Archive for February, 2011

On the Road to despair

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Sorry for the thumbnail but the above is a classic image of LBJ attributed to the pain and frustration he felt over the quagmire of Vietnam.  I’m working on my Mac and my eye is hurting again so I don’t have the patience right now to figure out how to enlarge it.  You get the picture though.

What we can ask here in chapter 26, Monday for B day and Tuesday for A day, is the extent to which JBJ and JFK and their advisors can be held responsible for the debacle of the American entry in Vietnam.

Remember it is of course in Kissinger’s interest to point out, rightly, that the American entrance into the conflict was not Nixon’s nor his, so when he discusses the change in perspective from Eisenhower to Kennedy, when he points out that McNamara “wrongly” (knowledge claim/TOK) beileved “general war was unthinkable” and that Khrushchev’s speech was pointed at China, not at Vietnam, and the even China’s position vis-a-vis Vietnam was misconstrued, it is all conveniently self-serving.  “Look at the mess they made”, Kissinger might say, “and left us to clean up”.

Kissinger’s detractors (see Hitchins book cover in previous post) would argues that half the names in the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall came on his watch and that the expansion of the war into Cambodia amounted to a criminal activity.  Furthermore they would argue a point which Kissinger counters (though not in great detail) in the next chapter that the settlement reached in 1972 could have been reached in 1968.

For purposes here you would do well to respond to the above query.  To what extent were JFK and LBJ responsible for the American War in Vietnam becoming what it became?

Vietnam: the Extrication

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

I made a mistake.  Hard to believe I know.  Somehow I missed chapter 26 in my carefully laid out plans.  I’ll need you (period 3A) to go back and read it for our next time, Tuesday.  For now though, 27 is the chapter at hand.

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 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” (look it up).

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

the Debacle in Vietnam

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

There is a rich treasure trove of Doonsebury comics from this era.  I was looking for one on the bombing of Cambodia but this one will do.  In my HS creative writing class I was asked to do a report on an artist and I chose the creator of Doonesbury, Garry Trudeau.  I remember a quote I found from president Gerlad Ford saying basically that if you wanted to know what was going on in Washington, you had to read Doonesbury.   

So here Ambrose walks us through the Nixon presidency, the end of Vietnam, and his initial assessment of Kissinger.  Why was Nixon’s election so tight in 68 and such a landslide in 74?  What was linkage and how did it work?  Was it succesful? 

What was the pain and cost of the end of Vietnam and was it in any way succesful?

Vietnam: Paying the cost of conatinment

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Quite a bit here in the 30 odd easy to read pages by Ambrose and Brinkley.  What was “counterinsurgency”?  Who compared Ho Chi Minh to Hitler and why?  What were the effects on the above self-immolation (and why was it used decades later on a cd cover)? What are the comparative events in the Dominican Republic and the Middle East?  How did they (or were they) effect(ed) by the events in SE Asia?  Enquiring minds want to know…


Monday, February 14th, 2011

In the end the final question simply is… to what extent was the revolution in Cuba in 1959 successful? Be specific.

The commie who stole Christmas

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Don’t you love this?

I can’t wait until Cuba opens up to historical scholarship.  Do you speak Spanish?  Are you enjoying history?  Take some Latin American courses in college (UCSD & SDSU have some great people in this area) and then you can apply to go and maybe someday some archives will be open, and some people will be open, and we can start really discovering what has gone n in Cuba for the last 50 years.

For the state to declare itself “atheistic” and to remove Christmas as a government sanctioned holiday is one thing.  For the population to submit to these decrees is another.  It reminds me of the story of the Pueblo before their infamous revolt of 1680.  The one successful revolt of native Americans against the Spanish.  Prior to the revolt of course the Spanish had “outlawed” as best they could native religions and enforced Christianity on the Pueblos.  We know now though that many Pueblos continued to practice their religion underground (figuratively) or melded their own religious beliefs with those being imposed on them.

How do you think the Cubans reacted?  Did they just walk away from their Catholic beliefs or do you suppose they practiced them in secret?  What do you suppose happened to Christmas, and Easter in the day to day life and experience of Cubans?  It will be an interesting story to tell one day for sure.

Our narrative of 20th century history has now reached the temporal zenith of its scope.  Gorbachev, glasnost, perestroika, and Bill (I never met an intern I didn’t like) Clinton have now all entered into our discussion.  I may not be able to refrain myself from asking at least one question on these more modern characters and issues.  Of course we will retreat back, in the next unit, back to Vietnam and the US conflict there, and then the penultimate unit on “Communism in Crisis” and the finally, the end of the Cold War and the 90s.  That’s where we’re headed.  Hang on.  Its going to go quick.


Friday, February 4th, 2011

Like what other leader of a single party state Castro wrote a book nobody read while in jail?  Actually there are lots of interesting parallels to events today in Egypt, historic events the author points to in Nicaragua and Mexico as well as the embroiling issue concurrent with much of what you read here, in Vietnam as well as earlier in China.  Trying to articulate some of those comparisons, say in a comment here, would probably be of some value.

Two rather large questions that Leonard tries to address here are where Castro came from and why Castro sides with the Soviet Union.  Castro at one point claims not to be a communist.  What happened?  Why does he win the day and why does he turn to the Russians.

Looking for some extra credit?  A book came out I think just last year called, “the man who invented Fidel” about the NYTimes journalist, not unlike Edgar Snow in China (look it up) who goes in to the Sierra Maestra mountains finds Fidel (while at that point Batista is claiming he is dead) and writes rather extensively about Fidel and his revolution.  I copied a review of the book in last years blog if you go into the archives, but if you’re interested in Cuban history, get the book, read it, and do a review.  I’ll give you bucks-up extra credit.

Finally.  The million dollar question.  How does an isolated band of 18 revolutionaries, less people than will be in my classroom Monday morning, succeed in their revolution?

Kennedy and the New Frontiers

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

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 t o Ambrose.

Really?  The nuclear weapons race between the USSR and the USA?  It was 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.

“13 days” is a great film about the Cuban Missile Crisis that I used to show my tenth graders.  Well worth watching and good extra credit for this unit.  Get a handle on JFK and his administration’s stance vis-a-vis Cuba and you’re in the hunt for a solid quiz score.