Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Lives of Others

With mid-terms behind me, I was able to watch The Lives of Others this weekend. Scary stuff. The fact that the Stasi could bug an entire apartment in 20 minutes is mind boggling. It's cool that the staunch Stasi guy developed a conscious in the end and that's all I'll say. Well done and so worth the Academy Award.

Now, if you want to see a prime example of French colonialism, check out The Battle of Algiers (yet another movie rec. for another class).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Just because...

I know there are so many of you out there who would like the words to the Russian National Anthem of the l9th century, "God Save the Tsar," here it is for you in Library of Congress-certified transliteration:

"Bo' zhe, tsaria' khrani',
sil'nyi, derzhav'nyi,
tsar' stvui na sla'vu, na sla'vu

Repeat the first verse, then

Tsar'stvui na stra'kh vragam',
Tsar' Prav' oslavnyi,
Bo'zhe tsaria', tsaria, khrani!

In the vernacular, that would be...

God, save the Tsar!
(keep him)strong and wise,
Let him rule for the glory of us all!

Rule to frighten our enemies,
O Orthodox Tsar!
God Save the Tsar.

If you want to hear the anthem with the words, go to Google and look for Russian National Anthems page, where you can also find the words and music to several versions of the old Soviet anthem.

Russian History exam...

As if on cue, the Russian History exam unveiled for your inspection: PLEASE NOTE THE CHANGE OF DATE!!!

History 462
Imperial Russia
Midterm exam—for Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Directions Part I(70%): Prepare scathingly brilliant answers to the following questions, using material gleaned from readings, lectures, videos and any outside reading /personal exploration you have done. You will do ONE of them on test day, but you don’t know WHICH one, so…. be prepared, as the Russians say.

Lindsey Hughes talks a lot in her biography of Peter the Great about “Peter’s People.” Write an essay in which you compile a composite sketch of a typical “Peter’s person.” How would you describe his or her world view, political views and personal characteristics? How did he or she differ from his/her predecessors before Peter’s reign?

It was not exactly a secret that Catherine II wished to be remembered as Peter the Great’s true successor. In what ways were the two rulers similar? Where did they differ? Make sure to limit your essay and illustrate it with specific points.

One of the great distinguishing characteristics of both Peter and Catherine was their focus, maybe even their obsession, with Things Western. Where do you see evidence of this in their respective reigns? Again, be careful to limit this to two or three points—people have written voluminous books on this.

Directions Part II(30%): Identify, discuss and GIVE THE SIGNIFICANCE of the following. You will be given a choice among some of these on test day:

Hermitage, “Bronze Horseman,” “I am a student and I seek teachers,” Sophia Alekseevna(Peter’s half sister), lst partition of Poland, “ Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, “ Smol’nyi Institute, Grand Embassy, neoclassicism, patronymic

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Question #1 prep

This question--#1—basically asks you why the US and Great Britain ended up enemies with Stalin's Russia just a year or two after the conclusion of a very successful alliance against Hitler.

To answer this, you have to establish first what happened in l9l7. In that year, Woodrow Wilson took the United States into world affairs with his stated intention of “making the world safe for democracy.” Watching from across the sea, Wilson thought the cause of the dreadful European war was a lack of democracy—people not having a choice in what kind of government they lived in. Wilson thought that if people had input into where they lived and could choose their leaders in elections, there wouldn’t be any more wars.
In that same year, Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Communists took power in Russia and advanced their own utopian vision of the postwar world. They wanted to bring socialist revolution to the peoples of the world. They promised an end to rich and poor, a guaranteed standard of living, justice for those who had had no justice…in exchange for life in a dictatorship, in which a small group of men would make all the decisions for everybody.
These visions were diametrically opposed to one another. The Wilsonian vision required self-determination and elections; the Communist vision aimed to establish a kind of worldwide dictatorship—a dictatorship for the working classes, but a dictatorship nonetheless.
In the l920s and 30s, the conflict between the two nations was less acute, as each nation focused on its domestic priorities. There was even some improvement in the l930s, as the USSR launched a drive for industrialization and appeared to be in much better shape than the US and the capitalist world. Diplomatic relations were established between the two nations in l933. But as World War II approached, Stalin opted for a non-aggression pact with Hitler, which shocked and appalled the US and Britain. It looked like a cynical move designed to advance the Communist revolution, or at least gain a lot of territory.

In the second part, you need to demonstrate what changed. So connect these dots:

USSR invaded by Hitler
The only viable strategy to defeat Hitler: Make him fight on two fronts.
Decision by Great Britain(and later US)to offer the hand of friendship to Stalin

Then consider what had NOT changed in the relationship, connecting these dots, or some of them anyway:

What both nations wanted from the war : Atlantic Charter vs. Stalin’s insistence on control of territories.
The conflict over when to launch the invasion of Europe
Stalin and the USSR coming as liberators, also conquerors.

In the third section, you need to show what happened when Hitler was defeated. Again, connect these dots:

Yalta and Potsdam conferences: conflict over what should happen in E. Europe
Stalin’s reaction to the atom bomb
The dueling speeches of l946 and the demonizing of one side by the other, and vice-versa.

Now sum it up: doesn’t it seem reasonable to say that the two sides had only Hitler in common? The disappearance of Hitler meant the end of commonality between the two sides. It was back to business as usual, i.e. serious and sharp conflict in world views.

Essential website

Everyone bogged down with question #1 on the Cold War exam(see below)should go forthwith to the website dedicated to the prehistory of the Cold War, entitled "Comrades." This is based on the CNN series entitled Cold War. You can find the episode script there, interviews with Geo. Kennan and British diplomat Frank Roberts and other interactive features. For that matter, you can find the same materials relating to the beginning of the Cold War...just review the episode guide and click accordingly.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Sputnik!

...not to be confused with "spudnik," our local delicacy...I'm happy to pay tribute to Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev and the l957 launch of the Sputnik satellite. It was a huge coup for the Soviet Union, and ultimately a huge plus for their opponents across the ocean. The U.S. was more than chagrined to be one-upped, so it did a lot of soul-searching and began pouring huge amounts of $$$ into science and area studies education. A couple of generations went to college and graduate school on money earmarked for the training of scientists and Russian linguists/historians/area studies people. It was really important, in other words, not to be outdone by the Soviet Union, and to know the Soviet Union. My grad advisers, Mr. and Mrs. Jelavich--the founders of East European studies in the United States--always reminded all their students to get down on their knees and thank the Lord for Lenin, Stalin and Sputnik. Without them, none of us would have a job!

For Soviet people, I think it's safe to say that was the next to last time they would feel hopeful about the future. Give him credit--Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev had the best of intentions towards them. He really wanted to deliver on all those promises of a better life, of the eventual withering away of the state in Communism. It was hard for him to do anything about a lot of the Soviet Union's problems, but he DID make it possible for a lot of people to live in their own apartments, and he DID give them a lot to shout about by pouring $$$ into high-profile, prestige items like space exploration. The entire Soviet Union rejoiced in Sputnik and they went gaga for Iurii Gagarin in l961. After that, i think it's safe to say the nation sank slowly into pessimism and lethargy(and alcoholism). They lost hope that their revolutionary state would ever raise their standard of living...

So I'll raise an imaginary glass to Nikita Sergeevich, his bluster and bragging, and Sputnik! They have made my life so much more interesting.

The illustration is from a booklet published in l961, "USA-USSR in figures." It purports to show the Soviet people taking off in a jet airplane in terms of their industrial output and living standards, while the Americans stand in slack-jawed disbelief. Oh well, I guess it made people feel better at the time.

Actual Good News(!)

There IS good news on the dismal world political landscape...if the Myanmar/Burma crisis tells us anything, it's that being tyrannical and repressive isn't nearly as easy as it used to be. In fact, it is just about impossible in the age of blogs, "pigeons" and the cell phone camera. So if you are planning on becoming a totalitarian ruler, a full-blown tyrant, fuhgeddaboutit, you'll have to find a more promising line of work. Too late for you!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Truman's March l947 speech

Harry S. Truman's speech of March l947, in which he asked Congress for $400 million to help defend Greece and Turkey against Communist aggression, is considered to be the foundation of the Truman Doctrine. Truman was at best a journeyman orator, so the delivery wasn't anything special, but the words mean a lot. Click here to read this milestone address.

The(Really)Long Telegram

If you want to read George Kennan's famous "Mr. X/Long Telegram/Sources of Soviet conduct" speech, you can access it here.

Monday, October 1, 2007

466 summary--the European World War II

Happy October! Happy Upcoming Sputnik anniversary!

Here is a summary of developments taking place in Cold War over the last couple of weeks:

We left off with Stalin and the Russians’ having allied with Nazi Germany, so as to be able to stay out of war, and(just incidentally, of course)pick up some key territories they had lost in the various peace settlements that ended World War I: the Baltic nations(Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), west Ukraine/Eastern Poland(depending on your point of view), and a swatch of disputed Romanian territory known as Bessarabia. Plus, the Soviet Union agreed to a series of raw material shipments to Germany, which fueled Hitler’s efforts in the blitzkrieg war against France and the low countries in l939-40.

This was on paper a great deal for both countries: Hitler bought off the Soviet Union for his invasion of Poland, and Stalin not only avoided war, he was able to reclaim lost lands for the Soviet Union. Moreover, when he got back his part of Poland, he was able to use the NKVD to kill off the Polish Home Guard, the most intelligent and accomplished men in Polish society—a big help, he thought, in making Poland a permanent part of the Soviet sphere of influence. But there were storm clouds on the horizon. Hitler’s agreement with Stalin was designed to buy Germany time to secure its rear—conquer all the countries that could cause him trouble if he moved farther east—and bring closer his dream of conquering part of the Soviet Union for the great German people, whom he believed to be crowded and shut into their current borders. When evidence began to emerge that Hitler would soon doublecross Stalin and invade Russia—diplomats leaving Moscow in droves, ships departing St. Petersburg, German infantry massing on the border—Stalin refused to take action. Hitler, he believed, would never do something so dastardly. The result was that the ensuing invasion on June 22, l941, caught the Soviet people completely unawares. Thousands died in the initial bombing raids, and nearly the entire Soviet air force was destroyed.

Needless to say, when the Soviet Union was attacked, Winston Churchill and Great Britain knew they would have to bring Stalin onto their team. If Hitler captured Russia, the entire world would be looking down the barrel of a big German gun, and the way to defeat Germany is to make it fight on two fronts. Therefore Churchill offered Stalin an alliance, and Stalin took it—when he recovered from his mini-meltdown just after the invasion took place. The United States still sat on the sidelines, but did offer Lend-Lease aid to Britain and the USSR: food, vehicles, war materiels, that sort of thing.

We all know the war eventually found the US on December 7, l941, with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Once the US declared war on Japan, a German ally, Hitler declared war on the US, which brought the US into the European as well as the Pacific war. Now the US, Great Britain and the USSR became a sort of grand alliance against Hitler. They were an unlikely threesome, in that their systems had been diametrically opposed to one another since l9l7, but all three faced mortal peril from Hitler. It was clear what the strategy had to be: the US and Britain would invade Europe from the west, chasing Nazi invaders back to Germany, and the Russians would do the same from the east. The two sides would rendezvous in Berlin for the final defeat of the Nazi regime.

Despite the evidence of shared purpose in the alliance, there were hints of trouble ahead. The US and Britain announced their war objectives—nearly identical to Woodrow Wilson’s l4 Points-- in the Atlantic Charter of l941. The focus was as usual: self-determination for all affected peoples, open borders, free trade, the traditional democratic/capitalist values. Stalin made no declarations, but he did hint at what he wanted from the war when he told a British diplomat sent to boost morale that he wanted “at a minimum, the territories won in the Nazi-Soviet pact.” We also know from Milovan Djilas that he intended to bring the Soviet system to all territories he liberated from Nazi rule.

At the very least, it was difficult to see how these two views of the postwar world would be reconciled.

The timing of the launch of the Allied invasion into Europe also caused trouble between the US and Britain and Stalin. Understandably, Stalin wanted a second front opened immediately, in order to take the pressure off the eastern front, where Russian troops faced the full strength of the Wehrmacht. When that did not happen, largely due to the US and Britain’s having been basically disarmed in the l920s and 30s, Stalin read it as the western powers’ desire for Russians to bleed themselves white, so that the Soviet Union could be invaded and toppled after the war. No explanations from the Allies succeeded in altering this view, despite their clear lack of preparedness for war, and it remains a hot issue for Russians even today.

When the Normandy invasion finally did come in June l944, the Russians were well on their way to Berlin. They had come nearly halfway across Poland and the other states bordering the Soviet Union. They came as liberators, in that they were the first to reach the death camps in Poland, but they also came as conquerors, bringing with them the basis for “friendly(that is, COMMUNIST)” governments in the states they liberated. When the three allied nations met at Yalta in February l945, there was disagreement about the status of Poland, and by extension all the other Soviet-liberated territories: Great Britain and France insisted that they be allowed to choose their leaders and their destiny; Stalin insisted on his right to impose “friendly” governments, since Russia had suffered invasion through these states twice in the 20th century. Eventually, the issue was dropped, because both sides realized Stalin would probably have his way there. His army was in full control of those territories, and at least Roosevelt still needed Stalin’s help in ending the war in the Pacific.

Thus, on VE Day—Victory in Europe Day—the allies were still united and euphoric in their triumph over Hitler and most powerful army ever, but the cracks in the united front were showing already. Those cracks would widen to become a chasm, approximating the physical and political differences between Soviet-liberated Europe and American/British-liberated Europe.