The Menace From Within and the Art of Obfuscation

I found the Madness from Within deeply misleading. The documentary begins with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which ended the Irish War of Independence, created the Irish Free State, and gave Northern Ireland the permission to remain under British rule. At first, this may seem reasonable, considering the high concentration of Ulster Unionist Protestants in Northeastern Ireland. We must consider this event’s relation to the spirit of the times, reflected by the redistribution of territory halfway around the globe, in the Balkans and the Middle East.

As we saw in Mazower, the aftermath of the First World War saw the creation of numerous artificial borders and states. The League of Nations did not exist solely to prevent the resurgence of widespread armed conflict; it also served the interests of the former Allied powers, notably England and France, who, believing themselves to have “won” the First World War, wished to dictate the conditions of the world’s newfound peace. This process would form the basis of the modern Middle East, which continues to wrestle with the consequences of the Ottoman Empire’s fragmentation. The French began by dividing Syria into smaller parts. These included modern-day Lebanon, Alexandretta, Alawi states in the north, and some Druze states in the south, while Damascus and Aleppo acquired the status of city-states.[1] Lebanon’s Christian majority, who insisted on remaining independent from the rest of Syria, facilitated France’s endeavor. Meanwhile, a seemingly constant stream of Arab nationalist revolt plagued the rest of French Syria.

The British adopted a much more favorable, if inconsistent, stance in regards to Arab nationalism.  At first, they allied themselves with the Hashemite family of Jordan –then headed by Hussein bin Ali- who ruled over the independent Hejaz region. However, when bin Ali claimed to be the caliph of Islam, the British Foreign Office felt threatened and allowed the Saudis to take over the Hijaz in 1924.[2]  When British Iraq needed to contend with an Arab insurrection in 1920, they installed Faisal I in power to restore order.[3]

As I noted earlier, the creation of a British-ruled Northern Ireland might appear quite reasonable, considering its high proportion of Protestants. However, we must not forget the many Catholic inhabitants of Northern Ireland or the desire of imperial powers like Britain to maintain control of their subjects, even if that meant redrawing borders and playing religions and ethnicities against one another. To deny the Catholics the right to their own nation for the sake of a regional Protestant majority that remained a national minority constitutes an act of imperialistic aggression. Of course, one can argue that the Northern Irish Parliament voted on the issue. Yet, I find this argument unconvincing. Page 8 of David MccKitrick and David McVea’s book, Making Sense of the Troubles reveals the extent of the Unionist assault on Northern Irish democracy:

“In 1922 the voting system known as proportional representation was abolished. Its removal was by no means simply a technical adjustment, since it had been built in both as an actual safeguard for Catholic and Protestant minorities in the two parts of Ireland and also as a symbol of respect for their views. The first past-the-post system introduced in its place, together with the highly partisan redrawing of local government boundaries, was of huge benefit to the Unionist Party. As a result of the changes, nationalists lost their majorities in thirteen of twenty-four councils they originally controlled.”

To ignore this information and act as if no manipulation on the part of Northern Irish Protestants and British Loyalists influenced the separation of Northern Ireland from the Free State constitutes the height of intellectual dishonesty. We should also ask ourselves if the establishment of a separate Northern Ireland, like France’s partition of Syria, ostensibly for the sake of Lebanese Christians, might not represent a British effort to prolong strife in Ireland by partitioning it, thereby undermining any hope for a completely unified Ireland and  giving them an additional reason to station troops and bases on the island. The documentary fails to consider this plausible explanation, painting those who continued fighting for total Irish independence as “impractical”.


[1] Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. A Concise History of the Middle East. (Westview Press: Boulder CO, 2002), 207.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Changes in inter war society

In both Koenker’s article on Soviet tourism and Reagin’s article on German housewives we see a similarity in the attempts made by both governments to sway their citizenry to a specific ideology. In Russia the communist party decided to control all forms of tourism. They were determined to change the view of tourism from the “bourgeoise” experience of knowing “only one street in a new city, the street from the train station to the hotel.” To the Soviet of idea of a tourist on a bicycle who “could observe al parts of a city, from its outskirts to its bridges…” This proletarian shift dominated all aspects of Soviet tourism in the interwar period. In Germany we see another cultural shift in regard to the way housewives conducted their household responsibilities. Although the cultural change was no wear near as dramatic as the one happening in Russia their was still an attempt made by middle and upper class German ladies to make the life of the everyday “frau” a little easier. This attempt was focused mainly on home economics, the German government still regarded kitchen as the females “workplace”. The changes attempted by the Germans although less dramatic then in Russia were still steps taken by the government to influence social life.

Koeneker’s article really struck me, mainly cause it was a topic I had never given though to. Although it is obvious through studying the Soviet Union that the communist party were involved in all aspects of life, its very interesting to see the amount of importance they put on such a “minor” issue in the scheme of things. When thinking of the Soviet worker tourism is one of the last things you would think of. The Soviet’s used tourism as another way to indoctrinate their citizenry, and keep the workers happy, and content. This show’s the depth that the Soviet state went to control their citizens.

Several points came to me when reading these two articles. Why did the Soviet’s focus so much on changing a clearly “upper class” pursuit? Why not just eliminate tourism all together. In Germany why was their such a focus on the improvement of house hold economics when the country was clearly lagging behind other western countries in regard to their infrastructure?

Influencing Culture

“The Proletarian Tourist in the 1930s: Between Mass Excursion and Mass Escape” by Diane P. Koenker and “Comparing Apples and Oranges: Housewives and the Politics of Consumption in Interwar Germany” by Nancy Reagin both focus on the politicization of different aspects of daily life and leisure. Koenker’s article illustrates the way in which the Soviet government propagated tourism as a means to turn this leisure activity into a political action and elevate the proletariat culturally. Similarly, Reagin’s article highlights how the various housewife organizations in Interwar Germany politicized daily activities, like grocery shopping, and changed how German culture was perceived and remembered.

The way in which culture changed in Germany based on the opinions of these housewives’ organizations is very intriguing. The points made in this article bring up questions about larger implications for culture: how were other aspects of daily life in Interwar Europe determined and influenced by campaigns such as these? The fact that organizations determined national attitudes about daily choices—the types of food people ate (wheat bread vs white bread) and where they shopped—is incredible. That the pre-existing cultural climate allowed for this level of influence points to the chaos and loss present during this period. Europe had drastically changed in the span of four years and the following decades were filled with attempts to find a new equilibrium. These measures, encouraged by these German organizations, were meant to help find a new balance and help restore order and security to Germany.

Koenker writes about how the USSR attempted to influence its culture with tourism. The government wanted this practice to expand beyond the Bourgeoisie to the Proletariat, but this failed. Tourism in the USSR quickly turned from another avenue of collectivization to a new form of individualism and independence; this did not reflect the new governmental policies that encouraged a collective philosophy to truly mirror the ideals and principles of communism. These practices never became part of the essential culture, like food choices quickly became in Germany. Why did these two similar campaigns work so differently? Perhaps because the German organizations targeted daily practices rather travel, a leisure activity that occurs more rarely.

Eugenics in Interwar Europe

“Eugenics is the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage,” states Francis Galton in his article, Eugenics: It’s Definition, Scope, and Aims in July 1904. Eugenic ideas spread through out Europe following the First World War. While eugenics is supposed to be about race quality, it became prevalent in interwar Europe mainly due to fear, and the need to transfer blame.

In National Self-Sufficiency, John Maynard Keynes states that England’s vast trading network was “the explanation before man and the justification before Heaven of her economic supremacy.” This statement reflects the views of most European countries; their respective races were superiorto all others. After WWI, Europe began to lose control of its colonies. For example, the British were facing resistance to their rule in India. In addition to this, natives of those colonies were immigrating to the mother nations; there were Algerians in France and Chinese in England, to name a few. To nations that had been mainly of homogenous race up to this point, this immigration was a shock and an unwelcome change. Fear began to spread among whites of these people with different skin color, culture and language. Whites needed a way to establish themselves as the superior race and to keep their race pure. Thus, they turned to eugenics.

Not only was Europe physically destroyed by WWI, the global economic crisis of 1929 ruined its still weak economies. A general sense that someone needed to be blamed was felt through out the continent; who better to blame than these new races or less superior races within European nations? Especially in Germany, who shouldered the majority of the blame, according to the Treaty of Versailles, for WWI, this need was felt; the blame was placed mainly the Jews. During WWI, Jews held the majority of the seats in German parliament, and were the ones who agreed to a cease-fire. After the war, German officers came forward and said that they could have won if it weren’t for the armistice. This fueled hatred for the Jews. Eugenics became popular as a scientific way to justify this hatred. In this German eugenics propaganda poster, Germans are being told that they must take the burden for degenerates and those who are not as genetically fit. Taking these attitudes into account, it is not surprising that the Holocaust occurred.

Eugenics was a recognized science in Europe during the interwar period. Eugenists and those who supported eugenics were not extremists, but were close to mainstream thought. Eugenics was driven by fear and the search for an outlet for blame, and was itself an underlying factor in the Second World War.

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National Identity: the Role of Eugenics and Culture

Leora Auslander’s “’National Taste?’ Citizenship Law, State Form, and Everyday Aesthetics in Modern France and Germany, 1920-1940” described the way in which the French and German nations had dealt with the issue of identity and citizenship, specifically in terms of the Jewish populations. This text illustrated the similarities between Parisian and Berliner Jews and the larger French and German populations. These groups were marginalized in various and different ways in each country, but, through analyzing personal belongs and furnishings, Auslander discovered a cultural cohesion throughout the groups. Because the Jews and the non-Jewish French and German populations decorated their houses in much the same way (the French decorated similarly, but their style was different from that of the German populations), indicating that these populations (German or French versus Jewish) were not fundamentally different as many eugenicists had argued during this same era.

Throughout the Interwar Period especially, eugenics evolved and advanced as an area of study that gained more and more influence in politics. In Chapter Four of Breeding Superman, the author, Dan Stone argues that eugenics held a key place in British politics throughout the beginning of the 20th Century, as the Empire fought to preserve its strength. This same argument can be applied to France and Germany during this period. Both countries became more concerned with the strength of their populations, especially in light of the massive loses caused by World War I. Each of these three countries defined citizenship differently, though each definition inherently placed some groups above others. The Jews in each case were understood to be inferior to the “native” population. In France, however, this argument became more complex as there was a hierarchy between French Jews and foreign Jews. (This distinction would prove to be very important as both the Occupied and Non-occupied Zones began to deport Jews in 1942.)

Eugenics was not the sole factor in this hierarchy. Auslander explains in “’National Taste?’” that culture was another very important aspect in determining national identity. Citizenship in France became directly linked to culture as the law changed to jus soli (citizenship determined by territory of birth). That is not to say, however, that eugenics did not influence the French during this period. Eugenics shaped politics or political thought throughout most of Europe. While many aspects of eugenics were racist, as Stone acknowledges, this was not forcibly the case; today, people across the world view eugenics in a very negative light due to the policies and actions of Nazi Germany during the war.

Dark Continent Critical Summary

The first four chapters of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent cover a vast range of topics pertaining to democracy, and general forms of leadership throughout the inter-war years.  Several countries struggled to reform their own government, while simultaneously attempting to find a system that would work for the entire continent.  According to Mazower, the inter-war period in Europe was a time of great instability, and a constant struggle between democracy and absolutism, and each country has its own specific history that ultimately impacted the continent as a whole.

Each chapter of Dark Continent has a broader theme, then Mazower provides a brief introduction, and goes on to divide the topic into sub-categories.  At the end of each chapter, he concludes the topic neatly and concisely.  This is a very useful method of depicting different events in history, because the reader is able to view the progression of a certain phenomenon while reading, and easily locate that information later.  For example, the first chapter describes the rise and fall of democracy.  Mazower takes the reader through the history middle-class reforms, the Soviet system, facism, political polarization and the eventual downfall of democracy.  Though each specific story is incredibly specific, and somewhat circuitous, Mazower manages to present the information in such a way that allows the reader to understand several different angles of one overarching topic.

Mazower also succeeds in producing a book that discusses a rare period of history in Europe: the inter-war era.  Many sources describing European history throughout the early- to mid-1900 are focus primarily on the first and second World Wars.  However, Mazower provides an invaluable glimpse into European history between the wars.  For example, instead of writing about Hitler’s Germany within the context of World War II, he described Hitlerism’s antagonistic relationship with the League of Nations, and how this impacted Europe as a whole.  The comparison between Hitlerism and the League of Nations, and many other crucial elements of European history, are not often discussed because they tend to be overshadowed by the two World Wars.

I would recommend Dark Continent to any undergraduate, graduate student, or anybody who is interested in learning about this fascinating era following World War I.  Mazower succeeds in presenting his ideas in an organized, concise and entertaining way.

Critical Summary of Chapters 1-4 of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent

The first four chapters of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent proves to be both an informative and transformative excerpt from this book. The chapters clear up all misconceptions that, through a series of certain calculated events, fascism somehow prevailed over democracy and therefore World War II was inevitable. However, it is discovered that  fascism was not a dark blip in Europe’s modern history. These chapters take a thematic approach, rather than a territorial approach, to explain exactly what was happening in both Western and Eastern Europe that led to both the development and breakdown of the democratic system and the rise of authoritarian powers.

This thematic approach may prove beneficial for a reader looking for common themes across several different countries. However, it may also be very confusing especially when Mazower is talking about England in one paragraph, and Hungary in the next. Similarly, some countries such as Russia and Germany are talked about far more than others. However, due to the nature of what was happening in those territories at the time, it can be understood that the events that took place there were talked about in more detail than others since the themes talked about, such as communism or nationalism, often happened in those countries at their core. Despite Mazower’s sometimes unbalanced way of looking at certain events, I found that the most beneficial part of this book was how the content was organized within the individual themes. For example, in Chapter 3, the topic of Eugenics comes up frequently, leading to a further discussion about racism. Mazower breaks this down with how each country dealt with it. Countries such as Poland, Hungary, Germany, and Greece were hard supporters of racist ideals such as anti-semitism. However, France and Britain saw both sides of the issue. He goes on to explain exactly what this meant for country policies and the Eugenics movement at this time.

The book does an especially great job at supporting it’s thesis’ with evidence from countless outside sources. They come from everywhere; constitutions, treaties, scholars from several different countries, journalists, critics, the leaders themselves, and so on. These sources collectively support the same ideas Mazower is trying to get through to us. The main theme of the book can always be found in his supporting arguments and sources. Democracy sometimes fails.

Dark Continent was written for an audience with a basic knowledge of European history. For this reason, I can absolutely recommend this book for undergraduates. These chapters, for me, took what I learned in secondary school and added details and context to the basic facts. The most important thing these chapters can do is explain the reasons for the area in history Europe wants to so desperately forget. “The reason why ‘fascisms’ come into being, is the political and social failure of liberal democracy’. (p. 17)