Sometimes in graduate study, it feels as if what you're reading has little to no application to the outside world, which is understandable in something like theoretical physics, but a bit more off-putting when you're in sociology. But in reading Jeffry A. Frienden's tome "Global Capitalism" (whic is, ironically, for a history course, not a soc course) I finally again feel like I'm studying somehting that I can sue in my day to day interaction, which helps me feel just a little bit less like I'm wasting my life.
Specifically, Frieden's very interesting (and thorough) treatment of the causes of Fascism in Europe is exactly the kind of intellectual ammunition a young radical loves. In doing anti-war work, people often like to set up the most ridiculous examples, playing what W likes to call "the gotcha game." In much the way proponents of the death penalty always insist that I'd see things differently if my 7 year old daughter were raped and murdered (and they're rarely swayed by the fact that I don't have a 7 year old daughter, so I'm not super concerned what happens to her), the pro-war fokls always like to ask me what I would have done about Hitler.
And my answer has always been that if I had the power to do anything, I wouldn't have started WWII in the first place, in which case we would have had no Hitler. Now, I know it's still probably not going to sway anybody, but Frieden painstakingly points out that the only common factor among autarkic authoritarian governments between the wars was that they were all debtor nations, and the authoritarian parties that rose to power used the resentment caused by these impossible debts to feul their hate campaigns.
Who was behind these unreasonable debts? Well, theoretically it was France and Brittain, but in truth, they were only collecting the debts to pass them along to the Americans who had financed the war. Interestingly, even the nations most affected by WWI in Europe found the repayment plans unreasonable very quickly, but they were not allowed to forgive the debts they were owed because the American government refused to listen to reason and insisted that all debts be paid in full.
The debts owed led to massive inflation (in Germany, prices rose one trillion times their pre-war levels because of the debt payments) and the fascists used this as their main argument in nationalistic fascism.
So, unfortunately, Mussolini, Hitler, and Friends, all can trace their rise to power back to the policies of the good ol' U.S. of A.
So I'd like to point out that maybe we could apply this lesson to certain current global conflicts to prevent such things form happening again, but then again, I guess I'm the kind of guy who would sit by idly while my theoretical 7 year old daughter was murdered, so I guess I don't know too much.