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This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Tom Engelhardt (11-29-12)
Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute where he is a Fellow. He is the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, and of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, as well as a collection of his Tomdispatch interviews, Mission Unaccomplished. Each spring he is a Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
He was “an ascetic who... usually eats just one meal a day, in the evening, to avoid sluggishness. He is known for operating on a few hours' sleep and for running to and from work while listening to audio books on an iPod... [He has] an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists... [He is] a warrior-scholar, comfortable with diplomats, politicians..." Those were just the descriptions New York Times reporters Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti themselves bestowed on General Stanley McChrystal in May 2009 soon after he had been appointed the new U.S. Afghan War commander. They had no trouble finding interviewees saying even more extravagant things.
He was “the most influential general of his generation,” “a celebrated soldier with extensive knowledge of intelligence gathering in both Afghanistan and Iraq... [with a] reputation... so formidable, officials said, that it was difficult to rotate him to another military post” and a “biographer who is keeping his name in lights.” That was Bumiller on General (later CIA Director) David Petraeus and, given the press he ordinarily got in Washington, her reportage could almost be considered downbeat.
For both men, though, those were the glory days when things were going spectacularly. Okay, maybe not in the wars they were directing, but in the personal image-making campaigns both were waging in Washington. What about after both went down in flames and shame, though? Once a “celebrated soldier,” it seems, always a celebrated something or other.
As Bumiller had been on the generals beat in the good times, she evidently ended up on the generals-in-shame beat as well. And you know what? They turn out to be whizzes at shame, too. In May, she found McChrystal teaching a course on “leadership” at Yale. He was, she reported in a charmingly soft focus piece, a spellbinding professor (willing to go out and drink with his students, just as he had with his military colleagues). Judging by her article, the former “warrior-scholar” had held onto the “scholar” part of the label -- and a knack for (self-)image making, too.
As for Petraeus, on November 20, the Times’ Scott Shane reported that almost all the main figures in the ever-expanding scandal around him had hired “high-profile, high-priced” image managers. That included the general himself who had, in the past, proved the most celebrated military image-manager of his generation -- until, of course, he managed himself into bed with his “biographer.” Petraeus, Shane noted, had hired Robert Barnett, “a superlawyer whose online list of clients begins with the last three presidents. Though he is perhaps best known for negotiating book megadeals for the Washington elite, his focus this time is said to be steering Mr. Petraeus’s future career, not his literary life.” Curiously, Barnett had represented Stanley McChrystal, too, when the axed war commander sold a memoir in 2010.
It’s rare that a newspaper lays out the mechanics of elite image-making and then so visibly engages in it, but the next day Bumiller weighed in with the first peek behind the scenes at a Petraeus at military dusk. But it wasn’t taps playing; it was -- thank you (perhaps) Robert Barnett -- opportunity knocking. The general, reported Bumiller via various unnamed “friends” and “close friends,” was dealing with a “furious” wife, but already fielding “offers to teach from four universities, a grab bag of book proposals from publishers in New York, and an interest in speaking and serving on corporate boards.” He hadn’t, she informed Times’ readers, even ruled out becoming a TV news “talking head” like so many of his retired compatriots.
While both men evidently continue to engage in the sort of take-no-prisoners PR campaigning they know how to do best, the rest of us should be blinking in stunned wonder and asking ourselves: Just what are we to make of the decade of military hagiography we’ve just passed through? What did it mean for two generals to soar to media glory while the wars they commanded landed in the nearest ditch? Someday, historians are going to have a field day with our “embedded” American world in the twilight years of our glory, the celebrated era when, wartime victories having long since faded away, the image of triumph became what really mattered in Washington....
SOURCE: Standpoint (UK) (11-29-12)
Andrew Roberts is a British historian.
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was an uncomfortable place to be at midnight on Tuesday, November 6. The free beer and wine were flowing; the would-be ambassadors were wandering around the suites reserved for those who had given $7 million or more to the Republican party; the vast TV screens were tuned in to Fox News (CNN had been booed off). It should have been a party rather than a wake, yet from the moment I had walked in two hours beforehand, I could sense the rising stench of coming disappointment. That special thrill which throbs through election-night parties given by the victorious side was totally absent, even two hours before the Ohio result sent everyone for the doors. From the moment the exit polls recorded that white voters were only making up 72 per cent of the total it was clear: Mitt Romneywasn't going to make it.
"We're all in this together," President Obama tweeted after the race was called in his favour. "That's how we campaigned, and that's who we are." Of all the very many untruths told by the Democrats during the course of this 18-month campaign, that was perhaps the worst. For in fact the campaign he fought was a relentlessly divisive one, attempting to cordon off Hispanics, Asians, single women, blacks and the young from the Republican party, blackening the sterling business reputation of an admirable Republican candidate, and solidly refusing to run on either the Administration's record or its plans. Obama won by 60.66 million votes (i.e. 50 per cent of the popular vote) to 57.82 million (48 per cent), which National Public Radio considers "decisive", but which shows how harshly divided this country truly is.
President Obama won re-election—the first president to do so with a lower percentage of the vote than the first election—because the cynicism of his electoral strategists was proved right: play to the envy and chippiness in human nature, the fear felt by unmarried women over abortion, collect enough "victimised" minorities together to create a majority, and accuse your opponent of being a "felon" (as Obama's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter called Romney), a cultist whose business ethics caused one woman to contract cancer (according to a pro-Obama super-PAC ad), and any number of other lies and half-truths. American politics is dirty, but considering that the Romney campaign entirely eschewed even mentioning the president's connections to embarrassments such as Rev Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, when it came to the pig-trough of politics, they weren't "all in this together".
Napoleon wanted his marshals to be lucky above all else, and there can hardly be a luckier man in politics than Barack Obama, whose most difficult election before 2012 was the one in which he defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008…
SOURCE: Tablet Magazine (11-28-12)
Andrew Roberts is a historian. His latest book is The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (11-28-12)
Scott Reynolds Nelson teaches history at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America’s Financial Disasters, published by Alfred A. Knopf in September.
America faced its first fiscal cliff in 1893. The date should be familiar. It was the start of the Panic of 1893, and it led to the biggest shift ever in the composition of the U.S. Congress. Contemporaries called it the “Avalanche of 1894.”
Then as now, a Republican-sponsored change in tax policy brought about the crisis. Throughout the 1880s the United States had run a budget surplus. Americans paid no income tax, but a tariff on imports paid most of the bills. Nearly 25 percent of this came from a tax on imported sugar. The so-called Sugar Trust, run by Henry O. Havemeyer, had long favored a high tax on refined sugar to protect American sugar refineries against foreign competition.
But in the late 1880s a new California rival, Claus Spreckels, used a little-known treaty with the Kingdom of Hawaii to import raw sugar tax-free from the distant island. This gave Spreckels a huge advantage over East Coast refiners, who imported most of their sugar from Cuba. In 1890, to destroy Spreckels’s advantage, Havemeyer persuaded Congress to eliminate the tariff on imported sugar. With no tax advantage to give him the edge, Spreckels, whose sugar had to be brought from much farther, lost the war for the American market. Unfortunately, the loss of the sugar tariff helped to rapidly drain the U.S. Treasury....
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (11-28-12)
Historian Andrew Roberts's latest book, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War, was published in the U.S. in May. His previous books include Masters and Commanders and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Dr. Roberts is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Canada to the rescue! (Yet again.) The appointment of Mark Carney, a Canadian born in the Northwest Territories, a former Goldman Sachs executive, and presently governor of the Bank of Canada, to the post of governor of the Bank of England, is yet another example of that country coming to Britain’s aid in its hour of need. It is also an eloquent testimony to how the Anglosphere—or what Winston Churchill called “the English-speaking peoples”—continues to work for their mutual benefit, but especially for Britain’s....
During the Boer War, Canadians flocked to the colours to defend the British Empire. In the First World War they captured and then defended Vimy Ridge on the Western Front, albeit at a terrible cost in lives. In the course of that battle, Canadian artillerymen invented the concept of the “creeping barrage,” by which bombardments were inched forward from trench to trench, a tactic that revolutionized overall strategy. In May 1940 the only fully-armed units guarding London from a German invasion during the retreat from Dunkirk were two Canadian divisions. During the amphibious Dieppe Raid of August 1942 it was the Canadians who were sacrificed, with 3,500 killed, wounded, or captured out of the 5,100 men who took part. In per capita terms, Canada contributed far more to Britain in Lend-Lease even than the United States, and at one point at the end of the War, the Royal Canadian Navy was the third biggest in the world, so large had it become keeping the sea routes to Britain open, thus saving the Mother Country from being starved to death during the Battle of the Atlantic....
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (11-28-12)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cherry Hill Board of Education and its teachers recently agreed on a new contract that extends the school day by 30 minutes. Over the course of a 180-day school year, that comes out to about 14 more days of class.
But it probably won't make much of a difference, at least not for high school students. That's because the board tacked the additional time onto the beginning of the day, forcing high school kids to show up for school at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8.
They won't be awake. Sure, they'll trudge into class and go through the motions. But as a growing body of research reveals, adolescents' bodies - and minds - don't really rouse that early.
Consider a recent study of Chicago high school students. It found that they got lower grades in their first-period courses than in the rest. Standardized tests also showed that they scored worse in subjects taught at the start of the day.
At the Air Force Academy, meanwhile, first-year cadets who began class before 8 a.m. performed substantially worse in all of their courses, not just the earliest ones....
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (11-27-12)
The writer is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and coauthor, with Prof. Sonja Schoepf Wentling, of the new book Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’ and Bipartisan Support for Israel.
SOURCE: Daily Beast (11-27-12)
SOURCE: The Atlantic (11-26-12)
Pietro Nivola is a senior fellow with the Governance Studies Program at the Brookings Institution and co-editor of What We So Proudly Hailed: Essays on the Contemporary Meaning of the War of 1812.
...Glancing back, one cannot help but be struck by certain similarities between the role of party politics in the run-up to the crisis of 1812-14 and the present partisan strife over government tax policy, budgetary priorities, and the national debt.
In the arc of history, the contemporary discord about the proper balance of government spending, borrowing and taxation has an air of déjà vu. The 112th Congress put in jeopardy, at one point, the financial full faith and credit of the United States. The debacle was narrowly averted by a crude statutory contrivance, cobbled together at the eleventh hour. "Our country is not going to default for the first time in history," the Senate minority leader was able to declare. But America came dangerously close, and if it had happened, it actually would have been the second time -- the first having occurred in 1814, at the hands of the 13th Congress, which had been comparably conflicted about raising the requisite revenue to cover the nation's unsustainable bills.
And once again, the footing of national security is very much at stake in the current debate. The impending "fiscal cliff" -- the awkward deficit-reducing deal that was finally improvised in August 2011 -- threatens an automatic phased reduction of $1.2 trillion in overall spending, beginning in fiscal 2013, with roughly half of that stripped from defense. To be sure, today's Republican Party does not welcome that prospect, whereas yesterday's was inclined to cut military spending to the bone. Yet, both back then and more recently, a group of politicians calling themselves Republicans seem to have had this much in common: an apparent mismatch between their willingness to consider waging wars, and their unwillingness to pay the piper by levying new taxes.
SOURCE: NYT (11-26-12)
Jon Meacham is the author of “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.”
IN this hour of reflexive partisan division, with Americans frustrated by Washington’s seeming inability to address significant fiscal questions, among other issues, an inevitable question arises: Can President Obama do anything to create enough good will to pass some lasting reforms?
Here is a modest proposal, one drawn from the presidency of another tall, cool, cerebral politician-writer: use the White House and the president’s personal company to attempt to weave attachments and increase a sense of common purpose in the capital. Dinners with the president — or breakfast or lunch or coffee or drinks or golf — won’t create a glorious bipartisan Valhalla, but history suggests that at least one of our greatest presidents mastered the means of entertaining to political effect.
During both of his terms, on the eve of each Congressional session, President Thomas Jefferson warned friends that, in our vernacular, he was about to go offline. “As Congress will meet this day week, we begin now to be in the bustle of preparation,” he wrote a family member. “When that begins, between the occupations of business and of entertainment, I shall become an unpunctual correspondent.”...
SOURCE: Salon (11-25-12)
Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is co-founder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.
Over this Thanksgiving week, you may find yourself in a movie theater watching Steven Spielberg’s treatment of Abraham Lincoln and the battle to pass the 13th Amerndment, which abolished slavery once and for all. There’s much to be said for Lincoln : marvelous acting, less mythologizing than usual, and a fascinating window into raucous realpolitik. Spielberg’s film stands several cuts above any movie depiction of the Lincoln presidency you’re likely to see.
Lincoln himself stands several cuts above the vast majority of U.S. presidents. After some equivocating, he freed the slaves, a monumental undertaking that was a service to the country and to humanity in general. He was also friendlier to workers than most presidents, an affinity noted by Karl Marx, who exchanged letters with Lincoln leading up to and during the Civil War. (You won’t see the GOP acknowledging that!)
But there’s a side of Lincoln that no Hollywood film shows clearly: He was extremely close to the railway barons, the most powerful corporate titans of the era....
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (11-23-12)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Taxes won't reduce consumption. They violate Americans' "right to choose." And they put a disproportionate burden on racial minorities.
Those were the claims deployed by the beverage industry to defeat proposed soda taxes in Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011. They also surfaced during the past election season in California, where two cities rejected taxes on sugary soft drinks.
But the forefather of these arguments is the cigarette industry, which used almost exactly the same rhetoric for a half-century to resist taxation and regulation. The cigarette companies were wrong then - just as the soda apologists are wrong now.
Consider Philadelphia's recent good news on smoking, which has plummeted 15 percent since 2008. Smoking rates declined across the country as well. The main reason is - you guessed it - higher taxes on cigarettes....
SOURCE: BBC (11-12-12)
Laurence Rees is a former creative director of history programmes for the BBC and the author of six books on World War II.
At the heart of the story of Adolf Hitler is one gigantic, mysterious question: how was it possible that a character as strange and personally inadequate as Hitler ever gained power in a sophisticated country at the heart of Europe, and was then loved by millions of people?
The answer to this vital question is to be found not just in the historical circumstances of the time - in particular the defeat of Germany in World War I and the depression of the early 1930s - but in the nature of Hitler's leadership.
It's this aspect of the story that makes this history particularly relevant to our lives today.
Hitler was the archetypal "charismatic leader". He was not a "normal" politician - someone who promises policies like lower taxes and better health care - but a quasi-religious leader who offered almost spiritual goals of redemption and salvation. He was driven forward by a sense of personal destiny he called "providence".
Before WWI he was a nobody, an oddball who could not form intimate relationships, was unable to debate intellectually and was filled with hatred and prejudice.
But when Hitler spoke in the Munich beer halls in the aftermath of Germany's defeat in WWI, suddenly his weaknesses were perceived as strengths...
SOURCE: WSJ (11-20-12)
Mr. Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and the author most recently of The Syrian Rebellion (Hoover Press, 2012).
'Egypt of today is entirely different from the Egypt of yesterday, and the Arabs of today are not the Arabs of yesterday." So said Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi after Friday prayers last week, adding: "We will not leave Gaza alone."
And Gaza will not leave Mr. Morsi alone. As in decades past, Egypt is playing mediator between the Palestinians and Israel—but Mr. Morsi finds himself in a more precarious position than his predecessors. He has been involved in a delicate balancing act since his election in June, mindful of his indebtedness to the Hamas-allied Muslim Brotherhood that brought him to power and of his need not to alienate his foreign-aid benefactors in Washington.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's mission to the region this week will include talks in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and in Cairo with Egyptian leaders and officials of the Muslim Brotherhood. Whether Mr. Morsi will join the talks is not clear.
Mr. Morsi didn't rise to power to carry the burden of the Palestinian question. The 18 magical days of protests in Tahrir Square that upended the military regime, and the elections that followed, weren't about pan-Arab duties. Egyptians could rightly claim that they had paid their dues for Palestine. Enough was enough—the last of Egypt's four wars with Israel (in 1973) appeared to deliver a binding verdict: Egypt would put behind it the furies and the dangers of the struggle of Palestine. Yet here was Mr. Morsi indulging the radicalism and ruinous ways of Hamas when even the Palestinians have fed off that diet for far too long...
SOURCE: CNN.com (11-19-12)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of the new book "Governing America."
(CNN) -- The critics are raving about Steven Spielberg's new film "Lincoln." A.O. Scott of the New York Times called it "among the finest films ever made about American politics." Viewers get a taste of the legislative process up close by watching how President Abraham Lincoln rounded up the necessary votes in get the 13th Amendment resolution through the House. Viewers see a master at work -- a president who knew how to break through the various divisions in Congress and outflank his opponents.
Movies such as Spielberg's often result in inflated expectations about what a president could achieve in the current political environment. The reality is that even the best presidents would have trouble rounding up votes in the contemporary Congress.
As the nation continues to be obsessed with a sex scandal involving top military officials and as the lame-duck Congress figures out what to do about the fiscal cliff, Washington would do well to think seriously about how government reform might improve the basic machinery of the federal government so that elected officials are better able to handle the big issues of the day such as unemployment, immigration, climate change and more....
SOURCE: PJ Media (11-19-12)
Coming back from Restoration Weekend in W. Palm Beach, Florida- the annual gathering of the David Horowitz Freedom Center- I heard the leading conservative analysts, and many political leaders as well, present their views of what led to the disastrous defeat of Mitt Romney one short week ago. Politicians were represented by Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, among others, and the roster of prominent speakers included Charles Krauthammer, Bret Stephens, Steve Moore, Pat Cadell, Monica Crowley, Michael Reagan, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter and scores more. Everyone addressed the issues of what happened, and what can we do in the future. Eventually, all the videos of the events will appear on Frontpagemag.com, and readers will be able to see and hear what was said. When they appear, make sure to watch Charles Krauthammer’s analysis- to me the highlight of the weekend, and Bret Stephens very important presentation on foreign policy and the Middle East. Both were brilliant and essential.
The event did lead me to think anew of the reasons for our defeat, and to consider the question once more of what reforms, if any, conservatism and The Republican Party in particular have to make. The speeches reminded me of the old Jewish aphorism- that when you hear two Jews arguing, you are listening to 20 different opinions. Michael Reagan began by talking about the need to build an inclusive movement and party, that does not leave out scores of Americans whom many conservatives seem to believe are beyond hope. His father, he reminded us began as a liberal Democrat and knew how to speak to those whose ranks he had left. The next morning, Rick Santorum argued for putting the social issues many call divisive front and center, and denied that he and other candidates hurt Romney’s chances by seeking to destroy him during the primaries. And so it went, the entire weekend long.
So now, here are some of my own thoughts I came out of the weekend with....
SOURCE: Words Without Borders (11-16-12)
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chair of the History Department at UC Irvine, the author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (OUP 2010), and a co-editor of Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land (UC Press, 2012). His reviews and commentaries have appeared in venues such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the TLS, Time, the Atlantic, and Dissent.
Q: When a foreigner comes over and gives you a slap in the face, you take it lying down and don’t fight back. Are you just trying to show how cool you are?
A: No foreigner has come over and given me a slap.
Q: Han Han, a foreigner rapes your mother, and you still won’t put up a protest.
A: No foreigner has raped my mom.
Q: The motherland—that’s your mother.
A: The motherland is the motherland, my mother is my mother.
—From “Q & A with Chinese nationalists,” an April 23 2008 blog post
[I’d like to see China become] a country that doesn’t resort to land sales and real estate and low-end assembly production to achieve high GDP—and high per capita GDP . . . A country whose culture has an impact on the world, whose literature and art other countries imitate. A country that has as clean an environment and as free an atmosphere as other places, where you can enjoy the spectacle of seeing power confined in a cage . . .
—From “Talking Freely, Wine in Hand,” a May 7, 2010 blog post
These quotations are from This Generation: Dispatches from China’s Most Popular Literary Star (and Race Car Driver), which Simon & Schuster released on October 9. The publisher is hoping that this book will make enough of a splash that 2012 will be remembered as the year that Han Han made it big. Or, rather, made it big in the West. For the work’s thirty-year-old author is already arguably as big as you can get in China. Each new post he puts up on his controversial blog garners hundreds of thousands of hits. And his face is ubiquitous, at least in major cities, where it graces magazine covers and appears in countless ads for products he endorses.
In China, moreover, Han is not a newcomer to fame. He’s been in the public eye for roughly one third of his short life. His star first began to rise soon after he dropped out of one of the top high schools in the Shanghai area. The reason it rose was his first novel. A work sometimes likened to Catcher in the Rye in terms of theme and tone, it became a bestseller and earned Han enough money to fulfill his biggest dream: buying a car.
In August, in a piece I wrote on Han for the Atlantic’s online edition, I explored one of the most curious things about the writer: that he has stayed largely under the radar in the West, in spite of a string of profiles of him appearing in leading English- language newspapers and magazines, including the New Yorker. The question now is whether the entertaining and engaging essays in This Generation, which address issues ranging from daily life concerns to official corruption and take varying forms, from mock interviews with himself to rants to gently reflective essays, can do what those profiles have failed to do—make him a household name outside of his own country.
SOURCE: Salon (11-17-12)
Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg are professors of History at LSU and coauthors of "Madison and Jefferson" (Random House),
Before we get to the persistence of class warfare in our politics, let’s talk about Skinch Painter. In 1900, when the San Francisco Examiner tracked him down, he was 78, “hale, hearty, and contented.” He hadn’t inherited a penny, but neither had he worked a day in his life. “He has never borrowed a dollar, nor stolen one,” the column read. “He has never been a tramp nor a beggar. He has never done a day’s work in exchange for money … Yet he has lived.”
One day, when he was in his teens, he said to himself, “Look here, Skinch Painter, this old world owes you a living, and all you’ve got to do is collect it.” Wandering the Ozarks of Missouri, he inhabited a cave and relied on nature for his food and clothing. He hunted, fished and gathered nuts and berries, wearing only animal skins and going barefoot.
“Labor is a useless sin,” said Skinch. “The time a man spends working is just so much time lost from living.”
We can just about see Fox News sending a camera crew out to interview Skinch, and one of its handsomely paid straight men wrapping up the piece with an offhand, “See, you don’t need government handouts. If you don’t want to work, you can do what this guy does. At least he’s not a taker. The rest of us in this country, we’ll continue to work for a living.”...