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: http://carlzimring.com (10-31-12)
Carl Zimring is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
This was going to be my busiest week in 2012. My original plan for this week was to have a series of meetings at the Pratt Institute Monday through Wednesday, then go directly from the Wednesday meeting to LaGuardia Airport so I could arrive in Vancouver in time to present as part of an urban environmental history panel at the Social Science History Association meeting Thursday morning. All this comes on the heels of the Urban History Association meeting here in New York last week.
The first sign that my schedule would not go according to plan was when the chair of one of my committees at Pratt emailed Friday afternoon to say that if the weather mandated, we would reschedule our Monday afternoon meeting. Being preoccupied with the UHA, I had not tracked the severity of Hurricane Sandy’s progress until I read that message late Friday night.
That email began a series of revisions to my plan as the meetings fell like dominoes. Monday’s class and meetings were canceled Sunday night as the rains started. Tuesday meetings were canceled even before the thick of the storms on Monday night. I knew this because we were fortunate enough to never lose power at home and I was able to receive the campus email alerts. While the internet was down part of the night and debris littered our garden, we were fortunate to ride out the storm and wait for its aftermath. Luckily, the worst damage in our neighborhood involved some downed trees a few blocks north of the apartment. Even then, the trees in this part of Brooklyn are small and the damage was not comparable to the array of crushed automobiles and houses found elsewhere in the city.
On Tuesday, the provost announced campus offices would reopen for business the following day, although classes would not resume. By then, I had received notice that my Wednesday evening flight west was canceled. This did not come as a surprise, since a Google Images search for “LaGuardia Airport” limited to the past 24 hours revealed runways underwater. After quickly assessing my options (either build an operational transmat beam to Vancouver or build the world’s largest catapult to fling myself across the continent), I realized I was not going to attend SSHA 2012.
This posed a couple of problems. One, I would not be able to participate in my Thursday morning panel. A second problem was I am one of the co-chairs of SSHA’s urban network, and we have a business meeting to plan the year ahead on Friday. So I emailed my fellow co-chair to give advance notice I could not attend. My fellow co-chair lives in the East Village. The East Village has no power and she had not made it out of the city before the hurricane, so she responded on her cell phone that the chances of either of us being in Vancouver are roughly equivalent to the Cubs winning the 2013 World Series. Since I was in the fortunate position of having both electricity and a working internet connection, my next move was to send a flurry of messages to conference personnel alerting them to our impending absence (as well as the absences of other participants who emailed in to say they were marooned in New York). Technology could not get me to Vancouver, but it could provide me the means to coordinate the best available response to the situation.
Today was the first day administrative offices opened at the Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus, so I walked to the office for the first time since a brief visit before heading down to the UHA last Thursday. While my department was supposed to have a meeting at 12:30, many of my colleagues are stranded in Manhattan and the chair (among the stranded) postponed it via email last night. When I arrived on campus, I saw a handful of students, but most of the people present were workers clearing the grounds of debris.
Lewis Mumford, quoted at the top of this essay, argued in 1961’s The City in History that we needed a new image of the city that took into account the organic and personal beyond the intricate systems we have engineered for modern urban life. Mumford graduated from Stuyvesant High School (presently without power) in 1912 and was born in Flushing, near the site where LaGuardia’s runways sit submerged underwater. He would not be surprised at Hurricane Sandy overpowering the systems we rely upon, nor would he be surprised at the local population adapting to the new hardships brought about by the disruption.
Tonight is Halloween, and we will see if any of the area kids come to the door to ask for candy. Most of the festivities in New York City are canceled, along with subway service, and a few thousand flights. Millions are still without power, and the city announced last night that more than twenty New Yorkers have died as a result of the hurricane. Just missing a conference puts me in the upper one percentile of fortunate people in the region. My flight was canceled with enough advance notice that I never had to try to make my way to the airport, much less wait with all the stranded passengers. I can get between home and office without difficulty and have power, heat, and water in both places. With all my commitments canceled, I have the luxury to read what my fellow historians have written about what happens when nature disrupts the carefully designed and maintained systems we rely upon to live in — and travel between — cities.
Blue skies broke up the clouds this morning, making the absence of airplanes more conspicuous. While I am not able to join my colleagues at the Urban Waste and Wastelands panel tomorrow, my experience this week fits with the panel goals to remember that our plans must take the natural environment into account, and not to assume that nature will return the favor.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 16:24
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (10-28-12)
Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, has just been published by Penguin Press.
Everyone knows there could be a surprise before Nov. 6—a news story that finally makes up the minds of those undecided voters in the swing states and settles the presidential election.
Right now, Barack Obama certainly needs one.
Well, it is not going to come from the economy (unless you want to factor in the risk of a 1987-style stock-market plunge, which would hardly help the president). And it is not going to come from Donald Trump. And even if the Democrats dig up two more barking-mad Republican candidates for the Senate, both of whom believe that rapes are part of God’s plan to make babies, no one is going to be very surprised.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - 17:15
SOURCE: TomDispatch (10-30-12)
Who lost Libya? Indeed, who lost the entire Middle East? Those are the questions lurking behind the endless stream of headlines about “Benghazi-gate.” Here’s the question we should really ask, though: How did a tragic but isolated incident at a U.S. consulate, in a place few Americans had ever heard of, get blown up into a pivotal issue in a too-close-to-call presidential contest?
My short answer: the enduring power of a foreign policy myth that will not die, the decades-old idea that America has an inalienable right to “own” the world and control every place in it. I mean, you can’t lose what you never had.
This campaign season teaches us how little has changed since the early Cold War days when Republican stalwarts screamed, “Who lost China?” More than six decades later, it’s still surprisingly easy to fill the political air with anxiety by charging that we’ve “lost” a country or, worse yet, a whole region that we were somehow supposed to “have.”
The “Who lost...?” formula is something like a magic trick. There’s no way to grasp how it works until you take your eyes away from those who are shouting alarms and look at what’s going on behind the scenes.
Who’s in Charge Here?
The curious case of the incident in Benghazi was full of surprises from the beginning. It was the rare pundit who didn’t assure us that voters wouldn’t care a whit about foreign affairs this year. It was all going to be “the economy, stupid,” 24/7. And if foreign issues did create a brief stir, surely the questions would be aboutAfghanistan, Pakistan, or China.
Yet for weeks, the deaths of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans became the rallying cry of the campaign to unseat Barack Obama. What made this even more surprising: when news of the tragedy first broke, it appeared to be stillborn as a political issue.
The day after the attack on the consulate,as the news about the killings was just coming out, Mitt Romney rushed to blast his opponent: “American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don’t spin out of control.” A president must show “resolve in our might” and a readiness to use “overwhelming force.” Barack Obama had failed on all these counts, Romney charged, and the deaths in Benghazi proved it.
The Republican presidential candidate was duly blasted in return for “politicizing” the incident. It seemed like almost everyone chimed in critically. Even longtime Republican stalwart Ed Rogers wrote that “Romney stumbled,” while “the president said the right things and had the right tone.”
Romney never retracted anything he said on that first day -- and somehow the same words, once scorned as unfitting and “unpresidential,” were mysteriously transformed into powerful arguments against reelecting the incumbent. A month later, a new story dominated the headlines: Romney’s criticisms on Libya were now said to be hitting the target, changing the dynamic, playing a major rolein his campaign’s resurgence.
This change of tune surely reflected in part the media’s primal need for a close presidential contest to keep the public’s interest. At the time of the Libyan incident it was generally agreed that Obama was beginning to pull ahead in the race, potentially decisively, and anything that might boost Romney’s chance was undoubtedly welcome on an editor’s desk.
No matter how hard editors try, though, some stories just don’t stick. But the Libya story stuck. It struck a chord somewhere in the hearts and minds of a lot of Americans. You have to wonder why.
A big part of the answer lies in the power of the key words in Romney’s first statement: “might” and “control.” His strategists grasped a fundamental truth of American politics: The public has an endless appetite for gripping stories about challenges to America’s global might and its right to control the world. So they doubled down and sent their man out to tell the story again.
In his first major foreign policy speech, Romney absolved his opponent of any direct responsibility for the four American deaths, but he pilloried Obama for a far more grievous sin. By a wild leap of imagination, he turned this one incident into the spearhead of a vast assault on America: “Our embassies have been attacked. Our flag has been burned… Our nation was attacked.”
The president’s job is to protect us by dominating our enemies, the challenger proclaimed. It’s our consistent record of victory as well as our values that make America “exceptional” -- and on Obama’s watch, as the incident in Benghazi proved, America and its exceptionalism had gone down for the count.
This was not simply an exaggerated indictment of presidential “weakness.” As he had on that first day, Romney was again raising a question even more crucial to any popular narrative of American foreign policy: Who’s in charge here?
After all, what’s the point of being the global superpower if not to keep control of events around the world? As Romney put it succinctly: “It is the responsibility of our President to use America’s great power to shape history.” And on that most crucial count, he insisted, Obama had failed dismally and a U.S. ambassador had paid for that failing with his life.
A Bipartisan Mythology
The debates gave Romney a chance to sharpen his attack. In the second of them, Obama deftly deflected the charges about Libya (though he never actually answered them). By the time the third debate rolled around, Romney’s strategists apparently saw no benefit and lots of risk in pressing the Libyan question. But they still saw plenty of benefit in keeping the broader issue alive. So Romney rushed past Libya, saying, “We’ve seen in nation after nation a number of disturbing events.”
He built his case using fearful images: “I see the Middle East with a rising tide of violence, chaos, tumult... You see al-Qaeda rushing in.” Power in Washington needed to be restored to the right hands so that, wearing “the mantle of leadership,” the U.S. could “help the Middle East” turn back “the rising tide of tumult and confusion” and subdue the terrorists.
Translation: For decades nearly all the governments in the Middle East, the energy heartlands of the planet, were our allies (more precisely, our clients, though that word was never used in polite company). We could build up their militaries, support their autocratic regimes, and count on them to quell any expressions of anti-American sentiment. Now, under Obama, this crucial area of the world, once well under our thumb, was spinning out of control. Lose control by failing to exercise our might and we lose our safety.
Strength, control, and national security are all parts of the same package; nothing matters more to America -- and Obama was letting it all go down the drain. So the Republican story went (with copious document leaks on the Libyan “cover-up” and the like from Congress).What had been considered an Obama strong suit -- he was, after all, the man who took out Osama bin Laden -- suddenly seemed to have been trumped.
The Democrats actually responded by putting out a remarkably similar story about (as the president termed it in the third debate) “strong, steady leadership,” which, they claimed, was preventing the Middle East from spinning out of control. In other words, we hadn’t really lost Libya at all. But that was the only point in dispute.
The debate between Republicans and Democrats wasn’t about goals in the Middle East, where support for autocratic friends like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is assumed, and both sides agree on the need fordemocratic elections, religious pluralism, a free press, empowering women, strengthening free enterprise capitalism, and destroying Islamist terrorists.
More broadly, both sides agree, as they have for decades, that Washington’s overriding foreign policy goal must be to shape history, control the world, and make it mirror American values and serve American interests. This mythic vision of American foreign policy is a rare example of long-term bipartisan consensus.
When I call it myth, I don’t mean it’s a lie. I mean it’sa foundational narrative of American power that expresses our most basic assumptions about the world, a story in which every nation on the planet is, theoretically, ours to lose.
To most Americans (though not to much of the rest of the world), this narrative does not reflect sheer hubris and intoxication with imperial power. It’s just good common sense. Throughout our history, at the heart of the dominant national mythology has been the assumption that the U.S. should be the world’s “locomotive” and all the other nations “the caboose” (as President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, once said). The reason for this was simple (at least to Americans): we were the first and greatest nation founded on the universal moral truths that are supposedly self-evident to any reasonable person.
Sure, controlling the world would serve our self-interest in all sorts of tangible ways. However, our primary self-interest, so the myth maintains, always was and always will be the moral improvement -- perhaps even perfection -- of the entire world. By serving ourselves we serve all humanity.
The Fiercest Political Battle of All
The only question worth debating, then, is how we can use our preponderant power and wealth most shrewdly to maintain effective control. Most Americans expect their president to know the answer. At the same time, most Americans worry that he might not. A more recent pillar of the bipartisan narrative, the myth of homeland insecurity, suggests the opposite.
According to that myth, no matter how much military strength we have or control we exert, there is always “a rising tide of tumult” somewhere that threatens our national security. At every moment, somewhere in the world, we have something crucial to lose. The name of the threat can change with surprising ease. But the peril must always be there. It’s essential to the story.
And that story, in turn, is now essential to every presidential contest. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd once wrote, “Every election has the same narrative: Can the strong father protect the house from invaders?” (Think of Ronald Reagan and the Iran captivity tale or George W. Bush and 9/11.)If one candidate is the incumbent, the question becomes: Has he been a strong enough father to control the world and thereby protect the house?
Every challenger plays on that anxiety, picking the most obvious or convenient example of the day as a hook on which to hang the perennial charges of weakness and peril. Since the “Who lost China?” days, Republicans have played this card especially skillfully.
This year it seemed that a Democrat who “surged” in Afghanistan, killed bin Laden, and personally ran a drone assassination campaign from the White House had, for once, successfully protected his right flank against the predictable GOP attack. Then fate sent the Libyan killings to the Romney campaign, the newsrooms, and a big portion of the American public. Give Romney’s people credit: they sensed the opportunity from day one.
Mitt had to demand “Who lost Libya?” and then transform it into “Who lost the Middle East?” -- not merely to boost his chances but because a big slice of the public yearns for such a “debate.” After all, every time the question of “Who lost [fill in the blank]?” arises, it reaffirms both the reassuring promise that we deserve to control the world and the disturbing anxiety that we might lose what is rightly ours.
What was, for all its tragic dimensions, a minor event in Libya became a central campaign issue because it proved to be this season’s code word for the whole mythological package. For many Americans, the deepest reassurance may come simply from sensing that our traditional mythology -- the familiar lens through which we view our nation and its role in the world -- is still intact.
On the horizon, though, we can dimly see a new question rising: How much longer can this mythology survive? It suffered a major wound in the Vietnam War era, when the fantasy of global control was rudely punctured by reality. That wound has been ripped open again by fruitless wars and conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
Now, there are so many unsettling changes around the world that we can’t predict, much less control, them. Soon enough -- perhaps by 2020, or even 2016 -- the political battle cry may be: “Who lost the world?”
It’s even possible to imagine that someday Americans will engage in the debate we really need -- about choosing a new paradigm for foreign policy that fits today’s world, where the fantasy of global control has become irrelevant because the facts so obviously contradict it, as American power declines while other nations steadily gain strength.
Don’t expect the old mythology to disappear quietly, though. Old myth versus new myth is the fiercest political battle of all.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - 16:20
SOURCE: CS Monitor (10-30-12)
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” (Yale University Press).
In 1972, as Congress debated legislation to assist the victims of Hurricane Agnes, then Rep. Ed Koch (D) of New York rose to ask his colleagues why they didn’t extend the same generosity to “the ghettos of Harlem” and other poverty-stricken parts of America. “Do we need the intervention of God before we address ourselves to the problems that man has created?” the future New York City mayor wondered. “I would like to know why it is we distinguish between natural disasters and those made by man.”
It’s a good question, and we still don’t have an answer. Indeed, we’re not even asking it.
Consider the news coverage of hurricane Sandy and next week’s elections, which devolved into a duel of vapid prognostication. Would the hurricane-turned-superstorm help President Obama by allowing him to appear, well, “presidential?” Or would the post-hurricane damage actually make him look worse, giving an eleventh-hour boost to Mitt Romney?
Meanwhile, a minor debate broke out in the blogosphere over what was seen as Mr. Romney’s pledge – during a GOP primary debate – to close the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction,” Romney said last June, in a quote highlighted by the Huffington Post....
Posted on: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - 12:33
SOURCE: NY Daily News (10-28-12)
Sean Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton University.
The 2012 presidential campaign may seem like it’s all about the economy, but it’s really being driven by the chief political development of the last 30 years: the Republican Party’s movement further to the ideological right.
Mitt Romney’s attempts to win over his party’s increasingly hard-line base forced him to tack far to the right to win the nomination — which, after his campaign nosedived in September, required him to tack back and present drastically contrasting stances on a wide range of issues.
Compare the Republican Party’s current positions with those of its hero, RonaldReagan. Myths of Reagan’s rigid conservatism abound now, but in the end, what made him a success was precisely that he was not wedded to a hawkish view of the Cold War and how to wage it.
After the Iran-Contra scandal nearly wrecked his administration, Reagan dismissed the neoconservatives involved, embraced reforming Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev and forged an agreement on arms control that hastened the Cold War’s conclusion....
Posted on: Sunday, October 28, 2012 - 19:02
SOURCE: Common-place (10-24-12)
Joseph M. Adelman is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Framingham State University.
It’s October of a presidential election year, which means the political pundit class is alive with speculation of the likelihood of different results in the popular vote and the Electoral College or – and this one has really gotten people going, thanks to some speculation and number crunching by Five Thirty Eight blogger Nate Silver – if the Electoral College comes out in a 269-269 tie. (Two side points: first, take a look at the first scenario he games out; the scary part is it has the air of plausibility, that is, the electoral map theoretically could happen, even if the odds are extremely low. Second, as others have pointed out, you should know you’re being trolled when you read a sentence that states that the “probability [of a tie] has roughly doubled from a few weeks ago, when the chances had been hovering at about 0.3 percent instead.”)
The op-eds, editorials, blog posts, and tweets that game out these scenarios all operate under the premise that such an outcome would be a “constitutional crisis.” And that’s true to a point, but what I have not seen any discussion of in the mainstream media to this point is that such an Electoral College occurrence, however fluky it might be, would represent a failure not so much of the Constitution as of the political system built up around it. Such an election, in fact, does exactly what the Constitution of 1787 (as modified by the Twelfth Amendment) requires. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate with the most electoral votes; Art. II, § 1 is agnostic on the method by which each state determines its electors, and a popular majority was in no one’s imagination in 1787....
Posted on: Thursday, October 25, 2012 - 15:31
SOURCE: The New Republic (10-21-12)
Rick Perlstein is the author of "Nixonland."
To understand how deeply the moment of George McGovern's efflorescence differs from our own, pick up the biography McGovern authorized a young Time magazine staffer to write as he began his 1972 presidential campaign. The author, Robert Sam Anson, had been taken prisoner in 1970 by Communists guerrillas in Cambodia who put a gun to his head and made him dig his own grave. Anson dedicated the book to these guards! Then, in his preface, he wrote of their profound admiration for George McGovern as a reason why he should be President of the United States.
The logic was a relic of the time. With the lying Richard Nixon following the lying Lyndon Johnson in the White House, the call for open, honest government associated with ascendent Baby Boomers -- and those same voters' longing for a quick end to the Vietnam War, even their suspicion we had picked the wrong side in that War -- seemed to suggest a candidate like McGovern, who had overseen the process of opening the Democratic Party's ossified boss-ridden nominating system, and pledged as president to remove all American forces from Southeast Asia within sixty days, was the Democratic future....
Posted on: Thursday, October 25, 2012 - 15:23
SOURCE: The New Republic (10-22-12)
Michael Kazin is co-editor of Dissent and a professor of history at Georgetown University. He is completing a history of the American left to be published in 2011 by Knopf.
Liberals have an obsession with the presidency. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt strode across the political arena like a colossus (albeit a colossus in a wheelchair), liberals have tended to equate success with electing one of their own to the White House. The New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society—these are fondly remembered as the glorious, if brief, eras of liberal political history, times when the country seemed to leap forward to a better place, before conservative Republicans found ways to jerk it back again. It's an obsession that also expressed itself in pop culture: After George W. Bush took office, with a big assist from the Supreme Court, many liberals consoled themselves by cheering on Jed Bartlett as he outfoxed his right-wing opponents.
Now that there’s a 50-50 chance that Obama could actually lose, the obsession is saturated with anxiety. Nearly every liberal I know checks the polls every few hours and frets over each debate, as if the future of the republic depends on Obama winning a second term. (OK, I confess—I do it too.) But we should realize that merely electing, or re-electing a progressive president has never been how lasting reform occurs. A one-term Obama administration might be considered a failure—but it would be a failure that liberals would be partly responsible for.
Every chief executive who signed major pieces of liberal legislation benefitted from thinkers, organizers, strategists, and grassroots insurgents who did their most critical work without the aid of an electoral college majority. The Social Security Act culminated over two decades of planning by such brilliant advocates as Louis Brandeis and Frances Perkins—and pressure from a movement of angry old people led by a charismatic physician named Francis Townsend. Only after years of violent mass strikes, including general strikes in San Francisco and Minneapolis in 1934, did Congress pass the National Labor Relations Act. Once workers got federal protection for organizing unions, lawmakers hoped, they would no longer need to pursue that goal by bringing production to a halt....
Posted on: Thursday, October 25, 2012 - 15:21
SOURCE: Huffington Post (10-23-12)
There were times during last night's presidential debate on foreign policy when the key question seemed to be which candidate loved Israel more. There were other times when it seemed that the key question was which candidate wanted to make our already steroidal military even more muscle-bound. President Obama appeared to win the debate on points, but Governor Romney also won in the sense that he appeared knowledgeable and steady on national defense and foreign policy, areas in which he lacks experience.
The real winners in last night's debate were not the candidates, but hardliners on Israel and the U.S. military-industrial complex. The real loser in last night's debate was also very clear. It was America. You and me.
And here's why. Clearly, whichever man wins the election in November, the following will continue to be true:
1. The U.S. will continue to spend vast sums on its military, upwards of $700 billion a year, more than the next ten countries in the world combined. Neither candidate proposed a single weapon system that could be cut to save money, with Mr. Romney promising to spend countless scores of billions more on Navy ships and Air Force planes that the military itself has said it doesn't need.
2. The U.S. will continue a losing war effort in Afghanistan at least until the end of 2014, with residual U.S. "training" forces remaining in-country long after the so-called "withdrawal" of U.S. combat troops, which both candidates promised would happen.
3. The U.S. will continue to remain deferential to Israeli desires in the Middle East, with the Israeli tail wagging the American dog, notably with respect to policy against Iran.
4. The U.S. will continue to promote democracy around in world, except in despotic countries that do our bidding.
5. The U.S. will continue to escalate drone strikes on assassination missions of dubious legality, all in the name of killing the bad guys. Neither candidate bothered to address civilian casualties, blowback, or whether they accept the right of other countries to launch their own drones on assassination missions. (In this case I'm guessing that imitation by China or Russia or Iran would not be considered the sincerest form of flattery.)
6. Trade and profit and strutting machismo will continue to drive U.S. foreign policy, not concerns about human rights or planetary health.
7. Despite our wars, our robotic assassination missions, our vast military spending, and our dominance of the international weapons trade (where America truly is number one), both candidates insist that America will remain a beacon of democracy and freedom to the world, the one indispensable nation that is dedicated to peace.
Certain subjects were in essence taboo and left unaddressed, including the perils of global warming and the danger of economic destabilization due to unwanted and unwise fiscal austerity programs in Europe and elsewhere.
True, there were marginal differences between the candidates. Obama stressed the advantages of building coalitions (as with sanctions against Iran) rather than unilateral action by the U.S., whereas Romney stressed "strength" and no apologies. Obama declared terrorism to be the most pressing threat to the U.S., whereas Romney declared it was a nuclear-armed Iran.
Otherwise, both candidates were largely in agreement. And more's the pity to America -- and to the world.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - 13:54
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (10-23-12)
Janet Golden is a professor of history at Rutgers University who specializes in the histories of medicine, childhood and women, as well as American social history. She discussed her current project, the history of babies in America, in a short interview.
On a recent episode of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, set in Atlantic City in the Prohibition Era, the wife of the city’s boss, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, was speaking with a physician and a nun about a women’s health clinic she founded. Reviewing the language of the materials to be distributed, the nun objects to the word menstruation. Mrs. Thompson responds, “The Federal Children’s Bureau has already published a series on prenatal care and ‘menstruation’ is what they used.” A shout out to the show’s writers for acknowledging the work of this largely unknown agency (actually called the United States Children’s Bureau) on its 100th birthday.
Founded in 1912 and housed in the Department of Labor, the Children’s Bureau was the first federal agency to be run by women - and the first time the federal government committed to efforts on behalf of children’s health and welfare. The bureau had a broad mission: reducing infant and child mortality, improving child health, abolishing child labor and advocating for those with special needs, including the orphaned, abandoned, disabled, and delinquent. It also had a limited mandate: investigating and educating, while leaving intervention and services to the states....
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 22:33
SOURCE: Fort Worth Star-Telegram (10-20-12)
Max Krochmal is an assistant professor of history at Texas Christian University.'
Candidates and pundits frequently refer to the 2012 presidential election as "historic." Yet, the actual content of U.S. history -- the subject I teach at Texas Christian University -- has so far played a very small role in the broader public debate. Voters now must decide whether we wish to learn from our collective heritage.
If we choose to learn from the past, the choice in the Nov. 6 election for president is clear: Barack Obama should be re-elected on the strength of his service to all Americans.
President Obama accurately describes himself as the heir to the legacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. He is not a champion of big government, but rather he believes that our political community and economic success depend on the existence of fair rules and a basic safety net....
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 22:31
SOURCE: NYT (10-16-12)
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 22:23
SOURCE: American Interest (10-23-12)
Ofra Bengio is senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and professor of history at Tel Aviv University.
The turn of the 21st century marks a definite period of Kurdish awakening. This social revolution is occurring separately within each of the four communities, but also through trans-border activities that are increasingly bringing the groups’ political consciousness together. It is a revolution that is very likely to shake the geostrategic pillars of the Middle East to their foundations.
In some ways, the rising Kurdish wave resembles the somewhat more advanced Tuareg wave in North Africa and the western Sahel. The Tuareg rising has already destroyed the territorial integrity and political order of one state, Mali, and threatens others. The Kurdish rising may very well do the same.
The signs are not hard to read. Most dramatically, the traditionally marginalized Kurds of Syria have found new energy in the cauldron of the Syrian uprising and are now demanding a federal system in which they would gain significant autonomy in a post-Assad Syria. The extremely restive Kurds of Turkey are pressing for what they call democratic autonomy. The Kurds of Iran, typically unremarked upon in the media, are stirring beneath their blanket of obscurity. But most important of all these are the Kurds of Iraq. Iraq was the epicenter of the Kurds’ great leap forward in the early 1990s: the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is a euphemism for a de facto Kurdish state. It is to the KRG experience that Iranian, Syrian and Turkish Kurds increasingly look for lessons and guidance, and rightly so...
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 15:28
SOURCE: Salon (10-22-12)
Stanley Kutler is the author of the "The Wars of Watergate" (Norton), and with Harry Shearer has written the forthcoming television series, "Nixon's the One."
George McGovern lived his public life with an integrity that in these rancid political times, all of us might envy. He unfortunately is remembered most for his overwhelming defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon in the presidential election of 1972, but it is worth noting that Nixon resigned in disgrace, the only president to ever abandon his office. McGovern was a historian, undoubtedly with profound respect for the presidency; it is difficult to imagine his obstructing justice or abusing his power in the Nixon manner.
As we count the dwindling numbers of World War II veterans, we recall McGovern’s heroic service in that conflict. He piloted the lumbering B-24, the slowest of our combat bombers, through 35 hazardous missions over numerous targets in Nazi-occupied southern Europe. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for one mission in which his navigator was killed, yet he safely landed his crippled plane on a small Adriatic island.
After World War II, a combination of his religious background, his studies for a Ph.D. in history, and a rising call for American leadership in the world profoundly touched McGovern. He turned away from his parents’ Republican roots and embraced the idealism of Woodrow Wilson’s worldview....
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 13:32
SOURCE: LA Times (10-21-12)
Max Boot is a contributing writer to Opinion. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an advisor to the Romney campaign and author of the forthcoming Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present Day.
The attack in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, was practically the only foreign policy issue to come up in the second presidential debate, and it's sure to come up again in Monday's final debate, which will be entirely devoted to foreign policy.
Last time around, much of the focus was on whether President Obama called it a "terrorist" act. The evidence on this score is ambiguous: In a Rose Garden statement on Sept. 13, the president did decry "acts of terror," but it was not clear whether he was referring to Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States or Sept. 11, 2012, in Libya, and after his remarks, other administration spokesmen preferred to ascribe the attack to spontaneous demonstrations over an anti-Islam video.
But one issue is unambiguous: There has been a crippling and dangerous lack of security in Libya since Moammar Kadafi was overthrown last year with the help of NATO airstrikes. This was an issue that many observers worried about while the war was ongoing: Was there a plan to create security and governance after Kadafi's downfall?..
Posted on: Monday, October 22, 2012 - 13:24
SOURCE: The Atlantic (10-21-12)
Ben Heineman Jr. has held top positions in government, law, and business. He is the author of High Performance with High Integrity.
People now remember McGovern as going down in one of the biggest defeats in history, losing every state but Massachusetts (and the District of Columbia) to Richard Nixon. But many forget that he made a gallant effort to present Kennedy's idealism -- and anti-war and domestic reform policies -- to an increasingly tired, racially divided, and increasingly conservative electorate.
I arrived at the campaign post-Eagleton. When the Vice Presidential nominee revealed that he had suffered from depression and been treated with electroshock, McGovern first said he was "1000 percent" behind Eagleton and then, under pressure, dumped him from the ticket on August 1st. The election was probably decided definitively then. But young people, like me, had been inspired by John Kennedy, grown up during the civil rights revolution and anti-Vietnam war turbulence of the sixties, and were deeply attracted to Robert Kennedy in 1968. The steepness of the hill McGovern had to climb after the Eagleton fiasco didn't matter. I pocketed a handful of "McGovern-Eagleton" buttons (soon to be replaced ones emblazoned with "McGovern-Shriver"), and in my mid-twenties became a "senior" person on the issues staff.
At the national campaign headquarters (1972 K Street in Washington), the youth corps admired McGovern for his solid personality, his great record in WWII as a bomber pilot, his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, and his position as heir to Kennedy's legacy (because Teddy wouldn't run). But we knew that he lacked essential qualities of the Robert Kennedy of 1968: charisma and the ability to inspire. The much-discussed flat, "reedy" mid-Western accent would not excite crowds. We knew that his policies on both foreign and domestic matters were strong statements of sixties liberalism, lacking in balance that would appeal to the great middle of American politics, which had been chastened by events and was removed in time from the aura of the Kennedys. We could feel that he wasn't connecting with the electorate....
Posted on: Monday, October 22, 2012 - 13:14
SOURCE: New Republic (10-19-22)
David A. Bell is Professor of History at Princeton University.
Is your president a socialist who has repeatedly apologized for his country? If you are an American, the answer to this question is no, despite apoplectic Republican claims to the contrary. If you are French, however, it is most certainly yes. Not only is President François Hollande a proud Socialist; this year he has made two high-profile apologies for France. This summer, on the seventieth anniversary of the notorious "vel d’Hiv" roundup of Jews in Paris. he gave a speech acknowledging the country’s guilt in the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps, And this past week, he ended official denials that the Parisian police had carried out a massacre of Algerian protestors in 1961, and paid homage to the victims. The two statements say a great deal about French public life today, about the country’s relation to its history, and about its widening differences from the United States.
Both of the incidents for which Hollande apologized, in the name of the French Republic, were long hidden from sight. After the liberation of France in 1944, a battered and demoralized population consoled itself with the myth that all but a few traitors and criminals had resisted the Nazi occupation. The deportation of some 76,000 Jews to the death camps was blamed on the Germans. Only slowly, and in large part thanks to the effort of North American historians (especially Robert Paxton of Columbia) did the full sordid story emerge in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the French had in fact supported the collaborationist government of Marshal Philippe Pétain for several years. Many had applauded, enthusiastically, anti-Semitic policies modeled on those of the Nazis. And while it was the Germans who demanded the deportation of Jews from France, the job of identifying, arresting and transporting these Jews was carried out entirely by French authorities, including the horrific, days-long incarceration of 13,000 Jews in the "Vel d’Hiv"—an indoor bicycle racetrack—without adequate food, water or ventilation.
The 1961 massacre similarly remained, for decades, occluded in French public memory. It took place in the final stages of Algeria’s violent struggle for independence against France, after thousands of Algerians living in Paris staged demonstrations in violation of a curfew imposed on them by the Prefect of Police, Maurice Papon. Papon allowed his forces to disperse them with wanton brutality. The police itself gave an official death toll of three, but in fact, as many as 200 Algerians were shot, beaten or trampled to death, with some of their bodies thrown into the Seine River. It took nearly thirty years for French historians to bring these facts to light, and the exact numbers remain hotly debated. This reckoning has been closely linked to the reckoning with Vichy, in part because one of the officials who had organized the deportation of French Jews, only to move unscathed into a brilliant post-war career, was none other than Maurice Papon. Even as the historians revealed his role in the massacre, the French state finally decided to prosecute him for his wartime crimes (convicted in 1998, he died nine years later).
François Hollande is not the first French head of state to apologize for his country’s role in the Holocaust...
Posted on: Monday, October 22, 2012 - 13:08
SOURCE: Bloomberg News (10-18-12)
William Hogeland is the author of “Founding Finance: How Debt, Speculation, Foreclosures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation.” The opinions expressed are his own.
Americans across the political spectrum who object to intimate links between government and high finance have often upheld James Madison as their champion.
Conservatives who condemn the Federal Reserve, trade regulations and the tax code for strangling markets and restricting freedom often cite Madison as a founding libertarian. Liberals criticizing connections between government and the investing class for concentrating wealth into an ever smaller segment of society look to Madison as a defender of more democratic approaches.
Madison, a Virginia congressman and framer of the U.S. Constitution, went on to serve two terms as president. His clash with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in the 1790s has long been seen as an expression of the starkest ideological division attending the nation’s birth -- a division that persists in U.S. politics. But the fight between the two men was weirder, more complicated and ultimately more revealing of the relationship between finance and the American founding than is usually understood....
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2012 - 11:56
SOURCE: Bloomberg View (10-17-12)
Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the author of The Syrian Rebellion.
“I felt hurt on opening my wardrobe and seeing my uniform, school bag and geometry box,” Malala Yousafzai wrote in a diary she kept in the Swat Valley in 2009. “Boys’ schools are opening tomorrow. But the Taliban have banned girls’ education.”
Today, as the Pakistani heroine, now 14, fights for her life in a British hospital, nothing less than the fate of modernity in Pakistan hangs in the balance.
Malala and her devoted father, an educator who ran afoul of the masters of the Taliban, knew the risks, but would not be deterred. The masked assailants, who asked for her by name on a school bus and shot her at point-blank range, came out of a culture of darkness that has wrecked the dreams of those who want Pakistan to be a normal country at peace with itself.
It is hard to believe now that the founding dream of Pakistan, born out of the partition of British India in 1947, was a secular one. The founder of this oddest of nations, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was a Bombay barrister who was a firm believer in British law and Indian nationalism. He had married his second wife outside the Islamic faith and had wanted nothing to do with the Mughal culture of North India that had yearned for a separate Muslim state.
It was one of modern nationalism’s great paradoxes that this most assimilated and modern of men would be the one to lead his people to the promised land of Pakistan. The creation of this polity came at the very end of Jinnah’s life; the man who moved to Karachi, from his home in Bombay, was old and ravaged by tuberculosis and lung cancer...
Posted on: Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 18:00
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (10-16-12)
I lived in Tehran, Iran as an elementary-school child, from 1969 to 1971. I remember it as a friendly and cosmopolitan city, full of expatriates enjoying the fruits of the oil boom. My friends included Koreans, South Africans, and Yugoslavs, as well as Iranians and Americans.
Eight years later, as a first-year college student, I watched on a flickering dormitory television as mobs overran the American Embassy – where I had once played tennis – and took more than 60 people hostage. And we’re still watching it, like an old horror film in a continuous loop. You can see that footage in Ben Affleck’s new movie, “Argo,” which includes a stunning re-enactment of the embassy takeover. And you can also see it in our 24/7 news culture, where any given day features images of angry Muslims protesting or threatening the United States.
Some of the most upsetting recent images come from Libya, where attackers killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans last month at the US consulate in Benghazi. Vice President Joe Biden has taken flack for his assertion in last week's debate that the White House didn't know of requests for more security for the US mission there. Perhaps in an effort to deflect some of that heat, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated Monday that she takes responsibility for the security of American diplomats abroad....
Posted on: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - 11:05