Monday, March 31, 2003

One track minds: Not every crisis is a Munich, sometimes it is the destruction of the Stresa Front

Bill Whittle has a brilliant essay on History

It truly is moving. Read it here.

I especially liked his discussions of alternative futures and this:

I see history as an unimaginably huge and complicated railroad switching yard, where by moving a pair of steel rails a few inches one way or another, the great train of history can be diverted from Chicago to Atlanta. These switches may seem ridiculously small at the time, but the consequences are often immeasurable.

Very true, but it is also important to add that the working of those switches is often mysterious to us as we make decisions. For example:

In 1934, shortly after Hitler came to power, the Nazis attempted a coup in Austria. They assassinated the prime minister but were thwarted by the intervention of a powerful neighbor: Italy.

Mussolini stopped Hitler from acquiring Austria in 1934. Historically, Italy viewed Austria and Germany as dangerous. The German Hapsburgs had governed much of Italy for centuries. Italy fought with the Western allies in WWI.

Mussolini was willing to be part of an anti-Hitler coalition. In return, he expected support for some colonial adventures, especially in Abyssinia.

He did not get that support. When his troops invaded Abyssinia, the good Wilsonians of the world used the League of Nations to place sanctions on Italy. They did not stop the invasion, but they did break up the anti-Hitler Stresa Front that had been taking shape.

The debates at the League also had another effect. While the word's attention was focused on the Abyssinian crisis and the great debate at the League of Nations, Hitler marched into the Rhineland.

It wasn't just cowardice that caused France and Britain to respond weakly to Hitler's gamble, it was distraction. There was a bigger problem to be solved than a little piece of German territory being reoccupied by German soldiers. There was the fate of the League which was being ignored by Italy.

The Wilsonians picked the wrong fight and Hitler was off and running. Sometimes you can act with the best intentions and make the situation worse.

It can happen to the greatest of statesmen.

At the end of World War Two Churchill observed to one of his associates that Cromwell was a great statesman, but he was so focused on Holland and Spain, that he missed the rise of the French monarchy and the threat it posed to England. Many believe that Churchill was rebuking (or defending) himself for the same mistake: defeating Hitler while allowing Stalin too free a hand.

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