Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: WSJ (09-08-11)
Mr. Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and co-chair of the Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.
The Arabic word shamata has its own power. The closest approximation to it is the German schadenfreude—glee at another's misfortune. And when the Twin Towers fell 10 years ago this week, there was plenty of glee in Arab lands—a sense of wonder, bordering on pride, that a band of young Arabs had brought soot and ruin onto American soil.
The symbols of this mighty American republic—the commercial empire in New York, the military power embodied by the Pentagon—had been hit. Sweets were handed out in East Jerusalem, there were no tears shed in Cairo for the Americans, more than three decades of U.S. aid notwithstanding. Everywhere in that Arab world—among the Western-educated elite as among the Islamists—there was unmistakable satisfaction that the Americans had gotten their comeuppance.
here were sympathetic vigils in Iran—America's most determined enemy in the region—and anti-American belligerence in the Arab countries most closely allied with the United States. This occasioned the observation of the noted historian Bernard Lewis that there were pro-American regimes with anti-American populations, and anti-American regimes with pro-American populations...
Posted on: Thursday, September 8, 2011 - 05:58
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (09-07-11)
Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist. His personal website is www.timothygartonash.com.
Amid the plethora of conspiracy theories about 9/11, one I have not yet seen is that Osama bin Laden was a Chinese agent. Yet objectively, comrades – as communists used to say – one could argue that China has been the greatest beneficiary of America's decade-long reaction to those Islamist stabs at her heart.
Put it this way: When the anniversary articles come to be written on 11 September 2031, will commentators look back on a 30 years war against Islamist terrorism, comparable to the cold war, as the defining feature of world politics since 2001? I think not. They will most likely see this longer period as being defined by the historic power shift from west to east, with a much more powerful China and a less powerful United States, a stronger India and a weaker European Union.
As the Stanford historian Ian Morris points out in his mind-stretching book Why the West Rules – for Now, this geopolitical shift will occur within the larger frame of an unprecedented rate of technological advance, on the bright side, and an unprecedented array of global challenges, on the dark side.
Of course, this is only historically informed guesswork. But if things develop in anything like this direction (or in another direction unrelated to Islam) then the post-9/11 decade in American foreign policy will look like a detour – a massive, consequential detour, to be sure – rather than history's main road...
Posted on: Thursday, September 8, 2011 - 05:54
SOURCE: National Review (9-7-11)
NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.
Strangely, both the media and the public rarely mention some of the most important aftershocks in the decade since 9/11. Here are some representative examples of landmark events that to this day remain mostly undiscussed.
1. No more falling skyscrapers? Few imagined that the United States could go an entire decade without another major terrorist attack — other than freelancing jihadists’ killing members of the American armed forces. Almost monthly, U.S. authorities have thwarted serial attempts to cause mayhem on airliners, bridges, city squares, shopping malls, and high-rises. It was almost as if the more we caricatured the often silly security measures at the airport, blasted Guantanamo Bay, and ridiculed renditions, the more we assumed that our security, initially thought permanently imperiled (“not if, but when”), was once again our birthright. Someone somewhere did something that kept us safe, but we were strangely afraid to acknowledge that there was any utility in the very protocols and foreign operations that had weakened our enemies to the point of an inability to replicate 9/11. If immediately after the attacks in New York and Washington we accepted that the old security was no longer possible, soon thereafter we started assuming not only that it was natural, but that, in organic fashion, it had reappeared through spontaneous regeneration.
2. The greatest political turnabout of the age. If one had collated everything candidate Obama declaimed about the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies from autumn of 2007 to November 2008, then one would have expected a President Obama to dismantle the entire Bush-Cheney national-security apparatus upon entering office, to pull out of Iraq (he originally said this should be done by March 2008, no less), and to keep our military out of the Middle East. Instead, Obama retained Secretary of Defense Gates, stuck to the Bush-Petraeus withdrawal plan in Iraq, expanded Predator-drone attacks in Waziristan, surged into Afghanistan, bombed Libya, and embraced everything from Guantanamo to renditions. That about-face, I think, was the most radical political development of the last quarter-century, and was treated with near silence by the media. It was as if Moveon.org, Code Pink, and Michael Moore had simply vanished from the face of the earth sometime around January 2009. The notion today that a canonized Michael Moore would be invited to a lookout perch at the 2012 Democratic Convention or that Moveon.org would run another “General Betray Us” ad is surreal. A cynic would say that the anti–War on Terror movement did its job in helping to elect Barack Obama, and then moved on, so to speak, when Barack Obama likewise did his job in continuing his predecessor’s anti-terrorism policies....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 - 12:49
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (9-4-11)
Michael Kazin is the author of the new book American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is coeditor of Dissent.
The American left was once in love with the labor movement. Take, for example, the careers of this quartet of famous progressives: Margaret Sanger, John Steinbeck, Betty Friedan, and Martin Luther King Jr. All were committed to audacious reform and had the ability to turn their political passions into memorable prose. And all believed, at critical times in their lives, that a powerful union movement was essential to making their nation a more decent, more egalitarian society....
There once would have been nothing surprising about the pro-labor sympathies of the famous four. From the Gilded Age into the 1960s, nearly every left-wing thinker and activist placed his or her faith for far-reaching social change on the fortunes of the union movement. Only when wage earners built strong institutions to fight for their interests would politicians take steps to markedly improve the lot of the American majority....
But gradually, many progressives and labor unionists soured on one another. The AFL-CIO leadership’s backing for the Vietnam War and the class tensions provoked by both the counterculture and the environmental movement had something to do with it. So did the shift of young leftists from fighting to remedy economic injustice to battling discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Meanwhile, groups with lavish resources like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Atlantic Legal Foundation moved aggressively to undermine enforcement of the Wagner Act. That thousands of workers got fired every year for trying to organize unions fails to gain much attention, even in left-wing periodicals and websites....
Today, perhaps, labor’s beleaguered champions should take a bit of inspiration from their own past. The first celebration of Labor Day occurred in New York City in 1882. Twenty thousand unionists paraded before a quarter-million cheering spectators. Planners boasted that the event would “show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” and “warn politicians that they shall go no farther in pandering to the greed of monopoly and reducing the condition of the masses.” Their language sounds archaic. But during the current rerun of the Gilded Age—when corporate profits are soaring and unemployment remains obscenely high—an updated version of that kind of protest would be an excellent idea.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 16:34
SOURCE: The New Republic (9-5-11)
Steve Krause is the Director of Finance at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. Matthew Paull retired from the CFO position at McDonald's Corporation in early 2008 and now serves on several boards.
In his book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw paid homage to the generation that emerged from the Great Depression to fight Hitler and other forms of tyranny. Their efforts were all about sacrifice so that their children could enjoy a better life. They sacrificed on the front lines of battle and back home in the factories that produced what was needed to wage war.
We, on the other hand, are members of the Baby Boom generation (the authors are both 60 years old)—a cohort that is hardly known for its selflessness—and we can’t help but wonder: What, exactly, happened to the children of the “Greatest Generation?” Where is our willingness to sacrifice so that our children can enjoy a life even better than ours?
So how did the Greatest Generation, known for its sacrifices, produce a generation so focused on economic self-interest and so seemingly unwilling to sacrifice for the good of the country? That is a bit of a mystery, but we will put forth two theories.
First, our generation generally avoided military service. As we baby boomers became adults, less than 1 percent of the population served in the military. In WWII, that figure was over 10 percent. Two of the great lessons of military service are one, country before self and two, trust in leadership and authority. With relatively few of us sharing the bonds, lessons, and sacrifices of military service, perhaps there is little widespread experiential counterbalance to each of us pursuing only our self-interest.
The second theory, on the other hand, goes deeper into our country’s structural economic problems—those that have precipitated the decline of a middle-class majority and the ascent of more powerful, but divergent self-interest groups....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 11:39
SOURCE: NYT (9-5-11)
Posted on: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 11:16
SOURCE: Tablet Magazine (8-31-11)
Richard Landes, a professor of history at Boston University, blogs at The Augean Stables. His new book, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience treats a variety of apocalyptic movements, including global jihad.
When I first heard in the mid-1990s about the dreams of some jihadis and Islamists to have the green flag of Islam waving over the White House and the queen of England wearing a burka, I, like so many other Western liberals, thought that these were ludicrous fantasies. But as a student of apocalyptic millennialism, I understood that however silly such beliefs might sound to outsiders, they can have devastating consequences.
Millennialists, from stone-age cargo cults to the Pharaoh Akhenaten’s monotheistic revolution in Egypt around 1350 BCE to modern secular movements including the French Revolution, Marxism, Communism, and Nazism, all imagine that in the future the world will transform from a society in which evil, corruption, and oppression flourish and the good suffer into a world without suffering and pain. The term “apocalyptic” refers to the experiences and behavior of those who believe that this millennial transformation is imminent. In my new book, Heaven on Earth, I focus on two major developments in apocalyptic movements: The first concerns those rare moments when a previously low-volume apocalyptic discourse successfully enters the public sphere and, despite its outlandish claims, wins zealous, open, converts, and the second concerns the inevitable disappointment that greets all such movements, including those that succeed in taking power and implementing their plans for perfecting the world. Of the most dangerous such movements to jell are those I call “active cataclysmic” ones that believe that only vast destruction can pave the way to the new world, and that they are the agents of that violence. Such movements have killed tens of millions of people (often their own people) before their raging fires burned out.
Two key laws of apocalyptic dynamics became relevant in assessing Muslim apocalyptic expectations, even the most curious ones attached to the advent of the year 2000: First, one person’s messiah is another’s antichrist; and, second, wrong does not mean inconsequential. Muslims observing messianic Christians and Jews who wanted to rebuild the Temple where the Dome of the Rock stands in the year 2000 predicted the Dajjal, the Muslim version of the antichrist, for that year. And given the active cataclysmic fantasy involved—“We, Allah’s agents, must destroy much of the word to save it”—I understood how devastating it might be if this movement spread, no matter how wrong it might seem to secular people in the West....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 10:16
SOURCE: NYT (9-2-11)
Posted on: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 09:53
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (9-5-11)
Judith Stein is a professor of history and the author of Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies (Yale University Press, 2010).
In his speech on jobs Thursday, President Obama will offer tax credits for new hiring, extension of the payroll tax cut, and other small items, his aides hinted. These measure may be helpful at the margins, but the only way they, and much needed larger ones, will get people's attention is if they are attached to a narrative that makes jobs the centerpiece of a new economy that produces more of the goods that Americans consume.
In 2009, the president seemed to agree when he told CNN, "We can't go back to the era where the Chinese or the Germans or other countries just are selling everything to us, we're taking out a bunch of credit card debt or home equity loans, but we're not selling anything to them."...
Despite Obama's words, the tax cuts and spending in his $787 billion stimulus did not encourage the investment and growth we needed. Most of it was saved or used for consumption. The unemployed obviously needed income support. But some of the increased buying went for imports, providing jobs for foreign, not American workers. The low interest rates and quantitative easing of the Federal Reserve Bank aided the global as much as the American economy. Banks and multinationals used cheap money to invest in emerging markets, not in the United States. The wealth effect of the rising stock market encouraged upper-class consumption, not investment. The telltale trade deficit has been rising again, meaning that the United States is consuming more than it is producing again....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 09:42
SOURCE: Madman of Chu (Blog) (9-1-11)
Andrew Meyer is associate professor of history at CUNY Brooklyn College
Anyone who has traveled periodically to China over the past 25 years (as I have) will remark upon how rapidly and profoundly China has changed over that time. In my most recent trip (from which I returned yesterday), however, even I who have been acculturated to the extreme dynamism of the new China was amazed by how drastically it has changed in the eight years since I last visited. Prosperity has advanced in China to a degree that would have been difficult to imagine when I first set foot in Beijing in the winter of 1987.
The first inkling we had of this transformation was on our first full day in Beijing, on a visit to the Forbidden City. The site was overrun by a throng of tourists one would not encounter anywhere in the U.S., with the possible exception of Disneyland. These were people from all over China. In casual conversations we encountered families from Shandong, Shaanxi, and Fujian, and I am sure if we had taken the time we could have found someone from every province and autonomous region of the PRC. Even accounting for the summer season, the crowds of leisure travelers signified the rise of a new middle class that simply had not existed at any other time I had visited China in the past 25 years.
That new socioeconomic reality was made more dramatic on our excursion to Beijing's most famous roast duck restaurant, Quan Ju De. In 1987 I and my other college friends used to roll up to the door on our bicycles and be escorted promptly into the half-empty (and prohibitively expensive, from the perspective of most Chinese citizens) restaurant to dine next to party cadres. This time my family and I arrived at the front door to find a crowd of at least 150 people perched on small plastic stools, each clutching a number and waiting to hear it called over a megaphone by a hostess in a beautiful silk qipao. Such culinary democracy was unknown in the China I had seen in the past.
These were only two instances of the enormous rise and spread of prosperity that we encountered on this trip. To be sure, there was still real poverty, and the limits of the new prosperity could be observed. New buildings were under construction everywhere, but certain key resources were poorly maintained. In Chengdu my mother suffered a laceration that required stitches, and the trip to the emergency room of the local hospital was like a journey to 1988. Vast sums have been spent on assets that have a high international profile, such as the Chengdu airport (which is tripling in size), but Chengdu's hospitals do not seem to have benifited as significantly from these capital investments.
Even acknowledging these shortfalls, the rising tide of prosperity in China is astounding and impressive. I do not know the hard statistics, but I would be willing to bet that, in either absolute or proportional terms, the PRC government has overseen the largest expansion of wealth in human history. This fact has forced me to reassess my expectations regarding China's short-term future.
I have felt in the past, and continue to believe, that China's political system is in dire need of democratization and decentralization. Indeed, this trip was not without signs of political trouble. In the Forbidden City we saw a policeman carelessly scatter a poor peddlar's wares with his nightstick, and on the walk back to our hotel we encountered a battalion of police who had cordoned off a one-block perimeter around a disturbance and who refused either to let us pass or to answer questions about what was happening. Beyond this, in every city but Hong Kong to which we traveled we saw ubiquitous political slogans, which had been almost totally absent from the urban landscape eight years ago. Everywhere banners, billboards, and posters exorted citizens to be "civilized 文明" or praised "the unity of the party and the people." Such insistent propoganda smacks of political insecurity.
While this is true, and while I remain convinced of the need for real political change in China, my latest visit makes me less confident that it will come in short order. The impact of the sheer magnitude of wealth China has generated in the last twenty years is difficult to assess or anticipate. On the one hand, rising prosperity will most likely lead to rising expectations, which will produce agitation for change. On the other hand, the government's success in overseeing rapid economic expansion must contribute in some measure to its legitimacy, and might understandably make the populace reticent to disturb the status quo. In any case, what I observed on this visit convinces me of one basic truth: if its leaders and people can take the steps necessary to make the rising tide of prosperity ecologically and politically sustainable, the future belongs to China.
Posted on: Friday, September 2, 2011 - 12:44
SOURCE: Tabsir (Blog) (9-2-11)
Daniel Martin Varisco is professor of anthropology at Hofstra University.
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the simmering tea-partying Islamophobic mindset of the "Land of the Free" has come up with a memorial coloring book for children. The publisher's press release says it all:
To the American people and all others who may read this child’s coloring book, We Shall Never Forget is designed to be a tool that parents can use to help teach children about the facts surrounding 9/11. This book also describes basic freedoms in America. We suggest parental guidance. As the 9/11 events are shown countless times on national media, this book will help children understand the meaning of these events. The book was created with honesty, integrity, reverence, respect and does not shy away from the truth. In this book you will see what happens to a terrorist who orders others to bomb our peace loving wonderful nation.
Here is propaganda so blatant and smiley gross that it deserves a place alongside the insidious emulation of Lenin by the Soviets and idolization of dictators the world over. The cover image is an interesting spin on the separation of church and state in our land of the free: here we see the tattered American flag flying above a cross illuminated by a beam of light from above, at the feet of which lie a firefighter’s helmet and police hat. To label the libel in this colorfully designed “Kid’s Book of Freedom” a “Graphic Coloring Novel” strikes me as a misspelling; is it not more aptly named a “Pornographic Coloring Novel,” to be rated so for the sensational violence mongering rather than any out-of-place showing of body parts?
The most offensive image in the book is one in which an American soldier is shown aiming a rifle at Bin Laden, who is cowering behind a woman in hijab. The caption for this is:
“Being the elusive character that he was, and after hiding out with his terrorist buddies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, American soldiers finally locate the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden,” runs the text accompanying the picture. “Children, the truth is, these terrorist acts were done by freedom-hating radical Islamic Muslim extremists. These crazy people hate the American way of life because we are FREE and our society is FREE.”
Free to be bigoted and hateful with no sense of civil decency. Yes, our society is free for books like this to be published and sway young minds with the rhetoric of spite. But the value of freedom is in proportion to civility rather than age-old distrust feeding on willful ignorance. There was precious little freedom for African slaves, who were blamed with a Hamitic biblical bias for their own destiny of servitude, nor for the native inhabitants of the Americas, who were demonized so the white man could rid his New World of the red man. For far too long in our country freedom has been in the eyes of the beholder of power. At least our founding fathers had the sense not to invoke the prevailing sectarian views of a vengeful God and elevated the Deity to a position that anyone of any sincere religious conviction could appreciate.
Children, the truth is that the act of terrorism on September 9, 2011 was done by a politically motivated individual who no more speaks for the religion and vast majority of Muslims worldwide, especially in our free country, than Torquemada did for the entire sweep of Christianity or even Catholicism. It was not our freedom that is hated, but our interference. The United States has an imperialist history, against the native inhabitants, Mexico and Spain (all before the last century). Hawaii did not become a state, nor Puerto Rico a territory, nor the Philippines a nation of American English speakers because they were nearby the original thirteen colonies. We went to war with Spain and these were the spoils; spoiled these lands were for the commercial benefit of the missionizing Americans. If you want to truly love this country, and it is worth loving, then do not deny its faults but change them: make freedom more than a slogan slicked up with religious rhetoric.
Adults, as all of us parents should have learned, there is a world out there of lies, distortions and self-serving propaganda that blinds us from appreciating the values that freedom should involve. This coloring book only pours salt on the wounds of those who suffered the 9/11 bombing, including the scores of Muslims who were in the Twin Towers that day. Ironically, there is no passage in the book of “what would Jesus do,” although the author may think he knows what to do better than Jesus. There is a passage in the Gospels (Mark 10:14) where Jesus says “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Not “make them suffer” more hate speech, but rather be like children who love naturally and can of course learn to hate when so taught or treated or given coloring books like this. I do not think the Jesus of the Gospels would have handed out this coloring book to the children he met. I suspect, rather, he would have dashed it to the ground as he did the hypocritical moneygrabbers at the gates of the Temple.
Posted on: Friday, September 2, 2011 - 12:29
SOURCE: WSJ (09-01-11)
Mr. Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
After hardly mentioning Libya for months, President Obama and his aides are now taking an understandable victory lap. With Tripoli having fallen to rebel forces on Aug. 21, after six months of war, the president's supporters are even suggesting that Operation Unified Protector, as the international intervention was formally known, offers a new model for the use of force: one where the U.S. acts at low cost to defend human rights by putting allies into the lead. An anonymous administration official dubbed this "leading from behind"—a term that has raised hackles on the right but that, some argue, has been vindicated in Libya.
In truth, it's too soon to tell. Recall how glorious the future looked in Afghanistan in December 2001. The Taliban had been toppled in two months, and the U.S. had brought about their downfall with a few hundred CIA officers and Special Operations Forces backed up by air power. This brought giddy predictions—which ignored the crucial role of the Northern Alliance—that precision munitions and a few eyes on the ground could work miracles.
Then reality set in, as we discovered—not for the first or last time—that it is much easier to topple a regime than to replace it. Smart bombs can destroy a dictator's army but they cannot build a democracy or even suppress an insurgency. That requires boots on the ground. We did not have enough in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and neither did our allies.
Now in Libya it appears there will be no foreign boots on the ground—no peacekeeping force from NATO, the United Nations or any other organization. The Transitional National Council will be left on its own to deal with the difficult task of ending the last-gasp resistance of Moammar Gadhafi's henchmen, securing government arsenals (which include chemical weapons and portable anti-aircraft missiles), and trying to establish rule of law.
The rebels have shown a fairly impressive ability to govern Benghazi, but running the entire country is a more difficult task. Whether they can carry it off successfully will determine history's judgment on Operation Unified Protector—and on America's role in Libya... ..
Posted on: Thursday, September 1, 2011 - 07:41
SOURCE: WSJ (09-01-11)
Mr. Roberts is author most recently of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (Harper, 2011).
What does it mean to "look presidential," and why does it matter? An enormous amount of the media coverage of presidential candidates is focused on whether or not he (or, very rarely, she) "looks presidential."
Grow up, America! Has the great democratic system of the Republic really come down to choosing leaders not on the basis of what they say, or even the way they say it, but on the way they fill a suit while saying it?
Looking presidential can be broadly translated to mean being around 6 feet tall, relatively slim and broad-shouldered, and having a full head of preferably pepper-and-salt-colored hair and a ready, winning smile. It isn't being only 5 feet 6 inches tall and slightly balding that makes me want to blaspheme at the TV screen whenever I hear approving talk of Messrs. Romney, Perry and Huntsman "looking presidential." It's because I'm a historian—and where would the United States be if she had always adopted such blatantly look-ist criteria in the past?..
Posted on: Thursday, September 1, 2011 - 07:30