Some interesting bits, particularly the general thrust that attempting to escape was somewhat of an ongoing game for captured soldiers ... a remnant,Some interesting bits, particularly the general thrust that attempting to escape was somewhat of an ongoing game for captured soldiers ... a remnant, in a way, of the dying old way of fighting wars ... the Napoleonic structure of it, where gentlemen officers lead the massed underclasses and treat opposing officers with a sense of respect. There was, it seems, little risk in escape attempts. The, therefore, took on elaborate structures, absurd role playing elements, a way for bored young men to pass time. In a way, this book shows the kind of innocence and "jolly-good-old-chap" back slapping that was crushed on the anvil of two world wars.
I was hoping for more though. Insights into what the camps were like, a more refined writing, insights into the psychology of captive and captor. Unfortunately, Grinnell-Milne writes with little perspective on the meaning of the age, the transformations that are happening in society, or even acknowledging the horrors of the front lines. He mentions Mons, the Somme, etc, in passing without flinching as his generation is entombed in their trenches....more
A must read for those interested in American history. In detail, Washington becomes one of the more interesting and admirable founding fathers ratherA must read for those interested in American history. In detail, Washington becomes one of the more interesting and admirable founding fathers rather than a figurehead or mythologized caricature. The more I read of early American history the more I'm amazed by how the past reverberates in the present. The debates about strong central government and states rights or the tension between a Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian vision for America are eerily similar to debates in the current presidential election cycle. In leaning towards the Hamiltonian view and a central government that binds America, Washington was strikingly modern and remarkable inhis ability to dissociate himself from his Virginia planter roots and become more or less the definitive "American." ...more
Yes, it's essential reading for students of mid-20th Century American History, foreign policy, the cold war, and post-war Europe. Kennan's fabled "lonYes, it's essential reading for students of mid-20th Century American History, foreign policy, the cold war, and post-war Europe. Kennan's fabled "long telegram" and "x article" were critical in forming a coherent US approach to Russia that navigated a course between appeasement and confrontation - poles that had twice in the preceding years proven fruitless with dire consequences; poles that cast a longer, darker shadow as the sun rose, and threatened to set, on a nuclear, soon to be thermonuclear, age. The long telegram and the x article began to outline containment, a sphere of influence strategy, and to curb the broader, perhaps untenable, idealism of the Truman doctrine's goal of intervening wherever freedom was threatened. But more interesting than the "what" was the "how". Kennan believed in "style" - a personal style that was rather genteel as well as a literary style that turned policy into prose and, occasionally, approached the poetic. He also believed that the roots of real understanding and good policy wouldn't come through studying law, international relations, or some other professionalized academic branch that promised to churn out polished diplomats, pundits, and advisers, but through a study of history, literature, the arts. I hesitate to put psychology in this bucket, but, ultimately, through these channels, Kennan's subjects were culture and mankind.
Finally, and again, maybe more interesting, is that this is a true biography. Gaddis' accomplishment is as much about penetrating and revealing the man, pulling him out of his time - and Kennan was insistent that he was a man out of time, an anachronism - instead of seating him at a banquet of the ages great men. The indelible flaws and how they come to shape the man. I read biographies to understand myself first, to gain a greater empathy for others second. In aggregate, to see how the isolation of experiencing yourself directly as something unique is undermined by common currents. I see a great deal of myself in his flaws - the stylized rambling that obscures points you'd hoped it would elucidate, the intimate coupling of self-assurance and insecurity, the unerring ability to do the right thing at the wrong time, an unsettled nature that leads to passionate curiosity at best and despondent distraction at worst. The question, then; how to mold a life as useful? ...more
Potent context the holocaust. The forced collectivization which amounted to planned starvation in the Ukraine as a way purge the country of peasant clPotent context the holocaust. The forced collectivization which amounted to planned starvation in the Ukraine as a way purge the country of peasant classes and force the hand of history toward communist teleology; the great terror which followed, killing off political rivals, Polish Russians, other convenient victims; the German / Russian "Molotov / Ribbentrop" pact which divided Poland east and west, but subjected each half to similar torments under different invaders (and revealing that, at this point, Russia was the master of atrocities, the Nazi's ardent students that would learn their lessons well enough to rival, but never truly supersede Russia - if one can actually do the calculus on lives taken and the manner of their taking); and, yes, the death camps. But the history of camps, the final solution, is also revealing; there are truths behind the commonly accepted myths of the holocaust. Millions of truths in the name alone of each victim: as Anna Akhmatova wrote, and Snyder quotes, "I should like to call you all by name / But they have lost the lists". Under Operation Reinhard, the lands east of the Molotov / Ribbentrop line, the lands liberated by Russia, saw the holocaust take a more definitive form in the extermination camps of Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka than it was in the west at Auschwitz. This is not to dismiss Auschwitz, but to realize new depths; the hole dug at the bottom of a hole, graves beneath other graves. Prisoners were immediately gassed upon arrival at eastern facilities. The fatality rates, unlike in the camps to the west where one may have been starved and worked towards or to death, approached perfection. Comparative statistics reveal horrors not well understood since the western powers never arrived there; the facility records, the first hand accounts of those few survivors, Vassily Grossman's reporting begin to build an essential history. What was seen, in Auschwitz, unbelievably, was an outer ring of hell, and one which does not cast a shadow dark enough for Stalin's acts to be obscured. His shooting squads, far less elaborate than purpose-engineered killing structures, were able to kill thousands per day at the much more socialist cost of 1 - 2 bullets - one at the base of the skull, occasionally one in the temple for insurance - per victim. The deaths in both instances were, as Snyder describes them with chilling matter of factness, "generic."
Though the latter stages of the book which cover the post-war falter, the first 2/3rds has a crushing momentum. Essential history. ...more