Archive for February, 2015

The Extrication – Kissinger 27

Friday, February 27th, 2015


I have never read or heard this anywhere but it is the impression I have always had about this book.  I think it was written for the sole purpose of this chapter.  This chapter would not have worked as an Op-Ed piece or any other stand alone article. Kissinger needed to put his actions and decisions in context.  The context he chose, of Richelieu, Bismark, Wilson and the rest (remember TOK) colors the way this chapter reads in a way that it would not have as a stand alone piece.

Kissinger is wise here to admit his views are necessarily affected by his role in the events.  He paints a dark and depressing mural of events and leaves us with three “lessons” that seem to mimic the “Powell Doctrine”.

So the question is at hand.  Did Kissinger and Nixon achieve the best possible outcome given the situation, or, as Hitchens argues in his “Trials of Henry Kissinger”, did they behave like war criminals?  Putting on your TOK hats try to give some credibility to each side.

Also too look at substantial differences with Ambrose. Remember what Ambrose said about the war protesters?  What does Kissinger say?  Does Ambrose suggest they got in 68 what they could have gotten in 74?  What would Kissinger say in his defense?

Ambrose 12 – Peace is at hand

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015


Is that really the Quote?  I swear I saw that in Ambrose this time but I can’t imagine HK uttering a phrase he would know to be so closely associated with appeasement and Chamberlain and WWII.  Maybe it was some kind of code.

But here he is, a “brilliant”, “megalomaniac”, whose self-confidence knew no bounds.    What else can you make of A&B’s assessment of HK?  Was he a war criminal?



Was he just a doddering old man?

and how was his, and Nixon’s, foreign policy?


Ambrose 11 – Vietnam: Paying the cost of containment

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Vietnam afghan cartoon iraq vietnam bush

The above cartoons illustrate how important it is not just to study history, but to study history carefully.  For those persons ignorant of history (not you) they are at sea without a rudder to steer, but for the casual student of history that “knows” a few “facts” the lessons drawn can have the most tragic consequences. How we know the past and how we know what lessons to learn is not just the stuff of TOK but the stuff of real life.  The past is our only context for threats from ISIS or ISIL or North Korea or from our own law enforcement agencies or from new technologies like private drones creeping over your air space.  Study the past, but study it carefully.

So look carefully here at Ambrose.  How does he compare LBJ’s policies in Vietnam to JFK’s?  About the same right?  Now compare that to what you are going to hear from Robert MacNamara in our wonderful film, the fog of war.  Mac will say JFK was planning on pulling out.  In the film we will hear the voice of LBJ criticizing Mac and the late president for talking about pulling out.

So who is right?  Can both be right?  What does it matter my careful students of history?

What a sad chapter.  The “tragic” figure of LBJ who had done “more for black Americans than any president since Lincoln found himself accused of fighting a racist war with racist methods”.  How had this all come about?  What was the genesis of the debacle, the quagmire of Vietnam that, I would argue has had more to do with our current debates (see cartoons above) than almost any other episode in history?

The Gulf of Tonkin.  Other historians note that LBJ really didn’t want it to happen in 8/64, three months away from the election, as he had promised to keep American boys at home.  Others, Ambrose here, say he “seized the opportunity” to show he was “tough on communism” especially in the face of his opponent, and unnamed target of the daisy ad, Barry Goldwater, who was threatening to use nukes to end the war. Ambrose also argues that there were no voices of dissent in the view to bomb and increase pressure, but gradually.  George Ball is an interesting exception to that that Ambrose and Brinkley don’t bring up.

What they do bring up, counterinsurgency, the “fuzzy legal situation” of “South Vietnam”  Diem’s relationship with his people pictured here;

which Ambrose and Brinkley argue resulted in no reevaluation of policy on behalf of JFK, though they are not without serious opponents of that position (McNamara as we shall see in Fog of war), the “strategic hamlets” , the “best and the brightest“  and comparisons to events in the Dominican Republic and concurrent events in Middle East are all just the beginning of the convoluted story of the US war in Vietnam.

Its a sad chapter.

GOTT 7 – Inside the Soviet Camp

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015


So now we have stretched into the 1980s.  Ronal REagan has been mentioned, your buddy HK in his role as Secretary of State, Jimmy Cater, Gerald Ford and a host of African names as well as Salvadore Allende (pictured) in Chile.

So the million dollar question here is why does Gott claim Castro adhered to the Soviet line.  Why does he not strike a more independent line like Tito?  But then Castro does send troops to Angola and to Eritrea.  Is that not independent?  Yes he does stand with the USSR in Prague Spring, yes he does stand with them again in his invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but he does some things his own way.

The 10 million ton harvest is a huge embarrassment.  One might liken it to China’s Great Leap Forward but without the famine.  Castro needs a new plan and a new team and stands by the aging Soviet leader Brezhnev which the Cubans remember fondly as in those years their economy is growing at a comparatively good place.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez shows up here.  Do you still read 100 years of Solitude?  Why was he here?

gott 6 – the revolution in power

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

article-2208342-153462F5000005DC-634_634x354 crisis cuba-blockade-headlines

I don’t know about you but Gott’s treatment of the CMC is a bit odd.  He portrays Khrushchev and Kennedy as “level headed” as though the prospect of nuclear war wasn’t  “real” and the decision in the end was “simple”.  For all of his words there is no discussion of the two letters, of the “knots of war” and the joint chief’s recommendation for an airstrike is dismissed by MacNamara, not Tommy Thompson as in his own retelling, or Bobby Kennedy as in Ambrose.  Castro is well portrayed as being outside the loop and this of course will take him down other interesting paths but not without a “seductive” letter from Khrushchev trying to lure him back into the Soviet camp.

Don’t worry about all of the African names of countries and people or even the names associated with the revolutions in other Latin American countries like Peru and Nicaragua.  Just know that it becomes very important for Castro to give aid to revolutionaries throughout the “Third World”.

“Castro is the blackest man I know”.  Stockely Charmichael 1967.  Give that a little OPVL

The relationship between Cuba and Castro and the American civil rights movement and some of its more radical members who visit the island is super interesting to me.  What do you make of their interaction with one another?



Gott Chapter 5 – Castro’s revolution takes shape

Monday, February 9th, 2015


New Book.

New unit.

You have to look things up.

What is the signifigance of the above picture?  Yes that is who you think it is.

The July 26th movement?

Jose Marti?

the Granma?

Herbert Matthews?

Fangio? (kidding, but it is interesting)


the hotel in NYC?

Find all of those references in the reading and you should be set for the quiz!

What I find most interesting here is Gott’s perspective on the relationship between Fidel and communisim.  Hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and then there’s this.  Nixon’s car getting attacked.



Ambrose 10 – JFK and the New Frontier

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

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 to 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.

I don’t know if you noticed but there is TOK all over this chapter.  “The CIA had been wrong in predictin an uprising against Castro, but the prediction was exactly what Kennedy wanted to hear.”


Do you see a rabbit or a duck?  You can of course see both.  But if you have a certain paradigm, a certain way of seeing the world, you may only see ducks.  There are a variety of interpretations of what might have been going on in Cuba in 59-61 but JFK believed there was a liberal alternative to Castro in Cuba and so he saw it.  Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.

And then there’s the missiles in Cuba.  Doesn’t change balance of power at all yet it appeared to to the public and thus “such appearances contribute to reality.” Wow.  “The world came close to TOTAL destruction over a matter of PRESTIGE.” (emphasis added) ATA

Sleep well.