Here are the concluding paragraphs of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech to the Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations earlier this week in Jerusalem, and then a short excerpt from the book he mentions, which gives some further insight into the answer to the question he raises in the first paragraph below:
So we’ve got four big challenges. There are many more, but the four big ones: nuclear, missile, cyber, the integrity of our borders. … Now it seems like an impossible task because we’re faced with so many, so many challenges. And the question is how can Israel sustain this? What I’ve described to you how we’ve sustained it so far and beaten the odds, but you sort of take a longer term perspective on this. … And recently I read a book by a wonderful American writer by the name of Will Durant. How many of you read Will Durant? Michael, you and I and then that’s it, oh, a few more. Will Durant was a wonderful writer of history and he wrote many decades ago, a book called “The Story of Civilization”. I think it has roughly 11 or 12 volumes. …
In later years he was helped by his wife who was Jewish. Her name was Ariel. Wonderfully written; tremendous insights; just a work of art, but also a work of keen intelligence and perception. And I read quite a few of these books and I’m re-reading them. You need a respite for – instead of condolences you need relaxation, Richard, and if you can imbibe some insights from people, from very smart elderly historians, it’s a habit that I picked up at home, that’s not a bad idea. So I’ve read Durant over the years and then one day at Ron’s house, I saw this small volume, the smallest book that Will Durant ever wrote. It’s called “The Lessons of History”.
He wrote it in 1960 when he was close to the end of his life. It’s about 100 pages – not a lot. What did he distill from his study of history, his lifelong study of history? Well, I started reading it and it’s a most amazing book. He’s got statements like: “When Oriental fertility meets Western technology, China will be a leading power in the world.” 1960, that’s not bad. Okay? And on and on it goes – every sentence.
Now, this book has good news and bad news. … The bad news as Will Durant says after he studies thousands of years of history, he says, numbers count. The big nations usually win out over the small nations. Why? First of all he says they have a broad economic base from which they can build their military stocks and other reasons that they translate numbers into power. Numbers count. Big numbers count more.
Are there any exceptions? Well, he sort of gives us a favorable mention right on. The young State of Israel, he mentions, carried by cultural forces over time. So I want to tell you we are the exception. We’re not only an exception; we are the exception, because we’ve been able to break these iron laws of history. We’ve been able to overcome our numbers. … We’ve used our genius to overcome and our initiative and our enterprise to overcome our numbers and we have a dedication, the cultural forces and the commitment to maintain our future. I have no doubt that what we achieved in these 63 years, we can continue to achieve in the coming century.
I have no doubt that we can defend ourselves against much more numerous forces; that we can advance the cause of a secure peace; in a secure, democratic and vibrant state. We’ll continue to build this democracy of ours. We’ll continue to build and defend the one and only Jewish State, the State of Israel. And I want to thank you for helping us do that and we’ll continue to do that. Thank you very much.
Here is the concluding paragraph of the opening chapter of “The Lessons of History,” which will give a sense of the quality of the writing, and then the concluding two paragraphs of the following chapter (“History and the Earth”), which includes the one mention in the book of Israel:
Since man is a moment in astronomic time, a transient guest of the earth, a spore of his species, a scion of his race, a composite of body, character, and mind, a member of a family and a community, a believer or doubter of a faith, a unit in an economy, perhaps a citizen a state or a soldier in an army, we may ask under the corresponding heads – astronomy, geology, geography, biology, ethnology, psychology, morality, religion, economics, politics, and war – what history has to say about the nature, conduct, and prospects of man. It is a precarious enterprise, and only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions. We proceed.
The development of the airplane will again alter the map of civilization. Trade routes will follow less and less the rivers and seas; men and goods will be flown more and more directly to their goal. Countries like England and France will lose the commercial advantage of abundant coast lines conveniently indented; countries like Russia, China, and Brazil, which were hampered by the excess of their land mass over their coasts, will cancel part of that handicap by taking to the air. Coastal cities will derive less of their wealth from the clumsy business of transferring goods from ship to train or from train to ship. When sea power finally gives place to air power in transport and war, we shall have seen one of the basic revolutions in history.
The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows. The character and contour of a terrain may offer opportunities for agriculture, mining, or trade, but only the imagination and initiative of leaders, and the hardy industry of followers, can transform the possibilities into fact; and only a similar combination (as in Israel today) can make a culture take form over a thousand natural obstacles. Man, not the earth, makes civilization.