Archive for June, 2009

Inside a Typhoon sub

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Soviet naval buffs may have seen this before, but it was new to me when a dear friend emailed me the link. These are photographs from a group of tourists that went inside a Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarine. I originally saw the photographs here, but it looks like the original is here.

Neither one has a precise indication of location, except for the photograph of the sign reading Nerpich’ya, which is a base at Zapadnaia Litsa in Murmansk oblast in the Russian far north. A little satellite browsing suggests to that the location is here–note the little green-roofed structure you can see at the end of the pier in an early shot and in the satellite image.


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Since I’m not a naval or submarine buff, I can’t say much about lots of the internal systems shown. What jumps out at me is the typical Soviet construction–lots of very heavy duty equipment, and lots of rust.

Scrolling down to the end reveals a slice of life and the creature comforts, so to speak, enjoyed by Soviet / Russian submariners. The exercise room, pool, video game, and most unspeakably the toilet (unitaz in Russian, with detailed instructions) give a nice picture of an existence most of us don’t get to experience. The signs are priceless; they promise horrible punishment for those who are careless or sloppy in their toilet use or manners. In particular, there’s a request to close the door in courtesy to those who live in the compartment. In fairness, American submarines aren’t especially comfortable either–the premium on space in a submarine is going to make waste disposal an unpleasant experience regardless.

The AHA weighs in . . .

Friday, June 26th, 2009

The American Historical Association has written an open letter to Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev protesting state intervention in the determination of historical truth.

I cannot resist pointing that we are dealing with the AHA, so the letter doesn’t use the phrase “historical truth” as part of the AHA’s position. The closest the letter gets is the “reality of the past.” It instead uses the word “truth” in scare quotes and has “historical truth” only as part of a quotation from the organization “Liberte pour L’Histoire.” They’re French, so that must make it OK.

I do have a serious point here, as opposed to simply taking pot shots at the AHA. If there is no historical truth because everything is tainted beyond redemption by politics and bias, then it’s tough to get mad at Medvedev. After all, what would make his bias and politicization worse than anybody else’s?

Of course, in actual practice, regardless of their theoretical stance, most historians do all they can to control and reduce bias and get as close as they can to objectivity. That means, among other things, careful use of evidence. It’s one of the reasons I’d like to know who Medvedev thinks the falsifiers are. If they’re cooking their evidence, I have a professional obligation to call them on it.

History in the passive voice

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev’s Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin spoke on June 17 in Irkutsk in connection with the ongoing saga of the fight for historical truth against unnamed falsifiers. His statement shows masterful use of the Russian language’s enormous capacity for the passive voice and concealment of agency:

“Some people warn us against the politicising of history. The commission will never do it. Unfortunately, another process is going on: the falsified history is being politicised in the offices of top officials of some countries. Problems of practical policy in relations with Russia are being substituted by discussions about the past. Territorial and material claims to Russia are being formed, and questions on some compensations are being raised on the basis of pseudo-historic materials.”

Which people? Which officials? Which countries? Which claims? Which questions?

I can name one example of history falsified in the name of scoring political points: S. N. Kovalyov’s article on Poland’s responsibility for World War II. Sadly, he works for the Russian government.

Source: Itar-Tass, via Johnson’s Russia List.

Footage of Tukhachevskii

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Thanks to colleagues at the Command and General Staff College for pointing me to this video on Mikhail Nikolaevich Tukhachevskii.  The historical commentary is OK, though its list of Tukhachevskii’s feats omits his disastrous defeat before Warsaw in the 1920 Russo-Polish War.

Its real value is in the archival footage of Tukhachevskii, including an excerpt from an actual speech.  The vignettes are somewhat datable. The budyonovka peaked cap (which looks strikingly like the German pikelhaube spiked helmet in several of these shots) is earlier–Civil War era and the early 1920s. You can also note the rank insignia on Tukhachevskii’s collar–in late 1935, Tukhachevskii and four others (Voroshilov, Budyonny, Bliukher, and Egorov) were made Marshals of the Soviet Union, with a single star.  Before that, he had four diamonds.

There’s also some very nice shots of other leading Red Army commanders of the time:
Ian Alksnis, key figure in the development of the Soviet air force (2:43)
Vasilii Bliukher, who fought the Japanese at Lake Khasan  (2:51–far right)
Semyon Budyonny, cavalry hero and namesake of the budyonovka peaked cap (2:51–with mustache)
Aleksandr Egorov, Chief of the General Staff 1931-1935 (1:39–on right)
Ieronym Uborevich, ninety-eight pounds soaking wet, whom Georgii Zhukov called the most military man he ever met (2:46)
Kliment Voroshilov, Stalin’s lackey and dim-witted long-time head of the Red Army (2:09)
plus non-military figures like
Sergo Ordzhonikidze, industry tsar (2:34)
Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s right hand man and World War II foreign minister, who appears with Tukhachevskii while both are in civilian clothes (3:06)

No Stalin, though.

Of these, Alksnis, Bliukher, Egorov, and Uborevich died in the purges; Ordzhonikidze committed suicide.

Oh, Woe is Us . . .

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Thanks to Ralph Luker at Cliopatria for pointing out a NYTimes article in the expanding category of “academic history under siege,” this time about diplomatic rather than military history.  This does have at least a little bit of quantification (one of my perennial complaints) behind it, with regard to the proportion of departments who have a diplomatic historian on staff.  There’s a slight problem in these figures with shifting self-identification, including a number of people who would traditionally have been called diplomatic historians who for a number of reasons reject the label, in favor of international history or something else.  I’m not thrilled with “diplomatic” only because the journal Diplomatic History is so closely identified with American history that it’s tough for someone focusing on Europe to feel entirely at home.  I have some hunches, but they’ll have to wait until I get my hands on a AHA guide to history departments.

My chief concern lies elsewhere.  The article quotes Thomas Zeiler, echoing a similar claim by Victor Davis Hanson, as saying that fewer refereed articles are published in diplomatic history than before.

What is the empirical basis for that claim?  If we go back to the alleged good old days, maybe the 1950s or 1960s, you had Diplomatic History, more or less exclusively focused on American diplomacy.  You didn’t have the International History Review (thirty years old), Diplomacy and Statecraft (twenty years old), Cold War History
and Journal of Cold War Studies (both about ten years old).  Each is primarily devoted to publishing diplomatic history.  So where exactly is the fall in publication?