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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: Boston Globe (5-7-13)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is writing a history of sex education around the world.
In 1954, American Girl magazine published a book of beauty tips for young women. It included helpful suggestions about preparing for the ultimate American beauty contest: the high school prom.
“This is the moment to slip into your dress . . . Put your hair in place again, fasten your necklace or bracelet, and step into your pumps,” the book advised. “And wheee! Look now! There really is another you in the mirror. A you that is practically exuding a subtle new fascination, a wonderful femininity.”
I’ve been thinking about this passage as I watch my own daughter get ready for prom, which seems like a relic from another age. And maybe that’s the whole point of it. In a time of enormous flux and ambiguity in gender relations, this ritual returns us to a time when men were men and, yes, women were women.
The first recorded reference to a prom is from a student at Amherst College, who wrote in 1884 about attending prom at nearby Smith. But as more Americans joined the middle class, prom left the elite precincts of private colleges and filtered into the nation’s burgeoning secondary schools....
SOURCE: Reuters (5-8-13)
Alan Brinkley, the Allan Nevins professor of history at Columbia University, is the author of "Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the Great Depression" and "The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War." His most recent book is "The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century."
In the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Washington Post began a series of editorials calling for an end to unregulated guns. Those editorials continued every day for months. After a while, the editor gave up, and gun control eventually was forgotten – as it has been over and over again.
Now, almost five months after the killing of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut, riveted the nation, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is talking about trying to resurrect his bill on gun background checks that was defeated in the Senate last month.
Why is it so difficult to regulate guns in America? Part of it is a result of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which says “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Many Americans now believe that the Second Amendment means only using arms for regulated militias. But many people outside of big cities believe that keeping unregulated guns is part of what America means....
SOURCE: The Atlantic (5-9-13)
"What do you study in a 'porn class'?" I've gotten that question almost daily since "Navigating Pornography"—a humanities course I offer at Pasadena City College—received national attention in the aftermath of a controversial classroom visit in February by adult superstar James Deen. The queries have grown even more frequent since last week's widely covered announcement that Porn Studies, a new periodical devoted to the study of "cultural products and services designated as pornographic" will make its debut in 2014.
Though the press coverage of my course and the launch of the Porn Studies journal suggest that the academic study of adult entertainment is a very recent innovation, scholars have been writing and teaching about porn for more than two decades. University of California, Santa Barbara Professor Constance Penley has taught "Topics in Film Genre: Pornographic Film" since 1993, while Linda Williams, a professor now at UC Berkeley, wrote what is widely regarded as the first modern scholarly study of porn, 1989's Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible. Today, dozens of courses on pornography are offered on college campuses across the country, taught by instructors from a wide variety of disciplines including film, women's studies, art, sociology, psychology, English, and history. These classes attract periodic media attention, either when a speaker like Deen comes to campus, or when student complaints about pornography being shown in the classroom lead to a professor being disciplined, as happened last year at both Fresno State and Appalachian State universities....
SOURCE: OUPblog (5-7-13)
Julia F. Irwin is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Florida. She specializes in the history of U.S. relations with the 20th century world, with a particular focus on the role of humanitarianism in U.S. foreign affairs. She is the author of Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening. Her current research focuses on the history of U.S. responses to global natural disasters.
Each year on May 8, the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies of dozens of nations unite in celebration of World Red Cross/Red Crescent Day. This global event observes the birthday of Henry Dunant, one of the founders of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC), and commemorates the humanitarian principles that this organization represents. This year’s Red Cross Day is a particularly noteworthy occasion for the year 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the ICRC’s founding.
This May 8, 2013, the American Red Cross (ARC) will join 186 other national societies in marking this momentous occasion and honoring the ICRC’s sesquicentennial. This probably comes as little surprise: after all, the ARC is an important and influential humanitarian organization, both domestically and globally. And yet, this has not always been the case. It was not until 1881, eighteen years after the ICRC’s creation, that U.S. citizens formed their own national Red Cross society. Only in the early twentieth century, moreover, did the ARC come to be recognized as a major international war and disaster relief society. The story of these developments -- of the creation of the American Red Cross and its path to becoming the official voluntary aid association of the United States -- is an important part of the history of U.S. international engagement, and of its evolution at the turn of the last century.
This process began in 1859, when a young Swiss citizen named Henry Dunant observed a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy and witnessed the horrors of wartime suffering firsthand. The experience convinced him of the necessity of establishing permanent associations of humanitarian volunteers, ready to provide neutral medical care on the battlefield whenever the need arose. These ideas started coming to fruition when, in February 1863, Dunant met with four fellow Swiss citizens in Geneva to develop an organization dedicated to the relief of wounded soldiers. The result of their meeting would be the formation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC’s founding members lobbied for two goals: the creation of Red Cross societies in every nation and the passage of new international laws to protect both wounded soldiers and aid workers. By August 1864, their mission had achieved considerable success. In Geneva, representatives from twelve nations signed a treaty to establish international standards for wartime humanitarianism, the First Geneva Convention. In the ensuing months and years, additional countries would become signatories as well.
In 1864, the ICRC’s leaders invited the United States to participate in this fledgling international humanitarian movement. However, the U.S. government demurred. Preoccupied with the nation’s ongoing Civil War, policymakers had their hands full with domestic concerns. Yet even after the Civil War came to an end, U.S. diplomatic officials chose not to follow the growing number of nations that had signed the Geneva Treaty. Citing longstanding precedents in U.S. foreign policy, dating back to the eighteenth century, government officials declared it best for the United States to avoid entering any entangling political alliances with Europe.
Not all Americans agreed with this decision. Several former members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an agency that provided aid to sick and wounded Union soldiers during the U.S. Civil War, lobbied the government to join the International Red Cross Movement. Beginning in the early 1870s, so did an American woman named Clara Barton. Barton had served as a volunteer during the Civil War, helping to deliver medical supplies to Union field hospitals and to identify wounded and dead soldiers. After the Civil War ended, she traveled to Europe to rest and recover. Soon, however, she became involved again in war relief. After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Barton volunteered with the newly formed ICRC to assist its medical aid efforts. It was there that she met Dunant and became inspired by his international humanitarian mission.
In 1873, Barton returned to the United States and began to lobby against the U.S. government’s policy of non-engagement. For nearly a decade, she led a twin crusade for U.S. ratification of the Geneva Convention and the formation of an American Red Cross society. Eventually, Barton achieved both of her goals. In May 1881, she and fifty-one other U.S. citizens drafted and signed a charter to create the American Association of the Red Cross. The next year, in the spring of 1882, the United States joined a growing body of nations -- in Europe and throughout the world -- in ratifying the Geneva Convention. U.S. government officials had come to see signing the Geneva Convention as compatible and consistent with U.S. foreign policy goals. As Secretary of State James G. Blaine put it, the American tradition of non-entanglement in foreign political affairs “was not meant to ward off humanity.” Thus, in the early 1880s, the United States became a belated entrant into the world’s foremost international humanitarian movement.
The ARC remained quite limited, in terms of its membership, finances, and power, for several decades to come. It was not until 1900 that the U.S. Congress granted the organization its federal charter. Although President William Howard Taft designated the agency as the “official volunteer aid department of the United States” in 1911, it was only during the First World War — fifty years after the First Geneva Convention — that the ARC began to attain broad popular support and financial stability. It took U.S. entry into the conflict, in April 1917, for the ARC to truly solidify its status as the recognized face of American humanitarian aid.
Despite this slow progress, the creation of the American Red Cross and the subsequent U.S. ratification of the Geneva Convention in the early 1880s marked a major milestone in the histories of U.S. humanitarianism and international cooperation. On May 8, as the world unites in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the ICRC, it is worth taking a moment to remember how the United States and its citizens came to see relieving the suffering of others as a national and an international obligation.
SOURCE: OUPblog (5-7-13)
Christopher McKnight Nichols is a professor at Oregon State University and a Senior Editor for the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History. View the Melbourne launch of the Encyclopedia, or attend the American Military and Diplomatic History conference at Oregon State University on 7 May 2013.
Just when, where, why, and how should American power be used? Current assumptions about the near omnipresence -- though far from omnipotence -- of US power, its influence and its reach are now shaky. Yet these same assumptions coexist alongside widely shared views that such power could and should be used. Perspectives on the application of U.S. power are hotly contested -- ranging from the advocacy of using force and providing “lethal aid” to revolutionaries in Syria, to the idea of strategic (née preemptive) bombing of nuclear facilities in Iran. Only idealistic aims -- e.g. humanitarian intervention and foreign aid -- in the use of power are generally acceptable. Indeed, even as the president and secretary of defense aver that “all options are being evaluated,” they do not “foresee boots on the ground.” These choices reflect recent developments. Such alternatives simply did not exist for most of U.S. history. Nor, of course, did the nation always hold the power it possesses today.
For the majority of American history weakness, not strength -- and certainly not “power” as we understand it now -- defined how American policymakers, thinkers, activists, military leaders, and citizens tended to understand their nation’s place in the world. Protecting the state, not using scarce power or resources abroad, and holding European -- especially British -- encroachment as far off as possible, were the preferred military and diplomatic strategies of U.S. leaders and citizens through the late nineteenth century and, for many, well into the twentieth century.
Three policy pillars in American foreign relations are the foundation for past as well as present considerations of whether and how to deploy US power. The premise for all three was an understanding of weakness, what we might term cautious realism coupled to a vision of isolation, which sought to stay out of power politics, foreign wars, and binding international treaties and regimes.
George Washington in his Farewell Address of 1796 designed this architecture: “to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” Yet even before that speech, Washington had established the nation’s neutrality as a formal policy tradition with the Proclamation of Neutrality (1793) and the Neutrality Act (1794). These neutrality declarations ran contrary to the alliance with France, which had helped win the Revolutionary War. They officially distanced the U.S. from allies and enemies alike and asserted the guiding principle that America would pursue “a conduct friendly and impartial towards the Belligerent powers.” Washington’s Farewell Address, partly written by Alexander Hamilton along with James Madison and read in Congress almost every year until quite recently, set the explicitly isolationist tone. It aimed to recognize the nation’s limited power in order to nurture the safety and progress of the state (and hence, national power one might say). These, in turn, became the basis for virtually all subsequent invocations of a “tradition” in American foreign relations. Washington built on this notion of the new nation as neutral and impartial when he put forward the classic formulation:
The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible…. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concern…. Therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
These Washingtonian principles did not turn the nation away from the world. Instead, the ideas formed the crux of foreign policy realism and argued for a cautious sense of America’s place in the world and for choosing “war or peace, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.” Washington took into account the inherent fragility of American power and the nation’s precarious place in the world, emphasizing America’s distant geographical position as a key to strategic separation and as a brake on involvement in Europe’s hazardous political system. These views were then established as precedent by John Adams and reaffirmed by Thomas Jefferson, who allayed the fears of many Federalists when he underscored a shared set of Washingtonian-Adamsian foreign policy principles in his own inaugural address in 1801.
Jefferson asserted this ideal as “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” Jefferson held a clear belief grounded on the practicality of a type of isolation: enter no enduring alliances with the Old World and steer clear of Europe’s petty squabbles. Jefferson’s daring and farsighted purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 propelled the great mission of continental expansion and improvement, doubling the nation’s territory. And of course the Purchase limited the amount of North American land that European powers could claim or conquer. When regarded in this light, his unilateralist efforts were consistent with the idea of isolation as a guarantee toward maintaining and protecting national sovereignty -- of giving the weak, fledgling nation time to develop and grow while avoiding entanglements such as those that Ben Franklin derisively termed Europe’s “romantick Continental Connections.”
A circumspect view of American power still was evident in 1823, when President James Monroe pronounced his doctrine. An ambitious articulation of American hemispheric power, the Monroe Doctrine, evolved as the guiding view for later foreign policy advocates of interventionism as well as isolationism, many of whom agreed that unilateral involvement across the Americas was perfectly legitimate, but that beyond the Western Hemisphere the nation should avoid foreign wars and the corruptions of particularly Old World political intrigues. Monroe centered this argument on what he saw as an obvious fact: “With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected,” and therefore he declared that “we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”
Thus, in three bold strokes, Washington, Jefferson, and Monroe laid out the essential isolationist mode of thinking about their young nation’s most advantageous relationship to the world. As we will be discussing at the Oregon State University American Military and Diplomatic History Conference today, May 7, 2013, these arguments became the benchmarks that a broad range of subsequent politicians, thinkers, and citizens later had to confront as they built their own cases for engagement abroad and justified their developing visions of internationalism. One point is clear about interpreting the meaning of their words in their own time. This dedicated triad of America’s founders articulated a commerce-first form of unilateralism and a sense of cautious realism, which at its most fundamental level sought to protect their young, weak nation by favoring isolation from almost all entangling alliances as well as conflicts abroad, particularly those involving Europe.
Americans today debate possible new interventions, withdrawals, disputes over what does and does not constitute a “red line,” and other applications of power abroad in light of enormous geopolitical changes and challenges. Let the debate consider the long history of cautious realism, the recognition of the limits to power, and the concern about the unintended consequences of foreign policy adventurism. The history cannot be blinked away. It is central to American diplomatic and military policy.
SOURCE: Salon (5-7-13)
Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation.
Will the third revolutionary wave hit the U.S. next? The revolutions in today’s world are getting ever closer to America.
Revolutions tend to occur in waves, triggered by the aftermath of wars, like the world wars, or by revolutions in leading countries, like the French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848. In the last generation, there have been four regional waves of revolution. With the end of the Cold War, communist regimes were swept from power from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, surviving only in a few countries including China, North Korea and Cuba. Unable to justify themselves with the pretense of fighting communism, military dictatorships were swept away in Latin America. Then the Arab Spring triggered a wave of populist if not necessarily democratic revolutions against autocracies in North Africa and the Middle East.
Are we seeing a new wave of revolutionary politics in the heartland of the industrial West? Although governments are not being violently overthrown in Europe, political systems are being destabilized by the rise of anti-system movements opposed to the major establishment parties. In Greece, the leftist Syriza party and the far-right Golden Dawn have sapped power from the political center. The most recent Italian election was dominated by anti-system candidates, including Silvio Berlusconi and the comedian Beppe Grillo....
SOURCE: The National Interest (5-7-13)
Andrei Lankov is a professor of history at Kookmin University in Seoul. His most recent book is The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia.
Park Geun-hye, the newly elected president of South Korea, has embarked on her first official overseas trip. Predictably enough, her destination is Washington.
Of the many issues which are likely to be discussed at President Park’s first summit with President Obama, questions related to North Korea are of special significance. If rumors are to be believed, President Park is going to brief her counterparts in Washington about her new approach to North Korea.
While Park comes from the same conservative camp as her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, her attitude to North Korea is quite different. Lee Myung-bak was a hardliner who always insisted on reciprocity when dealing with North Korea. The North Korean side was in no mood to reciprocate: it did not agree to pay with political and other concessions for South Korean aid. Thus, President Lee’s tenure ended rather badly—most of the joint North-South projects collapsed under his watch while relations between the two Korean states hit the lowest point in two decades....
SOURCE: Bloomberg Echoes (5-3-13)
As the euro area tries to wrestle member states into fiscal submission through bailouts, austerity and capital controls, it would be well advised to consider a historical precedent: the American Revolution.
In the early 18th century, North America held a role in the British Empire that was similar to the one occupied by Cyprus or Slovenia in the euro area today. Americans were slavers, smugglers, rumrunners and fanatics -- as “opulent, commercial, thriving” as they were irresponsible and fiscally profligate. But as the empire struggled to stay solvent after the Seven Years War, the government of Prime Minister George Grenville attempted to bring the colonists to heel in the name of fiscal austerity.
“The Circumstances of the Times, the Necessities of the Country, and the Abilities of the Colonies, concur in requiring an American Revenue,” wrote Thomas Whately, a Grenville ally, in 1765.
To be sure, the 18th century British Empire and the euro area are very different. But the similarities are still worth noting: A central unelected body (at least not by North Americans), attempted to solve a fiscal problem by inflicting misguided pain on the periphery....
SOURCE: National Review (5-2-13)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His new book, The Savior Generals, will appear this month from Bloomsbury Press. You can reach him by e-mailing email@example.com.
Since antiquity, the Middle East has been the trading nexus of three continents — Asia, Europe, and Africa — and the vibrant birthplace of three of the world’s great religions.
Middle Eastern influence rose again in the 19th century when the Suez Canal turned the once-dead-end eastern Mediterranean Sea into a sea highway from Europe to Asia.
With the 20th-century development of large gas and oil supplies in the Persian Gulf and North Africa, an Arab-led OPEC more or less dictated the foreign policy of thirsty oil importers like the United States and Europe. No wonder U.S. Central Command has remained America’s military-command hot spot.
Yet the Middle East is becoming irrelevant. The discovery of enormous new oil and gas reserves along with the use of new oil-recovery technology in North America and China is steadily curbing the demand for Middle Eastern oil. Soon, countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are going to have less income and geostrategic clout. In both Iran and the Gulf, domestic demand is rising, while there is neither the technical know-how nor the water to master the new art of fracking to sustain exports....
SOURCE: zenpundit (5-2-13)
Timothy R. Furnish has served as an Arabic linguist with the 101st Airborne and as an Army chaplain, holds a PhD in Islamic history from Ohio State, is the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden (2005), and blogs at MahdiWatch. His extended piece for the History News Network, The Ideology Behind the Boston Marathon Bombing, recently received “top billing” in Zen’s Recommended Reading of April 24th.
Pew has released another massive installment of data from its research, 2008-2012, into Muslim attitudes, entitled “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society.” Over 38,000 Muslims in almost 40 countries were surveyed, thus constituting a survey both statistically sound and geographically expansive. Herewith is an analysis of that information and what seem to be its major ramifications.
The first section deals with shari`a, usually rendered simply as “Islamic law” but more accurately defined as “the rules of correct practice” which “cover every possible human contingency, social and individual, from birth to death” and based upon the Qur’an and hadiths (sayings and practices attributed to Muhammad) as interpreted by Islamic religious scholars (Marshal G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Vol 1: The Classical Age of Islam, p. 74). Asked “should sharia [as Pew anglicizes it] be the law of the land,” 57% of Muslims across 38 countries answered “yes” — including, most problematically for the US: 99% of Afghans, 91% of Iraqis, 89% of Palestinians, 84% of Pakistanis and even 74% of Egyptians. Should sharia apply to non-Muslims as well as Muslims? Across 21 countries surveyed on this question, 40% answered affirmatively — with the highest positive response coming from Egypt (its 74% exceeding even Afghanistan’s 61%). And on the question whether sharia punishments — such as whippings and cutting off of thieves’ hands — should be enacted, the 20-country average was 52%, led by Pakistan (88%), Afghanistan (81%), the Palestinian Territories [PT] (76%) and Egypt (70-%). On the specific penalty of stoning for adultery, the 20-country average was 51% — with, again, Pakistan (89%), Afghanistan (85%), the PT (84%) and Egypt (71%) highest in approval. Finally, 38% of Muslims, across those same 20 nations, support the death penalty for those leaving Islam for another religion.
Huge majorities of Muslims across most of these surveyed nations say that “it’s good others can practice their faith” — but Pew’s imprecise terminology on this topic makes possible that this simply mean many Muslims are willing to grant non-Muslims the tolerated, but second-class, ancient status of the dhimmi. Majorities, too, in most countries say that “democracy is better than a powerful leader;” however, the latter was actually preferred by most surveyed in Russia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as by 42% of Iraqis, 40% of Palestinians and 36% of Egyptians. Most Afghans, Egyptians and Tunisians (and even 1/3 of Turks) believe that “Islamic political parties” are better than other ones, although 53% of Indonesians and 45% of Iraqis are also worried about “Muslim extremists.” (Curiously, 31% of Malaysians are, on the other hand, worried about “Christian extremists” — although evidence of such existing in that country is practically non-existent.) There is good news on the question of suicide bombing, however: across 20 countries, only 13.5% think it is ever justified — although the support is much higher in the PT (40%), Afghanistan (39%) and Egypt (29%)....
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed. (4-23-13)
Susan Matt is chair of the history department at Weber State University, and Luke Fernandez is Weber State’s manager for program and technology development.
In 1937, as she lay ill in bed, Annie Oakes Huntington, a writer living in Maine, thought of ways to spend her time. She confided in a letter: “The radio has been a source of unfailing diversion this winter. I expect to enter all the courses at Harvard to be broadcasted.” Huntington was joining in an educational experiment sweeping the country in the 1920s and 30s: massive open on-air courses.
As educators contemplate the MOOCs of our day—massive open online courses—they would do well to consider how earlier generations dealt with technology-enhanced education.
We are not the first generation to believe that technology can transcend distance and erode ignorance. Nearly a century ago, educators were convinced that radio held that same potential. The number of radios in the United States increased from six or seven thousand to 10 million between 1921 and 1928. Many universities explored the possibility of broadcasting courses across the country and allowing anyone to enroll. Some onlookers believed those courses would transform higher education and eliminate lecture halls and seminar rooms. One observer noted, “The nation has become the new campus,” while another celebrated the “‘University of the Air,’ whose campus is the ether of the earth, whose audience waits for learning, learning, learning.”...
SOURCE: National Review (5-1-13)
Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and the recently published A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But a couple of other points should be taken into account before this cavalcade of gloom rolls much farther: Undemocratic countries aren’t doing very well either. No one is really pointing even to China, let alone dismal political burlesques such as Iran or North Korea, with envy or even respect, such as Bernard Shaw and Nancy Astor expressed in their pilgrimages to Stalin, or Oswald Mosley and Ezra Pound did of the fascists, in the Thirties. And appalling, vulgar, and broken-down though much of our societies are, they are not irreparable. What we seem to have is an economic problem compounded by a cultural problem. The economic system is less responsive and inspires more doubts about its sustainability than at any time since the Thirties. And it is hard to banish the suspicion, because it may well be true, that the level of public entertainment, the quality of the principal informational media, the effectiveness of the public education systems, and the reliability of the legal and judicial and correctional systems, despite immense increases in funding and endless calls for reform and radical improvement, are greatly worse than they were 20 or 40 or even 60 years ago.
All these woes are very serious and widely demoralizing, but they don’t so much impugn democracy as the long-entrenched and psychologically very necessary notion of progress. No sane person who is now audible proposes a better system of government; it is just that what we have isn’t working as well as we came to expect when democracy had rivals. We are now in the midst of an often absurd and generally debilitating effort to talk ourselves into an economic recovery. It is obvious that there is really no recovery in any traditionally recognizable terms. The best that can be said is that perhaps the rise in taxation and the python-like encroachment of the coils of red tape have caused large parts of the economy to cease to report. This happens when a free people is labored in the name of redistribution of wealth from those who have earned the money to those who have not, beyond what can be reasonably justified (and in implicit exchange for the votes of the self-interested, pseudo-conscientious majority)....
SOURCE: The Nation (4-30-13)
Rick Perlstein is the author of Nixonland.
I was in New York last week, and one of the people I visited with was my friend Mike Edison, whose qualifications for the job (being my friend, I mean, and for being your friend, too) are listed on the résumé that doubles as the title of his 2008 memoir: I Have Fun Everywhere I Go: Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and the Most Notorious Magazines in the World. The notorious magazines include stoner rag High Times, which he published, and the only-in-New-York Bible of repulsiveness known as Screw, which Edison helped take over upon the retirement of Al Goldstein. I met Mike after he sent me his most recent book, Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!, a history of pornography, to blurb. I did so from the bottom of my heart: “Mike Edison can go toe to toe with some of the best writers of the (old) New Journalism. This is foul-mouthed popular history at its most entertaining. Plenty smart, too—and also, strange to say, poignant and loving.” (Hugh Hefner is the villain. I liked that.)
We met for a play I got free tickets for, running in a theater tucked inside the innards of a massive theme restaurant called Times Scare. This was, Mike pointed out, the former environs of Show World, one of the monuments of the old, perverted Times Square, a place which deserved to have the word “Scare” in its name far more than the plasticized Disney hellscape that sits on the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue now. The incongruity sent Mike into a fit of gauzy reverie. He insisted we duck in next door—where a much smaller version of Show World still stands, somehow, despite two decades of campaigns to close it down, and despite a larger inconvenience you’d think would have spelled its doom long, long ago: Everything it has to offer for a price is now available online for free.
We enter the antiseptic, overlit warren (I say its “much smaller,” but the place is actually still pretty gigantic). Except for the clerk and one other customer, we are the only ones there. It is one of the most surreal things I’ve experienced in my life. Somehow, its survival feels like it says something about the simultaneous resilience and strangeness of the human spirit. Though I couldn’t have quite told you yet what that something was....
SOURCE: WSJ (4-30-13)
Mr. Roth is president of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. and the author of "Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living with the Past" (Columbia University, 2011).
When I mention online learning to my colleagues at Wesleyan University, most respond initially with skepticism. But based on my experience, I know that real learning can take place on the Web.
I am currently teaching a massive online open course, or MOOC, on Coursera. Most MOOCs have great attrition, and mine is no exception: There were almost 30,000 students registered at the start, yet 4,000 remain active as we near the end of the semester. Unlike most MOOCs, which focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, mine is a classic humanities course. "The Modern and the Postmodern" starts off in the 18th century with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, and we work our way toward the present.
When I tell people about my course, they often fixate on its size, and I have to admit that initially I was awe-struck by the number and variety of students. Study groups in Bulgaria and India, in Russia and Boston made me giddy at the reach of this kind of class. Yet despite the diversity of my students' academic preparation, age, national origin and economic status, most of their concerns echo those I've heard over many years of teaching: Can I get an extension? My computer ate my homework. I don't like my grade....
SOURCE: WSJ (4-30-13)
Mr. Roberts, a historian, is the author, most recently, of "The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War" (Harper, 2011).
When—and it is most probably now a question of when, rather than if—Israel is forced to bomb Iran's uranium enrichment facilities, the Israeli government will immediately face a cacophony of denunciation from the press in America and abroad; the international left; the United Nations General Assembly; 20 secretly delighted but fantastically hypocritical Arab states; some Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.; and a large assortment of European politicians. Critics will doubtless harp on about international law and claim that no right exists for pre-emptive military action. So it would be wise for friends of Israel to mug up on their ancient and modern history to refute this claim.
The right, indeed the duty, of nations to proactively defend themselves from foes who seek their destruction with new and terrifying weaponry far pre-dates President George W. Bush and Iraq. It goes back earlier than Israel's successful pre-emptive attacks on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 (not to mention other pre-emptive Israeli attacks like the one on the Syrian nuclear program in 2007). It even predates Israel's 1967 pre-emption of massed Arab armies, a move that saved the Jewish state. History is replete with examples when pre-emption was successful, as well as occasions when, because pre-emption wasn't employed, catastrophe struck.
When it became clear that the Emperor Napoleon was about to commandeer the large and formidable Danish navy stationed at Copenhagen in 1807, the British Royal Navy attacked without a declaration of war and either sank, disabled or captured almost the entire fleet. No one screamed about "international law" in those days, of course, any more than statesmen would have cared if they had. Neither did Winston Churchill give any warning to the Ottoman Empire, a German ally, when he ordered the bombardment of the Dardanelles Outer Forts in November 1914, also without a war declaration....
SOURCE: NY Daily News (5-1-13)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is writing a history of sex education around the world.
Hey, did you hear the big sports news? One of the best basketball players of our time just came out as gay. I’m not talking about Jason Collins, the journeyman NBA center who came out on Monday. This season, playing for two teams, he averaged just over 1 point a game.
I’m talking instead about Brittney Griner, the first NCAA player to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots. A three-time All-American, she was the No. 1 pick in the Women’s National Basketball Association draft on April 15. A few days later, Griner told interviewers that she’s gay.
And the world shrugged. “Can you imagine if it was a man who did the exact same thing?” asked one gay blogger. “Everyone’s head would have exploded.”...
SOURCE: The National Interest (5-1-13)
Walter Laqueur is a historian and political commentator. His most recent book is After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent.
Marx -- one of the most influential thinkers of the nineteenth century, if not the single most important one -- is enjoying a kind of renaissance. This is attributed by some to the great economic crisis that began in 2008 and destroyed considerable wealth around the world. Given that this crisis is seen widely as a crisis of capitalism, it is natural that many people would think of Marx, who was of course the greatest critic of capitalism in history.
Yet it is a strange renaissance, if indeed it is any kind of renaissance at all. In recent years, there have been many Marxism conferences and countless workshops in places such as Chicago, Boston and Berlin. In London, one Marx “festival” lasted five days under a slogan that cried, “Revolution is in the air.” The invitation read:
Crisis and austerity have exposed the insanity of our global system. Billions have been given to the banks, while billions across the planet face hunger, poverty, climate catastrophes and war. We used to be told capitalism meant prosperity and democracy. Not any more. Now it means austerity for the 99% and rule by the markets.
But is revolution really in the air? France got a socialist government, but it is already in trouble. Britain may follow, but would it fare any better? It seems only natural that, at a time of crisis, public opinion would turn against the party in power. Given the severity of the crisis and the slowness of the recovery, it is not surprising that some people would turn to Marxism. But the fact that the political reaction has been so mild is more astonishing.
And, while some of the conferences and festivals lauding the anticapitalist crusader seem to be motivated by genuine neo-Marxist sentiments, others appear to be using the man as a kind of bandwagon for separate trendy causes and impulses. Consider the agenda at a recent such meeting at the University of Washington. One has to doubt whether these followers of Marx are on the right track when the papers under discussion contain titles such as “Reconsidering Impossible Totalities: Marxist Deployments of the Sublime,” “A Few Thoughts on the Academic Poet as Hobo-Tourist,” “Reading Hip-Hop at the Intersection of Culture and Capitalism,” “Annals of Sexual States” and “The Political Economy of Stranger Intimacy.”
One wonders what Marx’s reaction would be if he sat at his desk in the British Museum’s Reading Room and contemplated such discussions at a gathering dedicated to rethinking his ideas. Would he be impressed, amused or speechless? Perhaps it would remind him of the carnival celebrations each February in his native Trier: wine, funny masks and customs, and pranks—all followed by a hangover of five or six days....
SOURCE: Slate (4-22-13)
Beverly Gage, a Yale history professor, is the author of The Day Wall Street Exploded.
The title of Robert Redford’s new documentary, which aired on the Discovery Channel last night, is All the President’s Men Revisited. At times, it seems more like All the President’s Men Repeated. Though created to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Watergate, the first half of the film contains little that could not be found in Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 political thriller starring Redford and Dustin Hoffman. You know the story: A pair of scrappy young reporters named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stick to their guns when nobody else will, and their reporting helps to bring down a president.
This is, to be sure, a terrific story. No matter how many times you’ve heard it before, there is something gripping about watching Nixon’s slow, painful descent into national disgrace. Redford’s film hits all the highlights: Nixon’s press secretary Ron Ziegler dismissing the original break-in as a “third-rate burglary”; Woodward and Bernstein scrambling to “follow the money” all the way to the White House; Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield admitting to Congress that his boss maintained a voice-activated taping system; Nixon’s restrained farewell address to the nation, then his devastating, heartfelt goodbye to the White House staff....
SOURCE: Washington Times (4-24-13)
Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2013 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.
What will be the long-term impact of the Apr. 15-19 Boston Marathon attack and the ensuing action-movie-style chase, killing a total of four and wounding 265?
Let's start with what its impact will not be. It will not bring American opinion together; if the "United We Stand" slogan lasted brief months after 9/11, consensus after Boston will be even more elusive. The violence will not lead to Israeli-like security measures in the United States. Nor will it lead to a greater preparedness to handle deadly sudden jihad syndrome violence. It will not end the dispute over the motives behind indiscriminate Muslim violence against non-Muslims. And it certainly will not help resolve current debates over immigration or guns.
What it will do is very important: it will prompt some Westerners to conclude that Islamism is a threat to their way of life. Indeed, every act of Muslim aggression against non-Muslims, be it violent or cultural, recruits more activists to the anti-jihad cause, more voters to insurgent parties, more demonstrators to anti-immigrant street efforts, and more donors to anti-Islamist causes.
Education by murder is the name I gave this process in 2002; we who live in democracies learn best about Islamism when blood flows in the streets. Muslims began with an enormous stock of good will because the Western DNA includes sympathy for foreigners, minorities, the poor, and people of color. Islamists then dissipate this good will by engaging in atrocities or displaying supremacist attitudes. High profile terrorism in the West - 9/11, Bali, Madrid, Beslan, London – moves opinion more than anything else.
I know because I went through this process first hand. Sitting in a restaurant in Switzerland in 1990, Bat Ye'or sketched out for me her fears concerning Islamist ambitions in Europe but I thought she was alarmist. Steven Emerson called me in 1994 to tell me about the Council on American-Islamic Relations but I initially gave CAIR the benefit of the doubt. Like others, I needed time to wake to the full extent of the Islamist threat in the West.
Westerners are indeed waking up to this threat. One can get a vivid sense of trends by looking at developments in Europe, which on the topics of immigration, Islam, Muslims, Islamism, and Shari'a (Islamic law) is ahead of North America and Australia by about twenty years. One sign of change is the growth of political parties focused on these issues, including the U.K. Independence Party, the National Front in France, the People's Party in Switzerland, Geert Wilder's Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Progress Party in Norway, and the Swedish Democrats. In a much-noted recent by-election, UKIP came in second, increasing its share of the vote from 4 percent to 28 percent, thereby creating a crisis in the Conservative party.
Swiss voters endorsed a referendum in 2009 banning minarets by at 58-42 margin, a vote more significant for its ratio than its policy implications, which were roughly nil. Public opinion polling at that time found that other Europeans shared these views roughly in these same proportions. Polling also shows a marked hardening of views over the years on these topics. Here (with thanks to Maxime Lépante) are some recent surveys from France:
67 percent say Islamic values are incompatible with those of French society
70 percent say there are too many foreigners
73 percent view Islam in negatively
74 percent consider Islam intolerant
84 percent are against the hijab in private spaces open to the public
86 percent are favorable to strengthening the ban on the burqa
As Soeren Kern notes, similar views on Islam appear in Germany. A recent report from the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach asked what qualities Germans associate with Islam:
56 percent: striving for political influence
60 percent: revenge and retaliation
64 percent: violence
68 percent: intolerance toward other faiths
70 percent: fanaticism and radicalism
83 percent: discrimination against women
In contrast, only 7 percent of Germans associate Islam with openness, tolerance, or respect for human rights.
These commanding majorities are higher than in earlier years, suggesting that opinion in Europe is hardening and will grow yet more hostile to Islamism over time. In this way, Islamist aggression assures that anti-Islamism in the West is winning its race with Islamism. High-profile Muslim attacks like the ones in Boston exacerbate this trend. That is its strategic significance. That explains my cautious optimism about repulsing the Islamist threat.
SOURCE: Bloomberg News (4-14-13)
Pankaj Mishra is the author of “From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia” and a Bloomberg View columnist, based in London and Mashobra, India. The opinions expressed are his own.
It was raining heavily last week when I visited Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japanese who died in the “imperial cause.” But the tour buses still discharged scores of elderly Japanese visitors, and I received approving looks and even a faint smile from two Japanese women as we stood in the rain before the memorial to an Indian jurist called Radha Binod Pal.
Pal was the only Indian judge at the so-called Tokyo Trials, Japan’s protracted version of Nuremberg. In his 1,235- page dissent, he voted to acquit the 25 Japanese accused by Allied powers of the “unprecedented” crime of “conspiring against peace.”
Not surprisingly, he became a hero to those Japanese who felt more “victim consciousness” than guilt over Japan’s brutalizing of Asia. He continues to be revered, as more than one Japanese nationalist I met last week proudly informed me. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to revise Japan’s 1995 apology for its Asian war, is a fan....