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: Words Without Borders (11-16-12)
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chair of the History Department at UC Irvine, the author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (OUP 2010), and a co-editor of Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land (UC Press, 2012). His reviews and commentaries have appeared in venues such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the TLS, Time, the Atlantic, and Dissent.
Q: When a foreigner comes over and gives you a slap in the face, you take it lying down and don’t fight back. Are you just trying to show how cool you are?
A: No foreigner has come over and given me a slap.
Q: Han Han, a foreigner rapes your mother, and you still won’t put up a protest.
A: No foreigner has raped my mom.
Q: The motherland—that’s your mother.
A: The motherland is the motherland, my mother is my mother.
—From “Q & A with Chinese nationalists,” an April 23 2008 blog post
[I’d like to see China become] a country that doesn’t resort to land sales and real estate and low-end assembly production to achieve high GDP—and high per capita GDP . . . A country whose culture has an impact on the world, whose literature and art other countries imitate. A country that has as clean an environment and as free an atmosphere as other places, where you can enjoy the spectacle of seeing power confined in a cage . . .
—From “Talking Freely, Wine in Hand,” a May 7, 2010 blog post
These quotations are from This Generation: Dispatches from China’s Most Popular Literary Star (and Race Car Driver), which Simon & Schuster released on October 9. The publisher is hoping that this book will make enough of a splash that 2012 will be remembered as the year that Han Han made it big. Or, rather, made it big in the West. For the work’s thirty-year-old author is already arguably as big as you can get in China. Each new post he puts up on his controversial blog garners hundreds of thousands of hits. And his face is ubiquitous, at least in major cities, where it graces magazine covers and appears in countless ads for products he endorses.
In China, moreover, Han is not a newcomer to fame. He’s been in the public eye for roughly one third of his short life. His star first began to rise soon after he dropped out of one of the top high schools in the Shanghai area. The reason it rose was his first novel. A work sometimes likened to Catcher in the Rye in terms of theme and tone, it became a bestseller and earned Han enough money to fulfill his biggest dream: buying a car.
In August, in a piece I wrote on Han for the Atlantic’s online edition, I explored one of the most curious things about the writer: that he has stayed largely under the radar in the West, in spite of a string of profiles of him appearing in leading English- language newspapers and magazines, including the New Yorker. The question now is whether the entertaining and engaging essays in This Generation, which address issues ranging from daily life concerns to official corruption and take varying forms, from mock interviews with himself to rants to gently reflective essays, can do what those profiles have failed to do—make him a household name outside of his own country.
Posted on: Monday, November 19, 2012 - 14:37
SOURCE: Salon (11-17-12)
Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg are professors of History at LSU and coauthors of "Madison and Jefferson" (Random House),
Before we get to the persistence of class warfare in our politics, let’s talk about Skinch Painter. In 1900, when the San Francisco Examiner tracked him down, he was 78, “hale, hearty, and contented.” He hadn’t inherited a penny, but neither had he worked a day in his life. “He has never borrowed a dollar, nor stolen one,” the column read. “He has never been a tramp nor a beggar. He has never done a day’s work in exchange for money … Yet he has lived.”
One day, when he was in his teens, he said to himself, “Look here, Skinch Painter, this old world owes you a living, and all you’ve got to do is collect it.” Wandering the Ozarks of Missouri, he inhabited a cave and relied on nature for his food and clothing. He hunted, fished and gathered nuts and berries, wearing only animal skins and going barefoot.
“Labor is a useless sin,” said Skinch. “The time a man spends working is just so much time lost from living.”
We can just about see Fox News sending a camera crew out to interview Skinch, and one of its handsomely paid straight men wrapping up the piece with an offhand, “See, you don’t need government handouts. If you don’t want to work, you can do what this guy does. At least he’s not a taker. The rest of us in this country, we’ll continue to work for a living.”...
Posted on: Sunday, November 18, 2012 - 18:10
SOURCE: NYT (11-17-12)
Posted on: Sunday, November 18, 2012 - 11:43
SOURCE: CNN.com (11-17-12)
Stephanie Coontz is Director of Research at the Council on Contemporary Families and teaches history at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Her most recent book is "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s."
...President Thomas Jefferson fathered a child by his mistress. So did Warren G. Harding, who also carried on an affair with the wife of a family friend. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had a long-term relationship with the woman who was his driver in England during World War II. CIA Director Allen Dulles, according to his own sister, had "at least a hundred" affairs, including one with the queen of Greece. President John F. Kennedy's affairs and one-night stands may have numbered even more.
But times have changed. The press and political insiders no longer turn a blind eye. So why do men continue in behaviors that now carry so much risk of exposure and punishment?...
Today many -- perhaps most -- men sincerely want to marry women who are partners rather than subordinates. And women now want careers of their own, whether paid or unpaid, rather than defining themselves entirely through a husband's achievements. Yet many of our romantic fantasies and cues for sexual arousal are still shaped by the unequal division of roles, power, resources and prescribed character traits that prevailed from the early 19th century up through the 1960s....
Posted on: Sunday, November 18, 2012 - 11:04
SOURCE: LA Times (11-13-12)
Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributing editor to Opinion, and author of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present.
'The graveyards are full of indispensable men," it's often said, meaning that few are genuinely indispensable. David H. Petraeus was one of the few, which is why his loss for the U.S. government, after his admission of adultery, is so tragic.
This is not to imply that there are not other capable generals or intelligence leaders. But Petraeus was highly unusual, perhaps unique, for the grasp he displayed of modern warfare in all of its bewildering complexity. This was a task for which he had been preparing since his days as a West Point cadet in the 1970s, when he showed an early fascination with the Vietnam War, which was just then ending. He avidly read the classic works of Bernard Fall, Jean Larteguy, David Halberstam and other experts on the subject. He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the war, a decidedly unfashionable focus in the 1980s, when the U.S. military was eager to get out of the counterinsurgency business altogether.
Petraeus knew, however, that warfare had changed: Conventional engagements against mirror-image adversaries would not be the post-Vietnam norm. He got the chance to show that he could put his academic understanding into practice when he entered Iraq as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in the spring of 2003, his first combat experience...
Posted on: Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 14:41
SOURCE: National Review (11-15-12)
The United States has endured a dumbed-down, hideously expensive election that retained gridlock and showcased the modern enfeeblement of its political process. The only previous time the U.S. had three consecutive two-term presidents, they were the principal authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Monroe Doctrine. Now, 192 years later, a less accomplished trio has taken America’s current-account deficits from $80 billion to over $400 billion under Bill Clinton, on to $800 billion under George W. Bush, where it has generally held under Barack Obama. Accumulated federal gross debt had accumulated to $6 trillion in the 216 years of American history prior to Bill Clinton, moved up to $10 trillion after George W. Bush, and has burst out like the Incredible Hulk under Barack Obama, to $16 trillion just four years later.
When George Washington handed over command of the Continental Army in 1783, and when he convened the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and again when he retired as president in 1797, he enjoined the legislators and statesmen of the future to create and preserve an indissoluble Union, ensure that it was adequately defended militarily, and give it a strong currency issued by a reliable treasury. The conservation of the Union appears to have been determined in Lincoln’s time. And the U.S. now spends 44 percent of the world’s entire military outlays but the wars that it has engaged in since Korea haven’t accomplished much. (The pseudo-wars against poverty, crime, and drugs have been lost.) President George H. W. Bush very efficiently evicted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but President George W. Bush returned a decade later to remove him from Iraq. In the interim, President Clinton underreacted to the Khobar Towers, East African embassy, and USS Cole attacks, which helped incite the terrorist onslaughts on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001....
Posted on: Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 11:20
SOURCE: Time (11-12-12)
Conventional wisdom holds that second presidential terms tend to be somehow fatally cursed—Eisenhower and the U-2; Nixon and Watergate; Reagan and Iran-contra; Clinton and impeachment; George W. Bush and Iraq and the financial collapse. The implication is clear for a newly re-elected president like Barack Obama: be careful what you wish for.
As usual, though, the conventional wisdom obscures as much as it captures. Second terms are perilous, but so are first terms: politics are always perilous. Looking ahead (itself perilous!) it’s likely that Obama, if he is like his predecessors, will find himself able to do one or two big things domestically and freer than he has been to operate globally as he wishes....
Posted on: Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 11:05
SOURCE: Daily Mail (11-12-12)
Dominic Sandbrook is a British historian and author.
After a week dominated by the terrible effects of Superstorm Sandy, the increasingly bitter struggle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and the continuing fallout from the Jimmy Savile scandal, it was easy to overlook a little story about an obscure Greek journalist called Kostas Vaxevanis.
In its way, though, the ordeal of Mr Vaxevanis, the editor of an Athens magazine, who narrowly escaped prison for publishing the names of suspected tax evaders, is the biggest story of all.
Its themes — the freedom of the Press, the corruption of the establishment, the arrogance of the elite and the terrifying storm engulfing the economies of Europe — go to the heart of a crisis that threatens to tear the Continent apart.
But the Vaxevanis scandal is merely the tip of the iceberg.
From the Leveson Inquiry in London to the attempted comeback of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and from the salons of Paris to the committee rooms of Brussels, there are disturbing signs of a backlash against democracy, free speech and the will of the people — a counter-revolution that could sweep away many of the liberties we take for granted.
For more than half a century after World War II, most of us assumed that life in Europe would always get better. And when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it seemed that the tide of freedom was irresistible.
But now, with Europe poised on the brink of a new dark age of austerity, corruption and censorship, I am beginning to wonder if we were wrong all along...
Posted on: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 15:49
SOURCE: Salon (11-13-12)
Harvey J. Kaye is Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and a member of the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981) and the American Federation of Teachers. The author of "Thomas Paine and the Promise of America," Kaye is currently completing "Fighting for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Great." Follow him: @HarveyJKaye
Dear Brother Trumka:
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rallied by the great black union leader A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, with the assistance of civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin and UAW president Walter Reuther, 250,000 Americans of every color and creed turned out on the National Mall on August 28, 1963 to demonstrate their support for guaranteeing equal rights and affording “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all Americans. And it is a day that generations will forever remember because of the words spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I have a dream.”
No doubt plans are already underway to commemorate that event. But we who believe in America’s purpose and promise of extending and deepening freedom, equality, and democracy must do more than commemorate it. We must truly honor it. And to do that, we cannot wait until August, 2013.
We need to not just recall but actually redeem the progressive spirit and vision of Randolph, Rustin, Reuther, and King. We need to march....
Posted on: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 12:10
SOURCE: Alternet (11-13-12)
Chauncey DeVega is editor and founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes, which has been featured by the NY Times, the Utne Reader, and The Atlantic Monthly. Writing under a pseudonym, Chauncey DeVega's essays on race, popular culture, and politics have appeared in various books, as well as on such sites as the Washington Post's The Root and PopMatters.
Dear angry white conservatives who are mourning Mitt Romney’s loss,
If Fox News is any indication, many of you are dismayed, upset, and befuddled by Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama. Some of these feelings are normal. Politics is tribal. When your team loses, a bit of sadness is expected.
However, some white folks are acting out in some very unhealthy ways. Young white conservatives participated in a near riot at the University of Mississippi, where they hurled rocks at bystanders, used racial slurs, and burned Obama and Biden campaign signs. Other angry white folks used the Internet to send out racist messages and pictures on Twitter as an act of protest and anger at the country’s re-election of its first Black president. I believe that these events are malicious outliers.
Many white people who voted for Mitt Romney are simply scared and angry that a “Black socialist Muslim atheist Communist usurper” was re-elected President of the United States.
Eighty-nine percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were white. Fifty-nine percent of the white vote went to Mitt Romney. He also won the majority of white voters in every age and gender group. We live in a country that is racially segregated. The United States is also very polarized politically. At present, Americans are not talking to each other across the dividing lines of race, class, and ideology....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 16:18
SOURCE: NYT (11-13-12)
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 14:04
SOURCE: CNN.com (11-12-12)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of the new book "Governing America."
When Washington gets back to work, the situation will be difficult. President Obama won a sound re-election victory, doing very well in the Electoral College and winning the popular vote by more than 3 million votes. He trounced Mitt Romney in almost all the battleground states and he will return with a larger and more energized Senate majority.
Yet President Obama likely understands that elections don't remake the political system. The parties remain as polarized as ever, and the political process will be as difficult as it has been since the first day he took office. Republicans retained control of the House, where they can make it hard for the president to move his agenda forward and can place immense pressure on him to curtail spending.
While Democrats control the Senate, with 54 votes, Republicans control the tools of the Senate minority -- namely the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass any major piece of legislation. Exit polls showed that the public is not satisfied with the status quo, many voters opposed the idea of an activist government to solve problems, and President Obama struggled with some key constituencies, including older and suburban voters....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 13:35
SOURCE: CNN.com (11-12-12)
Willy Lam is Adjunct Professor of History at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Senior Fellow with the Jamestown Foundation in Washington D.C. He is also a regular contributor for CNN on Chinese affairs.
There is only one thing that Chinese and foreign observers of China are looking for at the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress: signs of reform, especially political liberalization.
The chances of meaningful political changes, or those that dovetail with global norms, however, are getting increasingly slim.
The reason may be simple. Until around about the time of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, to reform or not to reform belonged in the realm of ideology.
Even before the birth of the People's Republic in 1949, factions within the party had fought over the future direction of the country.
When Mao Zedong was running the show, there was the celebrated "struggle between two lines." This referred to the fierce competition between the Maoists -- who claimed to uphold unadulterated Marxism -- and the "capitalist roaders," led by then-president Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 13:33
SOURCE: NY Review of Books (11-9-12)
Garry Wills is Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern. His most recent book is Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism.
What happens to those who lose a presidential campaign? Some can do it with heads rightly held high, and go on to give valuable service to the nation. We were reminded of this just two weeks before the recent election, when George McGovern died. Though he underwent a humiliating defeat by Richard Nixon forty years before, he was a man of integrity, some of whose ideas were continued by people who worked in his 1972 campaign, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, veterans of his Texas office that year. McGovern was re-elected to the Senate after his presidential loss, where he performed important services, like defying the cattle, egg, and sugar lobbies to set up national dietary standards. This was a long-time commitment of his. Even before he went into the Senate, he had served as President Kennedy’s point man in the Food for Peace Program. In 1998, President Clinton appointed him his ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, where he worked effectively to curb world hunger. Above all, though he was a heroic flyer in World War II, he was a principled opponent of useless militarism.
What public service do we expect from Mitt Romney? He will no doubt return to augmenting his vast and hidden wealth, with no more pesky questions about where around the world it is stashed, or what taxes (if any) he paid, carefully sheltered from the rules his fellow citizens follow.
Barry Goldwater, after his massive defeat, stayed true enough to his principled conservatism that the modern Republican Party was a beneficiary of his legacy—a beneficiary but not the determiner of that legacy. It was Goldwater himself who told the heir to his influence, Richard Nixon, that it was time to cleanse the White House by leaving it. Though Goldwater was a factor in the Southern strategy of Nixon, he was no racist, and no fanatic of any stripe. He was an acidulous critic of the religious right and a strong advocate for women’s rights (like abortion). He had backbone....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 13:30
SOURCE: National Review (11-13-12)
...[W]hy do Republicans think their conservative message is a natural one for the majority of contemporary Latinos/Hispanics — rubrics that strangely now include everyone from Cubans and upscale Argentinians to Oaxacan indigenous peoples and Hondurans? In truth, the vast majority of Latinos who vote overwhelmingly Democratic is made up of poorer immigrants from Central America and Mexico rather than Marco Rubio–like second-generation Cuban-Americans. De facto amnesty, generous entitlements, vast increases in public expenditures and hiring, and more taxes on the wealthy are understandably widely supported by both the Latino leadership and rank-and-file. Public employment is increasingly more attractive and more subject to affirmative action than the private sector, and, quite logically, its expansion is seen by poorer Latinos as a natural pathway into the middle class.
Had Republicans come out in favor of open borders and blanket amnesty, I doubt that they would have won the Latino vote — much less done much better in a state like California, given that its latest round of steep tax increases (now over 13 percent on top incomes) was widely supported by the so-called Latino community. Pundits can rail about supposedly naïve, out-of-touch Republicans who talked of self-deportation and thereby lost the Latino vote; but one just as easily might have castigated them for decrying out-of-control entitlements and food stamps, predicating legal immigration on education and skills, or criticizing unworkable and discriminatory affirmative-action policies, since these positions are also politicized as anti-Latino dog whistles....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 13:22
SOURCE: WaPo (11-9-12)
Kenneth Mack is a professor of law at Harvard University.
When President Obama beat Mitt Romney on Tuesday to win a second term in the White House, he joined the elite club of rehired commanders in chief that includes Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. But also part of this club are less-well-regarded presidents such as Ulysses S. Grant, Calvin Coolidge and George W. Bush. Let’s examine some popular misconceptions about two-term presidents to learn what a second chance has meant for their places in history.
1. Election to a second term is a mandate.
Reelection is usually a validation of a president’s popularity and political skill, as well as a rejection of what was proposed by the losing candidate. Reading it as an endorsement of an ambitious political agenda is a trickier proposition.
Three 20th-century presidents elected to second terms by overwhelming margins — FDR, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — were ultimately weakened by political overreaching. The escalation of the war in Vietnam undid Johnson, while FDR’s Supreme Court-packing plan and unsuccessful attempt to unseat conservative Democrats in the 1938 elections showed weakened political prowess....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 12:08
SOURCE: NYT (11-12-12)
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 11:14
SOURCE: NYT (11-11-12)
Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2012 - 13:46
SOURCE: NYT (11-11-12)
Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2012 - 13:43
SOURCE: Slate (11-9-12)
Beverly Gage, a Yale history professor, is the author of The Day Wall Street Exploded.
There seems to be some confusion about whether or not the United States just witnessed a close election. Perhaps some historical perspective can help: Yes, this was a close election.
If we include Florida, Obama appears to have won 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206. In the popular vote, the latest numbers suggest an Obama victory of 50.4 percent to Romney’s 48.1. This is not recount territory. Measured by the standards of the 20th century, though, it reflects a genuinely tight race....
Posted on: Friday, November 9, 2012 - 13:40