Tag Archives: Research

The Christ of Nations, 1920

In Polish history, war usually comes down to two conflicting scripts. From the Polish side, pushing geographical boundaries out in all directions, as far as possible. From the opposing side: eliminating the irritating roadblock begrudgingly acknowledged as “Poland.” This theme is perennial.

It has not only been steel and fire that has determined if the land of the White Eagle was to be a flesh and blood state, or merely a state of mind; it was also the petitioning of the fighting spirit through ideological appeal.

Literature in Poland has served such a purpose. Polish literature is not meant to appeal to outsiders. It is generally so nationalistic that neighboring nations, even the most tolerant and enlightened, would feel a certain hostility emanating from its pages.

This is not to condemn Polish literature. The nonpareil polish bard, Adam Mickiewicz wrote his magnum opus, Pan Tadeusz, as an exile in France, when his drawn nation had been quartered by standing armies from neighbor states. The loot went to Vienna, Moscow and Berlin, but the heart went to Paris.

National Messianism, as a political ideology, grew from ethereal to concrete when General Pilsudski took this doctrine to the field, playing immovable object vs. unstoppable force, a.k.a the Russian Bear, immediately after the First World War.

Interestingly enough, however, national messianism had already been translated to the East. If Western readers ever confront this strain of thought, it probably will first be through Dostoevsky, an ardent Russian Slavophile who saw his nation as a victim of Prussian and Polish military aggression. In Dostoevsky, it is Russia, not Poland, that is to suffer for humanity, and teach the nations the righteousness of his ever-expanding enlightened empire.

Russia had become the Christ of Nations, filled with millions of little Christs ready to pick up the bayonet in the mud and charge forward.

Did these two competing messianic visions go toe-to-toe?

Rewind to November 21st, 1919. Out of the ashes of the Austrian and Russian empires, arise new nations, still wet from blood-soaked trenches. Two of these nations are Poland and the Ukraine who had just met each other in battle and are now signing an armistice.

Fast forward to April, 1920. Pilsudski launches an offensive into the Ukraine as a preemptive strike to halt Soviet expansion. May, 1920 – Polish forces take Kiev.

If anyone is the victim of these scrambles for land (and oil fields) it is the Ukraine, who is now partitioned between competing forces; Red Russians, White Russians, Poland, and Romania.

That Pilsudski believed in the Polish Messianic doctrine is not in dispute.

That Lenin’s boys in the field, Trotsky and Stalin, believed in the reactionary Slavophile ideal would be harder to prove.

Trotsky was active in trying to make Poland a Russian dacha-land for Soviet Party members. He would become a symbol on both sides in the propaganda war, yet both sides would utilize traditionalist Christian imagery to appeal to the peasantry and recruits, as the idea of an atheistic world-brotherhood of workers had yet to sink in with the illiterate icon-praising Russian bumpkin.

The Soviet propagandists utilized traditionalist, Slavophile, and Messianic motifs in their early deployments. Their appeal to their own soldiers was often reactionary and messianic.

The Polish-Soviet War was intense. It was also ideological. It lasted less than two years, but took more lives on each side than America lost in Vietnam or Korea. And we are talking 1920 technology and weaponry. This suggests a fiercely personalized battle between belligerents.

19 years later World War Two would start, and 95% of German deaths would be claimed by Eastern European ravens, not by Anglo-American hardware.

As always, ideological struggles prove the most bloodthirsty. The playing ground of red and white goal posts was between the Vistula and the Volga. World history, either before nor since, has never seen such a merciless score.

Historical Resources on the Web – Updated 24 Jun 2014

Updated 24 June 2014 — Below the fold is a list of historical sources on the internet, this includes both primary and secondary source collections.   I am constantly updating this list when I run across useful sites.   Please point me at sites I miss in the comments section. Continue reading Historical Resources on the Web – Updated 24 Jun 2014

The Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 9

Well, I figured it is time for another update.  I have made the first round of changes to my rough draft and turned them back in and my thesis made it past my professor and is now in the hands of the second reader.  It went up to the second reader Tuesday and I should get it back sometime next week for corrections, if any.  If there are no corrections needed it will go the department Chair and then I will get a final grade for the thesis and the thesis class. 

At that point I will be done with my thesis and should only need to receive word from the university that I have met the requirements for graduation.  If that happens then my current conferral date will be 15 May and I will be the proud holder of a Master of Arts Degree in European History.  As long as the final grade on my thesis class is not below a C, I should graduate with honors.  I currently have a 3.93 GPA and don’t think I really have to worry about getting a bad grade on my thesis but I am keeping my fingers crossed anyway because the class is not over.

As ever, stay tuned. :)

The Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 8

I got my rough draft back from my Thesis professor this morning with the first round of requested corrections.  It actually looks much better than I thought it would.  There are not as many corrections as I expected and so I will start working on revising it tonight after I get home from work.  I just quickly glanced at it this morning.  I guess it will take me two or three days to make the requested corrections.

After I make corrections and resubmit it as a final version, it will go to a second reader in the history department for a final round of changes.  After the second reader gets done and final changes are made it gets submitted to the university for publication and I will get my final grade for the thesis.  So far, I have a 3.93 GPA and if I pass my thesis with distinction I will graduate with honors, which is what I have been trying to achieve since I started my MA program three years ago.  We will see what happens.

Tune in for updates.

Postmodernism and Historiography

I figured I would touch on post-modernism/post-structuralism and my personal opinion of the phenomenon because I am seeing it more and more in contemporary academics.  Let me preface this whole post by saying up-front that I think the whole post-modernist movement is a bunch of hogwash that has little if anything to add to the discipline of history.

I was first introduced to the phenomenon of post-modernism/post-structuralism in my very first Graduate level class, which was Historiography.  you can almost say it was hate at first sight because from the get-go I have been struck with the way post-modernists obfuscate and use odd language to describe their concepts.  it also struck me that in the post-modern view the only absolute is that there are no absolutes, everything else is relative.

The whole notion that everything is relative is bad enough but what really gets me is the post-structuralist idea that language has no meaning except for what the individual gives it.  This means that every individual gets to make up reality as they go along and life, the universe, and everything is different for every person and each person essentially creates their own reality.  In practice, according to the post-structuralists if I say that a rose is red, that statement only has meaning for me and what I think red is.  Another person can say the rose if purple, polka-dotted, or even not in the visible spectrum based on their personal definition of red and their version of reality is just as valid as mine.  In other words, according to the post-structuralists, there is no such thing as objective reality.  To me this idea is distressing to say the least.

The idea that language has no common meaning destroys the idea of history because it means that nothing written in the past can have meaning and therefore we cannot know our past because written accounts only hold meaning for the person that wrote them.  This alone, is the idea that destroys history as a discipline in the eyes of post-modernists.

There are several proponents of post-modernism but the phenomenon itself is generally held to have emerged out of France in the 1960s and ‘70s.  The two people most commonly held as originating the idea are Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.  I challenge anyone to read anything they wrote and tell me what they mean without partaking of some mind-altering substance such as alcohol.  Post-modern thought is nothing if not convoluted and deliberately confusing.

I have a paper I wrote a couple of years ago about post-modernism and history that I will have to dig up and post on the papers page.  There is much more to be said on this topic and it is probably one that I will revisit just about every time I run across a postmodern article or book.  So that I can point ou the flaws in this methodology, if nothing else.  I cannot stress enough how post-modern thought is actually destructive of knowledge versus the usual academic way of increasing man’s understanding and knowledge of both the past and the present.  I almost instinctively recoil from what purports to ba post-modern analysis of anything or event.

There are many books and articles detailing the differing criticisms and defenses of postmodern history.  Two of the best criticisms are The Killing of History by Keith Windschuttle and In Defense of History by Richard Evans.  Some defenses of postmodern history include Postmodernism and History by Willie Thompson and The Postmodern History Reader by Keith Jenkins.

The Institute for Historical Research has a good page with links to some essays about post-modernism and history both pro and con, Postmodernism and History by Richard Evans is a good explanation of what the phenomenon means for historians.  Postmodern History provides a good view of what its defenders think it means.