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.
SOURCE: Washington Monthly (1-1-13)
Douglas A. Blackmon is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II." He teaches at the University of Virginia's Miller Center and is a contributing editor at the Washington Post. Find more images, documents, and a link to the documentary based on "Slavery by Another Name," which will be rebroadcast on PBS on February 22, at www.slaverybyanothername.com.
On July 31, 1903, a letter addressed to President Theodore Roosevelt arrived at the White House. It had been mailed from the town of Bainbridge, Georgia, the prosperous seat of a cotton county perched on the Florida state line.
The sender was a barely literate African American woman named Carrie Kinsey. With little punctuation and few capital letters, she penned the bare facts of the abduction of her fourteen-year-old brother, James Robinson, who a year earlier had been sold into involuntary servitude.
Kinsey had already asked for help from the powerful white people in her world. She knew where her brother had been taken—a vast plantation not far away called Kinderlou. There, hundreds of black men and boys were held in chains and forced to labor in the fields or in one of several factories owned by the McRee family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful in Georgia. No white official in this corner of the state would take an interest in the abduction and enslavement of a black teenager.
Confronted with a world of indifferent white people, Mrs. Kinsey did the only remaining thing she could think of. Newspapers across the country had recently reported on a speech by Roosevelt promising a “square deal” for black Americans. Mrs. Kinsey decided that her only remaining hope was to beg the president of the United States to help her brother....
SOURCE: Washington Monthly (1-1-13)
Nicholas Lemann, a Washington Monthly contributing editor, is dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and the author of "Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War."
Children in elementary school often come home with the idea that the purpose of the Civil War was to end slavery—but if that were true, then why did it take Abraham Lincoln so long to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and why was it less than universally popular in the Union states? If you see the movie Lincoln, you get a much fuller picture of the contingency of emancipation, and of the difficulty of passing the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery completely—but why didn’t Lincoln and the Congress think to address at the same time the obvious question of what status the freed slaves would have after that? After Lincoln’s assassination, Congress and the state governments settled that matter by passing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which gave the former slaves full civil rights and voting rights—but why was it necessary for exactly the same rights to be reenacted, after enormous struggle, nearly a century later, during the civil rights era?
The answers to all these questions are essentially the same: for most of American history, white America has been highly ambivalent, or worse, about the idea of full legal equality for black Americans. Emancipation itself was a forced move, an obvious consequence of the war only in retrospect; it happened because in war zones in the Confederate states, slaves left their plantation homes and appeared at Union army encampments (they were known at the time as “contraband”), and somebody had to decide what to do about them; sending them back to their owners would be both morally suspect and a form of material aid to the enemy. There has always been a debate about what kind of Reconstruction regime Lincoln would have instituted after the war, had he lived; his racial impulses were generous, but he was not an abolitionist until he actually abolished slavery. Reconstruction—the tumultuous decade or so that followed the Civil War—was an enormous shaping force in American history, and not just in the area of race relations. It’s worth recounting in basic outline, because it’s a far less familiar story than that of the Civil War itself, but far more relevant today.
The word “Reconstruction” is somewhat misleading in the American case, because it implies that the main challenge was managing the tension between punishing the South for seceding and getting it back on its feet economically and politically. In this instance the more pressing question was what the lives of the millions of freed slaves in the South would be like. Would they be able to vote? To hold office? To own property? To sue white people? Would government undertake an active, expensive effort to educate them and put them on the way to economic self-sufficiency? Merely to say that former slaves were now free turned out to resolve remarkably little....
SOURCE: The Root (1-14-13)
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.
(The Root) -- Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 14: Were slaves actually eaten by dogs, as was shown in the film Django Unchained? Also, was it unusual for slaves to ride horses -- and were they really forced to fight each other to the death?
One of the scholar's favorite spectator sports when it comes to our version of film "criticism" is the gleeful search for historical inaccuracies in Hollywood feature films. Pursued with enough intensity and zeal, this sort of Monday morning quarterbacking can be a veritable blood sport, which is no idle metaphor when reflecting on Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. The film contains one of the most violent -- and devastatingly effective -- scenes I've ever witnessed in any representation of the horrors of slavery, a scene that literalizes the term "bloodhound."...
It Was a Dog-Eat-Slave World
Professional slave catchers used dogs to chase and capture fugitive slaves. As David Doddington writes in "Slavery and Dogs in the Antebellum South" for the website Sniffing the Past, "it was the use of trained dogs that appears to have most concerned" the slaves. "Former slaves claimed that masters, patrollers, or professional slave catchers would use 'savage dogs, trained to hunt and follow the track of the poor colored fugitive,' " according to the 1857 slave narrative of William J. Anderson.
But tracking slaves is one thing; devouring them, as happens in Django, is quite another. Did this happen -- could this have happened -- given the fact that the ultimate goal of a master was to exploit his human chattel for maximum profit, and destroying property would not be perhaps the best business decision?
Apparently, it sometimes did happen. Doddington quotes a slaveholder from Louisiana named Bennett H. Barrow, "who kept a detailed dairy and frequently mentioned the importance of dogs in capturing runaways, as well as the terrible violence they could inflict: 'hunting Ruffins Boy Henry, came across Williams runaway caught him dogs nearly et his legs off, near killing him.' "...
SOURCE: WSJ (1-10-13)
Mr. Radosh is a columnist for PJ Media and an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute. He is the co-author of "Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War" (Yale University Press, 2001).
For many years, the American left has combed the past for history lessons that will aid their effort to move the United States toward European-style social democracy, if not a full-fledged socialist utopia. The most successful leftist intellectual in that enterprise was the late Howard Zinn, whose books—such as "A People's History of the United States," first published in 1980—have sold millions of copies and are still used by high schools and colleges nationwide. Zinn believed that by emphasizing the struggles of working people, women and people of color against their supposed oppressors, his work could mobilize a new generation to carry on the fight of yesterday's radical heroes.
That search for a usable past has been taken up in a new form by filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick in both their Showtime television series, "Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States," and in the accompanying book of the same name. Mr. Kuznick, who wrote the volume and whose outlook frames the series, is frank about his mission.
He once wrote in a book of essays that he sees his role as a professor to be that of "creating a bridge between leftist and more moderate students," so that he can "try to radicalize some of the more moderate and liberal students" who accept our political system instead of working for real radical change. Those who support "liberal capitalism," he wrote, are "blind to the lessons of history."...
SOURCE: NYT Disunion Blog (1-10-13)
Rick Beard, an independent historian, is senior adviser for the Pennsylvania Civil War 150 Committee and volunteer coordinator of the Civil War Sesquicentennial for the American Association for State and Local History.
On Jan. 10, 1863, a military tribunal of nine Union generals found Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter guilty of two charges stemming from his actions at the Second Battle of Manassas the previous August. Eleven days later, Porter was dismissed from the Army and “forever disqualified from holding any office or trust or profit under the Government of the United States.” After signing the order cashiering Porter, President Lincoln remarked, “In any other country but this, the man would have been shot.” His uncharacteristically harsh assessment reveals the controversy and political machinations that surrounded Porter’s court martial as well as the lingering drama accompanying the recent removal of his friend and patron, George McClellan, from command of the Union armies.
At first glance, Porter seemed an unlikely candidate to end his military career on so ignominious a note. The Union admirals David Dixon Porter and David G. Farragut were both among his cousins, and he had graduated eighth in his West Point class of 1845. He served with distinction during the Mexican-American war, taught at West Point, fought in the Mormon wars of 1857 and 1858, and in 1860 reorganized the defenses of Charleston Harbor, S.C. Within a few months of the war’s outbreak, Porter was promoted to brigadier general and given command of the V Corps of the Army of the Potomac. During the Peninsula Campaign, his division fought bravely and well, providing one of the few bright spots in the failed Union effort to capture Richmond.
Porter’s fortunes soured quickly. In July of 1862 General-in-Chief Henry Halleck ordered him to reinforce the newly organized Army of Virginia under the command of Maj. Gen. John Pope. After a series of modest successes in the Western theater, Pope arrived in Washington boasting that “I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies.” Even had he been popular with his military peers, such braggadocio would have rankled....
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (1-9-13)
Peter Foster is the Telegraph's US Editor based in Washington DC.
When Abraham Lincoln breathed his last on the morning of Easter Saturday 1865, at 7.22am, his friend, the war secretary Edwin M Stanton, stood before the roomful of mourners who had gathered in a vigil at his bedside and declared: "Now he belongs to the ages."
People tend to say these portentous kinds of things about departing US presidents, especially if they have just been assassinated, but in the case of "Honest" Abe Lincoln, those words turned out to be truly prophetic. From the moment of his death, right up to the present day when Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln has packed out cinemas across America and looks likely to pick up a pile of awards, the 16th president of the United States has been lionised and loved like no other.
The sanctification of Lincoln’s memory began almost immediately. That Easter Sunday in 1865, according to the Lincoln historian Jennifer L Weber, "preachers took to their pulpits and talked about Lincoln as the 'American Jesus’ ". Writing 45 years later, Leo Tolstoy was still making comparisons almost as lofty, declaring that "The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln", and predicting that "his example is universal and will last thousands of years".
As Spielberg’s film shows, the fascination with – or, more accurately, the deep-seated affection for – Lincoln among Americans has never dimmed...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (1-10-13)
US columnist Michael A Cohen is author of Live from the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the 20th Century and How They Shaped Modern America.
This week saw the 100th birthday of America's 37th president, Richard Milhous Nixon.
With the benefit of hindsight, Nixon has one of the most remarkable political legacies of any figure in modern American history – winner of four national elections (as president and vice-presidential), on a presidential ballot every year but one from 1952 to 1972, and one of the most dominating political personalities of the second half of the 20th century.
Here was the man who "went to China", spurred détente with the Soviets, signed into law the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), took America off the gold standard and ended the Vietnam war.
Of course, on the flip side, he also prolonged the Vietnam war, obstructed justice from the Oval Office, used the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to go after his political enemies, launched an illegal war in Cambodia, waged a dirty tricks campaign against his opponents, placed Spiro Agnew a heartbeat from the presidency, kept an "enemies list", was recorded in the Oval Office describing Jews as "aggressive, abrasive and obnoxious" and Italians as not having their "heads screwed on tight", ended the Vietnam war with neither peace nor honor, was impeached by Congress, resigned the presidency and left a permanent stain on American democracy … and those are just some of this greatest hits.
Oh, and also, he committed treason...
SOURCE: PJ Media (1-6-13)
Ron Radosh is a PJ Media columnist and Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.
I did not plan to write again about Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s Untold History of the United States, their Showtime documentary series and accompanying book. Three things, however, have prompted me to once again address the series and its continuing distortions and lies.
First: in the January 10 issue of The New York Review of Books, the publisher of Stone and Kuznick’s book — Gallery Books — took out a full page ad proclaiming the companion volume to the TV series an “Instant New York Times Bestseller,” although when I searched the paper’s list I could not find it anywhere, even in their extended list of non-fiction bestsellers.
The ad reproduces blurbs by a group of major U.S. historians — many of them leftists — but includes some mainstream and well-known scholars. Lloyd Gardner of Rutgers University calls their book one that “many would consider impossible.” Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian (London) terms it a “counter narrative to the enormous tide of hogwash that dominates most public discussion of America.” Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post says it is “grounded in indisputable fact.” Historian Doug Brinkley says that the two grapple “with the unsavory legacy of American militarism.” Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame: “Brilliant, masterpiece!” And Pulitzer Prize winning historian Martin Sherwin, in a truly over-the-top comment, calls it “the most important historical narrative of this century, a carefully researched and brilliantly rendered account.”
The century is rather young, and in fact it might be the only narrative yet to appear … but anyone who reads it knows that it is not well-researched and is nothing but a synthesis of long-standing leftist “revisionist” history. All of these writers and historians, in praising the Stone-Kuznick work in such glowing terms, reveal only their own total ignorance about the history of the Cold War.
SOURCE: The Atlantic (1-9-13)
Mark Nuckols is a professor of law and business at the Moscow State University Higher School of Business and at the Russian Academy of National Economy.
Naomi Wolf has for many years now been claiming that a fascist coup in America is imminent. Most recently in The Guardian she alleged, with no substantiation, that the U.S. government and big American banks are conspiring to impose a "totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent." Many of her arguments rely on what she styles as rigorous historical research and analysis of current events. But if you compare her characterizations of the historical sources and current news accounts that she cites with the sources themselves, it is possible to discern a pattern of egregious misstatements and errors in her political writing.
Skeptics have been raising serious questions about her books and articles since Caryn James called The Beauty Myth (1991) "a sloppily researched polemic" in her otherwise generally favorable New York Times review. Most recently, Wolf's book Vagina: A New Biography has been roundly criticized for overly creative interpretations of scientific research -- most pointedly by the scientists she herself cites. But it is when she ventures into matters of politics, history, law, and society that her failures become most apparent.
In her bestselling book The End of America, Wolf does not merely shoehorn her evidence to fit her theses -- she completely twists its meaning and ignores its context. Many of her most outrageous distortions have mostly gone unnoticed as she has works to segue from feminist analyst to left-wing political Cassandra in the international conversation....
SOURCE: Atlantic (1-9-13)
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the author of Bin Laden's Legacy, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
One unique feature of Afghanistan's history, in addition to the ubiquity of foreign invasions that stretch back for 2600 years, is the manner in which one would-be conqueror after another found its position compromised due to its failure to understand this history. "The British would repeat the blunders of the Romans," writes Peter Tomsen in The Wars of Afghanistan, arguing that their nineteenth century invasions overlooked lessons that could be gleaned from the defeat the Romans suffered at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. And, he added, "the Soviets would make the same mistakes a century later."
The lessons of history extend not only to those looking to use military force to enter Afghanistan, but also to foreign armies on their way out. On January 1, The New York Times published an interesting article comparing the U.S.'s coming 2014 withdrawal to the Soviet exit in 1989. This is a worthwhile period to familiarize ourselves with, one that is understudied compared to the Afghan-Soviet war that preceded it. However, the analysis in the Times demonstrates not only what can be gleaned through historical comparisons, but also some of the pitfalls of undertaking them.
Afghanistan's communist president at the time the Soviets withdrew, Mohammad Najibullah (sometimes known as Najib), is remembered primarily for his life's gruesome ending. After the Taliban lured him and his brother out of the U.N. compound where they had found shelter, they tortured and castrated Najibullah, then dragged him from the back of a vehicle. Tomsen writes that the following morning, both men's "bloodied bodies hung from a traffic pylon outside the palace walls, their cadavers mutilated." Symbolizing his corruption, decadence, and allegiance to a foreign power, "a wad of Soviet currency and cigarettes were stuffed into Najib's mouth and nostrils."
This brutal man encountered his brutal end in 1996, seven years after the Soviets left. Because his death is so well known, we tend to overlook what the Times emphasizes: Although most outside observers expected Najibullah's regime to collapse immediately when the Soviets withdrew, it in fact appeared surprisingly strong for about three years. The Times outlines the basic contours: The Soviets "continued large-scale military assistance" after leaving Afghanistan, and "the combat effectiveness of Kabul's security forces increased after the Soviet withdrawal, when the fight for survival became wholly their own."
There are two further wrinkles to add to this analysis...
SOURCE: Atlantic (1-9-13)
On this, the 100th birthday of Richard Nixon, the slogan from his first campaign for Congress is the salient fact: "One of us." His dreams were ours -- and so, in the end, were his sins.
The life of no president says more about this country. Nixon's accomplishments sing of the finest American attributes -- daring, audacity, resilience and grit. His fall is an incantation of the nation's flaws, of meanness, prejudice, avarice and corruption.
We live in a world that Nixon made. His February 1972 opening to China -- that planet-stunning handshake with Mao -- set the earth's peoples on a new and liberating course. It was the first great crack in the Iron Curtain; a bell tolling for the Soviet Union and the Cold War, an indispensible step toward an integrated world economy that would lift billions from want and grant them, as he so hoped, a measure of peace.
"What a vision must exist then now in Nixon," marveled Norman Mailer that summer in Miami and the Siege of Chicago. "What a dream to save the land."
Nine months after his return from China, Nixon won re-election by the largest margin of any president since George Washington, carrying every state but Massachusetts.
SOURCE: WaPo (1-7-13)
Carter Eskew is co-host of The Insiders blog, offering commentary from a liberal perspective on Election 2012.
The imminent nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary means that we could have two Vietnam veterans as leaders of the nation’s diplomatic and military departments. John Kerry opposed the Vietnam War early, while Hagel defended it to the bitter end, but both share a worldview, and indeed a personal approach, that is shaped by that searing conflict.
It is worth a re-immersion in that war to understand who Chuck Hagel is. The best books on Vietnam I have ever read are: “The Long Gray Line,” about the West Point Class of 1966, which had the highest casualty rate of any class in academy history; “We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young,” and the novel, “Matterhorn.” I mention these books, and there are many other excellent ones, because for those of us who didn't experience the war, they are essential to understanding how it shaped the character and outlook of the people who did. And that understanding, in turn, is important to understanding Chuck Hagel and perhaps his odds of being confirmed. (For a shorter but equally compelling read that goes to the heart of Chuck Hagel's character, see Joseph Lelyveld’s profile of the former Nebraska senator.)...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (1-4-13)
Jonathan Aitken is a former Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom for 24 years, and a former British government Cabinet minister.
When Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency of the United States over Watergate in 1974 he was widely reviled as the worst ever occupant of the White House. But perceptions of his record have been changing. As the 100th anniversary of his birth approaches next week, a reassessment of his leadership and legacy seems timely.
Nixon was a character of Shakespearean complexity. In the late Eighties I took four years to write his biography, spending well over a hundred hours in conversation with him. In this process I saw fascinating glimpses of both his darkness and his greatness. They explain why, to this day, he polarises American opinion more than any other former president.
There is still a vociferous group of Nixon-haters in the American media. Yet there is also a substantial Nixon fan club among foreign policy specialists and centrist Republicans. Between these extremes, most average Americans remain baffled by the ambivalent character of this strange, talented loner who fought through hardscrabble poverty to high peaks of achievement from which he fell to the depths of political disgrace...
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (1-2-13)
Seth J. Frantzman received his Ph.D from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2010 and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
A recent study (‘The missing link of Jewish European Ancestry’) published online by the Oxford journal Genome Biology and Evolution concluded that “the genome of European Jews is a tapestry of ancient populations including Judaized Khazars, Greco-Romans and Mesopotamian Jews, and Judeans, and their population structure was formed in the Caucasus and the banks of the Volga with roots stretching to Canaan and the banks of the Jordan.”
The article has been gaining some buzz in a variety of places, from neo-Nazi websites to radical left-wing blogs, as proof that the Jewish people are not a distinct “people” and that their origins are in the Caucuses, not the Middle East.
The author of the article, post-doctoral researcher Eran Elhaik of the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins University, based his conclusion on what he describes as the “Khazar hypothesis,” which he accepts as a reasonable hypothesis that should be tested.
The Khazar theory for the origin of the Jews was invented by the ... intellectual Arthur Koestler in his 1976 book The Thirteenth Tribe. The Khazars, a Turkish polity that came to dominate the Caucuses in the 7th century, disappeared eventually several hundred years later, like many other tribal mini-states established in that area during the period. Some of the Khazar elite supposedly converted to Judaism....
SOURCE: The New Republic (12-21-12)
Sean Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton.
... Lincoln is a remarkable historical rendering, offering a deft, knowledgeable depiction of Lincoln as well as a shrewd handling of the politics of the Civil War and emancipation. But the film’s larger importance lies elsewhere. For a century and more, American culture has been polluted by outrageous and pernicious portrayals of the war that apologize for the Confederacy and, by extension, for slavery. A few exceptionally popular books and movies have played a large part in sustaining, sometimes decades after they first appeared, what American historians know as the myth of the Lost Cause, vaunting the slaveholding South. With its gallant white Southrons and its happy-go-lucky slaves, living an idyll heavy with the scent of blooming magnolia, it is an all-American variant of the larger genre of reactionary sentimentalism that is as old as the Romantics.
The myth, in turn, has helped to perpetuate long discredited views of the war and its origins that first appeared in writings by the Confederacy’s apologists after 1865. Not the least of these is the twisted proposition, advanced by President Jefferson Davis in rebuttal to Lincoln, that states’ rights and not slavery was the primary issue that led to secession and war. Much has changed over the decades in Americans’ perceptions of the Civil War—a poll conducted last year by the Pew Research Center showed that respondents who had a negative response to displays of the Confederate flag outnumbered those who had a positive response by a margin of three to one; but the same survey showed that nearly half of those polled believed that the war was mainly about states’ rights, substantially more than those who named slavery.
Gone with the Wind, the book and the movie, is the most familiar work in the Lost Cause canon, but the most influential, artistically as well as historically, has been D.W. Griffith’s cinematic masterpiece The Birth of a Nation. Released in 1915 and famously (although apocryphally) described by President Woodrow Wilson as “like writing history with lightning,” The Birth of a Nation brilliantly depicts a power-mad and merciless North vanquishing a gallant Old South. Pillaged by black Union soldiers, then ravished by bestial ex-slaves and tyrannical Yankee politicians during Reconstruction, Griffith’s South seems broken and undone, until the courageous godly white gladiators of the Ku Klux Klan overthrow the vile oppressors. Lincoln, a significant figure in the middle of the film, appears bizarrely as a Southern sympathizer, whose murder paved the way for all of the horrors visited upon the defeated Confederacy. And although it may be difficult to believe today, the film set the cultural tone for what was becoming the conventional wisdom—inside the academy as well as among Americans at large—about the Civil War era. The war came to be perceived as a tragic, avoidable conflict that led to a cruel and corrupt imposition of rapacious Negro equality on subjugated Southern whites. What the proSouthern Dunning School (headed by William A. Dunning of Columbia University) was to historical scholarship on the war and its aftermath, The Birth of Nation was to American popular culture....
SOURCE: LA Times (1-6-13)
Bill Whalen follows California and national politics at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and was chief speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson.
A century ago on Jan. 9, Richard Nixon was born in a Southern California agricultural subdivision dubbed Yorba Linda, in a 900-square-foot mail-order house assembled by his father.
The centennial of America's 37th president won't be met with much fanfare beyond this weekend's wreath-laying at that home and a Nixon Foundation dinner Wednesday in Washington. Although the Nixon Library has other centennial-related events planned for 2013, there's little of the hoopla that accompanied the 100th birthday of California's other president, Ronald Reagan, two years ago.
Like another former Republican president, Nixon is a victim of unfortunate political timing. Herbert Hoover's centennial, in 1974, came just two days after Nixon resigned from the presidency. Nixon's centennial comes two months after a bad election for Republicans, and his party is not exactly in a celebratory mood. By contrast, the ever-lucky Reagan's centennial came on the heels of the Republican landslide of 2010.
Still, Nixon's milestone is worth noting, beginning with his contributions to the political lexicon...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (1-7-13)
Frank Dikötter is chair professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong and author of Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962.
For decades, the Soviet Union hid its horrors behind the Iron Curtain. The worst of them was Joseph Stalin's man-made famine in Ukraine and southern Russia, the result of his program of forced rural collectivization that claimed the lives of 7 to 10 million people in 1932 and 1933. Land, property, livestock, even houses were requisitioned as farmers became state employees forced to deliver ever higher grain quotas. Those who resisted or tried to hide food were deported to the Gulag or executed. Whole parts of the Ukrainian countryside turned into death zones. Millions perished, yet Stalin managed to silence all talk of the famine, sending those who breathed a word of it to labor camps in far-off Siberia. The census data, which would have shown a huge spike in mortality rates, were locked away for half a century.
But even before the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, Communist Party leaders in Ukraine started investigating the famine in their own party archives. They found a wealth of gruesome documentation. Some of the most shocking evidence came from photographs of starving children with skeletal heads, ribs poking through their skin, begging for a scrap of food on the pavement in Kharkov, Ukraine's capital at the time of the famine. One picture showed emaciated corpses piled onto a cart, drumstick limbs akimbo amid a tumble of bodies. These were not a few isolated snapshots -- there were hundreds of images. Leonid Kravchuk, who would later become Ukraine's first democratically elected president, was one of the first to see this evidence. He was so haunted by the faces of the children killed by the famine that he persuaded Vladimir Ivashko, then the first secretary of Ukraine's Communist Party, to approve the reproduction of 350 photographs in a book released to the public in 1990. Today, the famine is officially and universally remembered across Ukraine as the Holodomor, literally "death by hunger."
A man-made disaster of even greater magnitude shook China in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In a campaign he called the Great Leap Forward, Chairman Mao Zedong herded the countryside into giant collective farms in 1958, believing that they would catapult his country into a utopia of plenty for all. As in Ukraine, everything was collectivized: Villagers were robbed of their work, homes, land, belongings, and livelihood. The experiment ended in the greatest catastrophe the country had ever known; at least 45 million people died of starvation over four years, as I found out when I was given unprecedented access to recently opened Communist Party archives in China...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (1-4-13)
Charles Emmerson is the author of the forthcoming 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War and is a senior research fellow at Chatham House.
The leading power of the age is in relative decline, beset by political crisis at home and by steadily eroding economic prowess. Rising powers are jostling for position in the four corners of the world, some seeking a new place for themselves within the current global order, others questioning its very legitimacy. Democracy and despotism are locked in uneasy competition. A world economy is interconnected as never before by flows of money, trade, and people, and by the unprecedented spread of new, distance-destroying technologies. A global society, perhaps even a global moral consciousness, is emerging as a result. Small-town America rails at the excessive power of Wall Street. Asia is rising once again. And, yes, there's trouble in the Middle East.
In many ways, the world of 1913, the last year before the Great War, seems not so much the world of 100 years ago as the world of today, curiously refracted through time. It is impossible to look at it without an uncanny feeling of recognition, telescoping a century into the blink of an eye. But can peering back into the world of our great-grandparents really help us understand the world we live in today?
Let's get the caveats out of the way upfront. History does not repeat itself -- at least not exactly. Analogies from one period to another are never perfect. However tempting it may be to view China in 2013 as an exact parallel to Germany in 1913 (the disruptive rising power of its age) or to view the contemporary United States as going through the exact same experience as Britain a century ago (a "weary titan staggering under the too vast orb of its fate," as Joseph Chamberlain put it), things are never quite that straightforward. Whereas Germany in 1913 explicitly sought a foreign empire, China in 2013 publicly eschews the idea that it is an expansionist power (though it is perfectly clear about protecting its interests around the world). Whereas the German empire in 1913 had barely 40 years of history as a unified state behind it and was only slightly more populous that Britain or France, China in 2013 can look back on centuries of continuous history as a player in world affairs, and it now boasts one-fifth of the world's population. Whereas Germany's rise was a genuinely new geopolitical phenomenon in 1913, the rise of China today is more of a return to historical normality. These differences matter.
Similarly, the strengths and weaknesses of the United States in 2013 are not quite the same as those of Britain 100 years ago...
SOURCE: The Atlantic (1-1-13)
...Scholars ... have ... known a very different story [of the Cuban Missile Crisis than the traditional pro-Kennedy narrative]: since 1997, they have had access to recordings that Kennedy secretly made of meetings with his top advisers, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (the “ExComm”). Sheldon M. Stern—who was the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library for 23 years and the first scholar to evaluate the ExComm tapes—is among the numerous historians who have tried to set the record straight. His new book marshals irrefutable evidence to succinctly demolish the mythic version of the crisis. Although there’s little reason to believe his effort will be to any avail, it should nevertheless be applauded.
Reached through sober analysis, Stern’s conclusion that “John F. Kennedy and his administration, without question, bore a substantial share of the responsibility for the onset of the Cuban missile crisis” would have shocked the American people in 1962, for the simple reason that Kennedy’s administration had misled them about the military imbalance between the superpowers and had concealed its campaign of threats, assassination plots, and sabotage designed to overthrow the government in Cuba—an effort well known to Soviet and Cuban officials.
In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had cynically attacked Richard Nixon from the right, claiming that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a dangerous “missile gap” to grow in the U.S.S.R.’s favor. But in fact, just as Eisenhower and Nixon had suggested—and just as the classified briefings that Kennedy received as a presidential candidate indicated—the missile gap, and the nuclear balance generally, was overwhelmingly to America’s advantage. At the time of the missile crisis, the Soviets had 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 138 long-range bombers with 392 nuclear warheads, and 72 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warheads (SLBMs). These forces were arrayed against a vastly more powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal of 203 ICBMs, 1,306 long-range bombers with 3,104 nuclear warheads, and 144 SLBMs—all told, about nine times as many nuclear weapons as the U.S.S.R. Nikita Khrushchev was acutely aware of America’s huge advantage not just in the number of weapons but in their quality and deployment as well.
Moreover, despite America’s overwhelming nuclear preponderance, JFK, in keeping with his avowed aim to pursue a foreign policy characterized by “vigor,” had ordered the largest peacetime expansion of America’s military power, and specifically the colossal growth of its strategic nuclear forces. This included deploying, beginning in 1961, intermediate-range “Jupiter” nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey—adjacent to the Soviet Union. From there, the missiles could reach all of the western U.S.S.R., including Moscow and Leningrad (and that doesn’t count the nuclear-armed “Thor” missiles that the U.S. already had aimed at the Soviet Union from bases in Britain)....
SOURCE: National Interest (1-2-13)
Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and an author of books on American history and foreign policy, including Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition (Simon & Schuster, 2005), from which portions of this article were adapted.
A question haunts America: Is it in decline on the world scene? Foreign-policy discourse is filled with commentary declaring that it is. Some—Parag Khanna’s work comes to mind—suggests the decline is the product of forces beyond America’s control. Others—Yale’s Paul Kennedy included—contend that America has fostered, at least partially, its own decline through "imperial overstretch" and other actions born of global ambition. Still others—Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution and Stratfor’s George Friedman, for example—dispute that America is in decline at all. But the question is front and center and inescapable.
It may be the wrong question. America is a product of Western civilization—part and parcel of it, inseparable from it. Thus, no serious analysis of America’s fate as a global power can be undertaken without placing it within the context of the West, meaning primarily Europe.
Kagan disputes this. In his influential little book of 2003, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, he famously suggested Americans are from Mars whereas Europeans are from Venus. "They agree on little and understand one another less and less," he wrote, adding, "When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways."
Perhaps. But they share the same cultural heritage, and their fates are bound together, whether they like it or not. Think of Greece and Rome, both part and parcel of the classical civilization. They honored the same gods, pursued the same modes of artistic expression and viewed politics in largely the same way during their periods of greatest flowering. And their fates were intertwined—enforced with brutal finality by Roman military potentates Mummius on the ground and Metellus at sea even as the younger Scipio was destroying Carthage in a way the Greeks never experienced because, unlike Carthage, they didn’t represent an alien civilization. Will Durant pegs the end of Greek civilization at ad 325, when Constantine founded Constantinople and Rome took a decisive turn away from its heritage—and that of Greece.
So it is with America and Europe. Hence, an analysis of American decline must lead to questions about Western decline. And an analysis of Western decline must lead to Oswald Spengler, the German intellectual who in 1918 produced the first volume of his bombshell work Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), followed by the second volume in 1922...