Archive for January, 2014

Kennedy & the New Frontiers

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Not the “New Frontier” they intended.  JFK was no dove.  He was no peacenik.  The legacy of his administration is greatly muddled in the public mind I think, by his tragic assassination.  It was JFK and “Mac” the knife, who ushered in “the greatest arms race in history” according t o Ambrose.

Really?  The nuclear weapons race between the USSR and the USA?  It wasn’t the Republicans?  It wasn’t Nixon or Reagan, or affable old Ike?  Nope.  Not according to Ambrose.  The arms race, which produced the ability to destroy our world many times over, though maybe exacerbated by Nixon and Reagan, started with Kennedy.

“13 days” is a great film about the Cuban Missile Crisis that I used to show my tenth graders.  Well worth watching and good extra credit for this unit.  Get a handle on JFK and his administration’s stance vis-a-vis Cuba and you’re in the hunt for a solid quiz score.


Entry into the Morass

Monday, January 27th, 2014


Eisenhower meets Diem.  Diem will be deposed in a US condoned coup in 1963 and assassinated.  Upon hearing of the assassaination JFK was said to have turned ashen and left the room.  He himself would be assassinated just weeks later.  After the coup ATK the US has no viable way out of South Vietnam.  So how did we get there in the first place?

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.


Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

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.

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 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 ATK

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

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: The Suez Crisis

Thursday, January 16th, 2014


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 interview with Obama on US foreign policy from 2012.  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, Time Magazine’s expert on international relations and author of several books including “The Post-American World”, as an “excellent” president in international terms.  Interesting to compare that to the “unrelieved failure” quote from Ambrose.

Time interview with Obama

Negotiating with the communists

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

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.


From Hungary to Suez + an IA rant

Friday, January 10th, 2014


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.

Now… on to your IAs.  Learn to cite stuff people!  Learn to do it right!

So far (a third of the way in) I’ve seen only one paper well cited. It has over 30 footnotes.  ALL of your papers should have over 30 footnotes or paranthetical citations.

Evaluation of Sources

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.

Eisenhower vis a vis Ambrose

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

“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!