Archive for March, 2012

Redefining the revolution

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

How is this a redefinition of revolution your might ask?  well, embedding an icon of capitalism into a communist system is pretty revolutionary I think.  Marx would be rolling in his grave.

China’s (Deng Xiaoping’s) desire to modernize in agriculture and industry etc.  saw them get in bed with the United States, and Coca-Cola and Boeing, and then attack a communist nation (Vietnam) in part because of its leanings towards Socialist country #1 the USSR!  Seems like crazy stuff.

What’s really crazy stuff is that Mao was right 70% of the time.  Claims like that make me think of “Lost in Translation” because I find pronouncements like that sort of funny, yet in China I know it was taken with the greatest seriousnesses.

For comments here consider spelling out your understanding of the rise of Deng, the significance of the “Fifth” modernization and/or how our relationship with Taiwan went the way that it did.

Re-opening the doors

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Here we are!  Back to Spence, and frankly, back to some tricky terrain.  From the attacks on Lin Biao and Confucius, to Mao’s apparent snubbing of Zhou En Lai (above) near and at his death, to the gang of four and Hua Guofeng, its some times very hard to draw lines indicating one side or another.  Of course you know Deng Xiaoping will emerge as leader, because you’ve heard of Deng, but not of Hua, it certainly does not seem so at the end of this chapter.

What does seem so at the end of this chapter?  Who is in charge and why?

A couple of great incidents to recall, the mass gathering at Tiananmen square and then its subsequent comparison to Hungary in 1956.  How does that work?  Please note this is not the famous demonstration at Tiananmen square of 1989 with tank man (we’ll get there)  but why do the masses gather and how does the comparison work?

Finally there is an apparently providential natural event around the death of Mao.  why do you suppose Spence brings this up?


we can’t go on like this

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

No this was not a lover’s warning, this was rather Gorbachev’s assertion, on the eve of taking power, that something was fundamentally wrong.  He believe change had to come, and it came, but not in ways he could have predicted.  In 1988 the state history exams were cancelled because as “glasnost” unrolled the lies of the soviet textbooks became more and more evident.

Singled out as one of the most oppressive regimes by White, Honecker’s GDR, being depicted in our movie, was a place where Gorby had to muscle in and force some change.  Some of the claims in the film, problems of corruption, prostitution, are supported by White here, as are the existences of the subversive authors and artists who, in White, want to push harder and harder for reforms.

I think its in Pipes, but it might be in Kissinger to come, someone makes the claim the regimes are at their most vulnerable when they begin to institute reforms.  Reforms begin to trickle in and they’re like “salted peanuts” to use Kissinger’s analogy from before.  People want more and more.

Why did change come in the way that it did?  White has some musings on possible answers.  What do you think?

A system in decline & change from below

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

I remember these streetcars in Prague in 1992 looking very much as they looked here.  The only difference is that in 1992 the occasional streetcar would be painted as a giant ad for M&Ms, or Skittles.  Capitalism was on the march.

In these pages White portrays the entire system in the eastern bloc as on the decline economically, despite enormous gains earlier (after WWII).  One might fairly ask though, if we look at economic growth in the US at the same time, don’t we see a similar story?

I’m no economist but the numbers  of growth in the US are generally under 10% and often under 5%.  What is the difference?  White offer up a few clues.  Did you pick them up?

Secondly, in the chapter on “Change” it is so interesting to read this story now when so much potential change appears to be happening in the Middle East. Is Libya going to turn out like Romania?  Is Egypt more like Hungary or CZ?  Those sorts of comparisons might provide some really interesting analysis in today’s world.  I’ll try to look for my ’92 visit to Prague pictures tonight.  Maybe I can bring a few in for show & tell.


National communism & the limits of reform

Monday, March 19th, 2012

A nice article and more pictures here;

National communism.  What’s that?  If a true communist is one with no state, no nation, how can there be “national communism”?  Maybe there can’t be.  Maybe that was one of the problems.

Why did the “Cold War” the USSR, and commuism in East Europe collapse?  Some will say, Reagan in the 80s, and his “tear down this wall!” speech, but these chapters tell another story.  Here, in CZ in 68, in Poland in 1980 we see the resurgence of independence that these countries had once known, and not too long ago, held dear.

What evidence is here of the collapse?  Look at Hungary in 1956, and China, and try to make a case for the collapse of communism that eventually will come in the late 1980s.  It will do you well.

No country

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Workers were to have “no country”.  No country and no religion.  For a peaople, like the Polish, who identified so strongly with both, its a wonder socialism was successful at all.  Notice I used the word “socialism” instead of “communisim”.  Why?

Communism remained this ideal, for all but Khrushchev apparently, that would only be realized in the far far future.  It would only be much later the individuals would really receive from society based on their need.  In socialism your needs are provided for but in part based upon the work that you do.

What resonates most in these chapters with the people I think is that claim of no exploitation.  No landlords.  No stock traders.  No one making money off of others money, no billionaires, but no paupers (homeless) either.  This would seem a powerful promise after decades of depression and World War.

A nice perspective is also here from White, of the relative isolation of the USSR.   Completely isolated until WWII but then again largely so by the 1960s when not only were Hungary and Poland feeling a bit independent, we also know that China was clearly out on its own.

Both chapters for tomorrow.  1 & 2.  What do you think?


Friday, March 9th, 2012

Yeah old Jimmy Carter, Peanut Farmer from Georgia, had some problems.  Not least of which was his brother Billy (above) who along with selling his name for a model of his pick-up also put his now famous name behind a brand of beer, “Billy beer”.  

As far as Jimmy’s presidency and his goals in foreign policy, ambrose says he was the least experienced, in fp, of the post-wwii presidents, and that his goals were wildly impractical, and none were achieved.  Interestingly he was also the first postwar president who had not been a congressman, but rather had been a governor.  Why does that matter?

Its a rather long list of problems Carter had.  From arms reduction treaties, to iran, and don’t forget, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.   Where he succeeded and where and why he failed, might be an interesting start to some comments.

Beyond Vietnam: the Middle east and Africa

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Here we have a story with amazing relevance to our world today.  Not just because of Egypt, Syria and the Middle East but also because of South Africa as evidenced by the above recent NY Times article, articulating the painful process that led to the end of apartheid.  That that process did not lead to civil war could be counted as one of its successes, but the time, effort and struggle, and the hypocritical stance of America and American investment (though “small” by Ambrose’s accounting) need to be judged in some way as a great failure.  Not until Jimmy Carter, mentioned briefly here, would we have a promise of a US Foreign Policy based on human rights interest, and not national interest, but the failure of that policy, in the upcoming chapter, would bring no real new results, and frankly bring about substantial challenges which will lead to his resounding defeat by Reagan in 1980 and a three term (Reagan, Reagan, George HW Bush) conservative Republican ascendancy along broken by Clinton in ’92 (with the help of Ross Perot) who then faced the “Contract with America” defeat in ’94 referenced so much in our own mid term elections of last year.

So Ambrose begin by illustrating the Middle East as decidedly indifferent to the Cold war.  That two NATO allies could attack each other (Turkey and Greece over Cyprus) is great evidence that the bipolarity of the Soviet – American conflict held little sway in other parts of the world.  That Egypt, under Sadat would at one moment have Soviet advisors  in his country, and in the next be appealing for American aid, goes to show how difficult this terrain was to navigate with the lens of the Cold War.  Furthermore in this time the Middle East is emboldened by the initial success of Egypt and by the success of the oil embargo which resulted in long long lines in the US, cars wrapped around the block waiting for gas at the few stations that had it, a quadrupling of gas prices, the end of Detroit, the ascendence of the Japanese automotive industry and the federal government’s imposition pictured before, of a nationwide federal speed limit of 55mph to assure maximum efficiency of all cars on the road.  

Hint:  if you consider yourself a card carrying environmentalist check your mpg driving normally for a tank of gas, then fill the tank and keep your speed at 55 or below, treat the gas pedal like an eggshell leaving stops (avoid stops) and you will be amazed at the difference.

On to South African we have there an excellent example of national interests in conflict with any legitimate view of human rights, civil rights, equity that serve to show terrible contradictions with America as either a beacon or crusader.  Read the above linked article for a South African view on the lurching policy of America in those years.

 Questions to pose here for your comments might include an assessment of why the Cold War didn’t mattter in Africa, what was going on in Portugal and Angola and why that matters to this story and anything else you find interesting, confusing, or curious.

Detente & its Discontents

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

I have alwys believed that Kissinger titled this chapter with full knowledge of its allusion to Sigmund Freud’s famous book of 1930, “Civilization and its Discontents”.  In Freud’s book he wrote that individuals and societies are in inherent conflict.  Individuals have certain desires which orderly society must thwart.  I wonder how Kissinger would explain this vis-a-vis “Detente”.  One result of tensions in the middle east was the OPEC oil embargo and the quadrupling of gas prices; hence the mandated 55mph speed limit for all freeways across the country, to save gas.  Should we try this again?

So what exactly is detente and why don’t people like it?  How does it work and what are some tangible examples that Kissinger offers up?  What goes on in the Middle East, with arms control, eastern europe and the USSR that serve as results of detente and to what end?  Where did this all take us?  One thing to muse over of course is the image in the “Time” magazine article above.  Who do you suppose the little man pulling on Nixon is?  I used the picture already this year and mentioned him in class.  Hint… neo-con. I hope you know who Nixon is shaking hands with!

Nixon’s triangular diplomacy

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Yeah.  He really wanted Elvis as Secretary of State.  Click on link for funny story of their visit.

On a more serious note, “Richard Milhous Nixon inherited near-civil war conditions”.  That quote has always stuck with me .  There is a great book, “1968: The year that rocked the World” that, if you’re interested, really helps get a feel for the trauma of the time.

“Vietnam and beyond” is the title I gave to this unit years ago and it sticks rather well.  Here we get in to Kissinger’s assessment of how Nixon was different, “complex”, and how he pulled the country away, or tried to, from its Wilsonian moorings.  Once again I find Kissinger’s assessment of Wilson complicated.  He seems to say here, that though Nixon did need, he believes, to start focusing on national interests, and allow the old “invisible-hand” to render stability, he appears to have a respect for what Wilson did in his time and how that ushered us through two world wide wars.  I do think though that he feels it was Wislonianism possibly that took us in to the quagmire of Vietnam, yet Nixon, “shared the great American yearning for a foreign policy devoid of self-interest”.

For all the pundits out there on the conservative right attacking Obama’s offer to “extend a hand if they (Iran, North Korea etc.) wil unclench their fist”, might want to remember that Nixon said much the same in 1969 about the need to talk with China and the Soviet Union, and how those talks helped lead to the final extrication from Vietnam.  Nixon, Kissinger asserted, saw the USSR not as a zero-sum game, but rather as something more complicated.  There is another game he brings into the discussion towards the end.  How does that work?