Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Comment on Braumoeller (first installment)

I've just taken a quick look through B. Braumoeller's paper arguing that interstate war is not in decline.

This post comments on a passage that appears early in the paper. I will have more to say about the paper as a whole, or other aspects of it, later on.

In discussing the two world wars of the 20th century, Braumoeller writes on p. 3 that:
World War II may have been begun by Hitler, but the ground was made fertile for him by the punitive peace of World War I and the crushing terms of German reparations. The Allies took these steps knowing full well that there was a risk of substantial backlash: although no one could have foreseen Hitler, some hypernationalist response leading to a Great Power war was hardly out of the question.
In fact, there is, at a minimum, serious historiographical debate about whether the terms of the Versailles treaty were indeed 'punitive'. I discovered this a while ago in the course of reading the roughly 350 comments attached to a post of last May 7 at Crooked Timber. Eric Rauchway's post "Sympathy and the Sources of Keynes's Critique of the Peace" sparked a long comment thread that contained contributions from an historian (writing pseudonymously) who maintained that the Versailles settlement was not punitive. This commenter wrote (among other things):
Nobody tried to squeeze “the German lemon” dry. Go read Sally Marks. The reparations imposed on Germany were below what Keynes thought doable. Sally Marks established this over forty years ago.
The peace was not punitive....  The peace was largely a form of restorative justice intended to repair the enormous damage done to Belgium and northern France (much of it as Germany retreated). The only element that can be considered punitive was Jan Smuts' insertion of the war pensions into the reparations....

Now obviously this is one viewpoint, but it became clear in the course of the thread that there is serious historiographical debate on this issue. By failing to acknowledge that and simply repeating what many of us were taught in high school -- namely, the peace was punitive and the reparations "crushing" -- Braumoeller gets his paper off to a somewhat rickety start.

This is a minor point but not completely negligible. I will have something to say about more central parts of Braumoeller's argument later.

P.s. (added later): Does it matter to the point Braumoeller is making here, namely that Hitler  shouldn't be seen as the indispensable (i.e. necessary) prerequisite of WW2? It does somewhat, because if the peace in fact was not all that punitive but was inclined to be seen as punitive by large segments of the German public, then Hitler's demagogic skills were arguably quite vital to helping shape and reinforce a distorted view of the treaty in the public's mind. (And this of course was connected to other parts of the German right wing's perspective on WW1, such as the "stab in the back" thesis.)


Ronan said...

Nice posts, very informative.
Just to say for now, I picked up on the same thing with Braumoeller (also based on that comment section)..not that its here nor there, but interesting(kind of)

Ronan said...

what I meant by this:

not that its here nor there, but interesting(kind of)

was its interesting that it jumped out at me as well (whether or not it undermines his larger point I dont know)

LFC said...


I don't think it has v much to do w his larger pt but I couldn't resist pointing it out.

I have some other thoughts but I need to read the paper more carefully before posting them.
As you know, Braumoeller is a pol scientist not a historian but his work, which I am cursorily familiar w some of, blends history and quantitative analysis. He has written one article I am aware of w/o any numbers or formal modeling, but only the one.

Ronan said...

He actually wrote a decent book recently laying out a new systemic theory of IR (you should have a look) and looks at big enough questions (a new one he has is on the liberal peace, a few on isolationism)The quant stuff is difficult, for me personally, to get through, though I hope by reading it I can take it in by osmosis

Agree this doesnt effect his larger point, but think the argument is also simplified (about post war Europe) a little so as to fit the argument of his book (though its a good book. Interesting)

LFC said...

I'm aware of the bk but haven't read it. I have, however, read (or 3/4 read) an article of his in Am Pol Sci Rev that was basically the bk in shorter form.

In fact I started to draft a post on that article a long time ago but never finished the post and thus never put it up. (Offhand I don't remember exactly what I said in the part that I drafted.)

This new paper of his on the (supposed) non-decline of interstate war is something I definitely intend to read and address. May not have time to read it thoroughly until the weekend. After all, Phil Arena apparently likes it, which means that I can't. [Just kidding, Phil, in case you're passing by here. ;)]

Anonymous said...

There was going to be *a* war. Neither Germany nor Russia was reconciled to the existence of Poland.

Some nationalist figure, perhaps a general, would have kicked Weimar over at some point. Would he have been greedy enough or clumsy enough to set the Allies' teeth on edge like Hitler eventually did, or would it have been a local war, just another partition of Poland? None can say.

LFC said...

Interesting point. Seems plausible. Must remain a bit non-committal on it due to gaps in my own knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Even Streseman, who used to be the "oh if he'd only lived" darling of the historians, viewed the eastern borders as provisional. I think I picked that up from Gordon Craig, Germany 1866-1945.

LFC said...

Rings a bell, though I haven't read the Craig bk.

E.H. Carr in 'What is History?', iirc, uses Streseman (or is it two n's?) to make some pt or other (how's that for vague!!!) but I can't look it up rt now. Later, perhaps.

LFC said...

Haven't forgotten the BB paper and my intent to say more about it. Various things have caused delay but I will get to it.