Thursday, March 03, 2011

For Khairin: a history question

Was the breakdown of wartime alliance inevitable?

Consider this:
The question invites you to take some kind of stance, yes? To be blunt about it, you say, "Yes, it would have happened, no matter what" or "No, it could have been avoided." The fun bit is in justifying the stance you take.

What assumptions does the question itself contain? Off the top of my head:
  1. They were working together
  2. The alliance didn't last; it broke down
  3. There is room to argue that the breakdown could have been avoided. Alternatively, there is also room to argue that it would have happened in any case.
Why look at the assumptions? Because it tells you what kind of facts you'd want to reference in your answer.

One way of breaking the question down would look something like this:
What is the topic? Wartime alliance
What happened? The alliance fell apart
Who was involved? List your Allies
Why were they working together in the first place?
Why did it fall apart? List the contributing factors
Now think about which of these factors would have happened, no matter what the circumstances, or what anyone did. Which could have been avoided?

What forces contributed to pulling the allies apart? Your analysis will be incomplete if you don't also look at what pulled them together. Was it a marriage of convenience? Once you've looked at both why the Allies were working together, and what differences and disagreements they might have had, you'll be in a better position to think about if it was possible to avoid the falling out.

If you believe that the breakdown was inevitable, you'll need to say why. If you think it was avoidable, you'll need to say why. How do you construct a reasoned argument? If all factors are equal, then it'll be hard to make any kind of an argument. If, on the other hand, some factors are more important than others, you'll be able to say exactly why the final outcome was avoidable or not.