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For most younger folks today the Alexander Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel is probably best, and perhaps only, known from a popular television commercial.  When first viewing that commercial myself, as a young high school student, I remember having only a vague idea of who Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were; that vague idea coming from having read Edward Everett Hale’s The Man Without A Country in English class a year or two before.  So I knew there had been some kind of duel that involved the two men, though I had no idea of their significance to American history or why they felt the need to shoot at each other from ten paces.

Burr and Hamilton had both served in the Revolutionary War and had achieved high ranks; Burr a colonel and Hamilton a general, though the generals commission was granted long after the Revolution during what is known as the Quasi-War with France.  Both were integral in the early Republic holding important offices at various times, and mostly friendly at the start.  But the seeds of rivalry were planted in 1791 when Burr beat Hamilton’s father-in-law, Philip Schuyler, in the race for the Senate seat from New York.  From there the animosity festered.  Hamilton saw Burr as a political opportunist and a bit of a flip-flopper, to use today’s language, and was often very critical of him in public.  Burr was in fact a bit of a schemer, or as some might see it, politically shrewd.  Either way, he didn’t much care for Hamilton’s opinion of him and they were constantly at odds.  So much so that when the Presidential election of 1800 ended in a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Burr, Hamilton used as much of his influence as he could among more moderate Federalists–who  would have preferred Burr to Jefferson as President, though they were both Republicans–in the House of Representatives–which was responsible for breaking the tie–to see that Burr lost.  This might not seem like that big of a deal except for the fact that it was well known that Jefferson and Hamilton were bitter political enemies.  So strong had the feud between Hamilton and Burr become that Hamilton would prefer to see his greatest political opponent reach the presidency, than the more moderate Burr.

Burr did serve as Vice President under Jefferson, as the runner-up did at the time, but it was rumored that Jefferson would attempt to replace him in the next election in 1804.  Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but was again thwarted, again largely due to Hamilton and his allies.  During the course of the campaign a letter surfaced that had been written to Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s father-in-law, by a Dr. Charles D. Cooper which described “a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr” at a dinner.  According to the code of honor of the day, attacks on someone political views, even very harsh ones, were fair game, but to impugn on a man’s personal character was viewed as out of line.  Burr demanded an apology from Hamilton, or at the very least, an explanation.  Hamilton refused, claiming not to know specifically what Dr. Cooper was referring to and therefore could not offer an explanation or an apology.  Through a series of letters delivered through proxies, Hamilton and Burr continued to spar over the issue, eventually to the point where Burr demanded an apology for every negative thing Hamilton had ever said about him and Hamilton refusing because it was, basically, all true.

Finally, in an effort to regain his honor, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.  Hamilton, feeling his own honor was at stake, accepted.  Both men had fallen on hard times politically in recent years; Burr’s virtual dismissal as Vice President (though he was still the current VP in 1804) and loss in the New York gubernatorial election had damaged his reputation and ego and Hamilton had not served in public life in any real capacity for at least four years and his Federalist party was diminishing in influence.  Perhaps they both saw in the duel a chance, not only to settle old scores, but to reclaim former prestige, if not politically, then at least personally.  They agreed to meet at Heights of Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11th, 1804 to settle things once and for all.

Coming Soon:  The Duel:  Part Two

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Thought I’d throw down a quick post since its been a while.  Incidentally, I do have a couple of posts on the way in the near future that may be interesting to three or four of my seven readers.  Look for those in the next week or two.  In the meantime, a little quickie (yeah, right) answer to this question from the Wondering Junior:  who were the important people in W2?

Now, I’m going to assume that our friend the Wondering Junior meant the important people of WW2 and not the IRS clerks that developed the W2 form.  With that clarification out of the way we can continue.

Asking who the important people were in WW2 is a little like asking someone to name all the cast members in a war movie based on a Cornelius Ryan book;  the list is long and illustrious, full of prominent and familiar names.  So, we’ll have to narrow things down a bit to prevent this post from needing the longest day to complete (Get it?  Cornelius Ryan? Longest Day?  I know, don’t say it).  We’ll look at a few major players from each of the major belligerents.  We’ll pick at least on political and one military leader from Germany, Britain, the Soviet Union, Japan, Italy, and the US.  Let’s start with the bad guys.

Germany

Adolph Hitler:  Nazi dictator of Germany – You’ve got to think that Hitler is one of the most recognizable names the world over.  You could make the argument that without Adolph Hitler there would not have been a World War 2, at least not on the scale of what is was.  He was a charismatic public speaker, rallying the German masses to support the Nazi cause of domination and ethnic purity.  His hatred for the Jews spawned the terrible “Final Solution” which included death camps, sterilization, and human experimentation, and lead to the extermination of about 6 million Jews and about 5 million other “undesirable” persons, such as Slavs and gypsies.  An Austrian by birth, he served in the German army in WWI, never rising above the rank of corporal, and yet he took command of the German wermacht, or armed forces, during the war.  Before his death by suicide in the wars final days, stress and paranoia had turned him into a raving, suspicious wreck, with uncontrollable trembles, bordering on dementia.

Joseph Goebbels:  Nazi propaganda minister – Goebbels lead Nazi Germany’s campaign of propaganda to instill in the German people the “ideals” of the Nazi party.  He controlled all forms of communication in Germany.  He and his wife poisoned their seven children before committing suicide themselves as the Red Army closed in on Berlin.

Herman Goering:  Luftwaffe chief and Nazi party leader – Goering was a WWI flying ace who transformed the German air force, the Luftwaffe, into a formidable force.  Was the heir apparent to the Fuehrer, but was captured in the closing days of the war.  While on trial for war crimes at Nuremburg after the war, he committed suicide in his cell.

Erwin Rommel:  General and Field Marshall – Perhaps Germany’s most well known general.  Scored early victories in the war in France and became famous for leading his Afrika Corps against the British in North Africa.  Implicated in a plot against Hitler later in the war, he was given the “opportunity” to commit suicide rather than be shot by firing squad.

 Did you notice a trend there on how things ended up for these guys?  On to Japan.

 Japan

Hideki Tojo:  General and Prime Minister – Tojo was a leader in the military junta that controlled Japan.  He led the Japanese army in its war with China and became Prime Minister just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He was complicit in war crimes against those living in Japanese controlled areas of Asia, which included human experimentation.  He was captured, tried, and in 1948, hanged.

Hirohito:  Emperor – The Emperor at first sought to avoid war with the West, but was eventually swayed by the army and navy.  Ordered the Japanese surrender of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki against the will of many military commanders, some of who attempted a coup which failed.  Somewhat controversially, was not implicated or charged with any war crimes though some claim many of these were committed with his knowledge and even at his behest.  Died in 1989.

Isoroku Yamamoto:  Admiral – Yamamoto was the admiral who devised the Pearl Harbor attack plan.  He had opposed virtually all of Japan’s aggressive maneuvers prior to that, including the invasion of Manchuria and the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, but in loyalty to his country fought on anyway.  While his famous “all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant” quote, referring to the attack on America at Pearl, is likely apocryphal, he is documented as warning, “I can run wild for six months … after that, I have no expectation of success.”  Yamamoto was killed when his plane was shot down by American P-38’s while inspecting forward units

Italy

Benito Mussolini:  Fascist dictator of Italy – Mussolini was really the inventor of fascism, though his brand was initially a much less racist version than Hitler’s.  Like Hitler, a talented orator and motivator.  Il Duce, as he was called, invaded Ethiopia and what is now Somalia in Africa.  Italy was not a strong military power, and had to be bailed out by Germany on several occasions.  After things deteriorated for Italy during the war, Mussolini was dismissed as Prime Minister and arrested by order of King Emmanuel.  He was later rescued by German special forces and set up by Hitler as a kind of puppet ruler in northern Italy.  Captured by communist partisans while attempting to flee Italy at the close of the war, he and his mistress were executed and their bodies hung upside down from a gas station.

Ok, I don’t know any Italian military types.  You’ll have to learn that on your own.  On to the allies and their communist partner.

Soviet Union

Joseph Stalin:  Communist dictator – Stalin initially made a pact with Hitler and jointly invaded Poland with the Nazis.  Pact ended when Germany invaded Russia.  Suffering early reversals, in no small part due to a depleted Red Army officer core due to his paranoid purges, Stalin employed a scorched earth policy as his predecessors had done when invaded by Napoleon and Charles XII of Sweden.  Ironically framed the war against the Nazis as the Great Patriotic War and this morale booster coupled with the victory at Stalingrad helped to turn the tide.  Stalin was a thorn in the allies side immediately following Germany’s surrender, refusing to give up territory his Red Army occupied to its rightful possessors.  Tensions soon escalated into the Cold War.  Stalin died in 1953 as a result of a stroke.

Georgy Zhukov:  General – Though he briefly fell out of favor with Stalin early in the war, his defense of Moscow put him back in good graces.  Zhukov was instrumental in many of the crucial Red Army victories, including Stalingrad, Leningrad, Kursk, and the invasion of Germany itself.  He died in 1974.

Vyacheslav Molotov:  Foreign Minister – Along with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister of Nazi Germany, concluded the pact between Germany and the Soviet Union which called for the partition of Poland and the dividing up of the Baltic states.  In the resulting Soviet-Finnish war of 1939 the Fins coined the term Molotov cocktail for homemade bombs.  Throughout the wider war, Molotov was a tough negotiator with the other allies and secured their promise of a second front in Europe.  He died in 1986 at the age of 96.

Great Britain

Winston Churchill:  First Lord of the Admiralty & Prime Minister – Politically isolated before the war and one of the few who saw the danger of Hitler early one, became First Lord of the Admiralty when the war broke out.  Not long after was appointed Prime Minister.  Lead Britain with a steely resolve in the face of seemingly hopeless times, including during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.  Pressed President Roosevelt for help, which helped lead to the Lend Lease Act.  Kept Britain in the fight until the US finally joined the war in 1941. 

Bernard Law Montgomery:  General – Skilled and boastful, Montgomery commanded the British army in North Africa to the first major allied land victory of the war, El Alamein.  He was in command of armies that invaded Sicily, where he and US general George Patton developed a rivalry that wasn’t always friendly and which was further fueled by Montgomery’s actions and comments during the Battle of the Bulge.  Operation Market Garden, a plan to cross into Germany via the Rhine River in Holland was his operation, though it was poorly planned and he ignored key intelligence.  The operation was an allied disaster, despite Monty’s claim of it being “90% successful.”  His armies did eventually cross the Rhine and Montgomery accepted the surrender of Germany in Denmark and Holland.

United States

Franklin D. Roosevelt:  President – Though the US was neutral at the war’s outset, Roosevelt did everything short of actual fighting to aid the allies.  The Lend-Lease Act which provided Britain with badly needed supplies and equipment and the oil embargo on Japan in response to their aggression in Asia were major components of his policy.  His most controversial act as President was Executive Order 9066 which called for the internment of those of Japanese descent on the West Coast.  Met with Churchill, Stalin, and China’s Chang Kai-shek on various occasions to discuss strategy and post-war plans.  Died after being elected to a fourth term in 1945.

Harry S. Truman:  Vice President  & President – Taking office after Roosevelt’s death, Truman initially very little about FDR’s war policies.  He had been largely kept in the dark.  A hard worker and quick learner, he rapidly got up to speed.  Alone made the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan to force their surrender.

Dwight D. Eisenhower:  General – Commander of all allied forces in Europe.  Presided over D-Day invasion of Normandy and was prepared to take full responsibility had it failed.  Had to manage enormous personalities and egos in the likes of Patton and Montgomery.  After the war became NATO commander and then President of the United States.

George S. Patton:  General – Brilliant, eccentric, and controversial.  A skilled tank commander, notoriously profane and religious.  Commanded a huge dummy army in England prior to the Normandy invasion.  Drove his tank battalions across central Europe after breaking out of France, all the way to Czechoslovakia.  Famously slapped a soldier in a military hospital who was suffering from shell shock and called him a coward.  He was forced to apologize for the incident.  Died from injuries suffered in a car crash in 1945.

Ok, so maybe this wasn’t a quick post at all.  But now you’ve got a little bit of an idea of who a lot of the major players were in the greatest conflict in the history of the world.

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Introduction

 When the Versailles Treaty was signed in Paris in 1919 formally ending the First World War, there were some forwarding thinking observers who saw in the document the “seeds of the next war.”  These foreign policy soothsayers saw the punitive measures of economic sanctions and harsh military restrictions leveled against The Second Reich, not to mention the infamous “War Guilt Clause”, as the fostering agents of German resentment.  While Germany was far from being an innocent bystander in the outbreak of the Great War and was undeniably a central player, indeed a Central Power, in the unfolding drama, it should be remembered that the geopolitical atmosphere of the day was ripe for the tragic harvest that was ultimately reaped.  Yes, Germany was very much responsible, but she was not alone in that responsibility.  However, looking back even further in time it is possible to perhaps ascribe to Germany a special level of blame.  Some five decades prior to the assassination of the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, and the events put into motion by that act, including the German invasion of France, the quest for expansion and hegemony was preparing to embark from the halls of Prussia. Prussia was the largest and most dominant of the fractured German states, save the multi-national empire of Austria.  Steeled by its military resolve in the Seven Years War and flush with the territories granted to it on the Rhine by the Congress of Vienna, Prussia looked to unite its own territories and even all of those little Germany’s not under the Habsburg crown (or perhaps even parts of those) into one national German empire.  To that end, the Prussian Minister-President appointed in 1862, Otto von Bismarck, began a series of machinations that would culminate in that result, doing so with “blood and iron.”  Through a series of carefully staged and swift wars, Bismarck’s plan was put into action.  The final step in making a German empire a reality, and the battle with the most far reaching future ramifications, was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.  What were the specific causes of that conflict and what exactly were those far reaching ramifications?  As previously mentioned a desire for German empire, especially by Bismarck, played a leading role but the conditions for such an adventure had to be present…and they were.  Political situations in both Prussia, and the greater Germany, and in France helped pave the way to conflict, as did the aggressive foreign policies of those nations, and indeed, of Europe as a whole.  These facts together with and relating to, the succession of the Spanish crown sparked the Franco-Prussian War.  When the dust had settled, the results would have so lasting an impact, especially in terms of continued animosity between Germany and France and the upset of balance of power politics in Europe, that Henry Kissinger would be lead to call the conflict the start of the “modern Hundred Years’ War that did not end until 1945.”

 Napoleon III & France

 In 1870 France was ruled by the Second Empire of Napoleon III, whose rise to power must have seemed as stunning to him as to anyone.  In the intervening years of the rules Napoleon I and Napoleon III, France was controlled by monarchies.  During these years, because of his family relation to the more famed Bonaparte, Louis-Napoleon was forbidden from living in France.  For much of his life he was an itinerate wannabe, living at various times in England, Germany, Italy, and the United States, attempting to trade on his famous uncle’s name.   Much of his globetrotting days were spent in Italy where he conspired with the Carbonari for the unification of the peninsula.  More than once he attempted to return to France, the first time as little more than a tourist, but the second in an attempt to foster a Bonapartist rebellion.  Incarcerated after this failed adventure, he escaped from prison disguised as a construction worker.  After “failure at everything he turned his hand to” his break finally came in 1848 when a revolution in France had swept aside the monarchy and reforms allowed him to return.[1]  A French Republic had been established and it would need a president.  Putting his name recognition to good use, Louis-Napoleon “won [the election] by a landslide in December 1848, receiving 74 percent of votes cast.”[2]  Domestic politics in France, as well as Prussia, during this period were marked by the competing principles of the emerging liberal-social ideals and the traditional conservative interests of the aristocracy and military.  From the start of his tenure as president, Louise-Napoleon demonstrated a political deftness in being able to play both sides.  To the conservatives he offered sound economic policies and support for the military and to the liberals he offered social reforms and public works projects to improve French infrastructure and provide jobs.  Things were going well in France, but the constitution of the Second Republic did not allow the president to run for a second term.  Louis-Napoleon, in the interest of preserving prosperity staged a coup in 1852, allowing him to remain in power and within a year dissolved the republic, established the French Second Empire and proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III.  Even after this brash maneuver, he still maintained popularity.  However, over time his authoritarian rule came to be resented by the liberals and many in the middle class and domestic political unrest started to simmer.

 In the realm of foreign policy Napoleon III is remembered for a number of adventures, some successful and some having unforeseen and detrimental consequences.  He successfully concluded an alliance with England to oppose and defeat Russia in the Crimean War, but had also foolishly embarked on a military adventure in Mexico which ended disastrously.  As emperor he also continued to meddle in Italian politics, alternately supporting and condemning the unification of the peninsula.  He “secretly agreed on a joint campaign by France and Sardinia to expel Austria from Italy and to establish an Italian federation of four states under the presidency of the pope,” (Columbia Encyclopedia) but in doing so, he removed any hope of having Austria as an ally in the future, a fact that would have dire consequences.[3]  Much as he had done in his domestic policies, he tried play both sides of the Italian issue, and though he eventually praised the unification, drawing the ire of pope Pius IX who “accused the emperor of having ‘feigned’ to protect him,” this resulted in merely another European power to have to deal with and opened the door for German unification.[4]  To that end, when Prussia went to war first with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein and then with Austria over the same region, France remained on the sidelines, further isolating her from Austria.  By the late 1860’s the French were becoming impatient with not only Napoleon’s domestic policies, but the loss of prestige on the Continental stage as well.  The Mexican debacle and the unchecked rise of Prussian power had the masses calling for war.  Even Napoleon’s wife Eugénie de Montijo encouraged a confrontation with Prussia.  With all the turmoil at home and abroad, Napoleon III reluctantly conceded that war may be the only way to unify the French people.

 Bismarck & Prussia

 The rise of Prussia was surprising to many in Europe.  As Koch cited The Times of London, “How she became an empire history tells us, why she remains so, no one can tell.”[5]  While Prussia did gradually increase in power and influence starting about the 18th century, her larger ambition was held in check for much of this time by the balance of power system of Europe.  At the Congress of Vienna she was made a part of the German Confederation, a loose alliance of Prussia, Austria, and the other smaller Germanic states.  The confederation was in large part an effort to contain France after the Napoleonic Wars, but it was marked by a rivalry between Prussia and Austria as to which would be the dominant German power.  Prussia had been ruled by the Hohenzollern monarchy for centuries who kept close ties with the conservative landed gentry known as Junkers, and as in France during this same period, liberals and the bourgeois sought reforms from the ruling classes.  Also as in France, revolution came to Prussia in 1848.  Poor harvests all over Europe and the lack of real political freedom had spurred the people to action against the entrenched ruling classes and shrewd political opportunists used the uprisings for their own gain.  Opportunists like Louis-Napoleon in France and Otto von Bismarck in Prussia.

 In 1862 Bismarck was appointed Minister-President of Prussia by King William I as a bulwark against the liberal interests in parliament.  As such, Bismarck did pretty much what he wanted regardless of the liberal outcry.  As a Prussian parliamentarian and a Junker, he sided with the conservative interests on most things, but also aggressively pursued the cause of German unification, a desire shared by many liberals, though their methods of achieving it differed from his.  As Michael Sturmer recorded:

Having been in the Wilhelmstrasse for only a few days, Bismarck fired the opening shot of his grand strategy in the budget committee of the Prussian parliament, “It is no through speeches and majority voting that the great questions of our time are answered-that has been the great illusion of 1848-49-but through iron and blood.”  The liberals were duly shocked, but they also wanted national unification, if necessary through a military showdown.[6]

 Bismarck clearly wanted the unification of Germany, but only on Prussian terms and under Prussian auspices.  This would require the marginalization of the other dominant German power, Austria.  In 1864 Bismarck made the first of his moves, allying with Austria against Denmark for control of Schleswig-Holstein.  The war resulted in joint rule of the region by Austria and Prussia, but that relationship would not remain cordial.  Sturmer explains, “Bismarck ensured that harmony between Vienna and Berlin…was not to last.”[7]  Prussia had to assert itself as the rightful German hegemon.  Not unlike Napoleon III in France, Bismarck was not afraid to work with the liberals and offer concessions, at least when it coincided with his interests.  Sturmer goes on, “[Bismarck] started a sweeping campaign for an all-German parliament.  This was impossible for Austria to accept, since direct elections throughout the far-flung and diverse possessions of the Habsburg Empire would have the beginning of the end [for Austria].”[8]  Bismarck made an ally of Italy and went to war against Austria and most of the southern German states including Baden, Saxony, and Bavaria.  The war was swift with Prussia delivering the decisive blow at Konnigratz and achieving a victory so stunning it shocked the other powers of Europe, France in particular, who had remained on the sidelines.  The Austro-Prussian War effectively dissolved the German Confederation and in its place Bismarck formed the North German Confederation, bribing and cajoling all the German states north of the Main River to join-at least those which were not annexed outright-while still maintaining a democratic veneer, thin as it may have been.  He had a constitution drawn up for the North German Confederation that included a two house parliament, though it was still very much under the firm guidance of Prussia.  These events united the previously separated the western and eastern sections of Prussia, severely weakened Austria, and increased Prussia’s population and industrial capacity which, therefore, increased it’s ability to wage a wider war.

 Bismarck’s Machinations  

  However, for obvious reasons, it also drove a further wedge between Prussia and the southern German states.  They already had a low opinion of Prussia before the events of the 1860’s many considering “Prussia a foreign country, and [calling] it Stinkpreusse -“Putrid Prussia.”[9]  In addition, much of the South was Catholic and the majority of the North German Confederation was Protestant.  Bismarck had to find a way to draw those states into closer orbit with Prussia before full unification could be completed.  According to Gordon Craig he counted on three things to accomplish this: 

the collaboration in security arrangements made possible by the offensive-defensive treaties, which he hoped would kindle a desire for other joint undertakings; the attractions of the constitution of the North German Confederation, which offered its members the advantages of sharing in a wider community without having to give up their uniqueness; and the pressure of economic interest.[10]

 But even more than that, Bismarck knew he would require some great catalyst to drive those southern states into the Prussian fold to stay.  France was the obvious vehicle.

 As discussed early, France watched with a combination of astonishment and rage at Prussia’s meteoric ascent.  No longer could she claim to be the clear dominant power of the Continent.  As GeofferyWawro explains, “Whereas Prussia had counted…less than half [the inhabitants of France] in 1860, the Austro-Prussian War and the annexations nearly evened the score, giving the North German Confederation a population of 30 million to France’s 38 million and-thanks to Prussian use of universal conscription-an army one-third larger than France’s.”[11] Napoleon III was pressured from all sides to stand firm against further Prussian adventures.  Even in his own home he couldn’t escape the call for action as his wife was a virulent anti-Prussian.  Unfortunately, Napoleon’s attempts at firmness played beautifully into Bismarck’s hand.  In 1867 France tried to purchase Luxembourg and requested Bismarck’s help in doing so.  The Prussian Minister-President refused and made sure the German press made a media circus out of the affair, stirring up German resentment of France, particularly in the South.  Between 1867 and 1870 a number of similar incidents manifested themselves-such as a Prussian sponsored railway through Switzerland and a German “customs union” including the southern German states-and threatened war, but each time peace prevailed.  Though Bismarck may have believed a war with France was the most likely scenario to complete unification, he wasn’t about to launch into it headlong.  He was shrewd enough to know that the balance of power must still be preserved, or at least perceived preserved, or the other powers may join with France against him.  If unification could be accomplished without war, so much the better, but a conflict appeared imminent.

 Bismarck’s prime opportunity to press the issue was unlikely and unexpected.  In 1868 Queen Isabella II of Spain had been deposed and the Spanish provisional government offered the throne to Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, who happened to be the nephew of Prussian King William I.   Unenthusiastic at the prospect, Leopold declined the invitation.  However, the Spanish provisional government was persistent and again made the offer.  Craig notes that, “Bismarck never for a moment doubted that Leopold’s succession to the throne would present him with dangers and opportunities.”[12]  The Minister-President saw his chance to put the screws to France.  If Leopold accepted the Spanish offer France would find itself situated in the middle of two Hohenzollern monarchies, a strategically untenable position.  With the hawks in the French press and government continuing to put pressure on Napoleon III to stand up to Prussia, Bismarck went to work.  He encouraged Leopold and the King to accept the offer from Spain, which they did.  When word reached France of the deal the hawks were outraged.  The two most outspoken and important in terms of their influence on the Emperor were the aforementioned Empress Eugenie, herself “a Spaniard by birth, who particularly resented Bismarck’s meddling in Madrid” and the foreign minister Duc Antoine de Gramont a hard-line, anti-Prussian.[13]  He immediately began to attack Bismarck in the press and dispatched the French ambassador to Prussia to see King William I to persuade him to renounce Leopold’s claim and coax him to step down.  King William, never enthusiastic about the prospect to begin with, caved.  Leopold’s father withdrew him from consideration and the matter appeared to be settled.  However, Gramont could not leave well enough alone.  As Craig noted, “where a sense of measure might have crowned his career with a brilliant success, he overreached and tumbled his nation into disaster.”[14] As Wawro explains, Gramont demanded that “King Wilhelm I would have to sign and publish a document linking himself with the renunciation and pledging that Prussia would never again offer candidates for the Spanish throne.”[15]  These demands were of course a great insult and “the King refused, politely but firmly, to give any such thing.”[16]  King William sent a telegram to Bismarck explaining the conversation, and the Minister-President seized on it as another opportunity to jab at France.  While this insult to the king may have been enough of a pretext for war against France in and of itself, Bismarck had other plans.  He had worked for the past several years to paint France as the true aggressor and he was not about to throw all that hard work away now.  Wawro explains that “he was determined to make the French declare war on Prussia, so as to trigger the south German alliances and ensure the neutrality of the other great powers.”[17]  To that end, Bismarck “condensed the Ems telegram for publication, so reducing and abridging it that it seemed to newspaper readers as if a curt exchange had occurred at Ems, in which the Prussians believed that their king had been insulted and the French believed that their ambassador had been snubbed.”[18]

 It is worth noting here Craig’s warning that “it is always dangerous to speak with too great assurance of Bismarck’s intentions” and his caution to assume that Bismarck “was seeking war with France from the beginning of the Spanish question.”[19]  While it is true that Bismarck did not much concern himself with the matter at first, this can be explained by the fact that Leopold had initially declined the Spanish invitation.  Once the throne was offered a second time Bismarck grasped the opportunity with both hands.  As Wawro wrote, “Working patiently for the war with France that might unite the German states, Bismarck saw in the unfolding Spanish crown question another useful provocation.”[20]  Given the tenuous state of relations between France and Prussia after the Austro-Prussian War and the previously discussed incidents between them during that period, most baring Bismarck’s fingerprints, there can be little doubt that Bismarck’s objective was war.

 War & Empire           

 Bismarck’s gambit paid off.  France declared war on Prussia in July of 1870.  The south German states pledged allegiance to Prussia and no other powers came to the assistance of France.  The superior organization and Krupp artillery pieces of the Prussian and German armies made short work of the French forces.  In September the main French army was destroyed at Sedan and Napoleon III himself was captured.  Back in Paris the Second Empire was overthrown and the Third Republic took its place.  Tragically, even though “the French armies dissolved, Paris refused to capitulate.  For four months it was surrounded and besieged.”[21]

Bismarck had succeeded in uniting all German states, except for Austria, into one empire.  All that remained was the crowning of an Emperor to rule it, King William I of Prussia.  However, this was a development not embraced by the King.  As Tyler Whittle recounts, “[The King] had no desire, he declared, to trade the splendid crown of Prussia for a crown of filth.”[22]  After some persuading from Bismarck and the Crown Prince the king relented.  Whittle explains:

Thus it was on January 18th, 1871 the grumpy King of Prussia stood on a dais in the Galerie des Glaces, Versailles, listened first to a chorale chanted by a military choir, then to an exhortation from his Court Chaplain, then to the singing of “Now thank we all our God”, and afterwards read out load a declaration that the German Empire had been re-established.  To a frantic waving of swords and helmets and the rolling of drums, a military band burst into patriotic music, and the Crown Prince kissed his father’s hand, followed by all the other Princes present.  At the conclusion of the ceremony the new German Emperor wrote to his wife that he had passed the most unhappy day of his life.[23]

 Aftermath

 The Franco-Prussian War would have an enormous effect on the immediate and distant fate of Europe.  The most obvious of these effects being the emergence of the German Empire as one of the most, if not the, most powerful nation on the Continent.  Bismarck, who had become Chancellor of the German Reich, was wise enough to keep this new found power under control.  Having achieved his ultimate goal of a unified Germany and having no desire for further border expansion, he sought out alliances with other powers and concluded several treaties to assure Germany’s security.  True, he had upset the European balance of power with his expansionist wars, but afterward he rebalanced the scales, this time with Germany as one of the strongest weights.  However, when he was dismissed by King William II in 1890, that restraint went with him.  William II was determined to make Germany not only into a great European power, but a naval and colonial one as well.  His brash approach to these endeavors, particularly a naval arms race with Great Britain, would have dire consequences.

 Another consequence of the war was the effect it would have on future German generals.  As explained by Wawro, “The war thus empowered a whole class of militarists who linked Germany’s health to war and expansion.”[24]  This psychological repercussion would echo well into the twentieth century.  The vaunted German General Staff would assert itself into the policy making of the Reich-the Second and the Third-or at the very least was complicit in the blunders and crimes of the civilian leadership in an attempt to retake glory for itself on the battlefield.

 While the French Third Republic would eventually become a reborn European power in its own rite, its initial days were hampered by the huge costs of the war.  In addition to the war costs themselves was a reparations bill of five billion francs to be paid to Germany.  Reforms in the republic soon turned things around, economically, militarily, and in terms of national unity.  By the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Franc once again had a larger army than Germany.  This new found strength in France was met with surprise in Germany where “conventional wisdom in 1871 purported that with his harsh indemnity and annexations, Bismarck had ‘crippled France for thirty to fifty years.'”[25]   France’s phoenix-like rise served to keep tensions between the two rivals at a high level for the next several decades.  Adding to the enmity was the fact that Germany had annexed Alsace and Lorraine after the war.  Even though Wawro explains that “tempers had cooled considerably by 1914 when most French had reconciled themselves to the loss of Alsace and Lorraine” it was enough of a sore spot that the secret French battle plan put into action at the outset of WWI, Plan 17, called for the retaking of the region from the very start.[26]  This exercise in vengeful war planning would prove costly since the main German thrust came not through that region but through Belgium.

 Conclusion     

 It is difficult not to wonder if the repercussions of the Franco-Prussian War would not have been so far reaching, at least not as tragically so, had Bismarck remained as Chancellor after 1890.  He was 75 years old when he was forced out by Wilhelm II and would not have lived long enough to intervene in the crisis of the summer of 1914, but had he had more time to influence the second King William of Prussia, his guiding hand may have still invisibly been at the helm and steered Germany through those treacherous waters safely.  It wasn’t of course and the Second Reich found itself entangled in affairs over a region that the old Minister-President vowed he would never trade the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier for.  But even a brilliant statesman such as Bismarck can not see into the future and can never know what untold consequences his decisions may have on future generations.  The stone thrown for the unification of one nation sent ripples far out into the future that would make, shape, and destroy countless other nations the world over, causing catastrophes not thought possible by human beings and ushering in a new era of world order.

 

Bibliography

 

Craig, Gordon. Germany 1866-1945.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1978.

Koch, H.W.  A History of Prussia.  New York:  Longman, 1978.

New Advent.  “Napoleon III.”  Catholic Encyclopedia.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10699a.htm

 Colton, Joel, Lloyd Kramer, and Palmer, R.R.  A History of the Modern World. 10th ed. New York:  McGraw-Hill. 2007.

 Sturmer, Michael.  The German Empire 1870-1918. New York:  Random House. 2000,

 Whittle, Tyler.  The Last Kaiser:  A Biography of Wilhelm II German Emperor and King of Prussia. New York:  Times. 1977.

 Wawro, Geoffrey.  The Franco-Prussian War:  The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.  2003.


 

[1] Geoffrey Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War:  The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., s.v. “Napoleon III.”

 [4] New Advent, “Napoleon III,” Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10699a.htm

 [5] H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia (New York:  Longman, 1978), 250.

[6] Michael Sturmer, The German Empire 1870-1918 (New York:  Random House, 2000), 21.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, 3.

[10] Gordon Craig, Germany 1866-1945 (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1978), 15

[11] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, 19.

[12] Craig, Germany, 22.

[13] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, 35.

[14] Craig, Germany, 21

[15] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, 36

[16] Craig, Germany, 27

[17] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, 37.

[18] Joel Colton, Lloyd Kramer, and R.R. Palmer, A History of the Modern World. 10th ed. (New York:  McGraw-Hill, 2007), 531.

[19] Craig, Germany, 24.

[20] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, 34.

[21] Colton, Kramer, and Palmer, History of the Modern World, 532.

[22] Tyler Whittle, The Last Kaiser A Biography of Wilhelm II German Emperor and King of Prussia (New York:  Times, 1977), 35

[23] Ibid, 36.

[24] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, 312.

[25] Ibid, 310.

[26] Ibid, 311.

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This is the abstract for a paper I wrote for my Research, Writing, and Analysis class.  Consider it the teaser trailer for the feature presentation (full paper) that will be posted later this week. 

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, 1979:  The Ideologically Motivated Blunder of a Superpower

afghan.jpg

Just before Christmas in 1979, Soviet troops from the Red Army began to crash across the border with Afghanistan.  Ten years later, they would limp back home, badly, and even fatally, wounded.  The decade long war, a war in which they would hold every technological advantage, was no doubt unpredictably brutal and long to its planners.  But should they have known better?  This was their neighborhood they were playing in, not some distant, unfamiliar land.  They had been front row witnesses, and occasionally participants, in the adventures and follies of empires in Afghanistan for decades.  What caused them to repeat the mistakes of the past?  Was it arrogance and reliance on their modern technological arsenal?  Or was it what Louis Dupree once told William Maley, author of The Afghanistan Wars, that once Afghanistan is in your blood, you can never get rid of it?  Did they just have the bug?

Through my research, I intend to show that The Soviet Union’s ill-fated adventure into this strange and treacherous land was a result of, as was so much else during the Cold War, a quest to expand an ideology to other lands, whether by friendly, coercive, or brutal methods.

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flag1.jpgIt seems that Past Tense should perhaps change it’s name to Test Tense, as three out of the last fours posts have involved a test of some sort, and one that one wasn’t much of a post at all, just a picture.  I could say that I’m just trying to better educate the blog-reading public, and while that is partially true, it’s really just because I’m lazy.  I didn’t even come up with these tests.  But in an effort to keep this blog from completely dying, I figure lazy posting is better than no posting at all.  And so I present to you yet another test.

 This test was conducted by Intercollegiate Studies Institute and was administered to 14,000 college freshmen and seniors from 50 institutes of higher learning.  The test consisted of 60 multiple choice questions on American history, government, and economy.  The point of the test was to see which institutions did the best job of increasing the knowledge of these subjects over the course of a students time there.  Well, it also showed something else–that American college’s (and apparently high schools) are not doing a good job of teaching these things.  No school scored better than a D+, for freshmen or seniors.  These aren’t Podunk U. or Bob’s Junior College.  These are legit academic powerhouses.   Rutgers, Duke, Cal, University of Michigan, half of the Ivy League, Murray State.  Yes, Murray State!  This is bad news.

Naturally, I had to take this test for myself.  I did pretty well, though not as well as I would have liked.  I scored 49 out of 60, an 81.67%.  Most of the questions I missed were among the last ten and had to do with economics, an admitted weak spot in my arsenal.  There were some gimmee questions, but most at least made me stop and think for a second.  (There were two questions that I had answered correctly originally, but changed my answer.  Never second guess yourself.)  So I wouldn’t say it was an easy test, but certainly I would have expected most college students to get at least a C, especially seniors.  When I got my score, it also gave me the average scores people have gotten for the month and since the test has been online, September 2007.  Both of those scores were 71.5%.

So, now the challenge.  Can you beat my score.  Remember, no googling.  Post your scores and what you thought of the test in the comments.  Have at it!  Go!

For a good and pretty interesting post on teaching history to high school students (and my comments on it) check this out on Blog 4 History.

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Pop Quiz

Ominous title, I know.  Well, a history teacher in the Bay Area thought that his students needed one.  A pop quiz on World War II.  His students are juniors and, hypothetically, had studied WWII in both their sophmore and junior years.  The results were less than impressive.  As an article in the San Francisco Chronicle details:

If high school juniors’ answers to a World War II questionnaire were strung together, here’s how history would look:

World War II took place in 19-something, when Theodore Roosevelt was president and the Germans claimed to be the best race.

Hoping to aid Third World countries, the United States joined the war to stop racism and end the dispute over Jews.

The head of the Nazis was a killer named Hitler whose evil partner, Mussolini, was president of the USSR. Ultimately, the war ended with the bombing of Iwo Jima and Hitler’s suicide. Then a treaty was signed.

Well, I just finished watching The War and Ken Burns must have really screwed up because I don’t remember it happening like that.  Unfortunately in our schools these days, history seems to be getting pushed off to the side.  I’m sure its always been a tough task for teachers to make what seems like old, dusty stuff to kids seem alive, interesting, and relevant.  It seems like other subjects, like math, english, and science, are given priority.  I’m not expert on education, and maybe those others are more practical, but as someone who loves history and sees the value in knowing our own, I find it sad that it appears to be neglected in many cases.  It’s tough for teachers because there’s always more every year and its tough to cover a couple hundred years in a school year without skimming over everything.  I remember when I was in school, it always seemed like the history classes barely got past the pilgrims.  Things like the Civil War and especially WWII seemed like they were thousands of years away, not tens.  In my junior year my American History teacher actually started the year with the Civil War because she knew we’d never have time to get to even the twentieth century if we didn’t.  I don’t have any answers or suggestions for making this better, like I said, I’m no expert on education.  Just some rambling thoughts.

Below is the quiz that the HS kids took, with the answers in small print at the bottom.  Quiz yourself and post your score.  I promise not to make fun of you…too much.  (I got 100%, BTW).

World War II quiz

Test your World War II knowledge – or your children’s. This Chronicle questionnaire was administered in San Francisco to 36 sophomores, 34 juniors and 20 seniors – but without benefit of multiple-choice options. Below is a multiple-choice version of the quiz, with each choice – incorrect, correct and nearly correct – taken from the students’ original answers.

1. When was World War II?

a. 1700

b. 1939 to 1945

c. Europe: 1930 to 1945; U.S.: 1941-1945

d. 1967

2. Who was president during most of World War II?

a. Woodrow Wilson

b. Theodore Roosevelt

c. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

d. Harry Truman

3. Who was Winston Churchill?

a. Prime Minister of the U.K.

b. General of the U.S.

c. A dictator

d. Some important dude

4. Who was Adolf Hitler?

a. Super evil guy

b. Nazi leader

c. Killer of Jews

d. All of the above

5. Who was Benito Mussolini?

a. Soviet leader

b. An explorer

c. Dictator of Italy

d. A columnist

6. Who was Rosie the Riveter?

a. Icon of U.S. female participation in the war

b. A protester

c. Gay gang member

d. Congressman

7. What caused the U.S. to join World War II?

a. Fighting over Hawaii

b. Revenge

c. Zimmerman’s note

d. The bombing of Pearl Harbor

8. How did World War II end?

a. Two atomic bombs were dropped in China

b. Hitler’s suicide

c. Germany lost as Allies pushed into Berlin, Japan was bombed by two atom bombs, and Emperor Hirohito surrendered.

d. Americans and Russians freed the Jews

9. What was the war about?

a. Racism

b. Communism

c. Boston tea

d. Liberation of Europe and the Pacific

10. What was the Holocaust?

a. Genocide of over 6 million Jews and others

b. Slavery

c. Killing of those that weren’t white

d. People looking down on Jews

ANSWERS:

1. b; 2. c; 3. a; 4. d; 5. c; 6. a; 7. d; 8. c; 9. d; 10. a

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labor.jpg

This question was asked by my sister.  Its good to have the support of the family.  And the recognition that I am her intellectual superior, even though she’s the one in the family with a college degree.  Why else would she call me “wise one”?  Here was her question:

“Well I was just thinking this past, I mean a week ago, what is the history behind the Labor Day holiday, so could you enlighten me oh wise one??”

The Labor Day holiday in the United States dates back to the late nineteenth century.  This era in American history saw a lot of tension between working folks and industry.  Strikes and walkouts were farily commonplace as workers fought for the establishment of what they deemed to be fair labor laws and practices, whether better wages, a shorter work day, etc.  Unfortunately, due to extremism on both sides of the issue, these strikes and demonstrations often led to bloody riots and in some cases even pitched battles.  The most famous riot with lasting repercussions was the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in May of 1886.

Workers had gone on strike on May 1st to force an eight-hour workday into law and on May 3rd violence erupted when strikers attacked a replacement worker trying to cross the picket line.  The police intervened and after the ensuing scrum, four strikers were dead.  Anarchist Albert Parsons immediately began spreading the word that the police had been sent to kill the strikers at the behest of the business interests there.  The next day a large rally was held at Haymarket Square that began so peacefully that the mayor of Chicago, who had stopped to watch it, decided to walk home early.  After a while, the police moved in to disperse the crowd when someone hurled a bomb in their direction.  A riot ensued which left seven policemen and at least four workers dead.  These events are seen as instrumental to the international labor movement and are the inspiration for the May Day workers holidays celebrated around the world.  But wait, Labor Day isn’t in May in the United States.  No it is not.  Here’s why.

As early as 1882, the Knights of Labor, a prominent workers organization in the late 1800’s, began holding a parade in New York City to honor the working man, which took place in early September.  Also, for some time the Central Labor Union had been pushing Congress to establish a holiday for the worker.  Since many of the unions and working orgainizations who would have preferred May 1st for the holiday–as it is internationally–were fraught with anarchists and socialists, President Grover Cleveland stepped in to support the Knights of Labor for their date.  In 1894 the first Monday in September was designated Labor Day by the Congress.

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