No one likes to be misunderstood; however, sometimes we cannot control how people perceive our actions. The two short readings on Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) present two contrasting narratives about his character and manner of rule. The first document is the account of Heinrich von Staden – a foreigner who served Ivan IV. The account describes Ivan’s seemingly unrelenting and unrestrained violence. He sacked prosperous cities, burned and looted churches, let his henchmen run wild, and killed countless kin. ((Heinrich von Staden, “A Foreigner Describes the Oprichnina of Tsar Ivan the Terrible,” in Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings 860s-1860s, ed. Daniel H. Kaiser and Gary Marker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 152-153.)) According to this account, Ivan IV lived up to his epithet: a man of terrible, unchecked violence. However, Russian History Nancy Shields Kollmann depicts the power structure between the Grand Prince and the boyars as much more intricate. Accounts, according to Kollmann, of a Grand Prince or Tsar’s autocratic rule result from a conscious, collective decision to maintain an image of autocracy. ((Nancy Shields Kollmann “The Facade of Autocracy,” in Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings 860s-1860s, ed. Daniel H. Kaiser and Gary Marker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 155.)) Promulgating an account of the Tsar’s autocracy actually helped maintain peace among the boyars: the Tsar’s administrative resources. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 156.)) Kollmann even references Ivan IV and his expressed desire for peace among the boyars and their help in maintaining order. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 155.))
In a sense, the dog’s bark is worse than it’s bite. Perhaps the stories about Ivan are embellished to instill fear and respect throughout the population. Perhaps, a middle ground is also acceptable. Ivan IV committed atrocious violent acts on those who challenged his rule. I do not doubt that he committed terrible acts of violence against members of the church, against cities such as Novgorod, his own family, etc. which extended beyond the precedent established by his predecessors. However, violence stood the keystone of effective rule throughout the world during the 15th and 16th centuries. This was the period of Machiavelli and murderous popes of “Bloody” Mary I of England and her unrelenting persecution of Protestants. Ivan’s actions fit the norms of a very violent period in history.
Wednesday we discussed how Ivan reformed several aspects of his administration. Under these reforms, do you feel that his violent actions were excessive and earn him the title of “Ivan the Terrible”?
In “States of Exception: the Nazi-Soviet War as a System of Violence, 1939-1945” Mark Edele and Michael Geyer analyze the mindset of war and the onset of extreme violence in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The authors posit that the devastation and violence that accompanied the war was a result of the mutual hostility between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Additionally they argue that this war was fought “as a war on an interior and an exterior front” and that the escalation and radicalization of the war had a tremendous psychological impact on soldiers which further contributed to the prevalence of violence. ((Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception.” In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009: 348-350.)).
Several particularly interesting aspects discussed throughout this article were the ideas of an interior/exterior war and the thoughts and actions of soldiers in context to the “win and live or lose and die” mindset ((Edele and Geyer. “States of Exception.” 359.)). Both countries waged war internally against those they saw as inferior or detrimental to the cause. For the Soviet Union, it threatened extermination to individuals that did not adhere to their ideology. Similarly, Germany practiced such extermination policies on the Jewish population. Edele and Geyer cite that the Holocaust was the “pivotal aspect of this civil war of all-out extermination”. ((Edele and Geyer. “States of Exception.” 349)).
On the exterior front, soldiers engaged in incredibly violent acts. Beyond coercion and fear the Germany army created tactical policies based on the idea that people are more inclined to kill when “motivated by a concrete social unit” ((Edele and Geyer. “States of Exception.” 387-388)). The Soviet Union also used similar techniques to promote emotional ties among soldiers. Because of the high mortality rates, both armies used emotional bonds between soldiers to promote ideas of hatred, revenge and violence on the enemy who killed their comrade. These feelings dehumanized the enemy and many soldiers saw the enemy not as individuals but as “foul beasts, drunk with blood” ((Edele and Geyer. “States of Exception.” 390)). Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union used the powerful combination of a dehumanized enemy and strong emotional ties between soldiers to further perpetuate such atrocities.
In a previous class when we discussed the Great Purges in Sheila Fitzpatrick’s article “A Time of Troubles”. At the end of the class we came to the conclusion that this type of state violence was a result of the Soviet state being hyper-rational. Can the type of extreme violence seen during the Nazi-Soviet War be explained rationally or logically? Why or why not? On a second note, what would you argue to be the main catalyst(s) for the escalation of violence during this period?
Violence in Warfare. Mark Edele and Michael Geyers chapter focused on the type of warfare that occurred on the Eastern front in World War II. They discussed how both of these sides introduced a type of warfare that did not involve “virtue and honor” but rather it involved such ideas as radicalization and barbarization. ((Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. 345)) These two authors look at how this front evolved from a simple war into an all out struggle for domination.
Radicalization and Barbarization are two terms that really struck me in this chapter. Radicalization, to these authors meant that the two countries amped up the war by getting either the government or the people more involved in the conflict. For the Nazis, it was promote the fundamental idea that the opposing side presented a threat to their country and had to be stopped through warfare. For the Soviet Union, it was to mobilize its population to oppose the threat presented by the Nazis. This radicalization, as stated by the two authors was the escalation of the war through “hate propaganda, word of mouth, and experience.” ((Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. 350)) The state would use tools to mobilize its own population to fight more aggressively against the other side. The authors would argue that as a result of these tools used on the population, the radicalization, or amping up of war would result in Barbarization. Edele and Geyer believed that Barbarization meant that the opposing side had to be destroyed completely. In other words, “each side fights until one side is utterly and completely subjugated, incapable of renewing itself on its own devices.” ((Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. 350))
The fundamental ideas of radicalization and barbarization to describe the Eastern front made sense to me because of how the Nazis and Hitler had justified invading the Soviet Union and likewise with the Soviet Union mobilizing to defend the homeland. In the nature of warfare, if one side escalates a conflict, the other side would be in its nature to respond to that escalation. In the Nazis and Soviet cases, each side believed that they were fighting for something, which in turn would have created more motivation . For the Nazis, they felt that the Soviet Union was valuable and easily conquerable. They wanted “control of the Russian space and its resources” which they felt would have “made Germany invulnerable.” ((Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. 352)) For Germany, this was the radicalization of the war. On the Soviet side, the radicalization of the war was to defend their homeland from a threat who wanted to stop at nothing to crush the socialist society and capture their resources. In a sense, the radicalization of two polarizing countries led to a barbarization of a war, a war in which two countries used all means necessary to try and conquer the other.
Do you agree with the authors use of Radicalization and Barbarization? Do you think there is a relationship between the two based off the interpretations of the authors? Finally, although I am no fan of the term “inevitability”, do you think the scale of violence used on the eastern front was inevitable considering the polarizing differences between the two sides?
In the article “States of Exception”, the authors Mark Edele and Michael Geyer examine the extraordinary and unique violence that occurred on the Eastern front, the conflict between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The authors assert that the relationship between the two states produced the violence, and it’s escalation. They argue that “the devastating nature of this war, [they] suggest, is the consequence of the inimical interrelationship of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union” ((Edele, Mark, and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception.” In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Shelia Fitzpatrick, 345-395. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)). No one event, action, or side assumes complete responsibility for the barbarism that defined the Eastern front.
The authors highlight numerous historical events, trends, and statements that reinforce the cyclical nature of the escalation. The authors identify that the escalation grew from the bottom up ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 358)). Additionally, the authors write that this escalation of violence resulted in and corresponded with the extermination/persecution of various religious, ethnic, and social groups within both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This specific movement of growth developed out of Nazi Germany’s deliberate loosening of its control over the actions of lower leaders ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 351)). This notion seems to support the structuralist view of Hitler’s role in regards to the Holocaust and also the overall decentralized structure of the Nazi state as outlined in Nicholas Stargardt’s article, “The Holocaust” and Ian Kershaw’s article, “Hitler and the Holocaust.” However, the state’s role in inducing a bottom up escalation of the violence seemingly contradicts the very nature of a free and self perpetuating violence. Furthermore, the entire notion of reciprocity, that the violence of the Soviet Union encouraged the escalation of violence by Nazi Germany and visa versa, undermines the authors’ arguments that the violence truly originated from the bottom.
Both Stalin and Hitler reacted to and encouraged shifts in their respective army’s display and direction of violence ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 369, 353 )). Do you think that the violence and its unique development actually developed from the bottom? Also, the authors argue that the radicalization of violence actually developed out of a sense of pragmatism. Do you think this pragmatism reinforces or undermines the uniqueness and bottom up movement of the violence?
In the chapter “States of Exception” from Beyond Totalitarianism, by Mark Edele and Michael Geyer, the question of the Eastern Front of World War II is tackled. The most particularly fascinating thing about this study is the unprecedented ruthlessness of the respective campaigns and how they escalated drastically in their unrestrained violence. The separation drawn between the projected measures to be used in accordance with the military planning of the German invasion into the Soviet Union and the actualities of the war (excessive violence with no regard for the humanity of the opposing side) is notable throughout the chapter as a major theme, as it reveals quite a bit about the methods of warfare each country resorted to in the conflict.
One major point of interest here is Hitler’s interest in wiping out the Jews and Bolsheviks as a primary influencing factor in the strategic planning of German forces. This contributed to what amounted to nothing short of “targeted murder” of a vast population of Soviet citizens. ((Edele, Mark and Geyer, Michael. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 357. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.)) Such an assault inspired resolve within the Soviets to fight until the last, which sparked a brutal conflict that took an incredible number of lives. The Nazi policy of all-out warfare in pursuit of a swift and total victory was applied towards this end, and though it had proven effective in France the circumstances which surrounded the Eastern Front were not conducive to the success of such a strategy.
Furthermore, the atrocities committed by the Soviets in warfare were responded to by similar acts of cruelty from the German side. The chapter rationalizes the German response by posing such circumstances as Soviet scorched-earth tactics and the mutilation of prisoners of war. It seems from the reading that failing to recognize the humanity of the other side directly inflates the level and intensity of violence in warfare.
The Madness from Within is an interesting documentary that examines the causes, events, and consequences of the Irish Civil War through interviews and archival footage. On June 28th 1922, after the Irish War of Independence and the establishment of the Irish Free State, the Irish Civil War began. Conflict arose between two opposing groups of Irish nationalists, the Free State and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), over the Anglo-Irish treaty. The Free State triumphed over the Irish Republicans, thanks to the money, weapons, and support from the British. It was a short yet bloody war and the ramifications are still very much present in Ireland.
The part I found most interesting about the documentary is the unrest Ireland is currently experiencing because of the Civil War. Today, the IRA has a modern sect formed by the direct descendants of the original IRA. They are not afraid to use arms if necessary. This shows how there is still an immense amount of conflict within Ireland, and they are not a united country.
One of the main reasons the IRA may never be satisfied is because of their disdain for negotiation. Their mistrust comes from the original negotiation with Britain in 1921. Due to the IRA’s unwillingness to negotiate, I do not think the political unrest will ever die down in Ireland. They will continue to have power struggles and acts of violence until the IRA is willing to sit down, listen, and negotiate with others. Although it is impossible for everyone to get what they want, there could be a way to compromise.
As time goes on, will the younger generations care less about the past and be able to move forward from a century of conflict?