Friday, July 15, 2016

Kershaw Takes the Long View

 I read Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler some years ago with pleasure and profit.  Now at the urging of the Missus I am rooting around in To Hell and Back,  his big-picture history of the 20th Century, particularly the early chapters on the runup to and the aftermath of World War I.  It's a somewhat mind-bending experience in that I studied this stuff with some avidity in college 55 years ago (I was a late starter).  I loved it then and I'm surprised that I remember specific bits and pieces that seem to have stuck with me down through the years (also the entertaining showmanship of Jim Sutton at the U of Louisville as he flourished his deck of 5x7 note cards in a dauntless effort to keep his night students awake).

But what gives me a bit of the yim yams is how different it looks from the vantage of great age.  Or rather, I suppose "yim yams" is too strong.  There is no radical discontinuity.  I'm still the same person.  I didn't bring much to the table back then (did someone mutter "callow?").  I've got a lifetime to measure it against now.  In a way, I suppose you might say the same is true of Kershaw.  He's a bit younger than I but still, he's got a lifetime of experience to draw on.  At least as to Germany (which is pretty much the center of his story so far)  he has pretty much earned the right what he damn pleases.

One perhaps trivial point on which I'm specially appreciative: he gives lots of casualty figures, both for wars and for battles,  More satisfying still, he breaks down the general category into the specifics of dead and wounded.  Numbers are important here: it's good to get a sense of just how awful (in the strict sense) all this was.

Related point: to the best of my recollection, in my youth we passes pretty lightly over the Russian Civil War.  I don't think I ever grasped that it was actually more costly in human terms (for the Russians) than the great war itself.  And the Kronstadt Rebellion, where the revolution turned on, as it were, its own.  Trotsky said he would have them "shot like partridges" and proved as good as his words.

Another, perhaps larger, point: the radical reorganization of society as a whole with a dozen or so new nations, all of the, "democracies" of a sort.  And actually not such a bad sort.  Maybe only Czechoslovskia got its sea legs but for so many, it was an inspiring new departure.  In any event--I've got other things I want to get to, but I think I'll have to stick with Kershaw--I'm dying to know how it works out.  


The New York Crank said...

We may not be commenting, but we take note that you seem to be awakening from a long torpor. Or is this just a snort in the dark before you return to REM sleep?

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

Buce said...

Not sure. I do find stuff that I want to express in terms more extensive than compatible with FB. But as you know, it can be time consuming. And deflating to write for such a tiny audience.

Also, right now my desktop is non compos so I am punching it out on an IPad.

Maybe I just wanted to say something nice about Kershaw. We shall see. The future lies ahead.

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

"A tiny audience"? Feh! No audience that includes Brad DeLong is tiny.

Buce said...

A force amplifier. Brad and I have never actually met though we have been in the same room together. I lost at least one friend for having been (seeming) friends with Brad. I did offer some semi solicited advice when his son was thinking about going to Reed (my son had gone to Reed. Advice, maybe yes, maybe no.