Archive for October, 2012

The Twisting Path to War

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

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?


Monday, October 29th, 2012

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?

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

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.   The “grandeur” that Hitler tries to impress Molotov with is so reminiscent of the portyal of Hitler in 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!

The end of illusion: Hitler and the destruction of Versailles

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

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.

Stresemann and the re-emergence of the vanquished

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

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 have come?

Why did Stalin succeed Lenin?

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

I like cars.  I always have.  I think I learned to read in the pages of “Road and Track” when I was a child.  In my cursory research on the post WWII international auto race in CZ (Czechoslovakia), the last international race in the “east” for the entire Cold War era, I came across this image of “Stalin’s race car” apparently from the early 50s, several years (6?) after the race in CZ.   I found this very interesting because it suggested that some persons in the Soviet Union wanted to challenge the evils of capitalism on the track, as they would in the Olympics, Space Race and the World Cup.   What is interesting is that I have never, ever heard of motor-sports competition in the former Soviet Union or its satellites, yet I guess there was some interest in it.  Must’ve been.  That might be an interesting piece of research.  Motor-sports in the USSR! 

So why did Stalin succeed Lenin?  Well, for Pipes it seems a foregone conclusion.  With the failure to export the revolution (in the most important war in history!  In Poland!  in 1920!…  ever heard of it?) the emerging  bureaucracy and the emergence of the worker’s opposition Stalin was clearly the man and Trotsky never had a chance.  Lenin just never saw the dark heart of the killer lurking in the back.

One fascinating point made here is that with the failure to export the revolution they needed to wait, and agitate for, another World War.  This historiography on WWII is generally much simpler than WWI.  Everybody says it was Germany’s/Hitler’s fault.  Now though, I wonder.  Were Stalin, and Lenin before, succesful at keeping agitation alive in  Germany insofar as to lead to the emergence of Hitler?  Can we blame WWII on the Soviet union?

Pipes seems to say this.  In chapter one, where he is trying to make the case for the importance of studying the Russian Revolution, he says that without it there would have been no National Socialism (Nazism).  What do you think?

Why did the Bolsheviks triumph?

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012



fait accompli . Who looked that one up?  There are great and complicated machinations at work in this chapter that I do not expect you to commit to detailed memory.  Even Pipes admits the complexity is too great for his short treatment here.

The long and short of it is that gaining power was as easy for Lenin as “picking up a feather”.  As the woman in the documents you will read in class testifies to the “white” soldiers walked out and dropped their munitions.  There was no resistance.

There were three keys to this event which you should know in at least their basic form.  Failure of a major offensive in WWI, failure of the Provisional Government (PG) to hold an election, and the Kornilov affair, which you should know in the basic terms that Pipes lays down here.

Pipes makes a curious statement here that one, despite Lenin’s fears, cannot “betray” a revolution.  I think what he means here is that whereas there maybe be treasonous persons like a Benedict Arnold, a true revolution from below will have such power as to make their betrayal if not meaningless, than a mere bump in the road.

* a note on the image here.  I pulled it from another blog which noted it as the storming of the winter palace in the fall of 1917.  I noodled around a bit and found out there it is actually a still from Eisenstein’s 1926 film “October” and that the film sequence was actually modeled after the 1920 reenactment in which Lenin actually took place, not on the event of 1917 which was “far less photogenic” according to Wikipedia.

Why did Tasrism fall?

Friday, October 5th, 2012

The shaking of the apple tree.  What does Pipes’ analogy remind you of?  What do you think of it?  The future is a mystery, the past is history…

Who is this man?  Google him.  What is his gig?  Tell us all you can about him (that is relevent) for your point.

Alternatively here are three quotes you might grapple with (or choose your own!)

Soviet and later (revisionist) Western history has seen the fall as inevitable, preordained, “driven by social conflicts”. (p.6)

 “…when the so called masses are discontented, they are inspired by specific grievances that are capable of  being satisfied within the existing system.  Only intellectuals have universal grievances…” (p.15)

The population was the object of state authority, a “mechanically rather than an organically structured state that denies the population any voice in government” (p.18)

Finally, what is his bit about the Nazis.  Do you buy it?  Do they see any anti-communism as pro-Nazism?

A Peace to End all Peace

Monday, October 1st, 2012

I can’t take credit for the pithy title of the blog post.  Its the title of a book subtitled , “The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Modern Middle East”, by David Fromkin.  The middle east of course changed a great deal as shown in the map below, and so of course, did Europe.

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 decades of Soviet hegemony.

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?