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: National Interest (6-4-12)
Many have warned that after the U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, American-backed efforts to foster democratic government in both are likely to fail and Islamist radicals are likely to seize control of significant portions—if not all—of both countries. Meanwhile, some neighboring states hostile to American interests—especially Iran and Pakistan—are likely to take advantage of the situation. U.S. withdrawal from these two conflicts after sacrificing so many lives and spending so much money without achieving victory cannot help but encourage Islamist and other radicals elsewhere, as well as weaken America’s standing in the world. Yet for Washington to recommit the U.S. military in either conflict is untenable both politically and economically—not just for the Obama administration but even for a future Republican one.
So what is likely to happen following the U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan?
The position that the United States finds itself in today is reminiscent of the position it was in during the early 1970s. Back then, the country had become bogged down militarily not only in South Vietnam but also in Laos and Cambodia. The war effort had become highly unpopular both at home and in many countries throughout the world. Still, many warned that an American military withdrawal from Indochina would lead to negative consequences for the United States and for America’s standing in the world more generally....
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 16:24
SOURCE: Huffington Post (6-5-12)
When the Yale College Faculty passed a resolution in April condemning the "lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore, host of the proposed Yale-National University of Singapore College" and urged "Yale-NUS "to uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society," Yale's president Richard Levin declared that the resolution -- passed in his presence and over his objection -- "carried a sense of moral superiority that I found unbecoming."
Levin then unbecame what he ought to be as president of a liberal-arts university by going to Singapore and giving a speech at the end of last month, the same month in which authoritarian corporate city-state had committed yet another of its abuses against basic civil liberties that have been monitored and condemned by many international observers and advocates -- liberties that, as the Yale faculty resolution emphasized, "lie at the heart of liberal arts education as well as of our civic sense as citizens" and "ought not to be compromised in any dealings or negotiations with the Singaporean authorities."
When Levin gave his speech touting the appointment of the ill-prepared but energetically pliable Yale professor Pericles Lewis as Yale-NUS' first president, Singapore had only recently prevented Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), from leaving the country to give a speech of his own at the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Not only wasn't Chee allowed to leave Singapore; the International human rights lawyer Bob Amsterdam, counsel to the SDP and Chee's representative internationally, was detained and turned back at Singapore's Changi Airport when he tried to visit Chee on May 20, days days before Levin's visit.
So the Yale faculty resolution was right on target, and Levin's reaction to it was way off. Singapore's action prompted Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation, to publish an open letter, here in the Huffington Post, to Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, urging the government to grant permission to Dr Chee to attend the event:
"In the last 20 years he has been jailed for more than 130 days on charges including contempt of Parliament, speaking in public without a permit, selling books improperly, and attempting to leave the country without a permit. Today, your government prevents Dr. Chee from leaving Singapore because of his bankrupt status.... It is our considered judgment that having already persecuted, prosecuted, bankrupted, and silenced Dr. Chee inside Singapore, you now wish to render him silent beyond your own borders."
According to the Associated Press, the Singapore "government's bankruptcy office denied Chee permission to travel to the conference because he has failed to make a contribution to his bankruptcy estate." But Singapore is infamous for prosecuting dissenters and opposition leaders for "defamation," thereby bankrupting them with legal costs and fines:
"Supremely confident of the reliability of his judiciary, the prime minister [Lee Hsieng Loong] uses the courts ... to intimidate, bankrupt, or cripple the political opposition while ventilating his political agenda. Distinguishing himself in a caseful of legal suits commenced against dissidents and detractors for alleged defamation in Singapore courts, he has won them all," writes Francis T. Seow, a former solicitor general of the country.
For example, as I've recounted here, the first opposition politician to win a seat in parliament after Singapore's independence in 1965, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, was soon charged with defamation in a suit that bankrupted him and forced him out of public life. His was only the first prominent case in a relentless tide of prosecutions that shuttle dissenters, including NUS faculty, out of their jobs and homes and into unemployment, prison, or exile.
Chee himself, who holds a PhD from the University of Georgia and once taught at NUS, was fired from his post there as a lecturer in neuropsychology in 1993 after he joined the SDP party. When he attempted to contest his dismissal, he, too, was sued for defamation, bankrupted, imprisoned, and then barred from leaving the country.
When Singapore's apologists at Yale are forced to acknowledge such abuses, they explain them away as cultural differences or assure us that the country is changing. Yale astronomer Charles Bailyn, Yale-NUS' "inaugural dean," explains Singapore's bans on speaking at public demonstrations without a permit by saying. "What we think of as freedom, they think of as an affront to public order, and I think the two societies differ in that respect."
They differ in more ways than that: The SDP reports that "Chee declared bankruptcy in 2006 after he was unable to pay the fines imposed after he lost defamation suits initiated by Singapore's then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong and then-senior minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was also convicted on charges of libel during the 2006 General Election after both Lee Kuan Yew and the current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, sued him for implying corruption in an SDP newsletter. On top of not being able to travel out of the country, he has also been barred from standing for elections."
Amsterdam, the human-rights lawyer, has written a long white paper on such abuses by Singapore. Bailyn can't explain these away, but If he's still in doubt, he can learn more about the country's record and continuing practices from Yale student Luka Kalandarishvili, who wrote a paper on the subject for a seminar on "Global Journalism, National Identities" that I taught last spring.
Why is Yale disgracing itself this way? It's one thing for a business corporation to roll with the punches while dealing with clients, customers, and investors in countries that do things differently than ours does. It's also okay for a university to establish a small center or professional school that limits itself to transferring skills. It's quite something else for a liberal-arts college to transform itself, as Yale is already doing in New Haven, from the crucible of civic-republican leadership it has been into a career-networking center and cultural galleria for a global managerial elite that answers to no republican polity or moral code.
A liberal education is supposed to show the young that the world isn't flat, as neoliberal economists like Levin think, but that it has abysses that yawn suddenly at our feet and in our hearts and that require insights and coordinates far deeper than those offered by markets and the states that serve them -- as Singapore's state does to a fault.
Then again, Yale is a business corporation now. As Amsterdam was being denied entry into Singapore last month, I was seated at a dinner in Germany next to a very high official of a European university who'd been to Singapore a few times himself. "There's $300 million for Yale in its deal with NUS," he confided to me.
"What? How do you know that?" I asked. "Yale claims it's not getting a dime from Singapore, although Singapore is paying all the costs of constructing and staffing the college itself."
"Oh, it's not a direct payment," my interlocutor explained. "It's what you call insider trading: Yale will be cut in on prime investments that Singapore controls and restricts through its sovereign wealth fund. These will be only investments, not payments, so there's some risk. But you'll Yale's endowment will swell by several hundred million in consequence of its getting in on these ventures."
This hit me with some force because, only a few weeks before, I'd written here that the real scandal in Yale's Singapore venture is Yale Corporation members' blithe assurance that they can do well by doing good, as long as they ignore the costs to republican liberty and the creativity and citizenship such liberty yields. When I think of Levin's envisioning the Yale-NUS arrangement, first at Davos, where it began, and then with his recent Yale Corporation members G. Leonard Baker, Charles Ellis (who maintains an investment business in Singapore and is married to the Secretary of Yale, Linda Koch Lorimer), and with Charles Waterhouse Goodyear IV (once the CEO-designate of Singapore's sovereign wealth fund, now a member of the Yale Corporation) the European university official's comment sounds right.
Take a look at this short video of yet another Yale Corporation member and Yale-NUS champion, Fareed Zakaria, interviewing Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong at the Davos World Economic Forum last January, and notice the nuances of subservience: Zakaria, who would take to the pages of the Yale Daily News in April to disparage, as "provincial," those faculty supporting the resolution criticizing Singapore's abuses, never mentions Yale's venture with Singapore in the January interview, nor does he ask Lee about any of Singapore's human rights abuses.
The prime minister is a piece of work here -- British-educated, well-buffed and modulated, dispensing pellets of charm, a studied dignity in informality, and sinuous liberal bromides, with just the right hint of tempered steel behind the smile.In this, he is not unlike what Zakaria used to be, but study Zakaria's countenance and see the perfect mask of complicity and obeisance that recalls W. H. Auden's observation, in the Europe of the 1930s, that "Intellectual disgrace stares from every human face."
American college administrators, struggling to balance truth-seeking with power-wielding and wealth-making, are readily disarmed by operators like Lee and Zakaria. Our liberal arts colleges are vulnerable to market riptides, to putsches by would-be donors and moneyed interest groups, and to the stomach-turning descent of America's civic culture into brutal political speech, gladiatorial sports and degrading entertainments, all of it accelerated by those market riptides and the global capitalist wrecking ball. Small wonder that to the beleaguered Levin and his globe-trotting trustees, Singapore seems a port in the storm: The little city-state need "liberalize" only a little, and Yale need "Singaporize" a little, they think, for the fit to be as perfect as the mask that is Fareed Zakaria's face. They find the Yale College Faculty resolution "unbecoming" because it disrupts that fit and discredits that mask.
To its designers, the Singapore undertaking seems all the more harmonious convergence because, throughout Levin's presidency,Yale has compared poorly with other American universities in its support and practice freedom of speech, as I showed here at some length, and as Stephen Walt noted last week in a Foreign Policy post, "Yale Flunks Academic Freedom."
The Yale Alumni Magazine, which, unlike Harvard's equivalent, functions dutifully as a press office for Levin, finessing controversy after controversy to minimize its effects on his administration, has yet to inform Yale alumni that even though Yale-NUS graduates will not earn bona fide Yale degrees, they'll find the Yale name and logo on their diplomas and will be "fully integrated into the Association of Yale Alumni Network" -- a puzzling first, for reasons I've reported here.
The Yale Daily News has allowed its reporter covering the Yale administration to serve as a press officer for the administration, failing to report any of the irregularities in the Yale-NUS venture. (Find the section, "A Telling Default," in this long post.)
Yale's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs now has undergraduates sign agreements not to disclose anything taught and said in seminars with "professors" such as Stanley McChrystal and other power-celebrities.
And the Yale Law School, of all places, has been obdurately, shamefully silent about the abuses by Singapore that I've mentioned. The law school can redeem itself by inviting Chee's lawyer, Bob Amsterdam, and Yale alumnus Bo Tedards, the global democracy activist who's been writing to Levin about the Singapore regime, to speak to what I'm sure would be a capacity crowd in the Yale Law School auditorium. Will it issue the invitations? If not, what is the law school for?
The Singapore venture has compromised Yale deeply not because Singapore is such an evil place in the larger scheme of things - it's an authoritarian, corporate city-state with a well-educated, prosperous populace that may surprise us someday by curbing and licensing its governors -- but because Yale itself has been led so crudely, cluelessly, and prematurely into this place where it need not have gone and where, pedagogically, can ill afford to go right now.
In his nearly twenty years as president, Levin has been invaluable to Yale as the pilot of its enhancement fiscally, physically, and in town-gown and labor relations, and just last September, I congratulated him for an address to incoming freshmen, whom he implored to be true to liberal education's skepticism of dogmas and over-simplifications. But now I think that I missed the note of desperation in his address: It was almost as if he were imploring 18-year-olds to save Yale from itself -- and perhaps from what he has done by choosing the Singapore venture as a way to make his mark and seize the future. He has been a very good manager with a very bad sense of liberal education's purposes and stakes and of what courage and choices are necessary to vindicate them in this world..
In the 1950s, Yale's president A. Whitney Griswold crusaded for liberal education against both McCarthyism and Communism, no easy task for a university president in those dark years. Levin has outsourced the equivalent challenge of our time by presuming to bring liberal education to Singapore, which becomes a laboratory for the decorous prostitution of liberal education to market riptides here at home -- all while enhancing Yale's brand name and market share, of course. The real cost is already being felt in the Singaporization, not cosmopolitanization, of Yale.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 15:34
SOURCE: WaPo (6-5-12)
Steven Mintz, a professor of history at Columbia University, is the author of "Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood" and "Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life."
Millennials are the "go nowhere" generation. They're spoiled, lazy, undecided about a line of work and all too willing to move back in with their parents after college. Boomerang kids, they are called — as if every time their moms and dads toss them out, they circle back to crash their parents' hopes of a child-free life. At least that's the rap against them.
It's true that many 20-somethings move back to their childhood homes and let their parents subsidize them in ways that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. But are they really entitled narcissists exploiting their parents' goodwill? I don't think so. I've been teaching undergraduates for 30 years, and when I talk to families, I see parents who are supportive of the semi-empty nest — and a recognition that this is the reality of the current job market.
Not that it is always easy. One New York dad told me in an e-mail that when his son graduated from college in 2009, he urged him to move in with him. "I wanted him to save money and take his time exploring job options. Living together gave me a chance to get to know him as an adult. But it was an odd mixture, partly a return to adolescent dependence (complete with free food and laundry service), and partly adult independence (he kept his own hours and socialized with his own friends). The ground rules had to be worked out, and over time, they were."...
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 15:00
SOURCE: Project Syndicate (6-5-12)
Harold James is professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University and professor of history at the European University Institute, Florence. He is the author of The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle.
As European leaders struggle after another failed summit, they should think hard about what their continent – and the world – might look like if they continue to produce unsatisfactory solutions to Europe’s financial and economic problems.
What would follow the disintegration of the eurozone and -- almost certainly with it -- that of the European Union?...
If European integration shifts into reverse, the outcome will not be a series of happy and prosperous nation-states, living in a sort of replica of the 1950’s or 1960’s. Southern Germans would wonder whether they were not transferring too much to the north’s old industrial rustbelt; northern Italians who support the anti-EU Lega Nord in the self-styled unit of “Padania” would want to escape from the rule of Rome and the south.
Setting the clock back would thus not simply return Europe to the mid-twentieth century. The small states of the mid-nineteenth century, with no fiscal transfers out of a relatively limited area, might be recreated....
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 14:59
SOURCE: NY Sun (6-5-12)
Jerold Auerbach, a professor of history emeritus at Wellesley, is the author, most recently, of “Against the Grain: A Historian’s Journey,” published by Quid Pro Books.
A showdown is brewing in Washington over how the number of Palestinian Arab refugees is being counted, and it could be explosive. This is because numerical accuracy would undermine claims by the Palestinians that before long, if their demands are not granted, Jews will become a demographic minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
Arithmetical distortions by the Palestinian Arabs have mesmerized the United Nations, the State Department, NGOs whose identities derive from the Palestinian determination to be permanent victims, and Israeli politicians who eagerly incorporate Palestinian misinformation into their critique of Jewish settlements.
Upon completion of the first Palestinian census 15 years ago, the head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics conceded that it was “a civil intifada,” a demographic weapon against Israel that specifically targeted Jewish settlers. Last December the Bureau fired its guns once again, reporting that 2.6 million Palestinian Arabs inhabit Judea and Samaria, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people where more than 300,000 Israelis now live....
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 14:50
SOURCE: CNN.com (6-1-12)
Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of the new book "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."
(CNN) -- Thursday afternoon, Barack Obama presided over the unveiling of George W. Bush's official portrait in the White House, a warm event that reminds us: It feels like years since President Dubya regaled the world with his famous spoonerisms. His retirement has been defined by an awkward silence. While John McCain's endorsement was trumpeted by Mitt Romney, Bush delivered his in just four words. "I'm for Mitt Romney," he shouted to a journalist as an elevator door closed between them. If, just for old time's sake, Bush had said, "I'm for Ritt Momney," it would have been perfect.
Bush's silence may be motivated by the recognition that much of the public doesn't like him. He left office with the worst approval rating for a president since Watergate. But Bush could undergo a renaissance of enthusiasm. Consider the shifting attitudes toward Harry Truman.
When he left the White House in 1952, Truman was blamed for the recession and an ugly war in Korea. His approval rate was just 31%. By 1977, Jimmy Carter was hanging Truman's portrait in the White House and the band Chicago sang, "America needs you, Harry Truman!" The switch came partly because Truman, like Bush, had a gentle, honest personality that voters looked back on with fondness. But Truman also proved prescient in his conduct of the Cold War. Bush, likewise, might seem a better and more farsighted leader in a few years time....
Posted on: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 16:57
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (6-5-12)
In 1935, Time magazine ran an article titled "Maniacal Wives." It actually focused on ex-wives, who were allegedly bleeding their former spouses dry out of a mix of greed and vindictiveness. According to the author, 69 percent of the ex-wives he studied were "suffering from psychoses bordering on sadism."
Spend a few minutes trolling through the blog posts of New Jersey divorce-reform activists, and you might conclude that vengeful women are still taking hapless men to the cleaners. The problem with this idea is that it’s not true. As in earlier eras, such claims speak to an animus against women — especially those in the workforce — rather than to the realities of gender and marriage in the United States.
The divorce controversy in New Jersey centers on permanent or "lifetime" alimony, which reformers want to eliminate. Massachusetts changed its laws to end lifetime alimony last year, tying payments to the length of a couple’s marriage and the finances of each ex-spouse. Florida’s Legislature is considering a similar measure, and activists in at least five other states are pressing for comparable reforms....
Posted on: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 13:14
SOURCE: Travels and Observations (6-2-12)
Mark N. Katz teaches international relations at George Mason University.
After Russia joined the rest of the Security Council in condemning Syrian government forces for killing so many people in Houla, hope has arisen in the West that Moscow can now be enlisted to bring about a resolution to the ongoing crisis in Syria in a manner similar to what occurred in Yemen. As the headline of a May 26 New York Times article put it, the “U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out with Russia’s Aid.” Such expectations, though, are utterly misplaced. Moscow is neither willing nor able to persuade Syria’s President Assad to step down like Yemen’s President Saleh did at the beginning of 2012.
There are several reasons for this. First of all, there is one extremely important difference between Yemen and Syria. One of the reasons why President Saleh stepped down was because he was severely injured in June 2011 and has had to spend long periods of time outside his country for medical treatment since then. He has simply not had the strength to rule as he had previously. President Assad, by contrast, has not been injured and is able to continue devoting his full attention to remaining in power.
Second, Russia did not play a significant role in the transition from Saleh to his vice president in Yemen. It was the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries—especially Saudi Arabia—that were the most important external powers that facilitated this. Some in the West hope that because Russia provides important support to Damascus, Moscow is in a position to persuade Assad to step down like Saleh did. Leaving aside whether the Putin administration would even be willing to try doing this, it is by no means certain that Moscow has the ability to do so. Russia, after all, is not the Syrian regime’s only external supporter. Iran is another—and an arguably more important one. Tehran will back Assad whether or not Moscow continues to do so. Moscow understandably fears that if it tries to persuade Assad to step down at the West’s behest, Damascus will simply expel the Russians from their naval base in Tartus and turn all the more toward Iran and possibly China.
Third, the Western expectation that Russia will now seek political change in Syria because it is somehow embarrassed by the number of people that the Assad regime has killed is completely unrealistic. It must not be forgotten during Putin’s first term as president, Russian security forces killed over 150 people to end the Chechen takeover of a Moscow theatre in 2002, and over 380 people to end the Beslan hostage crisis in 2004. The Putin administration, then, does not share Western outrage over the killing of large numbers of civilians, but sees this as just part of the cost of defeating armed opponents. Moscow’s support for the Security Council condemnation of Syrian actions does not signal that it is moving toward the Western view of the Syrian government, but may instead be an attempt to show the West that Moscow is “reasonable,” and that its prevention of Security Council action against the Assad regime is not partisan but “considered” and “balanced.”
Finally, the “Yemen solution” doesn’t seem likely to work in Syria when it hasn’t even worked out yet in Yemen itself. It is true that Saleh stepped down, but much of his regime remains intact. His son is still in command of (partly thanks to American support) the best armed and trained security force in the country. Although the new president has dismissed some of them, Saleh loyalists remain in many key positions. Whether there will be a true political transformation in Yemen, then, remains to be seen.
At least in Yemen the armed forces are divided with important elements supporting the transition. In Syria, though, the leadership of the armed forces largely belongs to the same minority Alawite sect as the Assad family. Even if Assad steps down, then, the security forces will act to preserve Alawite minority rule in Syria. Indeed, the Alawite leaders of the military and security forces very much fear that they will be treated much like they have treated the Sunni majority if the latter ever comes to power, and thus are determined to prevent it from doing so.
The “Yemen solution,” then, is simply not an option for Syria. Russian leaders are undoubtedly aware of this, even if their Western counterparts are not.
Posted on: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 22:21
SOURCE: NY Post (6-4-12)
Arthur Herman’s latest book is “Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II.”
On June 4, 1942, a battle off Midway Island marked the dawn of the United States Navy as the most powerful sea force in the world. Seventy years later, a civilian “battle” may doom its reach and power for good.
Then the enemy was imperial Japan. Today, it’s the administration and Congress, who seem unable or unwilling to stop defense cuts that will leave America vulnerable and the world more dangerous. We’re fast approaching the point where the US Navy can no longer guarantee the safety of the world’s sea lanes, on which our economic future depends....
President Obama took office with a Navy reduced from a Reagan-era peak of 594 active ships in 1987 to 285 in 2009 — a US fleet smaller than before World War I.
Most naval experts agree we need a minimum of 320 to 350 ships — barely one for every 400,000 square miles of ocean — to police the sea lanes on which international trade depends and to protect our strategic interests. But Obama wants to retire another 11 ships....
Posted on: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 11:46
SOURCE: NYT (6-3-12)
Posted on: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 11:24
SOURCE: NYT (6-2-12)
[On the upcoming film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter]
...Ever since Dracula was published in 1897, and for a long time after that, when it was difficult to find much to read about sex, reading about vampires was a way to read about sex without having to check titles like “The Big Book of Porn” out of the library....
Every vampire story has its day or, I guess, its night. But there’s a longer history here, too. In the 18th century, when Barnabas Collins and Lestat became vampires, the shape and length of life were different. So was death. When Abraham Lincoln was born, the average age of the United States population was 16, and life expectancy was under 40. Two centuries later, the average American can expect to live to nearly 80. Living longer hasn’t made dying any easier; arguably, it’s made it harder.
Dread of death, not love of sex, is why the dead keep rising. And no Lincoln can defeat that, not even Babe.
Posted on: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 10:53
SOURCE: Bloomberg News (6-1-12)
Sean Vanatta is a graduate student in history at Princeton University. The opinions expressed are his own
Looking over the precipice of national default and an untimely exit from the international monetary system, the Greek leader issued a somber warning to Europe’s economic leaders: “Bear in mind that if you leave the small states without assistance, a black future awaits Europe.”
Delivered by Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos on April 15, 1932, less than two weeks before his nation would suspend loan repayments and exit the gold standard, the prescient remark and the trials that followed offer urgent lessons for the current Greek crisis.
Before the euro bound the continent’s disparate economies into one monetary system, European governments relied on the gold standard to direct international monetary flows. This promised stability, but also required the vigorous coordination of each country’s central-bank policy. The turmoil of World War I disrupted the international order, pushing Greece and the rest of Europe off the standard, a blow from which the monetary system would never fully recover....
Posted on: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 16:17