All Things to All People – Ambrose Chap 5, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall plan

November 21st, 2014

truman in november


(click on above image to see it large in all of its early comic wonderfulness)

That which Truman was most proud of, that we thoroughly defeated our enemies and then helped them rebuild their economies, is the story here, and it almost didn’t happen.

Opposition for the TD/MP was almost universal in the Republican party with the exception of Senator Vandenberg who tells Truman he must “scare the hell” out of the American people. We know how things went of course but what is interesting in the way things might have gone.

What if communists came to power in Greece and Turkey?  What would really change.  What if communists were elected in Italy?  What if the CIA had never been given authority to conduct covert operations?

Ambrose’s little jibe at Truman being disingenuous and losing sleep over his decision is I think miss-placed.   I agree Truman had made up his mind as to what to do, but I think he struggled greatly at figuring out how to get it done.  How do you take a people that has been traditionally isolationist, and re-enroll them into an international struggle that could turn as ugly as any preceding World War, or even more so, and convince them to join the fray after four long years of devastating warfare?

Hope you enjoyed your break!

Kissinger 18 – success and pain of containment

November 19th, 2014

The man pictured above is George F. Kennan.  He is worth a google.  His influence, according to Kissinger, through the Long Telegram, and the “Sources of Soviet Conduct” published in “Foreign Affairs” under the pseudonym “X” not only were the foundation of the policy of containment but went so far as to predict what would happen under Gorbachev, namely, the dissolution of the USSR.

Was it just me or did anybody else think, wow, this kind of describes Putin, when you were reading excerpts from the long telegram?  Do you think Putin knows his rule is “archaic in form, fragile and artificial”? I sort of do.  It is fitting to remember Pipes’ claim that the distinction between Czarist rule and communist was communist brutality.  There were otherwise the same.  Is Putin a similar extension of Russian history’s “mechanical” rather than “organic” structure of state, as advanced by Pipes?

There is a lot here in this little chapter.  What if Lippman had been more influential?  What about Wallace?  Was Truman really returning to a style of Realpolitik (Is that why Kissinger likes him so much?) and merely couching the protection in moral codes, or did he really believe he was advancing collective security?  Did Acheson really believe NATO was not an alliance aimed at the Soviet Sphere?  The Matthews Memorandum is worth noting as is Clark Clifford.

Were the suggestions of Kennan really implemented or did he want them to be interpreted as they were.  In 1957, over a decade later he said where we should best apply our efforts to the Soviet threat was to our own American failings.  What do you think? Without getting off of too much of a tangent do you think our best strategy in the face of ISIS and Putin and North Korea is to address our domestic problems?  Are ISIS, Putin and North Korea even really similar threats?


Ambrose 4 the start of the Cold War

November 18th, 2014

churchill at fulton


So here we have the emergence of what will be called the Cold War.  There is no Truman doctrine yet, no containment and no marshal plan.

What there is is a soviet occupation of eastern Europe and Iran and vast disagreement between Uncle Joe and Truman about how to move forward.  Did truman really need to talk to Molotov like a Missouri mule driver?  Would it have been better to shrug our collective shoulders at Poland and gotten Stalin to join the imf?

Iran had been agreed to at Yalta.  Stalin was to remove troops.  He didn’t.  You should remember this when we get to Iranian coup in 1953.  Oh and be cure to compare the to coup in CZ that we’ll read about in next chapter.  Stalin hadn’t been involved in the reformation of governments in Belgium or Italy, so why did we think we had a place to negotiate the reformation of governments in territory the Russians occupied?

The question of the straits comes up again and there is an interesting give and take from Molotov on the Suez canal, that again, you’ll want to remember when we get to the dual emergencies of 1956.







The Beginning of the Cold War – Kissinger 17

November 13th, 2014

truman ws


Wow.  Look at you page numbers.  445.  The whole book is 835 pages long.  You’re over half way through with Kissinger!  Congratulations!

The image above is of course Truman’s famous “Whistle Stop” campaign of 1948, the only election he ran in for the executive office. In 1952, like LBJ in 1968, he would be too unpopular to run, largely because of an increasingly unpopular war in Asia; Korea for Truman, and Vietnam for LBJ.

So this is the start of the Cold War, and I would argue the start of the world as you know it.  Was it Molotov’s intransigence as Kissinger argues, that turned America’s good will into the confrontation that would become the Cold War?  If this is the case can we / should we lay the blame for the Cold War, and the near annihilation of our population in 1962, on Molotov, or do we lay blame on Stalin who Molotov was so fearful of displeasing?

Or, do we blame Truman?  Or Churchill?  Why did we really care about free elections in Poland? The “Russian” people, as Stalin called them in his last address as political leader of the USSR, had paid in blood and guts, 40 million, and didn’t they deserve a little security on their borders?

And what about today?  For the first time since the end of the Cold War it was announced that Russian bombers would be patrolling very near US airspace in the Gulf of Mexico.  Why?  Is the Cold War really over or are we just in a new chapter?

The War in Asia – ATA

November 6th, 2014

jap war bonds

Here’s some good old ‘Merican propoganda.

The war in Asia, “Europe was the darling, Asia the step-child” according to Admiral Halsey in Documents we looked at last time.  Why?  Why 40% of the resources devoted to a map of the planet many times larger than western Europe?

And what of the colonialism thing?  Why couldn’t Great Britain just chill and let French Indochina be governed by a control council until it reached independence.  Ho Chi Minh (future leader of war against America in Vietnam) is here helping us find downed pilots, singing our praises in the war and even copying our decleartion of independence.  Why couldn’t we all just get along?

In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, the roots of our conflict in Vietnam are right here.  The roots of our conflict in today’s Middle East are right around the corner in our next unit.

The world you are entering is the way it is because of what has come before.  No student of today’s current events, be they social, political military or religious, will make any sense of the way things are, without a serious study of the way things were.


the War in Europe – Ambrose

November 4th, 2014

So if you took a TORCH to your SLEDGEHAMMER would you be the  new OVERLORD?  Apparently so.

Well there it was in 20 easy to read pages.  The “War in Europe”  and now we press on against the …  excuse me?  What’s that say? the “Nips”?

So what do you make of this “Strange Alliance”?  What was so strange about it?  And what about the decision to go into Africa?  How did that get complicated vis-a-vis Darlan.  The American reaction to allowing him to retain power might be an interesting IA. His assassination seems almost made-to-order for American public opinion.

Why not then press on into the Balkans.  Instead of going into Africa (TORCH) Eisenhower wanted to press for invasion into France.  Why?

And what happened in Italy, esp vis-a-vis Stalin?  This is all going to be very important I think when we get into the next unit and the emergence of the Cold War.

Finally Ambrose says in the end FDR was very concerned with the creation of the UN.  How would it be any different from the League of Nations which had preceeded it?

Have fun!


October 31st, 2014

Recognize the hand that drew that cartoon?  What’s that about?  What’s it mean?

So here before you is HK’s case that FDR was this brilliant leader who changed the course of the country more than anyone but Lincoln, taking his isolationist people into the recognition of the need of war.

“perspicacious”.  How many of you looked that one up?

The analysis of the isolationists vs. interventionists, at beginning, is interesting.  They basically agreed the Monroe Doctrine gave the US control over the western hemisphere and the League could not require the US to engage in any military type of activity outside of the west.

FDR here, is interestingly not compared to the Bismarcks and the Disraelis in Kissinger’s Realpolitik Hall of Fame.  Why not?

You would do well to do a timeline here.  The Quarantine speench, the Neutrality Acts.  Anschulss with Austria, CZ… how does he react?  What evidence does HK use to show FDR was really, by a certain time, clearly an interventionist?  And why is he not (or is he?)apparently in HK’s “Realpolitik” Hall of Fame?


Ambrose – the Twisting path to war

October 29th, 2014


Heard of Band of Brothers?  You’ve heard of the late Stephen Ambrose.  Unfortunately plagued by accusations of plagiarism later in life, a scholar of Eisenhower and Lewis and Clark he was best known , like AJP Taylor, as a sort of popularizer of history.

His colleague, Douglas Brinkley, a scholar of FDR and Cold War history also taught a very popular class, “The Majic Bus” wherein he traveled across the country with his students listening to period music and visiting historical sights.  Aaaah college.  You’ll get there.

Look in the book jacket at the other titles the two have authored.  Take a look on the Internet to find what they’ve written since 1997 when his book was published (and you were born?)

My point though is that these two men want you to like history.  The Kissinger and Pipes books, and Spence to come, are serious scholarly pieces dedicated to nuanced detail, analysis and argument.  This little book is not exactly a “survey” (that’s your text book from last year, a “survey” of the current literature on history) it is based on their own research, but obviously its a different animal than “Diplomacy”. Its intended use I suppose is freshman or introductory courses in history.

So what does it say?  To my eye it says that not until his election of 1940 did FDR show any sympathy at all to the Brits and not until November 1941, less than a month from Pearl Harbor, was his tone one of “unrestrained belligerence, in public and private”.  Before that though, despite the the fact the we actually have troops in Iceland and Greenland and a raging battle in the Atlantic defending the merchant ships supplying Britain, he cannot bring the isolationist USA into war.

There are two footnotes that you should not skip, one on Hitler’s decision to declare war on us the other on the myth of FDR’s knowledge of Pearl Harbor.  The Intro is worth a look as well. Sort of sad written in those heady days of victory in the Cold War, Clinton’s second term (first Democrat to win re-election since…?), and prior to 9/11.



The Nazi Soviet Pact

October 27th, 2014

nazi soviet pact

Less than two years.

“Molotov, who had a faculty to irritate far more stable personalities than Hitler,…” I love that line.  And please remember the attempt at grandeur and intimidation Hitler set up for Molotov on their meeting when finishing up our film today and witnessing Hynkle and Garbage planing to met Napoloni, Dictator of Bacteria (Italy)

You might want to open up a map when reading about negotiations over Bulgaria, Lithuania, Warsaw and the Curzon line etc etc.  One place comes up you probably don’t associate with this time period, the Persian Gulf.  Look at a map though and you will see that the USSR has a 1200 mile lone border with Iran and that would be quite the prize for Stalin with its access to oil and the open ocean.

Though it is not named, the Schlieffen plan rears its head again.  Sweeping through Belgium and France then, with a rear long delay at potential negotiations, throwing (nearly) all its might at the USSR Germany does.

Also not named is the Battle of Britain, but it should be. After France falls in June 1940, Britain, having declared war in September 1939 with France now “stands alone” in Churchill’s epic phrase for a year against Germany’s barrage.  Geography though remained a substantial barrier and Hitler, lacking landing craft, can’t roll his Blitzkrieg across the English Chanel.

In that year of standing alone a fantastic story plays, captured in a recent book by Lynne Olson, “Citizens of London.”  Its one of my favorite history books of recent years exploring the story of Edward Murrow and other famous American in London in the time, and how they helped turn American interest into entering the war while being threatened with Nazi bombing raids on a daily basis.


Stalin’s Bazaar

October 23rd, 2014



I know the reading is about Stalin but I couldn’t help come back to our film, “The Great Dictator“. Click on link for original 1940 review of film from 1940.  Its VERY interesting.

In regards to Stalin, it should come as no surprise that HK depicts him as an arch practitioner of “Realpolitik” along the lines of Bismarck, Richelieu etc. That he saw no difference between the fascist countries and the capitalists is interesting and it makes sense.  He was willing to extract whatever gain he could from whoever he could.  He was, after all, guiding inevitable historical forces.

GB meanwhile is handing out unilateral guarantees of peace.  Not even bothering with negotiating traditional alliances they go from one extreme to the next.

In the meantime the Soviet ascendency to power had its origins in the ruthless manipulation by “M Stalin”.