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.
William Wallis, in the London Financial Times (April 17, 2004):
Forgive thy neighbour How does a country recover from genocide? A decade after the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans, the government is concentrating on justice for the Tutsi victims. But many Hutus suffered too and the latest measures are struggling to bridge the deadly ethnic divide...
Rwanda's history is considered too sensitive to be taught in schools, although teachers are confronted every day by their pupils' questions about the genocide. As Oswald Rutimburana at the country's Unity and Reconciliation Commission argues, the history books are filled with manipulation and lies. Infected by Rwanda's schisms, historians often display visceral contempt for each other's theses. A balanced and non-polemical version of Rwanda that could be taught in school without engendering new prejudice has yet to be written, he says.
But there is debate, out of public range, about the soundness of fresh official attempts to paper over such gaping cracks. Even within the ranks of government there are some who fear that history is again being dangerously reinterpreted, that by smothering open discussion of all aspects of Rwanda's past, the Tutsi-dominated government is masking it's own vice-like grip on power and creating new divisions.
For the Rwandan government the passing of this decade, and the faint spotlight this has brought, is an opportunity to promote the re-emergence of their nation and to prick foreign consciences anew.
Rodney Chester, in the Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia) (April 17, 2004):
Homer may have used poetic licence when he wrote his tale of the Trojan horse, and the war that razed an ancient city. Rodney Chester reports
IT HAS love, betrayal, great warriors, brilliant cunning. It is the story of the Trojan Wars and as Troy expert Dr Eric Cline, of George Washington University in the United States says, there is a reason the story continues to fascinate us.
"It's a combination of a chick-flick and a buddy movie," Cline says. "There's something for everybody."
Also, after centuries of frequently bitter academic debate, it is a story that could be true.
Archaeological evidence is pointing to the fact that Troy was, in fact, a great city -- and not one of myth -- destroyed in a brutal battle.
Such evidence also is most timely, with a BBC documentary last month revealing evidence uncovered by German professor Manfred Korfmann, who claims finally to have found the city described in the famous tale.
And while historians will debate the details, movie-goers will soon get to see the big picture played out before them in Wolfgang Petersen's much-awaited film Troy that has Eric Bana and Brad Pitt going to war for the face who launched a thousand ships.
Homer composed the story of the Trojan Wars in the eighth century BC, but it's believed he was referring to events that took place about 1300BC to 1200BC.
The way Homer tells the tale, the beautiful Helen is lured away from her husband Menelaus, the King of Sparta, by Paris, a Trojan prince. Menelaus calls on his brother, Agamemnon, a powerful king, who launches a thousand ships to attack Troy in a 10-year siege.
Unable to break through Troy's defences, the Greeks leave a wooden horse outside the city gates. After the Trojans take it into the heart of the city, warriors leap from inside the wooden and leather structure and open the gates to let their army in. The city is then razed.
For Cline, it's a story that has fascinated him since he was seven, when his mother gave him the book The Walls of Windy Troy.
The archaeologist, who has worked on items recovered from the Troy site, says the appeal of the story is universal.
"It has themes that just resonate down through the ages, it doesn't matter what age you're living in or what culture you're living in," he says.
"It has these universal elements to it: it's love, it's war, it's greed, it's ambition, it's trickery, it's treachery, it's the agony of defeat. It's all the cliches.
"The hero loses the girl, the hero goes back to get the girl, the hero eventually gets the girl with the help of his best friend who happens to be his brother."
The book that changed Cline's life was a biography of Heinrich Schliemann, a businessman-turned-archaeologist now considered equal parts scoundrel and scientist, who first claimed to have discovered the city of Troy.
Schliemann made and lost several fortunes in his life and retired, after a particularly financially healthy period as a banker during the Californian gold rush, to find the legendary city that reputable scholars at the time doubted ever to have existed. He started excavating in 1870 and within three years claimed he had found the real Troy.
What he had found was some gold treasures, which he smuggled home to Germany, a fortress, which later proved to be about 1000 years too old to be the part of the famous Trojan war, and nine cities built one on top of another over 4000 years.
Two decades later, Schliemann's former assistant Wilhelm Dorpfeld, who took over uncovering the site, uncovered a citadel with huge walls that had the physical features described in the legend and could be dated to the right time.
But while Dorpfeld felt he had uncovered the real Troy, the problem was this was a city that was not big enough to survive a decade-long siege and there was evidence that this city, known as Troy 6, was destroyed by an earthquake, not by a battle.
American archaeologist Carl Blegen continued digging on the site before World War II, and he uncovered Troy 7A, which seemed to have been destroyed by humans, but otherwise didn't match Homer's description.
For the next few decades, experts debated the facts. Some said Homer merged two cities from different eras into the one tale.
Others said the story of the Trojan Horse related to Troy 6 with the wooden horse a metaphor for an earthquake because Poseidon was the god of earthquakes and the animal associated with him was the horse.
The debate took a new twist when Professor Manfred Korfmann, of Tubingen University in Germany, began his excavations in 1988.
He says in the BBC documentary that it was the science, and not the romance of the myth, that lured him to Troy. One of the things that puzzled him about Troy 6 was that it had great towers but no obvious way of closing off the path between the towers.
Korfmann's team began excavating outside the walls, which revealed clues indicating people living in the area during the late Bronze Age, which ties in with the time of the legendary war.
He then used magnetic imaging to study the area, and revealed a city hidden beneath the fields that had a grid of wide streets and long avenues.
The magnetic imaging also revealed a line that turned out to be a deep ditch that kept invaders out of the city limits.
The breakthrough revealed in the BBC documentary is evidence of large fires and skeletons half-buried, as if they died in battle, along with arrowheads and sling pellets stored in heaps that were prepared for a fight by defenders who didn't have time to use them.
"It was a city which was besieged. It was a city which was defended, which protected itself.
"They lost the war and, obviously, they were defeated," Korfmann says in the documentary.
Cline says Korfmann's latest finds seems proof that Troy did exist, but proving the city's existence is one thing. Proving that the rest of the story is true is another. Cline doubts that the beauty and love of one woman is a big enough catalyst to launch a decade of bloody conflict....
Douglas Rogers, in the Guardian (April 16, 2004):
In 1973, Sandra Hochman's documentary about the women's movement, featuring
Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine, caused a sensation. So why has it spent
30 years locked in a vault?
Warren Beatty looked bemused. This should have been so easy for him. He was
the hottest film star in the world, the cameras were rolling and he was being
interviewed by a gorgeous blonde who had the sexpot body of a 60s Brigitte Bardot.
What's more, the subject was women. Or, more to the point, the women's movement.
Perhaps he just wasn't prepared for the provocative questioning. When the blonde
suggested to him that men might go to rehabilitation centres to be reoriented
in society, his reply was rambling. She egged him on and he called her a female
chauvinist. She calmly said she wasn't and he tried to sound smooth: "You
think you've really licked it, don't you?" Then, his legendary charm really
evaporated. "You've changed," he spluttered, as the cameras closed
in. "When you came and talked to me at the Beverly Wiltshire, I liked you
very much but I don't think you were very direct and very firm the way you are
now." The woman deadpanned back: "Well, I was talking about something
I didn't feel very firmly about. Which was you."
The woman was the 36-year-old poet, author and first-time film-maker Sandra Hochman. The year was 1972, and the interview was the opening salvo in Hochman's astonishing documentary, Year of the Woman (1973). The good news for Beatty and other men skewered in the film is that few people ever saw it. It has recently been screened at the Sarasota film festival in Florida, but has spent the past 30 years locked in a Manhattan film vault, too radical or too weird for distributors to touch.
The film is set at the Democratic political convention in Miami in July, 1972. The convention was the scene of the first meeting of the newly formed National Women's Political Caucus, which nominated congresswoman Shirley Chisholm as the first woman presidential candidate in American history. Hochman had gone to Miami with an all-woman documentary crew to make the first ever film on the women's movement and she returned with extraordinary footage. The film features a cross-section of American cultural icons, among them Beatty, Shirley MacLaine, Norman Mailer, Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron and the radical black feminist activist Florence Kennedy. Germaine Greer even appears at one point, standing moody and alone at the back of an auditorium.
The hand-held camera follows Hochman as she prods male politicians, delegates and celebrities into sharing their views on women and the feminist movement. Like Beatty, most of them hang themselves. Future Democrat presidential candidate Gary Hart says no woman is "sufficiently qualified" to be president; a delegate from Alabama is bemused when Hochman calls him sexist for saying women should never be truck drivers. In one extraordinary scene, Hochman sneaks into a packed convention hall with a curvy blonde stripper dressed in a revealing gold sequin dress. The convention literally stops as men gawp at the woman like dogs on heat. "All because Liz Renay has breasts!" Hochman reflects afterwards from a beach chair. "But if a man walked into a convention with a huge cock, would women rush up and ask, 'Who is he, where is he, what's his name?'"
Interspersed with Hochman's poetry, fantasy dream sequences, and some hysterical
ad-lib repartee with the beloved Washington Post political humorist Art Buchwald,
the film caused a sensation when it showed for five nights at the the Avenue
Cinema in New York in October 1973. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr told
Hochman it was the greatest documentary he had ever seen and wrote that: "Hochman
and Buchwald are the best new comedy team since Hepburn and Tracy." It
sold out each night and women queued round the block to see it. And then it
disappeared. It was bought in 1974 for $65,000 by a wealthy 23-year-old Filipino
woman and her two brothers, who were convinced it was a masterpiece. Yet no
film company would touch it. Before Sarasota, it had appeared only once since,
at a million-dollar gala-night screening at the Lincoln Centre in New York in
1985. Today it is not on video or DVD and few people have even heard of it.
Ann Beveridge, in the Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia) (April 16, 2004):
As a symbol of naked male beauty, power, defiance and erotic attraction, Michelangelo's David is said to be without equal. Ever since the towering white-marble colossus was first displayed in the main square of the Italian city of Florence in 1504, where it was pelted with stones by political protesters, it has inspired and inflamed human passions.
Its significance today as one of the world's greatest art treasures puts it beyond price. Yet, throughout five centuries of history, the legendary David has been a constant victim of violence and controversy.
The most recent international row surrounded the present "clean-up" of the giant figure in time for his 500th birthday later this year. It's his first wash for more than a century, and it has caused a row that has split the art world. Allegations were made that some methods, if used for his "birthday bath", could damage the masterpiece.
But the $650,000 project went ahead and will be finished in late May, four months ahead of David's birthday celebrations, at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, where it is housed.
Renowned Italian art restorer Cinzia Parnigoni, who is in charge of the clean-up, began work on it in September. She has already painstakingly removed about two thirds of the grime and dull-grey patina of time.
Meanwhile, with his masculine perfection undergoing such intense personal scrutiny, tests have revealed potentially serious problems with a weakening of the ageing giant's ankles, which support a 5m statue weighing six tonnes.
A CAT scan may be used to assess future effects of the damage but Parnigoni says "There are no fears that he will fall." Cracks were first noticed back in 1873, when the colossus was permanently moved indoors to the Florence gallery.
For nearly four centuries before that, David stood outdoors in Florence's main square, the Piazza della Signoria. It was exposed to pollution and weather. Rainwater eroded the stone and widened the pitted holes in the marble. There are ugly patches of beeswax dropped from the torches of citizens climbing over the masterpiece to stand upon its heights centuries ago.
The 16th-century painter Giorgio Vasari wrote of this Renaissance icon, which represents the biblical shepherd (and later king) David just before he slays the giant Goliath: "The grace of this figure and the serenity of its pose have never been surpassed. Anyone who has seen Michelangelo's magnificent David has no need to see anything else by any other sculptor, living or dead."
Dr.M.A. Jayashree & Prof . M.A. Narasimhan, in Star of Mysore (April 21,2004):
...History is a record of past events including many a times, the record of the shortcomings of ancestors. How can a thing of the past, which is based on the meagre knowledge of the ‘then’, be a source of inspiration for the problems of ‘now’? Each day is a new day and the problems and challenges are also new and is it not foolish to claim that the past solutions can be of use under the present circumstances?
Another misnomer is that of not repeating the past mistakes. There cannot be a greater fallacy than this. How can one claim that man has learnt by his past mistakes when we see day in and day out the same complaints being repeated from the preAristotelian time, that the rulers are corrupt, the youths no longer respect the elders, they are more and more pleasure seeking, the life of austerity and spirituality are no longer attractive and people are becoming more and more dishonest and so on. This has been the refrain of almost all the great minds of the world from time immemorial. Under such circumstances what is the use of history?
History of every nation has been teaching its kids that their country is the best, their societal system and the governance are the best and their languages are the richest in the world. If they had lost a war it is due to the treachery and trickery of others. The enemy has always been brutal and crude whereas the war that they had won was to defeat the wicked and to liberate and alleviate the masses from tyranny. Their fight has always been honorable and they have been liberal to their enemies. Under such circumstances if one compiles the history of the world, what use is it, if it can only promote parochialism and narrow mindedness, that too in the present day world where technology has made the whole world a global village.
The much touted heroes of history are those like Alexander, Chenghis Khan, Caesar, Vasco Da Gama, Columbus etc. All are extolled for their valour and conquests in the pages of history. What are they; but avaricious marauders who in their quest for power and wealth destroyed the peaceful stable fabric of many societies? When such is the case should we take these people as our heroes for moulding the character of the coming generations?
Because of these depressing and perplexing reasons, the present generation wants history to be relegated to the limbo and kept as nothing but of historical curiosity. Perhaps all the kids of our country will jump with joy if we were to give a go bye to history. They will be too happy to bury the socalled ‘Social studies’ three fathoms deep....
Glenn Dixon, in the Wash Post (April 17, 2004):
History painting once was a fairly straightforward affair. Whether it was Emanuel Leutze's"George Washington Crossing the Delaware" or Jacques-Louis David's"The Death of Socrates," the formula was clear: You need great men, dramatic moments, and flattering lighting.
By the late 20th century, unabashed hero worship was done for. And even when events unfolded in the daily newspaper or played out in real time on TV, you could no longer believe your eyes, no longer trust that the whole story was being told. Being an eyewitness to history didn't necessarily mean you understood what you saw.
"Pop-Agenda," Fusebox's excellent show of provocative new work by Siemon Allen and Dominic McGill, presents history in a way more in tune with our own cynical, chaotic age.
This history is told not by victors, but by two observers in self-imposed exile. Allen is a South African based in Richmond. McGill is a Briton based in New York.
McGill's"Project for a New American Century" avails itself of the scale and scope of history painting, but the artist distrusts the sureness and permanence of the traditional painting. Coiled into loops and hung from the ceiling in the center of the gallery, his 60-foot timeline running from Hiroshima to the present day is executed in dark, smudgy graphite. Where history painting has traditionally been concerned with creating the perfectly planned permanent record, McGill's pencil drawing is another thing altogether. It's about immediacy and accident, rushing to get everything down before it changes into whatever happens next.
Stagy compositions are out, too. In place of images of the great moments of history's power players are simply the names that made the papers, hundreds and hundreds of people, (Whittaker Chambers, Gary Powers, Martin Luther King Jr., Mikhail Gorbachev, Osama bin Laden), places (Dresden, Levittown, Chernobyl), events (Daniel Ellsberg leaks Pentagon Papers, Bloody Sunday, Nuclear Freeze March), policies (Truman Doctrine, Preemption), slogans (By Any Means Necessary), and sound bites (Axis of Evil). Each is inscribed in its own hand-wrought font, and all are roiling like so many worms in a bucket....
Michael Whitby and Bill Rawling, Ottawa, Official naval historians, Department of National Defence, in the Ottawa Citizen (April 11, 2004):
Any suggestion that Canada and the United States staged the attack on Estevan Point in June 1942 is unfounded and flies in the face of rigorous historical research.
Two Japanese submarines (I-25 and I-26) were sent to the Pacific coast of North America in June 1942 to reconnoitre the main United States base at Seattle and to give warning if American warships sailed against the attacks on Midway and the Aleutian islands. Japanese naval doctrine at the time decreed that its submarines leave a calling card by shelling shore facilities upon departing their patrol areas, presumably in an attempt to stir up the local populace.
After staying off the Strait of Juan de Fuca for two weeks, during which time they torpedoed two merchant ships (we assume conspiracy theorists would also have us believe that was done by the Americans), I-26 shelled Estevan Point, and a day later I-25 likewise bombarded an American facility in Oregon. Such actions were repeated throughout the Pacific war. The activities of I-25 and I-26 and the orders that set them in motion are verified by Japanese documents from the time.
The eyewitness testimony cited to support the conspiracy theory in the article is also flawed. Rather than coolly watching the attack, the lighthouse keeper ran down the stairs of the 125-foot structure, found his wife to warn her to take cover, and then ran all the way back up the stairs to douse the light. Presumably this took some time and effort, and impaired his ability to observe the relatively short attack.
As far as identifying warship types, trained military personnel consistently make errors, along the lines of aircraft attacking whales they take to be submarines. Also, despite the suggestion that Canadian forces did not immediately respond to the attack, in fact the naval commander on the Pacific coast learned of the attack within 30 minutes, broadcast a general alarm and dispatched air and naval forces to the scene.
Although the navy had most of the coast of Vancouver Island covered by routine patrols, warships could not reach the site until the next morning. However, a RCAF Stranraer patrol aircraft reached the site that night, but I-26 had already fled the scene.
As far as the belief that the attack propped up support for conscription, it should be noted that prime minister Mackenzie King was vehemently opposed to conscription throughout the war. In his world view it would have been preferable if Canada, and Estevan Point, had never been attacked.
Cole Moreton Right, in the London Independent (April 11, 2004):
Billy Fiske was a racing driver, a pilot, an Olympic gold medallist and an American - but one thing he did not do was win the Battle of Britain single-handed. Veterans and historians fear that will be the impression given, however, when Tom Cruise plays Fiske in a new film called The Few.
"I've heard it is almost like he won the war all on his own," says Ben Clinch, who loaded the guns fired by the real Billy Fiske and his comrades in 601 Squadron during the summer of 1940. "I can't see how they can make a film of Fiske's life. It was quite short. He was unremarkable, in the context of the squadron. He was just another pilot as far as we were concerned."
Hollywood's version of the Second World War has already shown Americans capturing the Enigma code machine in U571 (they didn't) and leading The Great Escape from a German prisoner of war camp (also not true). Pearl Harbor even suggested that the RAF only thwarted the Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940 because US pilots popped across the Atlantic to help out. Now Mr Cruise looks set to expand on that with his own version of what Churchill called our "finest hour".
Fiske was a remarkable character who did fly in the Battle of Britain, but recorded no confirmed kills. "It is going to be a farce if we have the Yanks shooting down everything in sight," says Bill Bond of the Battle of Britain Historical Society. "The battle was four weeks old when Billy was shot down. He made several sorties but he didn't shoot anything down, and his impact on the battle was negligible. We are concerned."
The Few is being made by Michael Mann, director of Top Gun, the jet-fighter movie that made Tom Cruise's name. Currently in development, it will be based on the life of William Meade Lindsley Fiske III, son of a wealthy Chicago family, who became the youngest Winter Olympics contestant to win a gold medal, in the bobsleigh at the age of 16. Handsome, charming and addicted to speed, he married the former Countess of Warwick and raced at Le Mans. So far, so historical, and filmable. But alarm bells started ringing when Variety, the movie world's magazine of choice, described the film's historical content. "In 1940, expert German fighters had decimated the Royal Air Force to the point that there weren't enough pilots left to fly the Spitfire planes sitting idly in hangars," it said. "Unable to rouse the US into action, a desperate Winston Churchill hatched a covert effort to recruit civilian American pilots to join the RAF. Risking prison sentences in the then-neutral US, a ragtag bunch of pilots answered the call." The magazine also looked forward to "ferocious dogfights between the overmatched American pilots and the German ace fliers".
This account prompted despairing laughter from Bill Bond last week. "It's hilarious," he said. "Totally wrong. The whole bloody lot. They flew Hurricanes for a start." Spitfires have a more romantic image, however. "Recruited by Churchill? Crap. They wouldn't have gone to prison either." And as for the idea of aircraft sitting idly by in hangars while the brave Americans took to the skies: "What a load of bloody rubbish. We did have a pilot shortage, but not to that extent."
Mr Bond has much more confidence in the accuracy of a forthcoming book by the author Alex Kershaw, whose proposal was the inspiration for The Few. The book is due to be published by Michael Joseph next year. Mr Kershaw also wrote The Bedford Boys, the basis for the film Saving Private Ryan.
Chester Finn, in the Weekly Bulletin of News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (April 15, 2004):
If Americas history teachers were broadly educated, deeply knowledgeable about the content that theyre responsible for imparting to students, and free to draw their information, textbooks, and other instructional materials from whatever sources they judge best, all within a framework of sound academic standards and results-based accountabilityunder that dreamy scenario thered be no reason for Sandra Stotsky to tackle the study that yielded Fordhams newest report, The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating Americas History Teachers.
The reality, however, is that many history teachers dont know much history. And the textbooks on which they depend are vast, themeless compendia of dull, dated, and denatured information. (See A Consumers Guide to High School History Textbooks for more information.) Thus has arisen an immense cottage industry to supply teachers with pre-digested supplemental materials and professional development as part of an effort to prepare them better to teach about difficult issues.
As usual, this enterprise began with laudable intentions. Post 9/11, for example, how could we reasonably expect teachers who had never studied Islamic history to explain it to their pupils, especially if their textbooks lacked pertinent information? How could we expect them to handle complicated and emotionally charged subjects like the Holocaust and figure out what lessons to distill? To escort youngsters safely through the thicket of political correctness and ethnic politics that now surrounds such formerly benign holidays as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving?
So we try to compensate and backfill. Innumerable organizations and agencies, public and private, large and small, commercial and non-profit, create and deliver supplemental materials and in-service education or professional development for teachers. School systems and state education agencies. Publishers of every sort. Advocacy groups. Universities, research centers, and think-tanks. Itinerant teacher trainers. Cable networks and film producers. Its a long list, engaging many people and spending many millions. (Nobody knows how much.) Some is subsidized by tax dollars or philanthropy. Some is baldly commercial. Much comes out of school system budgets.
Yet we know staggeringly little about how good these materials and workshops are, or whether the information they present is balanced and accurate. We know even less about their efficacy and intellectual integrity. This turns out to be a vast dark continent within our education system.
Its also a troubled continent. Sandra Stotsky spotted the problem during her tenure as senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education (1999-2003) as well as during a distinguished career in education research, teacher preparation, and the development of academic standards. She began to collect examples of supplemental materials and professional development workshops aimed at K-12 history and social studies teachers. She attended some of those workshops and summer institutes. And she grew ever more alarmed by what she found.
It appeared that the creation of many of these supplemental materials, and the leadership of workshops by which teachers knowledge is supposedly enhanced, had fallen into the eager hands of interest groups and ideologues yearning to use Americas classrooms to shape the minds of tomorrows citizens by manipulating what todays teachers are introducing into the lessons of todays children. Yet this was happening with little or no public awareness. In effect, the K-12 social studies curriculum was being subtly politicized by adult interests working outside the closely scrutinized domains of statewide standards, textbooks, pre-service teacher preparation, and state certification.
For this report, Stotsky separated the terrain into two parts, one dealing with supplemental materials, the other with professional development workshops. The shortcomings she spotted vary by topic, of course. But most share these features: under the guise of heightening teachers awareness of previously marginalized groups, they manipulate teachers (and thus their pupils) to view the history of freedom as the history of oppression and to favor cultures that dont value individual rights over those that do.
Is there a remedy? Stotsky would wipe out much of this supplemental stuff and replace it with something very different. Alternatively, she suggests several shrewd ways of mitigating the problems if this enterprise persists.
So far, so good. We should certainly seek to compensate for weaknesses in the knowledge base of todays teachers while shielding them from manipulative mischief and reducing their risk of becoming unwitting pawns of ideologues. Over the long haul, however, we must insist that future teachers be better educated from the get-go or, as NCLB puts it, highly qualified in the subjects they will impart to children. Nowhere is this more important than in history.
But better-educated teachers ought not be equated with more time in ed school, maybe not even on campus (although well-conceived history courses taught by first-rate historians are hard to beat). People can also teach themselves history, pick it up from reading, the History Channel, even movies. The key is to insist that, however they learn it, tomorrows teachers must know itand prove itbefore confronting children in the classroom. It may be sufficient to insist that they pass rigorous subject-matter tests, such as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. They can prepare for such exams however they like, in universities or elsewhere.
As with children, lets stop endlessly forgiving, compensating and remediating teachers. Lets do it right the first time. Until we do, the stealth curriculum may swamp the one we think our schools are teachingand our teachers will remain vulnerable to manipulation by people and organizations who do not place Americas best interests at the top of their priorities.
Richard Carwardine, a professor of American history at Oxford University,
who received the 2004 Lincoln Prize for his 2003 biography, in the WSJ
(April 14, 2004):
Abraham Lincoln has long fascinated the British. Indeed, a century ago there was something of a cult of Lincoln. As a tribute, a copy of Augustus Saint-Gaudens's statue of a deeply contemplative Civil War president was erected in 1920 in London's Parliament Square. At almost the same time, a replica of George Barnard's Cincinnati statue was placed in Manchester, England. Known as the "stomach ache statue," since Lincoln's hands unfortunately suggest a man troubled with colic, it commemorates the president's tribute to suffering Lancashire mill-operatives during the wartime cotton famine. When David Lloyd George, by then an ex-prime minister, made a triumphal tour of North America in 1923, he spent what he called the most memorable day of his life visiting the Kentucky birthplace of the man who was his greatest, lifelong hero.
George Bernard Shaw attributed this cult of Lincoln to the influence of one of the best and most durable of all the biographies of the 16th president: Lord Charnwood's "Abraham Lincoln," which appeared in 1916. Oxford-educated and--like Lloyd George--a Liberal in politics, Charnwood helped many of his contemporaries to admire Lincoln's single-minded defense of the Union and, even more important, his showing that democracy could work as a philosophy and a political system. During World War I and its aftermath, when Britons and Americans saw themselves engaged in a kindred defense of progressive government, and in making the world "safe for democracy," they seized on Lincoln as an example of what wise and noble leadership might achieve.
That heyday of popular admiration for Lincoln is forever lost. When antiwar
crowds gathered in Parliament Square in March 2003, crews of workmen boxed in
Lincoln's statue to protect it from possible attack. "Do these people know
nothing of history?" one voice lamented. "Do they know nothing of
what people like Lincoln stood for?" In a skeptical age, many call into
question Lincoln's role and motivation as the Great Emancipator.
Yet for some Lincoln has remained a political talisman. Margaret Thatcher has seen fit to read and record on CD the Gettysburg Address. In a determined attempt to survive as the leader of his Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith (aided by inaccurate and tendentious quotation) last year presented himself as a latter-day Lincolnian. The effort may have helped stay his execution, though it did not prevent his later summary removal. Lincoln the master of prose and humor retains a more potent and broader-based appeal. Entries under his name in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations continue to outstrip those of other American presidents.
My own interest has been prompted less by current popular British conceptions,
or misconceptions, of Lincoln than by membership in a trans-Atlantic community
of historians of the U.S. engaged in a common scholarly debate largely blind
to their nationality. Indeed, I take particular pleasure in winning the Lincoln
Prize because of its implied tribute to the maturity of British scholarship....
Keith Sinclair, in the Herald (Glasgow) (April 12, 2004):
THE ancient split between the Scots and the English is older than previously thought, a new academic theory claims.
The difference between the English and Scots, Welsh, Irish and Cornish has traditionally been attributed to the influence of invading forces such as the Anglo-Saxons, Celts and Vikings as they settled in different parts of Britain hundreds of years ago.
However, an Oxford don who was a guest speaker at the Edinburgh Science Festival last night believes the difference originates much further back, to thousands of years, and the proof is in the genes.
Professor Stephen Oppenheimer is professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Oxford, and has written a book tracing humankind from its origins and developing a theory of the original inhabitants of Britain.
He said that the Celts of western Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall were descended from an ancient people living on the Atlantic coast when Britain was still attached to mainland Europe, while the English were more closely related to the Germanic peoples of the interior. As evidence, he cited genetic data showing the Celts were more closely related to the Basque people of south-west France and the Celts of Brittany and Spain, while the English were closer to the Germans descended from the Anglo-Saxons.
In the past, the split was attributed to "migration, invasion and replacement", but Professor Oppenheimer said the difference was established long before Britain was even an island.
He said: "The first line between England and the Celts was put down at a much earlier period, say 10,000 years ago."
Jesse Leavenworth, in the Hartford Courant (April 12, 2004):
History teacher Patrick Richardson will introduce his lesson on Holocaust denial by issuing students a press release from the future that declares Sept. 11, 2001, never happened.
"We would say that's ridiculous, and yet 60 years removed from the Holocaust, these things are gaining momentum," Richardson said Friday.
These "things" are claims that the Nazis' attempt to systematically eradicate Jews in Europe either never occurred or was greatly exaggerated. The most prominent figure associated with the revisionist line is World War II historian David Irving. But there are many others. A recent Internet search for the phrase "Holocaust never happened" got 6,160 hits.
Last year, while Mel Gibson's father was making news for his controversial views on the Holocaust, Richardson, a teacher at the Touchstone School in Litchfield, attended a workshop at the University of Hartford's Maurice Greenberg Center. He heard about a contest for curriculum proposals and decided to create a lesson plan focused on Holocaust denial.
The university announced last week that Richardson was one of three teachers in the state to win awards named after two Holocaust survivors, Joseph Korzenik and Joseph Zola. Richardson and the other winners, both from New Haven, are to receive their awards and $1,000 on April 20 at 7 p.m. in the university's Wilde Auditorium.
The awards have been given to scores of middle and high school educators over the past decade, according to a university press release.
"The award winners have reached tens of thousands of students in a five-state region, making this one of the most meaningful Holocaust educator awards in the nation," the release said.
Richardson won for his lesson plan titled, "The Truth Makes You Free."
"Some historians believe you cannot know anything for sure in history," he said Friday. "I decided it was important to show that the truth can be discovered in history. What a good historian does is weigh the evidence and see where it points."
Suzanne Fields, in the Washington Times (April 13, 2004):
America-bashing coincides with the proliferation of dumbed-down world history textbooks used in grades six through 12 in our public schools. The material our schoolchildren study is either diluted to emphasize trivia or edited with an eye to the politically correct, designed never to offend the lowest common sensitivity.
"In subjects from Africa to terrorism, the nation's leading world history textbooks provide unreliable, often scanty information and provide poorly constructed activities," writes Gilbert Sewall, author of a new report of the American Textbook Council, an independent national research organization which acts as a watchdog on educational issues (www.historytextbooks.org). These textbooks cut, shave and reduce content to pass the litmus tests of advocacy groups organized specifically to search for offenses.
In California, for example, an Islamic council has oversight to the degree that it exerts a censor-like force as editors gloss over facts crucial to understanding the Muslim culture: jihad, holy law, slavery and the abuse of women.
Muslims aren't the only group demanding immunity from examination. Editors similarly pander to Indians, blacks, Hispanics, feminists, Christians, Jews and Islamists. The squawkers get attention and textbook editors cower.
The largest publishing conglomerates, which have made themselves the most susceptible to intimidation, have absorbed dozens of independent publishing houses, making it difficult for a small company with a conscience to enter the competitive fray.
The "full service" providers offer study guides, workbooks, discounts, premiums and teacher enticements. The four biggest multinational publishing houses - Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt and McGraw-Hill - offer ever fewer textbooks in a drive to make one size fit all, and can ignore critics and reformers.
Many publishers save money by hiring anonymous author teams instead of historians whose knowledge and established reputations make them expensive and difficult to intimidate. Texts without a single author lack the cohesion of a thoughtful narrative and events float through the pages with no attention paid to the roots of the culture or the moment. Judgment is limited to contemporary interpretation, or "presentism."
A study of "the hero" links Ulysses with Indiana Jones. A chapter on "going shopping," which requires an appreciation for culture and economics, merely likens a medieval bazaar in Baghdad to an indoor suburban mall in Indianapolis.
Politically correct simplicity describes "Native Americans" as living in harmony with both nature and human nature, with no recognition that Indians, like the rest of us, are subject to human frailty and prejudice. Francis Parkman, the historian who describes the pleasure Iroquois took in torturing the Hurons, is anathema, and gone with the Mohicans.
The lens for understanding the unique American vision focuses on the African-American freedom struggles that "helped open the door for all minorities and women." In one text on the Enlightenment, Mary Wollstonecraft, an 18th-century feminist, is featured more prominently than Voltaire, a dominating figure for the ages.
Textbook publishers rely on "standards committees" and focus groups to package their ideas. These groups, made up of men and women raised in an image-centered culture, cater to short attention spans and purvey visuals that turn history into "edutainment."
In varying degrees, world history texts make it impossible for students to discriminate between the brutality of anti-democratic countries like China and Cuba and the democracies, or to understand the conflicts faced by nations determined to preserve freedom.
Thane Peterson, reviewing Sean Hannity's new bestseller, Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism, in MSNBC (April 13, 2004):
Deliver Us from Evil is full of name-calling trumped up as intellectual debate, one-sided history lessons designed to deceive the ill-informed, and good old-fashioned war-mongering. Why do so many people read this stuff? My guess is that it's mainly to confirm themselves in their prejudices.
In Hannity's view, things really started to go bad in the world about the time Jimmy Carter was elected President in 1976. The author repeats two basic themes over and over again in the book's 300-plus pages. First, liberals and other "moral relativists" are Neville Chamberlain-style "appeasers" who refuse to acknowledge the existence of "evil" in the world. Second, Presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are courageous leaders unafraid to look evil dictators in the eye and face them down.
By contrast, Democrats like Carter and Bill Clinton "are like weak-willed prosecutors, happy to bargain every capital offense down to a misdemeanor."
Sustaining these themes requires some fancy footwork. Let's be honest here: Democrats and Republicans alike have done their fair share of appeasing tyrants over the last 30 years. For instance, how does Hannity explain away the fact that both Reagan and President George H. Bush for years supported Saddam, supplying him with money and arms throughout the 1980s? Hard-nosed realpolitik to counter the Soviet Union's incursions in Afghanistan? Nope. Jimmy Carter's appeasing of the Soviet Union during his four years in office locked the U.S. into an unpalatable policy it couldn't shake for a decade, Hannity argues.
He chides Carter for pressuring the Shah of Iran before he was toppled in the 1970s to free political prisoners and observe human-rights conventions. "Carter," Hannity gripes, "also strongly urged the Shah to permit 'free assembly' -- though under circumstances that meant open season for potential insurgents to meet and plot insurrection." Hmm. Now how does that differ from what President Bush has been doing in Iraq?
Oh, by the way, just disregard that damning old photo of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [then Reagan's special envoy] shaking hands with Saddam back in 1983 in Baghdad. That wasn't appeasement.
PRAISE FOR REAGAN. On to the first Gulf War: Inconveniently, it was the first President Bush, a Republican, who led the nation into its initial war against Saddam -- and then, inexplicably, let him stay in power. Why didn't Bush get rid of Saddam back in 1991, when he had the dictator on the run? And why did Bush call on Iraqi Kurds to revolt -- and then abandon them to be gassed by the tyrant?
No explanations from Mr. Hannity. He's right when he says Clinton should have done more to destroy al Qaeda in the 1990s, but he ignores the complication that neither congressional Republicans nor the electorate likely would have supported sustained military action.
Hannity similarly ignores the qualitative differences between his two heroes, Reagan and George W. Bush. One of the few points on which I agree with Hannity is that Reagan deserves considerable credit for wearing down the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The difference is that Reagan used peaceful means -- a huge military buildup and the bluff of threatening to build a "Star Wars" type defense system, which would have made the Soviets' offensive missiles obsolete.
OOPS, NEVER MIND. Reagan's few actual military strikes were against the likes
of tiny Grenada and toothless Libya, and I suspect he would have been shrewd
enough to avoid the potential quagmire of invading Iraq. Arguably, George W.'s
campaign in Afghanistan [which I supported] has been Reaganesque, while his
invasion of Iraq is pure Lyndon Johnson....
From the new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation study, "The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America's History Teachers," written by Sandra Stotsky:
In the past three decades, scholars and parents have criticized K-12 history textbooks for their inadequate coverage of important topics as well as for being error-laden and poorly written. They came under additional fire with the publication in 2003 of The Language Police by Diane Ravitch. Anxious not to distress anyone, Ravitch found, textbook publishers do not allow their books to address potentially "offensive" topics that might generate controversy at the time of state adoption hearings. Nor do they allow their books to point out features of other cultures that might lead students to infer that life in America or the West is superior in some way. Indeed, it is only America that can be shown as having an unending history of social strife, political repression, and political inequalities among racial or ethnic groups. As a result, students learning from these textbooks may get both a bland and biased history education.
As troubling as most current history textbooks are, however, they are less troubling than many of the supplemental resources available to teachers of history at all educational levels. These resources include consultant services, curriculum units, lesson plans, supplementary information, and other materials. They may be provided by education collaboratives, professional organizations, foundations, large and small educational publishers, independent centers, unions, schools of education, university research centers, cultural sites, museums, historical societies, public agencies such as the courts, and freelance consultants.
History textbooks themselves are relatively few in number, highly visible, and readily if not frequently examined by concerned school board members, state officials, or parents. They are also more easily reviewable by individual scholars like Frances FitzGerald, Paul Gagnon (for the American Federation of Teachers), Gilbert Sewall (for the American Textbook Council), Diane Ravitch, and the various scholars who contribute reviews to William Bennetta's excellent Textbook Letter. Supplemental materials, on the other hand, are far less visible and seldom get reviewed. Occasionally a scholar has reported on the strengths and limitations of materials addressing a specific topic, as did the late Holocaust expert, Lucy Dawidowicz, after examining 25 Holocaust curricula used in the schools. But K-12 supplemental materials usually fly under the radar of historians and other experts with sensitive political antennae.
The source of the problem with many of the supplemental resources used for history or social studies is the ideological mission of the organizations that create them. Their ostensible goal is to combat intolerance, expand students' knowledge of other cultures, give them other "points of view" on commonly studied historical phenomena, and/or promote "critical thinking." But their real goal, to judge by an analysis of their materials and the effects they have on teachers, is to influence how children come to understand and think about current social and political issues by bending historical content to those ends. They embed their political agendas in the instructional materials they create so subtly that apolitical teachers are unlikely to spot them. And they tend to facilitate acceptance of their materials by appealing to teachers' sense of fairness and their presumed obligation to promote "social justice" and withhold negative moral judgments about people or cultures deemed victims of white racism.
In the guise of providing teachers with ideas for a more engaging pedagogy and deeper understanding of a historical phenomenon, frequently one involving instances of prejudice, they recruit unwitting teachers as their agents in cultivating hostility toward America as a country, toward Western culture, and toward Americans of European descent. The poisonous effects of these supplemental resources on teachers' thinking and pedagogical practices can spread throughout the entire school curriculum in the moral and civic vacuum created by neutered textbooks and a host of competing "multiple perspectives."...
Parental complaints are again mounting about some supplemental materials and lessons. In the 1970s and 1980s, many parents worried that the "peace" curricula introduced into their children's elementary schools, ostensibly to teach about the horrors of nuclear "holocausts," served chiefly to frighten them. More recently, alert parents and other citizens have become concerned about the information teachers are giving their students, and activities they are asking students to participate in, as part of an effort to increase youngsters' knowledge of Islam. Most of these materials have been prepared and/or funded by Islamic sources here and abroad, and are distributed or sold directly to schools or individual teachers, thereby bypassing public scrutiny. For example, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Saudi government sent thousands of U.S. schools a package containing a Public Broadcasting System tape, Islam: Empire of Faith, and Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History (the revised and updated edition published in 2002). This book attributes the failure of the Muslim world to modernize to Western "colonization" rather than to self-imposed intellectual isolation from the revolutionary political, religious, social, economic, and scientific ideas arising in Europe from the 1500s on.
Many supplemental curricular resources for history and social studies teachers are touted as addressing civic education, moral education, or character education. Because civic education is a major goal of the study of U.S. history in the schools and is by definition a matter of public policy, the public should be informed about the extent to which these curricula are ideological rather than academic. The public also must know whether educators are using materials that undermine the value that the polity places on our political principles, public institutions, and American citizenship itself....
Possibly the most malevolent of the organizations professing to address citizenship education is Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO), which provides materials and services to over 16,000 teachers, ostensibly to help them address racism, anti-Semitism, and violence....
The central problem with this organization's activities stems not from its efforts to provide students with scrupulously accurate information about the Holocaust but from its goal of teaching contemporary civic lessons for American students. To do so, it makes false analogies to a catastrophic historical event, thus trivializing the catastrophe and setting up a moral equivalence between Nazis and white Americans. The purpose of FHAO's first major resource book, titled Holocaust and Human Behavior and published in 1982, was to encourage students to practice "moral decision-making" by speaking up about the dangers of a nuclear "holocaust" and to see the Moral Majority as a danger to freedom of speech. Once those dangers seemed to have receded from the political radar screen, study of the Holocaust was linked to a domestic issue with more staying power. The purpose of the 1994 resource book, bearing the same title as the 1982 manual but with a new conceptual framework, is to make sure that students see the task of confronting white racism in America as the chief reason for studying the Holocaust. It makes explicit and frequent comparisons not only between twentieth-century America and twentieth-century Germany but also between nineteenth-century America and nineteenth-century Germany. In essence, it uses the Holocaust to portray America's blacks as Europe's Jews, thereby reducing genocide to an act of bigotry and equating white Americans to Nazis.
The purpose of the supplementary resource book FHAO published in 2002, titled Race and Membership in American History: The Eugenics Movement (RMAH), is even more poisonous. FHAO wants teachers and students to infer a causal connection between the American eugenics movement and the Holocaust; that is, to infer that Americans and American science, however indirectly, were responsible for Nazi Germany's extermination policies and the Holocaust. RMAH makes it clear that few American scientists subscribed to the eugenics movement by World War II. Nevertheless, the chapters on "The Nazi Connection" so cleverly connect Hitler's use of the ideas of German scientists on racial "eugenics" to an acknowledgment of the leadership of American scientists, educators, and policy makers in the eugenics movement that Americans appear almost directly responsible for the Final Solution. The net effect is the discrediting of American society.
Don Feder, a former writer for the Boston Herald, in frontpagemag.com (April 13, 2004):
There are episodes in Americas history that deserve to be retold to each generation as examples of the patriotism, heroism and the sacrifices made to keep us free Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Bataan, D-Day, Iwo Jima and The Alamo. Of these, the Alamo is perhaps the most tragic, and the most inspiring doomed men who willingly went to their deaths for the cause of liberty.
Some day, a movie may be made which does justice to their struggle some day, not now. The Disney remake, released on Friday, is a disappointment in every way imaginable.
It is as inauthentic and foolish as the 1960 John Wayne-version. But, while the earlier film at least tried to deliver a pro-American message, the updated Alamo is both marred by political correctness and devoid of even a hint of patriotism.
Its as if those associated with the film (Ron Howard, among others) couldnt bear the thought of portraying a group of pioneers nobly, and so had to throw in the standard litany of Americas sins.
Thus we have Jim Bowies slave telling another black man, when the hopelessness of the situation is grasped: Its enough that we have to fetch their water; we dont have to die for them! Hollywood could make a movie set in fourth century Bulgaria and still find a way to insert a message on the unparalleled evils of American slavery. For the record, a freedman fought and died with the other Alamo defenders.
Theres also a scene where Tejano (Spanish Texan) volunteers survey a group of rowdy Texians (AKA, white men behaving predictably). One of the former comments in Spanish: Santa Anna just wants to rule Mexico, these disgraces want to take over the world.
But if the Tejanos felt that way, what were they doing inside the Alamo? Among those who died defending the old Spanish mission were men with names like Juan Badillo, Carlos Esparza, Antonio Fuentes and Jose Maria Guerrero. I doubt any of them thought their comrades-in-arms were rapacious SOBs.
As they face the final assault, Davy Crockett (improbably portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton) recounts a massacre of defenseless Indians during the Creek War, as if to say, You think Santa Annas bad? Well, what about the way we treated the Indians? In this latest Disney revisionism, the Alamo is besieged by political correctness and multiculturalism.
Equally inevitable, given Hollywoods politics, is the absence of a discernible message in the midst of this blood and bravery.
Nearly 200 men chose death over surrender. Why? The film is silent on the subject other than offering travelogue commentary on the scenic wonders of Texas and some last words expressing familial devotion.
As Disney demonstrated with its preposterous Pearl Harbor, Hollywood has a pathological aversion to expressions of patriotism. Because it finds America (both in history and today) unlovable, it cant imagine anyone loving America enough to die for her.
Thus, while its easy for Hollywood to deliver tedious lectures on the evils of slavery or mistreatment of the Indians, its impossible for screenwriters to make a case for America. (Like the scene in Sgt. York, where Gary Cooper decides to fight after reading a book of American history on a mountainside during a thunderstorm.)
Even recent films about some of the most inspiring moments in our past Pearl Harbor, D-Day (Saving Private Ryan) and The Alamo are cleansed of patriotism no talk of freedom, democracy, representative government or love of homeland is allowed. (The sole exception is Mel Gibsons 1999 movie The Patriot, which was unabashedly pro-American.)
John Waynes The Alamo, which suffered from its own flaws (namely that it was a standard-issue John-Wayne Western that happened to be set in the Texas war for independence), at least tried to say something from the heart.
The critics savaged it, in part because they loathed Waynes anti-Communism, notably manifested in his support for the House Un-American Activities Committee and his refusal to shed tears for the Stalinist Hollywood Ten.
Wayne, who was president of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals in the late 40s (a group started by Hollywood conservatives like Ward Bond and ahem! Walt Disney), never did penance for his supposed transgressions.
I never felt I needed to apologize for my patriotism, Wayne confessed. I felt that if there were Communists in the business (show business) and I knew there were then they ought to go over to Russia and try enjoying freedom there.
Mention of The Duke, or memories of his films, still provoke snickers from the establishment.
In his New York Times review of the new Alamo, Elvis Mitchell cant resist getting in a dig at Waynes hilariously simple-minded 1960 Alamo which he directed and in which he seems to be looking for Khrushchev. Oh, haw, haw.
In an interview for his book, John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, Michael Munn asked Wayne if his Alamo movie was a vehicle for his anti-Communism. The actor replied: It was, in part. But it was more than that. I hoped to convey to people all over the free world that they owed a debt to all men who gave their lives fighting for freedom I was always inspired by the story because I dont know of any other moment in American history which portrays the courage of men any better.
In the movie he also produced and starred in, Wayne made the connection between the heroism of the Alamos defenders and Americanism, with dialogue delivered by The Duke, naturally about the eternal fight for freedom and the meaning of a republic.
Unfortunately, as noted earlier, what could have been a fine film got bogged down in nonsense comic brawls, unlikely forays outside the Alamos walls and buddy-movie humor.
The new Alamo also has its share of silliness with Crockett/Thornton shooting an epaulet off Santa Annas shoulder and serenading the besieging Mexican army with his fiddle from the Alamos battlements. All that was missing was Billy Bob delivering karate kicks, a la Jackie Chan, in the climactic battle scene.
The most interesting element in the new film is Mexican actor Emilio Echevarrias portrayal of the self-styled Napoleon of the West, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, as a strutting sadist Juan Peron meets Saddam Hussein. Pity Hollywood cant portray good as aptly as it delineates evil.
Like most Hollywood epics of today, The Alamo is all show and no substance. In its dogged determination to deliver no message (other than fashionable political correctness), the entertainment industry once again offers a spectacle that fails to inspire.
As I left the theater after enduring two hours and seventeen minutes of this, I couldnt help but reflect on the Americans who died in Iraq that very day.
In vain, some would say.
At the time, some thought the same of the deaths in San Antonio. At San Jacinto, Sam Houston proved them wrong, when he overwhelmed the remnants of Santa Annas army in 18 minutes (due in no small measure to the time bought for him by the Alamos defenders).
Monday morning quarterbacking is always easier than fighting for your country. Making a movie full of sound and fury is easier than explaining why it all matters.
Dave Addis, Virginia Pilot (April 9, 2004):
Wednesday night, with no new episode of “The West Wing” in sight, my wife and I tucked ourselves into our couches and watched an hour long apology on The History Channel.
This would not normally be considered compelling television. The program consisted solely of four middle-aged white males – a news anchor and three musty historians – sitting motionless in their chairs and talking for an hour.
What could be more boring? There was not a bachelor, a bachelorette, a survivor, an amateur crooner or a Donald Trump in sight.
It's not the sort of thing you see on TV much these days, although it involved more reality than the “reality shows” that dominate the evening fare. But the story behind it was fascinating.
The panel was put together for this special event by The History Channel to atone for a program it ran last November, called, “The Guilty Men.” That show, which was timed with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, claimed that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was guilty of arranging the murder of the president of the United States.
That, of course, is complete and total balderdash, which is what Wednesday night's panel of historians went to great pains to point out.
Afterward , The History Channel returned to its normal programming, which in this case was a feature on the construction of the pyramids of Egypt.
So, who cares? Well, we all should. The muddling of what actually happened in humankind's past and what some Hollywood film director decides would be more entertaining is having serious consequences.
One of the professors on Wednesday's panel, for example, was discouraged at how many of his bright young university students believe that Oliver Stone's loopy conspiracy film, “JFK,” was an accurate portrayal of the events of November 1963.
Further evidence of a reality breakdown in the history department can be found in a fascinating survey published this week by a respected British newspaper, The Independent.
Of 2,000 Brits who were polled, 11 percent thought Adolf Hitler was a fictional character. Thirty-three percent said Benito Mussolini was a fictional character. And this is from a nation that was nearly wiped off the map, just 60 years ago, by the Hitler-Mussolini coalition.
Conversely, the fictional character King Arthur was thought by 57 percent actually to have ruled their realm at one time. Magical sword and all.
Equally discouraging were the results when Brits were questioned on real events.
Some 52 percent thought World War II's Battle of the Bulge never actually happened. Custer's Last Stand was judged by 48 percent never to have occurred, and 44 percent thought the Hundred Years' War never really took place.
The Cold War, which was still frosting us just over a decade ago, was judged by nearly one-third of those polled to have been a figment of our imagination.
I don't mean to pick on the Brits here. It's likely that an American audience, absorbing much of its history education from the tube and the silver screen, would poll just as poorly, if not worse.
To its credit, The History Channel apologized to Lady Bird Johnson and her family and to the public at large. Its slander of Lyndon B. Johnson, the network said, “failed to offer viewers context and perspective, and fell short of the high standards that the network sets for itself.”
That's a good first step. Maybe a good second step would be a voluntary system that warns viewers whether they're watching a documentary, a drama or a fanciful mingling of the two – a step that The History Channel failed to take when airing “The Guilty Men” in November.
Lucy Qiu, in the Columbia Spectator (April 8, 2004):
Columbia kicked off a new four-part lecture series titled"Our Past Engaged: Four Turning Points in Columbia's Recent History" last night in Low Library with a lecture given by professor of history Kenneth T. Jackson focusing on the interaction of the University and the city in the years between the Civil War and the Progressive Era.
Jackson suggested that the University, at least during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, did not embrace its location but rather distanced itself from the city. Additionally, the growth of the University, with respect to its size, diversity, and even its intellectual attitude, did not parallel the immense development of New York City during the same period.
Jackson started his lecture by first praising Columbia University for its 250 years of history. Indeed, he pointed out, in 1754, when the Columbia was first created as King's College,"there was no such thing as the United States yet."
He went on to discuss the importance of the time period for New York City and for the University. It was during the 19th century that New York came to be both an important port city and in the later years, the emergent center of world capitalism. At the same time, Columbia moved its campus twice, first to 49th Street and Madison from its original location downtown in 1857, and then to its present location in Morningside Heights in 1897.
Just as the later half of the century was a time of tremendous change for the city, the period also marked a time of transformation for Columbia."Columbia became today's Columbia in the 1890s," said Jackson.
Nevertheless, Jackson went on to say that Columbia's transformation did not match that of the city and that"for large periods of history, Columbia did not keep pace with the city."
"New York, by 1854 was an unrivaled metropolis in the Western Hemisphere," said Jackson."However, in 1854, Columbia College only had 6 faculty members and 142 students."
Secondly, Jackson suggests that the attitude of the University remained rather unreceptive and even hostile to the city. Making a joke about Columbia's relatively insignificant presence in the history of New York, Jackson says,"Mike Wallace, in his book concerning the history of New York, writes less about Columbia than he does about brothels in the city."
"For so long, Columbia wished it was in Hanover, or Cambridge, or New Haven ... The trustees thought that the institution should be set in a more bucolic, safe environment, away from the city, better for scholarship," added Jackson.
In this sense, according to Jackson, Columbia saw the city as"a problem, and not an opportunity."
Lastly, Jackson pointed out the disparity that existed between the diversity of the city and the diversity at the University.
He said that by the early 20th century, New York was a world city with ethnic groups from all over the world; the University, in contrast, did not welcome such diversity inside its gates.
For the time between the Civil War and the Progressive Era, Jackson argued, Columbia remained mainly Episcopalian while the city was experiencing mass immigration and an explosion of diversity.
"The University did not break with tradition upheld by similar institutions, and adopted subtle and not so subtle ways of limiting and restricting certain groups," said Jackson."All institutions tended to discriminate, but Columbia could have been different."
"Could Columbia have been what its location allowed it to be, by embracing the diversity of the city?" asked Jackson. He suggested that perhaps Columbia"missed an opportunity" in not doing so.
Michael Jeismann, in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (April 2004):
What was Auschwitz? A wall of fog of indefinable horror. Who were the criminals? Others. The dead. Leaders. That was the state of play until the trial whose name indicates one of the main locations of Nazi annihilation.
Forty years ago, 22 members of the camp staff of the Auschwitz extermination camp were initially on trial before a criminal court in the Bürgerhaus Gallus, the municipal hall for the Gallus district in Frankenallee 111 in Frankfurt am Main, which had been specially built for the trial. Of these, 11 were charged with murder, while the other 11 were accused of being accessories to murder. Here they sat opposite each other under police guard, the former prisoners and those who were supposed to have murdered them. Some police officers saluted the high SS ranks at the door. Upstairs in the cloakroom, these then met the survivors for the first time.
Later, the judge broke down in tears when he was passing his judgment, as he described the fate of the children in Auschwitz, and the public prosecutors' voices faltered and failed. However, many a defendant even had the audacity to laugh at the witnesses, stylizing themselves as the smallest possible cogs, which actually always only wanted to be a miniscule wrench in the works. This “dialectic of rationality and drama“ in the trial, as Micha Brumlik, director of the Fritz Bauer Institute formulated it, is so powerful that a second-hand emotivity is automatically unthinkable.
The Auschwitz trial had opened on Dec. 20, 1963 in the Römer city hall in Frankfurt, and had subsequently moved to the Gallus municipal hall, ending with the verdict being passed on Aug. 20, 1965. Of the 17 defendants who were convicted of a total of 15,209 murders in the Auschwitz death camp, only six were described as perpetrators in the immediate sense. These six were called “extreme peretrators,“ because it could be proven that they had demonstrated particular cruelty in the murder of the concentration camp inmates.
Thus the opening of an exhibition on the Auschwitz trial in this historic place, Haus Gallus, was not just another reminder of the German offenses against humanity. That would be a fatal misunderstanding that would deprive the visitor of a great opportunity. No hypertrophic symbolism is offered here like that which in years gone by often achieved the opposite to that to which it had aspired. However, you will equally be hard pressed to find pure historicism, which only creates a safe distance from the events.
The exhibition on the Auschwitz trial is one of the best things to be shown in recent years on the Nazi past and the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany. Partly because of Holger Wallat's effective architecture, it creates one of those rare and moving moments in which the Federal Republic has the opportunity to look around and look its own history in the eye. At last, the Federal Republic has docked with itself and its political and moral foundation. One should come here, just around the corner, if one wants to grasp a little of what occurred in the National Socialist era: the extermination of the term “human being.“ In Berlin, on the large Holocaust building site, it is now immediately obvious in contrast to this exhibition that it is about something entirely different - the symbolism of a country, which it regards as enough of an end in itself and, it can be feared, which will arouse great, but vague feelings.
On the other hand, the reminder of the criminal court proceedings of the Auschwitz trial is about precision: of the lawyers, of the statements, of the reporters. The 40th anniversary of the Auschwitz trial has come at exactly the right time, because the memory of the policy of annihilation in Nazi Germany is in danger of becoming an empty, cheap formula that is obscuring the historical consciousness rather than throwing light on it.
The Auschwitz trial was not the first, but probably the most important trial against Nazi criminals. It gave the “totally normal men“ who killed in the Auschwitz death factory a face, a social existence, an address. The figures of horror, which had become intangible, turned into persons that had to answer for their deeds.
How can a trial be displayed, along with the legal background and subsequent history? This question found an exemplary answer in the exhibition, which was put together by a team headed by Irmtrud Wojak from the Fritz Bauer Institute. The main part provides a history of the trial, in which the proceedings in the courtroom can be heard and read. On a second level, the history of its reception in literature, philosophy, publishing and theater, which was collated by Marcel Atze, can be studied on the basis of selected examples. Finally, a number of contemporary artists, gathered together by Erno Vroonen, have created an echo chamber of the trial, as it were.
David Kirkpatrick, in the NYT (April 4, 2004):
WRITERS and artists have been imagining the Second Coming of Jesus for 2,000 years, but few have portrayed him wreaking more carnage on the unbelieving world than Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
In their new apocalyptic novel, "Glorious Appearing," based on Dr. LaHaye's interpretation of Biblical prophecies about the Second Coming, their Jesus appears from the clouds on a white horse with a "conviction like a flame of fire" in his eyes. With all the gruesome detail of a Hollywood horror movie, Jesus eviscerates the flesh of millions of unbelievers merely by speaking.
"Men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood," Dr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins write. "It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.'' The authors add, "Even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated."
Dr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins did not invent fire and brimstone. But some scholars who study religion say that the phenomenal popularity of their "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic thrillers - now the best-selling adult novels in the United States - are part of a shift in American culture's image of Jesus. The gentle, pacifist Jesus of the Crucifixion is sharing the spotlight with a more muscular warrior Jesus of the Second Coming, the Lamb making way for the Lion.
Scholars who study religion in American culture say the trend partly reflects the growing clout of evangelical Christians and the relative decline of the liberal mainline Protestant denominations over the last 30 years. The image of a fearsome Jesus who will turn the tables on the unbelieving earthly authorities corresponds to a widespread sense among many conservative Christians that their values are under assault in a culture war with the secular society around them. The shift coincides with a surging interest in Biblical prophecies of the apocalypse around the turn of the millennium, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the two wars with Iraq. And the warlike image of Jesus also fits with President George W. Bush's discussions of a godly purpose behind American military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are signs of the same shift in Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ," which dealt almost exclusively with the submissive Jesus of the Crucifixion. "When you see him stand up at the end of the movie, he reminds you of Schwarzenegger,'' said Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University and author of "American Jesus," a new cultural history. "I think that movie shows more of a macho Jesus, who, in this case, is brutalized instead of brutalizing."
He added, "I definitely think the pendulum is swinging toward a darker, more martial, macho concept of the Messiah."
Some worry that the turn toward a more warlike Jesus reflects a dangerous tendency to see earthly conflicts in cosmic terms. "I think a lot of people are looking at contemporary conflict around the world and seeing it as a kind of religious war," said Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton. "And there is no kind of conflict that becomes more intractable than when people are convinced that they alone have access to God's truth and the other side are the people of Satan."
But Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, called the warrior Jesus of the "Left Behind" novels a healthy corrective, reminding people that Jesus is judgmental as well as merciful. "The fear of God is a worthy emotion," he said.