Author: Asaf Siniver
Reviewer: Jussi Hanhimaki

Asaf Siniver. Nixon, Kissinger, and U.S. Foreign Policy Making: The Machinery of Crisis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xvi + 252 pp. Illustrations. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-89762-4.

Reviewed by Jussi Hanhimaki (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies) Published on H-Diplo (May, 2009) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Crises as Cases

What new could there possibly be to say about Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and their foreign policy efforts? Both have written massive memoirs (Kissinger’s amounting to over 3,500 pages in three volumes). Over the years Stephen Ambrose, Herbert Parmet, Anthony Summers, Marvin and Bernard Kalb, Jussi Hanhimäki, Robert Schulzinger, Seymour Hersh, Walter Isaacson, Robert Dallek, and Jeremi Suri, among others, have written lengthy biographies of the two. In-depth and insightful analysis of their complex bond, the policies they forged, and the crises they faced can be found in any and all of these works. It is hard to imagine a stone left unturned.

To his credit, Asaf Sniver has managed to find yet another angle from which to peer into the inner workings of the Nixon administration’s foreign policy machinery. In a book that mixes international relations theory with detailed archival research, Sniver focuses on the role of the Washington Special Actions Group (WSAG), a small interdepartmental group of high-level decision-makers chaired by Kissinger. Indeed, the author “is concerned with the mechanism of crisis decision-making during four major foreign policy crises between 1969 and 1974” (p. 1). Therefore, while Nixon and Kissinger are the key actors on the pages of Sniver’s book, his goal is not to reconstruct what their foreign policy was all about but how their personalities interacted with established bureaucratic machineries and rapidly unfolding events.

Constituted in May 1969 and institutionalized in July of the same year, the WSAG functioned as the Nixon administration’s crisis management team. In 1969-73, the WSAG met over two hundred times to discuss the many crises and challenges facing the administration. The record of these meetings provides the raw material for Sniver’s book.

The author has chosen to focus on four crises: the U.S. invasion (sorry, “incursion”) of Cambodia in the spring of 1970, the Jordanian crisis of September 1971, the Indo-Pakistani War of December 1971, and the October War of 1973. In each case, the WSAG played an important role with a significant impact on the outcome. The great virtue of Sniver’s book is, indeed, his expert reconstruction of the crises and their management by the Nixon administration. As such the book has managed to add another layer of analysis to a field filled with competing treatises.

Yet one needs to question how significant these findings are. It is clear, for example, that the WSAG functioned better in the two crises in the Middle East than it did in the cases of Cambodia and India-Pakistan. If this is simply because the president himself was less involved in the Jordanian crisis and almost totally out of the picture during the October War (due to Watergate), what does this tell us about the role of such carefully designed (theoretically) bureaucratic machineries as the WSAG? Did it simply depend on the whims of the president? If so, how many lessons can one draw from the WSAG experience?

One must also call into question the case study method and the cases chosen for this book. In one, Cambodia, American troops were directly in harm's way; in the other three cases, the United States exercised its influence either mainly via diplomatic channels (Jordan and South Asia) or through a combination of diplomatic pressure and large-scale military assistance (the October War). Different regional dynamics probably played a far more important role in the eventual outcomes of the four crises than the internal decision-making processes in Washington DC. In fact, given the outcomes of the four crises, it is no wonder that WSAG gets higher marks for its handling of the Jordanian crisis and the October War: in both, U.S. policy goals were upheld. Did the choice of these cases perhaps determine the end results of the analysis?  

Such questions aside, Sniver has produced a well-written and thoroughly researched analysis of an aspect of the Nixon administration’s foreign policy that required further probing. His book will be welcomed by all who wish to have a succinct and thought-provoking analysis of how--rather than why--Nixon and Kissinger addressed their foreign policy crises. Perhaps more importantly, Sniver’s book provides lessons about the constant interplay of personalities and bureaucratic processes in the making of foreign policy, whether in the United States or elsewhere. It is a valuable addition to the continuously growing body of scholarship on Nixon’s and Kissinger’s tenures in office.

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Author: Kevin B. Witherspoon
Reviewer: John Sugden

Kevin B. Witherspoon. Before the Eyes of the World: Mexico and the 1968 Olympic Games. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2008. xi + 212 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-87580-388-3.

Reviewed by John Sugden (University of Brighton) Published on H-Diplo (April, 2009) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Sport, Culture and Controversy

If you wanted to write a short history of the twentieth century, you could do worse than focus on the Olympic Games and all that has swirled around this quadrennial festival of sport, culture, and controversy. Since its reincarnation in the twilight of European imperial ambition in Athens in 1896, every four years the modern Olympics has provided a nuanced snapshot of world power relations. Could anyone, for instance, who witnessed the demonstration of Nazi organization, prowess, and power at the 1936 Berlin Olympics harbor any doubt that the specter of fascism was a real threat to the existing world order? Likewise, when "Gimn Sovetskogo Soyuza," the anthem of the Soviet Union, and the raising of the Hammer and Sickle, began to rival the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the flourishing of the Stars and Stripes at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, the world knew that the Cold War had found new expression through Olympic competition.

In this regard, Before the Eyes of the World is more than a book about sport and mega-event management (although it definitely is about this too). It is also a window into the state of local and transnational political and economic relations at the end of one of the century’s most turbulent and transformative decades. With excellent use of original, archival research, Witherspoon recounts how, against considerable odds, Mexico--a country that at the time was widely regarded as "third world" if not "third rate"--managed to secure the hosting rights to the 1968 summer Olympics, despite competition from two of the world’s leading and most prosperous modern cities, Chicago and Paris. This opening section of the book should be compulsory reading for current and future municipal Olympic Games bidding committees as the author reveals how, with a mixture of humility, cunning, and opportune grandstanding, the Mexicans were able to win the contest to hold the Games. Only a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, a key to their success was the way in which they  garnered votes by understanding and working to their advantage the complex political dynamic between the United States and the Soviet Union and its impact on wider Latin American and emergent African allegiances.

The core of the book addresses two major themes, both of which were global in context and local in terms of framing and impacting upon the 1968 Olympics. The first focuses on domestic political unrest and student radicalism. The 1960s in general and 1968 in particular are seminal in the history of student radicalism and activism. In France, the government of Charles de Gaulle fell after sustained, student-led rioting in Paris. This came on the heels of the Prague Spring when student activists were at the forefront of a movement for democratic change in Czechoslovakia that temporarily led to the overthrow of the incumbent Communist government. In the United States, there was widespread unrest at university campuses across the country as students added their voices to the growing clamor to end their county’s military involvement in Southeast Asia. So, in the build up to the Games, when in increasing numbers students took to the streets in Mexico City to protest against their government’s social and economic policies, its totalitarian tendencies, and what they perceived as the waste of resources that were being lavished on the Olympics, President Diaz Ordaz had every right to be nervous. The Mexican government’s heavy-handed response was also encouraged by the United States, which, at this point in its history, saw a Communist plot behind every popular movement for reform in Latin America. Matters came to a head on October 2 when, "before the eyes of the world" barely a week before the Games started, hundreds of student protesters were gunned down in cold blood  by Mexican security forces in Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlateloloco district of Mexico City. The world watched and did nothing as, shamefully, did the myopic Olympic mandarins, citing, just as they would four years later when Israeli athletes were massacred in Munich, "the Games must go on."[1]

And go on they did, but, there was another time-bomb ticking at their heart, namely the explosive issue of race relations. Even before they started, the viability of the Games had been called into question when, responding to the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to readmit apartheid-governed South Africa into the Olympic movement, thus allowing them to participate at Mexico, a succession of African and Communist-led nations threatened to boycott the Games. As Witherspoon explains in some detail, this was avoided at the eleventh hour when the IOC executive, albeit reluctantly, reversed its decision and South Africa remained excluded. But South Africa was only one battleground in the struggle for equal rights for people of color, the other was in the home of one of the IOC’s longest standing members: the United States of America.

Today the image through which most people remember Mexico 1968 is neither Kip Keino doing a lap of honor after having defeated the legendary American Jim Ryun in the 1,500 meters, nor of Bob Beamon sailing through the air to shatter the Olympic and world long jump records. It is much more likely to be the bowed heads and black-gloved clench fists of African American sprinters John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the medal ceremony after the final of the 200 meters. The civil rights movement and resistance to it in the United States were at their height in the late 1960s and, as the author explains, sport was caught up in this conflict. African American track and field athletes had been radicalized by decades of unfair treatment in domestic competitions and, in an era when sport mega-events were beginning to get significant media exposure, the 1968 Olympics was targeted by the most politically conscious athletes as a perfect event through which to showcase their grievances, particularly coming as it did only a few months after the assassination in Memphis of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Witherspoon does an excellent job of forensically examining these major themes, as well as looking at other important issues of the times, such as amateurism, performance-enhancing drugs, and security, in doing so making clear the linkages between wider social and political influences and their practical impact on Mexico’s Olympics. The book is very well researched and equally well written, managing as it does to weave material from archival and interview sources into an embodied documentary-style narrative. Before the Eyes of the World is a book that should appeal widely to Olympic and general sports historians and to those concerned with the political sociology of sport. It should also be of interest to the growing numbers of people studying sport mega-events and event management as well as those members of the general public who are simply interested in reading good historical narrative.


[1]. Arnd Kruger, "The Unfinished Symphony. A History of the Olympic Games from Coubertin to Sameranch," in The International Politics of Sport in the Twentieth Century, ed. Jim Riordan and Arnd Kruger (London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1999), 20.

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Citation: John Sugden. Review of Witherspoon, Kevin B., Before the Eyes of the World: Mexico and the 1968 Olympic Games. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. April, 2009. URL:

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Author: Ted Widmer
Reviewer: Don H. Doyle

Ted Widmer. Ark of the Liberties: America and the World. New York: Hill and Wang, 2008. 384 pp. $25.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8090-2735-4.

Reviewed by Don H. Doyle (University of South Carolina) Published on H-Diplo (April, 2009) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

The Dangers of Idealism

Ted Widmer is a historian, a former political speechwriter, and an observer of American politics and foreign policy who is as worried as he is hopeful.[1] He is a gifted writer with a good eye for the apt quote--and a good ear, for many of his most memorable quotes come from oratory. He also has a knack for utilizing obscure, even quirky anecdotes to make his point. For example, he notes that during the U.S. incursion in the Philippines, the Senate debated torture techniques, including a “water cure” whose origins went back to the Spanish Inquisition (p. 155). In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt was the first sitting president to venture outside the United States. Operation Iraqi Freedom was originally named Operation Iraqi Liberation, until someone noticed the acronym.

In places, especially the discussion of the twentieth century, his interpretation seems partisan in its slant, but not consistently so and not to the point of undermining the author’s credibility. He is given at times to soaring prose and loves to quote poetry, often to very good effect. This book, in turns, is inspiring, troubling, and often witty. Scholars of U.S. foreign policy will likely find much of the main story laid out here familiar, but the originality of this book lies in its ambitious scope (from the European discovery to the war in Iraq). The author’s bold but not uncomplicated reaffirmation of America’s historic mission in the world ought to provoke reflection and argument. This is a good book for the college classroom, and it will likely find an audience among more readers outside than within the corps of specialists in U.S. foreign relations.

This is a study of America’s national ideals and how they have guided (and misguided) not only America’s foreign policymakers but, more fundamentally, the popular understanding of America’s role in the world as well. The title comes from Herman Melville’s 1850 novel, White Jacket, or the World in a Man-of-War: “'And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people--the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.... We are the pioneers of the world; the advance-guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours'” (pp. xi-xii).

What may seem a classic instance of national chauvinism was, we learn, part of a lengthy diatribe against flogging in the American navy, a practice Melville condemned as an idiotic, backward custom inherited from the aristocratic British and entirely out of place in a democratic society. It is this juxtaposition of lofty principle and shameful practice that Widmer uses to preview his concept of American idealism and set up a standard against which national failings, as often as achievements, may be measured. It is only the first of many such inconsistencies he acknowledges aboard the good ship U.S. liberty as he tracks its unpredictable voyage through history. 

The metaphor of the ark performs multiple tasks, most often as a ship at sea rather than a religious totem signifying God’s covenant with the nation. The ark as ship is a speechwriter’s delight, full of possibilities for references to wandering off course, drifting, or sailing full speed ahead. This nautical symbol also serves Widmer’s artful interpretation of American history as a voyage, rarely straight from point to point, often stopping to take on new passengers, always moving. He likes “ark” as a figure of speech for another reason, he reveals, because it suggests arc-en-ciel, the French word for rainbow, with its promise that “something wonderful--a pot of gold or simply a new beginning--waits over the next horizon” (p. xiii). Rainbows, readers less disposed toward such sunny expectations may recall, also result from dreadful weather.

Widmer rarely lets his optimism get the better of his task as historian for very long. By his account, the ark of the liberties keeps running aground, drifting, or, worse, launching unwelcome invasions on the shores of other nations. Though he spares none of these mishaps in his log, some readers may be left wondering whether this American ark of the liberties is a righteous vessel veering off course now and then, a Titanic doomed by its own arrogant recklessness to disaster, or some dreadnought battleship portending trouble for the world whenever it leaves port. He quotes Simon Bolívar, who wryly observed: “'The United States appears to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty'” (p. 83).

American historians, a British acquaintance once told me, rather than seeing their purpose as providing sardonic witness to human folly, like to think their work will somehow make things better. Widmer exudes American optimism but he is worried; he wants America “to learn from our mistakes and chart a new course” to move toward some more perfect version of our national ideals (p. 315). Accusations of hypocrisy and moral failings are rarely effective without the target espousing high principles against which actual behavior can be assessed. More than most nations, the United States seems to set itself up for poor marks in sincerity and moral consistency by its proclivity for idealistic pronouncements, not only, but especially, in its foreign relations.

Yet this is not the usual scolding book that excoriates leaders and citizens for their failure to live up to the nation’s ideals, for Widmer wants to retrieve and restore the ideals themselves, applauding those moments when the nation rises toward its own lofty standards and anguishing when it betrays them. At the opening of the book, he promises to avoid “excessive adulation and criticism” of his subject, but he does so typically by countering one with the other (p. xiv). Throughout the book is a constant back and forth between an inspiring invocation of the nation's ideals and nagging reminders of its failings. At times, I wondered whether Widmer was straining to curb his enthusiasm for America’s promise or keep his despair over current failings in check. 

An opening chapter, aptly named “Fantasy Island,” traces the origins of America as an idealized nation back to early European imaginings of the New World as a place where human society might redeem itself. Another chapter on the colonial era is the familiar story of the New England Puritans and early millennial thinking about America as the place God would work out his plan for humans. Though warning us against viewing Jonathan Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” as a preview of the future Republic, Widmer stresses the millennialism that would continue to influence America’s national creed (p. 29). Perhaps unintentionally, Widmer’s exclusive focus on New England illuminates how this region would shape America’s nationalist narrative long after it took its secular turn. New England dominates Widmer’s telling of the American Revolution as well, but he closes with Thomas Jefferson predicting that his Declaration of Independence would, sooner or later, inspire all peoples to follow the American example. A chapter on “Empire of Liberty” gives the stage over to Jefferson and to foreign relations in the young Republic from the Louisiana Purchase to the Monroe Doctrine. 

Widmer’s treatment of the Mexican War is incisive and damning. The first full-scale invasion of a foreign country by the United States (an earlier invasion of Canada in 1812 was quickly defeated) was a radical departure from American national ideals, he explains. Few articulated those ideals more eloquently than John O’Sullivan who coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” and prophesied America’s role as the “great nation of futurity.” Widmer seems to understand that the concepts underlying O’Sullivan’s “Manifest Destiny” fall very close to his own understanding of America as the ark of the liberties. The ideas were “not entirely bad,” he allows; it was their misuse and misapplication in an aggressive war of conquest that he laments (p. 110). The invasion of Iraq is never mentioned here, nor, in the equally cogent passages, is the U.S. incursion in the Philippines, but no one can read these passages without thinking of the American war in Iraq. By the end of the book, we understand how much the recent turns in U.S. foreign policy have informed Widmer’s interpretation of the past--and vice versa.  

Widmer, the historian, wrote the chapters on America and the world through the nineteenth century; Widmer, the political speechwriter and Democratic Party partisan, tends to loom larger in the telling of the rise of America as a world power in the twentieth century. He opens with a spirited interrogation of the dichotomy that has, on one side, Teddy Roosevelt, the “realist,” who “vigorously asserted U.S. military might,” and, on the other side, Woodrow Wilson, the “idealist,” “tortured by naïve aspirations for democracy and reluctant to project the full force of American power” (p. 189). This myth, Widmer argues, laid the foundation for Republican and Democratic party identities ever since, and he wants to set things right by reassessing Wilson as “a visionary who saw things not only as they were, but as they needed to be” (p. 189).

If Widmer props up Wilson, he positively elevates Franklin D. Roosevelt as a hero not only of America’s national ideals but also of the cause of world peace and democracy. In Widmer’s rendering, we have in Roosevelt an intellectually inspired and learned president who was imbued with a pervasive sense of America’s historic role in spreading democracy and liberty throughout the world. The Atlantic Charter, the United Nations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stand as testimony to Roosevelt’s idealistic vision and also to his capacity to realize ideals. “At long last,” Widmer writes with buoyant enthusiasm, “America’s capacity to change the world had caught up to her desire. The ark was sailing at full speed” (p. 213). This highly burnished version of Roosevelt is dulled slightly by the admission that he “was not a perfect crusader for freedom,” the author conceding as evidence of this imperfection the internment of Japanese Americans, the slow response to Jewish and other refugees from Nazi Germany, and repressive measures against critics (p. 212).

Two chapters on the Cold War link its Manichean vision of good and evil with deep traditions of America’s idealistic vision of itself as the champion of liberty in the world. George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” in 1946 and his “Sources of Soviet Conduct” in Foreign Affairs (July 1947) that followed forecast the coming world struggle between Russian Communism and American democracy. Widmer notes similarities between Kennan’s article and a Puritan Jeremiad sermon in which Kennan compared the Soviets to “a dangerous rival church with ‘mystical, Messianic’ tendencies (he disliked its claim to ‘infallibility,’ a favorite complaint the Puritans had voiced about the Catholic Church).... He even ended his essay with an appeal to Providence and advanced the classic Puritan argument that this moral challenge was welcome, even necessary, if Americans wanted to live up to their potential” (p. 234). So much for Kennan the realist. 

Likewise, Harry Truman’s commitment to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation,” along with the entire discourse on the “free world,” recapitulated centuries of America’s self rendering as the beacon of liberty in the world (p. 235). Widmer neatly illustrates the dark side of U.S. Cold War policy in three episodes of intrigue in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), and Vietnam (1954), each with lasting and disastrous practical results, to say nothing of their violations of the nation’s vaunted ideals.

At this point in the voyage, it seems piloting duties on the ark of the liberties alternate between messianic zealots and sinister, paranoid Captain Queegs. John F. Kennedy comes aboard to rescue the ship with a renewed sense of America’s mission: “'We do not imitate--for we are a model to others,'” he proclaimed the night before he took office (p. 269). But Kennedy appears to win points with Widmer for his signs of backing off the Cold War hard line and admitting America cannot impose its will on the world. The spirit of Captain Queeg, in the form of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, took back the helm after Kennedy’s untimely death, and America’s ark drifted deeper into troubled waters at home and abroad.

Ronald Reagan is depicted as something of a fool at the helm, albeit one with “an engaging manner, a mellifluous voice, and an unflinching belief in the superiority of American institutions” (p. 291). His references to America as a “shining city upon the hill” might have sent Winthrop (whose 1630 sermon to the Puritans inspired this image) spinning in his grave, but it drew very effectively on deep currents of America’s idea of itself as a model for all peoples. Reagan, or rather his speechwriters and handlers, understood how to appeal to that historic idealism of the American people, Widmer concedes, though not without letting us know just how shallow and limited his understanding of those ideals was. While issuing paeans to freedom around the world, Reagan opposed or ignored the civil rights movement and other efforts to expand freedom at home.     

Widmer’s allegiance to Bill Clinton’s administration reveals itself briefly and modestly. After offering kudos to several unappreciated achievements during the Clinton years, he writes: “As a minor participant in the Clinton administration, I realize that my perspective is hardly objective. But still, it seemed at the time--and it still seems, a decade later--as if the best of U.S. foreign policy was working and the worst was held in check” (p. 308).

In the epilogue, however, Widmer takes off his gloves and sets forth a withering assessment of just how far the United States has fallen since George W. Bush took office. “This is not a book about the Bush administration,” he writes in the epilogue, but by this point it seems much of this story of America’s engagement with the world is informed by recent events. “It is worth pausing for a moment,” he continues, “to contemplate how a group of patriotic leaders could have inflicted so much harm, so quickly, on the world order that had been created by their own country” (p. 317).

Though couched in the language of America’s traditional idealism as the ark of the liberties, Bush’s incursion in Iraq, by Widmer’s account, is a terrible betrayal of that idealism. Those who led America into the Iraq war, he argues, were the opposite of naïve idealists; they were cynics who exploited America’s tradition of idealism: “what does one call an effort to spread democracy by people who do not seem to believe in the basic consensus of democracy? What does one call airy theories of perfect human behavior floated by people with no inclination to utopia? What does one call the interventionist yearnings of people who have shown very little interest in foreign cultures?” These were nothing more than “wolves in Wilsonian clothing” (p. 321).

Widmer tells us in closing that “we Americans are at their best, and our most truly world-shaping, when we reject the idea of special destiny and simply get to work” (p. 328). Many readers of this book may feel less inspired to set sail on voyages reshaping the world in our image and more inclined to head for port and get to work repairing their own ship. 


[1]. Widmer previously authored (under the name Edward L. Widmer) Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); and coauthored with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. a biography of Martin Van Buren, Martin Van Buren (New York: Times Books, 2005). He also edited two collections on American political oratory for the Modern American Library. Currently, he serves as the director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, and before that served as speechwriter and foreign policy advisor for President Bill Clinton.

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Author: Markus Mosslang, Torstan Riotte, eds.
Reviewer: Linda S. Frey

Markus Mosslang, Torstan Riotte, eds. The Diplomats' World: The Cultural History of Diplomacy, 1815-1914. Studies of the German Historical Institute London Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 480 pp. $140.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-954867-5.

Reviewed by Linda S. Frey (University of Montana) Published on H-Diplo (April, 2009) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Men Who Lie Abroad: Diplomats and Their World in the Nineteenth Century

European diplomatic historians, an increasingly extinct species, especially in the United States, will welcome this volume.[1] Although reviewing books is often a thankless task, this book, studded with gems, was not. Based on a conference held at the German Historical Institute London in September 2005, The Diplomats’ World consists of an excellent introduction and fifteen papers, which revolve around a common theme: diplomatic culture and its impact on interstate relations in the long nineteenth century when the diplomatic network both contracted with the unification of Italy and Germany and expanded with the addition of non-European states.

In part 1, “The Diplomatic Establishment,” T. G. Otto (“‘Outdoor Relief for the Aristocracy?’ European Nobility and Diplomacy, 1850-1914”) provides a useful recapitulation of current knowledge on the aristocratic dominance of and bias in the diplomatic corps prior to World War I. He compares the diplomatic corps in the major European states and underscores their extensive family ties and the recourse to nobilitation to tap into the talented middle class. William D. Godsey Jr. carries on this theme and examines two reform efforts by Adolf von Plason, a section councillor and later court and ministerial councillor, and Baron, later Count, Alois Aehrenthal, foreign minister (“The Culture of Diplomacy and Reform in the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office, 1867-1914”). Their respective backgrounds, Plason in the administration and Aehrenthal in the diplomatic corps, predictably influenced their stances. Plason criticized what he saw as the declining intellectual rigor and the absence of a culture of merit, while Aehrenthal focused on requiring administrative experience and reforming the admissions tests. Nonetheless, admission requirements were often waived with the notable exception of the insistence on a substantial income, as diplomatic pay was poor and did not cover necessary expenses. The Austro-Hungarian diplomatic corps, like others in Europe, was dominated by the aristocracy, but unlike its counterpart in Germany was not militarized. For the foreign office, birth and breeding remained the prime determinants for appointment. In contrast, Saho Matsumoto-Best concentrates on a little-known area, the relationship between art and diplomacy (“The Art of Diplomacy: British Diplomats and the Collection of Italian Renaissance Paintings, 1851-1917”). He analyzes how British diplomats often endeavored to collect art and the tactics they employed, not only for their own collections but also for the National Gallery; they often violated the law and relied on bribes to get desired art work back to Britain. The wrangling over disposition of the art collection of Sir Henry Austin Layard, who brought his collection to his home in Venice and unfortunately died there, highlighted the legal issues and the importance of personal contacts. Layard had stipulated in his will that his collection be given to the National Gallery, but Italian laws prohibiting the export of works of art and their increasingly rigorous application after the unification posed numerous difficulties for his executors. Although Layard died in 1894, the collection was not exported to Britain until 1919. Matsumoto-Best’s sources are predominantly British. Had he consulted more Italian ones his essay perhaps would have had a different perspective.

William Mulligan (“Mobs and Diplomats: The Alabama Affair and British Diplomacy, 1865-1872”) and Dominik Geppert (“The Public Challenge to Diplomacy: German and British Ways of Dealing with the Press, 1890-1914”) examine the question of "Diplomacy and the Public Sphere," the title of part 2. Mulligan bases his essay exclusively on British sources at the Public Record Office and the British Library; he never examines the extensive material available at the National Archives in Washington DC. Confusingly, he begins with the third parliamentary Select Committee on the diplomatic service and its emphasis on cutting costs and improving efficiency. To derail these reforms, British diplomats used the American diplomatic service as a telling example of the disastrous consequences of such reforms. In part, this attack stemmed from the British experience in negotiating the Alabama affair. The author is not concerned with the legalities of the claims but rather the tactics, increasingly creative, that were employed to resolve it. For him, it represented a “clash of political and diplomatic cultures” (p. 114). The British commissioners were critically aware of the necessity of crafting a treaty that would pass the U.S. Senate. To achieve that goal, they tried to restrict public knowledge about the treaty as it was an inflammatory issue. Whereas Mulligan analyzes ways to limit public opinion, Geppert underscores the expansion of the public sphere in the nineteenth century, driven in part by the growth of mass circulation newspapers. Unsurprisingly, he notes that press management became a more important task of governments, especially the foreign office. A few colloquial expressions pepper the text, such as “stuck to their guns” and “rang alarm bells” (pp. 143, 157). He dubs the German type of press management bureaucratic because it tended to rely on offices and officials. The Germans also resorted to repression, such indirect means as funding certain papers or granting certain honors, and selectively releasing information. The British, in contrast, relied on personal contacts to influence coverage as the social worlds of diplomats and newspaper men were often, but not always, closely interlocked. The British also employed more subtle tactics, such as insistence on a dress code for admittance to certain events. Although Geppert stresses the basic differences between German and British approaches, similarities emerged, including limiting or privileging access to information and rewarding certain individuals. Geppert also briefly alludes to the first official visit by a German press delegation to Britain and the return visit by British journalists. Sadly, he underscores that these visits did not fundamentally alter the attitude of Teutophobes and Anglophobes, but rather reflected the dismal state of Anglo-German relations.

In part 3, "Public Politics and Diplomatic Protocol," Susan Schattenberg (“The Diplomat as ‘an actor on a great stage before all the people’? A Cultural History of Diplomacy and the Portsmouth Peace Negotiations of 1905") and Verna Steller (“The Power of Protocol: On the Mechanisms of Symbolic Action in Diplomacy in Franco-German Relations, 1871-1914") address the cultural aspects of diplomacy. Schattenberg begins her essay with an amusing but embarrassing defeat by an American envoy in St. Petersburg (1892-94), who lost a diplomatic skirmish with his British counterpart in an arbitration settlement. Although the American had the stronger legal position, he lost to his British counterpart because the Russians were swayed by other considerations: “influence, prestige and reputation” (p. 167). The British ambassador had a lavish house and entertained frequently, whereas the American minister had poor quarters and was unable to do so. Schattenberg uses this example to underscore the importance of cultural considerations in diplomacy. Just as the British ambassador won in this case so too in the Portsmouth peace negotiations, the Russian representative, again in the theoretically weaker position, also prevailed against the Japanese. Although Schattenberg underscores that many considerations influenced the final victory, she emphasizes the ability of Sergei Witte, the Russian representative, to win over the Americans, who found him appealing. He had mastered in short the art of bridging the cultural divide and making himself liked while his Japanese counterpart had not. In contrast, Steller focuses on the importance of ceremonial in Franco-German relations on the eve of World War I. She begins with the highly ritualized, but nonetheless tense, ceremonial that characterized the accreditation of the new French ambassador in Berlin after the Franco-Prussian War. This ceremonial, replete with critical symbolism, set the precedent for the reception of future ambassadors to Germany. The choice of Viscount de Gontaut-Biron was, on the surface, a strange choice as he was not a professional diplomat and did not speak German. He was, however, an aristocrat. After the Franco- Prussian War, although the new French Republic was tempted to abolish the old ceremonial because they regarded it as both “monarchical and aristocratic,” they did not because they thought it would lower their status in the international order (p. 199). Equally important, the French continued to send members of the old aristocracy as ambassadors because they understood fully the folly of not doing so. Thus, as Steller underscores, “the face of republican France continued to be shaped by aristocrats, both at home and abroad” (p. 200). Perhaps they learned from the mistakes of the French revolutionaries in 1789. She then segues into an analysis of Franco-Russian attempts to form an alliance and the inauguration of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal before returning clearly to the topic of the essay and analyzing the French ambassador’s atypical and, in the view of some, humiliating departure from Berlin on the eve of World War I.

Part 4 carries on this cultural theme with “Diplomatic Encounters.” Anthony Best analyzes the confrontation between Britain and Japan (“The Role of Diplomatic Practice and Court Protocol in Anglo-Japanese Relations, 1867-1900”) and Sabine Mangold that between Germany and Morocco (“Oriental Slowness: Friedrich Rosen’s Expedition to the Sultan of Morocco’s Court in 1906”). For Best, diplomatic protocol reflects not only Britain’s goal of forcing non-European states, specifically Japan, into their mold but also Japan’s commitment to demonstrating that it was a “civilized power” (p. 235). Indeed, the Japanese developed what many diplomats regarded as an “exhausting fastidiousness” over such matters (p. 235). Diplomatic practice and ceremonial became “a symbolic battleground” between two very different cultures (p. 239). Two very different cultures collide as well in Mangold’s essay on the encounter between Friedrich Rosen, Germany’s envoy to Morocco, and the sultan. As evidence of the cultural divide, in his memoirs Rosen underscored the necessity of following court practice and traveling slowly to reach the sultan. Although a fast rider could reach Fez from Tangier in four days, diplomats typically had to take eleven or more days, an “established and unchanging part of diplomatic practice” (p. 260). Just as in the Europe of the old regime, aristocrats traveled slowly, so too in Morocco. In Europe, time was seen as increasingly valuable especially after the technological changes brought by the Industrial Revolution, whereas in Morocco every dignitary traveled slowly. Traveling slowly was clearly a political privilege. The sovereign was “master of his own time” (p. 278). Other foreign diplomats were not as sensitive to such etiquette and referred to them as “the bagatelles of protocol” (p. 276). Rosen, however, unlike many of his contemporaries, was a well-known scholar of the area and understood well the importance of adhering to local customs.

Part 5, “Representing the Republic,” carries on this theme of a cultural divide--but between republics, the United States and others (David Paull Nickles, “US Diplomatic Etiquette during the Nineteenth Century”), and the Swiss and others (Claude Altermatt, “On Special Mission: Switzerland and Its Diplomatic System”). Nickles points out the “tension between American domestic ideals and foreign diplomatic practice” as Altermatt does for the Swiss (p. 287). In both cases, the ideals of a republic seemed to militate against having a diplomatic corps. In the Swiss case, fiscal considerations weighed more heavily than in the United States. The United States’ attitude can be divided into three eras. In the first (from the Revolution until 1829), Americans attempted to reconcile existing protocol with the “needs and values of the republic” (p. 288). From 1829 until 1890, they  attacked a diplomatic culture they saw as “effete, aristocratic, and immoral,” and in the last, although Americans challenged existing practice, increasingly they made accommodations (p. 288). Controversies centered on diplomatic rank, dress, and the theoretical equality of states. Many in the United States, most notably Thomas Jefferson, associated ambassadors with wasteful spending and monarchical governments. Early presidents did not send anyone with a rank higher than minister, even though such representatives often found themselves at a disadvantage at protocol conscious courts. Jefferson was willing to send ministers to France and Britain but only chargés to Spain, Portugal, and the United Provinces.

He refused outright to send an ambassador to Morocco and instructed the United States’ consul there to inform the ruler that we never send “an ambassador to any nation” (p. 290). By the time Grover Cleveland became president, the American attitude had changed and he sent the first ambassador to Britain. Its growing status in the international community convinced the United States to send individuals of higher rank as differences in rank and precedence had obstructed access and ultimately American policy. The question of costume for American diplomats proved more problematic. The conflict centered on the question of republican simplicity versus prevailing standards. Benjamin Franklin’s stance reflects this dichotomy. When Franklin first went to France to secure aid he dressed in the court style, but later when he returned in 1776 he consciously ignored French fashion and dressed in unfashionable spectacles, a fur cap, and plain dress. While other American diplomats wore court dress, he eschewed traditional apparel and wore his hair unpowdered and undressed. As Nickles points out so astutely, Franklin’s appearance appeared to be “simple and unaffected but was actually nuanced and calculated” (pp. 296-297). A number of presidents later mandated certain diplomatic dress, not wholly successfully. The goal was to appear simply dressed, but all too often American representatives were mistaken for waiters or undertakers or lower servants. On one occasion, another envoy asked the American representative to call him a cab and the American wittily riposted: “All right, if you wish it, ‘you’re a cab’” (p. 306). Such rejoinders were not always appreciated. Some courts refused to receive diplomats who were not appropriately garbed. Queen Victoria, for one, was relieved when the United States abandoned totally black garb: “I am thankful we shall have no more American funerals” (p. 304). Last, Nickles deals with the issue of how the expansion of the international order affected diplomatic practice and led to repeated clashes, especially the Americans’ celebrated refusal to perform the kowtow. In the Swiss lands, too, the republican ideology, such as an aversion to the office of diplomat, clashed with monarchical diplomatic practice. While the Swiss often empowered honorary consuls (who cost nothing), they were niggardly about sending permanent paid representatives abroad. They preferred that other nations send representatives to them. Nor did the Swiss respect the rule of reciprocity that mandated the reciprocal exchange of representatives. Only international crises, such as over Neuchâtel and Savoy, impelled the Swiss to change their attitude. In 1857, the Swiss appointed Johann Conrad Kern as minister plenipotentiary to Germany, and, in 1864, they sent a permanent envoy to Turin. As late as 1882, the Swiss had only four legations abroad and by 1892, seven. In some cases only threats worked. In 1906, Brazil threatened to suspend relations if the Swiss did not send at least a chargé. By 1914, the Swiss had 11 legations abroad and 112 honorary consulates. Ultimately, strategic interests as well as the mandates of international courtesy convinced the Swiss to conform to international usage.

In part 6, “Outsiders in the Diplomats’ World,” C. R. Pennell (“The Social History of British Diplomats in North Africa and How It Affected Policy”) and Martin Ott (“Crossing the Atlantic: Bavarian Diplomacy and the Formation of Consular Services Overseas, 1820-1871”) examine the role of consuls. Pennell analyzes the role of British consuls in North Africa, specifically in Tangier, Tunis, and Tripoli, and stresses, unsurprisingly, that often policy was made locally because of slow communication and significant expertise on the part of the consuls who often remained in place for life. Local consuls were a closed elite; they had few social contacts and often felt isolated because religion and class separated them from the larger society. They developed not only working relations but also close social ties with other consuls. Not until the 1840s when communication improved dramatically did their power become more circumscribed. After the Napoleonic War, the consuls appointed were all former army officers. Until 1823, the Levant Company appointed British consuls who were for the most part merchants mainly because the pay was so poor. Later (1825) the Colonial Office and still later (1836) the Foreign Office supervised them. Although their primary duty was to protect British nationals and oversee trade, their job always had political overtones. For the most part, they relied on custom and precedent and, of course, local exigencies to set policy.

Ott piques our interest when he begins his essay on the Bavarian consular services in New Orleans with the tale of Benjamin Butler, a Union general in the Civil War, who, after capturing New Orleans, created an international furor when his soldiers stormed the house of the Dutch consul, confiscated a large sum of money (which Butler thought were misappropriated public funds), and “laid hands on” the Dutch consul (p. 382). When all eighteen consuls took the part of the Dutch consul and protested, he labeled the pretensions “too absurd” to be entertained (p. 381). Yet Ott never tells us the outcome of this incident nor does he ever spell out exactly what legal rights consuls had in the nineteenth century according to international law. Although Bavaria had no legation in the United States, they did have consulates--eleven of them--by 1870. These consuls were not established according to any master plan. In some cases, direct appeals to the king for a favor for a relative or requests from German merchants resulted in the establishment of consulates. Consuls were strictly honorary and received no salary but were reimbursed for expenses and could charge administrative fees. Many sought this honor because of its social prestige. Consuls who represented Bavaria had to be German (not necessarily Bavarian) citizens, live in the area, have an established professional reputation, and be socially prominent. For Ott, the German consul in New Orleans, Jakob Eimer, crossed the line between consular and diplomatic functions in, for example, reporting on political events, such as the siege of New Orleans, but surely such tragedies had an impact on economic activity. Ott relies, for the most part, on Bavarian sources and a very few American ones, but he might have acquired new insights had he looked at more of the latter.

G. R. Berridge examines the shrinking dragomanate of the British embassy in Constantinople on the eve of World War I and queries why it was so poorly staffed and the strategic implications for Anglo-Turkish relations on the eve of World War I. The dragomans (members of European trading families long established in Constantinople) served not only as translators but also as intelligence gatherers. Although the British and other Westerners as well periodically questioned their loyalty, officials often did nothing about the situation because of their respect, if not affection, for these individuals and because they saw no realistic alternative to what one ambassador referred to as “a detestable system” (p. 413). In 1810, the Levant Company, which paid them until its dissolution in 1825, forced through certain reforms, including the establishment of a language school and the awarding of various titles. Throughout the nineteenth century, attempts to infuse the corps completely with natural-born Englishmen did not succeed until 1903 when even then an unacknowledged Armenian dragoman still worked in the embassy. The denial of diplomatic status, the poor pay and low prestige, the drudgery of the work, and the few opportunities for promotion and honors meant that the service was poorly regarded and led one dragoman to complain bitterly of the “Byzantine dung heap” (p. 427). By the end of the nineteenth century, the dragomanate, “shorn almost entirely of its local expertise” and shrunk in size, had become a more dispirited, indeed sullen establishment (p. 429). Although the author acknowledges that even a far different dragomanate would have had difficulty in exerting influence, undoubtedly such an institution would have made more impact than the one that existed at the outbreak of war. The essay is well argued and the theses easy to follow, except for a puzzling reference to the Chabert affair, which he mentions but never explains.

Matthew S. Seligmann (“‘While I am in it I am not of it’: A Naval Attaché’s Reflections on the Conduct of British Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, 1906-1908”) takes an even more personal, yet outsider’s, view of the diplomatic and consular establishment through the lens of the personal diary of Commander (later Captain) Philip Wylie Dumas who served as naval attaché in Berlin (1906-08). Seligmann tells us a great deal about Dumas: his background, his shrewdness, his extensive travels, and his suggestions for reforms, especially the integration of foreign and security policy. Because few others in his position left behind such extensive diaries, we do not know how representative his views were. The author underscores the widely known homogeneity of British diplomats overseas: a narrow, exclusive, self-selecting elite dominated by aristocrats. In contrast, attachés, although also members of the British establishment, were not “an identical caste” (p. 436). Educationally and socially they differed from the diplomatic corps. In addition, a diplomat had to have a substantive personal fortune as the Foreign Office recognized. The importance of social contacts and the critical role of both formal and informal social occasions is underscored. Nonetheless, for Dumas, his service in the embassy was “delightful” but akin to living “on the edge of a volcano” (p. 460). The book ends hauntingly with the inexorable approach of Armageddon.


[1]. This review was written with Marsha Frey, Kansas State University.

Printable Version:

Citation: Linda S. Frey. Review of Mosslang, Markus; Riotte, Torstan, eds., The Diplomats' World: The Cultural History of Diplomacy, 1815-1914. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. April, 2009. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
In: H-War
Author: United States.Army
Reviewer: Robert Dienesch

United States.Army. Instructions to American Servicemen in France during World War II. Introduction by Rick Atkinson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 84 pp. $12.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-226-84172-4.

Reviewed by Robert Dienesch (University of Ottawa) Published on H-War (April, 2009) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine

Through a Tiny Window

The usual focus for military historians is, of course, the military at work on the battlefield. However, it is often forgotten that soldiers are involved with more than just their weapons and the enemy. Behind the front lines, soldiers and civilians are interacting at a wide variety of levels. Often not considered or discussed, this civilian-military experience has a huge impact on how soldiers are seen by the local population, the cooperation they may or may not have, and the perception held by the soldiers of the places they have been.

During the Second World War, the U.S. government put out a series of pocket sized handbooks on the various countries that their soldiers would be fighting through. The goal of the project was to provide the average GI with some understanding of the peoples and cultures they would encounter. Hopefully, it would help them to have a strong and positive relationship with the local populations and avoid trouble. One example of this has now been reprinted under the title Instructions for American Servicemen in France during World War II by the University of Chicago Press. Complete with a new introduction by Rick Atkinson (which explains how the material was produced, and how important Dwight Eisenhower and the American leadership saw it), this little volume opens up an interesting window into the past.

Obviously, it reveals a great deal about the thinking of the American leadership with regard to civilian-military relations within France, but it also provides an interesting look into the United States and its views of the time. Written like a guide book, these instructions place the soldiers into the unique position of both visitor and public relations officer. As a visitor, the soldier received a wealth of small details that would make his or her life easier in France--everything from a small phrase book to insights on French history, culture, and the monetary system, through an understanding of the various districts and the regional differences within France. As a public relations tool, the instructions show the deep concerns that the U.S. government had regarding the conditions of the local populace, as well as the dangers that American soldiers could create by acting without thinking. For example, the simple fact that most of France suffered severely under the Germans, and that the local people often did not have enough food or even daily necessities was a potential problem. Careful to warn the reader about this, the instructions cautioned soldiers against taking from the families they met as the repercussions of this could have been severe. The concept that the average soldier would impact the local populace and therefore should be cautious of how they behave is significant. Usually associated with counter-insurgency doctrine and civil-military relations issues, the fact that this was a concern sixty-four years ago indicates that this is an issue that transcends the current crisis.

Interestingly, the instructions also reflect backwards on the United States. Their views of the French, shaped by wartime propaganda as well as a great deal of myth making since the American Revolution, reveals interesting insights into the United States of the 1940s. As such, this little guide book is a small window into two worlds, and is an interesting addition to anyone’s collection. Educators might find the text a bit more useful in this regard. Courses that deal with social and cultural impacts of conflict might find this small text manageable for assignments or even tutorial discussions; whenever primary materials are brought into the classroom it improves the quality of the class. It would be interesting to see the other volumes in the original series to compare the ideas put forward and the cultural stereotypes and perceptions.

While an interesting read, this small work does not fundamentally change our understanding of the Second World War. Rather, it shines a bit of light into a small area that is very rarely discussed. As such, it is a positive addition to most scholar’s collections.

Printable Version:

Citation: Robert Dienesch. Review of United States.Army, Instructions to American Servicemen in France during World War II. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2009. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
In: H-War
Author: Jay A. Stout
Reviewer: Richard Bruce Winders

Jay A. Stout. Slaughter at Goliad: The Mexican Massacre of 400 Texas Volunteers. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008. xv + 242 pp. Illustrations. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-59114-843-2.

Reviewed by Richard Bruce Winders (The Alamo) Published on H-War (April, 2009) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine

An Introduction to the Goliad Massacre

Many people know about the Alamo, even though their knowledge about the famous 1836 battle and its significance may be hazy.  But who knows about Goliad, an event which followed closely on the heels of the Texan defeat in San Antonio, and which actually produced more Texan casualties? Jay A. Stout contends that the answer is virtually nobody.  In his latest work, Slaughter at Goliad, the author promises to bring forth "the most comprehensive treatment yet on the slaughter at Goliad" (p. xii).  Thus, the purpose of his book is to shine light on the events that occurred in March 1836 around the old Mexican town of Goliad, and the Presidio La Bahía. 

Goliad has always been the poor step-sister to the Alamo.  Both were military disasters brought on by the inability of the leaders of the Provisional Government of Texas to set aside their personal grievances in order to devise an effective defense against the approaching armies of Mexico.  Throughout the fall of 1835, the Texan victories resulted in the capture of the strategic settlements of San Antonio and Goliad.  As factions within the Provisional Government bickered over what to do next, General Antonio López de Santa Anna showed no irresolution, but led his army back into Texas.

Two columns marched into Texas.  The largest was led by Santa Anna himself, and destined for San Antonio.  The second smaller one was commanded by General José Urrea, and it advanced on Goliad.   The key to understanding why these settlements were so important to both the Mexicans and the Texans is the knowledge that both were population centers, military outposts, centers of commerce, and crossroads laying astride the two major roads that traversed Texas.  The rebels and government forces did not just happen upon these places; they were drawn there by the dictates of war.  Strategic locations have to be controlled.

The Texas Revolution, the setting for the story of Goliad, should be viewed as a reflection of Jacksonian American.  Rampant egalitarianism made it difficult for the Texans to follow orders.  Samuel Houston, appointed commanding general by the Provisional Government, was told that he could not exercise any authority over the volunteers in the field because they had already elected their own leaders.  At the head of an almost nonexistent Texas regular army, Houston could merely suggest a course of action while he issued commissions and waited for his newly appointed officers to recruit their companies.  Two men who received commissions were William B. Travis (Lieutenant Colonel of Texas Cavalry) and James W. Fannin (Lieutenant. Colonel of Texas Artillery).  Respectively, these men--the first a lawyer and the second a struggling planter--were fated to be the commanders at the Alamo and Goliad.  Their commissioning is indicative of the common belief at the time that every American was a natural born soldier, and that no special training was required to lead citizen-soldiers.  As in government, commanding volunteers in antebellum America required the consent of the governed. 

James W. Fannin has come off poorly in the history of the Texas Revolution, an assessment that Stout supports.  The illegitimate son of a Georgia planter, Fannin struggled to find his place in life.  A brief and unsuccessful period of study at the U.S. Military Academy gave him a claim to military prowess that he did not possess.  Like many of his compatriots, Texas offered him the opportunity to reinvent himself.  Once the revolution erupted, Fannin (with his quasi West Point credentials) emerged as a community leader capable of mobilizing volunteers, something his elevation to such a high rank acknowledged.  As lieutenant colonel of the 1st Regiment of Texas Artillery, Fannin was third in command of the regular army, after Houston and Lieutenant Colonel James C. Neill, the post commander at San Antonio. 

Fannin quickly became involved in the contentious split that developed in the Provisional Government of Texas.  He sided with the General Counsel, which stood in opposition to Houston and Governor Henry Smith.  His supporters in the General Council rewarded him with a commission as Colonel of Volunteers, and an independent command of an expedition intended to seize and hold the Mexican city of Matamoros.  As such, Fannin controlled the largest gathering of Texas troops at that time. 

Fannin's headquarters was at Goliad where an old Spanish fort was located.  His inability to make critical decisions, coupled with the pervasive Jacksonian egalitarianism of the time, doomed him and his command to destruction and historical disfavor.  He failed to push forward to Matamoros.  When it became apparent that Urrea had already reached that place and was beginning his march northward into Texas, Fannin put his men to work fortifying the old presidio.  When the plea for reinforcements from Travis (who was besieged at the Alamo) arrived, Fannin first ordered a march to San Antonio and then, at the urging of his officers, countermanded the order.  Learning that colonists lay in Urrea's path, he sent a detachment to their rescue.  When that detachment was trapped, he sent another to assist the first.  In the meantime, Houston (who had finally been given command of all troops in the field, even volunteers) sent orders for Fannin to destroy the fort and to retire.  Fannin chose to stay, hoping that his missing detachments would rejoin him.  Once he did decide to leave the relative safety of the fort, Fannin allowed Urrea to surround his command and, after an intense battle, was forced to surrender to the Mexican general.  Fannin and his men were marched back to the fort, held for a week, and then marched out by the Mexicans and killed on March 27, 1836--Palm Sunday. As Stout and others have pointed out, Fannin's record is not admirable. 

Stout's work is not a campaign history of the Texas Revolution--for that, readers might want to see Stephen L. Hardin's book, Texian Iliad (1996). What Stout has done is craft a narrative of events leading up to, and then detailing, the Goliad Massacre.  In order to accomplish this, he relied almost entirely on the information posted on two web sites: The Sons of DeWitte Colony Texas and The Handbook of Texas.  To give Stout credit, he has combined the available primary sources into a readable narrative.  If you are new to the Texas Revolution, Slaughter at Goliad will be a fresh, engaging story.  But, more seasoned students of the conflict will unfortunately render the verdict no author wants to hear:  "there is little here that is new." 

The work is best classified as a trade book rather than an addition to the scholarly works on the Texas Revolution.  Stout’s almost total reliance on accounts published on the internet highlights the opportunities for research made possible by the web.  Nevertheless, he either failed to consult or failed to credit the not insignificant bulk of secondary literature on the Texas Revolution in general, and Goliad specifically.  There are no references (even in the bibliography) to Chester Newell's History of the Revolution in Texas, Particularly of the War of 1835 & '36 (1838), Hardin's Texian Iliad, Kathryn Stoner O'Conner's Presidio La Bahía (2001), Jakie L. Pruett and Everett B. Cole's Goliad Massacre:  A Tragedy of the Texas Revolution (1985), or Stephen L. Moore's Eighteen Minutes:  The Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Independence Campaign (2004) There is no mention of John H. Jenkins's ten volume set, The Papers of the Texas Revolution (1973).Omissions such as these cast doubt on the author's depth of knowledge about the conflict.  It also makes it possible to discount what could otherwise have been "the most comprehensive treatment yet on the slaughter at Goliad" that Stout intended it to be (p. xii).

What are Stout's contributions if not in the realm of original research?  He is a talented writer who has pieced together a story that has been somewhat fragmented.  Thus, Slaughter at Goliad can best serve as a solid introduction to the killings at Goliad.  Stout also raises the important larger issue about what happened.  Was it a bona fide execution or was it a rank massacre?  Stout's title announces his position:  it was slaughter.

The Mexican government contended that the revolt in Texas was not really a revolt at all, but an invasion by "land pirates."  Volunteers from the United States, in small groups and organized companies, were indeed coming to Texas to help establish an independent republic in the breakaway state.  These men saw real links between the struggles of the American colonists of 1776 and the Texan colonists of 1835.  On December 30, 1835, the eve of Santa Anna’s advance into Texas, the Mexican Congress passed a law stating that any armed foreigner caught fighting against the government would be treated as a pirate.  Although not specifically spelled out, the implication was that this was to be a war without prisoners. 

At its core, the story of Goliad is about the treatment and ultimate fate of men captured on the battlefield.  Older literature on Goliad clearly proclaimed that what happened to the prisoners was a massacre.  What else could you call the shooting down of nearly four hundred men who had surrendered and thrown themselves on the mercy of their captors?  Moreover, subterfuge had been used to make the killings easier by telling the prisoners that they were being marched out of the fort so they could begin their journey to the coast, and then home.  Only the term massacre was strong enough to accurately describe the event.  Modern writers and community leaders sometimes blanch at the word, though.  After all, weren't the Mexican soldiers only following their government's orders?  The volunteers were considered outlaws (men outside the protection of the law) and Mexico had the right to treat them as such.  Even in 1836, however, many Americans and Mexicans had trouble accepting Santa Anna's claim that he was merely "following orders" when he insisted that men of Fannin's command be put to death.

Why should modern military historians care about Goliad?  The treatment of men captured on the battlefield (whether prisoners of war or enemy combatants) is particularly relevant following September 11, 2001.  I do not believe the canard that "one man’s terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."  Nevertheless, nations combating nongovernmental forces encounter the dilemma of what to do with prisoners.  As in the case of Goliad, it is possible to win the battle, but to then lose the public relations war in its aftermath.  One does not have to look far for current examples as to how this lesson still holds true.  Military historians would be well served to take Stout's advice to remember Goliad.

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Citation: Richard Bruce Winders. Review of Stout, Jay A., Slaughter at Goliad: The Mexican Massacre of 400 Texas Volunteers. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2009. URL:

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Author: David Tal
Reviewer: Jeffrey W. Knopf

David Tal. The American Nuclear Disarmament Dilemma, 1945-1963. Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict Resolution Series. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008. xv + 328 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8156-3166-8.

Reviewed by Jeffrey W. Knopf (Naval Postgraduate School) Published on H-Diplo (April, 2009) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

The Same Old Story

In this comprehensive account, David Tal examines state intentions with respect to arms control and disarmament negotiations in the initial stages of the Cold War. The book focuses on U.S. policymaking from the invention of the atomic bomb through the 1963 signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which outlawed nuclear weapon testing in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater but not underground. This time period encompasses the presidential administrations of Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.

In the introduction, Tal frames the book as an exploration of the reasons why disarmament has failed. Why, he asks, have so many people over the course of human history put so much time and effort into the pursuit of disarmament? “And why was it all in vain” (p. xii)? His answer is simple and sweeping: disarmament negotiations failed because no one wanted them to succeed. In particular, the three U.S. presidents who are the focus of this study did not want to achieve nuclear disarmament because they believed the United States needed to retain nuclear weapons for security against the Soviet Union. Hence, successive U.S. administrations deliberately adopted positions that were intended to ensure the failure of disarmament talks.

This appears to be a provocative thesis, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is less to Tal’s argument than meets the eye. Tal accepts the now standard distinction between arms control and disarmament. Disarmament eliminates all weapons, while arms control involves partial measures, such as numerical limits on certain types of weapons. According to conventional wisdom, disarmament is a utopian fantasy sought by idealists, while realists recognize that arms control is a feasible and useful tool of statecraft. When Tal claims the U.S. government did not want disarmament, he means this literally. He does not mean to imply that U.S. presidents also wanted nuclear arms control to fail; quite the opposite. Tal’s book is a detailed description of how, after an initial attempt at nuclear disarmament under Truman, U.S. policy shifted under Eisenhower to embrace the pursuit of arms control rather than disarmament, leading under Kennedy to the first nuclear arms control treaty. This is indeed what happened, but it is hardly news. The necessity of shifting from disarmament as a policy goal to arms control has been the central thesis of most scholarly work on arms control since at least the 1970s. Although Tal sometimes writes as though he has discovered something new and surprising, his book actually reaffirms the long-standing conventional wisdom in arms control studies. Nearly all histories of this period describe disarmament talks as little more than a propaganda exercise that neither side seriously expected to succeed.

The initial framing question of why disarmament has failed is hence a red herring. The real puzzle lies in Tal’s other introductory question: if everyone expected disarmament talks to fail and would have preferred to avoid them, then why did such talks continue for so long and take up so much government attention? The United States participated in talks on “general and comprehensive disarmament” (GCD)--involving conventional as well as nuclear weapons--from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. Moreover, as Tal makes clear, successive U.S. administrations devoted a lot of time to internal deliberations over how best to approach these talks. This is where the “dilemma” of the title comes in. U.S. leaders knew disarmament talks would be a waste of time and did not want them to succeed in any event, but they nevertheless continued to go through the motions of negotiating disarmament. Tal convincingly explains this seeming contradiction in terms of two factors. First, and most important, the U.S. government was highly concerned about international opinion. As long as the Soviet Union put forward new disarmament proposals, U.S. officials felt they could not simply reject those proposals. To maintain the support of allies and prevent neutral countries, especially in the developing world, from supporting the Soviet Union, the United States had to give the appearance it was pursuing disarmament, since that goal had appeal for much of world opinion. Second, America’s own self image constrained it. Given the tradition of Wilsonian idealism, U.S. leaders found it hard to admit that they actually had no interest in disarmament.

The book’s greatest strength is its thoroughness. Tal has done extensive primary source research, as is reflected by the fact that the endnotes and bibliography cover some seventy pages. Tal goes into such extensive detail that the reader sometimes feels like the proverbial fly on the wall, witnessing the back-and-forth internal debate over how to respond to the latest Soviet proposal or scientific breakthrough. This comprehensiveness, however, is also a liability. The writing sometimes gets bogged down in all the detail and becomes repetitive. Because Tal summarizes meeting after meeting, the book sometimes recounts the same officials expressing the same disagreements only to reach the same conclusions.

The American Nuclear Disarmament Dilemma also rescues from obscurity some now largely forgotten negotiations in this time period. Most histories focus primarily on nuclear arms control talks while treating other negotiations as not much more than a historical footnote. Because Tal is concerned with disarmament and not just arms control, he pays great attention to several other lines of negotiation besides the talks over a nuclear test ban. This includes the many rounds of fruitless GCD talks as well as the aftermath of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace and Open Skies proposals. Tal gives particular prominence to discussions in 1956-60 about creating limited inspection zones. The basic idea was to identify pieces of territory in both Soviet and Western bloc countries in which to experiment on a trial basis with on-site inspection. The idea created tensions between the United States and its allies, especially West Germany, and never led to an agreement. Yet Tal argues persuasively that these talks were important. They represented the first serious U.S. effort to negotiate a partial agreement that might be acceptable to the Soviet Union. As such, they helped change the dynamic of the arms talks, thereby helping pave the way for the LTBT.

Tal also deserves credit for restoring to prominence the role played by Harold Stassen. In 1955, President Eisenhower appointed Stassen to be his special advisor on disarmament, with cabinet rank. Stassen, a former governor of Minnesota and Republican presidential candidate, clashed repeatedly with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and frequently exceeded his negotiating instructions, leading Eisenhower to request his resignation in early 1958. While Stassen served in the administration, however, he was the primary intellectual force behind the shift from disarmament to arms control as a policy objective. He also did a great deal to convince Eisenhower to negotiate seriously and be flexible in seeking a proposal that could be acceptable to the Soviets. Tal paints a nicely rounded portrait of Stassen, noting his personal flaws while also giving him due credit for helping engineer a major change in the direction of U.S. policy.

Tal’s account, while broadly accurate, nevertheless contains several flaws. First, he makes some claims without making clear what the supporting evidence is and in general tends to overstate his case. This is most problematic in his treatment of the Baruch Plan. This U.S. proposal, made at the United Nations in June 1946, would have created an international agency to control all aspects of atomic energy that have potential military applications. Once international control had been established, atomic weapons would be outlawed and the United States would give up its existing arsenal. This proposal represents the only time the United States might have been serious about seeking nuclear disarmament and is hence important for Tal’s thesis. The prospects for an agreement would have been slender in the best of circumstances, because it is unlikely the Soviet Union would have agreed to forswear nuclear weapons in a situation that would have left the United States as the only country with the proven know-how to produce the atomic bomb. Whatever slight chances existed for outlawing the bomb were dashed, however, by changes made to the initial U.S. plan by the chief U.S. negotiator, Bernard Baruch (for whom the plan is named). The relation between Baruch’s actions and Truman’s intentions is hence a critical issue.

Baruch was well known to the public as a wealthy investor and philanthropist. At the recommendation of Secretary of State James Byrnes, Truman asked Baruch to lead the delegation that would negotiate the administration’s atomic disarmament proposal at the United Nations. According to most accounts, Truman appointed Baruch because he believed Baruch’s conservative credentials and good reputation would improve the chances of getting Congress to approve any deal reached with the Soviet Union. The initial version of the U.S. proposal, known as the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, had been developed by a State Department panel advised by atomic scientists, including Robert Oppenheimer. Baruch objected to being handed a finished product, however, and insisted on the right to modify the plan. He added to the original proposal several changes that made the plan much more objectionable to the Soviets. He added a provision for automatic punishment of any violations, and, to help ensure this, he also insisted that the plan eliminate the veto power enjoyed by permanent U.N. Security Council members with respect to Security Council discussions of possible violations. The Soviet Union, not surprisingly, adamantly rejected any plan that would eliminate its UN veto. The Soviet counterproposal, dubbed the Gromyko Plan after the Soviet ambassador Andrei Gromyko, called for eliminating atomic weapons first before putting in place any international safeguards that could verify compliance. This was completely unacceptable to the United States, and thereafter the negotiations quickly devolved into a fruitless exercise in which both sides only sought to score propaganda points, exactly as Tal depicts them.

If there was any moment when the United States took seriously the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament, the Baruch Plan was that moment. It is thus vital to ascertain whether or not President Truman really wanted Baruch to turn the original State Department proposal into a plan guaranteed to be rejected. Tal claims this is exactly what Truman intended. He contends that, in addition to paving the way for possible Senate ratification of any deal reached, Truman had “another reason for choosing Baruch”--he knew Baruch would modify the Acheson-Lilienthal proposal in ways that would prevent any possibility of agreement, hence ensuring the United States would retain its atomic arsenal (p. 16). Tal does not see a contradiction between these two motivations, but if Truman wanted to prevent any agreement from being negotiated, why would he care whether his appointee could help secure congressional ratification? More important, Tal presents no evidence that directly supports his contention that Truman wanted all along for nuclear disarmament talks to fail. He does not quote or reference any archival source or Truman’s diaries. The endnotes that immediately precede and follow this assertion contain references to memoirs by Dean Acheson, Byrnes, and Truman, none of which say that Truman appointed Baruch because he knew he would wreck any chances for an agreement. There is evidence, moreover, that Truman may not have fully agreed with Baruch’s actions. According to both John Lewis Gaddis and Gregg Herken, Truman and Byrnes tried to persuade Baruch to back off from some of his proposed changes, but he got them to relent by threatening to resign.[1] This could be a sign the president and secretary of state were serious about wanting a deal and calculated it was more important to keep Baruch on board than to overrule him on the plan’s wording. Byrnes reportedly called Baruch’s appointment “the worst mistake I have ever made,” while Truman’s memoir describes Baruch in rather derogatory terms as a self-serving publicity hound.[2] This is not normally the way people would describe an appointee who had effectively carried out their wishes. Tal’s assertion that top U.S. officials never wanted the Baruch Plan to be negotiable is the only time his thesis of a lack of interest in disarmament is at all controversial. The fact that he provides no overt supporting evidence for this claim is hence puzzling.

A second problem area involves the book’s comparative treatment of the United States and the Soviet Union. Tal sometimes casts U.S. motivations in a fairly negative light while taking Soviet positions in the same negotiations at face value. Although his starting premise is that no one wanted disarmament, in practice, he often applies this thesis only to U.S. leaders while assuming Soviet leaders were sincere, at least in wanting nuclear disarmament. In discussing Soviet peace offensives in the late 1940s, Tal declares that “Soviet disarmament plans could not be regarded as mere propaganda.... It seems that, indeed, [Joseph] Stalin was ready to give up nuclear weapons if the United States followed suit” (p. 42). After describing a proposal offered in late 1957 by the then Soviet prime minister, Nikolai Bulganin, Tal writes that, without access to the inner circles of Soviet decision making, “We can only assume that the Soviet government was ready to pledge itself to the points he was making” (p. 121). In June 1960, after a summit meeting and hopes for a test ban treaty had collapsed in the aftermath of the U-2 incident, Nikita Khrushchev revised the Soviet GCD proposal to incorporate some Western positions. Tal asks whether Khrushchev really wanted complete disarmament. “According to his son, yes he did” (p. 160). Tal cites no other source in support of this conclusion and considers no other possible explanation for why Khrushchev, after turning his back on a real opportunity to reach a test ban deal with outgoing President Eisenhower, would have wanted to switch the focus to comprehensive disarmament talks.

Tal rightly points out that U.S. leaders were often excessively mistrustful of the Soviet Union. He notes, again persuasively, that this sometimes led the United States to reject out of hand Soviet proposals on which genuine negotiations leading to a compromise agreement might have been possible. But he overstates Soviet willingness to accomplish nuclear abolition. There are good reasons to believe that Stalin would not have given up the Soviet right to have nuclear weapons during the period when the United States had an atomic advantage. Nor were Stalin’s successors as pure in their interest in disarmament as Tal sometimes portrays them. In rejecting the assumption of many U.S. leaders that Soviet intentions were almost wholly malign, it is not necessary to adopt the opposite position and describe their motivations in the most benign light. The Soviets were well aware that nuclear issues could drive a wedge between the United States and allied and neutral countries, and both sides tended to treat arms talks as an extension of their Cold War competition. At the same time, there is abundant evidence that Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Khrushchev all grasped quite clearly how horrific nuclear war would be and all sought ways to avoid being dragged into a nuclear nightmare. In short, both sides had mixed and conflicting motivations. Because Tal only looks in detail at internal deliberations in the United States and not in the Soviet Union, his book presents an unbalanced portrait of the two sides. Readers see all the evidence for internal debates and hidden agendas in the U.S. government, but the behind-the-scenes considerations that were surely at work in the Soviet government as well do not receive the same attention.

The problem was not that one side wanted nuclear disarmament and the other did not. Rather, both sides saw the reasons to try to get rid of nuclear weapons but both mistrusted the other so much that neither was willing to make the sorts of concessions necessary to induce the other to sign an agreement. In particular, as Tal ultimately recognizes, inspection was the real obstacle to an agreement. The United States wanted more extensive on-site inspection to verify any agreement than the Soviet Union would accept. The United States did not insist on inspections simply to scuttle any possibility of agreement. U.S. leaders would have accepted an agreement with adequate verification, but what the United States deemed necessary was more than the closed, secretive Soviet government could tolerate.

As a third flaw in its account, the book is too dismissive of public opinion. Tal notes some occasions on which political leaders were willing to defy, at least for awhile, the majority preference and other times when, without any clear evidence of what the public wanted, government officials cited public opinion as a reason for advocating policies they already favored for other reasons. He overgeneralizes from these observations, however, averring that public opinion had no influence on U.S. arms control policy. Yet Tal’s own account belies this sweeping generalization. He describes several instances when public opinion shaped policy. In spring 1958, for example, Secretary of State Dulles abandoned his long-standing opposition to a moratorium on nuclear testing. Tal concludes, “The reason for the change ... was [world] public opinion” (p. 128). Eisenhower similarly cited domestic opposition to testing on more than one occasion. Tal tries to dismiss this on the grounds “there was no solid public opinion in the United States against the bomb” (p. 110, emphasis added). But this is a non sequitur. The absence of public demands for disarmament does not equate to an absence of demands to halt testing. Opinion against testing did exist, and it was to this Eisenhower was responding. So too did other leaders. Even Tal ascribes the position of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan almost entirely to the strong public opposition to nuclear testing in Britain.

Moreover, even though Tal has an extensive bibliography, he does not include references to studies that have focused explicitly on assessing the role of allied and world opinion or U.S. domestic opinion. Tal tends to reduce public opinion solely to polling data; if there is no correlation between an opinion poll and policy, Tal assumes there is no public influence. Sometimes, however, the public opinion that matters more is the portion of the public that can be mobilized into public protest. This reviewer, for example, has shown that antinuclear weapons protest had an impact on U.S. arms control policy at several points during the Cold War. Most relevant for the time period Tal deals with, my work shows that Eisenhower did not really see a test ban as a valuable arms control measure and would have preferred to continue pursuing the ideas he first broached in his Atoms for Peace and Open Skies proposals. It was the test ban movement, both in the United States and worldwide, that persuaded the Eisenhower administration to elevate nuclear test ban talks to the top of the U.S. arms control agenda.[3]

Looking back over this time period, Tal concludes, “In the end, realism prevailed over idealism” (p. 243). But his analysis does not fully support this conclusion. In the United States, the most prominent foreign policy realists generally believed that nuclear arms control would be in the national interests of both sides and that verification measures good enough to deter Soviet cheating could be achieved. Yet, as Tal amply demonstrates, time and time again U.S. officials refused to pursue possible compromises because their mistrust of the Soviet Union led to inordinate fears the Soviets would find a way to cheat. As Tal himself describes it, the belief that the Soviets would take advantage of any possible opening to cheat was more a matter of faith than evidence, to the extent that Kennedy’s Central Intelligence Agency director did not bother to keep up with the most recent technological developments relevant to detecting clandestine nuclear tests. Tal accurately depicts the impact of this overwhelming mistrust, but when it precluded the United States from reaching feasible and mutually beneficial arms control agreements it can hardly be described as the triumph of realism. It would be more accurate to describe U.S. policy as the triumph of one strand of liberal ideology over another. Anticommunism and a more general suspicion of undemocratic regimes overwhelmed the disarmament impulse of Wilsonian idealism. U.S. arms control and disarmament policy in 1945-63 was really a battle taking place inside America’s liberal soul.

Ultimately, Tal’s stance of realist cynicism is too pessimistic. General and comprehensive disarmament is surely a pipe dream, and we are unlikely to see anything like the GCD talks of the early Cold War again any time soon. Disarmament accords covering particular categories of weapons are possible however. There are conventions that prohibit both chemical and biological weapons, and in the 1990s negotiations on a treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines were completed in a remarkably short period of time. None of these treaties have brought about complete elimination of the weapons in question, but the number of countries holding onto these weapons is much lower than it would be otherwise and the existence of these weapons bans has also increased the inhibitions against using these types of weapons. Some disarmament proposals, provided they do not aim too broadly, can succeed.

For those who have not previously learned about arms control and disarmament efforts in the early part of the Cold War, The American Nuclear Disarmament Dilemma provides a readable and thorough historical account of these interesting and important attempts to reduce the dangers of war. The book will also be of interest to scholars who specialize on this subject. The comprehensiveness of its recounting of developments in these years, and especially its extensive references to archival sources, make this book an invaluable reference for students of arms control. In recent years, there have been renewed expressions of interest in abolishing nuclear weapons, including by prominent former U.S. government officials.[4] For those interested in such policy debates, Tal’s book serves as a useful object lesson. Achieving nuclear disarmament has so far proven to be beyond human ingenuity, but more modest arms control measures have sometimes been practically obtainable and quite valuable. Hopes for eventual nuclear abolition should not lead us to neglect shorter term opportunities for arms control. As an old adage states, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.


[1]. John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 334; and Gregg Herken, The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945-1950 (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), 169.

[2]. Byrnes quoted in Gaddis, United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 334; and Harry S. Truman, Years of Trial and Hope, vol. 2, Memoirs (Garden City: Doubleday, 1956), 10.

[3]. Jeffrey W. Knopf, Domestic Society and International Cooperation: The Impact of Protest on U.S. Arms Control Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), see esp. chap. 5.

[4]. George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007.

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Citation: Jeffrey W. Knopf. Review of Tal, David, The American Nuclear Disarmament Dilemma, 1945-1963. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. April, 2009. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Raffael Scheck
Reviewer: Yannick Cormier

Raffael Scheck. Hitler's African Victims: The German Army Massacres of Black French Soldiers in 1940. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xii + 202 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-85799-4.

Reviewed by Yannick Cormier (Université de Montréal) Published on H-War (April, 2009) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine

The Unknown Massacres: Black French Prisoners in 1940

Historically speaking, the Holocaust, and the Nazi mass exterminations and atrocities committed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1945 have always received more attention than other crimes that took place during the Second World War. For instance, a long-forgotten fact was the various massacres of African French war prisoners during the German invasion of France in May and June 1940, when German soldiers randomly executed black Tirailleurs Sénégalais. Raffael Scheck, professor of modern history at Colby College, recently wrote on this in Hitler’s African Victims: The German Army Massacres of Black French Soldiers in 1940. This book presents an interesting account of these events, and provides a fair analysis of the causes and motivations of the perpetrators.In four detailed chapters, Scheck presents an overview of the massacres of black French Colonial Troops, the number of victims(1,500 to 3,000), as well as the military events that led to them. In order to  illuminate the motivations that led the German invaders randomly to murder so many black war prisoners, chapters 2 and 3 give an overall analysis of a problematic that seemed unanswerable in this particular case: why did this happen? Chapter 4 takes a look at the implications of such events, and it integrates those atrocities into the gradual barbarization process of the German Wehrmacht that took place between 1939 and 1945.

In 1940, the French army included more than 100,000 black French soldiers from France’s African colonies, mainly Senegal, Mauritania,and Niger. More than 75,000 of them served in France before and during the German invasion; the rest of them served guard duty in the various colonies. As the Wehrmacht panzer divisions swept across France in May-June 1940, some of those black French soldiers (about 40,000 of them), mainly organized in black regiments or mixed units, were engaged in fierce combat against German soldiers. About 10,000 black soldiers were killed, some wounded, and others taken prisoner during the French debacle. Scheck states that between 1,500 to 3,000 black French prisoners of war were massacred throughout the campaign, either during or after combat. Generally speaking, Tirailleurs Sénégalais were treated differently from other war prisoners by the victorious army. The existence of a well-implanted anti-black racism and stereotypes among the German soldiers frequently resulted in the black French troops being separated from other prisoners of war. Fear of coupes-coupes (a hand-to-hand weapon used by the Tirailleurs Sénégalais that German soldiers considered a treacherous weapon), latent desire for revenge because of German losses, or simple racism, resulted in random massacres of black French war prisoners by members of the Wehrmacht.

The author’s investigation of what caused the slaughters is also interesting. Scheck gives a precise account of those situational factors and links them well to ideological ones, stating that racist Nazi indoctrination and stereotypes must be fully integrated into the chaotic context of fighting in order to explain the massacres. He remarks that there were no clear governmental or military orders authorizing such criminal behavior toward specific groups of prisoners of war in 1940. In fact, many of those atrocities were committed by heavily indoctrinated elite Wehrmacht,or Nazi military units like the SS Totenkopf, or the Gross Deutschland. Those troops were already (or would be, along with others, later on) held responsible for racist behavior and excesses, as well as mass murders during May-June 1940. Scheck avoids overall generalization on what happened to those prisoners by discussing the random character and inconsistency of the massacres. Readers quickly understand that not all black French war prisoners were executed, and that some German or French officers even managed to prevent such events from occurring. In fact, the treatment of imprisoned black French soldiers actually improved after the May-June 1940 campaign, especially in prisoner of war camps.

By linking such events to the absence of guidelines issued by the German army on the treatment of black war prisoners, as well as with situational factors, the author brilliantly integrates the singularity of such atrocities in a concept of an informal "race war"waged by theWehrmachtduring that specific event. First observed in Poland after September 1939, and culminating with Barbarossa and the Holocaust later on, this "race war"was part of a gradual process of barbarization and nazification of the German army that took place throughout the conflict. By differentiating the two types of warfare conducted by the German army in the West and in the East, Scheck smoothly integrates the massacres of those prisoners into the larger context of Nazi crimes, thus giving us anything but a short-lived historical interpretation of the behavior of German soldiers during the May-June 1940 campaign. In fact, the author successfully integrates the concept of Nazi racist warfare in the German western campaign, an idea that typically has not been assessed by traditional military history. He thus proposes an interesting, and new interpretation of German warfare excesses during World War II.

Scheck's overall assessment of the construction of anti-black prejudices and stereotypes in Germany with linkage to the May-June 1940 massacres is precise and well contextualized; he understood exactly how to integrate this long-existing racism into the events'causes. Wanting to assess the evolution of racist behavior in Germany, the author goes back to the early 1900s, namely to the time of Wilhelmian German colonialism in West Africa, providing context for the development of racist behavior toward black Africans. According to Scheck, important German anti-black racial stereotypes were linked to the use of Tirailleurs Sénégalais in the French army during World War I, and of black French soldiers in the Rhineland in the 1920s. In his view, racism was wellintegrated in Germany before and during the Third Reich, and had been frequently employed by Nazi propaganda after the outbreak of the Second World War.Thus, it explains the May-June 1940 massacres.

Even though the author cites some important sources for assessing the German behavior that led to such atrocities, the analysis of the motivations and psychology of the Wehrmacht and SS perpetrators could have gone deeper. Despite a contextualization of a "Kelman and Hamilton"model (p. 6), which suggests psychological patterns of authorization-routinization-dehumanization leading to massacres, this particular approach still presents some methodological limits, especially on questions of whether authorization and dehumanization allowed such atrocities in the World War II context. The methodologies used to assess the sociology and psychology of perpetrators could have been broadened to include specialized literature on the behavior of Nazis orWehrmacht members. This  would have offered an even better analysis of the situation. As well, more emphasis could have been put on the memory of those slaughters. Although it would have been difficult research to accomplish, the memory of survivors would have been an interesting theme to investigate.

Despite this criticism, Raffael Scheck offers us a valuable piece of historiography. This book is, and will remain, an impressive investigation into French and German archival records. In fact, it is difficult to criticize such a well-written example of proficient historical work. Scheck's book stands as a major reference for the historian interested in the events related to those massacres, as well as an interesting exploration of the ideology and mentality of the German Wehrmachtduring the French campaign of May-June 1940. The integration, and comparative analysis of those atrocities in the broader context of Nazi warfare methods is remarkable, and should be read by any scholar of Nazi war crimes or of World War II. In fact, this new evaluation of theWehrmachtand Nazi behavior is also a valuable contribution to  the history of blacks and Nazi Germany.

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Citation: Yannick Cormier. Review of Scheck, Raffael, Hitler's African Victims: The German Army Massacres of Black French Soldiers in 1940. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2009. URL:

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Author: Julia Von Dannenberg
Reviewer: Bernd Schaefer

Julia Von Dannenberg. The Foundations of Ostpolitik: The Making of the Moscow Treaty between West Germany and the USSR. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. xvi + 301 pp. $110.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-922819-5.

Reviewed by Bernd Schaefer (Woodrow Wilson International Center) Published on H-Diplo (April, 2009) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

A West German Account of Ostpolitik

This book is narrower in scope than its general title suggests. It strictly adheres to its subtitle and focuses on the West German background of Ostpolitik between 1966 and the negotiations for the Moscow Treaty of August 12, 1970. Certainly it can be argued whether this treaty, in spite of its eminent importance, constitutes in fact the “foundation” of Ostpolitik, in particular when the latter is exclusively viewed from a West German perspective without including views from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. All that said, this limited focus is applied extremely well and based on exhaustive research in West German archives. The book’s argument is made with concise points and is based on convincing evidence.

The first chapter “Setting the Stage” ploughs the ground of diplomatic contacts between the Soviet Union and West Germany from the 1950s all the way to the eve of the 1970 treaty. More new ground is broken, however, in the most interesting second part of the book where the author discusses, in an excellently researched chapter “New Ostpolitik--Whose Legacy?” the differences between the Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt and Kurt Georg Kiesinger. Brandt’s predecessor in the Bonn Chancellery between 1966 and 1969 was the head of a Grand Coalition between Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) and has been credited by many for his own “Ostpolitik.” For some, he even appears to be on equal footing in terms of innovative West German approaches toward Eastern Europe. While giving the CDU/CSU and Kiesinger credit where it is due, Julia von Dannenberg’s account makes unmistakably clear that Brandt’s approach in power from October 1969 represented clear change and a break with the past. The Grand Coalition under Kiesinger would never have been able to conclude a treaty with Moscow and subsequent bilateral and multilateral agreements in Eastern Europe. Any CDU/CSU chancellor was to be blocked by conservatives in his powerful parliamentary caucus. Only the complete sidelining of this caucus, as it happened for the first time in West German history in October 1969 after the formation of a social-democratic/liberal coalition, could pave the way for the bold and polarizing steps Brandt was to undertake in his policy toward the East. 

In a long, and somewhat oddly organized, final third part with four subchapters, von Dannenberg first addresses Bonn’s decision-making process behind the Moscow Treaty in detail. She competently outlines the rivalry between Chancellery and Foreign Ministry. The former froze out the latter’s bureaucracy, almost a parallel to the relations between Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council and the State Department during Richard Nixon’s first administration (maybe that is one of the reasons why, despite their policy differences, Kissinger and Egon Bahr felt as kindred spirits and got along so well). Next the author addresses the CDU/CSU tactics toward the Brandt government, again well worked from German sources but omitting other published evidence from U.S. sources.[1] There follows a subchapter discussing whether interest-group pressures were a factor behind Ostpolitik, and finally there is a survey of reactions by the Western allies. Yet besides German records, only British sources were used here. Dannenberg ignores the rich U.S. archival documentation on West German Ostpolitik available since 2001, so the book defines American policy from German sources in a partially misleading way. Nixon and Kissinger did not share their actual misgivings about Ostpolitik with representatives of the Brandt government, so the latter walked away with wrong impressions of the United States being supportive.

The book nowhere claims to analyze the Soviet part in all this, so, on the one hand, it might be unseemly to flag this omission. On the other hand, this is a book about the Moscow Treaty. The author is correct to note that Russian archives remain almost completely closed on this historical period.[2] Still, there is scattered Soviet evidence available in several Eastern and Western archives, and it is simply a pity that Soviet “Westpolitik” is not further discussed. It was the corresponding equivalent to the success of Brandt’s Ostpolitik, with Moscow’s long-term economic and political objectives intersecting and an imminent perception of a Chinese threat looming large. The latter made the Soviet Union more conducive to détente in Europe, yet China does not even make it to the index of the book.

When the author somewhat overstates the Moscow Treaty as “multilaterally binding,” she also could have discussed that this West German perspective fed into Soviet hegemonic claims over Eastern Europe and delighted the USSR (p. 33). Undoubtedly, West German Ostpolitik had to start in Moscow and conclude an agreement with the USSR first. Yet the Soviet Union did not hold all the keys in Eastern Europe. It could veto or block its satellites, but it could not deliver them. The subsequent West German treaties with Poland (1970), the GDR (1972), and Czechoslovakia (1973) were complex bilateral agreements very much in their own right.

In general, however, von Dannenberg’s book represents a welcome addition to the English literature on West German Ostpolitik under Brandt. It underscores how daring, imaginative, and consequent by West German standards that policy was at least in its initial stages. Though the author is denying this, it ultimately helped the evolutionary reform of Soviet communism under Mikhail Gorbachev that, in turn, inadvertently opened the path to the historical changes of 1989 and 1990.


[1]. Bernd Schaefer, “‘Washington as a Place for the German Campaign’: The U.S. Government and the CDU/CSU Opposition, 1969-1972,” in American Détente and German Ostpolitik, 1969-1972, ed. David Geyer and Bernd Schaefer (Washington DC: German Historical Institute, 2004), 98-108.

[2]. For some recent openings, see Andrey Edemskiy, “Dealing with Bonn: Leonid Brezhnev and the Soviet Response to Ostpolitik,“ in Ostpolitik, 1969-1974: European and Global Responses, ed. Carole Fink and Bernd Schaefer (New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 15-38.

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In: H-War
Author: Jo McCormack
Reviewer: Christophe Gracieux

Jo McCormack. Collective Memory: France and the Algerian War, 1954-1962. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007. 236 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7391-0921-2.

Reviewed by Christophe Gracieux (Institut d’études politiques de Paris) Published on H-War (March, 2009) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine

An Impossible Memory?

Jo McCormack, a lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, offers a worthy study on a complex issue: the transmission of the memory of the Algerian War (1954-62) in contemporary France. Since the fighting came to an end, the memory of the war has been passed over in silence. It was indeed a particularly traumatic period. Not only was the Algerian War a fierce conflict in which torture and terrorism were used, and in which the French government sent more than one million conscripts to fight against the National Liberation Front, it also tore apart French society. Until 1999, the French State refused to call it anything other than "peacekeeping operations." Yet, this war without a name has created deep rifts between the various groups involved. As a result, the transmission of the memory of the Algerian War has been a complicated and painful process.

In Collective Memory, McCormack aims to assess precisely the extent of transmission; has France succeeded in turning this dark page of its recent history? To examine this issue, the author has chosen to focus on three essential vectors, which, as Henry Rousso has shown in his influential book on the memory of the Vichy period in France, Le Syndrome de Vichy (1987), are at the core of the memorial transmission process: the education system, the family, and the media. Analyzing in depth each vector of memory, McCormack uses a wide range of sources, from interviews with teachers, pupils, and historians, to educational programs, textbooks, and newspaper articles. He also often refers to collective memory theories, including those of Maurice Halbwachs and Sigmund Freud respectively. Furthermore, his work incorporates the significant findings of French historiography on numerous aspects of the Algerian War since the late 1980s. He fails to mention, however, Raphaëlle Branche's excellent historiographical synthesis, La Guerre d'Algérie: une histoire apaisée? (2005). McCormack pays special tribute to Benjamin Stora's La Gangrène et l'oubli (1991), a pioneering study on the French collective memory of the Algerian War.

McCormack successively studies each of the three vectors of memory he has selected. He first focuses on education, which appears to be a key institution for understanding the transmission of memory of the Algerian War in France. Since the Third Republic, the French State has given schools a central role in teaching national history and in trying to build a collective national memory. Offering a broad overview of what he calls "the educational chain" (p. 46), from the history program conceived by the Department of Education to the classroom, he shows how the Algerian War is marginalized in French schools. The program for terminale (the final year in French high schools), actually gives very little space to the conflict. McCormack even comes to the conclusion that the war is taught less and less. It is, therefore, not surprising that French pupils have nothing but a superficial knowledge of the Algerian War. Teachers and pupils mostly attribute this lack of attention to the baccalauréat examination taken at the end of the year. But, according to McCormack, the Algerian War is not taught because its memory is too divisive, whereas French republican school aims at transmitting a cohesive memory.

In the same way as he emphasizes the global failure of the educative vector, the author sheds light on the lack of familial transmission of the memory of the Algerian War. While many French families have been involved in the conflict in one way or another--as settlers, conscripts, or muslim Algerians who migrated to France in the 1960s and 1970s--only a few have talked about their experience of the war. Silence prevails in these families. It is particularly the case for harkis' (Algerian soldiers who fought in the French army) and Algerian immigrants' families.

Lastly, McCormack highlights the recent role played by the media in the construction of the French collective memory of the Algerian War. Through an in-depth case study of articles regularly published in the daily newspaper Le Monde in 2000 and 2001, he shows how use of torture by the French army during the war has surfaced since the testimony of an Algerian woman who had been tortured was published. The media coverage of this issue greatly contributed to weakening what used to be a strong taboo. Nevertheless, like the two other vectors, the media do not fill in all the memorial gaps. In McCormack's opinion, not only has the coverage of torture by the media been limited, it has not paved the way for reconciliation because it has hurt many French veterans.

Throughout the book, McCormack convincingly demonstrates that the memory of the Algerian War has barely been transmitted in contemporary France, whereas there has been a huge investment in the transmission of the memory of the Second World War. If the Algerian conflict seems less and less taboo, "very little has yet been discussed or resolved" (p. 176). In fact, the transmission of the memory of the war through education, the family, and the media has been far from exhaustive. Not much taught at school, not very often discussed in families, and subjected to a partial presentation in the media, the memory of the Algerian War remains highly fragmented among the various groups. Moreover, McCormack argues that the lack of work on the memory of the Algerian War has noticeable effects on current French society by nurturing racism and exacerbating tensions, because Algerians are still the largest immigrant group in France. The author tends to overestimate the memory factor in the building of these tensions to the detriment of social and economical factors, such as unemployment and housing conditions in French suburbs. However, it is true that children of Algerian descent have to deal with identity issues which partly result from insufficient transmission of the memory of the war. This is why McCormack urges the state to take the lead in commemorating the Algerian War and to "assume its responsibility in the conduct" of the conflict, in the same way that it did with the Vichy regime (p. 181).

This work suffers from a few minor weaknesses, such as the small size of the sample of teachers and pupils interviewed; a larger sample would have made the study more representative, as the author himself admits. A more detailed analysis of the transmission of the memory of the conscripts who were sent to fight in Algeria would also have strengthened the book.

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In: H-War
Author: Janet M. Hartley
Reviewer: Erik Lund

Janet M. Hartley. Russia, 1762-1825: Military Power, the State, and the People. Westport: Praeger, 2008. viii + 318 pp. $120.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-275-97871-6.

Reviewed by Erik Lund Published on H-War (March, 2009) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

Very Small Dents

We have here that inevitable shadow twin, the book that the reviewer wishes he had read, obtruding on the business of the review. In this case, though, it is a pretty substantive shadow, all of chapter 8--"The Expansion of the State: Conflict, Assimilation, and Identity." There is, therefore, little reason not to lead with it. It is, following the inevitable invocation and rejection of the Turner thesis, a theoretically engaged, research-based discussion of scholarship on the Russian military frontier as a Eurasian "Middle Ground," with examples drawn from such appropriately exotic locales as Kamchatka. Alive to the literature, provocative and stimulating, a reply and an engagement with Bruce White, it is surely not just the reviewer who will see something of value in this chapter. There is a monograph here, an important one that we will all need to read, when and if it appears. If this chapter is meant to establish Janet M. Hartley’s priority, it more than justifies the monograph itself.

This is rather harder to say of the rest, for here we have another of the Greenwood Publishing Group’s now daunting shelf of slim blue contributions to military history. Like most others in the series, it is closely reasoned and well researched. It will do well as a footnote to a paragraph such as this: "By comparative standards, tsarist Russia at the turn of the eighteenth century was not a particularly militarized state. The financial difficulties that would become critical at the end of the Napoleonic Wars were already manifest, but again this is hardly exceptional. What was different was that instead of leading to a revolution or a fiscal-military state, save in the very marginal area of iron production, this crisis provoked Alexander I’s brief utopian experiment, the military colony scheme, which should therefore be seen as not only a project of long-term social engineering, but also as a response to a very real problem."

"Militarization" is a somewhat slippery concept, however. Both the strongest and weakest prongs of the argument are the demonstration that Russia had a lower military participation ratio in the eighteenth century than other European states. This is interesting and instructive, but weak in the sense that these are hard numbers to pin down, especially when paramilitaries are included. Hartley’s elegant demolition of the notion that the rhetoric of the noble service class corresponds with the reality makes a stronger case. The Russian nobility did not live to wear the tsar's uniform. An evaluation of the role of conscription in peasant life shows its integration into daily life as a tool of social discipline, rather than as an external, disintegrating force. The industrial impact of militarization (an anachronistic and ideologically driven concern, anyway, one suspects) was minimal. Even the notion of the soldier as member of a separate social state, figuratively dead to the village of his birth, requires reevaluation. And everywhere that the military sphere overlaps with the everyday, the potential impact of Old Belief cries out for reconsideration, at least to the non-Russianist reader. While it might be argued that Hartley has not done full justice to recent work on the Russian iron industry, this is the kind of footnote, and work, that closes down old escapes to cliché and moves the literature forward.[1]

Or it would if this book were read and cited. Greenwood/Praeger’s industry is praiseworthy, but rapidly approaches the counterproductive with the sheer number of relatively short and highly specialized titles in the catalogue working against any individual one getting the attention of a busy academic. While the difference between a monograph of this nature and the massive studies authored by, say, Chris Wickham, is invisible on an academic C.V., its impact on the wider scholarship is very different.

None of this is meant to suggest that this book is a wasted effort. On the contrary, a call number search reveals Hartley in close proximity to Christopher Duffy’s inevitable contribution but not much else besides. If a library is wise enough to add Hartley to the shelf, we can hope for an undergraduate essay or even a survey monograph that moves discussion past the point where the great pioneer of our field has left it. That is no small thing, and for this reason the review will close with one final complaint about the title. To be useful to the browser, the spine has to command some attention, and Russia, 1762-1825 might have been composed to deflect it. There is magic in this book. I wish it had been in the title, too.


[1]. Ian Blanchard, "Nineteenth Century Russia and ‘Western’ Ferrous Metallurgy: Complementary or Competitive Technologies," in The Industrial Revolution in Iron: The Impact of British Coal Technology in Nineteenth-Century Europe, ed. Chris Evans and Göran Rydén (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 129174.

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In: H-War
Author: Arthur M. Eckstein
Reviewer: Joseph Frechette

Arthur M. Eckstein. Rome Enters the Greek East: From Anarchy to Hierarchy in the Hellenistic Mediterranean, 230-170 BC. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2008. xi + 439 pp. $119.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4051-6072-8.

Reviewed by Joseph Frechette Published on H-War (March, 2009) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

Rome’s Imperial Moment in the East?

Readers familiar with Arthur M. Eckstein’s 2007 study, Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome, will already be aware of some of his interdisciplinary methodology.  The present work likewise makes a forceful argument for the utility of modern international relations theory as a lens through which to study the nuances of the growth of Roman power.  That is, Eckstein’s methodology combines traditional classical scholarship with realist theories of international systems.  As in the previous volume, Eckstein provides a useful corrective to the reigning understanding of Roman imperial expansion east of the Adriatic in the third and second centuries BC.  He makes a good case for rehabilitating Maurice Holleaux’s thesis that the Romans had few interests east of the Adriatic down to 201/200 BCE.[1] That is, it was not until envoys from the Greek states threatened by Philip V of Macedon and Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire arrived at Rome with the news that the two monarchs had made a pact to destroy the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt that the Senate decided to intervene in great strength in eastern affairs. 

Since Holleaux first put forth this notion in 1921, the importance of the Pact Between the Kings has subsequently been disputed or simply ignored by many modern scholars.  Meanwhile, William V. Harris and his intellectual heirs have argued that Rome was an exceptionally aggressive imperialist state with dark and irrational roots, and that no special explanation is needed for the Roman intervention in the east.[2]  In his 2007 study, Eckstein reacted against Harris’s notion of Roman exceptionalism.  He examined the classical and Hellenistic Greeks and found that many were deeply militarized cultures, but, even more striking, regardless of size or political type, nearly all were involved in endemic warfare.  This led him to conclude that much of this penchant for bellicosity must be due not to the attributes of the states in the ancient international system, but to the characteristics of the prevailing system as a whole.  The eastern Mediterranean state system, with which the Romans came into increasing conflict not only seems to fit the modern realist model of an international anarchy but also was a particularly stark example of one.  Rather than being unusually belligerent, the Romans were caught up in an international system that fundamentally required ferocity from all state actors simply as a matter of survival.  Ruthlessness on the part of any particular state was not exceptional or necessarily evil.  It was simply tragically typical.

Building on this foundation in the present volume, Eckstein seeks not only to bring the Pact Between the Kings back into prominence but also to highlight the tentative and hesitant nature of Rome’s expansion in the east.  The book breaks down into three main sections.  The first covers the period 230-205 BCE and the first hesitant Roman moves across the Adriatic.  The second sketches the events of 207-200 BCE and the crisis caused by the collapse of Ptolemaic power that eventually drew the Romans east.  The final section covers 200-170 BCE, tracing the two rounds of hegemonic war needed to subdue Philip and Antiochus and their immediate aftermath.  Roman hesitancy to become involved in the east is a constant theme.  Eckstein argues that after the defeat of Antiochus Roman victory replaced the old tripolar system in the east with a new unipolar system embracing the entire Mediterranean.  But unipolarity did not necessarily signify control, let alone empire. 

Eckstein’s examination of the situation created by the Roman victory in the First Illyrian War (229-228 BCE) in the first section is illustrative of his methodology.  Modern reconstructions of Roman relations with the polities on the Illyrian coast range from informal control exercised on the basis of a patron-client relationship to some form of clearly subjugated protectorate.[3]  Eckstein disputes this by carefully critiquing the ancient evidence and finding it far from conclusive.  The handful of disparate, geographically noncontiguous polities brought under Roman protection did not constitute anything approaching the coherent protectorate we should expect to find if the Senate had more than minimal concerns in maritime Illyria.

In this, he follows Karl-Ernst Petzold and Erich Gruen but reinforces the point by noting two terms often used somewhat cavalierly by classical scholars but precisely defined by political scientists: “protectorate” and “sphere of influence.”[4]  Maritime Illyria was not a “bordered political space that had lost both its sovereignty as a whole and its internal administration into the control of an imperial power,” nor was it “a definite region within which a single external power exerts a predominant influence which limits the independence of freedom of action of states within it ... against the influence of other comparable powers over the region” (pp. 51, 54).  Classical historians are often tempted to chastise others for using imprecise translations of ancient sources.  Eckstein makes the salutary point that they should be equally precise in their use of the modern terminology of imperial control. 

In this conception, authority and control must be asserted and asserted often in order to be authority and control.  In Eckstein’s view, the sporadic and limited interventions east of the Adriatic until 205 BCE were just that, limited and sporadic.  Obviously, the existential threat of the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE) helped ensure that this was so.  What’s more, Eckstein argues that the eastern diplomatic environment did not lend itself to large-scale Roman intervention.  In the First Macedonian War (214-205 BCE), prominent Greek states, such as Ptolemaic Egypt, Rhodes, and Athens, were involved in diplomatic maneuvers dramatically at variance with Rome’s interests.  They left Rome isolated by brokering a separate peace between Philip and Rome’s main ally in Greece, the Aetolian League.  Within five years, however, some of these same states were desperate for Roman intervention.

In his second section, Eckstein explains this diplomatic revolution as a result of a power transition crisis.  Internal unrest and the ascension of a child to the Ptolemaic throne in 204 BCE ensured that Egypt could no longer act as a balance against Macedonian and Seleucid power.  The attendant hegemonic war could have resulted in a new bipolar structure in the east dominated by Philip and Antiochus or even the eventual emergence of one or the other as a unipolar hegemon.  Instead, Rome, a power that was heretofore peripheral to eastern affairs, defeated both, and what had been regional eastern and western international systems came together into one Mediterranean-wide system.  That is, Polybius’s emphasis on the development of the symploke (interconnectedness) of east and west is precisely on point. 

Eckstein argues that the proximate cause for this intervention is to be sought, as reported by Polybius, in the pact between Philip and Antiochus.  Thus, he devotes an entire chapter to countering the various modern criticisms of Polybius’s account.  Here Eckstein’s skills as a classical scholar come to the fore.  He discusses the Polybian narrative and manuscript tradition to establish that there is no a priori reason for dismissing it as implausible.  More important, he then demonstrates that the practical operation of the pact can be discerned.  Eckstein not only argues that Philip campaigned vigorously against Ptolemaic holdings in 201-200 BCE but also adduces new epigraphic evidence to demonstrate that the kings were in active cooperation.  Eckstein posits that it was the pact that accounts for a diplomatic revolution.  The expansionist threat posed by the kings drove the Ptolemies, Rhodians, Athenians, and Pergamenes to turn to Rome.  That is, focusing on Roman aggressiveness only gives a partial picture.  In Eckstein’s view, we will get a much clearer picture if we lift our eyes to the international system as a whole and the stresses placed on it by the interests and actions of all the actors, not just the Romans.

For Eckstein, the embassies of 201 BCE were no mere pretext for continuing Roman aggression.  They were a necessary catalyst that galvanized the Senate into action because of the security threat posed by the Pact Between the Kings.  He notes that the actions of the Roman government were not what we should expect of reflexive imperialism.  Instead, they were the typical response of a powerful state concerned about its security in a threatening international environment.  The senatorial resolution in 200 BCE for what amounted to preventive war against Philip was initially rejected by the people when put to a vote in the comitia centuriata.  Instead of imperial aggression, Eckstein suggests that what moved the Senate and eventually the Roman people was fear of a “worst-case scenario,” the unknown threat that would be posed by Philip and Antiochus after they had digested Egypt.  It was this that brought them the “cognitive closure” that they had “no choice” but to wage a preventive war (p. 264).  That is, that threat assessment may have been a critical element in Roman decision making. 

In his final section, Eckstein argues that, even after embarking on the Second Macedonian War (200-196 BCE) and the Syrian Wars (192-188 BCE), the Romans were far from following a policy of formal imperialism.  He discerns three factors as the foundation of the relationship between Greece and Rome after 188 BCE and the explanation for the ambiguous nature of Roman predominance.  First, no single polity remained a serious challenge to Roman authority after 188 BCE.  The power of all other serious, first-tier polities had been severely curtailed.  Second, the hegemonic wars over Philip V and Antiochus III had not been won by the Romans alone.  Rather, Rome was the central component of broad voluntary alliances of smaller and mid-sized Greek polities.  Third, the Romans completely withdrew their forces west of the Adriatic and specifically did not attempt to establish formal provinciae in the east--what Eckstein refers to as a policy of “smash and leave” (p. 305).  Rome’s allies and erstwhile enemies were all free to pursue their own international agendas and private wars so long as they did not run directly counter to Roman interests.

Again, Eckstein argues for precise terminology.  He insists that if the term “empire” is to be used meaningfully, it should be rather narrowly construed as the direct control over both the external and internal policies and politics of subordinated polities.  “Empire is not mere inequality of power among states” (p. 373).  All-in-all, Eckstein presents a compelling case that, despite achieving unipolar status as the sole remaining “superpower” in the Mediterranean international system, true Roman “empire” had to wait.  Indeed, Polybius noted (1.1.5, 3.4.2-3, and 6.2.3) that Roman supremacy was only consummated over the course of a fifty-three-year period that ran until 168 BCE and the close of the Third Macedonian War.  It took time for Rome’s relationship with the Greek polities to evolve through a continuum of hierarchical arrangements into imperial control.

The conclusion of earlier scholars lacking Eckstein’s grounding in modern political theory has often been that following the peace of 188 BCE there was nothing left for the Greeks to do but submit themselves to the Romans who were now the ultimate arbiters of international relations, the “cops of the world.”[5]  Eckstein argues that a situation of actual imperial rule had not yet come into being because no such rule was either practiced by the Romans or recognized by the Greeks.  What is more problematic is tracing the precise nature of this progression from unipolar power to imperial rule.  Long ago, Gruen made a convincing case that even after the complete “emasculation” of Greece in 146 BCE, the Romans were still declining to exercise “overlordship.”[6]  Eckstein’s study supports this view and would seem to indicate that in the east the Roman empire was the product of a long process.  Military victory may have been a necessary condition of empire but was not sufficient without the frequent assertion of authority and control that would come later.


[1]. Maurice Holleaux, Rome, la Grèce et les Monarchies Hellenistiques au IIIe Siècle avant J.-C. (273-205) (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1969).

[2]. William V. Harris, War and Imperialism in Republican Rome 327-70 BC (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 46-53.

[3]. Ernst Badian, Foreign Clientelae (264-70 BC) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 41-42, 53-54, 113; Jean-Louis Ferrary, Philhellénisme et Impérialisme: Aspects Idéologiques de la Conquête Romaine du Monde Hellénistique (Rome: Ecole française de Rome, 1988), 24-33; N. G. L. Hammond, “Illyris, Rome, and Macedon in 229-205 BC,” Journal of Roman Studies 58 (1968): 7-9; and Peter Derow, “Pharos and Rome,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 88 (1991): 267-270.

[4]. Karl-Ernst Petzold, “Rom und Illyrien: Ein Beitrag zur römischen Aussenpolitik im 3. Jahrhundert,” Historia 20 (1971): 206, 220-221; and Erich Gruen, The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 78, 367-368.

[5]. Peter Derow, “From the Illyrian Wars to the Fall of Macedon,” in A Companion to the Hellenistic World, ed. Andrew Erskine (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 65-66.

[6].  Gruen, Hellenistic World, 528.

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Author: Daniela Rossini
Reviewer: John Thayer

Daniela Rossini. Woodrow Wilson and the American Myth in Italy: Culture, Diplomacy, and War Propaganda. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008. x + 263 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-02824-1.

Reviewed by John Thayer (University of Minnesota) Published on H-Diplo (March, 2009) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Wilson in Italy

“The twentieth century was, as many have claimed, the ‘American Century,’ and the year 1918 was unquestionably the first ‘American Year’ in Europe.” Within the context of America’s rise to world power, Daniela Rossini singles out Italy’s response, where “the myth of America was strongest of all nations in Europe.” It was in Italy that, in 1918, “it ballooned into the ideological void of the aftermath of [the Battle of] Caporetto, filling the vacuum of incompetence presented by the liberal political leadership, which was at a loss as to how to govern a society that the war itself had transformed into a mass society” (p. 1).

The sudden eclipse, if not of the myth, then certainly of Woodrow Wilson’s reputation among Italians, reflected widespread resentment of Wilson’s refusal to agree to all the territorial rewards for which Italy had bargained when, in May 1915, it left its old alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, to join the Entente. This rupture between Wilson and the Italian leaders that came when the war was won is the subject of Rossini’s chapter “Wilson’s Diplomacy toward Italy.” While granting that the confrontation grew out of conflicting diplomatic policy, Rossini, at the outset of this cultural and diplomatic study, asks the reader to look for the “roots” of the dispute, “in particular to the cultural gulf between the two nations, a gap that sprung primarily from the unequal development of each country’s civil society.” “Wilson’s America,” she writes, “wealthy and up-to-date, was already familiar with mass communication and mass politics: that made it very different from the elitist and repressive Italy of [Vittorio] Orlando and [Sidney] Sonnino” (p. 2). Orlando was minister of justice when Italy entered the war, became interior minister, and, after the Battle of Caporetto, became prime minister; Sonnino was foreign minister throughout the war.

Having established the book’s sociological as well as political-diplomatic focus, in a chapter “Reciprocal Images before the Great War,” Rossini describes America’s fascination with Italy, as its writers and artists followed the path of Stendahl and Goethe to the fount of beauty. In its earliest stage, this Italophilia expressed a “precocious love of Italian architecture, represented by [Thomas] Jefferson’s Palladianism. In later years, Italy was the inspirational goal of those whom Edith Wharton called ‘a happy few.’ For Henry James they were ‘passionate pilgrims’” (pp. 5-6). It was an adoration that was “first and foremost the expression of a widespread American cultural need,” in which Italy “to a much greater extent than other countries, took on the role of the anti-American and the progenitor of western art,” also a place offering “a temporary refuge from the all-encompassing materialism of America” (p. 9).

Love being not blind, the pilgrim aesthete also took note of certain dangers. “Italy,” Rossini reminds us, “had a corrupting side, as does everything that lives in symbiosis with the past and with death.” So it was that among the happy pilgrims; “after abandoning themselves at first to the various Italian initiations, there resurfaced a need for critical detachment, for distance which was also an affirmation of American moral superiority over old-world morality.” Side by side with art, there was also “filth, superstition, servility, poverty, and a lack of emotional self-control,” national character defects that “could be seen everywhere” (p. 10). Even earlier, the “profoundly American [Ralph Waldo] Emerson wrote: ‘We go to Europe to be Americanized’” (p. 12). It is a note foreshadowing the arrival of Rossini’s Wilson. In pages devoted to what Rossini calls “Negative Images,” we find Wilson, in his Princeton days, commenting on Italians who, from 1880 onward, arrived in the United States at a rate of three hundred thousand per year, as “men out of the ranks where there is neither skill nor energy nor any initiative or quick intelligence” (p. 14).

Rossini’s main interest is American policy with respect to Italy following the intervention of 1917. On the war itself, and its significance, in a chapter “Two Parallel Wars,” she sees it as having marked a “watershed between two profoundly different eras,” between “a peaceful, optimistic and rational nineteenth century, and the violent, pessimistic and irrational twentieth century” (p. 33). As for the alliance that developed between Wilson’s America and Italy, it brought into wartime association two profoundly different societies, “a wealthy, dynamic society, in a state of continuous expansions, a society that had largely reached the age of mass consumption,” and an Italy that, “though it was developing, remained unable to pass through certain bottlenecks and could only partly rid itself of the burdensome heritage of its history” (p. 45). Rossini sees the war as the result of “the fragmentation of the nineteenth century’s united framework” which left behind a “polycentric” world in which “conflict with Germany became especially acrimonious” (p. 53).

Of Italy’s 1915 intervention in World War I, Rossini writes that though “most Italian parliamentary forces were opposed,” a pro-war “interventionist front” took shape, during the months that Italy remained neutral (August 2, 1914, to May 24, 1915) and still within the alliance formed in 1882 with the Central Powers. Meanwhile, the government, “in the crude unadorned language of the nineteenth-century school,” bargained for its share of the spoils in a war its leaders expected to be over in a few months. By the Treaty of London, as it is usually, if inaccurately, called, Italy was promised by the Entente a “territorial expansion that went well beyond its ethnic boundary” (p. 39).[1] Rossini sees this situation as the source of what she has called those two parallel wars. Italy’s goal was primarily the defeat of Austria-Hungary, which accounts for Italy’s delaying its war with Germany until August 1916. As for American views and war aims, while “public opinion was strongly opposed to autocratic Germany,” the nation’s “attitude was one of indifference, if not veiled sympathy for the Hapsburg Empire, viewed romantically as emblematic of the old European courts” (p. 48).

Rossini’s primary interest is American diplomacy, with a focus on Wilson and Italy. As such, her coverage of Italian events, especially the May 1915 decision to abandon its old allies and support the Triple Entente, is limited. She quotes the historian Guglielmo Ferrero who, at the time, described the intervention “as if an avalanche of hatred had burst down on [Giovanni] Giolitti and the parliamentary system with whom [sic] Giolitti was identified” (p. 41). Giolitti had been prime minister on three occasions, from 1903 to 1914, known among Italianists as the “Giolittian decade.”

Readers unfamiliar with Italian political history may find this interpretation of the Italian volte-face and the sudden collapse of the old parliamentary regime unsatisfactory, if not remarkable, especially, as Rossini writes, “the Giolittian system--which had governed Italy successfully for more than a decade--collapsed. The interventionist line prevailed, even though it was opposed not only by Giolitti and the Italian Parliament, but by the Socialists, the Vatican and the majority of the Italian people as well” (p. 41).

Rossini devotes two very informative chapters to Italian and American efforts to inspire the masses and counter Leninist and domestic antiwar sentiments: “Propaganda in Uniform” and “The Arrival of the Professional Propagandist,” in which she covers the work of George Creel’s Committee on Public Information (CPI) and the use of the Red Cross, the motion picture studios, and the mobilization of academics and journalists. To run the Italian Propaganda Agency, Romeo Gallenga-Stuart was chosen. Prior to the war, Gallenga-Stuart had been a follower of the Nationalist Association, founded in 1911, which advocated a foreign policy of Mediterranean imperialism and the old Triple Alliance and an anti-Giolitti and anti-parliamentarian domestic policy. 

In the United States, Columbia University’s Charles E. Merriam was conscripted to run the Italian section of Creel’s CPI. Like Gallenga-Stuart, Merriam shared a prevailing interventionist belief that the war might put an end to what the pro-war groups called a “parliamentary dictatorship,” whose chief, in or out of office, was Giolitti. “Merriam,” Rossini notes, “considered the Italian governing class as a holdover from the antidemocratic and clientilistic past.... Giolitti in particular was considered a cynical and corrupt politico, skilled at political maneuvering with opportunistic alliances and the exchange of personal favors” (p. 126). 

The vast majority of Italian voters and their representatives whom they sent to Parliament in 1913 were in favor of Giolitti’s advice to exploit neutrality as a bargaining chip with the German-Austrian allies, obtaining what came to be know as Giolitti’s parecchio (quite a lot). Giolitti’s own word molto (much), was changed to parecchio by the editor of La tribuna, who published the statesman’s letter to his chief of cabinet. It was logical that Rossini’s propagandists, American and Italian, came exclusively from the ranks of the anti-neutralists who portrayed the war as a crusade to advance democracy.

Because these progressive-democratic interventionists are Rossini’s main interest, neutralist sources, both American and Italian, remain in the background. Within this context, however, it should be noted that much of what emerged in 1917 as Wilsonianism was already very much alive in Europe, precisely among those who, in French and Italian historiography, are known as the “democratic interventionists.” When the United States entered the war, it was these European parties and individuals who furnished the cadres of Rossini’s morale-boosting publicists. This in no way detracts from her emphasis on the activities of these willing propagandists. On the basis of much popular as well as archival material, Rossini has retrieved examples of this progressive enterprise. Her use of verbatim passages and her extensive notes are especially valuable. 

In her chapter on Wilson’s diplomacy, the question arises as to when Wilson learned of the Treaty of London, in which Italy’s claims went beyond Wilsonian self-determination. Testifying before the Senate in August 1919, Colonel Edward House claimed innocence of the document prior to his trip to Paris, a claim Rossini rejects, citing conversations between Arthur James Balfour and House on April 28, 1917, and also Balfour’s later meeting with Wilson during the foreign secretary’s visit to the United States. But as the task at hand was winning the war, Wilson, House, and Robert Lansing adopted what became known as the “doctrine of postponement,” skirting the issue of Italy’s territorial spoils in order not to create disharmony, leaving the territorial settlement to the Peace Conference (p. 141). In a passage that recalls the Wilson of George F. Kennan’s American Diplomacy (1951), Rossini feels that the policy of “postponement” itself “betrayed an inadequate understanding of the complexity of the European war, the national antagonisms, the spread of nationalist and irrational attitudes that ran through the Old World societies that had done so much to fuel the outbreak of the war” (p. 141). Rossini also cites Wilson’s belief that, thanks to American economic power, by the time victory was won, the European nations would be “financially in our hands,” as if the America of 1919 enjoyed the international power it would come to have following World War II (p. 141).

Rossini continues with a detailed account of the work of the “Inquiry,” a board of academics established by Wilson in September 1917, an agency its chief, the historian James Shotwell, called a “'strange experiment of the mobilization of the political and social sciences to help in shaping the outcome of the new world structure which had to be built out of the ruins of the war'” (p. 148). Its most conspicuous and, in Shotwell’s opinion, most arrogant member was Walter Lippmann. By the time victory was achieved, all the secret treaties had been made public by the Bolshevik regime. It was then the Inquiry’s task, as Lippmann put it, to “'take the secret treaties, analyze the parts, which were tolerable, and separate the parts which were regarded as intolerable, and develop an American position in each case.... The sensitive spot was Italy. We shaved down the Italian claims to the indisputable Italian territory, which was meant they were not to have Trentino, the Austrian part, and they were not to have Fiume'” (p. 151).

Commenting on Italy’s bitterness when the ninth of the Fourteen Points not only cut back Italian control of the east bank of the Adriatic but also made Trieste an open port, Rossini has a kind word for Lansing, who appreciated Italy’s desire to have a facility across the Adriatic. It was, she feels, a more realistic position and one that was closer to Sonnino’s demands. Ignoring his secretary of state, Wilson assured Italy’s ambassador that, as Rossini puts it, “the problem-solving function of the League of Nations would secure the security of the Adriatic zone.” But such a policy only served to call into question the wisdom of Italy’s 1915 decision to join the Entente, and did so, she adds, “without developing any alternative justification for the long and painful Italian war effort. American policy was casting discredit on the liberal governing class and stoking the fires of domestic social and political conflict” (pp. 152-153). 

Finally, Rossini comes to what she calls “The Paradox of the Fiume Dispute,” where she describes Italy’s vain effort to add Fiume to the booty, even though it was not included in the London Treaty. As background for this much-debated dispute, there was Wilson’s request that the Allies accept his Fourteen Points as a guide to talks with Germany on the armistice Berlin asked for. It was then that Lippmann and his colleagues in Paris went to work paring down Italy’s claims, giving Italy the Brenner frontier but leaving Trieste and Fiume as free ports and reducing Italy’s gains on the Dalmatian coast. In the midst of these labors, Vienna called for armistice talks that concluded hostilities. On November 3, 1918, at Villa Giusti, near Padua, Italy’s own war ended. In Rossini’s account of the often acrimonious personal relationships among the American peacemakers, it was House, who often went off on his own, who seized on Villa Giusti as a way to put off the nasty territorial issue. As it was only a military arrangement, with no attached territorial clauses, Villa Giusti had, so House wrote, “the advantage of avoiding political discussions respecting Italian and other claims before capitulation of Austria is completed” (p. 171). It was an adroit equivocation. Progressives, disparaging of such maneuvering, belittled House as a mere “arranger” (p. 175).

House’s casual remarks to Italy’s leaders, especially to Orlando, and Macchi di Cellere’s dispatches from Washington, in which Wilson was portrayed as pro-Italian, prepared the ground for Wilson’s triumphal visit to Italy in January 1919, where he was greeted as a new messiah. Rossini covers all of this in great detail, as she also does Italy’s violent reaction to their hero when “figlio di puttana” was replaced by “figlio di Wilson” (pp. 187-190). Rossini’s admiration for Wilson is tempered by her recognition of his limitations. “He showed,” she believes, “how powerful a leader can be if he knows how to appeal to the masses; he shaped a number of instruments of mass communication.... Yet we cannot agree with those who praise every aspect of his political approach. Wilson failed to adequately encourage dialogue with the Allies, or with his political adversaries even in the United States. He devalued diplomacy and this deprived him of the valuable assistance of many of his contemporaries” (p. 191).

Versailles was to be the vae victis of old and the source, Rossini believes, of the growing tensions that led to the next world war. Still, she will not lay the blame at Wilson’s door. Isolated at Paris, forced to compromise, he held fast to the League of Nations. The book ends on a note of regret, as post-Wilsonian isolationists threw out, along with the pretensions of the Inquiry board, the ideals that inspired the president. In the 1920s and 1930s, she writes, “Wilsonian internationalists were reduced to no more than a small handful.” It was only after September 1, 1939, that there was “a shift in American public opinion, and the need for international engagement made itself felt.” It was then, with “the United States’ full assumption of its hegemonic international role” that “Wilson’s heritage could no longer be denied” (pp. 191-192).


[1]. Rossini speaks of a “Treaty of London,” as do most historians. But while it did become a state obligation, when it was signed by Italy’s ambassador in London on April 26, it was an “accord,” contingent on Italy’s entry within thirty days into the war against Germany, something Italy’s government hoped never to be called on to do, believing the war to be in its final stages.

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Citation: John Thayer. Review of Rossini, Daniela, Woodrow Wilson and the American Myth in Italy: Culture, Diplomacy, and War Propaganda. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. March, 2009. URL:

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Author: George Gavrilis
Reviewer: John Agnew

George Gavrilis. The Dynamics of Interstate Boundaries. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 216 pp. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-89899-7.

Reviewed by John Agnew (University of California, Los Angeles) Published on H-Diplo (March, 2009) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Hands across Borders

Arguably, “state strength” has become the leitmotif of much writing about contemporary statehood with considerable attention given to detailing why some states succeed and others fail because of the relative adequacy or “strength” of their central state apparatus (p. 2).  In his thought-provoking book about the management of interstate borders, George Gavrilis will have none of this.  He uses border management and control to offer a different and distinctive understanding of state authority.

Gavrilis begins by noting how ineffective most states are at managing their borders.  He goes on to examine in considerable empirical detail his theoretical position that border management is a function of state “preferences” rather than “capacity” (as in the conventional wisdom), domestic politics is the best predictor of such preferences, and the nature of the border “regime” determines the effectiveness of management (p.4).  Most of his empirical analysis is devoted to establishing that cooperative border strategies with devolution of control to the local level are best at producing secure borders.  The other parts of the argument are largely inferred from this rather than demonstrated separately.

Views of the book by political scientists concerned with questions of domestic politics versus international context and state preferences versus state capacities will depend on how well Gavrilis is judged to have made the connections.  I think that this may well be the Achilles' heel of the book.  From the perspective of those of us more interested in borders simply as instruments of state building, however, it is the typology of border management strategies and the innovative empirical studies undertaken to investigate them that stands out as the main accomplishment of the book.  In this regard, Gavrilis has produced a first-rate monograph that will be widely read and stimulative of other research on border management.

The book is divided into seven chapters moving from a general outline of the central theoretical conundrum of border management, that those which are least policed through central fiat are the most successfully managed, and theoretical claims about how borders are illustrative of various facets of state formation, to detailed studies of the nineteenth-century Greek-Ottoman border in what is today central Greece and contemporary border management in Central Asia.  The fundamental premise of the study is that borders are institutions and are shared with neighboring states.  This leads to the central claim that “borders are local manifestations of the claims of a state’s authority” (p. 6).  A typology of border control strategies is used to lay out how from the outset “new states” adopt one of four approaches which reflect the nature of domestic politics within the state at that time.  The four approaches are boundary regimes (involving local cross-border cooperation between guards), unilateral policing, conflictual unilateral policing, and ad hoc strategies.  Following in the theoretical footsteps of Elinor Ostrom, Charles Tilly, and Roger Gould, Gavrilis focuses on how locally negotiated cross-border cooperation through shared communication and monitoring capacity rather than rent-seeking and corruption determines the course of state formation.  The state’s ability to let its local agents make their decisions unmonitored from the center is seen as crucial to securing borders and thus enhancing state formation.  Successful states and secure borders are established from outside-in rather than vice versa.  Gavrilis uses the case studies to empirically bolster his general argument.

Gavrilis relies on a mix of Greek and Ottoman archival sources to show how the border between the two sides was policed from the 1830s until the 1870s.  He shows quite convincingly that there was considerable cross-border collaboration, particularly in the central more highland area before 1856.  He interprets this as suggesting how much both governments converged in their approach to state-building by resisting centralized micromanagement of the border.  As he notes, however, the longstanding system of provincial rule within the Ottoman Empire (of which Greece was, of course, also recently a part) encouraged such local collaborative policing.  Many border guards on both sides were also former bandits whose local knowledge, multilingualism, and common norms worked to favor collaboration.  Over time, and from the Greek side in particular, the policing became increasingly unilateral with negative consequences for both border management and relations between the two states.  Great Powers, particularly Britain, are also invoked as having some role in resolving episodic disputes but they are downplayed theoretically in a resolutely domestic-focused explanation for why border strategies take the form they do.  Whether the case study has much to say in such different circumstances as those that prevail, say in Africa or in Latin America, is clearly open to question. 

The Central Asian case study relies more on ingenious and time-consuming fieldwork than archives, including the close observation of various border crossings between the various republics since their independence from the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.  Again, the theoretical thrust is that prior to interaction with other states, their governments established preferences for how they would manage their borders, thus illustrating their approach to state formation.  In Central Asia, if Uzbekistan has the most state-controlled economy and has the most centrally controlled borders, Kyrgyzstan stands at the other extreme with the most liberal border regime oriented to demarcation more than control.  Gavrilis does not investigate why this should have happened this way and for these particular states.  All of the states were, until recently, Soviet republics.  One might have expected greater uniformity after independence in border management practices than appears to be the case.  Rather, Gavrilis assumes that they reflect the preferences of the respective political elites.  He resists the idea that ethnic or nationalist politics or external influences have anything to do with it.

The most important contribution of this book is to make a simple point, albeit one that is frequently missed in border studies: that border security depends on institutional design (particularly that which encourages local cross-border collaborative policing) than on such vacuities as a state’s capacity or strength, usually measured in terms of the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and military spending.  The problem with the book is that it tries to do much more than this in suggesting how elite preferences (which seemingly are arbitrary constructs) determine the character of institutional design and strongly dismisses the wider international context as having much if any role.  In these respects I find it overstated and unconvincing.  Yet, its counterintuitive claim that a state which “delegates and surrenders authority to its boundary administrators has a better chance of achieving a secure border” is given substantial support, particularly from the Central Asian case study (p. 2). This is in itself an important achievement.  It is one that enthusiasts for ever tighter, centralized, and unilateral border controls in the United States and elsewhere need to reflect on before they realize the exact opposite of what they intend.

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In: H-War
Author: Wayne H. Bowen, José E. Alvarez
Reviewer: Judith Keene

Wayne H. Bowen, José E. Alvarez. A Military History of Modern Spain: From the Napoleonic Era to the International War on Terror. Westport: Praeger, 2007. viii + 222 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-275-99357-3.

Reviewed by Judith Keene (University of Sydney) Published on H-War (March, 2009) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine

The Military in Spanish History

Without a doubt, the subjects of this volume would have been astounded to know that in the first decade of the twenty-first century Spain's Minister of Defence would be a Catalan woman, thirty-seven years old, and the grand daughter of an anarchist. In April 2008, Carme Chacón's appointment to the Socialist cabinet captured the headlines, as did her energetic commitment to the job when, a few days after her appointment and while seven months pregnant, she headed off to review Spain's combat units that were part of the United Nations coalition in Afghanistan. 

The army has long played a central role in Spanish history. Indeed, as these essays show, the persistent military presence in Spain has lent a particular skew to Spanish affairs. In a society where the central state has been weak, the military elite too frequently has acted as the arbiter of politics. Large sections of the Spanish officer corps have long seen themselves as providing the backbone to a decentered nation where regionalism has been the counter weight to centralization. Against the pull of regional cultures, the military has unfailingly backed the national, that is Castilian, culture. While all of this is well known in broad terms, the historians in this volume lay out the detail of the army's involvement, and the ways in which military power has been exercised from Napoleonic times to the end of the twentieth century. With several notable exceptions, the essays focus more on military and martial matters than on society and culture. The detail of the analyses, and the depth of research on which individual studies draw, however, make this a collection that will be welcomed by scholars and students who are interested in Spanish cultural and social history,as well as those who follow military affairs.

The editors are distinguished scholars of Spanish history and the military. José Alvarez has traced the origins of the Spanish Foreign legion in The Betrothed of Death: The Spanish Foreign Legion during the Rif Rebellion (2001); Wayne Bowen wrote on the social and political effects of Spain's involvement with Nazi Germany in Spaniards and Nazi Germany (2000), and on Spanish politics during World War II in Spain during World War Two (2006). As well, Bowen knows military life from the inside, having been called up to serve in Iraq as part of the U.S. Army Reserve.[1] 

Stanley Payne, a doyen of Spanish studies, provides a crisp overview of the army's role from the Middle Ages to the present. He identifies the conundrum at the heart of the army's place, whereby the institution exerted a major influence on Spanish domestic politics but in military combat could never muster a creditable performance, and until very recently functioned in isolation from international affairs.

In a very substantial first chapter that evaluates military methods and strategy across the nineteenth century, from the Napoleonic wars to the defeat in Cuba in 1898, Geoffrey Jensen sees a series of military setbacks. Despite the activism of the military elite, the Spanish Army was never able to forge an effective fighting force. The officers' involvement in politics (between 1814 and 1899 Spain had 129 ministers of war) took them away from the main game of running the army. At the same time, the rigidity of military training imbued the corps with an inflexible mindset that meant that even in the field they clung to the antiquated ideas of previous military generations. As a consequence, when confronted with popular insurgency and guerrilla warfare the Spanish army was flummoxed.

Spain remained neutral in World War I. Javier Ponce finds that in comparison with the Prussian Army, Spain was saddled with conscripts of poor quality, under-industrialized manufacturers, and a bloated officer corps that "bled the state's coffers" (p. 54). José Alvarez continues the gloomy story up to 1931, in which the "bloated ranks" of the officers (p. 37), and the antiquated equipment at their disposal, precluded the Spanish army from achieving a military mission.   

Particularly welcome is Michael Alpert's evaluation (in chapter 5) of the "popular army" in the Spanish civil war. Alpert's large and scholarly study of the Republican forces is available in Spanish El Ejército republicano en la Guerra civil (1989), but not in English. The clarity and conciseness of Alpert's analysis comes from his deep familiarity with Spanish history and literature. The study, here, is framed around a series of questions that are important in evaluating the course and outcome of the civil war, and have been greatly contested among historians of that event. At the time of the conflict these questions produced a heated polemic between pro-Republicans and franquistas. The central issue is the strength of the Republican army itself and how effective, or ineffective, it was. As well, he examines the republican militias that formed up spontaneously in the early weeks of the war, and he assesses the military contribution of the International brigades. 

After the generals' pronunciamiento in July 1936, the Army of Africa and the majority of the officer corps in the Peninsula Army went over to General Franco. The Republican government was left with the task of recreating  a fighting force from the remnants of the troops on the mainland that had remained loyal. In Alpert's view, the Republicans and the reconstituted military did a reasonable job, given the circumstances, but the civilian leadership made a serious tactical error in impugning the loyalty of the officers who stayed with the Republic. The consequence of this mistake was the loss of much-needed military expertise in the government camp at a time in which it was in short supply. On the militias, Alpert is neither a pro-Poumist nor dismissive of the militias that often military historians treat as rabble. Alpert sees them as effective in many places and indeed "not totally disorganized" (p. 97). The International Brigades, he finds, were not filled with experienced veterans from World War I, though many of their commanders had been through that conflict. He suggests that the Internationals probably were not better led than were the Spanish units, though the former were used as shock troops and therefore bore heavy losses throughout the conflict. By 1938, in any event, Spaniards made up two-thirds of most International Brigades. And none of the Republican units, in Alpert's assessment, was a match for the Spanish Army of Africa, braced by the Foreign Legion and the Moroccan mercenaries whose discipline and training had been honed in brutal colonial warfare in North Africa.

The parallel essay that analyses the Nationalist Army (chapter 4) is less satisfactory. George Esenwein provides a useful chronological narrative of Franco's army between 1936 and 1939, following the military engagements in the inexorable expansion of Franco's military control over Spain. The author, however, eschews the contentious questions that readers might expect to find aired in this analysis. An important issue, though not here canvassed, is whether Franco was the great military leader hailed by his followers and the franquista press until his death in 1975. In Franco (1994), Paul Preston argues firmly that Franco's reputation as a tactical genius was part of the overblown polemic around the carefully constructed cult of the caudillo. Geoffrey Jensen (though his work on Franco is not cited in this volume) has provided a more positive, if nuanced, assessment of Franco's abilities as a military strategist in field combat.[2] 

It is not surprising that Spain, with its economy crippled and national infrastructure in ruins after the civil war, stayed out of World War II. Wayne Bowen traces the initiatives, such as the Blue Division, that Franco, and particularly the Falange, undertook to show solidarity with Hitler. However, the parlous state of the budget, the continuing drain of the oversized officer corps, and the domestic struggles within the Nationalist camp kept Spain and its core military institution in a state of internecine conflict and economic stagnation. T. Shannon Fleming traces Spain's new imperialist enterprise in North West Africa between 1940 and 1976, as Spanish military administrators managed Iberian interests in Spanish Morocco in the face of France's determination to offer Moroccan independence. And in the post Franco era, it is clear that military reform has pared back the numbers of army officers, and applied the funds released to purchase up-to-date equipment. Kenneth W. Estes and José M. Serrano examine Spain's transformation from a "pariah state" to equal partner in European affairs (p. 136). The authors demonstrate that the hardware of the military was greatly improved through NATO membership and the support of the United States.

José Olmeda, in a fascinating essay (chapter 9), traces Spain's experience with terrorism from 1939 to 2006, pointing out the true but dispiriting fact that democracies are more likely to be the targets of terrorism than are dictatorships. He traces the shift in ETA and the recent expansion of Islamic terrorism, but suggests that overall (and despite the horror of the Madrid bombing in 2004), there has been a decline in terrorist episodes since the year 2000.

One can only speculate that, in any future analysis of the Spanish military, the next challenge that confronts the historian will be to assess the effect on Spain's history of the newest group to enter the military milieu. Women have been able to enlist as soldiers only in the last two decades, and given democratic Spain's remarkable progress in opening up to able females places in the political and administrative elite, I will put my money on women in the Ministry of Defense bringing about a new epoch in Spanish miliary history.


[1].  See Wayne Bowen, Undoing Saddam: From Occupation to Sovereignty in Northern Iraq (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2007).

[2]. Geoffrey Jensen, Franco: Soldier, Commander, Dictator (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2005).

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Citation: Judith Keene. Review of Bowen, Wayne H.; Alvarez, José E., A Military History of Modern Spain: From the Napoleonic Era to the International War on Terror. H-War, H-Net Reviews. March, 2009. URL:

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