Learning the Wrong Lesson from Weimar

President Paul von Hindenburg and Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany en route to a May Day celebration in Berlin, May 1, 1933
President Paul von Hindenburg and Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany en route to a May Day celebration in Berlin, May 1, 1933 (Bundesarchiv)

Tyler Cowen argues in Politico that fascism cannot happen in America because its government is too large and too complex:

No matter who is elected, the fascists cannot control the bureaucracy, they cannot control all the branches of American government, they cannot control the judiciary, they cannot control semi-independent institutions such as the Federal Reserve and they cannot control what is sometimes called “the deep state.”

Cowen then bases his argument on the size of government relative to the economy, citing estimates that Weimar Germany taxed and spent about a third of GDP.

I think this is misguided. Read more

Hemisphere Defense or Sea Command: America’s Choice in 1940

Map of a proposed hemispheric defense for the United States from Life magazine, July 8, 1940
Map of a proposed hemispheric defense for the United States from Life magazine, July 8, 1940

On the eve of America’s entry into World War II, George Fielding Eliot reported for Life magazine that the country essentially had three ways to defend itself against an Axis invasion.

He rejected the first option, a purely defensive strategy, out of hand. Protecting just the United States, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and Samoa, but not Canada, Greenland, Newfoundland and South America, would allow Germany and Japan to gain footholds in the Americas.

The whole of military history rises up to warn us that this is the inevitable prelude to defeat.

The choice, he argued, was between hemisphere defense and sea command. Read more

The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Empire in Maps

Japan's imperial ambitions as depicted in the 1945 American propaganda film Why We Fight: War Comes to America
Japan’s imperial ambitions as depicted in the 1945 American propaganda film Why We Fight: War Comes to America

It is debatable when the history of the Japanese Empire began. One can go back to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, but wasn’t the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War, fought over influence in Korea, really the starting point of Japanese imperialism?

Or the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War? Fought for influence in Korea as well as Manchuria.

Or 1910, when Japan annexed Korea?

A watershed moment came in 1931, when Japan occupied Manchuria. There was no doubt at that point the island nation had become a colonial and an expansionist power. Read more

Mapping the Soviet Invasion of Western Europe

1987 American Defense Department map of a speculative Soviet invasion of Western Europe
1987 American Defense Department map of a speculative Soviet invasion of Western Europe (TechConex)

As late as 1987, two years before the Berlin Wall came down, the United States seriously considered the possibility that the Soviet Union might start World War III.

This Defense Department map shows the broad outline of a two-pronged Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Planners expected one army to march across the Northern European Plain into the Low Countries and another to dive across Bavaria into France and the Iberian Peninsula.

At the time, the Soviets had thirty forward-deployed divisions in Eastern European to spearhead an invasion force with another 94 in Western Russia. NATO was outnumbered and counted on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation to deter the Reds.

Atomic weapons played a different role in Warsaw Pact planning. Far from a last resort, they were envisaged as something like big artillery pieces that could clear the way for a ground invasion. Read more

Countries That Almost Existed

The world could soon add two new countries. In Catalonia and Kurdistan, referendums have been held to secede from Spain and Iraq, respectively.

Neither would be universally recognized. Spain doesn’t even recognize a Catalan right to self-determination. Iran, Iraq and Turkey all oppose Kurdish statehood.

International recognition is often a stumbling block for would-be states. Consider the likes of Kosovo, Somaliland, South Ossetia and Transnistria.

Others don’t even get to that point. Here are ten countries that remained on the drawing board. Read more

The Impossible Partition of India

Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947
Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947

Seventy years ago this week British India was split in two, creating the nations of India and Pakistan, which have been at each other’s throats since.

The partition was carried out a little-known British civil servant, Cyril Radcliffe. A lawyer by training, Radcliffe was given the impossible task of dividing the subcontinent into Hindu- and Muslim-majority states. Read more

The Octopus in Political Cartoons

Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.

Here is a selection of the best and worst tentacled sea creatures. Read more