Institute of Contemporary History
In this article, the author traces how the lessons of the Munich Agreement of September 1938 (on the basis of which Czechoslovakia was forced to cede the predominantly ethnic-German Sudetenland to Nazi Germany) were projected into US foreign policy. In Part One of the essay, based on published sources and unpublished documents from American archives, the topic is covered from the late 1930s to the outbreak of the Korean War (which is discussed in Part Two, to be published in the next issue of Soudobé dějiny). The author looks at immediate American reaction to the North Korean attack on South Korea in June 1950, and then returns to autumn 1938 to test his hypothesis that behind the unusual unity of this reaction was the ingrained negative attitude of the United States to the policy of appeasement. He demonstrates that since the late 1930s the terms ‘Munich’ and ‘appeasement’ have remained forever linked in US policy and US public discourse, and he discusses the transformations of the perception of the two concepts during the Second World War, after the war, and at the beginning of the Cold War. The lessons of Munich, he argues, have drawn on the idealistic as well as the pragmatic sources of US policy, because they stem from the conviction that appeasement is immoral and does not pay. Whereas in Roosevelt’s policy the general lesson was not to allow Hitler’s expansion, Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor in the White House, had to use the lessons, despite his own self-restraint, to try to counter the steps of a wartime ally, Stalin’s Soviet Union. The Communist take-over in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 and the blockade of the western sectors of Berlin beginning in the summer of that year were important events on this path.
The author further considers the influence of this factor on the US approach taken in the Korean War in the early 1950s. He seeks to demonstrate that the decision of the Truman Administration to substantially intervene in this conflict was a direct consequence of the negative attitude to the policy of appeasing an aggressor.
This attitude was also shared by the American public, regardless of party affiliation and political sympathies. Arguments based on the rejection of appeasement, however, soon began to be used by the Republicans as ammunition in the election campaign against the incumbent Democrats and the choice of strategy also became a matter of dispute in the choice of strategy on the Korean battlefield after China entered the war. Whereas the White House wished to avoid an unlimited conflict with China, the Commander-in-Chief of the United Nation Command in Korea, General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964), was in favour of an uncompromising approach and in fact ceased to obey President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972). After being relieved of his command by Truman, MacArthur became the chief critic of his policies and a hero of Truman’s Republican opponents. In spring 1951, the Republicans organized a special Senate committee hearing on the circumstances of MacArthur’s suspension. The author looks in detail at this exceptional clash in post-war US domestic politics, which was meant to be triumphantly used against MacArthur, but gradually changed into a debacle in consequence of, among other things, the compelling testimonies of Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1893–1971) and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall (1880–1959). In his conclusion, the author seeks to demonstrate how other US presidents returned to the ‘lessons of Munich’, and he argues that these lessons became Truman’s lasting political legacy and as such became firmly rooted in American political discourse.
Conflicting Memory of Armed Acts of Anti-Communist Resistance in Czechoslovakia
This article is concerned with the memory and commemoration of acts of armed force which were committed as part of the civilian resistance to the Communist regime in its ‘founding period’ after February 1948. It focuses on how memory is constituted around this minority form of anti-Communist resistance, particularly by means of memorial sites in the process of their formation in the period before the Changes that began in mid-November 1989 and also afterwards. In the fi rst part of the article, the author looks at armed conflicts at the edge of the Iron Curtain, that is, on the western borders of Communist Czechoslovakia. She seeks to demonstrate that the way of looking at border crossings by people fleeing to the West is still considerably influenced by the memory and commemorative activities of veterans of the former border guards, amongst whom dominates the image of these refugees as internal enemies of the State. The second part of the article is devoted to instances of so-called ‘political murder’, that is, acts of violence against Communist politicians, which are connected particularly with villages. Most of these stories are gradually being forgotten; society does not want to recall them. An exception, however, is the memory of the sad events in the village of Babice, in the Bohemian-Moravian uplands, in 1951, which has repeatedly been used by politicians. In the third part of the article, the author considers the social discourse about the ethical dimension of armed anti-Communist resistance, which is almost exclusively focused on the atypical case of the group led by the Mašín brothers, and the process of forming the memory of the three resistances (the first, against Austria-Hungary during the Great War; the second, against the German occupying forces during the Second World War; and the third, against the Communist regime during the Cold War). She describes the commemorative activities of the Confederation of Political Prisoners as part of the strategy to bolster the social standing of the third, anti-Communist resistance, and she points to certain analogies between the unchallenged memories of political prisoners and the memories of the former border guards in contemporary historiography.
This article considers the nature of Communist regimes, particularly in Czechoslovakia. The author searches for an answer to the question of whether the political and social system launched in Czechoslovakia in late February 1948 maintained its totalitarian nature throughout its existence, or whether, in its later phases, it had already become another type of totalitarianism, or had even developed into a quite different kind of undemocratic or authoritarian regime. The author develops the topic, which is still a matter of dispute, against the background of changing theoretical reflections on Communist regimes. He first recapitulates the main criticism of ‘revisionist’ historiography regarding the lack of classic models of totalitarianism, and he comments on some of their competing interpretations, pointing out how later versions of the totalitarianism theory problematicized or weakened some of the ‘revisionist’ criticisms, and also how they reacted to the changes that began after Stalin’s death in 1953. By comparing the two main approaches – one that declares that there is such a thing as totalitarianism, the other that rejects such a notion (or at least suggest its revision) –, the author traces the connections between the individual phases that the Communist dictatorship and society passed through in Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1989. He thus seeks to discover the extent to which the preserved structures and operations of the totalitarian way of ruling (dictatorship) changed or remained the same since the initial period (post-February 1948), and, at the same time, endeavours to discover how, over the decades, political ideas and value systems were preserved or, by contrast, changed in the consciousness of society. Conceptually, the author starts from the definition of post-totalitarianism which appears in the later works of the political scientist Juan Jose Linz, and thus, after the end of Stalinist totalitarianism, he distinguishes in Czechoslovakia the period of early post-totalitarianism, the late 1960s attempt to reform the system, the Husák years of hard-line post-totalitarianism, and the posttotalitarianism of the late 1980s decline. In his opinion, the ‘Normalization’ regime in Czechoslovakia, although weakened and increasingly dysfunctional, maintained many of the totalitarian structures (political, security, economic, social) and practices (of power, ideology, surveillance, and repression) until its collapse, unlike the regimes in Poland and Hungary, where totalitarianism was slowly eroded.
Christian Hartmann, Thomas Vordermeyer, Othmar Plockinger, and Roman Toppel (eds.). Hitler, Mein Kampf: Eine kritische Edition. Munich and Berlin: Institut fur Zeitgeschichte, 2016, vols 1–2, 947 + 1019 pp., ISBN 978-3-9814052-3-1. With Edith Raim, Pascal Trees, Angelika Reizle, and Martina Seewald-Mooser. Includes illustrations, maps, a list of all known translations of Mein Kampf before 1945, a list of abbreviations, a detailed bibliography in three parts (before 1932, 1933–45, after 1945), and four indexes (a biographical index and indexes of persons, places, and subjects).
In the form of an essay, the author comments here on the 2016 critical edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1925–26), edited by a team of historians from the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, with additional assistance from others. He contemplates the nature and importance of this book and discusses its author and his meaning in the history of twentieth-century central Europe. He then discusses some of the ideas of Mein Kampf, and clarifies the historical context of the work, returning to the circumstances that led to its being written and published. He also discusses some of Hitler’s fellow travellers in the Nazi movement, who were of importance for this key work. The author brings up episodes in Hitler’s life, and pays particular attention to his still unclear transformation from an apolitical soldier into a zealous antisemite and political agitator of exceptional rhetorical skill, who was able to bewitch the German people and become their Fuhrer. The author also discusses the difficulties that the editors of this critical edition had to struggle with, and he praises their work as utterly solid and astonishingly thorough, particularly the commentaries in the huge critical apparatus. The author concludes by discussing reactions both to the fi rst edition of Mein Kampf and to this critical edition, and he discusses various attempts to publish a Czech edition.
Tomek, Prokop. Československá redakce Radio Free Europe: Historie a vliv na československé dějiny. [The Czechoslovak service of Radio Free Europe: Its development and impact on Czechoslovak history]. Prague: Academia, 2015, 422 pp. + 32 pp. of illus., ISBN 978-80-200-2490-9.
The book under review is considered here in the context of current research on the history of Radio Free Europe and Tomek’s own work in which he presents a synthesis of his long-standing interest in the topic. The reviewer sees the contribution of the book chiefly in its bringing together and clearly sorting out a wide range of facts, and, to a lesser extent, its preliminary analyses. The author chronologically traces the development of Radio Free Europe, especially the Czechoslovak Service, and also determines the effects of its broadcasts and the interaction with its audience at home behind the Iron Curtain as well as amongst the top-level Czechoslovak politicians of the time. With this work, he has filled a palpable gap in the Czech historiography of mass media in exile, and has established an important basis for further research.
Dvořáček, Jan – Piknerová, Linda – Záhořík, Jan. A History of Czechoslovak Involvement in Africa: Studies from the Colonial through the Soviet Eras. Lewiston, NY & Lampeter, The Edwin Mellen Press, 2014, 208 pp. Muehlenbeck, Philip: Czechoslovakia in Africa, 1945 – 1968. London, Palgrave MacMillan, 2016, 271 pp.
Two recent volumes on Cold War Czechoslovak involvement in Africa challenge the notion of Czechoslovak powerlessness during the socialist period. On the scale of Czechoslovak autonomy from Moscow, however, the works in question diverge. Philip Muehlenbeck goes furthest in emphasizing the self-interest underpinning Prague’s Africa policy. Dvořáček, Piknerová and Záhořík’s volume, meanwhile, shows how Prague’s levels of autonomy from Moscow varied from decade to decade and state to state. While Muehlenbeck reflects on the racism experienced by African exchange students in Prague, A History of Czechoslovak Involvement in Africa suggests that racism was a problem above all in Moscow: in Russifying the negative aspects of African involvement in this way, the authors miss an opportunity to analyze a broader Czechoslovak ambivalence toward socialist-era Africa policy. Both books make a convincing case for the particular importance of the African continent to Czechoslovak diplomacy during the Cold War. This review asks whether, conversely, relative unimportance on the global scale might provide a useful framework for future analyses of Czechoslovakia’s room to maneuver in the global south during the period.
Raška, Francis D. Dlouhá cesta k vítězství: Československá exilová hnutí po roce 1968. Trans. from the English by Vojtěch Pacner. Prague: Academia, 2015, 272 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2472-5.
The book under review is a Czech translation of The Long Road to Victory: A History of Czechoslovak Exile Organizations after 1968 (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, distributed by Columbia UP, 2012). Raška’s work is, according to the reviewer, the result of careful research using personal papers and other archival documents in the Czech Republic, Great Britain, the United States, and Italy. It is a unique comprehensive work that offers much that is new and of interest, concerning a little known chapter in the history of Czechs and Slovaks in exile. In nine chapters, the author acquaints us with Czechoslovak life in exile, that is, clubs, organizations, and individuals, after they had caught their second wind, and were listened to by other exiles after 1968, once the West had received the large wave of Czechoslovak refugees driven out of their country by the Warsaw Pact military intervention. Although the book under review does not, in that sense, cover the full range of exiles and their activities, it remains an extraordinarily useful work of reference.
Jan Randák and Marek Fapšo
Olšáková, Doubravka. Věda jde k lidu! Československá společnost pro šíření politických a vědeckých znalostí a popularizace věd v Československu ve 20. století. [Science meets the people! The Czechoslovak society for the dissemination of political and scientific knowledge and popularization of science in Czechoslovakia in the 20th century]. (Šťastné zítřky, vol. 10.) Prague: Academia, 2014, 678 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2318-6.
The two reviewers praise this volume, “Science meets the people! The Czechoslovak society for the dissemination of political and scientific knowledge and popularization of science in Czechoslovakia in the 20th century” as a work on a hitherto neglected topic of Communist adult education in which a fundamental role was played by the Czechoslovak Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge, which was founded in 1952, and was, from the mid-1960s, operating under the name of the Socialist Academy. In addition to the reviewers’ acknowledgement of the wealth of facts presented here and the compelling interpretations of particular topics, they also find conceptual and methodological shortcomings in the work, which, in their opinion, have made it impossible to get more out of the topic. The author has thus failed, they argue, to give a more well-rounded account of the relations between centralized decision-making and the practical application of adult education at the regional level, and does not provide an answer to the important questions of how Communist adult education was special, and in what respect it was merely following more universal modern efforts to educate the masses.
Iblová, Michaela. Česká filharmonie pod tlakem stalinské kulturní politiky v padesátých letech. [The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under the pressure of Stalinist cultural policy in the 1950s]. Prague: Karolinum, 2014, 247 pp., ISBN 978-80-246-2332-0.
The reviewer first offers an overview of scholarly research on music (primarily classical music) and music culture in relation to politics and institutions in Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime. The author of the book under review, he claims, is one of the first Czechs to ask how and why a leading music ensemble could operate in totalitarianism and even in opposition to it. The core of book comprises the author’s discussion of the Czech Philharmonic during the first decade after the Communist takeover in late February 1948, in the face of continuous efforts by the regime to keep an eye on the orchestra by means of Party institutions and, particularly, the secret police. The author uses excursions into Czechoslovak life from the 1960s to the 1980s, and writers that the efforts to enlist Czech Philharmonic musicians to collaborate with the secret police were practically continuous throughout the period. She discusses the programme and production plans of the orchestra, in which the musicians had to accept comprises with the demands to perform ideologically engage works. Despite some minor criticisms, the reviewer, on the whole, judges the book positively, particularly concerning the factual information it presents.
Skopal, Pavel. Filmová kultura severního trojúhelníku: Filmy, kina a diváci českých zemí, NDR a Polska 1945–1970. [Film culture of the Northern Triangle: Films, cinemas and audiences of the Czech Lands, the GDR and Poland 1945–1970] (Filmová knihovna, vol. 3.). Brno: Host, 2014, 308 pp., ISBN 978-80-7294-971-7.
The author of the book under review uses the approaches of the ‘new film history’, which frees him from writing about film using traditional categories and periodizations, and allows him to turn his attention to economic aspects of the film industry or to distribution mechanisms and audiences. That approach entails overlaps with other disciplines and work with a wide range of material. The author has undertaken extensive research in the archives of six countries, and has critically and organically linked this research together with information from other sources, including eyewitness accounts. The first part of this methodologically exemplary publication is devoted to cultural transfers in the “Northern Triangle” (Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Poland) with other Soviet bloc countries and also with capitalist states. In the second part, in the context of Stalinism and the subsequent Thaw, the author looks at the role of fi lm distribution which the regime sought use to integrate its citizens into society. An exceptional contribution of the publication, according to the reviewer, is the third part, which focuses on film-audience reception, supported by local case studies on the behaviour and attitudes of Brno, Leipzig and Poznan audiences after the Second World War.