Euro Vision! Leah’s Video for Week 9, Day 1 (Mazower, chapter 8)

Hello, Europeanists! Welcome to Week 9. Today our teaching assistant is Dante. I have a few quick announcements for you.

First, thank you to all who posted on the blog last week! I’m recording this on Sunday, March 29, and about half of you have posted your comments. I think it’s going well so far! I appreciate the close reading and critical thinking you all are doing.  I think we’re still managing to have a substantive discussion to the best of our abilities, given the limits of this format. For those of you who have not managed to post on the blog yet, I want to reiterate that that’s okay. Whenever you get your comments posted, you will get full credit. But I recommend that you try to keep up with our regular schedule, so things don’t pile up on you. Also, if you opt to respond to my discussion questions, I want to clarify that you do not need to answer all of them. You can just pick one question to focus on. If you have a particular situation that is making it hard for you to post on the blog, please let me know by email.

Also, this week we are reading excerpts from Heda Margolius Kovaly’s memoir Under a Cruel Star. In case anyone doesn’t have their book with them, I’ve scanned the assigned pages and posted them under Week 9 Reading & Viewing for you on the course website.

Another thing to keep your eye on is that we are coming up on the final paper assignment. Sometime this week I will email the assignment to you and post it on the blog.

So, let’s get to work on chapter 8 of Mazower’s Dark Continent, which is our subject for today. This will be a bit of a long video, since we have so much to cover. Last week, we talked about the rise of the Cold War in the late 1940s, as the wartime alliance between Western Europe, the US, and the Soviet Union broke down and into a situation of mutual suspicion. This week, we’re looking at Eastern Europe during the height of the Cold War, in the 1950s and 1960s. I’m not going to give you a full lecture about this era, but I will go over some key events, which will help to contextualize the assigned reading for this week.

Mazower gives you a pretty good overview of the establishment Soviet-friendly regimes in the Eastern Bloc. As he details, this was not the result of a fully worked out master plan. Rather, it was a process. It took time, and its course was altered by events as they unfolded. These new regimes were of course heavily influenced by events in the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union, in turn, was influenced by them. I’m going to trace some of those interactions for you now.

As I noted in last week’s video, Stalin remained in power the Soviet Union after WWII until his death in 1953. These years, which we call the Late Stalinist Era, were marked by both sacrifices and successes. Despite the major destruction the Soviet Union suffered during the war, it managed to rebuild its prewar industrial capacity by 1950. But this was achieved on the backs of ordinary citizens, who endured serious deprivation in these years. This era also saw a series of ideological campaigns launched against artists and intellectuals, which disproportionately targeted Jewish citizens. These campaigns drew both on internal concerns about re-establishing the state’s authority and on external concerns as the Cold War got underway. They also introduced a tone of official anti-Semitism that was new in Soviet discourse.

Stalin died in 1953 and was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev had a very different political style. He was no Stalin, and he knew it. But Stalin’s legacy still had to be dealt with. Khrushchev decided the best way to proceed was through de-Stalinization. The centerpiece of this new policy was Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech,” in which he officially acknowledged and denounced Stalin’s crimes and urged the Party to return to the path of Lenin. At the same time, Khrushchev released many Stalin Era convicts from the Gulag and introduced a new openness into society and culture by reducing censorship and making it more possible for Soviet citizens to interact with the West. Thanks to this change in tone, the Khrushchev era is known as the “Thaw.”

All of this had a huge impact on Soviet society, as well as on the societies of the Eastern Bloc. As in the West, the generation that came of age after the war was less interested in politics than in private life. They wanted to hang out, have fun, dance, go to the movies. They were also really interested in Western music and fashion, which they had more access to under Khrushchev. Their desires dovetailed with Khrushchev’s new emphasis on light industry, new housing, and consumer goods. In the 1950s and 1960s, even as the US and Soviet Union competed furiously in the space race and development of nuclear weapons, a major focus of their Cold War competition revolved around who could best provide “the good life” for their citizens. As Mazower explains, in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, this new generation’s materialism worried their parents and governments, even as their desires were shaped by official policy.

The Soviet Union’s radical change of direction under Khrushchev had a major impact in the Eastern Bloc nations, which, as you read, had just survived a tumultuous decade of consolidating new communist regimes, urbanizing and industrializing their economies, and suffering through Stalinist political purges. Serious effects were felt across the Bloc. In June 1956, Polish workers in the city of Poznan staged a protest against their poor conditions, which spread across the country and forced the government to institute Khrushchev-style reforms. Four months later, in October 1956, intellectuals and students in Hungary launched a similar movement. In this case, the hardline head of the Communist Party was ousted and replaced by a reformer, who tried to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. Khrushchev ordered Warsaw Pact troops to intervene, and the revolution was crushed. This was deeply shocking for Soviet citizens and Eastern Europeans. It’s worth considering how Khrushchev’s decision-making here was shaped by his political apprenticeship under Stalin.

Despite generally warmer relations with the West during the Khrushchev Thaw, the Cold War never let up. In fact, some of its tensest moments date to this era. The divided Germanies continued to be a locus of tension, though both countries also benefitted from heavy investment by the superpowers. West Berlin was a particular thorn in the Soviets’ side. East German citizens used the city to flee to the West by the thousands in the 1950s. In 1959, Khrushchev finally demanded that Western forces withdraw from the city, which they refused to do. Tensions ramped up for the better part of two years, until, on the night of August 12, 1961, Soviet troops constructed the Berlin Wall, and the Western powers decided not to fight it. Berliners were the chief victims of this development. Families found themselves separated, and over the next three decades, hundreds of people were killed trying to cross.

By the early 1960s, Khrushchev was becoming increasingly erratic. Famously, he nearly brought on WWIII when, in 1962, he got the bright idea to send Soviet missiles to newly-communist Cuba, which triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then embarrassingly had to back down. Fed up with such missteps, the Politburo ousted him in 1964 and replaced him with Leonid Brezhnev, who remained in power until his death in 1982.

Brezhnev was more conservative than Khrushchev, and also more of a hard-liner. This became clear in 1968, when a Khrushchev-style reformer, Alexander Dubček, became the leader of Czechoslovakia. Dubček wanted to create what he called “socialism with a human face”—to address areas of popular dissatisfaction, open up the political process to multiparty elections, and build bridges across the Cold War divide. In August 1968, Brezhnev decided Dubček had gone too far. Invoking the Brezhnev Doctrine (which was quite similar to the Truman Doctrine), he sent Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia, deposed Dubček, and forcibly installed a new, more compliant government. This was even more shocking to Soviet and Eastern Bloc citizens than the events in Hungary in 1956. The twelve years between these events had featured openness, moderate reform, and hope. The invasion of Czechoslovakia signaled that the Thaw was definitively over.

In the Soviet Union, the Brezhnev Era was one of shrinking horizons. Increases in censorship, cronyism in government, and the beginnings of economic stagnation caused many Soviet citizens to begin to feel disillusioned. A dissident movement began to take root and built a network of citizens who opposed the government’s policies. It’s important to note that the dissidents still believed in communism. They didn’t want to overthrow the government, but they hoped that it could be reformed from within. For them, the invasion of Czechoslovakia was particularly distressing. They thought the Czech reforms were a good idea and hoped the Soviet government might adopt them. Instead, it crushed them.

These developments—corruption, stagnation, and dissidence—were common across the Eastern Bloc from the late 1960s onward.  We’ll talk about them more in a few weeks, when we learn about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. But now let’s get to some questions about chapter 8 of Dark Continent.

Leah’s Discussion Questions
1. When Mazower writes about the formation of the People’s Democracies, he explains that a lot of Eastern Europeans were genuinely enthusiastic to try out communism and the Soviet model of governance. They hoped it would work better than liberal democracy, which had failed them after WWI. Of course, the Soviet Union would not have willingly let these countries escape its authority, and the West had agreed to respect the Soviet sphere of influence. Here is my question for you: Should we understand the Eastern Bloc as a “Soviet empire,” as the West framed it during the Cold War, or should we see it as an arrangement chosen by Eastern Europeans for their own reasons? What factors must we consider in answering this question?

2. The first decade of communist power in Eastern Europe is difficult to assess. On one hand, communism brought these countries the industrialization and modernization they needed, which interwar capitalism had failed to do. But on the other hand, it also brought them Stalinist terror.  How can we make sense of these intertwined legacies? Do the successes make the suffering worth it? Can we write off the Stalinism and appreciate the long-term effects of the modernization? Or did the Stalinism have just as lasting an effect? What are the implications of a country having such horrors embedded in its foundational moment?

3. Eastern Europe experienced de-Stalinization alongside the Soviet Union. Mazower argues that this de-Stalinization didn’t go far enough. What is his basis for this argument? Does he convince you or not? Was complete de-Stalinization really possible? Can a country ever leave something like that fully in its past? (This is related to Question 2, and you may choose to respond to them together.)

4. The Soviet  Union expanded its economic planning to coordinate with the Eastern Bloc, as well. As Mazower notes, for Eastern European countries this often meant that wealth they produced went to the Soviet Union, rather than staying in the domestic economy. In some ways, this resembles European global empires—but in other ways, it doesn’t. In your analysis, was the Eastern Bloc an economic empire or not? If you think it was an empire, would you extend the same label to other instances of economic coordination like the Marshall Plan in the 1940s-1950s or the European Union today?

5. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, by the 1950s a major area of Cold War competition had to do with which system could most clearly offer “the good life” to its citizens. Consider the communist welfare state as described by Mazower on pp.277-279. Compare it with the postwar welfare states in the West, which we learned about from Beveridge’s “New Britain” speech? Which welfare state would you prefer to live in?

6. In analyzing the postwar generation, Mazower describes a kind of “OK, Boomer” moment. Parents and party leaders kept pushing political ideology on them, but these young people really just wanted to have nice things and enjoy their lives. Even so, Mazower argues that the younger generation’s materialism was based in a worship of modernity, which made them the Party’s children after all. Can you unpack his argument? Are you convinced by it? Why or why not?

Euro Vision! Leah’s Video for Week 8, Day 2: Women’s Rights (Simone de Beauvoir)

Hello, Europeanists! Today we’re going we’re going to turn in a philosophical direction as we discuss Simone de Beauvoir’s iconic feminist treatise, The Second Sex. Our cat today is Dante. Beauvoir was a French philosopher and political activist who lived from 1908-1986. In the 1920s, she studied at the Sorbonne, which is France’s most prestigious university, as a member of the first group of women admitted to universities in France.

Beauvoir graduated second in her class, just behind Jean-Paul Sartre. The two would work together closely for many years. Sartre is most famous for founding a branch of philosophy called existentialism. This is a complex theory, and I’m just going to give you a basic sense of it. Basically, existentialism teaches  that we are all entirely free beings. Whatever we do, whatever we become, is up to us. If you don’t achieve what you wanted, you can’t blame God, because he doesn’t exist. You also can’t blame your nature, or your subconscious, or your external circumstances, because these are all things we can overcome. Thinking optimistically,

existentialism teaches that you can achieve anything you set your mind to, no matter what. Thinking pessimistically, though, it also means that if you don’t achieve things, it’s entirely your fault. For existentialists, we are judged solely by our actions, and only those who make authentic choices are worthy of respect.

Sartre developed this philosophy while he and Beauvoir were working for the Résistance during WWII. I encourage you to think about how that experience shaped his philosophical vision, and also how existentialism influences Beauvoir’s work.

There are a couple of existentialist terms that may be helpful to know. For existentialists, existence (how you live) precedes essence (what kind of person you are). The existent is a person in the world (someone who exists). An existent who is in a state of immanence is someone who has not yet defined themself through action. Transcendence is the process of defining oneself through action. To be stuck in a state of immanence is to be completely disempowered. These ideas play a major role in Beauvoir’s feminist philosophy.

Beauvoir published The Second Sex in 1949, which was a transitional time for women in France and in Europe. As we’ve learned, women had been gaining rights steadily over the course of the 20th century. In much of Europe, women gained the right to vote in the 1920s, though in France they got it only in 1944. European women also entered the workforce en masse during WWII and many fought in resistance movements. By the late 1940s, governments and societies in Western Europe were pressuring women to return to homemaking, just as they had after WWI. In keeping with the turn toward private life that Mazower described, many women did so. But a substantial number were not content to return to a subordinate status and began pushing for greater equality. It was in this context of the early postwar negotiation of women’s role in society that Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex.

This is a hard text to discuss not in real time. I’m going to give you some questions that I hope will help you work through it on your own and through discussion on the blog.

Leah’s Discussion Questions

1. Beauvoir starts with the question, “What is woman?” In the first couple pages, she explores the idea that “female” and “woman” are not coterminous and ponderous the role of the ambiguous concept of “femininity” in separating them. Can you analyze how Beauvoir develops separate ideas of gender and sex here? What do those terms mean to her? How are they different? How does her understanding of sex and gender in 1949 compare to our understanding of these terms today?

2. For Beauvoir, it’s also significant that she asks the question “What is woman?” and not “What is man?” She says that in our society, because Man holds all the power, he has set himself up as the subject, the essential, the self (the Number One Person). Meanwhile, he has relegated Woman to the position of the object, the inessential, the other (the Number Two Person). Can you unpack her thinking in this passage? What does it mean for women to live in a world dominated by men, which forces them to think of themselves as an Inessential Other? How does this compare with your own experience, whether you identify as a woman, a man, or a non-binary person?

3. In their role as an Inessential Other, women share some similarities with other oppressed groups. On pp. 7-10, Beauvoir gives the examples of Jews, African-Americans, and the proletariat. Each of these groups has a way to assert a Subject position (to think of itself as a Self), except for women. Why don’t the strategies that work for these groups work for women? What economic, legal, and other factors keep women from asserting themselves as a group against men? Has she convinced you on this point? Why or why not?

4. The next section I asked you to read is the conclusion of Beauvoir’s account of the history of women’s oppression. This might remind you of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and I encourage you to think about that comparison. Like Woolf, Beauvoir points out that women have gained more rights lately. But, she says, they’re still hemmed in by a world created by men. Exceptional women are just that—exceptional. A woman has to be exceptional to have an impact, because ordinary women are too held back by societal norms to take action. Make a close reading of the second paragraph on p.151 and the one after it (in the middle of p.152). Can you restate Beauvoir’s explanation of this situation in your own words? What does she mean when she writes, “[Women] want transcendence to prevail over immanence in themselves as in all of humanity; they want abstract rights and concrete possibilities to be granted to them, without which freedom is merely mystification.” (Beauvoir 152) What would this look like in practice?

5. What Beauvoir is really talking about in this section is structural inequality, which is a term we’ve explored in other contexts this semester. Make a close reading of p.155. What structural inequalities does she highlight, which hold women back from genuine equality with men? Are these issues still with us today? What are some possible solutions?

6. In the section, on pages 266-274, Beauvoir explores what she calls the myth of the “Eternal Feminine.” What is this myth? What are the attributes of the Myth Woman? How does the myth work to keep women subjugated and keep men in a dominant position? How does the myth work to prevent the development of healthy relationships between men and women? Consider your own life experiences: If we accept Beauvoir’s reasoning about this myth, how does it affect the way you interact with your partner, friends, and family members?

7. Now we move on to women’s situation, which Beauvoir argues has a significant impact on the way they behave in their daily lives. She asserts that women tend to be passive rather than active—but this is because they are so disempowered that they don’t think in terms of action. She writes, “It is mainly because she has never experienced the power of liberty that she does not believe in liberation.” (Beauvoir, 643). Make a close reading of pages 643-645. How does Beauvoir build her argument that that women’s “foolish” behaviors are a result of their situation, not their nature? What would Virginia Woolf think of this argument? How does her belief in the supremacy of nurture (the environment) over nature (innate qualities) derive from her existentialist philosophy? Does she convince you of her claim? Or do you think that women themselves bear some responsibility for thinking their way out of subjugation?

8. On pp. 650-654, Beauvoir addresses the hypocrisy that men bring to the table. In public, a man is all about family values, but in private, he cheats on his wife, sleeps with prostitutes, and demands that his mistress have an abortion. She says women know this and basically play along, and she doesn’t blame them, because that’s their only way to survive. Has she convinced you that the game is rigged against women this way? Do we still see elements of this in our society today? If so, how can we change it? What are the implications for society if everyone’s relationships are built this way?

9. Beauvoir also brings economic class into the mix. She says that middle class women actually have at least some sphere of action, because they do real work in taking care of their homes, families, and shops. Upper class women, by contrast, sit around and do nothing. They are willing accomplices in the subjugation of women because they benefit from it. This gets back to her claim in the introduction that women do not feel solidarity with one another across boundaries. If upper class women really are “winners” in this rigged game, why should they fight against it? What reasons does Beauvoir give? What reasons can you think of? Or do you think they don’t need to fight it?

10. Beauvoir spells out her argument for why women must embrace solidarity on p.664. Can you unpack her argument here? Why must there be no  compromise? Is such solidarity really possible? Why or why not?

Those are my questions for you. I know this is a heavy reading, and a hard one to do on your own. I hope you will be able to read and consider all of it. But if you’re not able to do that, then please choose at least two of the excerpts I’ve given you and respond to those.

Important Announcements for Going Online!

  • Every week, you must respond to two lessons. Check the Plague Syllabus for details! Remember that your posts are due each week by Friday at 5pm.
  • You do not need to respond to all of the questions I ask! You can focus on the one that interests you most.
  • I will post all my videos on this blog with the title, category, and tag “Euro Vision.”
  • As you start working on your final papers, remember to read carefully through the HIS 270 Writing Handout and other resources, which you can find here.

Euro Vision! Leah’s Video for Week 8, Day 1: Human Rights and the Cold War

Dear Europeanists, here is my first video for you! Please watch it and/or read the transcript below. You can also turn on closed captioning with the video, but it is auto-generated and not entirely accurate. Remember to respond with your own posts by Friday at 5pm!

Transcript of the Video
Hello, Europeanists! Welcome to the online version of this course. Today’s teaching assistant is Maggie the Cat. She is obviously thrilled to be here.

This is an experiment, and I welcome your comments about this video. Please let me know what you think by email.

Let’s start with announcements. First, remember that from now on, you must do two blogs posts each week. Your posts are due by Friday at 5pm.

During the first half of this semester, most of our class meetings involved about half an hour of lecture. Now that we’ve gone online, we are going to set those lectures aside. It’s harder to concentrate on a lecture you watch online. There’s a certain energy that comes with us all being in the same room and being able to interact in real time that allows lectures to work more smoothly. In our current situation, I’m aware that you have limited time and limited attention that you can devote to this class. I’d rather spend that time on discussion.

I’m going to start today by giving you some brief background information to contextualize today’s primary source, the Universal Declaration of Human rights. In order to draft this document, two factors had to be in place. The first is existence of the United Nations, the international organization that commissioned the UDHR and adopted it in 1948. The second is a concept of human rights that the members of the United Nations could agree on.

The United Nations was designed by the Big Three (the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in late 1944, as WWII was drawing to a close. They envisioned an organization that was similar to the League of Nations, but more effective and more likely to survive. To that end, they created a more robust structure. The UN has a Secretariat, which serves as its executive; a General Assembly, which includes all member nations; and a Security Council, which includes five permanent members from East and West (the US, UK, France, Soviet Union, and China) and 11 rotating members. They also created an International Court of Justice, to which all member nations would be subject. This is the structure the UN still has today. It was ratified at the official founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco in June 1945. 50 nations joined. Today, 193 nations belong to the UN.

The UN has the same goal as the League of Nations: to prevent wars. But unlike the League of Nations, the UN has an enforcement mechanism. All member nations contribute peacekeeping forces, which is to say: military. However, the UN will not deploy these forces unless the permanent members of the Security Council all approve the action. Since its creation, the UN has reserved the right to intervene in all conflicts between its member nations. Significantly, it also reserves the right to intervene in the internal affairs of is member nations. This gives it the power to step in in cases of ethnic cleansing within a nation’s boundaries—essentially, to prevent a repetition of Nazi policies—which the League of Nations could not do.

At its founding conference, the United Nations adopted a Charter and set up a commission to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was headed by Eleanor Roosevelt. As you may have noticed while reading it, the UDHR draws on many of the ideas we have seen European thinkers discuss over the first half of the 20th century. Some of these are Civil and Political Rights, which have been part of European thought since the Enlightenment, and others are Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights, which are more a product of the 20th century. In addition to these ideas, the UDHR also draws on the Nuremburg Principles, which were established as the basis of the Nuremburg Trials, and which defined for the first time the idea of crimes against humanity and identified genocide as such as crime. As you’re writing your blog posts, you might think about these different origins and how the document brings them together.

The UDHR was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. It is a statement of principle, not than a treaty. But its provisions have been enshrined in two subsequent treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights. You might be interested to know, since we’re heading into the Cold War now, that the Soviet Union signed and ratified both treaties. The United States signed them both, but has never ratified the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights.

Now I’d like to give you some discussion questions as food for thought. Remember, you can respond to my questions or pose our own comments and questions on the blog.

Leah’s Discussion Questions about Dark Continent

1. Mazower starts Chapter 7 with a bold assertion. He writes, “There was, in reality, no Year Zero, no clean break between hot and cold war, and the post-war regimes which emerged in the latter had their roots in the social experiences of wartime.” (Mazower, 213) I’d like you to unpack this assertion. What does he mean? What evidence does he give for this claim? What continuities does he show us in this chapter? Also, what are the stakes of this claim? In other words, what makes it surprising or even shocking? Why do we want to believe that there was a Year Zero, and why do we resist the idea that there wasn’t one?

2. Mazower addresses the refugee crisis that followed WWII. The crisis was fueled partly by the masses of people who were displaced during the war, and partly by voluntary and forced displacement of people just after the war. There are a couple issues here I’d like us to discuss:

First, as Mazower points out, this is a moment where Europe really fails its surviving Jewish population. You might notice some similarities to Joseph Roth’s essay “Refugees from the East” in What I Saw, which we read in Week 4. However, after WWII, European countries close their doors to Jewish refugees, and they get stuck in camps until the new state of Israel is created. Of course, Israel in the territory of Palestine, which since WWI had been part of the British empire. So, Europe expels its Jews to Palestine, and they then expel the Palestinians, whose descendants still live in refugee camps today, because no one will take them in. How does this situation shape our understanding of Europe’s reckoning with Fascism, anti-Semitism, and WWII? How does it shape our understanding of Israel? Does Europe have a responsibility for the situation in Israel and Palestine today?

Second, many of these population transfers were aimed at creating ethnic homogeneity—expelling minorities, rather than trying to protect them through international law, as Europeans did after WWI. Can you unpack the ethics of this situation? Do you consider one of these tactics better than the other, or should they have tried something else entirely? What is the legacy of these deportations for Europe today?

3. The majority of those who were forcibly displaced after the war were ethnic Germans, and this gets us to the issue of revenge. Mazower walks us through the different approaches taken by Western Europe (led by Britain and the U.S.) and Eastern Europe (led by the Soviet Union) to punishing collaborators. Can you analyze the reasoning behind each approach and how it related to the politics of the emerging Cold War blocs? In what way did each approach work well? What made them both unsatisfying? Which do you think was better, in the end?

4. Can you analyze the same questions on the issue of how each side dealt with de-Nazification within their occupation zones in Germany? How did the differences in their approaches lay the groundwork for dividing Germany in two, even though nobody wanted that to happen?

5. Mazower also looks  at the psychological effects of the war years on the surviving population of Europe. He notes that while liberal democracy did experience a resurgence, people were generally not as interested in politics as before. They preferred to think about their personal lives: starting families, making money, and acquiring consumer goods. Can you theorize why the wartime experience might have had this effect on people? What are the positives and negatives of a population that organizes its priorities this way?

Leah’s Discussion Questions about the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

1. First, let’s look at the UDHR as a whole. What kind of values does it present as values belonging to all nations in the world, even after the onset of the Cold War? What are the possibilities and limits of this type of transnationalism in the context of the Cold War? Is the idea of “universal human rights” compatible with imperialism, which Britain and France continued to engage in at this time?

2. Now let’s look more specifically at the Preamble. Read it closely and analyze how it responds to the traumas of WWII, and also the traumas of the entire first half of the 20th century in Europe? How is this document trying to create the “Year Zero” that Mazower assures us did not actually take place?

3. Article 2 lists a series of qualities that cannot be used to discriminate against people. It’s a long list, but there are categories we might include today that are not here. In your view what is missing? Is this document flexible enough to accommodate our changing understanding of human rights and categories of protection?

4. Articles 13-15 relate most closely to the issue of refugees and displaced people. Why does this document guarantee the right to a nationality? How does this relate to the right to leave and to return? Why is it important to have a nationality even in the presence of international agreements like the UDHR? Or do you think that it is not important?

These articles also deal with the right to asylum. Based on Mazower’s description of the politics of repatriation after WWII, why might the authors of the UDHR be eager to include this right? Do we still uphold this right today? How is it being tested in Europe and in America?

5. Article 19 guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression and links them explicitly to the right to access media. In what way are these rights connected? How has the Internet changed our thinking about the right to access media? What about Internet phenomena like “fake news” websites, trolls, WikiLeaks, etc.? Should this right still be fully protected? If we look at it from another angle, can things like NSA wiretaps or Facebook data-mining be considered violations of the UDHR?

The United States of Europe or Not

In the two pieces from “Twentieth-Century Europe,” we see juxtaposed opinions on the state and roles of different countries following the close of the Second World War. We see William Beveridge looking inward for the future of Great Britain: “we in Britain should look first to putting our own house in order and dealing with things which are within our own power, before we try to put the whole world in order (Beveridge 506).” Beveridge seems to speak very paternalistically about the role of Britain. Asking first they seek isolationist policies to better Great Britain and then try to put the world in order as if it is a duty they must complete. While perhaps speculatively, this idea of a strong and independent Britain seems to foreshadow Brexit. Beveridge’s remarks counter Jean Monnet’s Eurocentric approach. Monnet’s words argue for European superiority, exceptionalism, and unity. Excited by the first time that they “were able to go to the United States without having to ask for anything (Monnet 559),” Monnet seems to have a disdain for what he might feel to be European inferiority following the Second World War. I ask then how different national and continental views arose and were accepted in post-war Europe. What are the benefits and consequences of an Anglocentric approach and a Eurocentric approach? How might these have been shaped?

Why did nobody care about New Britain?

In Beveridge’s speech we see him talk about his 5 points Britain needs to accomplish to successfully recover from the war and prevent Britain from falling into an economic depression. We also see that Beveridge was really the only one at the time in an official position who was worried about Britain’s economic and societal well being after the war. As he states “Beveridge was correct in believing that his new appointment was not seen by the government as an important one, and certainly not as the prelude to a massive programme of social reconstruction” (Boyer & Goldstein, 504). My question is why did it seem as if Britain was not worried at all or focused on its own economy and well being after the war and how it would prosper after this massive war that some of took place right on it’s home turf?

“New” Britain, New “Britain”, or “New Britain”?

In the beginning of Sir William Beveridge, New Britain, he discusses the idea of how people want something new after a war and how people put emphasis on different parts of “New Britain.” He speaks of the “very few of us want something utterly unlike the Britain that we have known and loved.” (Beveridge, 505) Implying he wants a New Britain instead of a New Britain or a New Britain. On the next page, he explains that “New Britain sums up the common desires of all of us today…” (Beveridge, 506) as he goes on the explain the Five Great Evils and possible ways to fix them. However, near the end of the piece Beveridge stated, “Until all the other tasks are taken in hand, I shall, for my part, put the emphasis on ‘new’ and say that I want a new Britain rather than a new Britain.” (Beveridge, 512) From his statements, it is easy to understand that he is looking for a New Britain. How does Beveridge wanted to get to New Britain if they are stuck at New Britain? Why doesn’t he just want either a New Britain or a New Britain? What is his idea of New Britain?

New Britain

In Sir William Beveridge’s piece he discusses a variety of topics relevant to his ideal “New Britain.” One part in particular that I found interesting was his thoughts under his section titled, “Freedom From Five Giant Evils.” Here, there are parallels to both Stalin’s Soviet Union. In comparison to Stalin, Beveridge provides the quote that “Its a means of taking some of the National Income – the income of all the men and women of this country, when they are earning – and keep it for when they are not earning” (Beveridge 507). Here it provides a similar idea of what Stalin did for the Soviet Union to provide social programs and healthcare for those who needed. All though it was not as successful as it intended to be in the Soviet Union, the effort and thought was there. And Beveridge wanted to use this money to help pay for children to be born. So families can get compensation if they have multiple children and the children will remain healthy, very similar to Stalin again. So the questions, I have would be, is this a fair comparison to make? And in the end, who’s plan was more successful or had the more potential for success?

Survival in Auschwitz

We have thoroughly explored how racist policies were slowly augmented over time in Nazi Germany. Even with this rise of anti-Semitic policies, Hitler and the Nazi party were able to win the hearts and minds of the German people while simultaneously crushing the Jewish community in Germany and all over the territory Hitler conquered during the war. In his memoir, Levi says, “To destroy a man is difficult, almost as difficult as to create one: it has not been easy, nor quick, but you Germans have succeeded” (p 150). At this point in the memoir, it seems as though Levi is accepting that the Germans had succeeded in destroying the will of the Jewish people to defy the Nazis and live on. While the treatment of the Jews under some of Hitler’s earlier racist laws was definitely terrible, the degrading and despicable treatment of Jews in camps like Auschwitz takes this to a whole new level. With this, do you agree with the assessment that the Nazis successfully “destroyed” the will of Jews like Levi?

Survival in Auschwitz

Throughout Primo Levi’s description of his own personal experience as a concentration camp prisoner during the Nazi regime, he constantly refers to the way on which he experienced his suffering. He definitely lived under a condition of dispossession, not only concerning material goods, but mostly on a state of mind on which he sometimes felt dispossessed of his humanity, of his own identity. He also explains how people at his same situation drifted between two extremes, among pessimism and optimism. By the end of the chapter “Initiation” he mentions something very important: “We are slaves, deprived of every night, exposed to every insult … but we still posses one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last – the power to refuse our consent” (p. 36). Under this framework, what can we say about what it means for men and women to struggle for daily survival at some of the darkest moments in the history of humanity? How can the will to live, the conscience of an own identity, and more importantly; of an own intentionality at exercising our will can potentially help us preserve our dignity, identity and faith during the darkest moments? How can this consciousness relieve the psychological impact of seen ourselves been physically and mentally subjugated to the power of a bloody regime?