Upheaval | Jared Diamond

Summary of: Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis
By: Jared Diamond


Embark on an enlightening journey through ‘Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis’ by Jared Diamond, which illustrates the compelling stories of crisis and recovery for seven countries throughout history. Learn about the factors contributing to successful resolutions, including acknowledging the crisis, accepting responsibility, making selective changes, and seeking outside assistance. Discover the importance of adapting to circumstances while maintaining core values, confronting failures with patience, and having the flexibility to change. This book summary presents powerful lessons about crises at both personal and national levels, allowing us insight into how we can adapt and overcome hardships.

Overcoming Personal and National Crises

As we journey through life, we often encounter crises that challenge us to change and adapt. These crises can either be sudden or gradual, personal or national, and signal that our current approach to life needs to be transformed. In this book, the author identifies 12 factors that can help individuals and countries find solutions in times of crisis. These include acknowledging the crisis, accepting responsibility, distinguishing changes from identity, seeking assistance, learning from past experiences, identifying core values, and determining constraints. The author illustrates how these factors were relevant in the history of seven nations, such as Finland, Japan, and the US. By taking a closer look at these factors, we can learn how to cope with failure, show patience, exhibit flexibility, and ultimately overcome personal and national crises.

Finland’s Crisis

Finland’s complex history with Russia led to a crisis in the 1930s and 40s. After asserting its independence during the Russian Revolution of 1917, Finland became a liberal capitalist democracy, straining its relationship with Soviet Russia. Finland’s refusal to allow Soviet military bases and transportation lines through its borders led to a Soviet attack in 1939, known as the Winter War. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the Fins were able to minimize their losses and make the war costly for the Russians. Finland became “co-belligerents” with Germany during WWII, which aided Russia in its siege of Leningrad. Despite its independence and neutrality, Finland was still considered one of the Axis powers at the war’s end, prolonging the country’s crisis.

Seizing Opportunities Amidst Crisis

Finland’s crisis during WWII forced it to pay massive reparations to Russia but turned out to be a silver lining in helping the country industrialize and eventually achieve prosperity. By defying Russia’s request to fully give in, Finland remained independent, despite the casualties it entailed. Frank and honest communication with Russia opened up the possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship and made Finland a peacekeeper of sorts. Though it came with self-censorship, this compromise allowed Finland to eventually invest in its small but loyal population.

Japan’s Transformation

In 1853, US Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan demanding US access to some of Japan’s ports. Japan’s long isolationist history and the limiting of foreign contacts clashed with the US demands, creating a crisis for Japan. To revise the dishonorable agreement, Japan had to modernize and appear deserving of respect. In 1868, a civil war and coup led to a new figurehead emperor being installed, and the Meiji era began.

Japan’s Transformation to a World Power

Following the 1868 coup that brought about the Meiji era, Japan realized that it needed to modernize in order to be respected on the world stage. The new leaders embraced Western knowledge on military, government, and education, while selectively adapting it to their own cultural traditions and circumstances. They also acknowledged the reality of their situation and performed an honest self-assessment. Gradually, they grew strong and effective military and stunned the world with their victory against Russia at the Battle of Tsushima Strait in 1905. Education replaced family ties, and the hierarchical structure of feudalism was gradually dismantled. Japan’s transformation serves as a prime example of how selectively adapting to change can lead to success on the world stage.

Chile’s Tragic Transition

In 1973, Chile unexpectedly transitioned from democracy to dictatorship due to political polarization, economic policies, and violent protests. Salvador Allende, a left-wing Marxist, became president and nationalized copper mines, alienating the US and locals with inflation and food shortage. As tensions escalated and armed conflicts rose, a right-wing junta seized control, ultimately leading to countless human rights violations, including torture and killings of leftist supporters.

The Duality of Pinochet’s Regime

Pinochet’s regime in Chile was characterized by extreme violence and brutal suppression of political opposition, yet, it also implemented economic policies that turned the country’s ailing economy around. While thousands of Chileans disappeared under the junta, Pinochet put the Chilean economy in the hands of a group of free-market economists known as the Chicago Boys. They reprivatized copper mines, opened the country to foreign investment, and reduced inflation while growing the economy at a remarkable rate of 10 percent for years. This led many right-wing and centrist Chileans to overlook the atrocities of Pinochet’s regime and favorably view his government. However, this economic growth came at a cost — the inequality gap continued to widen and the poor became even poorer. Despite Pinochet’s removal from power in 1989, his changes to the constitution ensured the military and right-wing remained influential. The aftermath of his reign saw more free trade agreements and a reduction in import tariffs, causing the poor to eventually become less so. Ultimately, Chile stands as an example of how the duality of a government’s actions can lead to both tyranny and prosperity.

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