Today on the USNI webblog there is an interesting look at Kristalnacht which happened 78 years ago today. While the imagery of this post is clearly meant primarily to remember what was without a doubt a horrific prelude to one of the darkest times in human history, the lead paragraph tries to tie Kristalnacht to global politics.
It was seventy-two years ago this night. On the night of 9-10 November, 1938, things became so abundantly clear to the entire world, especially those who had insisted time and again with negotiation and compromise with the Nazi state, as to what the true nature of the regime of the Third Reich was. There were other warnings, of course. The secret, and then the open and massive rearmament in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The virulent anti-Semitism shrieked from the mouths of their spokesmen. Persecution of the Catholic Church, the severe and brutal imprisonment, punishment, and execution of those who spoke up against the National Socialist regime. The withdrawal from the League of Nations, and the increasingly bellicose tones of their speeches in expressing their plans and objectives. All this was set aside, as the Allies in Europe clung to frantic hope that Hitler and Germany wished to avoid war as much as they themselves did.
This is an excellent example of a reading of history that fits with a Second Image international political theory, (i.e. a theory that looks to the nature of the state as an explanation of why things happen). Such theories include classical liberalism and classical realism, as well as many others. I would like to contrast this with a Third Image explanation such as Structural realism.
In a structuralist story WWII had nothing to do with the Nazi regime, and everything to do with the Balance of Power in Europe at the time. Basically the Germans had recovered from their losses, and were gaining in strength vis-a-vis France and Britain. The USSR was at a low ebb because of economic and political difficulties. With the structure of the system not representing Germany’s true power, war (or some other revision of the status quo) was inevitable. WWII would have happened had there been no Kristallnacht, or even if it had been Cristalnacht because that was the night that Jews and Germans came together and got hammered out of their minds on Cristal.
Why is this distinction important? It directly affects the way we look at the world today. See the final paragraph in the USNI post.
To a nation in a war with radical Islamic extremists seeking our destruction or subjugation, extremist who demonstrate daily their brutality and show us precisely their view of justice and freedom, these are words to be very mindful of. We have already had our Kristallnacht.
I could quibble about the non-trivial differences between sub-state actors and great powers, but the main point I want to make is that this is a clearly sub-structural explanation. The nature of the enemy and our nature is the root of the problem. In contrast structuralists, like Robert Pape, believe that terrorism is a result of political power realities and not innate nature. If we believe that our enemy is by nature our enemy then a very different set of options is available than if this is a result of a political power structure.
Oh, and Godwin’s Law.