Lecture Notes From Summer Institutes

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Dr. Maureen Healy Oregon State University

Ph D – University of Chicago

Session I

I. First Session: World War One in Europe.

A. Scope of the “Great War” in Europe.

1. You cannot understand 20-century history unless you understand World War I.

a. It was the first instance in world history of “total war.” That is, it was

not only a military conflict, but also a conflict of people and cultures.

b. There were significant political, economic, and social changes that occurred as a result of the war.

2. Never before had there been such death and wounded totals:

a. 8,500,000 people killed.

b. 22,000,000 people wounded

c. 7,000,000 soldiers were permanently disabled.

3. Empires dissolved as a result of the First World War.

a. The German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II was broken up.

b. The Ottoman (Turkish) empire was broken up into many of the countries of the Middle East of today.

c. Russia under Czar Nicholas II was overthrown, and the Soviet Union developed.

d. The Austro-Hungarian Empire under the Hapsburgs dissolved.

B. Causes of the First World War.

1. The spark that lit the fuse—the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand by a member of the Serbian terrorist group, the Black Hand, Garrilo Princip.

2. The European Alliance System.

a. The Allies:

  • Serbia—desired an outlet to the sea through Bosnia.

  • Russia—desired portions of the Ottoman Empire around the Black Sea.

  • France—desired the return of Alsace and Lorraine to French control.

  • Great Britain—disapproved of Germany’s naval construction.

  • Italy (entered the war in 1915)—desired areas controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire north of Italy’s border that had Italian-speaking people.

b. The Central Powers:

  • Austria-Hungary—desired to maintain its control of the Balkans.

  • Germany—desired a more powerful role in European affairs, and to compete with France and Great Britain as a superior power.

  • Ottoman Empire—desired to maintain control of its crumbling control.

C. Focus on Germany (the youngest European empire, became a nation in 1871).

1. Otto von Bismarck was the chancellor of Germany who helped unite it into a nation.

a. He desired to maintain a “balance of power” within Europe among the five imperial powers—France, Italy, Great Britain, Russia, and Germany.

b. He was adamant there was to be no “two-front war” or a “two on three” powers war.

2. When Kaiser Wilhelm II came to power in the 1890s, he forced von Bismarck into retirement, and pursued a much more aggressive foreign policy.

  1. Kaiser Wilhelm II announced he would build a world-class navy, and that threatened Great Britain.

  2. The royalty of Europe was interrelated:

    • Queen Victoria was the grandmother of Wilhelm.

    • Kaiser Wilhelm II and Czar Nicholas II were cousins.

    • They knew each other.

  3. Wilhelm’s goal was to make Germany a “weltamacht” or world power.

3. During the first years of the 20th century there was a prevailing idea or sentiment among the countries of Europe there would be a war. They seemed to anticipate and prepare for war among the powers of Europe. See James Joll’s book, The Mood of 1914.

4. Socialists of Europe were the only prominent group that warned people of the threat of war and did not desire it.

  1. The workers or socialist movement was international in scope and war would damage the movement.

  2. Socialists used the language of “brotherhood,” and fighting against brothers was unthinkable. Conflict of national versus class loyalties.

  3. Socialists led political parties and seemed disloyal when war did occur.

B. When the First World War did begin in August 1914, most belligerents had the misconception it would be a short war. In fact the war lasted 52 months—over four years.

1. Many soldiers and civilians enjoyed the phrase, “Home by when the leaves     turn,” and then, “Home by Christmas.”

2. Germany depended on the Schlieffen Plan (1905) to win a quick victory over France.

  1. Developed by General Alfred Schlieffen of the German army.

  2. Strategy was to quickly defeat France by traveling through the neutral nation of Belgium and attack from an area it was least prepared to defend, and then turn Germany’s army to the east and defeat of Russia.

  3. When Germany fought the Battle of Marne, the Schlieffen Plan failed and the war turned into one of stalemate with “trench warfare.”

3. World War I was the first “industrial war” or a war of machinery and technology, “mechanized slaughter.”

  1. Machine guns.

  2. U-boats or submarines.

  3. Zeppelins.

  4. Airplanes.

  5. Poison gases.

C. World War I as trench warfare.

1. Trench warfare occurred primarily in the western front, or approximately 400      miles from the Switzerland to the English Channel.

2. There were intricate complexes of trenches from those lines nearest the enemy to supplies, dining areas, and hospitals towards the rear by trenches.

3. There were “active” and “inactive” sectors that led to tremendous danger or     boredom.

4. “No man’s land,” was the area between the two front trenches of each     belligerent as narrow a strip as 100 feet to miles in width.

5. Trench warfare and its “closeness” humanized the enemy.

a. There were instances of fraternization with the enemy because soldiers     who were enemies came to know one another. They shared a common     existence.

b. Trenches were often deep in water and mud.

c. Both sides attempted at times to break through the enemy’s lines and     win a decisive battle.

d. See Modris Ekstein’s book, The Rites of Spring.

6. The Battle of the Somme is an excellent example of trench warfare and its     brutality (summer of 1916).

a. The British army attempted to end the stalemate when it bombed the German lines in a massive artillery barrage that lasted a full week—“the storm of steel.”

b. British troops “went over the top” believing all the German soldiers     were dead from the artillery attack and they were safe.

c. The German soldiers, in fact, had burrowed 36 feet below the surface, and so when the British attack across “no man’s land” began, Germans machine-gunned the British. During the first day there were 57,000 British casualties.

d. The Battle of the Somme was a British defeat and the stalemate continued.

D. With industrial warfare there arose new war disabilities that demonstrated the fragility of the human body and mind.

1. “Shell shock” became a label for a host of psychological problems that had      no natural causes:

a. Muteness.

b. Blindness.

c. Nervous ticks.

d. Nightmares.

e. Insomnia.

f. Flashbacks.

2. The First World War occurred as psychoanalysis became recognized as legitimate; Sigmund Freud wrote and worked through the war.

3. The soldier-poet, Wilfred Owen suffered from “shell shock,” and at 25 years of age, he died during the last week of the war.

E. The literary legacy of World War I.

1. Trench Poetry.

2. Poem, “The Destruction of Youth,” Wilfred Owen

Session II

The Rise of Nazi Germany.

A. The Treaty of Versailles.

1. Its purpose was to create a permanent peace for Europe and the world.

2. Actually the Treaty of Versailles destabilized the political, economic, and

social systems of most European countries.

3. There were 32 countries that attended the Versailles Conference, but the “Big Four” led the proceedings.

4. The defeated powers of the First World War—Germany, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria had to sign the treaty, even though they did not participate in the peace process.

5. There was division within the member nations of the Versailles Conference itself.

a. France and the United States had very different ideas of what the treaty should do. Wilson desired adoption of the “14 Points,” but Georges Clemenceau desired revenge against Germany.

  • Remember, France suffered tremendous physical and human destruction during the war—most the trench warfare of the western front occurred in France.

  • The Treaty of Versailles bears the very heavy stamp of Clemenceau and French revenge.

b. Key aspects of the Treaty of Versailles’ punitive aspects:

  • Germany lost all of its colonies and about 15% of lands within its traditional borders.

  • Germany suffered sharp reductions in its military—arms reduction.

  • Clause #231 found Germany solely responsible for causing and starting the First World War; it was forced to accept full war guilt.

  • Germany was saddled with war reparations and huge payments to the Allies.→ Hyperinflation resulted from huge reparation payments in Germany during the years 1921-3. German currency became virtually worthless, and the economy was devastated.

B. The Weimar Republic, 1919-1933.

1. As a result of the terrible economic conditions Germany suffered during the 1920s—caused in large part by the Treaty of Versailles—German people blamed the government of the Weimar Republic.

2. The republic also took the blame for the treaty because it was the government forced to sign it, and accept blame for the humiliation.

3. The political “far right” (nationalists, monarchists, and militarists) promoted the idea of the “stab in the back legend” to explain the German defeat in the First World War:

a. Germany was betrayed from within; it was the home front, not the military that lost the war.

b. Who were the enemies within the German empire that undermined the war effort?

  • Jews—who profited from the war as profiteers. They stabbed the German “volk” (people) and the nation to make money.

  • Myth spread that Jews “shirked” their military duty, and refused to sacrifice for the nation.

  • Jews were blamed for almost any of Germany’s reasons for defeat in the war.

  • Is there any evidence to substantiate the claims against the Jews in the “stab in the back legend?" There is no evidence to validate any aspects of the myth, and in fact, Jews who fought in the First World War organized to prove their record.

  • Socialists were also accused of being involved in the “stab in the back.”

  • Strikes occurred in Germany—led by members of socialist groups—during the years 1917 to 1918. (The German population was limited to 850 calories a day and did suffer greatly.)

  • Socialists were international in outlook and opposed fighting their fellow workers. To Germans it appeared as disloyalty.

  • Socialists did openly oppose the war by the year 1916 until it ended, but they argued it was the workingmen of one country fighting the workingmen of other countries—class loyalty over national loyalty.

  • Who was excluded from the “volk?” The Jews and socialists.

4. The framers of the Weimar Republic’s constitution wrote it at the town of Weimar, Germany, thus the name. The major leaders of the republic were the elected president—who served for seven-year terms—and the chancellor—who was appointed by the president.

a. There were 16 chancellors appointed between the years 1919 and 1933.

b. The two German presidents of the same period were Ebert and von . Hindenburg

c. The German parliament was often dissolved and new elections held for new members

d. There were 30 political parties in Germany during the decades following the war.

e. The Nazi Party (National Socialist German Workers Party, but remember, they used the word “socialist” to appeal to the general public) was so insignificant that in the elections of 1928, the party received only 2.6% of the total vote in parliamentary elections.

  • 1930—18.3%

  • 1932—37% (notice, not a majority of the total votes.)

C. The Nazi Party’s electoral strategy.

1. Nazi Party was founded in the year 1919, and its primary members were “street thugs and malcontents.

2. In 1923 the “Beer Hall” or “Munich Putsch” occurred as Nazis—including Adolf Hitler—attempted to begin a rebellion against the Weimar Republic.

a. Courts sentenced Hitler to serve 5 years in jail, but he only served 9 months. * Hitler and other malcontents sentenced to jail for attempts to change the government, typically received lighter sentences than communists or socialists because most judges leaned to the right rather than the left or middle.

b. While in jail, Hitler wrote the book Mein Kampf, which was filled with Anti-Semitism and it was important. But Hitler planned to come to power through election rather than rebellion. The Beer Hall Putsch made him and other Nazis look foolish.

c. Hitler’s most significant advisor was Joseph Goebbels, the propagandist.

  • Goebbels developed the idea of “perpetual campaigning”—put the Nazi message out with yearlong campaigns, and make the Nazi Party more visible. The great rallies of Berlin and Munich were staged events to excite the Germans.

d. The message of the Nazi Party:

  • The Weimar Republic and democracy failed—it was the government of the Treaty of Versailles and economic depression.

  • All Germanic people should join together as the “volk.”

  • Demanded establishment of the “volksgemeinschaft”—a community/society based on German blood, and avoiding the pollution of other “bloods.”

  • Promised every German family material goods—a radio or “volksempfänger” (to communicate propaganda) and an automobile (Volkswagen).

  • Promised German progress, a return to greatness, and to put the defeat of the First World War behind the country.

  • Promised every man a job. (By the year 1930 the German unemployment rate was 30%.)

3. Why were the communists and socialists so ineffective in getting their message out and accepted by the Germans in contrast to the Nazis?

a. Both groups argued and dissented over political theory, or what type of Marxism to implement.

b. They argued whether the government subsidized welfare state should allow private ownership of property.

c. Socialists and communists attacked each other rather than attacking the Nazis.

D. As a result of the terrible economic and political situation of Germany, on January 30, 1933 Von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany. Why?

1. Hindenburg was a member of the Prussian aristocracy, and he planned to manipulate Hitler to suit his purposes. He certainly underestimated Hitler.

2. Instead within one month of his appointment, Hitler outlawed the communist party in Germany, and established the first concentration camps in 1933 to place communists in them as prisoners.

3. Hitler systematically dismantled the Weimar Republic and assumed dictatorial control.

4. Hitler began his demand for “lebensraum” or living space for the German people.
Session III

The Nuremberg War Crime Trials, November 1945-October 1946.

A. After V.E. Day the Allies attempted to decide what to do with Germany, and great disagreement occurred except that war criminals should be tried for their crimes.

B. Background of the trials.

1. What constitutes a “war crime” or a “crime against humanity,” and were some Allies guilty of such crimes?

2. There were eight judges, four primary judges from Russia, England, France, and the United States, and a “back-up judge” from each country.

3. The city of Nuremberg was a city located in the American sector among the four established after the war.

4. The defendants were tried with their own documents, some of them being movie film.

5. Precedents for war crime trials.

a. There were proposals at the end of World War I to try Kaiser Wilhelm and other German leaders for “war crimes.”

b. The British, French, and U.S. attempted to define and set standards for war crimes.

c. The International Red Cross convention of 1906 established standards to aid all soldiers involved in warfare.

d. The Hague and Geneva conventions of 1907 and 1911 wrote “The Document of the Law and Conventions of War,” that established standards of treatment for prisoners of war.

e. What line should be drawn between treatment of military personnel and civilians?

f. The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 “outlawed war,” were then the Axis Power leaders guilty of violation of that pact?

C. Prosecution and defense at Nuremberg.

1. The United States labeled the Nazi regime as the “common plan” or conspiracy to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity.

2. Great Britain and America did have difficulty prosecuting the accused because the majority of concentration and mobile death camps occurred in Eastern Europe. It raises the question, how much did the two nations actually know and understand about the scope of the Holocaust?

3. Despite the breakdown of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia concerning post-war agreement, the two countries did cooperate in prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials.

4. The German defendants’ major arguments were that 1) They were just good soldiers following orders from superior officers, and 2) There were instances of similar actions taken by Allied forces during the war—especially among Soviet troops—why were they not tried?

5. The trials demonstrated there was in-fighting among Hitler’s advisors and administrators.

6. In all, there were 13 different series of war crime trials during the period of time from 1945 to 1950.

7. [After Hitler’s rise to power, he ordered the “Night of the Long Knives,” when he had some of his “brown shirts” killed to show his support for the German army rather than his private goons. Most prominent among the dead was his friend and advisor Röhm, and in all at least 100 people were murdered.


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