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: NYT (2-13-13)
Posted on: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 12:07
SOURCE: National Review (2-7-13)
Amity Shlaes, who directs the George W. Bush Institute’s economic-growth program, is the author of the book Coolidge, forthcoming from HarperCollins.
Action is something Americans of both parties demand of their presidents these days. This is natural for Democrats, whose heritage is all action, starting with Franklin Roosevelt and his Hundred Days. But Republicans like energy and a big executive as well. Over the course of the campaign this past year, any number of political stars, including Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, argued that only an energetic candidate would be up to the job of managing the U.S. fiscal crisis. Mitt Romney worked hard to let voters know his party could beat the Democrats in the legislative arena. He swore up and down that, à la Roosevelt, he would get off to a running start, sending five bills to Congress and signing five executive orders on his first day in the Oval Office.
The Grand Old Party’s abiding affection for a “bigger and better” presidency isn’t entirely logical. After all, the Obama presidency commenced with an effort to reenact the Hundred Days. Yet President Obama’s first-term economic performance itself was not “big” but mediocre, tiny even. Perhaps Republicans should consider whether inaction on the part of the White House can be desirable. Perhaps, led by Republicans, the United States could benefit from trying out an unfashionable idea: the small presidency.
Evidence from a near-forgotten period, the early 1920s, instructs us. In those days the country was suffering economic turmoil similar to our own. Because of a crisis — World War I — the government had intruded in business and financial markets in unprecedented fashion, nationalizing the railroads, shutting down the stock market, and entering the debt market with war bonds....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 14:10
SOURCE: The Nation (2-12-13)
Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine.
Thanks to Steven Spielberg and his film Lincoln, we’ve been hit by a new wave of management wisdom supposedly gleaned from the film’s central character. Business Week ran a piece titled “Career Lessons from Spielberg’s Lincoln”; the New York Times called theirs “Lincoln’s School of Management.” Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book on Lincoln and his cabinet, Team of Rivals, famously provided the basis for some of the movie, has been back on the “leadership advice” circuit....
...[But] there are some key moments in Lincoln’s life that the management advice people have neglected. One came in his Second Inaugural, when he declared that, if the Civil War continued “until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”—if that happened, he said, he would conclude that "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
As Eric Foner observed in his book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, Lincoln was “reminding the country that the ‘terrible’ violence of the Civil War had been preceded by two and a half centuries of the terrible violence of slavery.” Here, Foner continues, Lincoln was asking the entire nation, “what were the requirements of justice in the face of those 250 years of unpaid labor?” On that topic, our management advice experts are strangely silent.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 11:46
SOURCE: CNN.com (2-11-13)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of "Governing America."
(CNN) -- President Obama is set to deliver the first State of the Union Address of his new term. On Tuesday evening, he will step before a joint session of Congress and a nation in difficult times.
Unemployment rose in January to 7.9%. There are signs of economic progress, but millions of Americans are struggling to find a job while others are desperate to keep the one they have.
Other kinds of economic challenges face many people. The Pew Research Center recently released a study showing the growing number of adults who are struggling to support grown children and their parents, the "Sandwich Generation" as they are called....
It may be tempting to list a series of measures Obama wants Congress to pass, but the president should use this speech to do something more than provide a laundry list, and the historical record offers some guidance about how.
The speech can offer a vision. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt gave one of the most historic State of the Union addresses when he outlined the Four Freedoms. He delivered his speech on the brink of America becoming involved in World War II. With Europe and Asia in the middle of a major military crisis, FDR defined the four freedoms that he believed should be the foundation of the international system: the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God, the freedom from want and, finally, the freedom from fear....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 11:28
SOURCE: LaborOnline (2-10-13)
Philip Rubio is an assistant professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University, and author of There's Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality (2010, University of North Carolina Press).
It’s Saturday February 9th as I write this. Every postal worker knows by heart their first official day of work as their “anniversary date.” Not for sentimental reasons, but for purposes of seniority, retirement, and all the benefits thereof. It’s an important date.
I retired early from the post office in Durham, North Carolina after 20 years to go to graduate school (30 years is standard retirement at the US Postal Service). But even though it’s been almost 13 years since I last punched off the clock, I still remember my anniversary date: February 9, 1980. Making $8.10 an hour to start: up from $2.95 an hour a decade, the result of over 200,000 postal workers staging an eight-day nationwide wildcat strike beginning March 18, 1970–the largest wildcat in U.S. history, leading to the 1971 transformation into the US Postal Service as a self-supporting independent government agency.
February 9, 1980 began a week of paid, on-the-job training for me in Denver, Colorado. Postal management impressed upon us the imperative of maintaining the “sanctity of the mail.” That same week union representatives urged us to join whatever union went with our craft. The vast majority of postal workers are unionized....
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2013 - 16:21
SOURCE: Boston Review (2-1-13)
Richard White, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University, is author, most recently, of Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America.
Speaking in New Haven in 1860, Abraham Lincoln told an audience, “I am not ashamed to confess that 25 years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flat-boat—just what might happen to any poor man’s son.” After his death, Lincoln’s personal trajectory from log cabin to White House emerged as the ideal American symbol. Anything was possible for those who strived.
But the goal of this striving was not great wealth. Perhaps the most revealing memorial to Lincoln and his world is found in one of the most mundane of American documents: the census. There he is in the Springfield, Illinois, listing of 1860: Abraham Lincoln, 51 years old, lawyer, owner of a home worth $5,000, with $12,000 in personal property. His neighbor Lotus Niles, a 40-year-old secretary—equivalent to a manager today—had accumulated $7,000 in real estate and $2,500 in personal property. Nearby was Edward Brigg, a 48-year-old teamster from England, with $4,000 in real estate and $300 in personal property. Down the block lived Richard Ives, a bricklayer with $4,000 in real estate and $4,500 in personal property. The highest net worth in the neighborhood belonged to a 50-year-old livery stable owner, Henry Corrigan, with $30,000 in real estate but only $300 in personal property. This was a town and a country where bricklayers, lawyers, stable owners, and managers lived in the same areas and were not much separated by wealth. Lincoln was one of the richer men in Springfield, but he was not very rich.
Not only was great wealth an aberration in Lincoln’s time, but even the idea that the accumulation of great riches was the point of a working life seemed foreign. Whereas today the most well-off frequently argue that riches are the reward of hard work, in the Civil War era, the reward was a “competency,” what the late historian Alan Dawley described as the ability to support a family and have enough in reserve to sustain it through hard times at an accustomed level of prosperity. When, through effort or luck, a person amassed not only a competency but enough to support himself and his family for his lifetime, he very often retired. Philip Scranton, an industrial historian, writes of one representative case: Charles Schofield, a successful textile manufacturer in Philadelphia who, in 1863, sold his interest in his firm for $40,000 and “retired with a competency.” Schofield, who was all of 29 years old, considered himself “opulent enough.” The idea of having enough frequently trumped the ambition for endless accumulation....
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2013 - 15:40
SOURCE: Balkinizatoin (2-5-13)
Mary L. Dudziak is a legal historian at Emory University whose research focuses on the impact of war on American democracy and on the relationship between international affairs and American legal history.
The leak of a White Paper on targeting killings is getting the expected attention from law bloggers and others, with much commentary focused on whether the legal analysis is correct – for example the definition of “imminence.” The precise legal analysis is a distraction from more compelling issues, which are taken up by Jack Goldsmith in a Washington Post op-ed. I often disagree with Goldsmith, but this time I find myself in agreement. In part.
Goldsmith begins: “A decade of war is now ending,” President Obama proclaimed in his second inaugural address. But war is not ending, it is changing — and has been for years. Obama has cut back on heavy-footprint, conventional-force war in two countries. At the same time, he has presided over the rise of a secret, nimbler war defined by covert action, Special Forces, drone surveillance and targeting, cyberattacks and other stealthy means deployed in many countries.”
The character of ongoing war, largely off the American political radar screen, has been the focus of scholarly attention across fields. Ongoing secret war is an extension of ongoing small wars – justified for many years by the Cold War-era national security policy that American safety at home could only be protected by the projection of American military force around the world (NSC 68).
Goldsmith is right, unfortunately, that the president is arguing that war is coming to an end, while at the same time he continues it. (A point also made here.) He continues:
This new form of warfare needs a firmer political and legal foundation....Because secret surveillance and targeted strikes, rather than U.S. military detention, are central to the new warfare, there are no viable plaintiffs to test the government’s authorities in court. In short, executive-branch decisions since 2001 have led the nation to a new type of war against new enemies on a new battlefield without focused national debate, deliberate congressional approval or real judicial review.
Although Goldsmith is right that the character of war has changed, his solution is disappointingly conventional: “What the government needs is a new framework statute — akin to the National Security Act of 1947, or the series of intelligence reforms made after Watergate, or even the 2001 authorization of force — to define the scope of the new war, the authorities and limitations on presidential power, and forms of review of the president’s actions.” This is where I disagree. Something more fundamental is in order.
The nation most needs robust political engagement with American military policy, something we have not had in a sustained way since the war in Vietnam. Americans debated the war in Vietnam, and ultimately countless numbers took to the streets. Congress fiercely debated war appropriations. Elections were affected, as candidates gained or lost in the polls based on their position on Vietnam.
Deep public engagement with Vietnam was tied in large part to the fact that the costs of war came home to American families because of the draft. In the years since, the all-volunteer armed forces are one factor among others to isolate many Americans from war. (The other most important issues are privatization/contracting, and changes in war technologies.) A 2011 Pew Research Center report found that "A smaller share of Americans currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces than at any time since the peace-time era between World Wars I and II." The data reveals "a large generation gap,"with "more than three-quarters (77%) of adults ages 50 and older...[having] an immediate family member –a spouse, parent, sibling or child – who had served in the military." In contrast, for people under 50, "57% of those ages 30-49 say they have an immediate family member who served. And among those ages 18-29, the share is only one-third."
In recent years, I’ve noted elsewhere,
In Iraq and Afghanistan, war...spread across borders as American drones fired on targets in Pakistan and elsewhere. Death and destruction were the province of soldiers and of peoples in faraway lands. The experience of wartime for most Americans largely devolved to encounters between travelers and airport screeners, as the Transportation Security Administration adopted intrusive new practices. At home, wartime had become a policy rather than a state of existence.
The only enduring limit on the use of force comes from an informed and engaged citizenry. The most troubling aspect of an era of secret warfare is that its very “secret, nimbler” character makes it easier to ignore, and thereby harder for democratic limits to function.
More essential than a new framework statute, we need a form of war politics. An essential but inadequate step is transparency, so that Americans have the capacity to know what their nation is doing. More difficult but more essential, we must find a way to care about the nation’s most fearsome power, which is now exercised without our even noticing. Whether the American people can become engaged again without a draft or forces on the ground is something I can’t answer. But finding a path toward political engagement is more important now that, for Americans, the experience of war has become so easy, and so forgettable.
Posted on: Friday, February 8, 2013 - 13:55
SOURCE: Sightings from the Martin Marty Center (2-7-13)
Ousmane Kane is Alwaleed Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society and Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.
The destruction of the sixth-century monumental Buddha statues of Bamiyan in March 2001 by the Taliban shocked many persons concerned with the preservation of world cultural legacy. Such examples of iconoclasm were not new in Islamic history. In the name of the restoration of the purity of the faith, groups with similar persuasions have destroyed Sufi and Shiite shrines in various parts of the Arabian Peninsula during the nineteenth and twentieth century. But until very recently, few observers believed that such examples of iconoclasm will ever reach the Sahel. Although the Sahelian countries had overwhelming Muslim populations, Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa was believed to be peaceful compared to elsewhere in the Arab World. In most of the twentieth century, no armed Islamic group was to be found anywhere in the Sahel. Very few Sub-Saharans trained in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation or joined Al-Qaida, and suicide bombing was unheard of until a few years ago. This is not so much because intolerant Islamic groups were not to be found in the Sahel, but they had neither the sophistication nor the logistical and financial resources to challenge state power.
In recent years, a variety of jihadi groups have appeared in the Sahel, the Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Movement for Unicity and Jihad in West Africa. Recently, these groups have linked up with AQIM which provided them with sophisticated military training and substantial financial and logistical resources. In the last few years, jihadi groups have stated a clear agenda of Islamizing the Sahel. Nowhere have these jihadi groups been a greater threat to state power than in Mali. Since it became independent from French colonial rule in 1960, this poor Sahelian nation about the size of California and Texas combined has been struggling to preserve its national integrity. Until 2012, the threat came essentially from secular Tuareg groups who resented marginalization in the context of postcolonial Mali.
In January 2012, an assortment of Salafi jihadi groups allied with secular Tuareg groups, defeated the garrisons of the Malian national army stationed in the north of the country, conquered two-thirds of the Malian territory, and proclaimed an Islamic State. Immediately after, they started to implement Islamic penal law, cutting hands and feet of thieves, lapidating adulterers, forcing all women to wear headscarves, and dismantling centuries-old Sufi shrines designated by UNESCO as world cultural heritage sites. Incapable of restoring its national sovereignty alone, the Malian government has been seeking outside help since February 2012. Since then, the Malian crisis has been placed in the heart of the agenda of leading regional African and international bodies: the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations. For ten months, no serious initiative to restore Malian national integrity was undertaken. Boosted by the passivity of the international community, the insurgent groups decided in January 2013 to extend their territorial control to the remaining third of the country. They prompted the French intervention in the side of the Malian army on January, 11 2013.
On January 27, the French and Malian troops re-conquered Timbuktu. On the same day, a journalist of Sky News, embedded with the French troops reported that 25,000 manuscripts had been burnt or disappeared. Interviewed from Bamako, the capital city of Mali located hundreds of miles away, the major of Timbuktu Ousmane Hasse reported having heard that the largest library in Timbuktu (Ahmad Baba library) had been torched by fleeing insurgent groups. The news of the destruction of manuscripts spread like wildfire. In reality, the staff of the Ahmad Institute had moved to safety the manuscripts during the crisis. The rebels had burnt a very small number of manuscripts that were being restored at the new building of the Ahmad Baba Institute.
As of February 1, the French troops have re-conquered all the major Northern cities of Mali (Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal) forcing the rebels to withdraw to the mountains. Nobody knows what the outcome of the present crisis will be, but this much we do know: gone are the days when Sub-Saharan Islam was stereotyped as different and more peaceful.
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2013 - 11:27
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (2-6-13)
John Watkins is distinguished McKnight university professor of English and affiliate faculty in history at the University of Minnesota.
I like the idea of the hunchbacked Richard III, newly exhumed from his final resting spot beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, visiting the Oval Office. You can imagine the late, unlamented English monarch exchanging pleasantries with U.S. President Barack Obama about horseback riding and complaining about what a pain it is to deal with the intolerable French. They might also exchange notes on the inevitable headaches of leadership -- though, in Obama's case, he's not likely to take his skeet-shooting gun and parachute into Helmand province to battle the Taliban.
But the conversation could quickly take a more somber turn. If there is a lesson from the 1485 fall of Richard's House of York, it's that there are worse things than judicious appeasement.
In general, the Wars of the Roses -- the 30-year civil war between Richard's Yorkist family and their Lancastrian cousins -- continued a three-way policy dance that dated far back into the Hundred Years War. The Lancastrians often found support among the French; their bitter enemies, the Yorkists, found their friends among the powerful Dukes of Burgundy. In 1475, Edward IV, Richard's older brother, became the first solvent English king in decades by finally cutting a good deal with the French. In exchange for no longer pressing his dubious claim to be the legitimate king of France, the French gave him a cozy pension and lucrative trading benefits. Yes, Richard's very distant cousin Henry V had been more dashing in all his belligerence at Agincourt, but it had cost his realm dearly. Edward was learning that diplomatic success was easier and cheaper to achieve than military victory, and often had longer lasting results....
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2013 - 11:11
SOURCE: NY Daily News (2-5-13)
Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”
Was Ed Koch gay? I don’t know, and I don’t care. And neither should you.
When the former New York mayor died last week, we heard all the old cliches about why he should have come out of the closet-or why it was necessary to “out” him. If he were openly gay, the story goes, he would have done more to fight AIDS during the early years of the epidemic. And he would have made it easier for other people to come out, too.
But as Koch correctly insisted, his sexual orientation was nobody’s business but his own. And to see why, let’s imagine that Koch wasn't male and gay, but female and straight.
Then let’s suppose that Ms. Koch — like 40% of American women — had undergone an abortion. Would it be OK to “out” her for that, too?...
Posted on: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 17:07
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (2-6-13)
Jim Sleeper, a lecturer in political science at Yale, is the author of "The Closest of Strangers" and "Liberal Racism." E-mail him at email@example.com.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was told often enough last week that the United States' intolerably high levels of murder and maiming by gunfire would drop sharply if we had the gun control of other developed nations. (Only Mexico and Guatemala have constitutional provisions resembling our Second Amendment.)
It won't happen, unless we dissolve the deep bond between our libertarian individualism and our glorification of runaway corporate engines that are disrupting public trust more brutally than their own managers ever intended or know how to stop.
The challenge is too deep for law or social science alone. A republic can't shape aggressive, impressionable youngsters into citizens unless it can nourish public narratives, myths, or constitutive fictions that give kids direction and hope....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 12:27
SOURCE: Charlotte Observer (2-5-13)
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president and Dr. Tim Tyson is education chair of the N.C. State Conference of NAACP Branches.
...“You got to throw the corn down where the hogs can get to it,” Georgia race-baiter Gov. Eugene Talmadge used to crow. In much the same spirit, North Carolina’s new governor appeared on William Bennett’s nationally-syndicated radio program last week and sneered at the UNC system for “offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs.”
Bennett seems an odd assistant to help McCrory toss those stale hushpuppies to the tea party. The former secretary of education usually bemoans the failure of today’s youth to read Aristotle. The author of “The Book of Virtues” admits to losing something like $10 million in the casinos and he once speculated that even though it would be wrong for America to abort all African American babies, “the crime rate would go down.”
McCrory keeps poor company but he had facts, even if he didn’t understand them. Yes, only six percent of UNC’s undergrad majors offer hope of immediate employment in that field. Fifty years ago, the figure would have been smaller; in those days, Americans respected college degrees but did not expect them to change a tire. If the only measure of a B.A. is a j-o-b, somebody has to tell the kids to burn the Bible, mulch Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” along with Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf, and offer choice of three majors – sweet tea, cornbread or biscuit....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 12:23
SOURCE: Salon (2-5-13)
Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation.
In understanding the polarization and paralysis that afflict national politics in the United States, it is a mistake to think in terms of left and right. The appropriate directions are North and South. To be specific, the long, drawn-out, agonizing identity crisis of white Southerners is having effects that reverberate throughout our federal union. The transmission mechanism is the Republican Party, an originally Northern party that has now replaced the Southern wing of the Democratic Party as the vehicle for the dwindling white Southern tribe....
The white Southern narrative — at least in the dominant Southern conservative version — is one of defeat after defeat. First the attempt of white Southerners to create a new nation in which they can be the majority was defeated by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Doomed to be a perpetual minority in a continental American nation-state, white Southerners managed for a century to create their own state-within-a-state, in which they could collectively lord it over the other major group in the region, African-Americans. But Southern apartheid was shattered by the second defeat, the Civil Rights revolution, which like the Civil War and Reconstruction was symbolized by the dispatching of federal troops to the South. The American patriotism of the white Southerner is therefore deeply problematic. Some opt for jingoistic hyper-Americanism (the lady protesteth too much, methinks) while a shrinking but significant minority prefer the Stars and Bars to the Stars and Stripes.
The other great national narrative holds that the U.S. is a nation of immigration, a “new nation,” a melting pot made up of immigrants from many lands. While the melting pot story involves a good deal of idealization, it is based on demographic fact in the large areas of the North where old-stock Anglo-Americans are commingled with German-Americans, Polish-Americans and Irish-Americans, along with more recent immigrant diasporas from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
But even before the recent wave of immigration from sources other than Europe, the melting pot never included most of the white South....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 17:36
SOURCE: The Nation (2-4-13)
Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine.
As we head toward the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination later this year, a new book has revealed the striking differences between JFK and his father, Joe Kennedy on the bedrock fact of American politics during that era: the Cold War. JFK’s declaration in his famous inaugural address is well known: the US should “pay any price, bear any burden” to fight communism everywhere in the world. Virtually unknown, until now, is the fact that a decade earlier his father had declared the entire Cold War “politically and morally” bankrupt.
This story is told in the new book The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, by my friend David Nasaw. The New York Times named it one of the ten best books of 2012, but reviewers have barely mentioned Kennedy’s Cold War critique, focusing instead on his isolationist arguments at the outset of WWII.
Joe Kennedy’s position on the Cold War was simple: Communist rule of Russia and Eastern Europe, and also China and Korea, was terrible for the people who lived there, but not a threat to American security—and thus the US should not prepare to fight in all those places. Instead, American wealth and energy should be focused on developing the domestic economy.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 11:05
SOURCE: openDemocracy (2-4-13)
Ruth Rosen, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is a Professor Emeriti of History at U.C. Davis and a Scholar in Residence at the Center for the Study of Right-Wing Movements at U.C. Berkeley. Her most recent book is The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America.
Her father had a dream that his daughter would be educated and, like his sons, enjoy civil rights and liberties. He was one of those unsung fathers who have played an important role in promoting the goals of feminism, yet remain invisible among the many more fathers who cannot embrace change in their societies.
Millions of women are raped every year. Why this particular gang rape and subsequent death caused an international eruption of anger is not easy to explain. Often, one single act shines a light on injustice: the 'Arab spring' began when a poor vendor set himself on fire; Vietnam anti-war protests grew after monks turned themselves into swirling flames.
Many who protested in India used the language of human rights to denounce the rape and other forms of violence that keep women off the streets and frightened by the “customs” of rape, wife beating, honor killings, and dowry deaths. In India, authorities responded by created all-female taxi cabs and special victim units within the notoriously corrupt police forces who have been known to rape a woman after she reported the crime. They declared New Delhi as unsafe for women.
It has taken a very long time for the people of the world to realize that violence against women constitutes a violation against their human rights. Early attempts in the United States during the 1970s to redefine rape as an assault, rather than as an act of lust, ignited an international conversation and debate about the nature of rape.
But it wasn’t until 1993, at the United Nation’s World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, that women around the world testified about how violence—or the threat of violence—kept them off the streets, prevented them from earning a livelihood, and made them fear the “customs” that allowed their relatives to throw acid in their faces or beat them, and even kill them, if they acted in a way that dishonored the men of their family.
Women rights advocates around the world deployed a brilliant strategy at that conference by using the testimony of ordinary women to influence the United Nation’s conference. The Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutger's university in the United States played an important role in finding women from all continents who were willing to testify about the violence they had experienced-- domestic abuse, mutilation, burning and rape---when they tried to unionize, when they “dishonored their families” by flirting or engaging in pre-marital or extra-marital sex, or when they simply went out in public alone. These testimonies moved the UN to create a High Commission of Human Rights and more important, to write a resolution that violence against women was a violation of their human rights.
The General Assembly passed that resolution in March, 1993. Although enforcement was impossible, the resolution created a moral compass by which countries could judge each other.
Naturally, nations fought fiercely over this resolution. China, Syria, Iran, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam argued that cultural relativism was essential to global peace and mutual respect. The same argument, of course, had been used to defend slavery in the nineteenth century. But other nations stood up for human rights for women and dared to call a custom a crime. The American Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, spoke out strongly against accepting gender violence and said, “We cannot let cultural relativism become the last refuge of repression. The conference concluded with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which, for the first time, declared that violence against women violated their human rights.
One year later, in 1994, the American Congress followed by passing legislation called The Violence against Women Act (VAWA). Then, in 1995, First Lady Hillary Clinton made international news when, in a rousing and inspiring speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women, she boldly declared, "It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights,"
In the wake of the Balkan wars in the former Yugoslavia, the media began to report that all sides had built “rape camps” and that rape and other sexual atrocities had become a deliberate and systematic part of the Bosnian and Serb campaigns for victory in the war. Strong and persistent demands for a decisive response to these outrages came from around the globe.
Still, women remained what they had always been, the “spoils of war.” The countless rapes committed during the Balkan wars revealed to the world, with the help of international media and human rights activists, that the rape of women was deliberately being used to undermine the morale of the enemy. Gradually, advocates of women’s human rights began to challenge another of the world’s longest crimes against women—rape during armed conflict.
In 2002 human right activists successfully fought for the International Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court to declare rape during war as a crime against humanity or as a war crime. Yet, as the American invasion and occupation of Iraq continued, the sexual terrorism women experienced at the hands of American soldiers and Iraqi thugs was one of the most underreported crimes of a war that been waged for resources, by choice, and fueled by the lies of America’s highest officials, including former President George W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense General Colin Powell, and former National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice.
No, there were no mass weapons of destruction, but countless women died in the frenzy of sexual terrorism that took place, particularly in cities. In 2006, based on human rights documents, I described what Amnesty International and other had witnessed and documented:
" The invasion and occupation of Iraq has had the effect of humiliating, endangering, and repressing Iraqi women in ways that have not been widely publicized in the mainstream media: As detainees in prisons run by Americans, they have been sexually abused and raped; as civilians, they have been kidnapped, raped, and then sometimes sold for prostitution; and as women -- and, in particular, as among the more liberated women in the Arab world -- they have increasingly disappeared from public life, many becoming shut-ins in their own homes".
Controlling women’s access to public life, including work, is one of the consequences of rape. That is why women activists created “Take Back the Night” marches in which women and men protested the brutal rapes, including gang rapes, that make women fearful of taking their rightful place in public life.
No United Nations resolution or action by the International Criminal Court is going stop what is still considered normal all over the world. As nations modernize, and women enter the labor force and enjoy higher education, they pose a threat to some men’s deeply-held belief that women belong in the private world of the home, and that they own the public sphere. Women who trespass risk being stopped, often by rape.
Yet, it is in precisely such modernizing nations, such as India, that the daytime gang rape of a 23 year-old young woman on a bus created such outrage and protest, by both men and women. UN resolutions and conventions create a moral compass and are necessary, but they do not initiate social change. At best, they alter the zeitgeist. It is incidents of brutality against women, protested by ordinary men and women, as well as by advocates for women’s human rights, that can, potentially, change people’s views about violence against women.
And it’s not just in developing countries that ending violence against women is tacitly accepted by authorities. As I write, the U.S. Senate will finally introduce legislation which reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act, first enacted in 1994. They have even accepted the compromise of exempting certain immigrant women with particular visas. If it passes, the bill will then go to the House of Representative, where right-wing Republicans are working overtime to prevent the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. They insist on excluding particular categories of immigrant women and even if the Senate passes what they want, they will come up with another reason to oppose it. Last year, Republicans blocked the bill because they refused to include LGBT and Native American women in the legislation. It’s still not clear it will pass in 2013, here in a country that prides itself the great equality women have supposedly achieved.
In the early nineteenth century, few people in Europe or the United States, would have thought that slavery would one day become unacceptable to the majority of the world’s citizens. Twenty years after the U.N. declared violence against women to be a violation of their human rights, we are still a long way from gender violence becoming a relic of the past. But that is our goal. And the only way this change will happen is the same way that abolitionists ended slavery---through decades of social movement action and education that sought to end slavery.
We are not nearly there. Rape and all kinds of gender violence are still ubiquitous, and a disgrace to our global efforts to expand our ideas about human rights. It will take many more decades before everyone agree that violence at home, at work, and on the battlefield are not customs, but are, in fact, crimes against humanity.
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2013 - 16:27
SOURCE: NY Review of Books (2-1-13)
Diane Ravitch won the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences in 2011 for her “careful use of social science research for the public good.” (July 2012)
For weeks, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers have been battling over the issue of teacher evaluation. Governor Andrew Cuomo set a deadline for them to reach an agreement, but they failed to do so, potentially costing the city schools hundreds of millions of dollars. The state education commissioner, John King, jumped into the fray by threatening to withhold over a billion dollars in state and federal aid if there was no settlement between the parties. Now, Governor Cuomo says that he may intervene and take charge of the stalemated negotiations.
What’s going on here? Why can’t the mayor and the union reach an agreement? Why does Commissioner King intend to punish the city’s children if the grown-ups don’t agree?
The imbroglio began with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. Immediately after Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, with the economy in free fall, Congress passed the huge economic stimulus package, which included $100 billion to aid schools: $95 billion to be disbursed to states to avoid massive layoffs of teachers and the remaining $5 billion to be given to the US Department of Education to promote education reforms....
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2013 - 16:18
SOURCE: Greensboro News-Record (2-4-13)
Lisa Levenstein teaches history at UNC Greensboro.
On Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory vowed to change the system of public higher education in North Carolina. Instead of educating students broadly in the liberal arts, he wants universities and community colleges to train students narrowly for existing jobs in fields such as “mechanics.”
“We are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs,” McCrory told conservative radio talk-show host Bill Bennett, disparaging subjects such as philosophy for providing students with inadequate skills.
Unlike the governor, many Americans value a liberal arts education for teaching critical-thinking and communication skills through the study of the arts, social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. As students read great literature, investigate scientific problems, learn foreign languages, analyze data, scrutinize historical artifacts and study global cultures, they acquire tools that foster lifelong learning and promote engaged and responsible citizenship....
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2013 - 12:51
SOURCE: NYT (2-2-13)
I WAS almost scripted to hate Ed Koch from the moment in September 1977 when I moved, with a new Harvard doctorate, to Brooklyn, on what would become a long activist-writer’s foray into the city’s fiscal crisis and the effects of that summer’s power blackout and looting.
Mr. Koch was winning the Democratic mayoral primary, and my cousin James Wechsler, who’d been the editor of The New York Post in its liberal glory days but was then in charge of just the editorial page, was shaking his head in a lonely corner office on South Street as The Post’s new proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, turned it into a virtual press office for the Koch campaign.
Throughout his 12 years as mayor I assailed Mr. Koch — in a Brooklyn newspaper that I edited, in Dissent, in The Village Voice and even while working across the hall from him as a speechwriter for the City Council president, Carol Bellamy, whom the mayor at one point denominated, with his customary grace, “a horror show.”...
Posted on: Sunday, February 3, 2013 - 15:47