Imaginary and Real Limits of Science and Cognition

Two books, William Byers’ How Mathematicians Think and John D. Barrow’s Impossibility, at a first glance seem to have nothing in common: the former deals with the process of creating mathematics, while the latter discusses the outer limits of science. But closer inspection quickly reveals that both works are eerily similar both in content and ideas, and while their authors seem to disagree on particular points of their respective exposés (such as the ordered relation between mathematics and logic), neither seems to present a particularly objective or dispassionate outlook on science or mathematics itself.

The purported goal of How Mathematicians Think is to acquaint the reader with fundamental creative processes of mathematics, in particular those based on ambiguity, contradiction, and paradox. But the increasingly technical approach of the book begs the question about its intended audience: mathematicians will find the content trivial and self-evident – they need not be reminded of rather basic mathematical concepts, nor be told how they do what they do – while non-mathematicians will find the text abstruse and forbidding, and so may never really learn what the author really tried to convey – that is, the notion of mathematics as a creative albeit formal and rigorous art.

Impossibility focuses more on science in general (including the social sciences); yet, unsurprisingly, mathematics still remains the focus of the author, John Barrow, a Cambridge mathematician himself. Here, too, the reader is faced with a plethora of scientific and mathematical curiosa. Many of them are identical to those used in Byers’ book, but, while unquestionably interesting, its wealth of graphs, pictures, theorems and equations still begs an answer to the classic question: “And the point is?”

Both authors tried for a book about mathematics, or about science, without imposing much linear structure on their presentation. After shortly presenting the effect of basic concepts of Platonism and constructivism on the philosophy of mathematics, Byers at long last discloses his real if somewhat anticlimactic purpose: it is his spiritual quest for the school of Zen, wherein he tries to employ introspective musings on the nature of mathematics to fulfill his transcendental yearnings for spiritual completeness. Barrow, after disposing of the relevance of religion in science and mathematics, addresses himself to another of the speculative arts: philosophy.

Having understood the objectives of both authors set forth on the first pages of their introductions, the reader is puzzled by pages upon pages of prolix elaborations, vividly and frequently interspersed by refreshing intermezzi of fun mathematical factoids that make the reading feel like strolling through a collection of curiously interesting oddities.

Sadly, science has long been misunderstood as one of the least creative fields of human activity – the popular image of a scientist portrays a person continuously engaged in trial and error, over and over, until the moment of random discovery. And yet, without creative thinking no discovery could become possible, no secret of nature can be unearthed. Encountering a book that deals not as much with science as it does with the philosophical aspects of science must be disconcerting for a reader unfamiliar with the subject matter. Still, such books provide a valuable glimpse into the functioning of a scientific mind, an introduction to the kind of big questions that researchers may eventually reach.

And yet the approaches of Byers and Barrow both seem to be missing something centrally important to science and mathematics: dispassionate objectivity, uninfluenced by religious, spiritual, ideological or philosophical ideas that have nothing to do with science or mathematics itself, but have everything to do with an individual need for soul-searching and for establishing a value structure. Whether taking refuge in the dicta of philosophers or in religious or spiritual traditions, a scientist does not contribute to the knowledge pool as he purports to do, but merely limits his own potential by allowing himself to be weakened by a quest for higher purpose and moral guidance that appears to enable him to “dare to contribute to Pandora’s box of human knowledge.”  Experience shows, however, that ‘thinkers’ or ‘gurus’ are among the worst compasses that may guide a scientist, since they lack both scientific understanding and objectivity. And aren’t thinkers almost universally known to be more apt to devoting themselves to the creation of a faithful base of followers than to helping individuals succeed and potentially surpass their erstwhile teachers? Ideally and in the abstract, the primary objective of scientists is to further science (without, of course, entirely neglecting to make a name for themselves in the process). By contrast, the purpose of a guru or philosopher is to shape the world according to his individual convictions and beliefs (without, again, neglecting to make a name for himself). This inherent conflict of interests is all too readily apparent, and while it is only natural that a scientist’s human quality might feel an occasional need to seek spiritual or philosophical guidance, such crutches for the mind and soul should never be mistaken for scientific guidance, lest we obtain a generation of theology-bound scientists who either end up ostracized if not burned at the stake, personally or vicariously through their books, or ready to close their eyes to evidence not in line with the dominant, and therefore “orthodox” ideology. That was generally the seemingly eternal status quo of science before the Renaissance (but in some areas also later until the 19th century) under various ideological and/or religious regimes of “truth in certitudes.”

Those capable enough to push known outer limits of science usually have no time and resources to speculate and pontificate about “definitive” limits. This is best left to those with few ideas about science in the first place, such as philosophers and other intellectual speculators. The two books discussed here are an interesting exception to that common observation: both were written by practicing mathematicians who, for one reason or another, decided to stop on their path of discovery, look around, and speculate where it may eventually take them and society as a whole. Evidently, the authors saw valid reasons to take time off from what they are gifted enough to pursue as a day job for the sake of engaging in a much less demanding occupation. But whatever both authors’ personal needs, their results should by no means be confused with authoritative findings of actual scientific exploration. Newton, for one, was right and visionary in a great many areas – but his opinions on alchemy should be taken, politely, with a huge grain of salt. Even mathematicians expounding on an emerging “philosophy of mathematics” are, if truth be told, not necessarily much of an authority. Unless he is one of those rare giants of thought, say, Leibniz or Russell, someone writing about philosophy of science is frequently either not enough of a philosopher or not enough of a scientist to convince or at least intrigue a discerning reader. Attention-grabbing catchy and conclusory statements, like Emil Du Bois-Reymond’s famous “ignoramus et ignorabimus,” are much too often just plainly wrong.

The debate comes down to intellectual clarity and honesty about disclosing purpose and method, and about frequently reviewing one’s adherence to both. Epistemological concepts of truth, belief and understanding are critical to cognitive success but they yield only partial results for the analysis of limits to knowledge and discovery. Still, one might argue, much to the chagrin of theorists, that those limits will actually remain congruent with the limits of randomness and accident itself, so long as accidental discovery and recombination of existing knowledge resulting in new discoveries remain possible. To date, no meaningful reason has been presented in the abstract as to why limits other than temporary and technology-dependent ones should exist and why human capacity of cognition should be limited by anything other than by the capacity and processing power limitations of the human brain – and its man-made extensions.

Conceivably, theoretical limitations may exist in mathematics where the finite life span of the human body would require more time for acquiring the methodological mathematical tools and skills of their use requisite for pushing the limits of the common body of knowledge further out. It is easy to imagine that this might eventually apply even to very narrow and specific research topics. Yet, at the same time, it is overwhelmingly likely that the same state of cognitive evolution would not be limited to mathematics alone but also yield equally improved technological support for information processing and analysis. That would once more level the playing field, rendering again more or less constant and manageable the distance one generation may have to bridge from the legacy of knowledge handed down by their forefathers to the significant discoveries of their own acquired in a however extended lifetime.

Another scenario, albeit one whose potential implications for the human race cannot be adequately assessed beyond imaginative science fiction, involves delegating mathematical research tasks to artificial intelligence under some mechanism of joint control. This may, in fact, represent the one true limit of science because it is inconceivable that such a mechanism would not eventually fail as power to control the process is usurped once the genie leaves the bottle at a point of greater-than-human intelligence known as a technological singularity, never to return. Such a moment would constitute an intellectual event horizon beyond which events can no longer be predicted or understood.

The high priest who would not continue pointless rituals

Although ample literature exists that provides a detailed background evaluation of the demise of the Warsaw Pact and of the Eastern Bloc itself, the obvious question remains why Gorbachev implemented and then pursued his radical policy, both with regard to foreign relations with the West and in Eastern Europe, as well as domestically.

Don’t believe your own propaganda

In the elation surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan was hailed as the hero who brought down communism and ended the threat of nuclear holocaust in a World War Three. This perception still persists. However, some historians present a very different view, that of a hero despite himself.

“Let’s talk” – the modern face of diplomacy

Examining the evolution of the face and methods of Soviet foreign policy sheds necessary light on the dazzling array of summits, conferences, declarations and international agreements marking the Helsinki process.

Paralysis by pluralism

Examining records of internal issues of the NATO in the early 1960’s exposes an array of problems plaguing a democratic system: while the U.S. was driving towards its goal of resolving East-West tensions, national and prestige interests of other members prevented a consensus that would bring about tangible results. Especially the veto power of countries with a vested interest in the status quo, such as France and the FRG, de facto paralyzed the democratic decision-making process within NATO. No wonder, then, that the U.S., the country that stood to gain the most from a settlement of the East-West antagonism - or the most to lose if it were maneuvered into a nuclear conflict - was tempted to side-step the utter ritualistic inefficiency of multi-party “consultations” within NATO and to reach out directly to the principal adversary, the Soviet Union. While Dwight Eisenhower did not dare antagonize the allies by pursuing bilateral agreements with the Soviet Union, the Kennedy administration routinely failed to consult NATO before undertaking binding steps with Moscow.

One example of how frustrating the inefficiency of NATO procedures was with regard to decision-making even in emergency situations was its response to the Berlin Wall crisis: It took NATO a full three months to agree to negotiate at all, and six months after the erection of the wall the alliance had still failed to agree on a common position, not to mention come up with any actionable solution. To be sure, it criticized the only party that had done anything at all: the U.S.’ moving of tanks up to the newly closed Berlin border.  The paradox of this situation cannot be underestimated: it had been the U.S. who, with the Soviet Union, had won the war and carried the heaviest burden of the campaign against the Nazi Germany that had already conquered almost all of Europe by 1941. And yet the U.S. admitted not only Britain, but also France, a country that had hopelessly surrendered after putting up only nominal resistance to the German onslaught, into the Four Powers council that kept the lands of the Nazi aggressors occupied after what had ultimately been exclusively an Anglo-American and Russian victory. That handed inordinate power to a country that did not have much if any military or economic background to justify such standing, and Charles de Gaulle took France’s new position quite literally to extort even more far-reaching accommodations from NATO, even insisting on a tripartite directorate within the statutorily democratic structures of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Within NATO, smaller countries without much international relevance at the time, such as Greece or Turkey, suddenly also gained strategic importance and promptly exploited their newly acquired voice and significance by obstructing the initiatives of their larger partners and by siding with whoever seemed more promising to them from time to time in terms of their domestic political interests. While Christian Nuenlist in his article “Into the 1960s: NATO`s role in East–West relations, 1958–1963” in Transforming NATO in the Cold War. Challenges Beyond Deterrence in the 1960`s unabashedly criticizes de Gaulle’s obstructionism within NATO and his conspiring with the FRG to sabotage NATO policies and any European settlement, Andreas Wenger’s “NATO`s Transformation in the 1960`s and the ensuing political order in Europe” in the same volume brings up one redeeming quality of de Gaulle: the Frenchman did insist on an all-European governance of European affairs and at all times supported an early vision of a European Union. How unfeasible and, in fact, hypocritical such attempts were, is, of course, another story. At a time when Western Europe needed U.S. military assistance to deter a real or imaginary communist threat, relegating the liberator and peacekeeper of Europe to a status of a rank and file vote in NATO while expecting her to bear most of the military and economic burden must have sounded absurd enough in Washington. But to suggest running European affairs by excluding the U.S. from material decision-making was as downright incomprehensible as it was unrealistic. Sure enough, Franco-German domination of Europe must have appealed to nationalistic elements in both of these countries, but hoping that NATO members could eventually be coaxed into such an arrangement seemed like a political day dream taken the proverbial step too far. It seems that many of the Soviet-induced tensions actually helped unify the position of NATO members by compelling them to put aside assorted national ambitions that threatened to fracture NATO and, in fact, endangered its very existence.

Undated declassified NATO documents presented in the Harmel Report vividly reflect the alliance’s paralysis by pluralism: while criticizing the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in ever harsher terms, NATO provided precious little guidance as to what actually should be done to solve the problem of persisting East-West tensions. Aside from noble and high-minded sounding propaganda, the primary documents provide not only no vision for a workable solution, but also show no road map out of the impasse: they repeat the diagnosis that “there does not exist a magic formula for overcoming the division of Germany,” but also that the allies should nevertheless solve their internal differences before attempting to engage in any talks with the Soviet Union. Consequently, these documents repudiated any East-West summit as “premature.” That and the calls for the creation of new pro-forma bodies to “study the problem” shows that, in spite of all its rhetoric, NATO was not interested in overcoming the division of Europe at all, while taking all the credit for Soviet attempts toward a rapprochement. The only concrete change reflected in the documents is a gradual move from multilateral to bilateral negotiations and relations between member countries of the two blocs. Furthermore, leaving the question of reunification of Germany to the FRG’s discretion virtually guaranteed that the matter would not be resolved, thus predictably preserving the status quo of a divided Europe, since the enduring inflexibility of the FRG’s policies in that regard was known only too well. Other new elements in the presumably later document were unsubstantiated hints at a peaceful coexistence between the two political systems.

Vojtech Mastny’s overview of “The Warsaw Pact as History” in Cardboard Castle?: An Inside History Of The Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991 enumerates analogies to the internal struggles faced by NATO: Romanian obstructionism, Albania’s expulsion from the Warsaw Pact, and eventual reforms within the pact aimed at a democratization of the organization, as well as an improved consultation procedure, reflected similar challenges and evolution within NATO. Interestingly, while during détente NATO gradually changed its priorities from military ones to the dual mandate of deterrence and détente whilst acknowledging the close interconnection between military and economic interests, the Warsaw Pact’s role that had been political at the outset turned into an increased military significance, which in consequence became important for its newly heightened political impact. Also, the Soviet Union’s initial efforts at disarmament by reducing its conventional troops and by pursuing non-aggression treaties were mirrored only partially and much later by NATO’s admission in the Harmel Report that reducing the existing excessive military potential might serve an economic purpose.

The improved consultation procedures within the Warsaw Pact took an interesting turn, as one can read in Csaba Békés’ “The History of the DEFOMIN Collection”: while at first Soviet intransigence and later Romanian obstructionism stalled until 1976 János Kádár’s proposal made in July 1963 to establish a Council of Warsaw Pact Foreign Ministers, the informal and never institutionalized meetings of deputy foreign ministers took on an active role in negotiating a common foreign policy of the Soviet Bloc and served as a forum for the flow of information within that bloc. The efficiency of such ad hoc solutions proved that practical considerations often overruled policy based on the official party line and, without endangering the public posture of the Soviet Union as the official voice of the Eastern Bloc, provided for nascent democratization of the decision-making process and an increasing individual role accorded to the countries of Eastern Europe.

This trend was ultimately reflected in the Warsaw Pact Summit of January 7, 1970 that dealt with the response to the election of Willy Brandt as chancellor of the FRG. At the summit, various countries of the Soviet Bloc presented opinions that were certainly not unified and reflected mostly domestic interests, while Brezhnev’s comments tried to interpret them in the framework of official Communist policy. Still, and despite paying lip service to ideology, it seemed that the economic considerations of foreign trade proved to be the most important and ultimately decisive factors for the East Bloc’s opening towards the FRG’s Ostpolitik over the protests of the GDR that continued to worry about the continuing uncertainty of its status.

Appearances and reality in superpower negotiations

Although nominally discussing the same events of the Cuban and Berlin crises of the early 1960’s, the corresponding passages by both Wilfried Loth in Overcoming the Cold War: A History of Détente, 1950-1991, and by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali in Khrushchev's Cold War: The Inside Story of an American Adversary exhibit so much bias towards their respective political leanings that both read like timelines of very different events. It seems that post-WWII history, especially the history of the Cold War, still has so much emotional impact that a dispassionate account of the events is rather difficult to achieve even by accomplished scholars.


1956: Poland versus Hungary, and Suez for good measure

Developments in the Cold War associated with the 1956 events in Poland are frequently lumped together in historical analyses with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. However, the differences between them could hardly have been greater.

Efforts at peace or plain power struggles?

In The Cold War after Stalin's Death: A Missed Opportunity for Peace? (The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series) historians discussing policies pursued by Dwight Eisenhower before the First Détente between Western superpowers and the Soviet Bloc often presume with the benefit of hindsight that he could have done more to bring about détente earlier, and criticize various “missed opportunities” which may or may not have resulted in an amelioration of East-West relations in the first place:

Justification of human sacrifice in body and mind

In view of the early internal communist documents such as the minutes of meetings leading up to the formation of Cominform, and especially the rhetoric of Zhdanov, it is not surprising that the internal balance, or, rather, imbalance of power in the Warsaw Pact took shape as one can observe from today’s perspective of the partly declassified documents and from the memoirs of their participants.

Does propaganda require a rationale – or even a point?

The minutes of meetings in Szklarska Poręba, Poland, in September 1947 that lead to the establishment of Cominform (Communist Information Bureau or the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers' Parties) make fascinating reading. They provide a glimpse into the farce of an independent communist government.


Governmental priorities

For a Pole or especially a Polish-American holding a romanticized vision of Poland’s past, The Establishment of Communist Rule in Poland,1943-1948 by Krystyna Kersten makes for illuminating reading on many accounts. Perhaps the most striking element in Kersten’s text was the difference in Polish attitudes at the time towards Soviet hegemony as compared to the policies of other Soviet Bloc countries described by Tony Judt’s “The Coming of the Cold War” in Postwar: a History of Europe Since 1945. To be sure, Poland did, of course, have a notoriously long history of military and political conflicts with Russia. And yet, the insistence of the Polish government-in-exile on a negotiating policy ruling out any compromise with Stalin that was backed by virtually no support seemed to border on the delusional, or it appeared to be at least thoroughly misguided.

One might argue that the only alternative of the Polish government-in-exile in 1944-45 was to surrender unconditionally to Stalin’s demands both on the account of Soviet territorial claims and with regard to the ruling political system, so protests and an unwavering stance were the only way to save at least some face in the defense of Polish political independence. However, Stalin did not need to state any claims whatsoever – he was in supreme control of the sole army that was able at the time to thwart what appeared then to be a practically unopposed German expansion across Europe, and he was head of state of the country that was, as a matter of fact, going to liberate Poland from German occupation. His way was the only way that Poland was going to be, except for certain blatant outrages that would mobilize the Western countries in the name of political propriety. Still under German occupation, and later only partly “liberated” by the Soviets (who, of course, stationed sufficient troops east of the Vistula river to turn the facts on the ground into another occupation), Poland was in no position to pronounce any territorial claims or demand any assurances of political nonintervention.

Furthermore, the Western Allies had more important problems than the issues of one country to which their powerful partner in the ongoing war effort had already laid a claim. The unending, unsupported hopes of the Polish government-in-exile that the allies, who throughout the preceding five years of war had done precious little to assist Poland, would now take a determined stance against Stalin’s territorial and political claims in Eastern Europe and thus jeopardize their own hopes for an acceptable balance of power in Europe – all this can only be attributed to lofty idealism akin to naïveté.

Especially debatable is the Polish government-in-exile’s decision to start the Warsaw Uprising at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives just to deny the Soviets historical credit for being the liberators of their capital – and yet counting on the Soviets to join in the Polish effort, finish the work, and then hand the country to the Polish government-in-exile on a silver platter. The outcome was abundantly clear from the outset to all but the Poles themselves: “They were, in my eyes, the doomed representatives of a doomed regime, but no one could be so brutal as to say this to them…” as one of the Western diplomats in Moscow, George Kennan, put it blatantly. The decision to commence in 1944 a large-scale unilateral military action in Warsaw without consulting the Allies not only irritated the latter, but it also showed that the government-in-exile of a disbanded country tried to assert its importance without any regard to human sacrifice, and to force its allies into action by humanitarian pleas. That, however, could not happen to any significant extent in the larger geopolitical scheme of the time, especially in the face of Stalin’s stark opposition; his policy was to watch the remaining Polish combatant elements and underground government formations bleed to death. These unexpected events foreseeably made it all that much easier for him to carry out a thorough sovietization of Poland after the war.

Also, the government-in-exile’s insistence on the Polish Home Army behaving as “hosts” welcoming the Soviet Army even in face of evidence that all thus identified Home Army officers became instant subject to NKVD persecution, including summary executions and deportations to KZ Majdanek, is further proof of the desperate and utterly unreasonable attempts to assert the authority of a government safely ensconced in London – once again without regard to human costs on the ground. Especially when it became clear that the PKWN effectively took control of Poland and was organizing a functioning government from within Polish territory, the insistence of the Mikolajczyk government on maintaining international relations and continuing “negotiations” both with the Western Allies and with Stalin showed an ostrich attitude of outright denial of political reality. And later, Mikolajczyk’s disbelief in the sheer ability of communist activists to organize a functioning government and to rule Poland, even with assistance from Soviet cadres, presupposing some inevitability of the communists having to ask his government “for help,” evidenced a truly fatal under-appreciation of his most dangerous political opponents. The truly sad part is that, even when Stalin’s active support for Polish communists became abundantly clear, the government-in-exile could not agree on any feasible policy and engaged instead in patriotic rhetorics and mutual accusations, splitting itself into factions, and becoming so entangled in those internal ideological intrigues that it did not notice history passing it by at a distance – even forty years later, the self-appointed branches of a government without land or subjects refused to acknowledge the fact that Poland was, in fact, being ruled by communists, and that, like after a revolution, there was just no restoration in the cards for the ancien regime.

The position of countries such as Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria at the end of WWII contrast starkly with the lofty attitudes of Poland. Most countries in Eastern Europe recognized the fact that they were simply too weak to survive on their own, and actively sought allies and protectors to ensure their economic and political viability. Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, not to mention Albania, were not above the idea of merging into a federation to avoid marginalization and to strengthen all domestic political parties. Their different attitude might also be due to the fact that, throughout recent history, countries like Bulgaria or Yugoslavia had used the power of negotiation in the face of otherwise inevitable defeat in a potential conflict; this might have helped them to avoid significant losses both in economic and in human terms. Thus, Bulgaria had initially been allied with the Axis, but on September 9, 1944 it enthusiastically welcomed its Soviet “liberators” (although it bears mentioning that the population had been solidly Russophile at least since Alexander II had liberated Bulgaria from 500 years of Turkish occupation.) Joining the winning side helped small Bulgaria avoid to a significant extent the human costs associated for Poland with further resisting otherwise invincible totalitarian governments, and apparently even its archaic political system or its monarchy maintained by a German dynasty was not an impediment to developing friendly cooperation with the Soviets. The last king, Simeon II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, even returned to the country 1990 after the fall of communism and served 2001-2005 as the democratically elected prime minister, though obviously his monarchy was not restored despite some notable support. It begs the question whether Poland could have obtained similar concessions if the government-in-exile had acquiesced to Stalin’s demands instead of maintaining entirely unreasonable stipulations when every other significant Western political power, including the US, knew they were outright impossible to implement – and tried to mitigate and coax the seemingly incurable Polish national pride into a measure of cooperation.

Yugoslavia’s situation was different in many respects, starting with the fact that it had expelled the Germans on its own and had introduced communist regime by democratic means without Soviet military intervention. It thus gained enough negotiating power with the Soviets to first become Stalin’s poster child and, after Stalin’s condemnation of Tito’s unsubordinated independent policies, including foreign relations often at odds with Stalin’s plans, Yugoslavia was banned from the Stalinist camp but was still basically left alone to work out its own version of communism. Economically, this worked to Yugoslavia’s advantage, since the economy was not drained by constant demands to support the largely inefficient Soviet central planning bureaucracy: Yugoslavia was considered the “rich aunt” of the Eastern Bloc, at least by average citizens of “brother nations” lucky enough to travel there and compare Yugoslav living conditions.

Another interesting aspect of Tony Judt’s overview is the methodology of the communist’s assumption of power in their target countries. It is impossible not to notice that, while in 1946-47 communists accused their opponents of fascist allegiances, the political methods used by them were identical to those used by the Nazi’s power grab in Germany more than a decade earlier. Especially the example of Hungary shows the vulnerability of democratic institutions in the face of takeovers by totalitarian or authoritarian rogue parties. It also seems that Stalin’s insistence that communist parties in the West should adopt aggressive methods without significant Soviet support intended precisely the inescapable results such actions had: the alienation and marginalization of Western communists, and thus the preservation of separate spheres of influence for East and West to which he had agreed at Yalta.

It is also difficult not to notice how territorial claims of various governments and the political ambitions of party leaders disregarded individual tragedies that resulted from mass deportations, expulsions and exchanges of ethnic minorities, even if the population in question was of their own nationality. In that regard, and no matter the government (or indeed regime), territorial ambitions eclipsed any considerations for the affected populations that may have existed: the territorial disputes of Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia present just some of the examples of the claims and counter-claims that reemerged in the early years following WWII when almost every country, conquered or liberated, tried to settle certain of its territorial ambitions by appealing to the allied powers engaged in the redistribution of the spoils of war by redrawing the borders in many parts of Europe.

One might agree or disagree with the policies of a ruling government, especially when it comes to foreign policy and territorial claims. However, a line needs to be drawn somewhere when the pursuits of national “prestige” – or rather, as it almost inevitably happens, of its ruling elites – take clear precedence over the basic well-being of the citizenry whom government officials purport to serve.