The End of Illusion

October 21st, 2014


The “World’s Greatest defense system” (cough cough) wasn’t really all that.  Kissinger sneers at the imbecility of France not to extend the Maginot line up through Belgium or at least upon its borders but according to the above article (frustratingly undated, but click on image for larger version you can read) at this point France fears Italy more and furthmore they do plan to extend the defense system along the Belgium border in the next two years as indicated in map below.


The Rhineland seen here;


is mostly behind the very fortified line so Hitler’s remilitarization of that area is complicated.  Did France simply feel secure behind the line? Did the fortifications like this one;


(which looks like something out of an Ewok jungle) being inherently defensive make an offensive military reaction into German territory simply a non-starter, or as Hitler and Kissinger claim was German occupation of its own territory something the world just had to accept.  Kissinger points out there are some, or at least one voice in Britain,  Churchill, warning that something, re-armament, must be done in response, but it is not.

The dreaded word “appeasement” appears here.  I swear when I heard GWBush say we could no longer “appease” Saddam Hussein” I was like “oh, crap, here we go”, and off we went into a military adventure which I would argue has spilled over into the current crises we have today.

But I digress. The relations between France, Russia, GB, Italy etc are all complicated.  How Hitler rises to power, and how the world recognizes the “Illusion” that he would be a “moderate statesman” is the story here.  This is a lengthy chapter but it is worth getting through.  Kissinger’s treatment of the run-up to Munich, the pinnacle of appeasement is much more nuanced than in your typical textbook.  Kissinger even points out Chamberlain’s decision to re-arm afterwords, and gives a complex treatment on how Wilsonianism had led us to this place.  It appears that he may say that had they simply applied the calculus of “national interest” from the start, it may have been worse.



Stresemann and the Re-emgernce of the Vanquished

October 17th, 2014

Before we get started, take a moment and examine the title.  I think yu can tell where Kissinger’s story is going.  Stresemann will try to bring Germany back to greatness.  But this makes understanding the cartoon below difficult unless you consider this quotefrom wikipedia;

The conservative opposition criticized him for his supporting the republic and fulfilling too willingly the demands of the Western powers. Along with Matthias Erzberger and others, he was attacked as a Erfüllungspolitiker (“fulfillment politician”)

The Republic to which they refer is the Weimar Republic which much of the German population felt had been imposed on them by the victors of WWI and much of that population refused to accept its legitimacy.



Here Stresemann is portrayed rather villain ously on the back of Deutschland, which is tied up with the Dawes plan.  This is def not how Kissinger portrays things.

Back with our buddy HK now and hopefully getting into more familiar ground vis-a-vis your earlier historical studies.  The Kellogg-Briand Pact?  Locarno?  the Maginot Line?  Certainly Hitler rang a bell

I think the most significant thing to get out of this chapter is that the goals of Hitler (Anschluss /Union) with Austria, military parity with France, were the same as Stresemann and presumably the same as many Germans.  There is even open discussion of modifying the border with Poland here.

Hitler will of course go about his goals in a decidedly militaristic way.  Maybe there was another way.  Maybe Germany could have been satisfied, France made secure (If GB would step up) and the Soviet Union isolated if it hadn’t been for the Series of Unfortunate Events outlined here.

Hitler will be described in the next chapter as a demonic personality.  Had Hitler been hit by a bus, or let into art school, would the war have come?

The Dilemmas of the Victors

October 15th, 2014



Mr. Winston Churchill.  From this point on, if you are unsure of a quiz question, and the quiz question is asking for a person, Churchill is an excellent guess.  Here he is circa 1925 around the time of his assertion that Britain should make an alliance with France if France would agree to back off of Germany and allow Britain a relationship of “help and friendship” towards Germany.  If only he had been listened to Kissinger seems to say.

In one of our classes someone made the claim that collective security and alliances actually seemed like much the same thing.  I stumbled through some sort of half intelligible response I think but here Kissinger explores their very real differences quite effectively.  Collective security is like a police force.  No threat is identified except adherence to the law.  Alliances are drawn with clear identifiers. Think of the Reinsurance Treaty.

  1. Germany and Russia both agreed to observe neutrality should the other be involved in a war with a third country. Neutrality would not apply should Germany attack France or Russia attack Austria-Hungary. (Wikipedia)

There is nothing here about legality or sovereignty.  Its just, “We’ll do this if you do that”.  The biggest problem, for Kissinger, and he would say the statesmen of the time (timid as they were ATK) is that collective Security is so amorphous.  There has been no “Collective” action in Ukraine or Crimea, or Hong Kong for that matter, because no one can agree what constitutes a clear bridge of legality.  The Persian Gulf war which I have always used as an example of Collective Security, because there was a UN resolution, was ATK a clear US sponsored mission, and he’s right.

Russian and Germany strike a deal in the middle of the night which effectively starts the countdown for the end of Eastern Europe as envisioned at Versailles, and for the start of WWII.

Could it have been otherwise?

Why Did Stalin Succeed Lenin?

October 9th, 2014

Thursday, October 10th, 2013


I like cars.  I always have.  I think I learned to read in the pages of “Road and Track” when I was a child.  In my cursory research on the post WWII international auto race in CZ (Czechoslovakia), the last international race in the “east” for the entire Cold War era, I came across this image of “Stalin’s race car” apparently from the early 50s, several years (6?) after the race in CZ.   I found this very interesting because it suggested that some persons in the Soviet Union wanted to challenge the evils of capitalism on the track, as they would in the Olympics, Space Race and the World Cup.   What is interesting is that I have never, ever heard of motor-sports competition in the former Soviet Union or its satellites, yet I guess there was some interest in it.  Must’ve been.  That might be an interesting piece of research.  Motor-sports in the USSR!

So why did Stalin succeed Lenin?  Well, for Pipes it seems a foregone conclusion.  With the failure to export the revolution (in the most important war in history!  In Poland!  in 1920!…  ever heard of it?) the emerging  bureaucracy and the emergence of the worker’s opposition Stalin was clearly the man and Trotsky never had a chance.  Lenin just never saw the dark heart of the killer lurking in the back according to Pipes.

One fascinating point made here is that with the failure to export the revolution they needed to wait, and agitate for, another World War.  This historiography on WWII is generally much simpler than WWI.  Everybody says it was Germany’s/Hitler’s fault.  Now though, I wonder.  Were Stalin, and Lenin before, succesful at keeping agitation alive in  Germany insofar as to lead to the emergence of Hitler?  Can we blame WWII on the Soviet union? Is this what Pipes meant when he said if there had been no Russian Revolution there would be no National lSocialism, or WWII?

What do you think?


Why did the Bolsheviks succeed?

October 7th, 2014




fait accompli . Who looked that one up?  There are great and complicated machinations at work in this chapter that I do not expect you to commit to detailed memory.  Even Pipes admits the complexity is too great for his short treatment here.

The long and short of it is that gaining power was as easy for Lenin as “picking up a feather”.  As the woman in the documents you will read (or have read) in class testifies to the “white” soldiers walked out and dropped their munitions.  There was no resistance.

There were three keys to this event which you should know in at least their basic form.  Failure of a major offensive in WWI, failure of the Provisional Government (PG) to hold an election, and the Kornilov affair, which you should know in the basic terms that Pipes lays down here.

Pipes makes a curious statement here that one, despite Lenin’s fears, cannot “betray” a revolution.  I think what he means here is that whereas there maybe be treasonous persons like a Benedict Arnold, a true revolution from below will have such power as to make their betrayal if not meaningless, than a mere bump in the road.

* a note on the image here.  I pulled it from another blog which noted it as the storming of the winter palace in the fall of 1917.  I noodled around a bit and found out there it is actually a still from Eisenstein’s 1926 film “October” and that the film sequence was actually modeled after the 1920 reenactment in which Lenin actually took place, not on the event of 1917 which was “far less photogenic” according to Wikipedia.

Why did the Tsar fall?

October 4th, 2014

richard pipes

So first of all I just put in your quiz scores and wow.  Some of you are really taking advantage of extra credit.  I’m also about half way through with tests.  I know some of you will be very unhappy but I am not concerned.  Your quiz scores and terms will protect your grade and the next test (a documents test) will go much better.  The next essay I am convined will also go much better.  It’ll be on WWII, more familiar territory, and ou’ll have this one under your belt to learn from.  Hang in there.

So here is your man Richard Pipes.  What do you think of him?  Its funny now, reading his book, published back in 1995 as he doesn’t know that since his lectures Putin has quietly closed those very same archives that were once, briefly open.

His assessment of the revisionists is really rather damning.  I don’t really think historians have to disagree with their elders, they just have to pursue different stories.  I do think some did buy into the Marxist history for political reasons.

He also has some contradicions.  At one point he says the “muzhik” is quiet.  But then he says there is all this tension over land.  I do think political agitation from the intelligentsia was a huge reason for the Russian Revolution rolling as it did, and I do agree that it was not necessary nor predicted.

What do you think?

Test Review

October 1st, 2014

Topics Exam            review                                                                                    Unit I



1 – Analyze the short term results and the long term results up to 1935 of the first world war.  (09)

Thesis: With the magnitude of first WW, the diplomacy of Europe was changed forever.


  • The rise of Germany as a fascist power,
  • the weakness of the Weimar republic,
  • Germany falls back into depression.
  • Italian fascism (Mussolini)
  • The breakup of empires (German, Ottoman, Austrian)
  • France left without alliance, only promise of collective security from league of nations.
  • The Russian Revolution, 1917 emergence of communism + totalitarianism
  • The end of Balance of Power (supposedly)
  • The Russian civil war, siberian intervention
  • New states: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia: some ethnically heterogenous and some homogenous
  • Middle East: New nations of Syria, Iraq, and fall of Ottoman Empire
  • Formation of League of nations, US involvement in European affairs, then retreat into isolationism.
  • Mandates of Middle East
  • Lost generation, 20 million dead
  • Defensive line between Germany and France (demilitarized area) Maginot Line, established German tradition of plowing through Belgium
  • The treaty of Versailles: article 231, too harsh to rekindle Euro-German relations, too weak to completely subjugate Germany, rise of German nationalism –> triggered a path to WWII
  • Trying to establish new common interests of diplomatic morality and international law

Some notes from B day test review.  (Thanks for typing Ida)


2 -.“Wars are caused by the miscalculations of the aggressor and the failure of politicians and diplomats to exercise crisis management.”  Discuss the validity of this claim in regards to WWI.



3 – Analyze the results of either the First World War or the Second World War.  (05&07)


4 – evaluate the successes and failures of the treaty of Versailles in addressing the causes of the conflict and restoring peace and normality. (01 mod)


5 – To what extent can it be said that the first world war was caused by the alliance system?  (99)


6 – Assess the importance of each of the following in causing the First or Second World War: nationalism; alliances; economic factors. (12)


7 – Assess the role of each of the following in causing the First World War (1914-1918): the desire for revenge; economic motives; Balkan nationalism.



A Peace to end all Peace

September 29th, 2014

I can’t take credit for the pithy title of the blog post.  Its the title of a book subtitled , “The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Modern Middle East”, by David Fromkin.  The middle east of course changed a great deal as shown in the map below, and so of course, did Europe.

In 1992 shortly after the end of the cold war, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union my brother Ed was living in Prague trying to get them to buy Apple computers.  It was very funny / sad to go into a bank there and then, to exchange money and watch all of the work still be done by hand on a ledger.  While I was there I stumbled into this sign and was sort of flabbergasted;

Its in the subway system somewhere.    Having “passed” my “advanced” history courses in HS I, like many, avoided history in college like the plague because I was convinced it simply amounted to looking up answers in the back of textbooks.  Thus I was a bit stunned to see an etching of a US president in a subway of what been behind the iron curtain for 50 years.  How did it get there and what did it mean?

Of course it was from this era that you have just read about.  Some members of the new government and citizenry of Czechoslovakia must have been so happy with their new country they erected this lovely sign.  I wonder how many Slovaks supported it.Interestingly it was not torn down or apparently defaced in any way in the decades of Soviet hegemony.

The entire face of Europe was new.

Look at all of those new nations!  Imagine redrawing the map of the US and carving Texas  and California into a bunch of new states.  How many people would be happy with that?

As to the chapter Kissinger is pretty clear on not being keen on the ToV.  Why?   What exactly were its failings?  Do you agree?  If it was so egregiously bad why has Wilsonianism gone down as such an influential and positive part of US foreign policy?


September 25th, 2014

schlieffen plan


So this was what was supposed to happen.  It didn’t.  The consequences are of the most epic proportions and are why so much time has been devoted to the study of these events and why they still fascinate us.

Lena Peterson, from the class of 2010, shared with me, “if WWI were a Bar Fight”.  Google it.  Its pretty funny.   It nicely illustrates the absurdity, or as Kissinger calls it, the Greek tragedy that unfolds after the assassination of the Archduke.

Why WWI becomes WWI is ascribed by the popular British historian AJP Taylor, to the “long dead hand of Schlieffen pulling the trigger on the first WW”.  For, as Kissinger quotes Obruchev as noting, “mobilization means war”, was only really true, according to Taylor, of Germany.  Germany’s mobilization of mechanized and troop forces on its vast Railroad system demanded, under the Schlieffen plan, an invasion of Belgium, a quick decisive victory of France and then an all out effort brought to the Russian front.

Taylor (in the book I gave you) also points out that mechanization and mobilization in this era, really led to defensive strength, not an offensive one.  The troops could be brought to the front lines but once in enemy territory, they moved as slow as ever.  That coupled with the newly invented barbed wire and machine gun, and given that planes and tanks were insufficiently advanced to make a real difference, led to the inevitable trench warfare.

Another book (besides AQOTWF) that I highly recommend from the immediate post-war era is “Johnny got his gun” by Dalton Trumbo, later blacklisted by McCarthy.  Haunting imagery of a man destroyed in so many ways by war.  Read by and inspiring to  ”Born on the 4th of July” author (another great book!) Jon Kovitch, later leader of Vietnam Veterans against the war.

For your comments you can throw down anything of note.  Why do you think Russia wanted a general war?  Why did Austria press their demand against Serbia?  Was the war at all avoidable?




Doom pt I

September 23rd, 2014

One of my favorite episodes.  I can still here the music of the doomsday machine.

The next chapter is titled, “Into the Vortex: The Military DoomsdayMachine”.  There is Doom all around!

And Vortex!  There is another great word.  You may have heard of Vietnam described as a “Quagmire” and the term was reapplied to Bush Jr’s war in Iraq, with the obvious political intention to equate the two.  In WWI as opposed to Quagmire (Kissinger would know the connection to Vietnam and would not want to compare the two I don’t think) he uses Vortex and it is much the same.  Think of a washing machine on spin cycle, full of water, or the machine in the picture above.  You drop in some suds and they are inescapably sucked into the swirl from which there is no escape.

Another issue that will come up time and time is the separation, as in the two chapters of doom, between the political and the military.   Think of JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  He got military advice and political advice, but they are often not in tune with one another.  Ask the Joint Chiefs for a solution and you get a military solution.   It simply is what they know.  Ask the State Dept. for a solution and you get what they know; a diplomatic solution.

Here, in the years prior to WWI, Kissinger sees both arms, the diplomatic / political and the military, operating on the Doomsday cycle.  Russia is stinging from its defeat by Japan, worried about Austrian and German interests in the Balkans, like when they want to fly German flags in Constantinople, and Austria lays formal claim to the complicated Bosnia-Herzegovina (where Kissinger alludes to but does not name the bloody civil war which broke out there, post Cold War in 1992).  England is feeling under threat from the increasing German fleet the swaggering German “Panther leap” in the Moroccan crisis and France is just feeling all trod upon.

That the political machinations can’t evolve to allow this critical point to pass, as Kissinger says Richelieu would have done, he lays largely at Germany’s feat and Kaiser Wilhem II.  Is this Doomsday machine’s creation all Germany’s fault?  Are there possibly other’s to blame?  What do you think?