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: NPR (4-10-12)
Gregory Mann is a professor of history at Columbia University, specializing in the history of francophone Africa, and of Mali in particular.
It would be hard to overstate the mess that's been made out of Mali over the last fortnight. A surprise coup, an accelerating rebellion that has split the country in two, and an economic embargo by the landlocked country's neighbors have battered what had been, until recently, a West African success story. Add to that a looming food crisis in the northeast, and you have quite a fine mess. But the world can't turn away: Mali is too important to write off the country's 20-year old democracy as a failed experiment.
The coup was not accidental, as some have argued, but it was definitely improvisational. On March 22, a mutiny in the country's main garrison turned into a coup d'état as soldiers and junior officers chased President Amadou Toumani Toure from his palace. The coup leaders, angered by a lack of military material and political will to suppress a rebellion in the country's vast Saharan region in the north, dubbed the junta a "National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State" (CNRDRE).
Its name aside, the junta aims to destroy, not to establish, democratic rule — the coup took place little more than a month before a scheduled presidential election, in which Toure was not a candidate. Since then, Mali's political parties, trade unions, and civil society organizations have with near unanimity formed a common front with one goal — to reject the junta and demand a return to civilian rule. Internationally, the regional group ECOWAS slapped harsh sanctions on the junta and threatened military intervention if the constitutional regime is not restored....
Posted on: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 18:37
SOURCE: The Globe and Mail (Canada) (4-12-12)
Timothy Garton Ash is a professor of European studies at Oxford University.
Posted on: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 16:57
SOURCE: National Review (4-12-12)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author most recently of The End of Sparta.
In 2008, a mostly unknown Barack Obama ran for president on an inclusive agenda of “hope and change.” That upbeat message was supposed to translate into millions of green jobs, sobriety, universal health care, a resetting of Bush foreign policy, and racial unity.
Four years later, none of those promises will be themes of his 2012 reelection campaign. Gas has more than doubled in price. Billions of dollars have been wasted in insider and subsidized wind and solar projects that have produced little green energy....
There are suddenly new enemies called the “1 percent” — those who make more than $200,000 per year and who “do not pay their fair share.” Apparently, in a zero-sum economy, this tiny minority has taken too much from the majority and thereby caused the four-year lethargy that followed the 2008 meltdown. Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, and Franklin D. Roosevelt all ran, with varying success, against the selfish “rich.”
Congress is also now a convenient enemy of the people. Although it was Democratically controlled in Obama’s first two years, and the Senate remains so, the new theme insists that a Republican House stops the Democrats from finishing all the good things they started. When support for 16 years of the New Deal had evaporated by 1948, Harry Truman ran successfully against a “do-nothing” Republican Congress that had blocked his own big-government “Fair Deal” follow-up and thus supposedly stalled the economy....
Posted on: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 15:17
SOURCE: WSJ (4-9-12)
Mr. Moreno is a professor of history at Hillsdale College and the author of The American State from the Civil War to the New Deal, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 16:03
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (4-9-12)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory."
In the early 1980s, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, I wore a "Free Tibet" patch on my backpack. Two summers ago, when I returned to my old Nepalese village with my 16-year-old daughter, she affixed the same words to her water bottle.
And still, Tibet is not free....
...[L]ast month in New Delhi, to protest the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, Tibetan exile Jamphel Yeshi died after setting himself on fire. "We demand freedom to practice our religion and culture," Yeshi wrote, in a letter discovered after his death. "We demand the same right as other people living elsewhere in the world."
But the world doesn't seem to be listening. Fearful of upsetting Beijing, Indian authorities imposed their own crackdown on Tibetan exiles during the Hu visit. Nor has the death of Yeshi — or the 30-odd other Tibetan self-immolations over the past year — drawn much attention in the West, despite opinion polls showing widespread support for Tibetan autonomy and independence....
Posted on: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 12:57
SOURCE: NYT (4-9-12)
Posted on: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 09:25
SOURCE: NYT (4-8-12)
Charles A. Kupchan is a professor of international relations at Georgetown, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of “No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn.”
...The most potent challenge to America’s dominance comes not from the continuing redistribution of global power, but from a subtler change: the new forms of governance and capitalism being forged by China and other rising nations.
The democratic, secular and free-market model that has become synonymous with the era of Western primacy is being challenged by state capitalism in China, Russia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms. Political Islam is rising in step with democracy across the Middle East. And left-wing populism is taking hold from India to Brazil. Rather than following the West’s path of development and obediently accepting their place in the liberal international order, rising nations are fashioning their own versions of modernity and pushing back against the West’s ideological ambitions.
As this century unfolds, sustaining American power will be the easy part. The hard part will be adjusting to the loss of America’s ideological dominance and fashioning consensus and compromise in an increasingly diverse and unwieldy world....
This transition won’t be easy. Since the founding era, the American elite and the public have believed in the universality of their model. The end of the cold war only deepened this conviction; after the collapse of the Soviet Union, democratic capitalism seemed the only game in town. But the supposed “end of history” didn’t last. Many developing nations have recently acquired the economic and political wherewithal to consolidate brands of modernity that present durable alternatives....
Posted on: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 16:15
SOURCE: The American Interest (4-4-12)
As I’ve been writing about the crisis of the blue social model, I’ve mostly focused on its consequences for North American and European societies. Canada, the US and the countries of western and central Europe are the places where the blue model has become most solidly entrenched and fully developed, and in the first instance the decline of that social model is registering most forcefully in their political and cultural lives.
That process has a long way to run; the creative destruction of the world of big blue is going to be causing social and economic crises for years and even decades to come. But we won’t grasp the immense importance and the urgency of what’s happening in the west until we fully take on board the importance of the decay of the blue model for global politics.
The blue social model was more than a comfortable arrangement that eased social conflict and promoted two generations of rising affluence in the western world. For the places where the blue model didn’t yet or didn’t fully exist, it served as a goal. If you asked politicians, business leaders and pro-democracy activists around the world what they hoped to help their countries become, the answer would generally be that they wanted their countries to look more like the west. They wanted to be able to deliver secure jobs for life, mass affluence, rising standards of living along with continuing technological progress and increasing life expectancy for their people.
The blue model is what the United States held out to the world as its ideal during the Cold War. We argued that capitalism rather than socialism was the best road to the blue life. The mechanisms of the market would create the equality, dignity and affluence that communism promised but failed to deliver — and do all this without the mass murder, political repression and soul-destroying conformity that communism demands....
Posted on: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 15:08
SOURCE: National Review (4-5-12)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author most recently of The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing email@example.com. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
This should prove to be an ideological election about the economy. Not all campaigns are so clear-cut. Sometimes moderate Republicans raise taxes (as George H. W. Bush did); at other times, pragmatic Democrats cut spending (as Bill Clinton did).
But this year, Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, will run an ideological campaign, calling for smaller government and lower taxes, against an equally ideological President Obama, who wants more government and higher taxes. In this divided red-state/blue-state era, the supporters of each candidate demand no less and will have a clear choice.
This year’s campaign sloganeering will remind us of all the classic American arguments: Was it New Deal big government or World War II–inspired entrepreneurialism that truly ended the Great Depression? Were we better off under Ronald Reagan’s or Bill Clinton’s economic policies? Was it unfettered Wall Street greed or Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae government corruption that caused the 2008 financial meltdown? And which model has better served its people: America’s or the European Union’s?...
Posted on: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 13:58
SOURCE: The New Republic (4-5-12)
Jeffrey Herf, a professor of modern European history at the University of Maryland in College Park, is the author most recently of Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World.
This week, the editors of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a liberal Munich newspaper, published a diatribe—in the form of a poem—by the well-known German author Gunter Grass. Entitled “Was gesagt werden muss” (“What must be said”), the poem denounced a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities....
The poem is, to put it bluntly, morally obtuse and politically embarrassing. Having reversed the arrows of causation, Grass says nothing about the hatred of Israel that the Iranian regime has publicly expressed since 1979, about its specific threats to “wipe it off the map” in the past decade, or the vicious Jew-hatred that is a steady diet of its propaganda. Apparently he has not read the most recent reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency that confirm Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons. Nor does Grass understand that the purpose of missile-carrying submarines is to ensure the credibility of a second strike should Iran or any other power attack Israel first. These submarines are essential for a stable system of deterrence. No Israeli leader has spoken about delivering a first strike with nuclear weapons that would “extinguish” the Iranian people. All of this comes from a man who was “silent” for five decades of his very successful literary career about the fact that as a young man he was a member of the Waffen SS at the end of World War II....
Posted on: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 13:52
SOURCE: The New Republic (4-9-12)
Geoffrey Kabaservice is the author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party.
The Republican Party’s alleged “war” against women is fast emerging as a major trope of the 2012 elections. And the charge is largely true: As the GOP has become increasingly conservative, so too has it become increasingly hostile to feminism and insensitive to women’s issues.
But Democrats have not merely been horrified bystanders wringing their hands as this “war” has unfolded. The Democratic Party has actively encouraged the GOP’s descent into antifeminism. And though Democrats have reaped considerable gains from the fallout, their efforts have often ultimately been to the detriment of the country’s women.
As various accounts have pointed out, the Republican Party for most of its history was broadly supportive of women’s rights and aspirations, at any rate by the standards of the times. A Republican Congress endorsed the amendment giving women the vote in 1919, and 80 percent of the state legislatures that approved it were Republican-controlled. The party instituted gender-based affirmative action in 1940 by requiring the Republican National Committee to have one woman and one man from each state, decades in advance of similar reforms by the Democrats. Margaret Chase Smith, a Maine Republican, was the only woman senator for 24 years, and became the first woman to run for president. Dwight Eisenhower appointed more women to top posts than John F. Kennedy did....
Posted on: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 13:38
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (4-5-12)
Michael Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States and author of Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present and Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
At 64, Israel is older than more than half of the democracies in the world. The Jewish state, moreover, belongs to a tiny group of countries -- the United States, Britain, and Canada among them -- never to have suffered intervals of non-democratic governance. Since its inception, Israel has been threatened ceaselessly with destruction. Yet it never once succumbed to the wartime pressures that often crush democracies.
On the contrary, conflict has only tempered an Israeli democracy that affords equal rights even to those Arabs and Jews who deny the state's legitimacy. Is there another democracy that would uphold the immunity of legislators who praise the terrorists sworn to destroy it? Where else could more than 5 percent of the population -- the equivalent of 15 million Americans -- rally in protest without incident and be protected by the police. And which country could rival the commitment to the rule of law displayed by the Jewish state, whose former president was convicted and jailed for sexual offenses by three Supreme Court justices -- two women and an Arab? Israeli democracy, according to pollster Khalil Shikaki, topped the United States as the most admired government in the world -- by the Palestinians.
These facts are incontestable, and yet recent media reports suggest that democracy in Israel is endangered. The Washington Post was "shock[ed] to see Israel's democratic government propose measures that could silence its own critics" after several Israeli ministers proposed limiting contributions to political NGOs by foreign governments. Citing "sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on school girls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses," New Yorker editor David Remnick warned that the dream of a democratic, Jewish state "may be painfully, even fatally, deferred." In response to legislation sanctioning civil suits against those who boycott Israelis living in the West Bank, the New York Times concluded that "Israel's reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished."...
Posted on: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 12:41
SOURCE: NYT (4-5-12)
Posted on: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 11:57
SOURCE: WSJ (4-8-12)
Mr. Mead is a professor of foreign affairs and humanities at Bard College. His blog, Via Meadia, appears at the American Interest Online.
The world balance of power is changing. Countries like China, India, Turkey and Brazil are heard from more frequently and on a wider range of subjects. The European Union's most ambitious global project—creating a universal treaty to reduce carbon emissions—has collapsed, and EU expansion has slowed to a crawl as Europe turns inward to deal with its debt crisis. Japan has ceded its place as the largest economy in Asia to China and appears increasingly on the defensive in the region as China's hard and soft power grow.
The international chattering class has a label for these changes: American decline. The dots look so connectable: The financial crisis, say the pundits, comprehensively demonstrated the failure of "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have sapped American strength and, allegedly, destroyed America's ability to act in the Middle East. China-style "state capitalism" is all the rage. Throw in the assertive new powers and there you have it—the portrait of America in decline.
Actually, what's been happening is just as fateful but much more complex. The United States isn't in decline, but it is in the midst of a major rebalancing. The alliances and coalitions America built in the Cold War no longer suffice for the tasks ahead. As a result, under both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, American foreign policy has been moving toward the creation of new, sometimes difficult partnerships as it retools for the tasks ahead....
Posted on: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 11:44
SOURCE: Berkeley Blog (4-6-12)
Samuel J. Redman is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UC Berkeley. He is also an academic specialist at the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) of the Bancroft Library. At ROHO, he is the lead interviewer for the Rosie the Riveter/WWII American Homefront oral-history project. His dissertation examines the use of human remains for the purposes of research and display in the United States.
Rick Santorum’s recent criticism of President Obama’s call to make it possible for all Americans to advance their education or training as elitist snobbery makes me wonder what the GOP candidate would say to Nancy Deanda.
Before taking her married name, Nancy Miramontes was born in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska in 1925 to immigrant parents from Mexico. She recently recounted her story to me as a part of the Regional Oral History Office’s World War II / American Homefront Oral History Project—a collaboration with the National Park Service. Miramontes’ family worked in agriculture in Nebraska until the Great Depression became so severe that they picked up started for California in search of work. At the onset of World War II, Nancy and her sister – like the many young women of their generation who came to be known collectively as Rosie the Riveters—sought employment in the defense industry....
Miramontes found tremendous joy in her new profession. Her hard work and skill in welding resulted in a tangible contribution to the war effort. She was not alone in her experience, as countless other World War II era women were able to gain training and enter the workforce thanks to government programs. Rather than making them feel dependent, elitist, or out of touch, the support that women were given in the war—and the skills they obtained—made them want to achieve even more. Miramontes found herself eager to see other women, as well as her own children, “stay in school.”...
Posted on: Friday, April 6, 2012 - 15:23
SOURCE: Asia Society Blog (4-6-12)
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Professor of History at UC-Irvine, wrote China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, published by Oxford University in 2010. He is an Asia Society Associate Fellow.
There have been many reasons lately to think about the sometimes confusing or blurry divide between fact and fiction where things happening in and written about China are concerned. Consider these three incidents from just the last few weeks:
1. Mike Daisey’s disregard of this blurry divide in his storytelling about Foxconn factory conditions. (No more about that here, as I had my say on the incidents in this post for the Los Angeles Review of Books.)
2. The Chinese government’s move to forbid Ai Weiwei, who has been the subject of intense official surveillance, from placing his own surveillance cameras around places he frequents to track and publicize his movements....
3. The fact, which reads like fiction, that there is now talk that the death in China of Neil Heywood — a mysterious Englishman who seems to have had ties to both the British secret service and to Bo Xilai’s family — played a role in the most important PRC purge in recent memory. When CNN invited me to write about Bo’s fall from grace for their website last week, I was tempted to work in a line like the one Epstein used in his tweet. A nod to literary invention would have seemed particularly apt because a press report had noted that one of the Englishman’s friends had described Heywood being “like a character in a Graham Greene novel.”...
Posted on: Friday, April 6, 2012 - 15:15
SOURCE: Madman of Chu (4-5-12)
Andrew Meyer is a professor of history at Brooklyn College. He blogs at Madman of Chu.
To the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States,
I write you as a citizen out of concern that you might overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed into law in 2010. This is the most significant piece of social legislation enacted by the federal government in my lifetime, and a great step forward in solving problems that have increasingly debilitated the health care system of our nation for many decades. It is devastating to think that such a significant achievement, executed with such thought and effort, is in peril of being dismantled by your high office. The political climate of the nation being what it is, such a decision handed down by your Court would derail health care reform for another generation, condemning millions of Americans to lack of basic care and millions more to suffering brought on by rising health care costs.
This prospect is made doubly painful by the fact that all challenges to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act rest on highly specious logic. In an economy where 10-15% of the price of all goods and services now represents the health care costs associated with production and distribution, it is fantastic to imagine that the Affordable Care Act falls outside of the purview of Congress' duly mandated authority to regulate commerce. While the search for a "limiting principle" that would constrain the powers arrogated to Congress by the enactment of an individual mandate is of course valid and prudent, such a limiting principle is self-evident if one examines the issue with an unbiased eye.
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act claim that if it stands, Congress will be able to compel the purchase of any commodity or service by appeal to the commerce clause. This is manifestly untrue, however. Health insurance is not fungible with almost any other form of purchasable commodity, in that health insurance is itself a form of currency for the consumption of goods and services. Because of the unique nature of the health care market, insurance (privately acquired or publicly funded) is the currency with which health care is purchased in virtually every industrialized country. By mandating that all Americans must be insured, Congress is effectively regulating and rationalizing the commercial marketplace, by mandating that citizens convert one form of currency into another form more suited to the efficient operation of the health care market.
Unless one can explain how broccoli or cell phones necessarily operate as currency within an existing market, it is difficult to imagine how Congress could justify a mandate to purchase those items on the precedent of the Affordable Care Act. One might object that a mandate to buy burial insurance would nonetheless be constitutional on this principle. Even if one conceded that the precedent of the Affordable Care Act made a burial insurance mandate "proper" under the commerce clause (and there are so many structural differences between the mortuary and health care markets that such a contention would hang from a slender thread), does anyone believe that as a matter of degree, such a mandate could be construed as equally "necessary" to the regulation of the marketplace?
Moreover, this mandate does not entail an unprecedented injunction to "positive action," because the health care market is one in which all Americans already participate. To mandate that citizens buy insurance is not equivalent to mandating that they must push an elderly person away from an oncoming bus or face sanction. Rather, if there is an imperative to positive action with which the health insurance mandate is analogous, it is an injunction that a diner must pay his or her check before exiting a restaurant on completion of a meal. Viewed in this correct light, the Affordable Care Act does not arrogate powers to Congress that it does not already possess.
Upon careful deliberation, I urge you to do what the integrity of our constitutional system demands by upholding the Affordable Care Act and securing its benefits for the citizens of the United States. I hope that this communication finds you well, and thank you for your attention on this matter.
Posted on: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 15:57
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (4-4-12)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press).
In 1966, the American Jewish Committee reported that less than 1 percent of American college and university presidents were Jewish. Since the end of World War II, about 1,000 presidencies had been filled, and only one - that's right, one - went to a Jew.
It wasn't for want of good candidates. Most institutions had removed long-standing quotas on Jews, who made up 10 to 12 percent of American college students and faculty. But when it came to choosing leaders, the committee concluded, "bias is at work."
It still is. Today, however, it has a different target: Asian Americans. Like Jews in the 1960s, they hold just 1 percent of higher-education presidencies. Dartmouth's Jim Yong Kim is the only Asian American who has ever led an Ivy League institution. And President Obama recently nominated him to head the World Bank.
But Asian Americans also continue to face a form of discrimination in university admissions. And until we change that, we probably won't get more Asian American college leaders, either....
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 09:52
SOURCE: Salon (4-3-12)
Michael Lind’s new book, "Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States", will be published in April and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com
On Monday, we had another example of the Supreme Court’s ideological division: a 5-4 ruling, along partisan lines, giving police the right to conduct strip searches for any offense. This came on the heels of last week’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act, which led many observers to predict that the nation’s highest judicial body will strike down part or all of the controversial healthcare reform package. But the hearings were instructive in other ways. They showed once again that political partisanship is closely correlated to a justice’s view of the law. And they proved that the Supreme Court once again is functioning, not as a court, but as a third house of the federal legislature.
The U.S. Constitution, like many state constitutions, really is two constitutions in one. There is the black-letter constitution, which consists of rules about which there is little or no dispute. Most of these have to do with qualifications for representatives, like Article I, Section 3, Clause 1, as amended: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.” Not a whole lot of room for interpretation there.
The other constitution, embedded in the same document, is the Blank Constitution. It is not so much a limit on power as an assignment of the power to fill in blanks left in the text, like the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” The need to fill in the blank is admitted even by champions of the “original intent theory,” who must dig up historical evidence of what the drafters and ratifiers might have thought was cruel and unusual punishment at the time of the Constitution’s adoption. The answer is not contained in the text....
The Whig Party between the 1830s and the 1860s thought that the federal judiciary should defer to Congress. The Whigs favored a strong, competent federal government and opposed restrictions on federal power in the name of the states. Opposed to the administration of Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party also wanted the powers of the presidency strictly limited. In the Whig view, the federal judiciary should defend congressional power against encroachments by the states and the executive branch, while deferring to the decisions of Congress on matters of federal legislation.
The Whig theory of the Constitution strikes me as a pretty good one. But it rules out judicial activism, which has been embraced at different times by different factions in American politics. Between the Civil War and the New Deal, a pro-business federal judiciary persecuted unions and struck down federal, state and local restraints on corporations. In the civil rights era, liberal federal judges went beyond striking down racist laws to discovering a “right to privacy” in the Constitution that has been used to eliminate or restrict laws against abortion and homosexuality. Whatever you think about the outcomes of these cases, it is clear that the courts in all of them were just making things up....
Posted on: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 17:08
SOURCE: WSJ (4-1-12)
Mr. Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and co-chair of Hoover's Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 17:08