Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “War

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Soviet Soldiers performing the Cossack dance after the defeat of Berlin, Germany; ca. May 1945

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Henry Kissinger

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Henry Kissinger was the sole purveyor of American foreign policy, with the exception of presidents Nixon and Ford. While he was National Security Advisor, he essentially made the department of state irrelevant by taking over many of the tasks, like communicating with foreign officials and heading foreign policy task groups, typically reserved to the secretary of state. By Nixon’s second term, he was serving concurrently as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, and had pushed out most other foreign policy advisors from the policymaking process.

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Kissinger was involved in Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War, the opening of China (essentially the establishment of relations with Mao was not a great triumph for human rights, but another triumph of realpolitik), the coup that brought Pinochet to power, etc. The human rights perspective of Kissinger’s detractors, everything Kissinger did was terrible. He was not bothered by this at all, as he was a firm member of the realist school of foreign policy, which holds that in the anarchic system of international relations, only power matters. Realists believe that international institutions such as the United Nations or international norms such as the concept of human rights are irrelevant. (In the Cold War, this became especially acute as Kissinger allied with brutal regimes, and conspired against democratic ones, in the name of anticommunism.)

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Take this quote from Kissinger:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Remember that Kissinger is Jewish himself. That’s how much of a realist he is.

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While Kissinger was in office, the world was undergoing significant upheaval. There were various international crises originating in the Third World, and there was also domestic unrest in every region of the world. The most important aspect of Kissinger’s foreign policy outlook was his overriding concern of maintaining international stability, particularly by maintaining the Cold War’s bipolar global order. Wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and domestic protests in the U.S. and Europe all threatened to upend the bipolar order. Kissinger believed that wars in the Third World might drag the two superpowers into military conflict or nuclear war, and domestic unrest in Western Europe could open that continent up to greater Soviet influence. Simultaneously, domestic unrest in the U.S., particularly protests against the Vietnam War, had the potential of leading the U.S. away from the global interventionism necessary to maintain its superpower status.

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Furthermore, Kissinger was able to elevate himself to an unusual degree of celebrity in the 1973-1976 period because of Watergate and the elevation of the unelected Ford.

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Kissinger was the only major public figure of the Nixon Administration to escape Watergate unscathed (because he didn’t know about it, as it was a domestic election thing. To clarify, Kissinger had no connection to Watergate), and Ford, who had no constituency other than the existing Administration, heavily relied on Kissinger. [As Saigon fell, Kissinger’s polling dwarfed Ford’s.]

Then presidential adviser Dr. Henry Kissinger tells a White House news conference that "peace is at hand in Vietnam" on Oct. 26, 1972. (AP Photo)

Because of the unusual circumstances of this presidential term, Kissinger is now a symbol of everything realpolitik. (He’s a lightning rod for criticism from non-realists.) Many people adopted elements of this view of foreign policy, but none personified it like Kissinger.

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Reading Recommendations

There are four excellent biographies of Kissinger:

  • Jeremi Suri, Henry Kissinger and the American Century (This book provides a more favorable view of Kissinger than most other biographers).
  • Jussi Hahnimaki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy
  • Mario del Pero, The Eccentric Realist: Henry Kissinger and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy
  • Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power

The following are excellent studies of U.S. foreign policy during the Nixon-Ford administrations:

  • Daniel Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s
  • Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente
  • Barbara Zanchetta, The Transformation of American International Power in the 1970s
  • Paul Thomas Chamberlin, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War World
  • Gary Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide

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Irish Rebels manning a barricade during the Easter Rising; ca. 1916

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Hitler gets a VW for his 50th birthday; ca. 1939

This is definitely one of the top 5 most adorable photos of Hitler


A German paratrooper on the Eastern Front carries a wounded sergeant; ca. 1942

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“Anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army in South Russia”; January 1918

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“The Mine Test” – Wehrmacht Soldiers Force a Soviet Civilian to Test the Waters, Soviet Union; ca.1942

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According to historian Christian Ingrao this technique was first used in Belarussia in 1943 by the infamous 36th SS division “Dirlewanger”, a penal SS unit composed of common law criminals, disgraced SS soldiers, poachers, feeble minded, sociopaths and pedophiles recruited among the inmates of concentration camps and used to hunt partisans in the East.

After they began losing men to mined roads, they took the habit of rounding up local villagers and make them march before them in staggered rows. The tactic was deemed very effective by SS Gruppenfuhrer for Central Russia Curt Von Gottberg who wrote a report on the practice in 1943 saying “The mines set on most road and paths necessitated the use of mine detectors, as per order. The mine detector developped by the Dirlewanger battalion successfully passed the test”. Soon after various non-penal units began using it too. Believe it or not it is far from the worst thing these guys did.

The archives of the 36th SS division stated that this practiced caused the death of about 3000 Belarussian civilians for year 1943 alone.


Original title from the back of the photograph is Die Minenprobe:

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American POW Paul Galanti unobtrusively gives the finger, to show his disdain for being used in a propaganda event filmed by an East German film crew in North Vietnam; ca. June 1967

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After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1962, then-ENS Galanti reported to fighter jet training, learning to fly the A-4C Skyhawk. In November 1965, he deployed on the carrier USS Hancock to South East Asia. On his 98th combat mission in Vietnam, he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. He spent almost seven years, from 17 June 1966 to 12 February 1973, interned in the infamous Vietnamese prison camp dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton.”
American prisoners of war have long been used as propaganda tools by the enemy — a weapon of war that has sometimes met with success, but has just as often left the enemy looking dim-witted and brutal.
When an East German camera crew arrived at his cell Navy Commander Paul Galanti was ordered to pose for photos.
A stencilled sign reading “Clean, Neat” had been painted on his wall and a makeshift bench, a luxury he did not normally have, was brought in.
“My interrogators wanted me to be interviewed by them and I said I’d be glad to speak with them because I speak German and I’d tell them all about the torture and bad treatment. They came back and said I was not to say anything to them,” Mr. Galanti said from his home in Richmond, Va., yesterday.
The captured aviator had no intention of being a propaganda tool for the enemy. As he sat with his hands resting between his knees he stared into the camera and had a flash of mischievous genius.
“I gave a catcher’s signal with both middle fingers extended and glared at the camera the whole time. I extended my middle finger on each hand to make certain that anybody who saw that picture didn’t think in any way, shape or form that I was doing it voluntarily.
“It was a message from me.”

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Another picture:

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Life Magazine published this image in October, 1967, but airbrushed his middle fingers so as not to offend its readers:

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German soldiers on outpost duty near Antwerp, sharing their food with Belgian orphans, published in 1915.

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The basic Pickelhaube, as seen in the photo, was made of hardened (boiled) leather, given a glossy-black finish, and reinforced with a metal trim. Starting in 1892, a light brown cloth helmet cover, the M1892 Überzug, was issued for use during manoeuvres and active service. The Überzug was intended to protect the helmet from dirt and reduce its combat visibility, as the metallic fittings were highly reflective. As you mentioned regimental numbers were then sewn or stencilled onto the front of the cover.

This photo was most likely staged to generate evidence that countered Great Britain’s aggressive propaganda campaign against the German occupation of Belgium. Given this assumption there would be little reason for these men to don their Überzug.

As the war progressed, and Britain’s blockade limited Germanys leather supply, the economic factors you mentioned drove the government to produce Pickelhauben from thin sheet steel. However by 1915, as demand rapidly outpaced supply, pressurized felt and even paper was used to construct pickelhauben

By 1916, the Pickelhaube was slowly replaced the the new Stahlhelm (steel helmet) which offered greater over-all head protection.


German SS guards, exhausted from their forced labor clearing the bodies of the dead, are allowed a brief rest by British soldiers but are forced to take it by lying face down in one of the empty mass graves; ca. 1945

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Taken during the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

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There’s a famous quote from BBC journalist Richard Dimbleby, who was present at the liberation of this very camp.

Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them … Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live … A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.

This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life