Sunday, September 30, 2007

Required Reading(part 2,345)...

If you are interested in the current state of affairs in Putin's Russia, you need to take time to read David Remnick's portrait of Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess player of all time who now leads the organized opposition to the Putin "tsardom." It is a remarkable article on many counts--it's a life-and-times article, giving you a great idea of what has made Putin so popular there, and it also makes several very good points, e.g. how much mileage Putin has gotten worldwide out of portraying himself as morally superior to George W. Bush and the United States. This demonstrates remarkable chutzpah, coming from a former KGB-torture-central man, but it's harder to refute him now in view of Guantanamo and the "unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country," a.k.a. the Iraq war.

For those who don't know Remnick, he also authored the best book about the Gorbachev era and the end of the Soviet Union: "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire." Both the current article and the book are REQUIRED reading for people who want to be au courant, in the know, sparkling at cocktail parties, etc., so go get both of them. You have the link to the article above. And this is the CORRECT link, rather than the one to which i originally directed you earlier today.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cold War Culture: Sputnik 'n us

This week, we will be observing the 50th anniversary of the sensational launch of Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the earth. Because the Soviet Union accomplished this feat, and we didn't, it had all kinds of interesting effects...not least of which was its invasion of American popular culture in the l960s. Why, it gave you the priceless family associated with "Their Boy, Elroy," and Doctor Smith and the arm-waving robot of Lost in Space, and a lot more. Read this nifty essay here. "Danger, Doctor Smith! Danger!"

Thursday, September 27, 2007

466 midterm...

Here is the midterm for Cold War...the questions aren't hard, I had no trouble with them whatsoever. Some of the material you will use for this is yet to come, so no need to panic.

History 466
Cold War
Midterm exam…for October 11, 2007

Directions Part I(60%): Prepare the following questions, taking care to support your answers with specific names, facts, dates, etc. On test day, you will answer ONE, but you do not know WHICH one, so prepare them all(unless you are clairvoyant)

A)In the Ken Burns documentary “The War,” viewers learn about the titanic struggle between the US, Great Britain and the USSR on the one hand and Germany, Italy and Japan on the other in World War II. Victory was a team effort, requiring a common strategy, coordination and millions of casualties. How did it happen that this “marriage” ended in divorce, with victorious allies becaming bitter enemies, glowering at each other across barbed-wire borders, just a couple of years after that happy meeting in Berlin? In other words, how did we get a nasty, antagonistic Cold War after the successful conclusion of the Hot War?

B)We have looked at both the American and the Soviet point of view about the disagreements attending the end of World War II. In this essay, put yourself in the shoes(well, maybe “position,” Soviet shoes weren’t that comfortable)of a Soviet citizen circa l945 and explain why you believe your leader, Stalin, took absolutely the right course of action in the latter stages of World War II and the immediate postwar.

C) When it became evident that Stalin and the USSR had designs on territories beyond those they had liberated in the war, how did the United States respond? Describe the strategy President Truman and his aides fashioned to counter this threat.

Part II: Identifications(40%). Identify, discuss briefly and give the significance of the following. You will do FOUR of FIVE on test day(I get to pick the five): Atlantic Charter, Nazi-Soviet Pact l939, Stalingrad, “second front,” Potsdam and Yalta conferences, Poland, Berlin, “Iron Curtain,” “Long telegram.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A great companion

If you've been watching the Burns series, you should absolutely go have a look at links the PBS site has listed for the study of World War II. From individual memoirs to heavyweight document collections, there's something for every armchair internet researcher or student of the second war to end all wars...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Postcards from the(Russian)empire

I had forgotten to mention this earlier, but anyone with an interest in St. Petersburg should visit the Russian National Library website and browse their online collection of old postcards and sketches of the second Russian capital. If you like what you see, email them and say so--we could use more exhibits like this one of materials basically unavailable here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Read the following and take a guess about the identity of the subject: who IS this controversial individual?

Julie Kavanagh's biography is about a man who danced like a god, but behaved like a violent, voracious beast. ________ was fond of portraying himself as a barbarian invader, a Tatar who relished the savagery of the Polovtsian dances in Borodin's Prince Igor. He disliked Jews, he explained, because he was an ersatz Arab. Further back, he claimed to be descended from wolves. John Huston wanted to cast him as the snake, the 'homo-reptile' that introduces sin to Eden, in his film The Bible; Francois Truffaut called him a 'man-animal', a wild child who resisted socialisation.

But despite his feral tantrums, interspersed with indiscriminate spending sprees and a sex life that was like a gabbling multiplication game, __________ emerges from this affectionate, acutely perceptive book as someone whose nonsense and neuroses had to be tolerated because his conflicts fed his creativity. Long after ________'s leaps, twirls and feats of athletic transcendence have faded in the memories of those who witnessed them, Kavanagh's achievement is to persuade us that he deserves our compassion as well as our applause.

No cheating, now...give it the old college try!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

REAL Must See T.V.

I'd like to urge everyone to set aside time for(or set your vcr/dvd to record)Ken Burns' documentary on World War II, entitled simply "The War." It was such a huge event with such far-reaching consequences, virtually everyone of a certain age knows WHAT war--it was the defining event of the last century. It's set to begin this coming week on your local PBS station...if you're reading this in the great Mid-Columbia, you can check times and see previews here.

It's one of those required viewings...

Monday, September 10, 2007


Tuesday is the 6th anniversary of the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Six years later, I am still so sad for all the innocents who lost their lives after walking out of their dwellings and going to their jobs. I still can't fathom people who hate people they don't know more than they love themselves and their own lives, even though we see these kinds of people throughout history. I remain stupefied by that degree of animus.

I think, though, that life practically commands us to make something of this catastrophe, to do something to make it somehow less appalling, to repair some of the damage it did to the world. Since I can't change the world, only myself and my immediate milieu, all I can do is try to draw some lessons to apply to my own life. I'm not anywhere near as eloquent as Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, but he came close to expressing what I "made" of the tragedy. These remarks come from the transcript of the PBS documentary "New York: the Center of the World," the last in the epic documentary history of New York done by Ken Burns:

" Teilhard de Chardin, great French Jesuit paleontologist and a philosopher, said that one of the tricks in life is to convert everything into good. He makes the reference of the stone. You're a sculptor and you have a stone, and the stone has a scar in it. And well, all right, so now you have to -- sculpt around that scar and you've got to use that scar to make it part of whatever it is you're going to produce that's beautiful, and work with what you have. Play it as it lies. (You know.) So whatever the circumstance, (you know) use it for good purpose. 9/11, how can you possibly use it for good purpose? You think about it. You'd think, as was suggested before, you'd think about: Look, what this reminds you of is the importance of your own life, and making the most of it, because you can lose it in a flash. And if that's all you learned from 9/11, that's all you remembered, that: My God, you could extinguish life so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and it could happen to me, and therefore I should think harder about the way I spend my life instead of just wasting it. Now, it's not going to teach you what to do with your life, but it will teach you to do with your life, and to do it more and quicker and better. And that can be extremely valuable. I -- It's had that effect on me."

I hope everyone, today and every day, will remember to "carpe diem"...those who died six years ago in the blink of an eye never suspected their lives would end in a matter of minutes.

What lessons have you drawn from 9/11?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

466 summary

For the terminally confused, or those a little bit unsure of the course of events between l9l8-l939, here is summary #1 for Cold War:

In these introductory sessions, we have tried to establish that the Cold War actually began a long time before l945. In l9l7, President Woodrow Wilson took the United States into World War I, declaring his intention not just to bring peace, but to “make the world safe for democracy.” That was a very ambitious plan. The same year, in October, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik(Communist) party seized power in Russia, announcing their own grand scheme: to bring to the world a socialist revolution, in which landowners, factory owners and rich people of all stripes would be deposed in favor of peasants and workers and the dispossessed of the earth. The Bolshevik vision was hostile to Wilson’s, in that the bedrocks of “democracy,” as Wilson understood it—free markets, private property, etc.—precluded a lot of what the Bolsheviks wanted, e.g. deposing all wealthy people and creating a world in which no one had an excess of money or resources.

These two visions came into direct conflict in l9l8-l9l9. First, the Bolsheviks appeared to be realizing their objective of bringing revolution to the world with brief successes in Hungary and Germany. These revolutions were short-lived and ultimately brutally crushed, but they frightened the leaders and citizenry of the two countries. Then, the American and British decided to send an intervention force to north Russia. The official reason was to guard ammunition stores sent by the American and British governments to the previous Tsarist government during the war. Unofficially, it was hoped that the appearance of the troops would strike fear into the hearts of the Bolsheviks, and/or that the troops would be able to engage the Bolsheviks and defeat them militarily. After the Bolshevik demise, in theory, there would emerge an acceptable non-Communist government. The intervention failed to dislodge the Bolsheviks, and the intervention troops returned home. But the Soviet Union and its citizens never forgot about it and viewed it as a hostile act, an attempt to destroy their revolution and their new society. Because of this, a lot of scholars say the Cold War began with the north Russian intervention of l9l8.

After l9l8, the active hostility between the two nations waned. The Soviets had a tremendous challenge in establishing their regime, dealing with the consequences of the civil war that followed the revolution, trying to teach a largely illiterate citizenry to read and attempting to decide who would lead them—Vladimir Lenin, the leader, died in l924 and there was no clear successor. Officially, the leadership still believed in bringing the revolution to the entire world, but most people knew this would be impossible for a long while. In the United States, there was widespread disillusionment with foreign affairs, since the World War had ended so badly and President Wilson’s campaign on behalf of the League of Nations and the Versailles peace treaty had failed. Neither nation engaged much with the other.

In the late l920s and l930s, relations improved somewhat. The United States experienced the stock market crash and quickly became mired in a terrible economic depression. At the same time, the new Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, launched a crash industrialization drive in the Soviet Union, which was draconian, even cruel in its intensity and scope, but which did achieve tangible results, at least at first. Some Americans went to the Soviet Union to work on the industrial campaign and were impressed with the enthusiasm and zeal; others read a lot about the USSR and concluded that it represented the future, since capitalism appeared to be dead. For their part, the Soviets often talked of their industrial plant as being a “second America,” and they modeled several of their industrial enterprises after industrial cities in the U.S., e.g. Gary, Indiana and Pittsburgh, Pa.
Hint: this cordial period was short-lived, ending on August 23, 1939, when the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. More to follow...