RealClearHistory Articles

Much More to Orwell Than '1984'

John Rodden - January 23, 2020

George Orwell`s Nineteen Eighty-Four marked its 70th anniversary as an unstoppable bestseller in June 2019.   This publishing event was widely acknowledged by the world literary community — and justly so. For no other book has ever so utterly both staked claim to a date and repeatedly risen to the very top of international bestseller lists for decades after its original publication.  (Orwell`s novel has stood at No. 1 a mind-boggling four times, most recently during the weeks following Donald Trump`s presidential inauguration in January 2017. I fully expect it to reclaim that position during the course of the upcoming American presidential primaries and conventions, once President Trump is on the campaign trail full-time).   

Certainly Orwell`s literary fame chiefly rests with the near-universal public recognition accorded his two prose fiction satires of the later 1940s, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.  The incessant quotation of those books, along with the shaping force of their visions on the mindscape of the West since World War II probably makes George Orwell the most frequently quoted writer (in more than five dozen languages) writer who ever lived.  

The Bismarck Was a Waste

Steve Feinstein - January 16, 2020

In early stages of World War II (1939-45) in Europe, Germany, after invading Poland to its east in 1939, turned its attention westward and conquered the “Low Countries” (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) on its way to vanquishing France in spring 1940. With almost all of western continental Europe now under German control, Britain alone stood against Germany.

America had not yet entered the war and wouldn’t until December 1941 when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The United States was, however, supplying Britain with a very significant amount of both war materials and domestic goods under the “Lend-Lease” program. These goods were sent by ship convoy to England across the Atlantic Ocean. German U-boat submarines extracted a huge toll on this vital shipping lifeline, but even though the losses were high, they were survivable, and these supply lines—critical to Britain’s very existence— persevered.

10 Books I Wish I'd Read in 2019

Brandon Christensen - December 12, 2019

The end of the year is upon us -- 2019 has come and nearly gone. I hope yours was at least as good as mine, if not better. My youngest child was born in January of this year. I’ve now got two children at home and a desk job. That makes reading tougher to do; it also makes reading a more serious task. There’s no time to waste on James Patterson books or yet another biography of an American President. Below are 10 History Books I Wish I Had Read in 2019, but first I must plug 2019's best history read:

Persecution and Toleration: The Long Road to Religious Freedom (2019) by Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama. A scholarly but easily readable treatment of the rise of religious liberty, Persecution and Toleration is also a subtle, devastating critique of the identity politics that currently plague the West’s democractic political systems. Johnson and Koyama show that humanity has, by and large, been governed by polities that prefer to have different rules for different groups of people. In Europe and the Middle East this identity based governance was reflected through religion, and the struggle to establish a general rule of law applicable to everybody equally was only accomplished thanks to a combination of nationalist sentiments and lowered tariffs within countries. The erosion of barriers to trade and a broader outlook on society (from “village or fief” to “country”) led to an explosion of economic growth that culminated in the rise of the West.

WW II's Most 'Costly, Unproductive, Ill-Advised' Battle

John Rossi - December 8, 2019

Following the Allied breakout from the Normandy beachhead in July 1944, the German army fled back through northern France, Belgium and southern Holland to the frontiers of the Reich. The British and Canadians took Brussels on Sept. 3, 1944, and entered Antwerp the next day while American units crossed the German frontier near Charlemagne’s old capital of Aachen. It looked as if the war would be over by Christmas. The Allies were suffering a bad case of victory fever. General Eisenhower’s brilliant Chief of Staff, Walter Bedell Smith, told the press that “militarily the war is over,” a sentiment shared by Winston Churchill who told President Franklin Roosevelt that he wouldn’t be surprised if Germany “surrendered within weeks.” The Allies failed to note Napoleon’s warning: “The most dangerous moment comes with victory.” The war would drag on for eight more months, months that would see some of the worst fighting in the West.

Allied optimism was fueled by an almost total collapse of the German army in the West in late July and August. They had suffered 400,000 casualties in the fall of France, including at least 55,000 killed while losing masses of equipment including much of their armor and artillery.

Michigan-Ohio State Football Rivalry Started on Battlefield

Howard Tanzman - November 29, 2019

The Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry is intense.  But in 1836, the states of Michigan and Ohio nearly went into actual battle over a boundary dispute. Each state called out several hundred armed militia and sent them to Toledo to fight over ownership of the city and surrounding area. Shots were fired.


Forgetting Fred Allen

John Rossi - November 21, 2019

Back in the days when radio ruled the airways among discerning listeners, one man was king. Fred Allen is forgotten today, but for two decades his comedy show set the standard for the best of American humor. His combination of satire, puns and topical comedy influenced what shows such as "Second City" and "Saturday Night Live" sought to do. 

Allen was born John Florence Sullivan into a typical Irish Catholic family in Boston in 1894. He took the name Fred Allen in the 1920s when he entered show business but remained the typical dry New England Yankee. Like other comedians, Allen suffered family tragedies as a young man. His mother died when he was three and he and his father went to live with one of her sisters. 

10 Countries That No Longer Exist

Brandon Christensen - November 14, 2019

Five hundred years ago, in November of 1519, Hernan Cortez arrived in what is now Mexico and began a long, slow process of conquering the region for Spain.

Thirty years ago, in November of 1989, socialism collapsed in East Germany, revealing to the free West what had already been expected and suspected.

Burr's Finest Moment Was Overseeing Impeachment Trial

Fred Lucas - November 8, 2019

In a polarizing impeachment battle, partisans target this officeholder in part for what they deem his rowdy unbecoming conduct. Amid all this, the presiding official in the Senate trial even becomes an issue. 

The tiff last year between President Donald Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts has prompted at least some Trump backers to call for Roberts’ recusal in the Senate impeachment trial likely to commence early 2020, presuming the Democratic House moves forward as expected. In summary, the tiff happened when the chief justice took exception to a Trump tweet about an “Obama judge” and decided to defend his branch of the government—the judiciary—in a statement to the Associated Press. Trump fired back with other tweets aimed at Roberts. There’s almost no chance of a recusal, as Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6 of the Constitution is clear, “… When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside.”

The Good Enemies

Steve Feinstein - November 1, 2019

The enemy. They come in all shapes, sizes and configurations. They take many forms. They can be social rivals, business competitors, opposing sports teams, even political antagonists. However, there is perhaps no category of enemy more universally reviled than the commander of an opposing military fighting force, the individual on the opposing side whose goal it is to destroy the people and things you’re trying to protect. 

Yet even in the midst of a life-or-death struggle, there are adversaries who not only gain the respect of the opposition, but actually come to be regarded by their supposed enemies with a surprising degree of admiration, if not outright affection. These are individuals who become ingratiated in the minds of their enemies because of their noteworthy personal style and flamboyance or because of their tactical brilliance and utter ferocity in battle or because of their perceived “humanity,” the notion that although they’re fighting on the “wrong side,” their basic elemental nature is good and kind, and they just happen to be on the other side because of circumstances beyond their control. Often, it is a combination of all these factors. Here are two of the most well-known:

Revisiting Mackinder’s ‘Round World’

Francis P. Sempa - October 24, 2019

Seventy-six years ago, the editors of Foreign Affairs invited Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), the British geographer, educator, geopolitical theorist, and statesman, to revisit his “Heartland” theory of world politics. Mackinder, then age 82, acceded to the request and wrote “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” which was published in the July 1943 issue of the journal. It was Mackinder’s “last word” on his influential global worldview and, unfortunately, it is his least remembered article on geopolitics.

It is an article worth revisiting today because Mackinder and his geopolitical concepts are being cited by many observers as relevant to our 21st century world, particularly China’s rise to world power. Mackinder’s ideas are indeed relevant to 21st century geopolitics, but those ideas evolved over his lifetime and were rooted in a lifelong study of the relationship between geography and history. More attention should be paid to both the intellectual roots of his geopolitical worldview and his “last word” on the subject.

Hitler Was His Own Worst Enemy

David Pyne - October 17, 2019

Last in a series of stories exploring how Germany might have won World War II. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

In our last installment, we discussed the ways in which Germany might have defeated the Soviet Union, which led to Soviet-era state-owned news agency Pravda promptly attacking the author in an article entitled, “U.S. Gave advice to Hitler How to Defeat Russia.” In this article, we will discuss why Hitler was Germany’s greatest obstacle to winning the Second World War and how the war might have been won if German generals could have prevented him from interfering in military operations. German dictator Adolf Hitler has been considered a political genius by some and a mad man bent on world conquest by others, but the truth is that he was neither. Rather, he was a virulent anti-Semite who believed his life’s mission was to re-unite Germany and lead an international crusade against Soviet Communism. He was also responsible for committing a series of strategic blunders and military miscalculations, some small and some great, that ended up ensuring Germany’s defeat. But what if German military leaders had been given the freedom to prosecute the war more wisely, resulting in a stalemate or even something resembling a Nazi German victory? Here are some things that Germany could have done differently to win the war:

Germany Could Have Defeated USSR in WW II

David Pyne - October 16, 2019

Fourth in a series of stories exploring how Germany might have won World War II. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

In our last installment, we discussed how Germany could have forced Britain to accept one of his peace offers and keep the United States out of the war. In this article, we shall examine how Germany might have not only avoided total defeat at the hands of the Red Army, but even might have achieved a measure of victory against her much larger and more powerful Soviet adversary, which was over 40 times larger than Germany at its greatest extent.

More Mobile Military Just 1 Way Germany Could Have Won

David Pyne - October 14, 2019

Second in a series of stories exploring how Germany might have won World War II. Read Part 1 here.

In our last article, we examined some of the actions that Germany might have taken to achieve its territorial objectives without having to fight the Western Powers of Britain, France and the United States of America in World War Two. Some of the most important ways for Germany to have won the war would have been to have waited until German industries had recovered from the limitations imposed by the Versailles Treaty to maximize Germany’s military potential. It would have entailed a more prudent utilization of Germany’s limited military-industrial resources, better organization and increased mobility of her army. Here are some examples:

Germany Could've Won WW II Without Fighting Western Allies

David Pyne - October 13, 2019

First in a series of stories exploring how Germany might have won World War II.

Last month marked the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, which cost the lives of an estimated 50-60 million people and was the most terrible war in world history. We all know how the war turned out—with an overwhelming Soviet-Western Allied victory over Nazi Germany ending with the destruction and dismemberment of Germany herself and the death by starvation of millions of her citizens. Given the way the events of the war played out, there was no other foreseeable outcome other than her defeat. But as most historians are aware, German defeat in the war would have been far from inevitable had Nazi leader Adolf Hitler refrained from making certain critical mistakes.

Trump Should Heed History and End His Trade Wars

The Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate cut was the result of growing concerns about the economy. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the cut was necessary because “the global growth outlook has weakened” and “trade policy tensions have waxed and waned.” These risks have reduced U.S. business investment and exports. President Donald Trump would be wise to share the Fed’s trade-policy concerns because history shows trade restrictions during periods of economic uncertainty can sink sitting presidents.

President Herbert Hoover signed the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in June 1930, raising the average tariff rate to nearly 60 percent. The act increased tariffs to record levels on more than 20,000 imported goods and fueled massive retaliation by countries.

Critics Misinterpreted 'Quality' of Slaves

Robert Cherry - September 19, 2019

The New York Times 1619 Project focused almost exclusively on demonstrating the link between slavery and white supremacy today. Historically, however, the “legacy of slavery” almost always related to how contemporary black behaviors were linked to the slave past. This essay will identify the misrepresentation of the behaviors of enslaved blacks by those who overstated the harshness of their treatment and its adverse ramifications on assessments of black Americans after emancipation.

One stream of thought suggested by Matthew Desmond’s essay was that slavery was a vicious system of exploitation that previewed the dynamics of early U.S. capitalism. This perception of slavery was found in the early post-WWII writings of Stanley Elkins and Kenneth Stampp. In Slavery, Elkins wrote that the long series of shocks from their African capture, to their Middle Passage transport to the West Indies, through their sale to American plantations where slaves experienced brutal treatment, created a psyche similar to what Charles Bettleheim observed in Jewish inmates in Nazi concentration camps.

3 Key Books Shaped Vision of Appeasement

John P. Rossi - August 13, 2019

The recent publication of Tim Bouverie’s, Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill and the Road to War, has fueled renewed interest in the reasons for the blunders of British diplomacy in the 1930s. The book has received deservedly high praise for the clarity of its analysis of appeasement’s consequences. Bouverie places the major responsibility for appeasement’s failure on Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who consistently underestimated and misread Hitler’s intentions. He also stresses the role played by many of the leading members of the British aristocracy, who saw Nazism as a bulwark against the threat of Communism.

A third theme, and one often downplayed by some historians, is the emergence of pacifist sentiment on the left in the 1920s after the terrible losses of the First World War. He notes that Britain lost 750,000 killed during that conflict, almost double British losses, civilian and military, in World War II. Bouverie believes that the left’s response to the threat from Nazism was paralyzed by pacifism. As late as the eve of World War II, the British Labor Party voted against all rearmament measures.

Beat the Heat With These 10 History Reads

Brandon Christensen - August 7, 2019

It’s August here in the Heart of Texas, and I’m staying indoors as much as possible. I bide my time by doing family stuff* and by reading excellent books. Here are 10 recommendations for you, from me and from your humble servants at RealClearHistory:

10. Subjects unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England by Jenny Hale Pulsipher. This is the book that shows how the Indians on the eastern seaboard of the United States competed with colonists for not only land and monopoly power in markets like the fur trade, but for the ear of the British monarchy. It turns out that the British policy of loaning out its legal institutions for use to peoples not under formal British jurisdiction was a great way to build an empire in a cost-effective manner.

Critical Decisions: Dropping A-Bombs, Attacking French Navy

Steve Feinstein - August 1, 2019

“Above my pay grade” is an old cliché that refers to a really difficult decision being deferred to someone of higher authority. Recent history is full of examples of incredibly difficult decisions that have been made by a country’s highest-ranking leader. These decisions have resulted in long-lasting effects that have reverberated through the succeeding years, perhaps for the better, perhaps not. But no one can question the boldness of these choices and there is no question that only the most authoritative figure could make the call.

We’ll look at two, one of which is well-known, but governed more by emotion than fact, and one that has been virtually ignored by historians, but may have been even more significant.

Libya: Does 2019 Rhyme With 1911?

William Brooke Stallsmith - July 29, 2019

Winston Churchill starts his history of World War I, The World Crisis, in an unconventional place and time: Libya in 1911, rather than Sarajevo in 1914. The reasons for this are both complex and, at least for me, convincing: 

- In 1911, an Italian invasion and colonization of what had been the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (today’s Libya) highlighted Turkey’s spiraling inability to hold on to distant territories.