Archive for March, 2014

We can’t go on like this

Monday, March 24th, 2014

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 and transition from below

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

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 world. Is Syria going to turn out like Romania?  Is Ukraine 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

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

I don’t know about you but I can’t help but think or Crimea and Russia today while reading this.  Like Czechoslovakia Ukraine seems genuinely divided.  Though Czechoslovakia divided itself peacefully that doesn’t see to be the case in Ukraine.  Like Hungary the USSR feels the need to meddle with their decisions in regards to their own government.  Are we going to see Soviet tanks rolling down the streets of Kiev?  If we do will we respond the way we did in Hungary in 1956?  Will we just stand by?  In 1956 Hungary had been designated in the Soviet sphere by Yalta.  Whats our agreement with Ukraine in 2014?
On to the reading…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

Monday, March 17th, 2014

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.

Ambrose 14 Carter and Human Rights

Monday, March 10th, 2014


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 the same song you’ll here in 2016.  Anyoneone running as a congressperson, like Obama and HClinton were, will be accused of never having run a large organization, like the USG before, whereas Governors, like Romney, will be accused of having had no experience in USFP.  Governor Palin countered this traditional argument by saying as governor of Alaska she could actually see Russia. (well at least her character on SNL said it)

Back to Jimmy, 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 & Africa

Friday, March 7th, 2014

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 only by Clinton in ’92 (with the help of Ross Perot) who then faced the “Contract with America” defeat in ’94.

So Ambrose begins 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 advisers  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 ascendance 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 matter 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 and its Discontents

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


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?

Back to the comparison though.  If Civilization is replaced with Detente, well the Disconents for Freud are individuals.  Who are the Discontents with Detente?  Take a look at the image below and figure out who the little man tugging on Nixon is and I think you’ve got a start.

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 is Nixon shaking hands with?  look at the other details of the image and tell us what the cartoonist is trying to say.