Archive for January, 2015

Kissinger 25 – Vietnam – Entry into the Morass

Friday, January 30th, 2015


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” which is also a movie you can watch on netflix) 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.

Kissinger 23 – crisis in Berlin

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015


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.

Kissinger 22 – Hungary – Upheaval in the Empire

Monday, January 26th, 2015


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?  Think about the hullaballoo over Obama and the coffee cup salute, or the Speaker of the house inviting the PM of Israel over.  When Khrushchev goes to Poland this is the reason he is not received 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 semblance 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 and 20 years before Crimea and Ukraine.

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. The agitation over Soviet rule in the east began in the 50s, was pushed down for much of the 60s, until 68, and rises again in 80, only to be “successful” in 89 and the early 90s.  The Russian attempt to seize control and power in Eastern Europe again I guess should come as little surprise.



Kissinger 21 – Leapfrogging Containment

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015


The above cartoon was certainly popular on your documents tests.  What does it mean?

The crises of 1956 weren’t all about civil rights.  But in the Civil rights movement in 1956 Autherine Lucy won a court challenge and was admitted to graduate school at the University of Alabama, but she was later suspended and expelled “for her own safety” but the mobs chanting “kill her, kill her” were not.  It took over 30 years for the university to admit it was wrong.  Wow.

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

Finally finally, Friday January 23rd is “National handwriting day”.  Extra credit (Jason, Kevin) for quizzes written neatly.

Kissinger 20 – Negotiating with the communists

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

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 the 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.

Ambrose 9 – Eisenhower pt II

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

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 (Ambrose does) 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.

Ambrose 8 – Eisenhower, Dulles and Irreconciliable Conflict

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015


“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.

Eisenhower and JF Dulles (say “dull -less”) call containment weak.  They promise liberation of enslaved masses.  What do they end up doing?  Nothing.  Containment prevails.  What they don’t do though is also very important IMHO.  They don’t get us into war. Three times we get to the “brink”.  In Korea, wher there is a war but Ike and Dulles push it to the  brink of nuclear war, in Vietnam, where we fail, and in China where Chiang is “unleahsed” (oh the images that brings up) the US gets right to edge of open conflict with China and/or the USSR in an attempt to get its way.  We “win” twice and lose once.  The loss though, will leave JFK and then LBJ with the quagmire of Vietnam that will go on to define a generation.

The promises of liberation, with curtailed military spending are a difficult mix.  One new way to play is the CIA.

I know its hard to think of the CIA as new, but it was.  Like its KGB counter-part much of the actions of the CIA remain top secret.  Because of our relative freedom of speech though (a freedom which here means freedom to access information) there are some things we do know.   We know the CIA helped overthrow popularly elected leaders in Iran, Guatamala, later and not as directly maybe, in Chile and also in Laos one of the three new states to emerge from the French colony of Indochina along with Cambodia and Vietnam.  The extent to which these actions were known by the American people at the time I do not know, but I do know the 1979 Iranian revolution and much anti-American sentiment stems directly from the CIA’s actions in 1953.

So Eisenhower succsfully flirts with but avoids nuclear war.  The “spirit of Geneva” leads in to his second term wher more internation crises will blow up and again he will avoid war.  The biggest crisis will face his successor, JFK in Cuba in 1962 and there we will get so close to the brink that frankly we are all very lucky the nukes didn’t fly.

See you tomorrow.


Deepening the revolution – Spence 21

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

american imperialism in vietnam 1963 peoples communes

These awesome images are from a website (Thanks Danny Widener!) called the “The Chairman Smiles”.  Its just great.  Posters from the USSR, from Castro’s Cuba and here from Mao’s China.  The image on the left is mentioned (or its subject) briefly in the chapter about American Imperialism. It was made in 1963 and was warning of the American presence in Vietnam and, like in Korea, how China had to help lest it become subject of an American invasion.  America of course had learned that lesson and never invaded the North in Vietnam.

The second image is titled “People’s communes are good” a sign Mao read aloud according to our film that was taken down and reported as the word of Mao and people’s communes sprang up overnight.  This was 1958 before the real excesses of the Great leap forward would be known.  20 million dead according to Spence, 30 million according to the film and 40 million according to this book;

great leap maos_great_famine  .

They were so hungry they ate the earth.

The Sino Soviet rift becomes a real thing here.

the Chinese Khrushchev


The title of this poster is “The Chinese Khrushchev”. The character in the lower left, Liu Shaoqi is literally being painted out of history and compared with the now hated Khrushchev who Mao labelled as a “revisionist”.

There is so much more here.  The “Cult of Mao”.  Do you remember criticism of Obama and his “Cult of personality”?  Some were comparing, do compare, Obama to Mao and Castro and Hitler and other single party leaders who have earned their loyalties to a careful crafting of their public image into a sort of hero who was above everything and everyone. The little red book is something you can google if you want to find some pithy Mao quotes.

The death of Lin Biao shook the peasants in a way  that the other deaths and purges didn’t.  I have hard Biao was upset about Mao’s opening to the west and Nixon which was secretly being planned around this time.  Regardless the complications of the cultural revolution left few untouched.



Spence 20 – Planning the New Society

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015


Figuring out who these two guys are (look at the guy’s smile on the right) would not help you go a long way into figuring out the significance of events here in Chapter 20, “Planning the New Society” but it will give you a chuckle.

Terms from the chapter are;

first five year plan        Tibet       John Foster Dulles

Vietminh                        Han Chinese                        PLA

100 Flowers movement

and there are more, like “Zhou Enlai” that I haven’t bothered to repeat.  stick to those seven terms, + repeats and you’re good for the quiz.

What is striking to me on the re-read of this chapter, is the extent to which China is swayed by international events that, I’m afraid, you haven’t read about yet.  Khrushchev’s speech in 1956 denouncing Stalin, and revolts in Poland and Hungary, also in 1956.  This all leads into what is often called the 100 flowers campaign, Mao’s desire to open up criticism from the intellectual community that remains in the PRC, much of which has its origins in the Nationalist party era or before.

You will have a question on your review that goes something like, “If we have criticism to our policies we are not afraid of them” or something like that from Mao.  Many students (unadvisedly) try to answer that entire question based up on the 100 flowers campaign.  Spence will come right out at the start of the next chapter and say the 100 flowers campaign was NOT a plot by Mao to reveal hidden rightists.  He honestly wanted some critics to stand up.  If that so, why did so many, like Ding Ling with her Stalin prize in hand, end up in permanent exile?