Category Archives: Political History

How History Repeats Itself

I apologize in advance for the blatantly political tone of this piece but I am flabbergasted by what I see happening on the eastern periphery of Europe and the anemic reaction to state on state aggression by the rest of the world.

I read this piece by Justin Logan from the Cato Institute this morning and was struck immediately on how similar in tone this piece is to the rhetoric of the pre-WWII America Firsters.  Is Estonia Worth a War?

I just ask myself are people so blind or so willing to seek peace at any cost that they will not stand up to tyranny until the cost of stopping it is orders of magnitude greater than if they had stood up for principle at the beginning?  The same kinds of arguments against involvement in WWII were made by isolationists in the US and appeasers abroad as Hitler’s Germany slowly re-armed and swallowed its neighbors in the years prior to WWII.

Largely the same process is in action in Russia today.  Whereas Germany felt slighted and unjustly treated after WWI modern Russia feels slighted and mistreated after the unsatisfactory (from their perspective) end to the Cold War.  It is interesting that roughly a generation passed between 1918 and 1939 and roughly a generation has passed between 1989 and 2014.  Russia was stripped of large swaths of territory in the wake of the fall of communism and Germany was stripped of territory, actually split into two separate blocks by the Danzig Corridor, in the wake of Versailles.  The German people felt they were not defeated, (hence the popularity of the stab in the back myth), while many Russians today feel that they were betrayed from within by Gorbachev and Co.  Hitler was an ideologue that fed on and amplified public perceptions of being unjustly handled by the Allies and Putin has done the same in Russia.  As Germany expanded it was only weakly opposed by the Allied powers and we are seeing the same sort of reaction in the West to Putin’s actions.

History seems to be repeating itself before our eyes as yet another European ideologue and dictator forges ahead towards war and an attempt to dominate its neighbors.  Is the West going to stand idly by and allow it to happen again until the cost of stopping it is immeasurably higher?  The stakes are higher this time around because Russia is a nuclear power.  The time to stop Putin and Russia is now and a serious demonstration of Western resolve would achieve without bloodshed what will costs thousands, if not millions of lives later on.

Has the West learned nothing from history other than that War is bad?  There are things worse than war, and if the Western leadership does not find their spine soon they will see what those things are.

 

WWII Animated Day-by-Day

Below is an animated map of the progress of WWII day by day from 1 September, 1939 to October, 1945 when the last major units of the Japanese military surrendered.  It provides a fascinating view of the way in which the fortunes of the went back and forth.

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Book Review: The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge by Werner Otto Müller-Hill is one of those rare books that come out of war.  A diary written by someone to satisfy themselves with no expectation that it will ever get published.  As such, it provides an almost unique view into the mind of the person writing it.  The vast majority of war memoirs are self-serving and written to make a point.  Diaries tend to be less so, and this one in particular as it was written for the specific purpose of allowing the author to vent his spleen of thoughts and opinions that he simply could not openly express in Nazi Germany without risking death or imprisonment. The book is 186 pages of text and covers the diary entries from March, 1944 to June, 1945.

What is striking about this diary is that it was written by somebody who was part of one of the vital aspects of the totalitarian regime that kept the Nazis in power, a military judge.  Müller-Hill is remarkable in that although he was a military judge, he was not a hanging judge as so many Nazi era judges were.  Indeed, he boasts in the diary that he never sentenced a man to death although he was pressured to do so.  He always managed to find a sentence that avoided the firing squad.

Werner Otto Müller-Hill had served Germany in World War I and was 54 years old when World War II started in 1939.  His age and experience color his observations throughout his diary and he constantly compares the Nazis to the Kaiser era.  This is interesting because he is someone with intimate knowledge of both eras.  He makes several predictions in his diary that turned out to be prescient.

However, the most striking thing that comes out when reading the diary is how Müller-Hill struggled to reconcile his role in the Nazi war machine with his own conscience.  What comes out is the internal debates of an ordinary man who knows he serves an inhuman regime but finds himself powerless to do anything to stop the destruction of the country and people he love.  He does what he can but knows that will never be enough.  This book is a step to putting to rest the myth of a Germany full of Nazis and goes far toward showing that some, if not most, Germans were opposed to the regime but unable to do anything because of the iron grip of the police apparatus the Nazis built.  If anything, the lesson to be learned from this diary and the Nazi era is not that Germans are evil but that if tyranny is not stopped early resistance can become almost impossible.  This diary represents the story of one person who could not fight openly yet still resisted the regime in whatever way they could.

The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge is compelling reading and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in World War II and the Nazi era in Germany.

neville-chamberlain

US Secretary of State Announces “Peace in our Time.”

Obama: Nuclear deal blocks Iran’s path to bomb In an ironic twist showing that the 60+ years since World War II have only fostered institutional amnesia the US and five other powers buckled and agreed to appease Iran in talks about its nuclear program.  Agreeing that sanctions will be eased in return for Iran behaving US Secretary of State John Kerry channeled former British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain by paraphrasing him and tweeting:

 I just wonder if he is going to wave a piece of paper around when he gets home too?

neville-chamberlainHas the world really forgotten that appeasing tyrannical regimes is a recipe for getting heartbroken and sore?  Why would any sane, rational person think for a minute that Iran would give up the nuclear program they have defended so fiercely over the past decade+ in return for access to less than $10 billion dollars of oil revenue?  My guess is that Iran already has enough fissile material for at least one but probably more bombs and thus it suits them to play nice right now in return for concessions.  Remember, Hitler agreed to only take the Sudetenland in September of 1938, because he was not quite ready for war.  But then he turned around and occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in spring 1939 and kicked off World War II less than a year later.

Should I be worried about being recalled to active duty to go fight in the next world war?

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Book Review: Operation Barbarossa: Nazi Germany’s War in the East by Christian Hartmann

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Operation Barbarossa: Nazi Germany’s War in the East, 1941-1945

is one of those rare books about WWII written by a German historian and translated into English.  That is not to say that there are not plenty of books in German about WWII and examining its myriad aspects, there are, it is just that most are never translated into English.  There is generally a flood of new WWII histories every year and almost of all of them are written by English speakers.  That lack of translation leaves most English speaker with a curiously one sided view of the war.  Much has been done to rectify the Anglo-centric view of victory in WWII over the past decade or so and this book is an important contribution to that effort.

The book is fairly short, at 166 pages of text with a chronology, further reading list, and index.  It is separated into nine chronological and thematic chapters.  There are a few large scale theater maps but no smaller scale maps as the book does not delve into operational or tactical movement.

The work opens by talking about the why of the invasion of Russia and the politics behind it.  There is no great operational or strategic discussion of the movement of the vast armies involved in the war in the East.  So if you are expecting a traditional battle history from this book prepare to be disappointed.  What the author offers instead is an explanation of why and how the war was fought and of the way in which it was fought.  This is no apologetic either. This book provides a very good summary of the good and bad on both sides and there was some.  Neither the Nazis nor the Soviets were monolithic despite what decades of WWII histories would have us believe.  In many ways Stalin’s Russia was just as, if not more, evil than Hitler’s Germany and that fact comes out clearly in this book.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about this book is the unbiased, indeed almost clinical, way in which the methods and motives of both sides are discussed.  This book represents modern German Militärgeschichte at its best and while I am more of a Kriegsgeschichte type historian I must admit that for all its brevity, this book is a valuable addition to the growing body of work on WWII in the East.  I highly recommend this book.