Roundup: Talking About HistoryFollow RU: Talking About History on RSS and Twitter
This is where we excerpt articles about history that appear in the media. Among the subjects included on this page are: anniversaries of historical events, legacies of presidents, cutting-edge research, and historical disputes.
Ian Haney Lopez, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, in the NYT (May 22, 2004):
With commemorations from coast to coast to remind them, most Americans already know that this week was the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Unfortunately, what they don't realize is that the country missed an equally important anniversary two weeks ago, that of Hernandez v. Texas the perennially overshadowed antecedent to Brown that was decided on May 3, 1954.
That case merits commemoration not just because the Supreme Court used it to finally extend constitutional protection to Mexican-Americans, important though that is, especially now that Latinos are the largest minority group. It's worth celebrating because Hernandez got right something that Brown did not: the standard for when the Constitution should bar group-based discrimination....
Because both sides insisted that Mexican-Americans were white, Hernandez v. Texas forced the court to confront directly a question it would sidestep in Brown: under precisely what circumstances did some groups deserve constitutional protection? Hernandez offered a concise answer: when groups suffer subordination.
"Differences in race and color have defined easily identifiable groups which have at times required the aid of the courts in securing equal treatment under the laws," the court wrote. But, it said, "other differences from the community norm may define other groups which need the same protection." Succor from state discrimination, the court reasoned, should apply to every group socially defined as different and, implicitly, as inferior. "Whether such a group exists within a community is a question of fact," the court said, one that may be demonstrated "by showing the attitude of the community."
How, then, did the Texas community where Hernandez arose regard Mexican-Americans? Here the court catalogued Jim Crow practices: business and community groups largely excluded Mexican-Americans; a local restaurant displayed a sign announcing "No Mexicans Served"; children of Mexican descent were shunted into a segregated school and then forced out altogether after the fourth grade; on the county courthouse grounds there were two men's toilets, one unmarked and the other marked "Colored Men" and "Hombres Aquí" ("Men Here").
The same sort of caste system that oppressed blacks in Texas also harmed Mexican-Americans. But it was Jim Crow as group subordination, rather than as a set of "racial" distinctions, that called forth the Constitution's concern in Hernandez v. Texas.
Joel Beinin, in the Nation (May 13, 2004):
For the last three and a half years the Israeli army has deployed American-supplied F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, armored Caterpillar bulldozers and Merkava tanks powered by engines made in the USA in an unsuccessful effort to suppress the second Palestinian uprising. According to both Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Israel is engaged in a war despite the spectacularly unequal military balance in the conflict. Moreover, Palestinian civilians and the infrastructure of Palestinian society have been its principal victims. Almost all of the 2,886 Palestinian fatalities since September 2000 have been civilians, about eighty of them "collateral damage" to 230 extrajudicial assassinations, which are themselves violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In the same period there have been 950 Israeli fatalities, 672 of them civilians.
The typical pattern for the first several weeks of the intifada was that Palestinian civilians engaged in peaceful protest marches. Toward the end of the protests, youths taunted and threw stones at Israeli troops. The soldiers fired on stone-throwers and non-stone-throwers alike, rapidly escalating their responses to all demonstrations against over thirty years of occupation in accord with previously devised plans. Palestinian police, fearing they would be discredited if they remained passive, eventually returned fire using the rifles they were issued in accordance with the Oslo agreements. Secular and Islamist Palestinian factions revitalized their military wings. As it became clear that they were hopelessly outmatched by Israel's military force, they resorted to the strategically and morally catastrophic deployment of suicide bombers, targeting civilians.
The conduct of the Israeli army in the second intifada, in sharp contrast to its prevailing image, has been singularly unheroic. Its tactics have been condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and even the State Department's annual report on human rights. This less than admirable performance forms the context for a spate of new books celebrating a better era for Israel's armed forces, when victories were gained fighting armies, not a civilian population resisting occupation and seeking national self-determination.
First there was Michael Oren's Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of
the Modern Middle East, chronicling the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Though widely
acclaimed by mainstream reviewers as a definitive account of the war, Oren's
book was aptly described by the tireless Norman Finkelstein as "Abba Eban
with Footnotes"--a reference to Eban's eloquent but factually challenged
speech at the UN General Assembly justifying Israel's pre-emptive strike of
June 1967. While Oren's book is a serious work of scholarship, it essentially
restates the traditional Israeli account of the war as a defensive strike waged
against belligerent Arab states seeking to "throw Israel into the sea."
Oren does not adequately address three arguments that challenge this view. First,
according to interviews with former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan conducted in
1976 and 1977, which were kept secret for many years but published well before
Oren's book, Israel had been intentionally provoking Syria since 1948 in order
to establish sovereignty over the demilitarized zones on their common border.
Second, according to the evaluation of several different intelligence agencies
and the Israeli general staff, Israel did not face an existential danger in
1967 and could expect an easy victory. Third, Israel chose war because, as Shimon
Peres wrote in the pro- Labor Party daily, Davar, its leaders did not want to
negotiate over Israel's borders or the question of Palestinian refugees. The
second of these matters remains off the table as far as Israel is concerned....
Harriet Baskas, National Public Radio (May 21, 2004):
After a brief attempt at selling itself as a family vacation land, Las Vegas is restaking its claim as America's most decadent destination.
Unidentified Man: Yeah, hi. I was wondering, could I get a wake-up call tomorrow morning please? Could I get that to go to my cell phone instead of my room? Well, here's the thing. I--I'm not quite sure if I'm going to be in my room tomorrow so...
BASKAS: A new national ad campaign sports the tag line 'What happens here stays here.' The ads are paid for by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. And while gambling and a bit of hanky-panky seem to be acceptable, the authority's Terry Jicinsky says illegal mob activity isn't an image the city wants to promote.
Mr. TERRY JICINSKY (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority): It's part of our history. It was acknowledged as part of our history. It isn't really what Las Vegas is about today.
BASKAS: Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman doesn't entirely agree. In fact, the mob museum was his idea.
Mayor OSCAR GOODMAN (Las Vegas): If you had mobsters during a certain period of time that contributed to what we became today, that's all part of it, and I think it's as cool as it gets.
BASKAS: From his celebrity photo-lined office overlooking downtown Las Vegas, Goodman acknowledges his first-hand knowledge of the mob. Before becoming mayor in 1999, he was a noted criminal lawyer.
Mayor GOODMAN: And I represented a lot of mobsters around here, and my practice was about 5 percent mobsters. I'm not afraid to say I was a mob lawyer.
BASKAS: For better or worse, according to historian Hal Rothman, organized crime transformed Las Vegas from a bedraggled collection of desert gambling halls into an oasis of luxury hotels, fancy casinos, leggy showgirls and big-name entertainment.
Mr. HAL ROTHMAN (Historian): Anybody in their right mind knows that from sometime in the 1940s till sometime in the 1970s, the city was mobbed up. The sources of capital and power in the city were closely tied to organized crime.
BASKAS: Rothman is the author of"Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Began the 21st Century." He says the mob and its money first made a mark on Las Vegas when New York gangster Meyer Lanski sent Benjamin"Bugsy" Siegel to town to oversee the mob's investment in the Flamingo Hotel.
Mr. ROTHMAN: The original face--you know, when Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo and all the way up through the Stardust, the money came really from shoe boxes. Mobsters went around to each other and said, 'I'm building a hotel in Las Vegas. I'll sell you share for $50,000, and they'd get the shoe box out from under the bed and they'd give them the cash.
BASKAS: A downtown museum exploring this history strikes Mayor Goodman as a great tourist attraction. But when he first floated the idea round town, the local Italian American community voiced concern.
Mr. ROTHMAN: When I said 'the mob,' I was not thinking of Italian Americans. I really was thinking of the mob as I knew it here, where you had fellows who had reputations like Mo Dalitz, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lanski, who was one of my clients. It was a Jewish mob that I was thinking of.
BASKAS: No one in the business community has actually come out publicly against the mayor's idea, even if privately they may be concerned about drawing attention to the seamy underbelly of Sin City.
Mr. DAVID MILLMAN (Nevada State Museum): I can understand not wanting to dredge out these so-called bad aspects of one's past, but I think to fully understand where we are today, you've got to understand where we've been.
Recorded sometime in the eighth century b.c., the Iliad represents the culmination of several centuries of oral epic poetry that wove a complex story of the relationship between mortals and gods. This narrative takes place against the bloody backdrop of the ten-year-long Greek siege of the city alternatively called Ilios or Troy, a war launched over the abduction of the beautiful Greek queen Helen by the Trojan prince Paris.
The ancient Greeks and Romans generally believed in the historicity of the Trojan War, and even Alexander the Great paid homage at what they believed was the site of the great battle. But eventually Troy was forgotten except for the Iliad, and it wasnt until the late nineteenth century, when Heinrich Schliemanns excavations at the site of Hisarlik in northwestern Turkey raised the possibility that Troy was rediscovered, that scholars would consider the battle between Greeks and Trojans to be more than Homeric fantasy. Some scholars, however, still cast doubt on the notion of a historical Trojan War, stressing that our belief in its existence is based ultimately on the creation of Homer, who was a poet, not a historian.
Manfred Korfmann, director of excavations at Hisarlik/Troy since 1988, is the first to admit that his team is not at the site to dig for evidence of the fabled event. But evidence in favor of a historical Trojan War appears to grow with each year, and comes not only from archaeologists but from specialists across academia. In an Archaeology exclusive, Troys chief excavator, with contributions from world-renowned specialists in the fields of Homeric and Hittite studies, explains why its time for doubters to change their minds about the Western worlds most famousand mythicbattle.
Despite assumptions to the contrary, archaeological work of the new Troy project has not been performed for the purpose of understanding Homers Iliad or the Trojan War. For the past sixteen years, more than 350 scholars, scientists, and technicians from nearly twenty countries have been collaborating on the excavations at the site in northwestern Turkey that began as an Early Bronze Age citadel in the third millennium b.c. and ended as a Byzantine settlement before being abandoned in a.d. 1350. However, as current director of the excavations, I am continually asked if Homers Trojan War really happened.
The size of Troy
Troy appears to have been destroyed around 1180 b.c. (this date corresponds to the end of our excavation of levels Troy VIi or VIIa), probably by a war the city lost. There is evidence of a conflagration, some skeletons, and heaps of sling bullets. People who have successfully defended their city would have gathered their sling bullets and put them away for another event, but a victorious conqueror would have done nothing with them. But this does not mean that the conflict was the wareven though ancient tradition usually places it around this time. After a transitional period of a few decades, a new population from the eastern Balkans or the northwestern Black Sea region evidently settled in the ruins of what was probably a much weakened city.
The main argument against associating these ruins with the great city described in the Iliad has been that Troy in the Late Bronze Age was a wholly insignificant town and not a place worth fighting over. Our new excavations and the progress of research in southeastern Europe has changed such views regarding Troy considerably.
It appears that this city was, by the standards of this region at that time, very large indeed, and most certainly of supraregional importance in controlling access from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and from Asia Minor to southeast Europe and vice versa. Its citadel was unparalleled in the wider region and, as far as hitherto known, unmatched anywhere in southeastern Europe. Troy was also evidently attacked repeatedly and had to defend itself again and again, as indicated by repairs undertaken to the citadels fortifications and efforts to enlarge and strengthen them.
A spectacular result of the new excavations has been the verification of the existence of a lower settlement from the seventeenth to the early twelfth centuries b.c. (Troy levels VI/VIIa) outside and south and east of the citadel. As magnetometer surveys and seven excavations undertaken since 1993 have shown, this lower city was surrounded at least in the thirteenth century by an impressive U-shaped fortification ditch, approximately eleven and a half feet wide and six and a half feet deep, hewn into the limestone bedrock. Conclusions about the existence and quality of buildings within the confines of the ditch have been drawn on the basis of several trial trenches and excavations, some of them covering a very large surface area. The layout of the city was confirmed by an intensive and systematic pottery survey in 2003. We have also discovered a cemetery outside the ditch to the south. The most recent excavations have determined that Troy, which now covers about seventy-five acres, is about fifteen times larger than previously thought....
Scott Galupo, in the Wash Times (May 21, 2004):
... The World War II Memorial, sober and sunk low in a long frame of elms, rests between the two structures that anchor the Mall.The monument to America's first great warrior, George Washington, towers over it on one side. The statue of America's great uniter, Abraham Lincoln, looks on from the other.
In such company, the location and initial look of the new memorial to those who fought in World War II had its doubters. It would trample on ground consecrated by the civil rights movement, some said. Its design smacked of imperialist architecture, others said.
The controversy, settled in granite and bronze, came down to this: Was World War II the lives lost, the victories gained a hinge event of American history, on par with the founding and the Civil War? Or not?
Historians say it was: The war transformed America, and, in turn, America transformed the world.
"World War II was the seminal event of the 20th century," says Victor Davis Hanson, military historian and classicist at the University of California in Fresno and author of "Carnage and Culture," a study of the military pre-eminence of Western civilization. "Quite literally, Western civilization as we know it hung by a thread and was saved by the efforts of Americans."
"The totality of it is what made it unique for the American experience," says Edward J. Drea, a historian of World War II who lives in Fairfax. "It affected everyone, of every class."
From December 7, 1941, to Aug. 6, 1945, America spent 400,000 lives beating back German dictator Adolf Hitler's march across Europe and Japanese Emperor Hirohito's advance in the South Pacific.
Sixteen million Americans served during the war, fully 10 percent of the population at the time. The movement of so many young men and so much materiel radically reshaped our society.
The country literally was in flux, its industrial capacity energized like never before, its agrarian roots fading further from view. The population migrated northward and, drawn by a humming new industry centered on construction of aircraft, to California.
Global war demanded a rapid acceleration in the technology of weaponry and medicine. Mr. Drea, who focuses on the South Pacific theater in books such as "MacArthur's Ultra: Codebreaking and the War Against Japan," notes that the war led to wider use of malaria suppressants such as quinine and the insecticide DDT, which helped stop typhus epidemics.
The United States devoted all its energies to the war, rationing meat, sugar and metals on the home front.
A shortage of shellac, used to manufacture phonograph records, stunted the recording of new music. Short supplies of rubber and gasoline and trains filled with soldiers knocked touring musicians off the road. Popular bandleader Glenn Miller sent his own musicians packing to form the Army Air Force Band and died in 1944 when a military flight disappeared over the English Channel.
Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio and movie star Jimmy Stewart joined the war effort at the height of their careers by serving in the Army and Army Air Corps, respectively, and Mr. Stewart became a decorated pilot.
Up to 40 percent of the movies Hollywood cranked out between 1941 and 1945 propagandized for the war. Hum-phrey Bogart squared off against the Nazis in 1943's "Action in the North Atlantic"; Cary Grant captained a submarine in "Destination Tokyo" the same year; and future president Ronald Reagan teamed with Errol Flynn in 1942's "Desperate Journey."
Women flocked to jobs in the men's absence. Teenagers too young to fight also took jobs, setting in motion a new youth culture that would flourish as veterans and their wives created waves of new children for the next 20 years.
After vanquishing European fascism and Japanese militarism, the postwar nation assumed the leading role in defending the world against the other great poison of the 20th century, the menace of Stalin and expansionist Soviet communism.
"The self-destruction of Europe created the conditions for the ascendancy of the U.S. in world affairs," Mr. Hanson says, "and, tragically but necessarily, demanded a new responsibility to expend blood and treasure immediately after our greatest sacrifice to prevent the Soviet Union from capitalizing on the ruin of Europe."
Scott Sherman, in the Nation (June 7, 2004):
... In the wake of the Vietnam War, the [New Yok Review of Books] became a formidable--and, in some sense, unique--journalistic institution. Many of its readers reside in academia, but the paper has a devoted following in the upper reaches of media, politics and philanthropy, which gives it an influence vastly out of proportion to its circulation of 130,000. (One recent essay, Peter Galbraith's "How to Get Out of Iraq," even caused a stir among some military intellectuals.) That influence translates into dollars: In contrast to virtually all serious literary and political journals, which drain money from their owners, the Review has been profitable for decades. But the formula is not without its imperfections, which have grown more pronounced in recent years. The publication has always been erudite and authoritative--and because of its analytical rigor and seriousness, frequently essential--but it hasn't always been lively, pungent and readable. A musty odor, accompanied by a certain aversion to risk-taking, has pervaded its pages for a long time. "In recent years," says the historian Ronald Steel, who has contributed since 1965, "the paper has sometimes verged on being bland or predictable, always using the same people."
But the election of George W. Bush, combined with the furies of 9/11, jolted the editors. Since 2001, the Review's temperature has risen and its political outlook has sharpened. Old warhorses bolted from their armchairs. Prominent members of the Review "family"--a stable that includes veteran journalists (Thomas Powers, Frances FitzGerald, Ian Buruma), literary stars (Joan Didion, Norman Mailer) and academic heavyweights (Stanley Hoffmann, Ronald Dworkin, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.)--charged into battle not only against the White House but against the lethargic press corps and the "liberal hawk" intellectuals, some of whom are themselves prominent members of the Review's extended family. In stark contrast to The New Yorker, whose editor, David Remnick, endorsed the Iraq war in a signed essay in February 2003, asserting that "a return to a hollow pursuit of containment will be the most dangerous option of all"; or The New York Times Magazine, which gave ample space to Michael Ignatieff, Bill Keller, Paul Berman, George Packer and other prowar liberal hawks, the Review opposed the Iraq war in a voice that was remarkably consistent and unified.
The firepower it directed against the liberal hawks reveals much about the Review's political mood these days. Like many in the liberal hawk camp, the publication sanctioned US military intervention in the Balkans on humanitarian grounds. But when Ignatieff & Co. invoked the logic of humanitarian intervention as a basis for military action against Saddam Hussein, the Review (which has showcased Ignatieff's work for years) insisted that Bush's crusade against Iraq was something closer to old-fashioned imperialism. As Ian Buruma wrote in a quietly devastating assessment of Paul Berman's 2003 book Terror and Liberalism: "There is something in the tone of Berman's polemic that reminds me of the quiet American in Graham Greene's novel, the man of principle who causes mayhem, without quite realizing why."
What blew the dust off The New York Review? In no sense, really, has the paper returned to its New Left sensibility of the late 1960s: Chomsky, Hayden and Willis have not been reinstated; young lions like The Baffler's Tom Frank and The Village Voice's Rick Perlstein have not been invited to contribute; Eric Foner, Bruce Cumings, Richard Rorty, Chalmers Johnson, Stephen Holmes, Anatol Lieven, Elaine Showalter and Carol Brightman continue to publish much of their finest work not in The New York Review of Books but in the more radical, eccentric and sprightly pages of the London Review of Books. In short, the Review's liberal (and establishment) soul remains intact. What has changed significantly, in the age of Bush, is the Review's style of rhetoric and degree of political focus and commitment....
What accounts for the Review's post-9/11 revival? One word that continually tumbles from the lips of seasoned Review-watchers is"Vietnam." Says Mark Danner, who worked for Silvers after he graduated from Harvard in the early 1980s, and who has recently produced some searching essays in the Review about Iraq,"If you look back over the Review's history, you'll find that periods of crisis bring out the best editorial instincts of the leadership of The New York Review. It certainly happened with Vietnam and Iran/contra. It gets the juices flowing."
Some observers point to a circular continuity between the Review's coverage of Vietnam and Iraq."The late 1960s, for the paper, were, to some extent, the age of Chomsky," says Harvard professor Stanley Hoffmann."The Review was a very strong critic of the Vietnam War. Gradually it became less militant, if you like. And indeed in the last year it has found some of its old vigor again, but it never lost what can be called a highly critical viewpoint about a number of aspects of international relations and foreign affairs." ...