Gordon Alexander Craig. Knowledge and Power: Essays on Politics, Culture, and War. Edited by Bruce A. Thompson, Carolyn Halladay, and Donald Abenheim. Palo Alto: Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, 2013. 330 pp. $27.50 (paper), ISBN 978-0-930664-30-5.
Reviewed by Craig Smith (Brandeis)
Published on H-War (October, 2013)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Knowledge and Power: Essays on Politics, Culture and War is a collection of twenty-six different pieces, including speeches, lectures, papers, and book reviews, authored by historian Gordon A. Craig (1913-2005) from the 1980s through the early 2000s. Knowledge and Power is the third in a series of collected volumes that include Politics and Culture in Germany: Essays from the New York Review of Books (2000) and Tact and Intelligence: Essays on Diplomatic History and International Relations (2008), published by the Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship. This publication is well organized by returning editors Bruce Thompson (University of California, Santa Cruz), Carolyn Halladay, and Donald Abenheim (both at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School), who provide citations and an exceedingly insightful introduction to Craig’s biography, bibliography, and scholarly thinking.
The Scottish-born, Canadian- and American-raised Craig had served during World War II in the Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services, and thus had a unique perspective on German history. From 1943 to 2004, Craig extensively examined the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany, and this collection represents his work during retirement. Knowledge and Power contains prominent themes, which, as noted by its editors, developed in direct relation to Craig’s mentor, British historian E. L. Woodward. Mirroring Woodward, Craig’s style reflects objective moral judgment, civic virtue, and a preference for writing for the general public.
In an essay in part 1 (“Politics”) entitled “The Nineteenth Century: The Triumph and Crisis of Liberalism,” Craig advances the simple, but often overlooked, fact that many of the major individuals of the twentieth century were defined by the nineteenth. He offers a continuing reminder to historians that individuals must be understood based upon their own personal histories. In “Working Towards the Führer,” a review of several 1999 publications, most notably Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, 1889-1935: Hubris, Craig uses his review not simply to critique others’ work but also to advance his own theses. In this particular review, Craig argues that Adolf Hitler, citing Kershaw and the other Hitler biographers Alan Bullock and Joachim Fest, must be kept at the center of discussion on the Nazis. He contends there must be a balance between Hitler and Germany that should not be weighted too heavily one way or the other. Craig’s book reviews feel like scholarly articles that simultaneously evaluate works with a marvelous deftness, which gives them a continued relevance.
Part 2 (“Culture”) reveals Craig’s conceptions of the German people and society. In “Berlin: The Haupstadt, Back Where It Belongs,” Craig’s personality and affinity for his “favorite city” shines through in his discussion of the traveling German capital (p. 91). But the star of the book is his 1984 lecture, “On the German Historical Consciousness,” delivered in the Berlin Reichstag. Speaking before a still-divided city and country, Craig offers an outsider’s take on the German mindset that bridges history and politics. He writes, “In contrast to their western neighbors, the Germans never seem to have had an easy relationship with their past” (p. 126). The essay offers an exceptional analysis of how Germans have and must continue to use their past to determine their future, but warns of the “uncomfortable hints of the old German tendency to prefer the ideal to the actual” (p. 134). It is a work of significance on several levels: as a treatment of the German memory of the Nazis, as a primary source on Cold War thought, and as an analysis of the continued complications due to the ghosts of national socialism and communism.
Amidst many well-known aspects of German military history, part 3, “War,” still offers original insights. In “Prussian Soldiers Against Militarism,” Craig reveals a nineteenth-century opposition to militarism, the search for democracy, and the hopes of the military forming a true bond with the German people. Craig’s 1998 review, “How to Think About the Swiss,” remains very topical by questioning the nature of neutrality, collaboration, guilt, and war reparations. The overall discussion of World War II is excellent, as it shows a progression of Hitler’s thoughts, his interaction with his generals, and his psychological state in a largely chronological sequence.
Each essay has an almost effortless readability. Because they are taken from lectures and reader-friendly writings, Craig’s essays have an inherently clear narrative. In these mediums, unburdened by the necessity of excessive citations and lengthy evidentiary-based suppositions, Craig freely crosses the divide between the literary and historical. The tone of each essay is active and confident, infusing each piece with life. Thus, eight years after his death, Craig is still talking with his readers.
However, the book’s organization and content have inherent flaws. Many essays have already been published, most notably by the New York Review of Books. Most of them can therefore be found elsewhere, which may give readers pause before purchasing a new title. Contrary to the readability of the individual chapters, taken in its entirety, the book is a difficult cover-to-cover read. While this is true of similar works, the lack of flow between sections is disappointing, considering Craig’s literary skill within each essay. Along this line, the book would have benefited from a greater editorial presence in the form of chapter introductions, situating each one within its historical and historiographical context. Also, chapter 7, “Great Scots!,” a review of Arthur Herman’s How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001), seems out of place despite Craig’s Scottish heritage. The rest of the book is focused on German history, and this essay is another example of a lack of cohesion.
Overall, Knowledge and Power is an excellent collection of essays that essentially functions as a sort of CliffsNotes on Germany history and historiography. In the conclusion, aptly called “Coda” (suggesting its artistic merits), Craig reveals that a good teacher inspired his love of history. One can hope that this collection of Craig’s speeches and lectures will have the same effect on subsequent generations.
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