Archive for October, 2011

Ambrose & Brinkley

Monday, October 31st, 2011

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.  I think that comes through in these 14 easy to read pages.  His colleague, 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.

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”.

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.  Kissinger wants to say he had interventionist tendencies as early as October 1937 with the Quarantine speech>  Which one is right?  Who do you believe?  Why?


Thursday, October 27th, 2011

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.

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?

The Nazi Soviet Pact

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Best comic ever.

So, we skipped Stalin’s Bazaar, chapter 13, but you can do it for extra credit.  Here we are at the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

What I love here are the portrayals of the personalities.  “…Molotov, who had a faculty to irritate far more stable personalities than Hitler…”.  That to me dovetails in with so much of my impression of both men that I just find it amusing.  Please also remember the “grandeur” that Hitler tries to impress Molotov with when we watch the “Great Dictator”.  With all of these piece of evidence, Triumph of the Will, etc. look for overlapping, supporting and extending knowledge.  What is said, or shown, or you can infer from one source is often re-said or shown, sometimes in a subtlety different way in another.  The examination of those differences, and similarities is the detective work of the historian!

So here in this chapter you have Hitler’s three choices after the defeat of France.  You would also be well to know the basic outlay of the Tripartite-Pact, the role of Molotov and Ribbentrop (both terms I think) and also the position of the US, as perceived by Hitler, vis-a-vis Japan.

Have fun!

End of illusions

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

I love this poster. It was interesting to see especially after the 9/11 attacks when very similar bumper stickers emerged that basically said, “if you’re speeding and wasting gas, you’re supporting terrorists”. Frankly any consumption of oil today is feeding regimes whose tremendous disparity of wealth foster breeding grounds for extremism.

In WWII it was a bit different. We had oil, most of it that we needed back then we got from our own country, it wasn’t until the 50s/60s that we starting importing a significant percentage of oil, but the oil that we had we needed for our troops and tanks so if you were wasting gas you were hurting the troops and helping Hitler. I think a modern version of this could help some united statesians who don’t believe in global warming understand another reason to 86 the gas guzzlers.

Anyway back to Hitler. One demonic personality. Indeed. No central philosophy, reprsenting no real school of political thought (sound familiar?), convinced of his own unique faculties to the extent he felt he must rush to establish the reich before he died.

Finally if you want a laugh click here to see hitler get his ib scores.

The re-emergence of the vanquished.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

So who here has heard of Stresemann?  Come on.  Be honest.  He’s not even in the index of your 10th grade World History textbook, yet Kissinger calls him the most important (more than Briand or Chamberlain) architect of international relations in the 1920s.  What’s up with that?

Here he is in all his glory.  But what about this?

Ok so given Kissinger’s treatment of Stresemann and the Dawes plan who here can make sense out of this cartoon?

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 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 h

A Peace to end all peace*

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

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 generation of Soviet occupation.

The entire face of Europe was new.

Look at all of those new nati0ns!  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 part of US foreign policy?

*the title is actually a Book on the peace settlment in particular on the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East.

The military doomsday machine

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

The above Image comes from a link Lena Peterson, from thev2009 class, shared with me recently titled, “if WWI weer a Bar Fight”.  Its pretty funny. You can google it or I’ll share it with you tomorrow.  Regardless it 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, or 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 also pints 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.

A film and / or book that you should see or read (can you say extra credit?) is “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque.  The book came out in 1928 and I believe the film is 1929 or 1930 (I own it).  Read it / watch it and bring in a 1-2 page typed thoughtful review analysing the “limitations and values” of the source for a historian and it will net you three points towards your quizzes.  The book/film is a fiction, but I would argue it still has substantial value.

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?

The political doomsday machine

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

The next chapter is titled, “Into the Vortex: The Military Doomsday Machine”.  There is Doom all around! Extra credit if you know where the image here came from.

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) he uses Vortex and it is much the same.  Think of a washing machine on spin cycle, full of water.  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, 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?

“The incarnation of evil”

Thursday, October 6th, 2011


The “Incarnation of Evil” is of course Gladstone’s take on Bismark, well illustrated I think in the modern cartoon above.  Why does he say this?  What does Bismark say of Gladstone?

“Janus like” my other option for an image, was how Kissinger describes Russia at one point.  Why?  Google Janus and it might be helpful.

Finally, the title.  How is it that here, “Realpolitik” turns on itself?  Enquiring minds want to know.

The Sphinx VS. the Iron Chancellor

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Warning…  Tangent ahead.

Albatross.  Kissinger describes The Congress of Vienna as an “albatross” for Napoleon III.  I was struck by this description on my most recent reading of this chapter for some reason.  I believe I knew what he meant, that the albatross was a burden, something that Napoleon III sought to lift from his shoulders so he could go on into greatness.  This of course made sense because the Congress of Vienna had returned France, after the Napoleonic wars to its “ancient borders” and through the creation of the German Confederation sought to “reign in” any territorial ambitions that France might have, and though Napoleon III is described as not quite the megalomaniac as his Uncle, he did believe France was entitled to the occasional territorial gain.  I do not believe that it is mentioned here, but it was of course under Napoleon III that France installed a dictator in Mexico and began colonization of SE Asia (Vietnam).

All of this made sense to me.  What did not make sense to me was the term “albatross”.  I google imaged “albatross” for this post and all I could find were images of what appeared to be something of a majestic bird.  “How could this seemingly majestic bird be turned into a metaphor for a burden?” I wondered. 

Wikipedia to the rescue.  The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere was a poem written in 1798 which has a number of phrases (“water water everywhere…”) that have fallen into common usage along with the use of the term “albatross” as a terrible burden.  In the poem (you can listen to it, in all of its 30 minute glory on Wikipedia) the Mariner has set sail on a voyage with a crew and they appear to be lost when they are followed by an albatross for a number of days.  The site of the bird I believe is used as sign of hope.  Land must be nearby, and the sailors feed it some sort of biscuit and it flies and follows and plays.  Then one day, for reasons unknown, the Mariner shoots and kills the bird with his crossbow.

What follows is a phantasmagoria of a voyage into years of horror, and drought, and famine and utter lostness and finally death for all of the crew, except for the Ancient Mariner, who prior to their death, is forced to wear the dead albatross around his neck, because it was his foolishness that brought all of them into this terrible plight.

I will not spoil the ending for you but I do want to make a point with my tangent.  I have read this book, nearly cover to cover, for every year I have taught this class, which I believe started with the graduating class of 2000.  Despite so many years of reading, and talking about Diplomacy with groups of highly intelligent and motivated young people like yourselves, I still get something new out of this book every time I read it.  A hallmark of a really great book.

Now you may say the origins of the word “albatross” is not terribly relevant to Realpolitik and and you might be right.  Regardless though, it stands as an example and could possibly have been some other concept like “legitimacy” or “Collective Security”. So keep reading and keep reading carefully.

The Ems Dispatch and the Master Dispatch.  Sound similar?  Yes.  Same? No.  What’s the diff?