“Hard Lessons From the Russian Civil War”

From Reason (hat tip: Alex Bryant):

The official 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, which birthed the world’s first Communist state, came and went two years ago. But the revolution actually played out over five horrific years known as the Russian Civil War. A century ago this summer, the anti-Bolshevik White forces were running a fully functional government in northern Russia. Their “Supreme Ruler,” Admiral Alexander Kolchak, was internationally recognized as the head of state, and their army was crushing the Bolsheviks in the South. By November 1919, the tide had turned. By the time the war was over, between 7 and 12 million were dead, and the Communists were victorious….

While many of the White movement’s leaders ostensibly espoused liberal ideas, it is safe to say that freedom had no real friends in the Russian Civil War. Still, it’s a virtual certainty that Russia—and most likely the world—would have been better off if the Whites had won.

They didn’t, for many reasons. They were just as unpopular as the Bolsheviks and more divided. Their leaders clung to Russia’s “great power” status and were adamantly opposed to Ukrainian independence or autonomy for other regions, which forced them to fight both the Bolsheviks and the separatists. The Bolsheviks, meanwhile, were not only more unified but more unscrupulous in their strategic alliances: They joined forces with Makhno’s anarchists only to turn on them the moment the White Army was no longer a threat.

A hundred years later, Russian Communism is gone; in its place is an authoritarian regime that promotes Soviet nostalgia…. The most trenchant lesson for the modern age is one that also seems increasingly relevant to the West: When political adversaries are no longer fellow citizens to live with but rather enemies to be crushed, we all lose.

Read the whole thing

Eighty Years Ago

Eighty years ago today Nazi Germany invaded Poland, thus beginning “World War II,” because this time the British and the French actually responded to an act of German aggression by declaring war. Let us not forget that the Soviets also invaded Poland 16 days later, occupying the eastern third of it – and that fighting had been going on in the East for some time already. 

Here is Auden’s famous poem on the event (from Poets.org):

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

The Nineteenth

I missed this anniversary, two months ago now, but it deserves to be remembered. From CBS News:

19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was passed 100 years ago today

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing American women the right to vote, celebrates a big birthday on Tuesday, as it was passed by both chambers of Congress 100 years ago on June 4, 1919. According to the National Archives, the House of Representatives first passed the amendment on May 21, 1919, and two weeks later, on June 4, the Senate followed with a vote of 56 to 25. The next year, following approval by three-fourths of state legislatures, the amendment was ratified into the Constitution.  

The opening of the Amendment’s text reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Since the 19th Amendment’s passage, women have helped inaugurate a new era of American politics. In fact, many historians can point a clear line from the passage of the 19th amendment to the passage of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s and the current movements seeking to offer greater federal protections for gay and transgender Americans.  

The 19th Amendment emerged out of the Progressive Era in American politics, a period of increased social activism and economic reform during the first two decades of the 20th century. Suffragists like Jeannette Rankin, the first female member of the House of Representatives, brought greater attention to the rights of women. Certain states like California, Washington and Arizona passed their own legislation granting women either full or partial suffrage in the early 1910s. Wyoming was the first to do so in 1869, when it was still a territory. 

The 19th Amendment changed the electorate forever. Some names are etched in the annals of American history: Winnifred Huck of Illinois, the first woman to win a special election to Congress; Gladys Pyle of South Dakota, the first woman elected to the Senate without previously been appointed; Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress; Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the first non-white woman and Asian American woman elected to Congress; Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first African American woman elected to Congress; and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. 

And then there’s Nellie Ross of Wyoming, the first female governor, Sandra Day O’Conner, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House. 

Some historic images may be seen at the link.

The Treaty of Versailles

From the National Post:

A century after the Treaty of Versailles, its anniversary passes largely unobserved

The treaty that formally ended the First World War was widely seen as a failure, but to forget about it is to risk romanticizing the war

One hundred Junes ago, the world had a go at ensuring peace for Europe. Heads of state convened in a palace in the suburbs of Paris and tried to resolve 51 months of war. One of the products of the meeting, the Treaty of Versailles, is now treated as a failure.

“I think that Versailles is tinged almost forever with this kind of air of disillusionment and sorrow that all that suffering didn’t lead to something more conclusive and inspiring,” says Ian McKay, director of the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University. “So maybe that’s why we’re not celebrating the anniversary.”

June 28 marks the centennial of the signing of the treaty, the document that formally ended the First World War. It was a product of the Paris Peace Conference, which also created the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations. The treaty focused on Germany, to which it assigned new borders and — most controversially — blame for the war.

Other centenaries of the Great War have attracted great ceremony. For the Armistice in November 2018 and the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined other world leaders in France.

The prime minister is not marking the anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles; his office says Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will post about it on social media. The lack of celebration could be explained by the treaty’s failures. It is criticized for being too harsh on Germany and contributing to its aggression in the 1930s and ’40s. The treaty also did not prevent wars in the Balkans, Turkey and Eastern Ukraine. Still, some historians urge people to remember the treaty not so much to learn from it as to prevent them from romanticizing the war’s legacy.

“What Versailles really did was humiliate Germany,” says McKay. “I really appreciate people who want to say, ‘Okay, thank goodness our boys died for something heroic and noble, and the world is a better place as a result of it.’ I would really love to believe that, but when you look soberly at the history of the 20th century, maybe 90 million deaths caused as a direct application of warfare, it’s hard for me to draw that optimistic conclusion.”

Tragic or not, the Treaty deserves to be remembered.

Normally the Canadian media never misses an opportunity to play up the Canadian angle, and I’m surprised that this article did not mention Canada’s participation at the Paris Peace Conference. From Wikipedia’s entry on Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden:

Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe, Borden demanded that it have a separate seat at the Paris Peace Conference. This was initially opposed not only by Britain but also by the United States, who perceived such a delegation as an extra British vote. Borden responded by pointing out that since Canada had lost a far larger proportion of its men compared to the U.S. in the war (although not more in absolute numbers), Canada at least had the right to the representation of a “minor” power. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George eventually relented, and convinced the reluctant Americans to accept the presence of separate Canadian, Indian, Australian, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South African delegations. Despite this, Borden boycotted the opening ceremony, protesting at the precedence given to the prime minister of the much smaller Newfoundland over him.

Not only did Borden’s persistence allow him to represent Canada in Paris as a nation, it also ensured that each of the dominions could sign the Treaty of Versailles in its own right, and receive a separate membership in the League of Nations. During the conference Borden tried to act as an intermediary between the United States and other members of the British Empire delegation, particularly Australia and New Zealand over the issue of Mandates. Borden also discussed with Lloyd George, the possibility of Canada taking over the administration of Belize and the West Indies, but no agreement was reached.

At Borden’s insistence, the treaty was ratified by the Canadian Parliament.

The Longest Day

A post in commemoration of a significant event that took place 75 years ago today.

Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia: “A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach (Calvados, Basse-Normandie, France) on the morning of June 6, 1944. American soldiers encountered the newly formed German 352nd Division when landing. During the initial landing two-thirds of Company E became casualties.”

Tiananmen Square

Thirty years ago today, the Chinese Communist Party massacred thousands of student protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The most iconic photograph of the event was taken by American photographer Jeff Widener the next day.

The soldiers driving the tanks were not so evil that they were prepared to run over the protestor, but the man was spirited away and has never been seen since.

For many other photographs of that fateful day follow this link from Business Insider. It deserves to be remembered, especially given how China, and its Western flunkies, have tried assiduously to throw the whole thing down the memory hole.

When they do acknowledge its existence, they will say, well, we were right to crack down. China has a history of revolutions starting from seemingly innocuous events (e.g. the Railway Rights Protection Movement), and the students of 1989 were allegedly trying to do the same thing. So by asserting its authority, the CCP maintained the regime, which could then institute reforms on its own terms and its own schedule, setting up China to be the economic juggernaut it is today. Compare this to the rest of the formerly Communist world, particularly Russia, which was looted by oligarchs (in cahoots with the Harvard Boys), and even now is in demographic free fall, with much less global influence than it once had.

There is something to be said for this critique.

But real countries don’t massacre their own citizens.

The Treaty of Versailles

From Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld (hat tip: Vox Day):

The Treaty of Versailles, the hundredth anniversary of which will be remembered in June of this year, has attracted more than its share of historical debate. What has not been said and written about it? That it did not go far enough, given that Germany lost only a relatively small part of its territory and population and was allowed to continue to exist as a unified state under a single government (French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau). That it went much too far, thus helping lay the foundations of World War II. That it imposed a “Carthaginian Peace” (the British economist John Maynard Keynes in his 1919 best-seller, The Economic Consequences of the Peace). That it was “made in order to bring twenty million Germans to their deaths, and to ruin the German nation” (according to a speech delivered in Munich on 13 April 1923 by a thirty-four year old demagogue named Adolf Hitler). All these views, and quite some others, started being thrown about almost as soon as the ink on the Treaty had dried. In one way or another, all of them are still being discussed in the literature right down to the present day.

But what was there about the Treaty that was so special? Was it really as original, as unique, as has so often been maintained? Was the brouhaha it gave rise to justified?

Read the whole thing.

1989

First Things looks back on the year that Communism died, thirty years ago now:

It was like a graduation party. So says the historian Philipp Ther, who joined the protests in Prague’s Wenceslas Square during those momentous days of November 1989. “We had passed the test,” Ther writes. “The old authorities had no more to say; the world was our oyster. It seemed as if anything was possible.” In their memories of communism’s collapse, the revolutionaries of 1989 often describe the joy and relief, the instant brotherhood, the feeling of riding the wave of history.

Naturally, it didn’t last. In Berlin, where Ther travelled soon after, elation was followed by resentment, with West Germans muttering about the Easterners cramming the roads and emptying the supermarket shelves. Across Europe, meanwhile, the messiness of post-communist politics “engendered disenchantment and cynicism.”

Disillusionment is the usual sequel to political victory, but 1989 especially seems like a revolution with a hole in it. The evil of communism is beyond words—the mass graves it filled, the lies it spread through the world—and we ought to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its defeat. It is more difficult to say what actually did the defeating.

Read the whole thing.

Bauhaus

Bauhaus Building, Dessau, Germany. Wikipedia.

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, an influential school of architecture and design that was located first in Weimar, then in Dessau, and finally in Bernau, a suburb of Berlin. It became a byword for the experimentation (or decadence) of the Weimar Republic, and was accordingly shuttered by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933 – which meant that their faculty, some of them quite famous, spread throughout the world, preaching the Bauhaus message of form following function.

Sotheby’s Magazine has a short article on museums hosting centennial exhibitions this year, including at Munich, Rotterdam, Weimar, and Dessau. Click the link to see some interesting images.

I wrote a paper on the Bauhaus in college that I’m proud of, and the only time I was in Berlin I made sure to see the Bauhaus Archive (currently closed for renovation). I certainly enjoyed walking around the White City, a neighborhood of some 4000 Bauhaus and Bauhaus-inspired buildings in Tel Aviv, built by Jewish architects who migrated to British Palestine after the rise of the Nazis.

Dartmouth Seal

Dartmouth is gearing up for what it calls its sestercentennial, that is, a celebration of the granting of its charter on December 13, 1769, 250 years ago. An elaborate, double-issue of the alumni magazine just arrived, which included this item:

My scholarship lives! (Although it would have been nice of them to actually state who the author is.) 🙂

In honor of the sestercentennial, allow me to post a graphic that adorns the title page of a book entitled simply The Dartmouth, by “Students of Dartmouth College,” which was given to me this Christmas by my classmate Ken Bower. The Dartmouth claims to be “America’s oldest college newspaper, founded 1799”; this is bogus, but it was going by 1840, when this book was published (at the time The Dartmouth was a literary magazine, and the book comprises all the numbers of volume 2). The illustration is of the four buildings lining the east side of the Green, with the three on the left comprising so-called Dartmouth Row, and the fourth being Reed Hall. (You can remember their names by the mnemonic “When Green Turns Red,” that is, Wentworth, Dartmouth, Thornton, and Reed.) Nowadays they are all in brick, painted white, with dark green shutters, but this wasn’t always the case, as the graphic illustrates.

Here’s a view of Dartmouth Row as it appeared in March of 2011, the last time I was on campus.