Sunday, May 30, 2010
For a while, Chambers wrote for William F. Buckley's National Review magazine, and while there (in 1957) wrote an extremely negative review of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which is available online (Big Sister is Watching You by Whittaker Chambers -- It was at http://old.nationalreview.com/flashback/flashback200501050715.asp but that link has been removed and the "New" NR-ers are doing their best to explain/refute Chanbers). Rand's books have become extremely popular in the last few years, and much of what Chambers says about Atlas Shrugged would apply to quite a lot of today's political writting and commentary.
He described the book as "The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. ... Both sides of it are caricatures". The Children of Darkness at least "are caricatures of something identifiable. Their architypes are Left-Liberals, New Dealers, Welfare Statists, One Worlders or, at any rate such ogreish semblances of these as may stalk th4e nightmares of those who think little about people as people, but tend to think a great deal in labels and effigies. ... In Atlas Shrugged, all this debased inhuman riffraff is lumped as "looters." ... "Looters" loot because they believe in Robin Hood, and have got a lot of other people believing in him, too. Robin Hood is the author's image of absolute evil — robbing the strong (and hence good) to give to the weak (and hence no good). All "looters" are base, envious, twisted, malignant minds, motivated wholly by greed for power, combined with the lust of the weak to tear down the strong, out of a deepseated hatred of life and secret longing for destruction and death. There happens to be a tiny (repeat: tiny) seed of truth in this. The full clinical diagnosis can be read in the pages of Friedrich Nietzsche. (Here I must break in with an aside. Miss Rand acknowledges a grudging debt to one, and only one, earlier philosopher: Aristotle. I submit that she is indebted, and much more heavily, to Nietzsche. Just as her operatic businessmen are, in fact, Nietzschean supermen, so her ulcerous leftists are Nietzsche's "last men," both deformed in a way to sicken the fastidious recluse of Sils Maria [referring I think to Nietzsche]. And much else comes, consciously or not, from the same source.)
So the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash.
"When she calls "productive achievement" man's noblest activity," she means, almost exclusively, technological achievement, supervised by a managerial political bureau.... this can only head into a dictatorship, however benign, living and acting beyond good and evil, a law unto itself ... and feeling any restraint on itself as, in practice, criminal, and, in morals, vicious (as Miss Rand clearly feels it to be). Of course, Miss Rand nowhere calls for a dictatorship. I take her to be calling for an aristocracy of talents."
"Something of this implication is fixed in the book's dictatorial tone, which is much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked."
Chambers, whether generally admirable or not, was a fine writer who among other things translated the German book Bambi, which was made into a Walt Disney movie (probably not a good way to judge its literary merits). I read Witness, which seemed to me to criticize Communism largely for "Godlessness" and consequent hubris on behalf of the human race. It was a bestseller and book of the month club selection and I think an obvious subject for exploration of the development of major ways in which Communism was construed during the Cold War.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
It was also the final years of the Soviet dictator Stalin, who died March 5, 1953, a few months before the armistice, and between the Soviet failure to liberate the nations it traversed on its way to Germany, and this apparent united Communist empire over most of Europe and Asia, there was plenty of reason for the west to be alarmed. It would later transpire that China and Russia's still nationalist impulses, and distrust of eachother would not permit such a unified Communist empire, but if both nations had been true to Communism's "One World" pretensions, there would indeed have been such a Communist collosus. So some of the alarm, not for the first or last time, was due to a mistaken belief that Communists were totally driven by their ideology. Perhaps the communist footsoldier was, but at the highest levels, Communist leaders were much like other national leaders of a particularly unconstrained and brutal type, and between Mao and Stalin, and the later Kremlin leaders, neither was about to yield to the other, and over time they came to criticize eachothers actions and ideology.
At the end of WWII, Korea, which had been occupied by Japan since 1910, came under joint control by the U.S. and the USSR, with the US controlling territory below the 38th parallel and the USSR controlling territory to the north of that line, which bordered on the USSR (though it had a much longer border with China).
Many of the core leaders and soldiers of the North Korean army had fought alongside the highly effective Maoist army, and they showed themselves to be ready for action when the war commenced. The South seemed to have no such advantages of discipline and morale. The North and South Korean leaders, Kim Il-sung and Syngman Rhee both wished to unite Korea on their terms. It appears that Kim might well have succeeded had the Koreans been left to their own devices.
[to be continued]
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
In trying to make sense of the transformations of America that happenned in the early decades of the 1800s, I adopted a scheme of delaying the big picture, and looking at one tiny event, or person, or place at a time and trying to relate to that. An early taste of where that lead can be seen in Jacksonian Miscellanies - Highlights of First 24 Issues. At history conferences I used to attend, historians who drew very different conclusions about a subject listened to and learned from eachother. Sometimes there was heated debate, but respect was also present.
While I may have read a few dozen books related to the Cold War, there is very little about which I can give a coherent satisfactory explanation, whereas many Americans, having read a lot less, won't hesitate to sumarize the whole thing in 25 words or less. One of the problems is the way that belief systems and our (social) identity become almost impossible to separate. "I and other right-thinking people know that this: ... is how and why it happenned. Others, whose identity is often summed up in some pejoritive way, make this ridiculous claim: ...".
The email newsletter Jacksonian Miscellanies consisted of roughly chapter sized excerpts from real period documents, with maybe 20% context and interpretation added. My general approach was to try to surprise myself, shifting from time to time based on the question "What have I not been paying attention to?". When I was trying to get a handle on (printed) source material from the 1820s-1840s, it seemed, at least, finite. I felt like one of the blind men with the elephant at least, not like a blind ant crawling on an elephant, but with the Cold War I feel more like the ant, and what, anyway, are "original source materials" on the Cold War? I am trying to understand simultaneously both major happenings, like the Berlin Air Lift, or the Korean War, or the first visit to America by a Soviet leader, and major initiatives taken by various entities to tell us what it all meant at the time it was happenning, whether it was by ex-Communists like Whittaker Chambers, people in Eisenhower's or Kennedy's White House, the founder of the John Birch Society, or influential members of the "new left".
One surprise I have had already is that Catholics seemed to have had an unusually large part in the early days of the formation of anti-Communist views of the USSR. Also that even earlier, the alarm was sounded to a large part by left-leaning Europeans who might have been initially attracted to the USSR, but saw what was really going on there, and went around the world and across the U.S. trying to get us over our war propaganda inspired illusions about "Uncle Joe" Stalin. See Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927-1961 (Culture, Politics, and the Cold War)
I will mostly stick to one narrow subject at a time, so anyone following this blog will take a long time getting any idea of a "big picture". But for people willing to be exposed to surprising aspects of Cold War thought, even aspects you would have tended to stay away from out of repugnance for one point of view or another, I am hoping to provide something of interest. Hopefully, by focusing on undeniably influential (in one war or another) sources, even a "learning-on-the-job" historian can succeed to some extent, as I seemed to do with Jacksonian Miscellanies, which for a while made me pretty well known to scholars of the period, many of whom read it.
Monday, May 17, 2010
In the first World War, Russia suffered the loss of millions of soldiers, as did the nations to its west, but this was on top of still nearly medieval conditions. The new middle classes wanted to bring Russia into the modern world with some sort of constitutional democracy, while the poor in countryside and city suffered from increasingly disfunctional government, and involuntary soldiers starved or were blown up in the trenches.
The old regime fell apart in 1917 leaving proponents of landowner democracy, true democrats, and a few different flavors of socialist to try at first to cooperate somewhat. The followers of Marx were divided into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks
The different parties eventually descended into a Civil War which lasted several years, but Bolsheviks had effective rule of most of what was renamed the USSR by 1922-24. During the war, an extreme state of martial law was in effect, and the government unceremoniously took what it needed. Afterwards, this policy was seen by many as a necessary evil or war, and some sort of rules of society would have to be rebuilt. One thing that resulted was a loosening of the rule, and resumption of some of the old style of economic life, including a good deal of small to medium scale free trade. This was called the NEP or New Economic Policy.
Winston Churchill said of the Russian people and Lenin: "Their worst misfortune was his birth . . . their next worst his death." This occurred in 1924 due to multiple severe strokes. The Communist Party, at this point was the supreme force in the nation. There was, however, some degree of democracy within the party. Lenin was a harsh believer in the efficacy and rightness of violence for reshaping the world. He had, however, a vision of ultimately improving people's lives, which is not to say his plans would have worked, but he was not such an ideogue as to be totally out of touch with reality, and the actual results of current policies, and the NEP was a response to the realization that current policies were generating widespread misery and starvation.
What followed was 12-13 years of clawing for power, in which for the winning party (Stalin) at least, ideology was more of a tool than a guide. There was a sequence of two or three man executive coalitions of which Stalin tended to be the one constant. If another party was blocking Stalin's advancement, he was prone to shift his ideological position so as to oppose theirs, find new partners, demonize the other position, and do his best to permanently wreck his strongest rival's reputation, and drum them out of the party. His overall strongest rival, Trotsky, he managed to exile first to Siberia (at this point, at least in Trotsky's case, an exile to the middle of nowhere rather than an imprisonment in a "Gulag"), and after Siberia, he was put on a steamer and deposited in Turkey, from which he began wanderings that led him to Mexico.
Stalin's last position involved the "liquidation of the Kulaks" and mass collectivization, Kulaks being small property holders able to support themselves and maintain independence by raising and selling food. This was only after idological maneuvers in which Stalin leaned towards the NEP and some degree of reasonableness, and demonized those who wanted to proceed more quickly towards the Communist ideal. With them out of the way, having been forced to confess their ideological errors, he became the most extreme of the forced marchers and began to demonize and get rid of the moderates.
In 1928, Stalin began the forced collectivization which resulted in the starvation of millions in the countryside, coupled with the declaration of the first "Five Year Plan" for the building up of heavy industry, in which the USSR was still far behind the west.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
There's not much to thie post except this pointer:
What You Can Do About Khrushchev's Visit
in case you want to read what Freedom House advised Americans to do when Khrushchev visited the U.S. in 1959. There is a sort of awkward interface provided by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which lets you pan through the article with a virtual "magnifying glass". It was supposed to be half of an exchange of visits, however some developments increased US-USSR tensions between the U.S.
I was actually looking for, and am still looking for a copy of the full page (I think) ad by the Committee Against Summit Entanglements, a temporary sub-organization, perhaps "front" is a reasonable word, for the John Birch Society. It was one of their first significant acts. Some sources are saying that William F. Buckley was the "public face" of the Committee Against Summit Entanglements, although he would soon put some distance between himself and the JBS, after founder Robert Welch called Dwight Eisenhower a “conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy” and said the U.S. government was “under operational control of the Communist party.”
The JBS is, by the way, after decades in the political wildernes, a co-sponsor of the 2010 CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) -- see Article Provided by ABC News.
Speaking of ABC News, I'm somewhat confused -- do they have nothing to do with WABC (Radio) in New York, which is "all talk, all the time", and features Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Monica Crowley (who seemed, when I once listened to her, to never speak of the HR leader except as "Whorehouse Harry Reed", and never speak of the President as anything but "The Bama"). But the ABC News artical is titled "Far-Right John Birch Society 2010", and I see no evidence of "Liberal Baiting Merchandise" or other signs that their slant is at all like that of WABC Radio.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
I read The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour by Andrei Cherny initially because my mother said she'd read it or listened to it on tape and really enjoyed it, and I wanted to read something she'd read so we'd have something to talk about. I'm 58 years old and she's about 20 years older, so the events took place some time in her teens.
It narrates the story of the Berlin Air Lift, a key episode in the very early part of the Cold War. It is 1948. WWII had ended 3 years later with the the Western Allies, dominated by the U.S., and the Soviet Union rolling the Nazi empire up from both sides and meeting in the middle of Germany. Germany was divided into 4 sectors to be governed by the U.S., England, France, and the USSR, until such time as it seemed right to give sovereignty back to the Germans. The USSR having fought its way across eastern Europe occupied that whole area and it gradually became apparent they were going to hold onto it indefinitely. The line where the Western allies and the USSR met, crushing Germany was soon christened the "Iron Curtain" by Winston Churchill.
Although the line was to the West of Berlin, due to Berlin's special nature as the capital, it was itself "shared" 4 ways, like a microcosm of Germany itself. By 1948, the Western occupied parts of Germany were well on their way to becoming one new democratic nation. From the Western allies point of view, all four sectors should have been put back together, but that was not going to happen, so the 3 western sectors were on their way to becoming West Berlin, an island in the middle of East Germany, separated from the rest of West Germany by about 100 miles of East German territory.
Given the hostility that was developing between the U.S. and western Europe on the one side, and what would come to be known as the Warsaw Pact, on the other, to be antagonists in a "Cold War" for several decades, it would be a very peculiar situation to maintain this island, 100 miles inside of the Soviet Bloc, with more or less normal communications by train and/or automobile across that 100 miles of hostile territory, but until the summer of 1948 it continued that way, until the USSR decided to stop the trains running across Soviet occupied Germany, and surrounded Berlin with a Blockade of troops.
While roads and railroads could be made impassible by physical blockage, there were three agreed upon air corridors (the Potsdam agreement I believe), and planes cannot be stopped except by lethal force, which the Soviets feared could bring on a war with the U.S. with nuclear weaponry. The USSR did not have any nuclear weapons until its first demonstration around the end of the Berlin crisis (and it would take several years to amass any significant quantity of weapons, and until the 1960s for them to have adequate delivery systems to pose a real threat).
It was not at all obvious that a city of 2 million people could receive enough food, etc. to live on via the three air routes and existing airports (during the airlift a whole new air port and a major new landing strip would be built). The Soviets did obstruct the flying as much as they could with "accidental" close calls, one of which became a real crash, and various other ploys, but within a few months the air lift was working well, and it became a major embarrassment (while the USSR had a massive military, it also relied heavily on seduction and propaganda, whose effectiveness was damaged by an unending attempt to starve a city into submission). For this reason, the blockaid was after about a year, lifted, which is to say that the Soviets and newly constituted East Germans would for the remaining decades of the Cold War give overland access to West Germany across 100 miles of East Germany. It was a strange situation, and West Berlin was later completely walled in except for the explicitly allowed overland and air access, but it became part of a series of signals between the USSR and the US especially, of what they would and wouldn't do, what sort of provocations or embarrassments they would or wouldn't take, which became the currency of the Cold War.
The title The Candy Bombers is due to one airman who, all on his own, began to drop candy and gum in packets attached to miniature parachutes as his plain approached the runway. When it was discovered, he feared a Court Martial but became a hero instead (a not so very uncommon experience in the military).
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Jefferson apparently earned some instant fame (among the delegats and their retinues) at a summit with the USSR in Switzerland not long after Stalin's death. Dulles' car had somehow vanished (it later appeared that KGB officers seem to have gotten the driver drunk), and Jefferson commandeered Harold Stassen's car to pick up Dulles (he did offer Stassen a ride). It made quite an impression with the following result which I'll quote from the book.
"When the Soviets arrived ... I was standing with all the other gawkers in a hallway. Les Russes put on quite a show . . as they marched in two by two ... I found them quite entertaining and watched them whenever I could. When they arrived at my vantage point, Khrushchev stopped, and they all followed suit. There was wonder, and fear, on their faces. Something must be wrong. To stop was not in the accepted pattern. They stood like statues, but Khrushchev waddled over to me, laughing (one observer described his laugh as sounding like "a horse having an orgasm") and shouting in Russian. He started to punch me lightly in the stomach. The Punches came in harder. Then, he pinched my cheek. His protruding stomach backed me close into the wall, and the rest of the Russians surrounded me, pointing, clucking, laughing, wagging their heads. Then, very suddenly, Khrushchev turned serious and did an about face, and they all turned serious and did an about face and continued their march down the hall."
"When I asked a Russian-speaking Swiss detective what Khrushchev had been shouting at me, he said, "The Party Secretary was telling you that he was happy that the, uh, 'unpredictable' er, uh Mr. Dulles had not shot you for losing his car."
"Shot me, or had me shot?" I asked.
The Swiss detective thought a moment. "He seemed to believe that Mr. Dulles might, shall we say, have personally ... shot you."
Long range goals in U.S. relations with Russia should focus on making Russia part of the web of trade with the more stable and especially democratic countries of the world. At present, I believe Russia's export capacity consists of (1) petroleum, (2) weapons, and (3) ability to build nuclear facilities. The latter two tend to bind Russia to the more dangerous countries of the world, while petroleum, whose value may soar again, requires little in the way of an educated middle class work force [which I think is the most powerful factor in at least making a nation inclined to be stable] to keep money flowing in. Very likely the best way to diminish the power of potentially dangerous Russian elites (and the same for Islamic countries) is to hold down the cost of oil, and the best way to do that is the course we are on now, mostly in the name of "greenness" or reducing global warming. Oil is not unlike the "monoculture" of tobacco and later cotton in early American history. It can support a small elite with an economy mostly based on trading with other parts of the world without requiring a well educated general populace with some ability to think for themselves, as is required by a more balanced and diverse (and more intramural) economy.
The missile shields once promised to Poland and (the Czech Republic?) may have had psychological significance to those countries, but my most immediate reactions are that (1) I don't see under what scenario the missle shields could be useful - esp. against Russia, and (2) the whole project rests on an obvious and continued lie -- i.e. that their purpose had nothing to do with Russia.
If Russia were to attack Poland or the Czech Republic with nuclear weapons, they would, missile shield or no missile shield, risk severe retaliation from the West (and maybe even China which for now is a big beneficiary of a peaceful and stable world). Russia also might well receive a comparable amount of fallout as the countries attacked - Russia is downwind after all. And what could they get from it? A radioactive desert to occupy? The use of non-nuclear missiles would, I think not be that effective - such weapons serve better as terrorist tools than strategic weapons (why?). What they could accomplish by any sort of aggression is also very hard to see. Some might say Russia occupied half of non-Russian Europe before, so why couldn't it happen again? Well, they only did it in a nothing-to-lose state of affairs. The retreating Germans left a vacuum for them to flow into, and the wrecks of nations with no government or weapons. Poles and Czechs may have a very understandable visceral fear of Russia, given history, including how many of them could say their grandmother was raped by a Russian soldier. But the missile shield would not be effective against any plausible action by the Russia of today or any future Russia unless it were to be ruled by insane religious fanatics or insane Pol Pot style Communists.
I believe Russia has to have lost a huge amount of ground technologically. I would like to see some statistics on university education. And with probably steeper drop off in general production of technological goods, they have probably lost more in experience than in education (but I would welcome any correction from knowlegable sources). And as long as Russia does not use nuclear weapons they can be pretty confident nuclear weapons won't be used against them. So I think we have much more reason to fear nuclear weapons that escape Russia's control then we have to fear Russia using them. Russian military might seems to be reduced to the ability to fight small wars of the sort that help keep regimes in power by rallying patriotism, and the ability to blow up much of the world -- the latter only useful for blackmail if one convinces the world that one puts no value on ones own life.
It appears to me the "missile shield" was little more than a pointless provocation, following on over two decades of pointless provocations and humilations of Russia going back to a time, in the last few years of the USSR, when their top leadership was energetically trying to rejoin the world of sane peaceful nations. Despite what I see as its uselessness, it was something the leadership could use to frighten the Russian population, which could tend to commit both leadership and population to continued hostility to the West and esp. the U.S. I suspect Obama needs to back off from quite a few such pointless provocations before we can begin to establish a new set of lines not to be crossed by Russia or other nations.