The Extrication – Kissinger 27

February 27th, 2015


I have never read or heard this anywhere but it is the impression I have always had about this book.  I think it was written for the sole purpose of this chapter.  This chapter would not have worked as an Op-Ed piece or any other stand alone article. Kissinger needed to put his actions and decisions in context.  The context he chose, of Richelieu, Bismark, Wilson and the rest (remember TOK) colors the way this chapter reads in a way that it would not have as a stand alone piece.

Kissinger is wise here to admit his views are necessarily affected by his role in the events.  He paints a dark and depressing mural of events and leaves us with three “lessons” that seem to mimic the “Powell Doctrine”.

So the question is at hand.  Did Kissinger and Nixon achieve the best possible outcome given the situation, or, as Hitchens argues in his “Trials of Henry Kissinger”, did they behave like war criminals?  Putting on your TOK hats try to give some credibility to each side.

Also too look at substantial differences with Ambrose. Remember what Ambrose said about the war protesters?  What does Kissinger say?  Does Ambrose suggest they got in 68 what they could have gotten in 74?  What would Kissinger say in his defense?

Ambrose 12 – Peace is at hand

February 25th, 2015


Is that really the Quote?  I swear I saw that in Ambrose this time but I can’t imagine HK uttering a phrase he would know to be so closely associated with appeasement and Chamberlain and WWII.  Maybe it was some kind of code.

But here he is, a “brilliant”, “megalomaniac”, whose self-confidence knew no bounds.    What else can you make of A&B’s assessment of HK?  Was he a war criminal?



Was he just a doddering old man?

and how was his, and Nixon’s, foreign policy?


Ambrose 11 – Vietnam: Paying the cost of containment

February 23rd, 2015

Vietnam afghan cartoon iraq vietnam bush

The above cartoons illustrate how important it is not just to study history, but to study history carefully.  For those persons ignorant of history (not you) they are at sea without a rudder to steer, but for the casual student of history that “knows” a few “facts” the lessons drawn can have the most tragic consequences. How we know the past and how we know what lessons to learn is not just the stuff of TOK but the stuff of real life.  The past is our only context for threats from ISIS or ISIL or North Korea or from our own law enforcement agencies or from new technologies like private drones creeping over your air space.  Study the past, but study it carefully.

So look carefully here at Ambrose.  How does he compare LBJ’s policies in Vietnam to JFK’s?  About the same right?  Now compare that to what you are going to hear from Robert MacNamara in our wonderful film, the fog of war.  Mac will say JFK was planning on pulling out.  In the film we will hear the voice of LBJ criticizing Mac and the late president for talking about pulling out.

So who is right?  Can both be right?  What does it matter my careful students of history?

What a sad chapter.  The “tragic” figure of LBJ who had done “more for black Americans than any president since Lincoln found himself accused of fighting a racist war with racist methods”.  How had this all come about?  What was the genesis of the debacle, the quagmire of Vietnam that, I would argue has had more to do with our current debates (see cartoons above) than almost any other episode in history?

The Gulf of Tonkin.  Other historians note that LBJ really didn’t want it to happen in 8/64, three months away from the election, as he had promised to keep American boys at home.  Others, Ambrose here, say he “seized the opportunity” to show he was “tough on communism” especially in the face of his opponent, and unnamed target of the daisy ad, Barry Goldwater, who was threatening to use nukes to end the war. Ambrose also argues that there were no voices of dissent in the view to bomb and increase pressure, but gradually.  George Ball is an interesting exception to that that Ambrose and Brinkley don’t bring up.

What they do bring up, counterinsurgency, the “fuzzy legal situation” of “South Vietnam”  Diem’s relationship with his people pictured here;

which Ambrose and Brinkley argue resulted in no reevaluation of policy on behalf of JFK, though they are not without serious opponents of that position (McNamara as we shall see in Fog of war), the “strategic hamlets” , the “best and the brightest“  and comparisons to events in the Dominican Republic and concurrent events in Middle East are all just the beginning of the convoluted story of the US war in Vietnam.

Its a sad chapter.

GOTT 7 – Inside the Soviet Camp

February 17th, 2015


So now we have stretched into the 1980s.  Ronal REagan has been mentioned, your buddy HK in his role as Secretary of State, Jimmy Cater, Gerald Ford and a host of African names as well as Salvadore Allende (pictured) in Chile.

So the million dollar question here is why does Gott claim Castro adhered to the Soviet line.  Why does he not strike a more independent line like Tito?  But then Castro does send troops to Angola and to Eritrea.  Is that not independent?  Yes he does stand with the USSR in Prague Spring, yes he does stand with them again in his invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but he does some things his own way.

The 10 million ton harvest is a huge embarrassment.  One might liken it to China’s Great Leap Forward but without the famine.  Castro needs a new plan and a new team and stands by the aging Soviet leader Brezhnev which the Cubans remember fondly as in those years their economy is growing at a comparatively good place.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez shows up here.  Do you still read 100 years of Solitude?  Why was he here?

gott 6 – the revolution in power

February 11th, 2015

article-2208342-153462F5000005DC-634_634x354 crisis cuba-blockade-headlines

I don’t know about you but Gott’s treatment of the CMC is a bit odd.  He portrays Khrushchev and Kennedy as “level headed” as though the prospect of nuclear war wasn’t  “real” and the decision in the end was “simple”.  For all of his words there is no discussion of the two letters, of the “knots of war” and the joint chief’s recommendation for an airstrike is dismissed by MacNamara, not Tommy Thompson as in his own retelling, or Bobby Kennedy as in Ambrose.  Castro is well portrayed as being outside the loop and this of course will take him down other interesting paths but not without a “seductive” letter from Khrushchev trying to lure him back into the Soviet camp.

Don’t worry about all of the African names of countries and people or even the names associated with the revolutions in other Latin American countries like Peru and Nicaragua.  Just know that it becomes very important for Castro to give aid to revolutionaries throughout the “Third World”.

“Castro is the blackest man I know”.  Stockely Charmichael 1967.  Give that a little OPVL

The relationship between Cuba and Castro and the American civil rights movement and some of its more radical members who visit the island is super interesting to me.  What do you make of their interaction with one another?



Gott Chapter 5 – Castro’s revolution takes shape

February 9th, 2015


New Book.

New unit.

You have to look things up.

What is the signifigance of the above picture?  Yes that is who you think it is.

The July 26th movement?

Jose Marti?

the Granma?

Herbert Matthews?

Fangio? (kidding, but it is interesting)


the hotel in NYC?

Find all of those references in the reading and you should be set for the quiz!

What I find most interesting here is Gott’s perspective on the relationship between Fidel and communisim.  Hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and then there’s this.  Nixon’s car getting attacked.



Ambrose 10 – JFK and the New Frontier

February 5th, 2015

Not the “New Frontier” they intended.  JFK was no dove.  He was no peacenik.  The legacy of his administration is greatly muddled in the public mind I think, by his tragic assassination.  It was JFK and “Mac” the knife, who ushered in “the greatest arms race in history” according to Ambrose.

Really?  The nuclear weapons race between the USSR and the USA?  It wasn’t the Republicans?  It wasn’t Nixon or Reagan, or affable old Ike?  Nope.  Not according to Ambrose.  The arms race, which produced the ability to destroy our world many times over, though maybe exacerbated by Nixon and Reagan, started with Kennedy.

I don’t know if you noticed but there is TOK all over this chapter.  “The CIA had been wrong in predictin an uprising against Castro, but the prediction was exactly what Kennedy wanted to hear.”


Do you see a rabbit or a duck?  You can of course see both.  But if you have a certain paradigm, a certain way of seeing the world, you may only see ducks.  There are a variety of interpretations of what might have been going on in Cuba in 59-61 but JFK believed there was a liberal alternative to Castro in Cuba and so he saw it.  Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.

And then there’s the missiles in Cuba.  Doesn’t change balance of power at all yet it appeared to to the public and thus “such appearances contribute to reality.” Wow.  “The world came close to TOTAL destruction over a matter of PRESTIGE.” (emphasis added) ATA

Sleep well.

Kissinger 25 – Vietnam – Entry into the Morass

January 30th, 2015


Eisenhower meets Diem.  Diem will be deposed in a US condoned coup in 1963 and assassinated.  Upon hearing of the assassaination JFK was said to have turned ashen and left the room.  He himself would be assassinated just weeks later.  After the coup ATK the US has no viable way out of South Vietnam.  So how did we get there in the first place?

Does Kissinger seem a bit defensive here or is it just me?  Maybe defensive isn’t the right word.  Offensive?  Basically he seems to be shouting ITS NOT MY FAULT and underscoring that if cooler heads had prevailed and used the cold hard calculus of national interests vis-a-vis Palmerston or Richelieu then the US would not have involved itself.  It was not in tune with our interests.  It was against our historic anti-colonial stance.  We let China “fall” in 1948, why not little old Vietnam?

Document after document, NSC 64, NSC 68 assessments by Rusk, and all the presidents though point inexorably to more and more involvement into what will become an intractable situation.  Kissinger is often vilified for his role in Vietnam.  Remember that.  No one would pretend, not even Christopher Hitchens (author of “Trials of Henry Kissinger” which is also a movie you can watch on netflix) that Henry had anything to do with decisions in SE Asia in the 1950s.  He does certainly bear a great responsibility for America’s conduct in the late 60s and early / mid seventies.  He puts his decisions and actions then, in the context of the history of Diplomacy on the 20th century.

How does he set it up?  How does, why does the US get involved in exactly the way they do?  Answer that question and you’re a long way to “getting” this chapter.

Kissinger 23 – crisis in Berlin

January 28th, 2015


In 2011 NATO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Berlin crisis and the construction of the wall.  “Celebrate” may be an odd word choice.  “Recognized” might be better.

The casual student of history will often equate the end of WWII with the start of the Cold war and the construction of the wall.  You, of course will know that the wall was 15 years after the start of the Cold war, almost 10 years after the death of Stalin, and just before a series of events that will lead to the fall of Khrushchev and a stormy chill in the Cold war.

At the end now of our studies of the “Eisenhower Era” we must allude to the era to come.  As one of you commented in your IA the baby boomers of the coming 1960s will have a decidedly different relationship with their government, their world and one another.

JFK is our first president born in the 20th century.  He comes in as a hard liner, believing Eisenhower has been weak on communism.  Why he may have believed this is the real undercurrent of this chapter which of course culminates in not just the erection of the wall in Berlin, but the closest we ever got to nuclear war, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kissinger’s assessment of Eisenhower and Khrushchev here is most interesting.  “How the threat of war translated into coexistence was never explained” coming from the American ambassador.

Kissinger 22 – Hungary – Upheaval in the Empire

January 26th, 2015


The uprising photographed above is not Hungary, but Berlin, 1953, reduced to a parenthetical reference in this chapter.   Berlin in 1953, Poland and Hungary in 1956 – what was happening?

In Berlin new policies were being implemented driving prices up, taxes up, quotas up and leaving pay the same, or even reduced if quotas not met.  A mass exodus of the professionals to the west (pre-wall remember) was taking place but the policies also led to a massive worker uprising / strike which was crushed under the treads of Soviet tanks.  The number killed, wounded and arrested remains difficult to say but we can say that there certainly were many.

Remember the little talk we had about diplomacy and language the other day?  Think about the hullaballoo over Obama and the coffee cup salute, or the Speaker of the house inviting the PM of Israel over.  When Khrushchev goes to Poland this is the reason he is not received by the official party.  When Eisenhower goes on the air to discuss world developments in Suez, diplomacy is the reason (though maybe mistakenly according to my read of Kissinger) that he says nothing of consequence about events in Hungary.

Remember the last elections in Iran?  People in the Iranian government said, and probably still say that all the agitation was caused by the west (by the US).  Obama was very careful in his language to try to show that the US was entirely hands off in the actions of the Iranian people and I think similarly here Eisenhower did not want there to be any semblance of a possibility that someone would believe the Hungarians were being aided by the US lest there be a discrediting of the movement and an excuse for the Soviets to treat the uprising as an international provocation.  Of course it turns out the Soviets needed no such excuse.

It is interesting to note as well that Kissinger points out from the days of the Tsar, to the Soviets to the post Cold-War world Russians have treated bordering states similarly, or at least tried to.  He was writing 15 years ago before the events in Chechnya and 20 years before Crimea and Ukraine.

So why did things go differently in Poland than in Hungary? Why did Soviet tanks turn around in Poland and why were leaders executed in Hungary?  How might Eisenhower or the UN played things differently here?  Please remember all of this when we get to “Prague Spring” of 1968 and the Solidarity movement in Poland in 1980. The agitation over Soviet rule in the east began in the 50s, was pushed down for much of the 60s, until 68, and rises again in 80, only to be “successful” in 89 and the early 90s.  The Russian attempt to seize control and power in Eastern Europe again I guess should come as little surprise.