Archive for April, 2008

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Once more on the recognition of Kosovar independence and its ramifications . . .

Today’s Johnson’s Russia List#74 includes an enlightening interview with Sergei Shamba, Foreign Minister of Abkhazia. He hails Kosovar independence as something that makes Abkhazia’s break-away from Georgia more likely than ever before. To quote him at length,

After February 17, after Kosovo’s recognition, the second wave of recognition of the former Soviet and Yugoslavian autonomous states begins.

Certainly, we hope to be in this second wave. We can now discern a direct analogy between Kosovo and Abkhazia, even though Abkhazia has much greater legal, historical, and moral reasons for having its independence recognized than Kosovo does.

We live on our native land. We ourselves obtained our independence without any foreign military aid, in contrast to Kosovo. The Abkhazians ourselves drove out the Georgian aggressors from our territory.

In contrast to Kosovo we have developed all structures of state and government authority, developed civil society, a multiparty political system, an independent mass media, and non-governmental funds and organizations. During the last twenty years we have had presidential and parliamentary elections.

But Kosovo’s precedent gives us hope that the process of recognition can develop more quickly. In global affairs things develop unexpectedly and quickly. Almost anything can happen as a result of present events.

I do not happen to support the break-up of Georgia, and I am certain that the current administration in Washington feels the same way.  My point is that the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, and the precedent it sets for national self-determination trumping the sovereignty and integrity of states, has pernicious consequences for precisely those governments that pushed Kosovo independence.

One hears a lot about frozen conflicts around the former Soviet Union.  While frozen conflicts are bad things, they sure beat the thawed ones, much like the Cold War was a heck of a lot better than its Hot equivalent would have been.  By thawing Kosovo, the US and EU have made life much more difficult for putative Western allies in the former Soviet block.

The National World War I Museum

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Late last week I went back home to deliver a couple of talks at the University of Kansas.

While there, I took a side trip to downtown Kansas City, MO in order to spend a couple of hours at the National World War One Museum.

As it has only been open since December 2006, many folks may not yet be aware of its existence.

The museum has state-of-the-art facilities, extremely well done displays, and what may well be the world’s second largest collection of WWI artifacts (after the Imperial War Museum in Great Britain) all housed in a fantastic complex built beneath Kansas City’s Liberty Memorial. (The museum was designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the same firm responsible for the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC)

Given that it’s America’s official museum to the Great War, it shouldn’t some as a surprise that the collection leans toward the USA’s role in the conflict. Still, there’s plenty material for those interested in the Western Front. For the time being, the museum’s holdings on Russia and Eastern Europe are slim, but if you live near Kansas City (or will be coming through sometime in the future) you really should plan to visit. It’s an important, though still unheralded, American treasure.


Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Death of Military History, Still Greatly Exaggerated

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

US News is the latest venue to weigh in on the sad state of military history. What I am struck by, once again, is the relentless failure to quantify, coupled by a distinct lack of historical perspective. The money quote, from my point of view, is this:

The field that inspired the work of writers from Thucydides to Winston Churchill is, today, only a shell of its former self. The number of high-profile military history experts in the Ivy League can be counted on one hand. Of the more than 150 colleges and universities that offer a Ph.D. in history, only a dozen offer full-fledged military history programs. Most military historians are scattered across a collection of midwestern and southern schools, from Kansas State to Southern Mississippi. “Each of us is pretty much a one-man shop,” says Carol Reardon, a professor of military history at Penn State University and the current president of the Society for Military History.

Several things leap out at me. First of all, the claim that the field is a shadow of its formal self has absolutely no documentation. That claim requires showing what was the case in the past, and what is the case now, and there’s no effort to do that. At what point in the past did the Ivies have lots of military historians on staff? At what point were there more than a dozen full-fledged military history programs? I apologize for ruthless self-promotion, but I’m waiting for someone to come up with better numbers than the ones I’ve presented on this blog and on H-War, suggesting that MORE institutions have military historians today than in 1975, and that the absolute number of military historians has tripled.

Carol Reardon is of course correct that the vast majority of military historians are one-man shops, but the vast majority of all types of historians at the vast majority of institutions are one-man shops.

Clearly lots of people want to show that military history is a field in decline. Can they produce some numbers, instead of anecdotes, to show that?

Putin-Medvedev Once Again

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Have I mentioned that I love Johnson’s Russia List?  Among other things, it gives a nice sense of the conventional wisdom about Russia by citing enormous amounts of it.  It also allows the parlor game (in the boring parlors I frequent) of tracking down diametrically opposed headlines.  The New Republic used to do this–it might still, but I haven’t looked at an issue recently.

Anyway, the 28 March JRL had these headlines on offer:

1. Interfax: Medvedev Certain Tandem With Putin Will
Be Efficient.
. . . .
3. Reuters: Russia’s Medvedev hints at Kremlin power

I can imagine a world in which both are true, but it’s a pretty strange one.