Monthly Archives: December 2015

History and Memory in Syria

The Syrian uprising is on the verge of its fifth anniversary. To a great extent it has become the essential conflict of our times. Despite this – or perhaps because of it – the prospect of peace, regardless of some apparently encouraging signs from the United Nations, remains a chimera. Much – and understandably so – has been written about what Syria has become, and what led it there: the murders, the torture, the senseless slaughter, the almost inconceivable devastation.

There is no shame in this; it is necessary and I have done more than my fair share. But sometimes this analysis is insufficient. Sometimes it is better to write from an unconventional perspective; sometimes what is missing from the equation is a greater sense of historical understanding. Continue reading

The American President and the Power to Persuade

The presidential power of persuasion, which was first described by Richard Neustadt, is a thoroughly important one. It is by this method that the president politicks to have Bills of his choosing pass in Congress. It is by this method that the president secures his authority in matters such as the running of the federal bureaucracy. But there are those who suggest that, contrary perhaps to the wishes of the Founding Fathers, the president has acquired many powers extra to any persuasive facility. Continue reading

The Course of Rearmament before the Second World War

After the First World War wrought its bloody course, the statesmen of Europe and the world began to come to conclusions about its origins. Many of these – well intentioned analyses to a fault – centred on the ideas of ‘power politics’, conceptions of militarism and imperialism, and the notion that arms races cause wars. The Anglo-German naval race of the early twentieth century, as well as its continental equivalents, was held to be the harbinger of future conflict. It was therefore determined that large concentrations of arms should be avoided; that nations should be disarmed – by force if necessary; and that another arms race could not be allowed to occur. All of these aspirations were to fail before the end of the 1930s. Not only did apparent instruments of international peace fail; they also were unable to prevent the coming rearmament, which was built upon a new and ultimately more volatile global order. Continue reading

Congress: The Broken Branch?

Congress is never without its critics. And who, to an extent, can blame them? With various flavours of anti-political and anti-establishment candidates now leading the pack in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, it might be said with some accuracy that the ordinary way of doing things is on the run. The reasons for this wider trend need not concern us at present, but it is interesting to assess the extent to which this feeling – which, though it may be relatively without antecedent, remains something of a standard refrain – can be personified in the problems associated with the legislative branch. The famously inane joke of choice for would-be critics – ‘If pro is the opposite of con, what’s the opposite of progress?’ – shows this sentiment is hardly new. It could, however, be said to be growing – and this merits its study in judicious and expeditious a fashion. Continue reading

Lord William Bentinck and the Joy of the Archive

For the last two months (before I returned home at the beginning of December) I have been living in Nottingham, working by day in the university archive. The object of my work is the voluminous collection of letters, diaries and records contained within the Portland papers. Of particular fascination are those belonging to Lord William Bentinck, who was for some time the Commander in Chief of British forces in the Mediterranean and de facto governor of Sicily during the Napoleonic Wars. (The man was later to be Governor-General of India, and he had already served as Governor of Madras, but it is his Italian period – which spans a very short time, from 1811 to 1814 – that is most intriguing and pertinent in this enquiry.) Continue reading

Pan-Slavism and the Origins of the First World War

While the growth of Slav nationalism in the Balkans can be said to have led to increasing tensions in that area, and indeed can be seen to have caused the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the designated beginning of the July Crisis of 1914, it is not the necessary condition which plunged the European continent into what Lloyd George called ‘the abyss’. Rather, other factors in the run up to war – such as the war plans of the powers and the aggression of certain states, notably Russia and Germany – were the determining factors in the eventual continental conflagration.  Continue reading

Did the League of Nations Serve Only British and French Interests?

The failure of the League of Nations was not due, in whole or in part, to its serving only British and French interests. Rather, it can be seen that the League was essentially misconceived, and it was burdened with a machinery and a world order which could not live up to its idealistic mission. It is clear that the League was in essence an optimistic project, not equipped to deal with the change described by James Joll in his Europe Since 1870;  David Thompson agrees with this assessment, and highlights the point at which ‘the assumptions [of the League] were disappointed’, where ‘there remained no cohesive force’ in order to effect its objectives, in his book Europe Since Napoleon. If anything, as Joll suggests, the League over-depended on Britain and France, therefore alienating the only two member states capable of acting with enough authority to rescue the League from the volatile and revisionist powers of the 1930s. Continue reading