Archive for September, 2012

Into the Vortex

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

The above Image comes from a link Lena Peterson, from the class of 2010, shared with me recently titled, “if WWI were 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, of 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 points 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

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

One of my favorite episodes.  I can still here the music of the doomsday machine.

The next chapter is titled, “Into the Vortex: The Military Doomsday Machine”.  There is Doom all around!

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 to Vietnam and would not want to compare the two I don’t think) he uses Vortex and it is much the same.  Think of a washing machine on spin cycle, full of water, or the machine in the picture above.  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 of doom, 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?

Realpolitik Turns on Itself

Friday, September 21st, 2012

“Not by speeches and majority votes are the great questions of the day decided – that was the great error of 1848 and 1849 – but by blood and iron“.  Bismarck

There.  Now does everyone understand realpolitik?

Its not that hard really.  Practical matters over ideology.  Whatever needs to get done gets done.  How this could not turn into a needless arms race I am not sure.   Kissinger trys to make some case at the start of the chapter for how if traditions would prevail and everyone worked alongside each other (balance-of-power he doesn’t say, but it sounds a lot like it) than an arms race wouldn’t be necessary.

I think this is one of his weaker arguments.  This chapter takes me down a sort of fatalist road.  Once France is peed off about Germany and ready to be anybody’s friend, who is the enemy of Germany, and Ottoman empire is tempting Austria and Russia, while GB’s dander is all up about Russia controlling the straights…  I just don’t see any way out.

Germany’s fear of encirclement mean they are going to build lots of arms to prevent the dreaded two front war.  That will of course make France and Russia do the same which means GB must keep up.  Despite all of the diplomatic machinations like the reinsurrance treaty it just seems logical that some event is going to make it all come tumbling down, and of course tumble it will.

President John F Kennedy purchased 100 copies of the best selling Pultizer Prize winning history, “The guns of August” by Barabara Tuchman which told the story of how the single event of assassaination turned into a war of devastating proportions.  Her story is really in the inner ring of the circles of causality.  Here we have maybe the middle ring, and I’m afraid from the perspective that Kissinger shares, its hard to see a way out, and I would put Bismark squarely in the place of major responsibility (although there certainly will be others) for the cataclysm to come.

Two revolutionaries

Thursday, September 20th, 2012


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 Realpolitikand and you might be right.  Regardless though, it stands as an example and could easily have been some other concept like “legitimacy” or “Collective Security”.

What you should take from this episode is that you can’t simply sit and read and “get” this book.  Its why we have class.  We have the time in class to discuss, to “quiz” to shape our knowledge together with one anothers’  help, around this book.  I am enormously pleased with both classes to date.  I have posted the first batch of quiz scores (raw.  No extra credit added yet.) and some of you have like 144%!  What that means to me is that you are on the road to “getting it” .  As our year marches on you will face greater and greater tests of your knowledge and until you can rattle off dates and names and facts like our friend Dr. Dallek you will still be on the road. 

In fact I think he would say he is still on the road.  “History is never ending argument”

The Concert of Europe

Monday, September 17th, 2012

No not that concert.

What does Kissinger mean by the Concert of Europe?  Where did it come from and how does it work?  What happened to it in the end?

As you might have guessed Kissinger’s main man is Metternich. In fact Ambrose and Brinkley in “Rise to Globalism” will accuse Kissinger of trying to “Out-Metternich-Metternich”  What do you supposed they meant by that?  Why do you suppose Kissinger was so impressed by him?  What is it that Metternich does, and what happens when Metternich goes away?

Key players here are pretty well summed up in the quadruple alliance and the German confederation and the Holy Alliance   Know who they are and what they wanted and what (they thought) they stood for.    The quadruple alliance, born out of the Congress of Vienna and, along with the Holy Alliance, Kissinger says was responsible for 100 years of peace (except for Crimea) and if something similar had happened after WWI we may not have had WWII.

Do you buy it?  Was it really all that?

From Universality to Equilibrium

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

I like maps.  This is a map of Europe after the peace of westphalia of 1648.  Before you read on take a few minutes and play “Where’s Waldo” with it.  In other words look for things that are familiar, like France, and things that are not familiar, or the way things are today anyway.

Now… breath deep.  This is a tough chapter.  I doubt if you’ve read a great deal about the 30 years war, but the Peace of Westphalia and the map above as its result is imporant in the emerging geopolitical reality of Europe and as Kissinger says there are interesting parallels between that world and ours.  Some one might help us by reminding us just what they are and what you think of them.

Try not to get bogged down in dates here.  Though they do have importance in our later studies this is more of a broader sweep simply setting Europe up for the calamity of the first WW.  Think of it as that furthest circle in the circles of causality.


Look at your terms.  What terms showed up here?

Cardinal Richelieu                     raison d’ e’tet              nation state                  

Grace of Alais of 1629 Peace of Westphalia                 Congress of Vienna

and even;

Gladstone and Collective security.

Those are all guideposts to potential quiz questions.

So, consider putting up a comment defining one of those terms or describe the comparison between now and then, or share any other comment, question or confusion.  As I told one of my classes, think of this as “Notes on the board” from TOK.  Throw down a quote and explain why you think its interesting or confusing.  I’ll respond here or in class and be sure to read your colleagues comments.  Some are quite good!

The New World Order

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Henry Kissinger.  Man on a phone.  I think the most telling portion of this chapter is actually at the very end.  The final paragraph starting with , “Intellectuals analyze…” goes in to this effort to distinguish statesmen (men like Kissinger.  On phones) from historians, analysts and intellectuals.  He argues that they get to pick and choose their problems, can re-write their findings even, but that statesmen must act.  Often they must act on incomplete knowledge, and always they will be judged.  Sounds a little defensive to me.  What do you think?

Besides that the whole notion of a “New World Order” is, I think, a little curious.  I mean, how much did China, or South America, care about the Congress of Vienna?  Not much I don’t think.  The idea that there is a “World” order when in fact he is really talking about (there) Europe and America, show his euro-centrisim quite clearly.  Warning to the wise, his dissertation was on the Congress of Vienna.  He likes to write about it a lot.

Beyond that though I’m curious to hear what you think.  What do you think of his predictions, now 15 years old, about the post Cold War order?  Have they in anyway come true?  Is it truly a “world order” he is discussing?

The kowtow question

Friday, September 7th, 2012

So did he or didn’t he?  How do we know? (remember TOK?)

What is wonderfully illustrated in this chapter I think is the incredible clash of civilizations.  Kissinger portrays them as being so completely different from another and their perceptions of the other being so different that it is hard to believe they communicated at all.

We of course know where this story is going.  Though we will leave China after this to return later I think most of you know the basic thread.  There is the so called “Boxer rebellion” then the revolution of 1911 followed by a period of warlord-ism or interregnum.  Then rises the national party and Chiang Kai Shek to once again attempt unify China.  Mao’s communist party will be included in, and then excluded from the Nationalists, but after WWII will prevail in the Civil War.

For here, for now, its important to reflect on the Macartney mission.  Was it a success or a failure according to Kissinger?  What of King George and Queen Victoria? What did they want?  Then there is the dear Lord Palmerston.  How does he handle hius less than successful interlocuters?

Enquiring minds want to know.

The Singularity of China

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

This is Henry Kissinger circa 2007.  Is he your nemesis or your friend?  That’s up to you (or maybe not TOK) but he is the author of the words you’ve read or are reading or are about to read.  He’s not the only author that will throw down little phrases like fait accompli and expect you to know them, so get used to it.  Keep a device or a dictionary nearby and look stuff up.  Remember he’s a political scientist writing for an adult audience.  You are now being invited into that adult audience.  Proceed with caution.

So in the first Chapter I have lots of “ah-ha” moments.  Do you remember the “Long March”?  Part of the hagiography (look it up) of Mao is his long 8000 mile march where 80% of his communist supporters died.  But we know what happened.  Chinese commenists survived and one.  Compare that to the section on the Art of War.

Also much of this I have read elsewhere before. The noted chinese scholar John King Fairbank makes the same claim of China’s entire history taking place write there.  He claimed it was like having Athens in Chicago and Rome in Denver and being able to read all of the ancient texts because our language never changed.

The passage on Confucian thought I also found very interesting.  I knew it wasn’t a religion as we think of religions but I had never realized that China produced no religion of its own, like Buddhism or Islam. 

So here we are.  Your first reading and your first time to get to make a comment.  How exciting!  Go for it!