Friday, October 8, 2010


Emotional connections are funny things.  When I was younger, I was interested in collecting rocks.  One of them was an interesting banded specimen labeled 'Botswana Agate'.  Sometime in either elementary or middle school, we were assigned to write a report on an African country and could choose which one.  I chose Botswana solely because of the rock I owned.

At that time and grade, doing 'research' meant reading an encyclopedia article.  I went for the overachiever option and read an encyclopedia article and also a National Geographic article.  Both of them said that Botswana was, by African standards, a decent and well-run place.

Ever since then, I have been a fan of Botswana the way that most people are a fan of sports teams.  I always feel a completely irrational happiness when I see something like this ranking of African governance that put Botswana in third place, or first among mainland African countries.

The country is one of the few in Africa that has been a stable democracy for its entire existence.  It has free and fair elections and one of the lowest rates of corruption in Africa, and has enjoyed the economic benefits of these good institutions.

And now for a slight change of topic:  When looking over the Wikipedia pages, I noticed something that really emphasized the size difference between the USA and the little countries of the world.  It is easy to overlook or ignore economic numbers in the billions or population numbers in the  millions; the human brain does not really comprehend them.  But then I saw that the Botswana army has 12,000 people and costs 3.5% of their GDP.  'Over 30' of their officers are trained in the USA each year, almost their entire corps.

This is tiny.  This country is spending a large (by world standards) proportion of their economy on a force that probably could not succeed in invading the average rural American county.  In the county I grew up in, you could easily muster up 12,000 men and women who are armed, proficient with their firearms, and able and willing to fight.  That number would include several hundred with enough military experience to be officers.  And that is just the private individuals and the guns they own; add in the two National Guard Armories and all of the local police and you'd have a serious home defense force.  The Botswana army would be better trained and organized, at least at first, and could probably take the major population centers with their initial attack, but after that they would never manage to hold the rural areas and resulting insurgency would likely cripple them.

It really is amazing that I am able to speculate about the inhabitants of the area my mother does home health visits in taking on the armed forces of a well-run sovereign country that devotes a lot of money to its military.  The Botswana army is as competent as the rest of its government; they have experience with peacekeeping missions and are respected by anyone who knows them.  But the USA is just that big and that rich.  It is easy to forget how much power we have, and dangerous to take it for granted.

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