- How did Europe achieve global domination, politically, militarily, economically, and intellectually?
- What was the flaw in Europe that caused it to throw away this domination between 1914 and 1945?
- Is the period of peace that following 1945 what the future of Europe will look like?
The latter question is the one Friedman ultimately aimed to answer, with the initial two marking the entry points and background to facilitate answering it. He wants to know if Europe’s current peace is permanent or merely an interlude.
In the years spanning 1914 and 1945, approximately 100 million Europeans died from political causes that included war, genocide, and planned starvation. So Friedman tells us in the opening line of Flashpoints.
He and his family experienced some of this first hand and their stories form the throughline to the book, contextualising and punctuating some pivotal historical events. Friedman was born in Hungary in 1949; his parents were born in 1912 and 1914 respectively.
The family, through a harrowing journey, eventually escaped to the US, which is where Friedman has spent most of his life. But his life abroad has, if anything, drawn his European heritage and the what-ifs surrounding his family’s survival into sharp focus. He aims to make sense of the world through his own life experiences.
The European Union was created to ensure ‘peace and prosperity’, he notes, asking what would happen if prosperity were to disappear in some or all European states. ‘If Europe has transcended its history of bloodshed, that is important news,’ he writes. ‘If it has not, that is even more important news.’
And so Friedman explores this notion and attempts to answer his three questions through analysing historical events and border tensions. His argument is that the issues have been stitched over, but remain, simmering below the surface.
Friedman’s father believed Europe hadn’t—and would never—change. It would simply act as if nothing had happened. Until tensions reach their peak, that is, and old rivalries and disputes resurface.
Part memoir, part history lesson and thesis, Flashpoints uses the carefully analysed past to predict the future. Only time will reveal how accurate Friedman’s predictions are. In the interim, his hypotheses make for thought-provoking reading.