Archive for January, 2012

Entry into the Morass Chap 25 (we skip 24!)

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

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”) 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.

The Berlin Crisis

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Last year 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.  What do you think? 

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, before in the next chapter retreating, 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.

Speaking of quotes look at the comments under the last post and the quote Lauren grabbed.  That quote always makes me think of the Jimmy Stewart character in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”, or virtually any Hitchcock movie.  Speaking of movies, if you’re looking for a little extra credit find a copy of Alec Guinness in “the prisoner” I think its called.  Based on a real character and real events in Hungary after the war.  Do an OPVL on that after googling around about events portrayed in the film and you’ll start you second semester out in the lead!

Upheaval in the Empire

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

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?  When Khrushchev goes to Poland this is the reason he is not recieved 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 semblence 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.

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.


Leapfrogging containment

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

The crsises of 1956 weren’t all about civil rights.  In October, a month before the US presidential election, two world events exploded on the map and each, in its own way, helped set the stage for the Cold War in the 60s and 70s as well as the US role in the middle east.  The first treated here is the Suez, the second will be Hungary.

Look at the chapter first of all, “Leapfrogging Containment”.  Who is “leapfrogging” what?  Compare to cordon sanitaire and you should figure it out.  C’mon.  I know you can.

The big question here for Kissinger and for us is the extent to which the US should have stood by France and GB in their scheme to regain control of the canal?  We didn’t, and things played out as they did.  The question may be asked here though; who won?  Remember Kissinger assesses the USSR as being the big loser in Korea.  Who was the loser here?  Did we “win” by not creating a wider war?

Finally, click on link below of Time magazine’s recent interview with Obama on US foreign.  Any suprises here?  In the excellent article (available to subscribers only) which preceeds the interview Eisenhower is cited by the author of the interview and the article, Fareed Zakaria, no slouch on international relations, as an “excellent” president ininternational terms.  Interesting to compare that to the “unrelieved failure” quote from Ambrose.

Time interview with Obama



Kissinger 20

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Googling around for pics for the blog I ran into this image.  ”Stalin’s race car”.  Sorry for my predilection for motor-head paraphernalia.  I’m sure you get tired of it, but I like to think that I am at least consistent while also modeling that an interest in nearly anything, from cars to music to movies to fashion to trains, can be a really fun way to cleave into the past.

So; “Stalin’s race car”.  Was he really seriously considering going up against the Ferraris, the Alfas, the Renaults and the Jaguars?  Was the international sports car arena going to be another field of propaganda points like the Olympics and the space race?  If so, what happened to it?

Well, for one thing of course Stalin died.  If you really want to follow the course of the chapter you are really looking at the last years of Stalin’s life and most especially, the Peace Note.  Kissinger dismisses the Note rather nonchalantly.  I’m not so sure.  Maybe it was a bona fide opportunity lost.  Look at it in comparison to the disengagement scheme.  Was it possibly our fear of worldwide communist domination that led to the Cold War as we know it.  Did we take too literally the lesson of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and apply that to the Communist Manifesto and convince ourselves that anything resembling appeasement would tempt worldwide communist domination?  I’m afraid we might have.

On a side note, Beria is executed in 1953.  I can’t remember where I read it but somewhere I saw a first hand account, it might be in one of those old life magazines, of someone traveling the through the USSR shortly after his death.  They made some casual inquiry about him, an old poster with his likeness had been left somewhere. The inquiry met a stony reception.  Beria was an un-person.  Not just a traitor, not another Benedict Arnold, but he not only no longer existed, he never did.  Another source confirmed for me that an encyclopedia published in ’53 had an usually long entry under “Bergund” or some such name, noting t he editors had undoubtedly rushed to fill the space where Beria had been deleted.

You really have to read Orwell’s 1984.

Maybe our fears were well founded after all.

Hungary, Suez and Cuba

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Who was this year’s “Person of the year?”  in 1956 it was the Hungarian Freedom Fighter.  I wonder what the article says about our response?  One could speculate… 

“The overwhelming first impression of American foreign policy from 1956 to 1961 was one of unrelieved failure”  I have been waiting 10 years for a student to use that damning quote effectively in an essay.  Maybe you will be the first.

So what were the failures?   The revolution in Hungary, as you will read or have read, as far as it has anything to do with America and USFP, was a travesty (some would say).  It laid bare the naked truth that the US would not confront the Soviets directly and the promises of liberation were empty.

Some might counter with the assertion though that possibly in the most dangerous of times Eisenhower succeeded.  If we had confronted the Soviets in Hungary, as we will confront them five years hence in Cuba, would we have unleashed nuclear war?  Maybe Eisenhower and his advisors knew that the cost of that even mere possibility was too great.  It has long been said that no one hates war more than a member of the military.  No one else sees the cost of war so thoroughly.  Eisenhower had seen plenty of war.  Maybe that “first impression” of failure in Hungary, in Cuba, in the Suez Canal crisis gives way to a more complete realization that there was some success.  We avoided war in a time when war had become more dangerous than ever, when decisions made by just a few men (men) could have kept you and I from being here and could have plummeted humamity into some dark Cormac McCarthy book.  Maybe we did succeed after all, if at least for that moment.

Irreconcilable Conflict

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

“I Like Ike” so the famous button goes.  Just a reminder, take a glance at books by Ambrose in the opening pages of your book.  How many are about, or include a great deal about, Eisenhower?  I count 10.  Thats a lot!  He’s clearly got a lot to say, and a lot of interest in Eisenhower.  With 10 books under his belt he has a lot to pull from so the little anecdotes he does include, like Ike being unable to suppress his grin in the photo shoot at Geneva,  he obviously thinks is important.

Much goes on here, from Korea to Iran to Guatamala.  The role of the CIA and Ike’s position on containment, as well as the Dulles brothers all deserve your scrutiny.

Have fun!

Deepening the Revolution

Friday, January 6th, 2012

“They ate the earth”.  One of the most troubling lines from the documentary I tried to show you.  You can find it on YouTube, as I did, but I found the copy to be almost unwatchable  for the class.  Individually it might work better, at home, with your headphones on.  Try it. 

The segment on the GLF is devastating.  In the beginning as the communes came into being, quotas were put on each commune that were quite high, but promised the peasants if the made them they would be doing such extraordinary things for China and the Revolution that they not only exhausted themselves and their supplies but they lied.  If the quota was 100kg they would promise 120kg and claim they made it.  So the Government would say, “fine, you raised 120kg of produce, give us 100 and keep the rest for yourselves”.  The problem was there wasn’t a “rest” for themselves and they shipped away all their food.

Mao and others toured the countryside to see the incredible harvests for themselves.  They were greeted by visions like the picture below;

carefully orchestrated and in no way reflective of reality.  In one sad account in the film a farmer, newly introduced to petro-chemical fertilizer, digs a giant pit, pours in all the seeds he has, all the fertilizer he has…  and grows nothing.  They shipped away what they had.  They ate roots, and bark, and ultimately even the earth.  Death tolls range from 20 to, in the book at the top, 40 million persons.

In another tragedy of the day, steel production needs to be increased so the peasants are encouraged to build back yard steel furnaces;

as seen above.  The unfortunate reality, as shown and testified to in the the film, is that they take all their bed frames, pots and pans, and everything useful made of metal, and melt it down into useless pot-metal.  They didn’t have the sophistication to make real steel.  Apparently for sometime these furnaces could be seen lighting up the countryside for miles around, and they were literally melting their future away.

I’ll leave it to you to google the grissly images of the famine.  I couldn’t bring myself to reproduce one here.  Needless to say the GLF appears to have been the height of human suffering, and like some other famines, as in the Ukraine, or Ireland, a result of government policy, more than any natural circumstance.

I’ll blog more later on the Sino-Soviet split, the “cult” of Mao and the launching of the Cultural Revolution (there’s a lot in this little chapter) but wanted to get this up for now.

Enjoy your weekend.

Sorry for not adding in on later sections.  Maybe you all can post questions/comments on those to help prepare for quiz.  I am out tomorrow 1/10/12 so the sub will hand out quiz and then review questions.  I’m sure you all will be fine but if you have questions please let me know.  Rough drafts should be put in folder for those of you in 1B, 1A people please time stamp and put in my box.


Planning the New Society

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Figuring out who these two guys are (look at the guy’s smile on the right) would help you go a long way into figuring out the significance of events here in Chapter 20, “Planning the New Society”.

Terms from the chapter are;

first five year plan                        Tibet                        John Foster Dulles

Vietminh                        Han Chinese                        PLA                        100 Flowers movement

and there are more, like “Zhou Enlai” that I haven’t bothered to repeat.  stick to those seven terms, + repeats and you’re good for the quiz.

What is striking to me on the re-read of this chapter, is the extent to which China is swayed by international events that, I’m afraid, you haven’t read about yet.  Khrushchev’s speech in 1956 denouncing Stalin, and revolts in Poland and Hungary, also in 1956.  This all leads into what is often called the 100 flowers campaign, Mao’s desire to open up criticism from the intellectual community that remains in the PRC, much of which has its origins in the Nationalist party era or before.

You will have a question on your review that goes something like, “If we have criticism to our policies we are not afraid of them” or something like that from Mao.  Many students (unadvisedly) try to answer that entire question based up on the 100 flowers campaign.  Spence will come right out at the start of the next chapter and say the 100 flowers campaign was NOT a plot by Mao to reveal hidden rightists.  He honestly wanted some critics to stand up.  If that so, why did so many, like Ding Ling with her Stalin prize in hand, end up in permanent exile?

Birth of the prc and welcome back

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Happy 2012 everybody! We are back and we are rolling. January is jam packed with readings, terms, tests and IAs so get your seat belts on, your thinking caps tightened and get ready to rumble!

First up is the birth of the PRC. Several interesting things to note here. 1, yet another perspective on the Korean war. What’s different here?

2 – how does the PRC establish itself? How does land reform work? WhAt of the three anti and five anti campaign? What about women’s rights. Why was this at all successful?

3 – a couple new people in your terms. Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai. Who are they and what are they up to?

Hope everybody had a great break. We’ve got four short months to T-day so it’s time to breath deep and dive in!