June 25, 2024
A BETTER PEACE welcomes Ian Ona Johnson to the studio to discuss his new book Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War. Ian joins our own Michael Neiberg to not only discuss his writing, editing and publication process but their conversation ventures into the usefulness of history. Written before the hostilities in Ukraine began, the alliances of the interwar period that the book examines offer great insights into the behavior of Russia and a number of the nations affected by the war. Their conversation even turns to the latest debate amongst historians regarding presentism or the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.

A BETTER PEACE welcomes Ian Ona Johnson to the studio to discuss his new book Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War. Ian joins our own Michael Neiberg to not only discuss his writing, editing and publication process but their conversation ventures into the usefulness of history. Written before the hostilities in Ukraine began, the alliances of the interwar period that the book examines offer great insights into the behavior of Russia and a number of the nations affected by the war. Their conversation even turns to the latest debate amongst historians regarding presentism or the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.

Understanding that the mores, the beliefs, the assumptions that informed decisions in the past that we’re trying to understand are fundamentally different from our own – it helps us to understand causation, it helps us to answer a lot of the questions we’re seeking to answer.

Ian Ona Johnson is the P.J. Moran Family Assistant Professor of Military History at the University of Notre Dame. A historian of war, diplomacy, and technology, he received his PhD from the Ohio State University in 2016, with a dissertation that explored secret military cooperation between the Soviet Union and Germany in the interwar period. He is the author of Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War.

Michael Neiberg is the Chair of War Studies at the U.S. Army War College.

The views expressed in this presentation are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, U.S. Army, or Department of Defense.

Photo Description: Protests Against War in Ukraine 059 – Three Tyrants Stalin Putin Hitler 2

Photo Credit: Amaury Laporte, via Wikimedia Commons

6 thoughts on “HOW TO WRITE THE HISTORY THAT HASN’T ENDED: IAN ONA JOHNSON
(ON WRITING)

  1. A reason why “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” this may be because someone (the U.S./the West in this case) HAS NOT payed attention to the lessons of history. Example:

    “In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the twenty-first century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity politics in the human psyche and the necessity for those roots to find political expression in both foreign and domestic policy arenas. And they failed to understand that the very forces of economic and social development that cosmopolitanism and globalization fostered would generate turbulence and eventually resistance, as ‘Gemeinschaft’ (community) fought back against the onrushing ‘Gesellschaft’ (market society), in the classic terms sociologists favored a century ago.”

    (See the Mar-Apr 2017 edition of “Foreign Affairs” and, therein, the article by Walter Russell Mead entitled “The Jacksonian Revolt: American Populism and the Liberal Order.”)

    Another reason why “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” this may be because someone (Russia in this case) HAS payed sufficient attention to the lessons of history. Example:

    “During the Cold War, the USSR was perceived by American conservatives as an ‘evil empire,’ as a source of destructive cultural influences, while the United States was perceived as a force that was preventing the world from the triumph of godless communism and anarchy. The USSR, by contrast, positioned itself as a vanguard of emancipation, as a fighter for the progressive transformation of humanity (away from religion and toward atheism), and against the reactionary forces of the West. Today positions have changed dramatically; it is the United States or the ruling liberal establishment that in the conservative narrative has become the new or neo-USSR, spreading subversive ideas about family or the nature of authority around the world, while Russia has become almost a beacon of hope, ‘the last bastion of Christian values’ that helps keep the world from sliding into a liberal dystopia. Russia’s self-identity has changed accordingly; now it is Russia who actively resists destructive, revolutionary experiments with fundamental human institutions, experiments inspired by new revolutionary neo-communists from the United States. Hence the cautious hopes that the U.S. Christian right have for contemporary Russia: They are projecting on Russia their fantasies of another West that has not been infected by the virus of cultural liberalism.”

    (See the December 18, 2019, Georgetown University, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs article “Global Culture Wars from the Perspective of Russian and American Actors: Some Preliminary Conclusions,” by Dmitry Uzlaner. Look to the paragraph beginning with “Russia and the United States as screens for each other’s projections.”)

    Conclusion:

    In the Old Cold War of yesterday — when it was the Soviets/the communists who attempted to achieve “revolutionary change” both at home and abroad (in their case, in the name of such things as socialism and communism) — the U.S./the West — in containment and roll back mode back then — (a) became the champion of such things as “traditional values” and (b) used this such positioning to help win the Old Cold War:

    “Without the Pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of Communism.” (In fact, Gorbachev himself gave the Kremlin’s long-term enemy this due, ‘It would have been impossible without the Pope.’)

    (See the Public Broadcasting System [PBS] “Frontline” article “John Paul II and the Fall of Communism” by Jane Barnes and Hellen Whitney.)

    In the New/Reverse Cold War of today — when it is the U.S./the West who now is attempting to achieve “revolutionary change” both at home and abroad (in our case today, in the name of such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy — see my Walter Russell Mead quote above) — now it is such nations as Russia and China — in containment and roll back mode today — who have became the champion of such things as “traditional values.”

    Thus, the reason why history might “rhyme,” this is may be because (a) someone has paid sufficient attention to history and (b) someone has not?

  2. Q: From the perspective that I provide above, a question might be: From that such perspective, how should we see the war in Ukraine?

    A: In accordance with the perspective that I provide above — and especially as relates to the New/Reverse Cold War aspect that I suggest near the end of my comment there — (a) Putin’s efforts in Ukraine in the New/Reverse Cold War of today (however Putin might describe them), these should (b) be seen in much the same “containment” and “roll back” way that Reagan’s efforts in Latin American were seen in the Old Cold War of yesterday. In this regard, consider the following from a 2015 War on the Rocks article entitled “American Did Hybrid Warfare.” There, among other things, note the “history rhymes” statement:

    BEGIN QUOTE

    Vladimir Putin’s shrewd use of hybrid warfare to pursue Russia’s aims beyond its borders has unsettled the United States and Europe without provoking determined reaction. Nadia Schadlow’s perceptive commentary on the problem of hybrid warfare invites comparative reflection. She concludes:

    “In thinking through the ongoing competition with Russia, we must keep in mind that ‘hybrid’ refers to the means, not to the principles, goals, or nature of war. There is nothing inherent about the concept that prevents this. Indeed, the Russians have it down. We do not.”

    As true as this rings, there is enough rhyme in recent history to remind us that it was not always so. The last time Russia and the United States grappled indirectly as adversaries in “the gray areas” during the final phase of the Cold War, it was the United States that put a hybrid “blend of military, economic, diplomatic, criminal, and informational means” to effective use, notably in Central America. Of course, there were important differences between the character of that confrontation and today, but much about the goals and the means were comparable, only it was the United States that seemed to “have it down.”

    END QUOTE

    The fact that Putin — re: Ukraine in the New/Reverse Cold War of today — unlike Reagan — re: Latin America in the Old Cold War of yesterday — has now (a) moved beyond hybrid warfare and into convention war and, thereby, has (b) brought about a more determined reaction from Europe and the United States; as to these such differences, these do not, I believe, negate (a) my New/Reverse Cold War thesis, (b) my Russia is now in “containment” and “roll back” mode suggestions upon which this such thesis is based, nor (c) my suggestion that Russia’s appeal to such things as “traditional values” should be seen in this such “Russia is now doing containment and roll back” New/Reverse Cold War light.

    Conclusion:

    “Revolutionary change” communism threatened the U.S./the West in the Old Cold War of yesterday. Strategies of “containment” and “roll back,” employed the U.S./the West during this time, caused the U.S./the West to ultimately win this fight. These “matters of history” — so personal to Putin — these such “matters of history,” quite understandably, Putin has chosen NOT to ignore.

    Accordingly, when — via Ukraine — “revolutionary change” market-democracy comes to (in Putin’s eyes) threaten Mother Russia (or, in fact, Putin himself), then (a) Putin determines that containment and roll back will be his strategies also, this, (b) along with the embrace of such things as “traditional values” (which the U.S./the West showed Putin could be used, most effectively, in support of these such causes — see my Public Broadcast System quote in my initial comment above).

    (Via these such “historically tried and proven” methods, Putin believes that he can, thus, [a] “return the favor” to the U.S./the West and, accordingly, [b] achieve similar “victory” results?

    1. Let me attempt to summarize, and/or to simply better state, my idea as to “how we got to where we are in Ukraine today” (as to this such quoted item, go to approximately the 1:50 point at the beginning of our podcast above). In this regard, I believe that we must look to the history of the Old Cold War. Explanation:

      1. As an active participant in the Old Cold War of yesterday, Putin saw the U.S./the West exploit the great vulnerability of the Soviet/communist “achieve revolutionary change both at home and abroad” (in the name of such things as socialism and communist) position. This such great vulnerability being that these such “revolutionary change” efforts tended to (a) alienate the more-conservative elements of the states and societies of the world and to (b) make these such elements the “natural allies” of the U.S./the West (who, in accordance with our “containment” and “roll back” strategies back then, had, quite logically, come to declare ourselves as the champion of such things as “traditional values.”)

      2. Thus post-the Old Cold War — when Putin sees the U.S./West move out smartly to “achieve revolutionary change both at home and abroad” (in our case, in the name of such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy) — Putin realizes that now it is the U.S./the West that has become exceptionally vulnerable; this, to (a) Russian-led “containment” and “roll back” strategies and efforts, wherein, (b) Putin positions HIMSELF, and Mother Russia now, as the champions of such things as “traditional values.”

      “In his annual appeal to the Federal Assembly in December 2013, Putin formulated this ‘independent path’ ideology by contrasting Russia’s ‘traditional values’ with the liberal values of the West.” (See the Wilson Center publication “Kennan Cable No. 53” and, therein, the article “Russia’s Traditional Values and Domestic Violence,” by Olimpiada Usanova, dated 1 June 2020.)

      3. Thus, begins the New/Reverse Cold War of today.

      4. In this New/Reverse Cold War of today, Putin comes to see market-democracy-displaying Ukraine in much the same “I cannot tolerate this in my backyard” way that Reagan saw certain socialism/communism-displaying nations in Central America in the Old Cold War of yesterday. (Thus, Putin comes to believe that [a] what had been a good for the U.S./Reagan “goose” in the Old Cold War of yesterday, this [b] would be equally good for the Russian/Putin “gander” in the New/Reverse Cold War of today?)

      5. Conclusion: Regardless of how the war in Ukraine ultimately plays out — and regardless of how the justifications for such war have already and/or will in the future evolve — from a historical point of view — I believe that we must look to the lessons that Putin (and Xi?) learned from the Old Cold War of yesterday; this, if we are to (a) understand great power competition in the New/Reverse Cold War of today and/or (b) “how we got to where we are in Ukraine today.”

  3. In my initial comment above, I suggested that one possible reason why “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” this is because some party choses does not pay sufficient attention to the lessons of history. From that such perspective, might we suggest that the historical problems associated such things as “modernization” and modernization’s required “revolutionary changes” (be these of the capitalist and/or of the communist variety), these such historical problems (due primarily to the deep political convictions of the proponent parties concerned?), these are the problems which are most frequently ignored? As to this such suggestion, consider the following items:

    a. Re: the problems associated with capitalism’s required “revolutionary changes:”

    “The apparent relationship between poverty and backwardness, on the one hand, and instability and violence, on the other, is a spurious one. It is not the absence of modernity but the efforts to achieve it which produce political disorder. If poor countries appear to be unstable, it is not because they are poor, but because they are trying to become rich. A purely traditional society would be ignorant, poor, and stable.” (See Samuel P. Huntington’s 1968 “Political Order in Changing Societies;” therein, look to Page 41.)

    “a. An IDAD (Internal Defense and Development) program integrates security force and civilian actions into a coherent, comprehensive effort. Security force actions provide a level of internal security that permits and supports growth through balanced development. This development requires change to meet the needs of vulnerable groups of people. This change may, in turn, promote unrest in the society. The strategy, therefore, includes measures to maintain conditions under which orderly development can take place.” (Item in parenthesis above are mine. See our very own Joint Publication 3-22, Foreign Internal Defense; therein, see Chapter II, Internal Defense and Development Program, and Paragraph 2, Construct.)

    “Jacksonians drew their support from Northern laborers and yeoman farmers in the South and in the West. These groups, which Jackson dubbed the ‘bone and sinew of America,’ worried that the market economy would force them into the dependent class. The Jacksonians told the farmers and the laborers that they would do everything in their power to prevent this from taking place. In essence, the men and their rank and file voting allies, along with Jackson, fought a rear-guard action against encroaching industrialization and market economy. Although they won the pivotal battles, they lost the war, because their notion of a pre-capitalist agrarian society succumbed to the industrial economy after the Civil War.” (See the ‘Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History’ by Andrew Robertson, et al., and the section therein entitled ‘Jacksonian Democracy,’ Page 194.)”

    b. Re: the problems associated with communism’s required “revolutionary changes:”

    ” ‘Blood of Brothers’ is a graphic account of a country torn in half over the Sandinistas’ efforts to build a new political and economic order. Early on, Mr. Kinzer saw that Sandinista policies were alienating ordinary Nicaraguans. ‘In 1983 most Nicaraguans had still not fallen to the depths of deprivation and despair which they would reach in later years, but many were already unhappy and restive. . . . When the Sandinistas decreed that foreign trade was to be a state monopoly, they effectively declared war on these small-scale entrepreneurs. . . . [ And ] by trying to transform [ the existing system of food production ] so completely and so suddenly, they were underestimating the deeply ingrained conservatism of Nicaraguan peasants.’

    While Mr. Kinzer in no way sees the Sandinistas’ actions as justifying the United States intervention by proxy, he does recognize that they fed the contra resistance: ‘As years passed, the nature of the contra force changed. Most of its members were young Nicaraguan peasants and workers, driven by Sandinista policies to the point of rebellion.’ …

    Yet Mr. Kinzer’s own critique of what he calls the regime’s ‘colossal misjudgments’ suggests that the Sandinistas’ policies were not just tactical responses to outside aggression but reflections of their deep political convictions. His catalogue of their ‘errors’ is long: their rejection of free-market economics, their militarism and arrogance, their antagonism toward the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, the ‘suffocating social and political controls’ they imposed, their embrace of an obsolete Communist political model and of ‘Fidel Castro’s outlandish dream’ of spreading revolution throughout the hemisphere.”

    (See the 1991 Washington Post article “The Sandinista Decade” by an [up and coming?] Linda Robinson.)

    Conclusion:

    The “deep political convictions” of the communists in the Old Cold War of yesterday — and the “deep political convictions” of the capitalists in the New/Reverse Cold War of today — these such “deep political convictions” are the “root cause” of why (a) relevant history (b) seems to frequently be ignored?

  4. Question: In order to better understand great power competition today, what contemporary “Faustian bargain” might help us do this?

    Answer: Possibly the Chinese “Faustian bargain” described immediately below:

    “This may, in fact, be the missing explanatory element. Ideologies regularly define themselves against a perceived ‘other,’ and in this case there was quite plausibly a common and powerful ‘other’ (to wit: Western liberalism?) that both (Chinese) cultural conservatism and (Chinese) political leftism defined themselves against. This also explains why leftists have, since the 1990s, become considerably more tolerant, even accepting, of cultural conservatism than they were for virtually the entire 20th century. The need to accumulate additional ideological resources to combat a perceived Western liberal “other” is a powerful one, and it seems perfectly possible that this could have overridden whatever historical antagonism, or even substantive disagreement, existed between the two positions.” (Items in parenthesis above are mine.)

    (See the April 24, 2015 Foreign Policy article “What it Means to Be ‘Liberal’ or ‘Conservative’ in China: Putting the Country’s Most Significant Political Divide in Context” by Taisu Zhang.)

    Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

    In the face of the threat posed to China and Russia (et. al) by a U.S./West who, post-the Old Cold War, became bent on advancing “market-democracy” more throughout the world:

    “President Clinton’s national security adviser today presented the first outline of the Administration’s foreign policy vision. The adviser, Anthony Lake, said the vision aimed to replace the cold-war policy to contain the Soviet threat with a policy to enlarge the family of democratic market economies.

    ‘The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement, enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies,’ Mr. Lake said in a speech at the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University.”

    (See the September 22, 1993 New York Times article “U.S. Vision of Foreign Policy Reversed” by Thomas L. Friedman.)

    In the face of these such threats, (a) a New/Reverse Cold War became manifest (note the term “reversed” in the title of Tom Friedman’s New York Times article above); a war, thus, in which “Faustain bargains” — of many varieties and stripes — would have to be contemplated?

  5. From the podcast and podcast introduction above:

    “Understanding that the mores, the beliefs, the assumptions that informed decisions in the past that we’re trying to understand are fundamentally different from our own – it helps us to understand causation, it helps us to answer a lot of the questions we’re seeking to answer.”

    Question: But what if:

    a. Russian, Chinese (see my comment immediately above), Iranian, N. Korean, Islamists, etc., mores, beliefs, assumptions, etc. — re: the “enlargement”/the “expansionist” tendencies of U.S./the West in the New/Reverse Cold War of today (re: U.S./Western “enlargement,” see Tom Friedman’s New York Times item at my comment immediately above) — what if these such mores, beliefs, etc.:

    b. MIRROR U.S./Western mores, beliefs, assumptions, etc. — re: the “enlargement”/the “expansionist” tendencies of the Soviets/communists in the Old Cold War of yesterday? (“The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” See George Kennan’s “Long Telegram.”)

    In similar mores, beliefs, assumptions, etc., circumstances such as these, should we not expect Russia, China, etc. — in the New/Reverse Cold War of today — to consider the same “containment” and “roll back” strategies that the U.S./the West employed — in the Old Cold War of yesterday?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend