Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Great Dictators

From 1914 to 1941 European History takes on a certain fateful dramatism that implies a turn for the worst for nearly everybody, but the unbelievable rise of two individuals: Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Neither would have made any career of substance under any normal circumstance, but since 1914, history took a taste for the unexpected and the confusing.

In Berkeley's History 5, four lectures pass from one world war to the other. There is a detour to the Russian Revolution (and the groundwork to a third outcast's rise to dictatorship; Joseph Stalin), but apart from that it is mostly Adolf's and Benito's biographies that are aligned to the continent's history.

I was struck by a couple of similarities. In World War I, Germany lost the war, without being defeated and Italy was on the side of the winners, without any victory. Both were seriously discontented with Versailles and both were flailing democracies, raging towards decay. Benito rolled into power in the same way Adolf would afterwards. greater politicians than them, made them government leaders assuming they could depose of the nitwit afterwards - not so. And thus, step by step, Hitler moved the next war closer.

Apart from this drama to begin with, Professor Anderson, by the fourth lecture, has a refreshing approach to Munich 1938 - the conference that proverbially symbolizes the cowardice of the international system to stop the usurper. In her version, there was not much choice and Munich went as it did, not out of cowardice. The English and the French had no political power to go to war, as their leaders and their people lived with the memories of 14-18, making war unacceptable. Besides, the chaos in the world in those days, consisted of more and worse elements than the slowly expanding Hitler Germany. Unless there was the true violation that occurred by 1939, with the invasion of Poland.

More History 5:
New Europe, Old Europe,
Women and Freud,
Romanticism and Bismarck,
Capitalism and Socialism,
Enlightenment and French Revolution.

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