For my America and the World course I’ve been reading We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History by John Lewis Gaddis. The twentieth century isn’t really my thing, but I’ve really enjoyed this book.
One of the themes running through We Now Know is that the Soviet Union operated with a number of disadvantages. Its authoritarian structure could not create and maintain alliances as well as the democratic U.S., which was more accustomed to compromises and building coalitions. The USSR therefore had to coerce its “allies,” whereas allies of the U.S. enjoyed more flexibility and initiative. And since there was nobody in a position to say “no” to a Stalin or a Khrushchev, nobody could stop them when they pursued a course that was misguided, as they tended to do often. (Gaddis notes that “there seems to have been something about authoritarians that caused them to lose touch with reality.”)
One of the few things the USSR had going for it was the appearance of military strength, which brings us to this delightful metaphor:
The end of the Cold War made it blindingly clear that military strength does not always determine the course of great events: the Soviet Union collapsed, after all, with its arms and armed forces fully intact. Deficiencies in other kids of power—economic, ideological, cultural, moral—caused the USSR to lose its superpower status, and we can now see that a slow but steady erosion in those non-military capabilities had been going on for some time.
To visualize what happened, imagine a troubled triceratops. From the outside, as rivals contemplated its sheer size, tough skin, bristling armament, and aggressive posturing, the beast looked sufficiently formidable that none dared tangle with it. Appearances deceived, though, for within its digestive, circulatory, and respiratory systems were slowly clogging up, and then shutting down. There were few external signs of this until the day the creature was found with all four feet in the air, still awesome but now bloated, stiff, and quite dead. The moral of the fable is that armaments make impressive exoskeletons, but a shell alone ensures the survival of no animal and no state (p. 284).
These words of wisdom turned up in my pending comments: “When some one searches for his vital thing, therefore he/she desires to be available that in detail, so that thing is maintained over here.”
How profound. How pithy. And how eternally true.
We just had our annual John Sevier Days Living History Weekend at Marble Springs, along with our “Sevier Soirée” fundraiser. Thanks to everybody who stopped by; I think both events went over really well.
It gave me a good excuse to take a brief respite from doctoral work and do a little public history. I really enjoyed the time I spent working in museums, and interpretation was always my favorite part of the job. Part of me has always missed it, so it was nice to get to do it again this weekend.
Plus, there’s nothing like sitting on the step by the door of the Sevier cabin and listening to an afternoon rain shower. Rain doesn’t do much for visitation, but something about the way it sounds against a two-hundred-year-old roof is just wonderful.
I’m taking a seminar on African history this semester, and we’re supposed to write a substantial research paper on a topic in which Africa intersects with our own area of research.
Inspired by my visit to the USS Constellation a few months ago, I thought I might look into the US Navy’s suppression of the slave trade in the Civil War era, maybe examining how this activity changed between the Buchanan and Lincoln administrations or something along those lines.
So here’s a question for you naval history folks out there. What sources would you suggest? I know where to go to find presidential documents, but I want to see what the Navy itself was doing, and if possible get some accounts from the sailors who were confronting the slave trade in person to see how they felt about it. Help a landlubber like me get started.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I’m a big fan of Gen. Nathanael Greene. This project is definitely worthy of your support:
The Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead, a National Historic Landmark in Coventry RI, is a house museum located in Spell Hall, the home built in 1770 by George Washington’s most trusted general and Revolutionary War Hero of the South, Nathanael Greene, once had a beautiful colonial barn.
This barn was torn down when the property was sold out of the family and subdivided in the early 20th century. We are hoping to raise $75,000 to build a replica of the barn on our remaining 11 acres of the original Homestead for use as a classroom, for educational programs and special events. If you would like to help contribute to this project we are gladly accepting donations.
The Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead is a 501 (c)3 non-profit
Visit us on the web at
on Facebook at :
And speaking of the homes of Rev War heroes, don’t forget about our Sevier Soirée at Marble Springs on September 20. We’ll have BBQ, live music, and open-hearth appetizers, and we’ll be auctioning off some nifty stuff, too. The deadline to reserve a spot is September 15.
We’re throwing a bash at Marble Springs State Historic Site in three weeks, and you’re all invited. Here’s the deal.
Sept. 20-21 is our annual John Sevier Days Living History Weekend. On Saturday from 10:00 to 5:00 and Sunday from 12:00 to 5:00 we’ll have reenacting, demonstrations, crafts, food, historic presentations, and tours of the buildings. Admission is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for kids aged seven to fifteen; kids six and under get in free.
Saturday night there’ll be a little something extra. We’ll be having our second annual Sevier Soirée fundraiser on Sept. 20 from 6:30 to 8:30, with a BBQ dinner, open-hearth appetizers, live music, and a silent auction. Tickets to the soirée are $50 per person. Reserve your seat before Sept. 15 online, by mail (P.O. Box 20195 Knoxville, TN 37940) or via phone at (865) 573-5508.
It’ll be a blast. Hope to see some of you there!