Category Archives: History

ISIS, Qaeda, and the Syrian War

Here is an excellent piece in the NY Review of Books on the armed group ISIS operating in Syria.

The most interesting question to me is who is behind this group. All accounts point to foreign fighters as the core and their opposition to other Syrian rebels is well known.

For me there are three choices:

This is Qaeda from Iraq: Syria and Iraq share a border and the group from Iraq is expanding westward into Syria in furtherance of the restoration of the Caliphate.

This is an organization financed by the Gulf states using imported fighters from a diverse Islamic regional base who transit through Turkey in order to support Sunnism.

Assad is behind this group. Creating increased savage violence in rebel held areas (in the wake of the loss of their chemical weapons stockpile) forces Syrian citizens to grudgingly accept the Assad regime.

And while I’m certainly no expert in Syrian history, my bet is for option 3.

China, Russia, and the Lessons of the Cold War

Here is a very interesting article from The Diplomat.

There are those, I count myself among them, who believe that a radical restructuring of global power is underway that threatens to undermine traditional economies unless properly managed. Recent moves by both Putin and the Chinese leadership toward rapprochement bodes ominous as identity culture wars in the West cannibalize and corporate elites drain productivity. The parallels with the end of the 19th century and the twilight of the British Empire creates opportunities for historians to highlight both the error and the danger of these distractions. Unfortunately, recent politics and culture augurs ill for those attempting to highlight the dangers that we face. Our trajectory may be unalterable.

Margaret MacMillan: The War That Ended the Peace

Margaret MacMillan, arguably Canada’s pre-eminent historian (who teaches at Oxford), has recently released another grand narrative concerning the First World War. Her earlier work, 1919, combined a fascinating subject with solid archival work and a really great narrative style: the trifecta for the historian.

The War that Ended the Peace re-casts the traditional narrative of World War 1 from the “War to End All Wars” to the title of her latest work, an end to peace. Many historians see the period from 1914-1945 as a second Thirty Years War, but on a grander scale. If this is so, how could Europe have gone nearly a century without war (the revolutionary activities of the 1848 period notwithstanding) and then careen into three decades of war? Starting with the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900, MacMillan traces the lines that would lead to war a decade later. MacMillan weaves together stories of changing technology, national prejudices, cynicism, brilliance and stupidity that would hurl Europe toward destruction and herald the emergence of new Powers. MacMillan takes a traditional Canadian approach recognizing that the diplomatic peace that was established early in the 19th century allowed economic development but that this was precarious and not inevitable. Peace meant continuous State management. Negotiations and discussions were they key to managing the Balance of Powers. The “balance” was artificial. Progress was not inevitable. The peace that allowed for the economic and material growth in Europe necessitated cool heads willing to negotiate and practice Power Politics. This was what was lost along the way, MacMillan argues.

More here.

Early anti-Nazi film re-discovered

In the early part of the last century Cornelius van Derbilt IV, the descendent of the railway tycoon, was in a unique position to interview some rather lofty players in the game of European politics including Adolf Hitler. In 1934 he produced a film called Hitler’s Reign of Terror that was censored and denied access to distribution due to its inflammatory nature. It has been recently re-discovered in the Belgian Archives. More here.

Did I mention that the film was censored and denied distribution in the United States?