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.
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is also "The Liberal Media" columnist for The Nation and a fellow of The Nation Institute, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, where he writes and edits the "Think Again" column, a senior fellow (since 1985) at the World Policy Institute. Alterman is also a regular columnist for Moment magazine and a regular contributor to The Daily Beast
In my 2004 book, When Presidents Lie, I coined the term “post-truth presidency.” I borrowed it, in part, from the now late ex–Watergate felon Charles Colson, who in 2002 condemned America’s “post-truth society,” in which “even the man on the street sees little wrong with lying.” The great irony of this observation lay in the fact that Colson’s column was itself an artifact of post-truthism. It was actually written by a ghostwriter.
Presidents have long lied to the American public. The first one to get caught, however, Dwight Eisenhower, not only lied to the country when a US spy was shot down over the Soviet Union; he insisted that his secretary of state, Christian Herter, perjure himself before Congress to hide his humiliation. So lying is no big deal, at least not in the era of the American empire. Roosevelt did it. Eisenhower did it. Almost all of them have done it. But none did so more consequentially than John F. Kennedy did fifty years ago this October.
The ironies inherent in the Cuban missile crisis are so multiple and manifest, they are almost impossible to unpack. The deliberate disinformation put forth by both the participants in the crisis and their loyal foot soldiers in the media have corrupted our understanding not only of the crisis itself but also of foreign policy and political science. Thanks in significant measure to the 1969 release of Robert Kennedy’s crisis diaries, Thirteen Days, heavily doctored by Ted Sorensen—and even more so, to the canonical status of Graham Allison’s 1971 study of the crisis, The Essence of Decision—an entire generation (or three) learned these lies as scripture. (Wikipedia notes that Essence became the “founding study of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and in doing so revolutionized the field of international relations.”) When I researched the study of the crisis for my doctoral dissertation during the late 1990s, it remained, perhaps, the single most studied, modeled and discussed event in all of social science literature, judged by the number of scholarly citations it received. Every one of those studies was based on a false rendering of events....
SOURCE: The Nation (10-30-12)
This article is adapted from How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America, published in October. Copyright ©2012 by the Regents of the University of California. It is excerpted here with the permission of the author, a professor of history at UC Irvine.
For Republicans today, Ronald Reagan provides the gold standard of political virtue. In their view, perhaps his greatest achievement was “winning” the cold war—the icon for which is the Berlin Wall. Pieces of the Wall are on display in a surprising number of American locations, from the low-down (a Las Vegas casino men’s room) to the more upscale (the Microsoft Art Collection in Redmond, Washington). More than forty places in the United States display sections of the Wall, according to Wikipedia . Taken together, these commemorations tell us something about how Reagan, and the cold war, are being remembered—and forgotten.
Of course the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, displays a segment of the Wall—a real one, donated by the founder of the fast food chain Carl’s Jr., plus a Hollywood-style mock-up, on which video is projected of the famous Reagan speech in which he said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Until recently, the library had a life-size re-creation of Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie, where you could have your picture taken next to a mannequin of an East German border guard. But if you thought the other US exhibits would celebrate Reagan as the man who brought down the Wall, you would be wrong.
The displays across America present a stunningly wide range of attitudes toward the Wall. The “most fun” exhibit in the country, according to the guidebook Roadside America (which bills itself as “a caramel-coated-nutbag-full of odd and hilarious travel destinations”), is found at Main Street Station casino in Las Vegas. That’s the one in the men’s room, behind a row of four urinals. The guidebook title for that attraction: “Pee at the Berlin Wall.” This site was named “Las Vegas’ number two historic bathroom” by the Travel Channel in its “Las Vegas Top 10 Bathrooms” documentary. To get there, you leave the glitter and crowds on the strip and head downtown— and down-scale—to what is politely termed the “budget” area of the city’s tourist attractions....
SOURCE: Moscow Times (10-31-12)
George Soros is chairman of Soros Fund Management and of the Open Society Institute.
Originally, the European Union was what psychologists call a "fantastic object," a desirable goal that inspires people's imaginations. I saw it as the embodiment of an open society: an association of nation-states that gave up part of their sovereignty for the common good and formed a union dominated by no single nation or nationality.
The euro crisis, however, has turned the EU into something radically different. Member countries are now divided into two classes — creditors and debtors — with the creditors in charge. The EU is today held together by grim necessity. That is not conducive to a harmonious partnership. The only way to reverse the trend is to recapture the spirit of solidarity that animated the European project from the start.
To that end, I recently established an Open Society Initiative for Europe, or OSIFE. In doing so, I recognized that the best place to start would be where current policies have created the greatest human suffering: Greece. The people who are suffering are not those who abused the system and caused the crisis. The fate of the many migrant and asylum seekers caught in Greece is particularly heart-rending. But their plight cannot be separated from that of the Greeks themselves. An initiative confined to migrants would merely reinforce the growing xenophobia and extremism in Greece.
I could not figure out how to approach this seemingly intractable problem until I recently visited Stockholm to commemorate the centenary of Raoul Wallenberg's birth. This reawakened my memories of World War II — the calamity that eventually gave birth to the EU...
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (10-30-12)
The writer is a resident of Jerusalem and host of the radio show Walter’s World.
Throughout the Jewish world, there were/will be meetings to commemorate "Kristallnacht," – or the night of the broken glass – from November 9 to 10, 1938.
That night, most synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the by then annexed Czechoslovakian Sudetenland were set alight, thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed and almost 30,000 Jewish men sent off to concentration camps.
The trigger for these atrocities can be found in the events of a few years earlier. During 1938 the Polish authorities were concerned about the German annexation of Austria in March of that year and also about the increased persecution of German and Austrian Jews. It was not their welfare that concerned them, but they feared that the many Polish nationals among them would either want to or be forced to return to Poland. So in mid-October the Polish government issued a de-nationalization law which annulled the citizenship of Poles living abroad for more than five years, unless before the end of the month they received a special stamp into their passports from the Polish Consulates.
Not surprisingly, Jews were refused this facility.
German policy at the time was not yet the mass extermination of Jews, but to get them out of Germany; so when the Nazi regime learned that Polish officials would not stamp the passports of Jews, thereby making all of them stateless, without any nationality and hence without passports, they were concerned about their having to remain in Germany...
SOURCE: Daily Star (Lebanon) (10-30-12)
Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister for eight years and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group, is currently chancellor of the Australian National University and co-chair of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect.
One of the worst atrocity crime stories of recent decades has barely registered in the world’s collective conscience. We remember and acknowledge the shame of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. We agonize about the failure to halt the atrocities being committed almost daily in Syria. But at least until now, the world has paid almost no attention to war crimes and crimes against humanity comparable in their savagery to any of these: the killing fields of Sri Lanka in 2009. Three years ago, in the bloody endgame of the Sri Lankan government’s war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, some 300,000 civilians became trapped between the advancing army and the last LTTE fighters in what has been called "the cage" – a tiny strip of land, not much larger than New York City’s Central Park, between sea and lagoon in the northeast of the country.
With both sides showing neither restraint nor compassion, at least 10,000 civilians – possibly as many as 40,000 – died in the carnage that followed, as a result of indiscriminate army shelling, rebel gunfire, and denial of food and medical supplies.
The lack of outrage mainly reflects the Sri Lankan government’s success in embedding in the minds of policymakers and publics an alternative narrative that had extraordinary worldwide resonance in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. What occurred in the cage, according to this narrative, was the long-overdue defeat, by wholly necessary and defensible means, of a murderous terrorist insurrection that had threatened the country’s very existence...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (10-24-12)
SOURCE: AHA Today (10-15-12)
Linda K. Kerber is the May Brodbeck Professor in the Liberal Arts and professor of history emerita, and lecturer in law at the University of Iowa. She is the author or editor of several books, including No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship. She was president of the AHA for 2006.
Nearly 40 years ago, on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that turned out to be one of the most contentious in its history. Two plaintiffs whose names were changed to protect their privacy—"Roe" from Texas and "Doe" from Georgia—claimed that laws making abortion illegal undermined their own right to make medical choices for themselves and their physicians' right to practice medicine according to their best judgment. Less than a decade before, abortion had been illegal in every state, with very narrow exceptions—to save the life of the mother; or, occasionally, in cases of rape or incest. At the time of the decision, a small handful of states had reformed abortion law by widening the exemptions to include saving the mother's physical and mental health. The court's opinion, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, with two dissents by Justices Byron White and William Rehnquist (who characterized the desire for abortion by a healthy woman as a matter of her "convenience") recognized that the long-established right to privacy "is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."
In the years since 1973, scholars have written fresh histories of reproductive rights in the United States, placing Roe v. Wade in deep political and social context. These histories recognize its link to the history of birth control and to the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Griswold v. Connecticut 381 U.S. 479 (1965) and Eisenstadt v. Baird 405 U.S. 438 (1972), which treated as private decisions the use of birth control, first by married couples and, a full seven years later, by unmarried couples. Many of these books are already understood to be classics: James C. Mohr, Abortion in America : The Origins and Evolution of National Policy, 1800–1900 ( New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978), Kristin Luker, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1984); Linda Gordon, Woman's Body, Woman's Right: Birth Control in America (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), and the revised and expanded version, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2002); Andrea Tone, Devices and Desires: A History of Contraception in America (New York: Hill & Wang, 2001).
Chapter 4 of Linda Greenhouse, Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey (New York: Times Books, 2005) traces Justice Blackmun's thinking as he wrote the Supreme Court opinion. Faye Ginsburg's Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1998) follows the impact of Roe into Fargo, North Dakota. Johanna Schoen's Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2005) places abortion in the general history of reproduction. Beth Bailey, Sex in the Heartland (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), Sandra Morgen, Into Our Own Hands: The Women's Health Movement in the United States, 1969–1990 (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2002), and Elaine Tyler May's America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation, published on its 50th anniversary (New York: Basic Books, 2010), place the subject of abortion in the context of women's recent medical history....
SOURCE: WaPo (10-18-12)
George Derek Musgrove is an assistant professor of history at University of Maryland Baltimore County and the author of “Rumor Repression and Racial Politics: How the Harassment of Black Elected Officials Shaped Post-Civil Rights America (University of Georgia Press, 2012).
Chris Myers Asch is the author of “The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer” (University of North Carolina Press, 2011). They are collaborating on a book about race and democracy in the District.
Who remembers the Irish of Swampoodle? The Jews of Petworth? The working-class whites of Anacostia? The blue-collar black community of Georgetown?
For all but the most serious students of D.C. history, these once-vibrant communities are gone and forgotten, lost to the past in an ever-changing city that celebrates the new, the famous and the powerful. Yet the fact that those groups no longer live in those neighborhoods and that we know so little about them can help us understand why current discussions of gentrification can be so heated.
Simply put, people do not want to be gone or forgotten.
From our pulpits and papers to our blogs and barbershops, Washingtonians are grappling with a city that is becoming younger, wealthier — and whiter. Fears of displacement and “swagger jacking” meet accusations of “black Columbusing” and reverse racism as demographic changes and development force District residents to confront difficult issues of race, class, power and history....
SOURCE: Salon (10-18-12)
David Chambers, a grandson of Whittaker Chambers, runs www.whittakerchambers.org
Dr. Jon Wiener needs to set some facts straight, at least in the excerpt from his new book, just published by Salon (“A visit to the right’s least popular museum”).
First, the Whittaker Chambers Farm is no museum. In fact is neither a requirement nor even an implication that a property designated as a National Historic Landmark need open to the public at all. In “Protecting America: Cold War Defensive Sites (A National Historical Landmark Theme Study),” dated October 2011, the NPS clearly holds the Whittaker Chambers Farm “private property, not open to the public.” Further, Whittaker Chambers (my grandfather) never claimed his farm meant much to the outside world. He described it as “a few hundred acres of dirt, some clusters of old barns and outbuildings… a few beeves and hogs or a flock of sheep.” (“Witness,” p. 517). It hasn’t changed much over the years....
Jon Wiener replies:
Readers can be assured I did indeed visit the site of the Whittaker Chambers pumpkin patch National Historical Landmark, but I didn’t go “skulking about.” When I saw the “No Trespassing” sign, as I wrote in the piece, I turned around and left. I thought that was what the Chambers family wanted us to do — rather than, as Chambers suggests here, “try the front door.”...
SOURCE: Daily Star (Lebanon) (10-17-12)
Brahma Chellaney, professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, is the author of Asian Juggernaut and Water: Asia’s New Battleground.
SOURCE: Policy Review (Hoover Institution) (10-2-12)
Amy B. Zegart is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of Eyes on Spies: Congress and the United States Intelligence Community.
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (10-16-12)
SOURCE: Moscow Times (10-17-12)
Fyodor Lukyanov is editor of Russia in Global Affairs.
SOURCE: CS Monitor (10-16-12)
John Yemma is editor of the Christian Science Monitor.
History is like archaeology. What humans live through in the present – economic struggles, political contests, national crises – drifts to the ground and slowly gets buried under the strata of more recent events. Then one day we excavate and wonder: What were our predecessors thinking?
When Graham Allison reviews October 1962 with people under the age of 50, their usual reaction is dropped-jaw amazement. How, they ask, could leaders have felt so boxed in that they seriously entertained the idea of nuclear war?
“It just seems incredible to people who didn’t live through those times,” says Dr. Allison, director of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “They can’t believe that there was a real chance of a war that would leave hundreds of millions of people dead.”...
SOURCE: PS: Political Science & Politics (10-1-12)
Mark Zachary Taylor is an assistant professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How relatively good or bad were the economic performances of our past presidents? The answers to this question remain unclear. Most evaluations of presidential performance cloud the issue with partisan bias and subjective judgments or mix economics together with other policy areas. To address these shortcomings, this article uses new data from the Measuring Worth Project to calculate the relative economic rankings of the United States presidents who served from 1789 until 2009. It analyzes up to 220 years of data on economic growth, unemployment, inflation, government debt, balance of payments, income inequality, currency strength, interest rates, and stock market returns to estimate an economic grade point average for each president. Then, these estimates are used to test for correlations with other variables to generate hypotheses regarding the conditions for superior and inferior economic performance.
SOURCE: WSJ (10-5-12)
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is a history professor at the University of California, Irvine and co-editor of "Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land."
Fear of China is back. But it's a nebulous fear, and this creates both an opportunity and an obstacle for the male and female anti-heroes of Christopher Buckley's latest look at the surreal world of lobbyist, the uneven but occasionally hilarious "They Eat Puppies, Don't They?" Both characters are eager to whip up anxiety about the Chinese military threat in hopes that Congress will fund development of a costly new weapon. They quickly realize, though, that China is different from radical Islam when it comes to generating dread.
There is no obvious panic-inducing face for this phobia, no counterpart to Osama bin Laden. Yes, there is clear evidence of China's leaders treating opponents brutally at home and bullying neighbors in territorial spats, but this alone can't transform Beijing's bland technocrats into terrifying bogeymen. When lined up for group photos, Mr. Buckley notes, they still just look "like a delegation of identical, overpaid dentists." No one in the book actually says it, but you can almost hear the protagonists crying out: "Where is Fu-Manchu when you need him?"...
SOURCE: Buzzfeed (10-15-12)
John R. Bohrer's work has appeared at Esquire.com, Politico, Salon, The Awl, USA Today and other publications
Everyone agrees: Mitt Romney is not like his father.
The late Michigan governor and 1968 presidential candidate George Romney is remembered as a principled man of spontaneity and candor. His example is regularly invoked by both admirers of his son's disciplined campaign style and critics of Mitt's back-and-forth pandering. George, it is said, told the truth about the Vietnam War before it was popular to do so, with an unfortunately worded comment about “brainwashing” by U.S. government officials that cost him the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. “Mitt learned at an impressionable age that in politics, authenticity kills,” historian Rick Perlstein wrote in Rolling Stone earlier this year. “Heeding the lesson of his father's fall, he became a virtual parody of an inauthentic politician.”
This rejection of his father’s example, the thinking goes, is what has made Mitt a more successful presidential candidate — self-controlled but hard to pin down, flipping from moderate to conservative to moderate once again. It is observed that Mitt would never draw a line in the sand like his father did in 1964, when George dramatically "charged out of the 1964 Republican National Convention over the party's foot-dragging on civil rights," as the Boston Globe's authoritative biography, "The Real Romney," put it earlier this year. Outlets from the New York Times to the New Republic have recalled this story of the elder Romney's stand against Goldwater's hard-line conservatives. Frontline’s documentary “The Choice 2012” reported it as a formative event: “when Goldwater received the nomination, Mitt saw his father angrily storm out.” A Google search for the incident produces hundreds of pages of results. In August, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne cited the episode to write that Mitt “has seemed more a politician who would do whatever it took to close a deal than a leader driven by conviction and commitment. This is a problem George Romney never had.”
Only George Romney did not walk out of the 1964 Republican National Convention. He stayed until the very end, formally seconding Goldwater’s eventual nomination and later standing by while an actual walkout took place. He left the convention holding open the possibility of endorsing Goldwater and then, after a unity summit in Hershey, Pennsylvania, momentarily endorsed the Arizona senator. Then he changed his mind while his top aides polled “all-white and race-conscious” Michigan communities for a “secret” white backlash vote against LBJ’s civil rights advances — a backlash that might have made a Goldwater endorsement palatable at home. Finding the Republican label even more unpopular than civil rights in Michigan, Romney ultimately distanced himself from the entire party, including his own moderate Republican allies....
SOURCE: CS Monitor (10-15-12)
“My fellow Americans, with a heavy heart, and in necessary fulfillment of my oath of office, I have ordered – and the United States Air Force has now carried out – military operations with conventional weapons only, to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba.”
These are the words President Kennedy almost delivered in October 1962 announcing what could have been World War III. This draft speech is among several thousand drafts, letters, and handwritten notes from Robert F. Kennedy’s personal files that have just last week been opened at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
Robert Kennedy’s writings make vivid how close we came to the brink of war. Had President Kennedy been forced to choose a response in the first 48 hours after an American spy plane discovered the Soviets sneaking nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba, RFK had no doubt that his brother would have chosen an air strike against the missile sites, followed by an invasion. As he wrote in his notes while discussing this option, “if we go in, we go in hard.”...
SOURCE: Daily Beast (10-15-12)
Sidney Blumenthal, journalist, author, historian, and former senior adviser to President Clinton, is completing a book titled The Man Who Became Abraham Lincoln: How He Won the Civil War and Was Assassinated .
The latest Lincoln boom—kicking off with the bicentennial of his birth in 2009 and the continuing sesquicentennial of the Civil War—shows no sign of abating. It may not even reach its apogee with the release immediately post-election of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, a biopic starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. Spielberg, according to a source familiar with the production, has deliberately withheld the film until the current, divisive presidential campaign is over in order to prevent Lincoln from being seized upon to score political points.
But lifting Lincoln above the fray doesn’t remove him from politics. While the political Lincoln may be difficult for us to acknowledge at a time when politics and partisan commitments are widely denigrated, Lincoln’s presidency demonstrates that partisanship and political ruthlessness can be used to advance the highest ideals. And there were no clearer cases than during his 1864 battle for reelection (without which the slave-owning South would almost certainly have triumphed) and subsequent effort to pass the 13th Amendment, which at long last purged slavery from the Constitution. In the end, Lincoln became the master of events because he was the master of politics.
The mythology of Lincoln as too noble for politics began at the moment of his death, with his body sprawled across a small bed in a house across from Ford’s Theatre, where he was shot. At the president’s last breath, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton famously pronounced, "Now he belongs to the ages." Every age since has invented its Lincoln. Martyred on Good Friday, Lincoln the Christ has rivaled Lincoln the Common Man and Lincoln the Idealist in America’s collective imagination.
The historical truth reveals one of the most astute professional politicians the country has produced...
SOURCE: New Republic (10-14-12)
Chris Matthews is the host of Hardball and the author of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.
Fifty Octobers ago, the world faced a nuclear war that would have left this planet a very different place. The danger was every bit as it appeared. Nikita Krushchev, the Soviet leader who had secretly deployed 90 nuclear missiles in Cuba, had a back-up plan should the United States attack the weapon sites.
"I knew the United States could knock out some of our installations, but not all of them," he wrote in his memoirs. "If a quarter or even a tenth of our missiles survived—even if only one or two big ones were left—we could still hit New York, and there wouldn’t be much of New York left."
The U.S. never tested Khrushchev’s dire resolve. We never attacked his missiles. Instead, President Kennedy improvised a jerry-built policy that included an embargo on further shipment of Soviet missiles and a demand that all such weapons in Cuba be removed. Khrushchev turned back his cargo ships and removed his missiles. In this eyeball-to-eyeball conflict, he appeared to "blink" while his counterpart, President John F. Kennedy stood firm.
The full truth, which would only get out years later, is that the American president, dreading nuclear war and fearing a "miscalculation" that would trigger it, made an under-the-table deal. He gave Khrushchev precisely what he needed : something to get the hawks off his back. He agreed to remove the nuclear missiles we had deployed in Turkey, to do so in a short period of time but quietly, out of the glare of media—and Republican—attention. He did what was necessary, proffering a deal he knew he couldn't sell to his fellow countrymen.
This is the lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis that gets overlooked but should be the key to all future confrontations with a dangerous enemy: Always leave the other side a way out. Otherwise, they will only have a way in...