Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Until I really commit to something I find I can always make excuses for not pursuing it, not taking action, not pushing myself to go for it. I justify these excuses because I haven’t committed to anything. But as Goethe wrote, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back…”. Push yourself, strive to achieve new things, don’t let complacency or fear hold you back. Follow your heart, your dreams, your wild ideas, your sensible ideas. Just make sure you commit if you really want to achieve something.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

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Amelia Earhart: 77 Years Later

“…decide…whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying….”

Amelia Earhart was declared dead (in abesntia) on the 5th January 1939, 77 years ago. Earhart was an American aviation pioneer, setting many records, as well as an author. As the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, she was a leading light for women all over the world. For this record she received the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented to her by Vice President Charles Curtis, becoming the first woman and civilian in history to receive the DFC.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act…You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.”

Throughout her childhood, she had continued to aspire to a future career; she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields.[1] So perhaps it is unsurprising that she went on to became a female pioneer in aviation; something more or less unheard of for women in that era. During an attempt in 1937 to circumnavigate the globe via flight, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean. Despite an air and sea search by the Navy and Coast Guard, the most costly and intensive in U.S. history up to that time, there was no sign of Earhart or her plane.

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”

Yet to this very day, seventy seven years later, fascination with her life, career and disappearance still continue.[2] Two possible theories have prevailed among researchers and historians; the ‘crash and sink theory’ and the ‘Gardner Island hypothesis’. The first theory is simple enough – supporters believe that Earhart’s plane ran out of fuel and Earhart and Noonan had to ditch at sea. Understandably, this is the most widely accepted explanation for the disappearance. Earhart’s stepson, George Palmer Putnam Jr, has been quoted as saying he believes “the plan just ran out of gas”. [3] The mystery is what keeps us interested, according to Tom Crouch the Senior Curator of the National Air and Space Museum. The second theory is completely different. The U.S. Navy and Earhart’s mother expressed belief that the flight had ended in the Phoenix Islands, now part of the Republic of Kiribati, some 350 miles southeast of Howland Island their intended landing destination. In 1940, Gerald Gallagher, a British colonial officer and licensed pilot reported his findings of a “skeleton…possibly that of a woman”. The remains were sent to Fiji where it was concluded they were from a male, however in 1998 an analysis of the data by forensic anthropologists did not confirm these findings, concluding instead that the skeleton had belonged to a tall white female. However the bones were misplaced in Fiji long ago and have not been found since.[4]

Finally there are those who believe Earhart was captured by Japanese forces. However, despite the claims of individuals to support this theory, there is little concrete evidence. The various theories only add to the mystery surround Earhart’s disappearance, a mystery that has only served to maintain the interest in the unresolved circumstances surrounding her disappearance for the past seventy seven years.

 

[1] ‘Biography’ The Official Website of Amelia Earhart

[2] ‘The Mystery of Amelia Earhart’, Social Studies School Service, Retrieved June 3, 2012

[3] Eliot Kleinberg, Amelia Earhart’s disappearance still haunts her stepson, 83, Palm Beach Post, Dec 27 2004

[4] Phil Gast, DNA tests on bone fragment inconclusive in Amelia Earhart search, CNN, March 4 2011

Fahrenheit 451

“Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.”

This is an intriguing premise for a novel, but is also a classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future. Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, stands alongside George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ as accounts of civilisation’s enslavement by the media and conformity. The idea that the firemen of the future start fires rather than put them out is what initially drew me to read this book. I thought it was an intriguing concept, and I still do. However, having read the book, I remain unconvinced as to how much I really enjoyed it.

I thoroughly enjoyed Orwell’s ‘1984’ and thought that this book would similarly capture me, since it is a variation of a similar idea. Bradbury’s powerful prose, combined with an almost uncanny insight into the potential of technology, has the ability to impress; especially when you consider that it was published decades ago. He appears to have predicated, in part, what shape the future might take. Despite being an impressive work of literature I found it almost too strange to like; but just because I wouldn’t rank it as one of my favourite books doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a read. The ability of Bradbury to convince people to read right to the end, despite being unsure if they like it, is testament to his powers of writing.

The results of the First Five-Year plan in Russia

‘What were the results of the First Five-Year Plan? Do you consider it to have been a success?’

The five-year plans were the Bolsheviks’ way of achieving Russian industrialisation and were designed with a particular focus on heavy industries such as coal, iron and oil; this was due to the realisation by Stalin and his advisors that the industrial revolution in the west had been driven by these exact industries. In addition the Soviet leaders believed that successful execution of ambitious industrial plans would impress the western countries, whilst simultaneously proving that socialism could work just as effectively as democracy. Whilst giving a speech to a group of industrial managers Stalin himself stated, ‘We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.’[1] Whether the first five-year plan was a success or not is an issue that has been, and still is, widely debated by historians, but a clear answer is yet to be produced. This is largely due to the necessity of considering not just the economic results but also the social and political impacts; economic historians such as Alec Nove believe that although the five-year plans were a social failure they were in fact an economic success.

The targets for the first five year plan were optimistic, however tremendous effort from the workers in the early days of the plan, such as with collectivisation, led to the adoption of a revised optimum plan. Indeed, Sheila Fitzpatrick makes the point that realism was not a priority; rather the idea of these targets being revised was to drive people on towards the perfect socialist society.[2] Some economists backed Stalin’s idea of setting high targets for the first five year plan; Stalinist economist Stanislav Strumilin argued ‘that it did not matter if the setting of economic targets was not based on the normal extrapolation of statistics’.[3] However, the majority of them knew what the party leaders were striving for, and therefore agreed to the setting of such ridiculous targets even though they did not believe it was achievable. If they had refused to set high targets they would have been seen as counter-revolutionaries. With such unrealistic goals set for the first five-year plan, it is questionable whether there was any possibility of achieving a successful result and catching up with the western countries in terms of a productive and successful economy.

The enthusiasm shown and the early successes that were achieved led to the decision to declare the plan complete after four years instead of the intended five years. These high targets initially made the Russian workers increase their work rate in order to try and accomplish what was being asked of them. It appears that this plan worked judging by some of the economic results which were achieved with the introduction of the first five-year plan. Supposedly, judging from statistics gathered by Nove, electricity production trebled by the completion of the first plan, iron ore increased by 112%, and oil by 83%.[4] Furthermore, enormous new tractor works were built in Stalingrad to meet the needs of mechanised agriculture and to help the policy of collectivisation succeed. From these statistics it appears that the first five-year plan was indeed a success. However, considering the previously abysmal state of the Russian economy, trebling electricity production does not mean an awful lot without the knowledge of how much was being produced before the five year plans were introduced.

In 1926 there were only 6.4 million people employed in industry, construction, transport and communications, but by 1939 23.7 million were employed in these sectors. This shows the success of industry and the first five year plan by the fact that they had to employ vast numbers of people.[5] The fact that the workers initially worked harder and more productively with the introduction of the plan certainly equates to some level of triumph. Moreover, Russia’s economy went from being virtually nothing in 1928, at the start of the five-year plans, to a fully fledged industrialised nation by 1941; thus proving that the plans were indeed an economic success.

However, despite these successful advances in heavy industry, there were other sections of the Russian economy which experienced setbacks with the introduction of the five-year plans. Consumer industries, in particular food processing and textiles, experienced declines since more attention had been given to heavy industries[6]. One reason for this was because Stalin felt that heavy industries were important for creating a strong army to protect Russia from future invasions. As a result, everyday commodities became extremely difficult to find, thus creating further hardships for the Russian peasants and workers. Robert Allen remarks that, ‘Most accounts of Soviet industrialization maintain that the standard of living of the working population declined, or was at best static, during the 1930s.’[7] Another outcome of the first five-year plan’s almost exclusive focus on heavy industries was to create an extremely unstable job market with very few reliable workers. There was a distinct lack of skilled workers in Russia during the period of the first five-year plan, thus the few skilled workers that existed were constantly changing jobs whenever they were presented with a better paid position since they were in such high demand.

Not only did skilled workings constantly changing jobs create huge instabilities in the factories, which could never be certain of whether people would continue to show up to work, but it created a conflict in ideology. Stalin argued that it was necessary to pay higher wages to certain workers in order to encourage increased output in the factories. However, his left-wing opponents claimed this inequality between workers’ wages was an outright betrayal of socialism and would result in a new class system in the USSR where everyone was supposed to be equal. Unsurprisingly Stalin had his way and during the 1930s the wage gap between labourers and skilled workers increased, thus raising the issue of whether the first five-year plan was truly a success. If this fundamental betrayal of socialist principles had occurred how could it be? Senior members of the Bolshevik party, including Bukharin and Trotsky, felt that Stalin had abandoned the objective of European socialist revolution.[8] As historian and political scientist Robert V. Daniels put it, ‘Regardless of its labels, the Stalinist regime no longer represented the same movement that took power in 1917.’[9]

The first of the five year plans was initially intended to focus primarily on improving heavy industries throughout Russia, however in 1929 Stalin edited the plan and introduced the policy of collective farming, ultimately bringing about the idea of destroying the kulaks as a class. The idea behind collectivisation was to merge individual peasant farms into larger collective farms in the belief that this would increase the food supply for the workers in the cities as well as increasing the supply of raw materials, which was necessary in order for industrialisation to take place. However, collectivisation was not as successful as Stalin and the other Bolshevik leaders had hoped for; according to Moshe Lewin ‘The old rural structures and ways of life were shattered…with uncountable consequences for society and state alike.’[10] In 1929 Stalin introduced the policy of liquidating the kulaks as a class, a process which entailed the forcible removal of private landowners unsurprisingly leading to widespread resistance and chaos throughout the Russian countryside. “It was an economic disaster, with incalculable long-term effects and insignificant, even ridiculous, immediate gains”.[11] According to Robert Service some 4-5million people perished due to dekulakisation, in addition peasants slaughtered their livestock rather than let them be collectivised leading to even greater food shortages.[12] It was because of the grain shortage in 1928 that the belief that the kulaks were hoarding grain came about, thus allowing everybody else to starve, resulting in the introduction of this policy. The Soviet leadership essentially viewed collectivisation as the solution to the agricultural crisis which had begun to develop in 1927; however it was not met with enthusiasm from the peasants who were the main group that were affected by the changes. Maureen Thorson, a Russian researcher, states that from 1930-1931 over 600,000 families were collectivised, 225,000 abandoned their land seeking refuge in the cities and finally that by January 30th 1930 280,000 people were arrested with 19,000 of them shot.[13]

This terror led to large scale migration with 23 million peasants moving to towns and cities between 1926 and 1939 with 2 million moving to Moscow.[14] During the first five-year plan the city’s population grew by 44% which was almost as much as during the whole period from 1897-1926.[15] For those branded as kulaks there was no future in the countryside since they had been forced off their land and were forbidden by law to join the collective farms, thus the cities were the only viable option. As one migrant put it in 1933, just after the end of the first five-year plan, “I am living the life of a badly fed animal. I have been robbed of my grain…I go into town, get a job as a workman, and…am fed.”[16] Western countries could see the damage that collectivisation was doing, it was the opinion of The New York Times in November 1932 that, ‘The collectivisation campaign is of course a ghastly failure. It has brought Russia to the verge of famine.’[17]

However, there was a plausible economic argument for the introduction of collectivisation. It was agreed that it would release labour for the new factories in the cities; in addition rural unemployment also fell since people were absorbed into the collective farms. Furthermore there was an ideological argument that favoured collectivisation since before it was introduced there was an un-socialist if not bourgeois way of life and a new class of farmers was developing.[18] Having already compromised on ideological values by introducing higher wages, collectivisation was a way for Stalin to prove that he still stood for socialism. According to Service, “Stalin could draw up a balance sheet that, from his standpoint, was favourable. From collectivisation he acquired a reservoir of terrified peasants who would supply him with cheap industrial labour.”[19]

Overall it appears as if the first five-year plan was certainly an economic success. The soviet economy experienced large growth in areas of the economy at a time when the rest of the world was suffering economically as the great depression came into existence. Stalin was successful according to J.L. Gaddis who states, “He transformed the Soviet Union from an agrarian state into an industrial great power.”[20] However Nove, an economic historian, believes “The plan as adopted was, to say the least, over-optimistic. Miracles seldom occur in economic life”[21] and this was no exception despite some of the advances that were achieved during the first five-year plan. It would be fair to say that the plan was not a success in the social side of life, as an official at the British Embassy reported on the 21st June 1932; ‘A record of over-staffing, over planning and complete incompetence at the centre; of human misery, starvation, death and disease among the peasantry… Men, women, and children, horses and other workers are left to die in order that the Five Year Plan shall at least succeed on paper.’[22]

 

[1] Joseph Stalin, The Results of the First Five-Year Plan (New York: Prism Key Press, 2013) p. 20

[2] Sheila Fitzpatrick Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

[3] Robert Service, A History of Modern Russia: From Tsarism to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003) p.171

[4] Alec Nove, An Economic History of the USSR 1917-1991 (London: Penguin Publishers, 1993) p.145

[5] S.G. Wheatcroft, R.W. Davies and J.M. Cooper, ‘Soviet Industrialization Reconsidered: Some Preliminary Conclusions about Economic Development between 1926 and 1941’, in The Economic History Review 39 (1986) p.273

[6] J. N. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-2001 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) p. 314

[7] Robert C. Allen, ‘The Standard of Living in the Soviet Union, 1928-1940’ in The Journal of Economic History 58 (1998) p. 1063

[8] Robert Service, A History of Modern Russia: From Tsarism to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003)

[9] Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, The USSR and the Successors (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) p.222

[10] Moshe Lewin, ‘Society and the Stalinist State in the Period of the Five Year Plans’ in Social History 1 (1976) p. 139

[11] Moshe Lewin, ‘Society, state, and ideology during the First Five-Year plan’, in The Stalinist Dictatorship, ed. by Chris Ward (London: Arnold, 1998) pp. 166-204 (p. 181).

[12] Robert Service, A History of Modern Russia: From Tsarism to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003) p.181

[13] Nick Lee, ‘Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan: Sowing the Seeds of Hardship’ in  http://econc10.bu.edu/economic_systems/Economics/Command_Econ/planning/stalins_first_5yp.htm (accessed 9 December 2013)

[14] Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, The USSR and the Successors (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) p.242

[15] Moshe Lewin, ‘Society, state, and ideology during the First Five-Year plan’, in The Stalinist Dictatorship, ed. by Chris Ward (London: Arnold, 1998) pp. 166-204 (p. 176).

[16] Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, The USSR and the Successors (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) p.242

[17] Joseph Stalin, ‘The Results of the First Five-Year Plan’ in http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1933/01/07.htm (accessed 9 December 2013)

[18] J. N. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-2001 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) p. 305

[19] Robert Service, A History of Modern Russia: From Tsarism to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003) p.182

[20] J.L. Gaddis, ‘Grand Strategies in the Cold War’, in The Cambridge History of the Cold War 2 Ed. by Melvyn Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) p.2

[21] Alec Nove, An Economic History of the USSR 1917-1991 (London: Penguin Publishers, 1993) p.144

[22] John Simkin, ‘British Embassy Report June 1932’ in Stalin’s Five Year Plan http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSfive.htm (accessed 9 December 2013)

Cold War tensions: The USSR and the West

‘How and why did the wartime alliance between the USSR and the West degenerate so quickly into Cold War animosity?’

CHURCHILL STALIN TRUMAN
A photo from July 23, 1945 showing the handshake between Winston Churchill, left, Harry S. Truman and Josef Stalin, in Potsdam, Germany.

The emergence of the Cold War, as a consequence of the breakdown in relations between the West and the Soviet Union, is an issue that has been widely debated amongst historians. There are numerous explanations as to how and why the wartime alliance degenerated so quickly into animosity; Eric Morris regards the post-war settlement of the issues surrounding Germany as one of the most complex problems of modern international relations.[1] John Lewis Gaddis agrees with Morris’s opinion saying that US-Soviet relations became an object of rapt attention and anxiety for the whole world during the cold war period.[2] Historians fall into different schools of thought regarding the causes of the degeneration of the West and the USSR’s alliance. The traditional view, mainly present during the 1940s, sees the outbreak of the cold war primarily as the result of Stalin’s drive for Soviet expansion. This view dominated the understanding of the degeneration of Western and USSR relations until the 1960s until the revisionist view came to light. Revisionist historians believe that the failure of the wartime alliance lies primarily with the US and especially with Truman’s hard-line policies and the demands of US capitalism. They believe that the US wanted a Cold War to promote a new economic order and secure markets throughout Asia and Europe. Finally neo-revisionism, led by Gaddis in the 1970s, focuses the blame on Stalin and his authoritarian system; believing they were guilty for the outbreak of confrontation. However, they also acknowledge that there is a labyrinthine nature of the origins of the cold war due to the misunderstandings and misperceptions on all sides in the months after World War Two.

It is no simple matter for historians to explain the breakdown in the wartime alliance, since the history of the two countries presented ample basis for mutual distrust. Morris believes the US-Soviet alliance was one of the most unnatural ever seen and that they were only ever wartime allies for convenience.[3] Once the shared goal of defeating Germany was achieved it became apparent that the two superpowers did not have any shared ideas or policies beyond the end of the war. Suny believed that the big three were merely allies of convenience, bound together by their determination to defeat the Axis powers.[4] In addition he points out that they never signed a treaty of alliance, which made it more difficult to develop the degree of trust and mutual long-term interest that sustainable alliances require. Boyle shares the idea that the wartime alliance was purely a ‘wartime alliance of convenience which was bound to evaporate once the common enemy was gone’.[5] David Painter agrees, saying that the end of the war removed the main incentive for co-operation between the Soviet Union and the United States; making it less likely for them to compromise on any outstanding issues.[6]

During World War Two observers of the international scene had expected differences to eventually arise among the victors. However they had hoped that a sufficiently strong framework of common interests, such as a mutually acceptable agreement on spheres of influence, would develop; keeping the differences within reasonable limits.[7] Unfortunately this was not the case and ideological differences constituted a key source of antagonism. Stalin had deliberately downplayed the Soviet commitment to communism during the war, however the communist movement remained the instrument of Soviet policy and the Russians used it to facilitate their projection of influence into Eastern Europe.[8] Americans were traditionally hostile towards communism since it was viewed as an alien ideology which suppressed political, economic and religious freedoms.[9] Some historians, such as Fleming, see the cold war as a basic ideological battle of democracy versus communism, dating back as far as the Bolsheviks rise to power in 1917.[10] Painter points out that the Soviets had not forgotten Western hostility towards their revolution or their intervention in the civil war.[11] It would appear as if this played a part in the breakdown in relations between the two sides since Roosevelt allowed for the possibility that a ‘cold war’ might not happen, while Stalin regarded it as inevitable.[12]

According to Norman Graebner, most people who study the Cold War find that its origins lie in the events of World War Two and in particular the division of Germany out of which spheres of influence grew.[13] By early 1946 relations had deteriorated and a war of words had broken out between the USSR and the West, with the issue of Germany providing the focal point of the disagreements. A unified Germany was the preferred solution, especially in the US camp.[14] However, the Americans and the Soviets had some very different ideas about Germany’s future. The United States wanted to rebuild the Germany economy in order to bring about a functioning Europe whereas the Soviet Union championed the idea of keeping Germany weak.[15] As Levering notes, Stalin’s optimal goal was a reunified pro-Soviet Germany; “All of Germany must be our, that is, Soviet, Communist.”[16] If Germany was kept submissive and weak Stalin believed there was a greater chance it would become vulnerable to communist rule. The zones of occupation within Germany were seen as a necessary, but temporary imposition. However, ultimately the ‘division of Germany into two separate and hostile blocs underlined the state of acute rivalry between the two superpowers and demonstrated that the wartime partnership could not persist into peacetime.’[17]

However, it was not only the division of Germany that led to the breakdown in the war-time alliance. In the mid to late 1940s the Soviets, within their occupation zone in Germany, repeatedly deprived large numbers of people of some of their individual rights valued in the West; such as freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial and the right to hold free elections. In order to counter these blatant breaches of the agreements made at Potsdam, the three Western occupying powers decided to move towards the formation of an independent West German State in February 1948.[18] Stalin’s response was to try and force the Western powers out of Berlin by imposing a blockade on land access to Berlin.

The Soviet blockade directly affected relations between the US and USSR, and with the West emerging victorious it only served to further the USSR’s annoyance and desperation to not lose their foothold in Europe. According to Smith, the Soviets were fearful of the emergence of an anti-communist West Germany and attempted to prevent this from happening by using Berlin to make Germany a point of tension.[19] Although Berlin was a localised crisis it was one with much wider possibilities and dangers, bringing the United States and Soviet Union as close to war as they would come during the early post-war years.[20] The United States and the Soviet Union were presented with the best possible chance to re-establish the balance of power in Europe, however this chance was lost and instead an East-West polarity was established based on the partition of Germany.[21]

According to Martin McCauley, the doctrine of containment played a decisive role in American thinking about the developing communism versus democracy conflict; with George Kennan the biggest advocator of this policy.[22] Kennan believed that the Soviets were going to do all within their power to strengthen the socialist bloc while simultaneously weakening the capitalist countries; he thus believed the western nations needed to draw together and adopt a policy of firmness towards the USSR.[23] McCauley regards Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram’ from 1946 as one of the most important documents of the post-war era, since he believes it was the decisive factor in the Truman administration’s change of course to a policy of firmness towards the USSR.[24] Gaddis writes that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was prepared to abandon their spheres of influence, which was fine initially. However, the difficulty was that unlike western powers the Soviet Union’s gains took place largely without the approval of the governments and people of the areas involved; whereas the West did not find it necessary to deprive people of the right to self-determination.[25] The ruthless establishment of a communist government in Poland aroused American charges that Stalin had gone back on his undertaking at Yalta to allow free elections to take place.[26] Truman spoke to Molotov and told him in no uncertain terms to carry out the agreements made at Yalta and hold free elections.

“The first tool of America’s containment policy was economic”; which is why the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan became prominent policies.[27] Melvyn Leffler states that, ‘the Marshall Plan was the catalyst that brought about the final divisions of Germany and Europe’.[28] Morris is of the same opinion; he believes that although the failure to reach an agreement at Potsdam resulted in the beginning of a disintegrating process it was the Truman Doctrine, implemented through the Marshall Plan, and the policies that proceeded from it which hardened and maintained a division of Europe.[29] These policies ushered in a period of hostility between the USSR and the west on every level short of all out war. Containment started to dictate American actions, such as with the Korean War where the United States were keen to contain the Soviet influence. Gaddis points out that when North Korean forces crossed the border the Russians were astonished when Truman quickly ordered US troops to defend South Korea.[30] However, Truman justified this action by making it clear he believed communism had passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and was now prepared to use armed invasion or war. As Smith States, ‘the decision to intervene militarily in 1950 reflected Truman’s belief that communism must be contained globally’.[31]

It is extremely difficult to determine exactly why the wartime alliance between the USSR and the West degenerated so quickly into Cold War animosity. There are those historians, such as Louis B. Halle who view the Soviet-American confrontation in 1945 as a tragic and unavoidable condition created by World War Two itself.[32] As Gaddis states, ‘few things ever are inevitable in history. But a situation such as existed in Europe in 1945, seems almost predestined to produce hostility’.[33] However, as mentioned previously there is also the view that it was the fault of either the Americans or the Soviets. Paul Seabury for one puts forward a widely accepted view that the Cold War could have been avoided if the Americans had desisted from their tragic course of making the Russian’s suspicious through their actions within Germany amongst other things.[34] On the other hand, Leffler believed that at no point did Stalin strive for a stable post-war order.

Historical investigation of the origins of the cold war attaches crucial significance to the events of the mid 1940s; so fundamental was the change in the European balance of power that those particular years are regarded as marking a historical watershed.[35] It is also apparent that although personalities were important, this was also a struggle between rival economic, political and social systems.[36] Despite the numerous opinions and theories regarding the origins of Cold War animosity, it is impossible to pinpoint an exact reason as to why the wartime alliance degenerated so rapidly. This is because “the cold war remains the most enigmatic and elusive international conflict of modern times”.[37]

 

[1] E. Morris, Blockade: Berlin and the Cold War (Newton Abbot: Stein and Day, 1974) p. 46

[2] J.L. Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978) p. 175

[3] E. Morris, Blockade: Berlin and the Cold War (Newton Abbot: Stein and Day, 1974) p. 48

[4] Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 341

[5] Peter G Boyle, American Soviet Relations: From the Russian Revolution to the Fall of Communism (London: Routledge, 1993) p. 40

[6] David S. Painter, The Cold War, An International Perspective (London: Routledge, 1999) p. 14

[7] John Lewis Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978) p. 175

[8] John Lewis Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978) p. 177

[9] Joseph Smith, The Cold War: 1945-1965 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989) p. 2

[10] Joseph Smith, The Cold War 1945-1991(Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989) p. 20

[11] David S. Painter, The Cold War, An International Perspective (London: Routledge, 1999) p. 12

[12] J.L. Gaddis, ‘Grand Strategies in the Cold War’, in The Cambridge History of the Cold War Volume 2, eds. Melvyn Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) pp. 1-21 (p. 3).

[13] Norman A. Graebner, ‘Cold War origins and the continuing debate: a review of recent literature’, in The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 13 (1969) p. 124

[14] Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, the Making of the European Settlement 1945-1963 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990) p. 21

[15] Joseph Smith, The Cold War 1945-1965 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989) p. 10

[16] R. Levering, V. Pechatnov, V. Botzenhart-Viehe and C. Edmundson, Debating the Origins of the Cold War, American and Russian Perspectives, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) p. 119

[17] Joseph Smith, The Cold War 1945-1965 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989) p. 11

[18] John Lewis Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978) p. 191

[19] Joseph Smith, The Cold War 1945-1965 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989) p. 23

[20] Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, The Origins of the Cold War (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) p. 137

[21] Robert Cecil, ‘Potsdam and Its Legends’, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 40 (1970) p. 455

[22] Martin McCauley, The Origins of the Cold War 1941-1949, (London: Routledge, 1995) p. 71

[23] Ibid. p. 72

[24] Ibid. p. 73

[25] John Lewis Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978) p. 177

[26] Joseph Smith, The Cold War: 1945-1965 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989) p. 11

[27] Wilfried Loth, ‘The Cold War and the Social and Economic History of the Twentieth Century’ in The Cambridge History of the Cold War Volume 2, eds. Melvyn Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) pp. 503-524 (p. 510).

[28] Melvyn P. Leffler, ‘The American Drive for Security’ in The Origins of the Cold War, eds. Thomas Paterson and Robert McMahon  (Lexington, Mass., 1991) p. 230

[29] Eric Morris, Blockade, Berlin and the Cold War (Newton Abbot: Stein and Day, 1974) p. 50

[30] John Lewis Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978) p. 201

[31] Joseph Smith, The Cold War: 1945-1965 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989) p. 53

[32] Louis B. Halle, The Cold War as History (New York: Harper and Row, 1967) p. 125

[33] John Lewis Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978) p. 180

[34] Paul Seabury, ‘Cold War Origins, I’ Journal of Contemporary History 3 (1968) p. 178

[35] Joseph Smith, The Cold War 1945-1965 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989) p. 17

[36] Michael F. Hopkins, ‘Continuing Debate and New Approaches in Cold War History’ The Historical Journal 50 (2007) p. 913

[37] Norman A. Graebner, ‘Cold War origins and the continuing debate: a review of recent literature’, The Journal of Conflict Resolution 13 (1969)  p. 123

Britain: The Fat Man of Europe

“Sweet diet drinks ‘better than water’ to help you lose weight” screamed a headline in The Times.[1] This is a ludicrous claim in my opinion. Obesity levels in the United Kingdom have more than trebled in the last 30 years and, on current estimates, more than half the population could be obese by 2050.[2] The evidence is right in front of our eyes every time we leave the house. The streets are full of obese people waddling along yet articles like this are still being published.

In The Times on November 11 2015, it was claimed that studies have shown sweet-tasting diet drinks are better for weight lose than drinking water because they suppress the desire to consume sweet things. The University of Bristol found that sweet tasting diet drinks were more effective for weight loss than sugary drinks – this is pretty obvious if you ask me. Well done for pointing out the obvious; sugar laden drinks will naturally be worse for you than those which are made to taste sugary with sweeteners. In 2012 one experiment in the United States showed that obese people ate fewer desserts if they were given diet drinks rather than water, which could suggest that their sweet tooth might have been satisfied by the sweeteners in these drinks.

This is all well and good but I believe the people who write these articles and conduct these experiments are missing the underlying point surrounding the obesity crisis. By claiming that a more effective way to lose weight is to consume sweet diet drinks instead of water these people are merely perpetuating the crisis. Obese people will read these articles and believe that instead of increasing the amount of exercise they do, instead of cutting back on junk food or fizzy drinks they can merely drink sweet diet drinks to help them lose weight which will not have an effective impact in the long term.

I fundamentally disagree with the claim “Sweet diet drinks ‘better than water’ to help you lose weight”. Water is an appetite suppressant and drinking it before meals can make you feel fuller and therefore reduce your food intake. WebMD states that drinking water before meals results in an average reduction of 75 calories per meal; this translates into consuming 75,000 calories less per year if you drink water before just ONE meal a day.[3] If you find water boring don’t turn to sugary drinks – instead place a slice of lemon in your water to give it added flavour without compromising on the healthy aspect of your drink.

Drinking more water has proven to be an effective tool in the battle against the bulge. So shed those kilos by consuming more water, not sweet diet drinks! Britain topped Europe’s obesity league in Western Europe in 2013. Hardly surprising if these are the sort of articles which get published in The Times.

[1] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/science/article4610651.ece

[2] NHS website

[3] http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-drinking-more-water-can-help-you-lose-weight

‘Cheating the Chancellor…Britain’s Benefit Problem’

Lazy left wing socialists are ruining our country, a dramatic statement perhaps – but a fair one?

In April 2015 75% of people agreed that too much money was being wasted in the benefits system “paying benefits to people who don’t need them”, according to a survey for the Financial Times.[1] David Cameron’s government has been arguing for a reduction of welfare spending in the United Kingdom as part of their programme of austerity. However, government ministers have also argued that a growing culture of welfare dependency is perpetuating welfare spending and claim that a cultural change is required to reduce the welfare bill.[2] Perhaps unsurprisingly these opinions are very similar to reasons given in the 1800s which led to the qualifications for receiving aid to be tightened, forcing many recipients to accept employment. The United Kingdom, as a welfare state in the modern sense, was anticipated by the Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws 1832, which found that the old poor law was subject to widespread abuse and promoted idleness in its recipients.

A change is needed in the work ethic of the United Kingdom – a change that will mean people no longer reside at home and claim benefits instead of actively seeking work. There are those who claim benefits, and quite rightly so. They are unable to work due to illness, disability, or remain unemployed despite seeking a job and it is these people who the welfare state should and does support. An interesting concept could be to introduce a system whereby those who are on benefits, but physically able to work, should be required to volunteer or do charity work in order to be able to claim job seekers allowance. This is in fact something which has been discussed by politicians. Before the re-election of the conservative government in 2015, David Cameron committed the next Tory government to abolishing the Jobseekers’ Allowance for 18-21 year olds. It is to be replaced with a ‘youth allowance’ that will last for a maximum of six months – after which claimants will have to undertake an apprenticeship or daily community work.[3]

However, too many people abuse the system which has a series of knock on effects often not thought about in any great depth. People are too lazy to work; they falsely claim that they are too ill or disabled to work. In 2013-2014 fraud and error in benefits payments remained excessively high at £3.3 billion – 2% of the total forecast benefit expenditure.[4] This is far lower than the figures believed by the public, who often believe that up to 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently, however it is still a staggering amount of money. In June 2015 Denise Lonie was jailed for 12 months are claiming £30,000 in benefits that she was not entitled to. Lonie hid her relationship for more than four years, claiming she was a single mother, in order to claim Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.[5] In September 2015 Kathleen Rice was sentenced to 15 months after stealing almost £80,000 over 8 years by insisting she was not sharing a house with the father of her two daughters, while also claiming she received no financial help from him even though he was in full-time employment.[6] It is for reasons such as these that Tory MP Andrew Rosindell stated, “This government has been, and is right, to reduce the size of Britain’s welfare bill”.

Benefit frauds have another negative impact, one surrounding the stigma which is attached to people who claim benefits. There are the people who need to claim benefits, as mentioned above. Those who are too ill to work, those who have not managed to find a job but have a strong work ethic, a sense of pride, self respect. Yet these people are often lumped in with the ‘scammers’ when people talk disparagingly about those who claim benefits. The ones cheating the system, the minority, ruin it for the majority.

However change is coming. With the election of another Conservative government there are moves to restrict the amount people can claim as well as an attempted crackdown on those fraudulently claiming benefits. In a move condemned by many, families with more than two children will not receive tax credits or housing benefits for their third or subsequent children under a fundamental change to the welfare system. The move, which is to be introduced in April 2017, will save an estimated £1.35 billion by the 2020-21 financial year.[7] Additionally, the benefit cap will be reduced from £26,000 to £23,000 in London and £20,000 in the rest of the UK. Yet public opinion on the whole appears to support a reduction in welfare spending.

‘Lazy left wing socialist are ruining our country’ is a sweeping statement, yet the number of households in the UK receiving more in total benefits has risen by 11.3% since 1977 – particularly during the 10 years of Labour government from 1997-2007.[8] So a sweeping statement yes, but there is a modicum of truth in it.

[1] G. Parker, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a548291c-e763-11e4-a01c-00144feab7de.html#axzz3r1uwoIna, April 20 2015

[2] ‘Conservative Conference: Welfare needs ‘cultural shift’’, October 2012

[3] A. McSmith, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/david-cameron-wants-jobless-young-adults-to-do-charity-work-in-return-for-benefits-10050160.html, February 17 2015

[4] M. Brown, ‘Most Households in Britain get more in benefits than they pay out in tax’, The Express, June 26 2014

[5] J. Beatson, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/benefits-cheat-who-claimed-single-5888216 , Daily Record, June 15 2015

[6] D. Meikle, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/crime/benefits-cheat-who-stole-80000-6421911 , Daily Record, September 11 2015

[7] A. Grice, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/budget-2015-live-emergency-uk-benefits-to-be-cut-for-families-with-more-than-two-children-10376015.html , July 9 2015

[8] [8] M. Brown, ‘Most Households in Britain get more in benefits than they pay out in tax’, The Express, June 26 2014