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  • Richard Kerger

Headlines from History

I recently read a book entitled “Mr. Five Percent, The Story of the Life of Calouste Gulbenkian.” Gulbenkian was an Armenian who lived from 1869 to 1955. He had homes in Turkey, London, Paris and Lisbon. Most of us have never heard of him, yet he was creator of our modern oil market. The title of the book comes from the fact that he negotiated commissions on most of the oil sold in the early 1900’s, typically a commission rate of five percent. It made him the richest man in the world at that time. What is fascinating, however, is to read this book as a history of that man and those times but as you read, you realize that much of what the book describes could come from the headlines of today’s newspapers. Turmoil existed in Syria and Iraq. This was because of oil and the prospects of oil. Places like Aleppo and Mosul were key cities in 1910. The Kurds were involved in fighting to preserve their own way of life. The Soviet Union was fighting to extend its boundaries around the Black Sea. Venezuela was a major concern to the United States since it was the third largest producer of oil at the time but was allied with the Soviet Union and was not performing the way the United States wanted. Apparently President Maduro has read history. I had a similar experience during the Vietnam War when I read the history of that region. What the United States did not seem to understand was that the relations between Vietnam and China were historically tumultuous. Every hundred years or so, the Chinese would sweep down and try to take over Vietnam, and the Vietnamese didn’t like it. We really should not have worried about China extending its power in Vietnam. Our world is truly as the philosopher George Santayana observed “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Worse, we run the risk of proving the accuracy of another of his observations – “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

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