Archive for January, 2013

Entry into the Morass Chapter 25 (we skipped 24!)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013


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 (skip chap 24 next time!)

Monday, January 28th, 2013

In 2011 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.

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!

Hungary: upheavel in the empire

Thursday, January 24th, 2013


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.


Eisenhower, Dulles and the Irreconciliable conflict

Friday, January 11th, 2013

“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 are 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!

Evaluation of Sources

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Part C – Evaluation of Sources

John Lewis Gaddis’ “We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War history”, is the latest in a series of books focused on the Cold War from this celebrated historian.  Previously the Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio University and now the Robert Lovett Professor of history at Yale, regularly called on by the likes of CNN for comentary, his credentials could hardly be better.  This particular book, published in 1997, took advantage of the opening of the Soviet Archives, shedding new light on many events, including the coup in Czechoslovakia, heretofor clouded in mystery.  That all said though professor Gaddis himself admits that he did not (unfortunately) “(slog) dutifully through the archives in Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Berlin, Budapest, Bejing, Hanoi and Havana…”(viii) but admits that he relied heavilly on the work and scholarship of others translating those sources.  What sources were left untranslated we will never know, but regardless his expertise judges that enough is here to be meaningful if not comprehensive.

OK gang thats one source.  Follow my lead.  Stop describing sources.  Stop telling me what is NOT in the source.  This section of the IA is not your oportunity to rant about how little you could find.  Avoid big blanket statements , “he is an American and therefor biased” that could be said with equal emptiness about any American author.  In fact I would encourage you to not use the word “bias” at all in part C.  Do like the above for two sources.  If you can’t, then find another source that you CAN more thouroughly evaluate

Deepening the Revolution

Monday, January 7th, 2013

“They ate the earth”.  One of the most troubling lines from the documentary.

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.

The Sino-Soviet split has traces going back to the 1920s.   Here you simply get a fine tuning of the point near the center of the circle and the mysteries of the cultural revolutiopn and death of Lin Biao are explored further.

Happy New year!

Remember to get your Rough Drafts in!