New Guinea; the familiar, such as the Syrian conflict; the contemporary, such as analysis of the recent ousting of President Morsi in Egypt; and the more long-term, such as global programs to combat the rising rates of non-communicable disease. We encourage engagement from readers to keep the discussion going.
  2. An update on Korbel students’ work: Post-graduation we once again have found ourselves scattered across the world, whether by choice or deportation. As we’ve come to appreciate, there is no better way to intimately understand a situation than to be absorbed in it. Here we hope to hit the proverbial two birds. On the one hand we would like to write reports about the issues that we are addressing, while simultaneously demonstrating the kind of careers that Korbel graduates lead.
  3. A chance to be nerdy: While we will aim to be informative, this blog will not be entirely straight-laced. We want this blog to be something that people enjoy reading and we enjoy writing. Expect puns. And maybe a .gif or two.

These are not static priorities and they may change as the blog progresses. Of course, reader feedback is much appreciated in helping to make this successful. Thank you for reading, come back often, and Go Pioneers.

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