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Posts Tagged ‘history

Second thoughts about the morality of WW II and both sides

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Adam Kirsch is a senior editor with The New Republic. I recall reading his stuff before and remember that a lot of it was thought provoking. This review of WW II histories is no less thought provoking. The NY Times piece offers this set of seldom seen images of that horrible time that I brushed so close to in France during May and June 1940. Kirsch’s ending is most evocative for me:

After all, the present is always lived in ambiguity. To those who fought World War II, it was plain enough that Allied bombs were killing huge numbers of German civilians, that Churchill was fighting to preserve imperialism as well as democracy, and that the bulk of the dying in Europe was being done by the Red Army at the service of Stalin. It is only in retrospect that we begin to simplify experience into myth — because we need stories to live by, because we want to honor our ancestors and our country instead of doubting them. In this way, a necessary but terrible war is simplified into a “good war,” and we start to feel shy or guilty at any reminder of the moral compromises and outright betrayals that are inseparable from every combat. The best history writing reverses this process, restoring complexity to our sense of the past. Indeed, its most important lesson may be that the awareness of ambiguity must not lead to detachment and paralysis — or to pacifism and isolationism, as Nicholson Baker and Pat Buchanan would have it.

On the contrary, the more we learn about the history of World War II, the stronger the case becomes that it was the irresolution and military weakness of the democracies that allowed Nazi Germany to provoke a world war, with all the ensuing horrors and moral compromises that these recent books expose. The fact that we can still be instructed by the war, that we are still proud of our forefathers’ virtues and pained by their sufferings and sins, is the best proof that World War II is still living history — just as the Civil War is still alive, long after the last veteran was laid to rest.

My own Lilliputian view is that the world conflict known to us as WW II really began in Manchuria, now  a major part of northeast China, in September 1931. Generals of Japan’s Kwantung Army, which occupied parts  of southern Manchuria, decided for their own nationalistic reasons to undertake invasion and near war against China, which seemed a conquerable power at that time. It’s notable that Japan’s war in China lasted about 14 years and was followed by open civil war in China between the Kuomintang of Chiang-Kai-Shek and Mao’s Communist forces, which ended in October 1949.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2011/05/27 at 19:02

There is an interesting resto, coffeehouse and bar in Dalian

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It’s name is simply Havana and when you walk inside you find a treasure trove of Cubana artifacts, including a series of photos of Che Guevara including this one sitting and chatting with J-P Sartre and his dear friend Simone de Beauvoir:

When I first saw this photo I did a double take. I quickly wrote a note to be attached to the image which you can see in part on the left side of the image. The staff of Havana did not know anything about these intriguing people with Che. Oh, they knew about Che but not anything about the other two.

The owner of this cafe is a Chinese businessman who has a casa in Cuba, he tells me, and a chicken farm or farms there. This man has an intriguing name. He is Mr. Mao but in person he is a paragon of China-Cuba charm, although his English is dim so we tend to try to communicate with my dim Spanish until his niece, Helen, helps us out.

Two other photos in frames caught my eye:

And I’m sure you will agree that this headline is enough to catch anyone’s eye since it’s on the wall with the Che Guevara images. But this next one is also intriguing:

I’m sorry, I can’t seem to eliminate this upside down image, but I’m sure you will agree that this photo of a front page, even if upside down, is quite recognizable!

and then I found another candid image of Che:

And now one of those Cuban artifacts with a quite recognizable cigar, looking a bit weary and tattered but a cigar nonetheless:

All the photos were snapped by me on the walls of Cafe Havana, a really neat place since they serve cold Australian beer and coffee and pretty good eats! The cafe is one street away from a very busy Carrefour Supermarket and a building known as the Roosevelt! Now that has to be intriguing since it’s all near a Xi’an Lu (road) and Huanghe (Yellow) Lu.

Helen is a neat lady and her uncle is an authentic Chinese character since he even finances an amateur soccer team in soccer crazy Dalian.

I guess once you consider this post you’ll have a better idea why I find joy on the back streets of Dalian!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/11/12 at 13:26

An older person who is setting an example for me, I hope!

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She is the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and has a great look in her 90th year:

To me she looks so simply elegant and normal that I find posting about her after the KK cover is somehow right and resets the balance for my web site.  Needless to say I admire everything I hear and read about Debo,  her nickname. She is a truly cultured person who has done some extraordinary things in spite of being an aristocrat in a democratic age and carried it all off with deliberate charm and simplicity, or so I imagine it was. Her family connections extend to JFK so there has to be something special about her.

I will come back here and post more about my own feelings about taking her as an example for my own modest life.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/11/06 at 14:43

American exceptionalism challenged by a special American

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Former President Ronald Reagan and First Lady ...
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I have always liked what Michael Kingsley wrote and as he battles with his own health problems he continues to say meaningful things well! The last paragraph of his latest piece in Politico takes on the whole mythology of American exceptionalism propounded by Reagan et al and says it like it should be:

Every time I strike this note, which I guess I do a lot, I hear from people calling me elitist or unpatriotic. Here is my answer: If you think a friend is talking nonsense or behaving in a way that damages both of your long-term interests, it is not elitist to say so. To the contrary, it is treating him or her like an adult and an equal. As for patriotism, if you think your country is in danger, how is it unpatriotic to say so?

Read more:

Editors of Politico are to be congratulated for publishing real stuff and not just the usual right wing cant!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/11/02 at 13:36

The latest historian’s interpretation of Napoleon’s biggest defeat

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Kutuzov at the Fili conference decides to surr...
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It’s amazing that the invasion of Tsarist Russia in 1812 is the subject of another and quite different interpretation of the main causes that contributed to Napoleon’s crushing defeat after the burning of Moscow.

Here is an excerpt from that book – Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace by Dominic Lieven recently published by Viking Books:

Still, Lieven has a serious argument to make, and he makes it persuasively. “One key reason why Russia defeated Napoleon,” he writes, “was that her top leaders out-thought him.” As early as 1810, it became clear to the Tsar and his men that the fragile French-Russian alliance would soon collapse, and that Napoleon would invade. They understood that the French emperor would attempt to destroy the Russian army in series of quick major battles, so as to force the country into political subordination. In response, they planned for “a war exactly contrary to what the enemy wants,” to quote a key memorandum from 1812: namely a strategy of “deep retreat” to exhaust and deplete the French, followed by a full counter-attack that would bring Russia’s massive armies back into the heart of Europe, and ultimately (along with its allies) to the gates of Paris.

In 1812-1814, Lieven argues, the Russians followed this strategy, and with brilliant success. In doing so, they could count on several key resources, including superior cavalry (in some ways, Lieven nicely quips, the greatest Russian hero of the war was the horse), and the masses of serfs who were ruthlessly conscripted with little hope of seeing their homes again. In 1812-1814 alone, the Russian army conscripted some 650,000 men. Thanks to their status as semi-slaves, they were cheap, receiving pay equal to only 1/11th of what British soldiers received.

Finally, and in sharp distinction to Tolstoy and the Russian nationalist historians of the conflict, Lieven believes that the “aristocratic, dynastic and multi-ethnic” qualities of the Russian empire constituted a real strength as well. In particular, he highlights the effective cooperation of the nobility and the tsar, and the key role played by military officers of foreign descent, especially Germans from the Baltic states such as his ancestor. (They made up 7 percent of all Russian generals.) While he gives due credit to Tolstoy’s idol Kutuzov, he reserves his greatest praise for the war minister and then supreme commander Mikhail Barclay de Tolly, the descendant of Baltic Germans and Scots.

Another interesting side of this book is that one of Lieven’s forebears was a general in the Russian military.

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The Internet, the resource that keeps on giving to me!

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The photograph shows children preparing for ev...
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How else could I find these words by Chomsky in a current issue of The Nation that offer a telling counterpoint to the  seemingly fascinating expat experience of me and my parents in Barcelona before, during and after the Spanish Civil War:

Among the most memorable of these materials is a collection of primary documents about collectivization, published in 1937 by the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist union that is celebrating its centenary this year. One contribution has resonated in my mind ever since, by peasants of the village of Membrilla. I would like to quote parts of it:

In [the] miserable huts [of Membrilla] live the poor inhabitants of a poor province; eight thousand people, but the streets are not paved, the town has no newspaper, no cinema, neither a café nor a library…. Food, clothing and tools were distributed equitably to the whole population. Money was abolished, work collectivized, all goods passed to the community, consumption was socialized. It was, however, not a socialization of wealth but of poverty…. The whole population lived as in a large family; functionaries, delegates, the secretary of the syndicates, the members of the municipal council, all elected, acted as heads of a family. But they were controlled, because special privilege or corruption would not be tolerated. Membrilla is perhaps the poorest village of Spain, but it is the most just.

These words, by some of the most impoverished peasants in the country, capture with rare eloquence the achievements and promise of the anarchist revolution. The achievements did not, of course, spring up from nothing. They were the outcome of many decades of struggle, experiment, brutal repression – and learning. The concept of how a just society should be organized was in the minds of the population when the opportunity arose. The experiment in creating a world of freedom and justice was crushed all too soon by the combined forces of fascism, Stalinism and liberal democracy. Global power centers understood very well that they must unite to destroy this dangerous threat to subordination and discipline before turning to the secondary task of dividing up the spoils.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/05/10 at 11:54

Historical post-mortems can be fascinating “what ifs”!

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt with Ruthie Bie
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From Slate:

Roosevelt’s Last Days

Did cancer kill FDR?

By Barron H. Lerner – Posted Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009, at 12:20 PM ET

Is it conceivable that Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s doctors knew he had widespread cancer in 1944 and still let him run for his fourth term as president? New research makes this astounding argument—and claims that the physician who supposedly told the truth about Roosevelt’s death in 1970 was in fact continuing the deception he had helped create.

What if indeed! Some humdinger of a historical What If?

Do you subcribe to history as a long playing out of cultural factors, or histoire de la longue durée? Or do you think that Great Men are what history must be about?

Certainly this “historical what if” does seem to underline the importance of Great Men in the development of a country’s history!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/11/29 at 08:27