Roundup: Talking About History
This is where we excerpt articles about history that appear in the media. Among the subjects included on this page are: anniversaries of historical events, legacies of presidents, cutting-edge research, and historical disputes.
Edward L. Ayers, author of The Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863 and professor of history at the University of Virginia, where he created the Valley of the Shadow Project, writing in Newsday (Jan. 25, 2004):
Unlike any medium before - from books and museums to film and television - the World Wide Web is profoundly changing our relationship to history. Unlike a museum, the Web is open all the time to people everywhere. Unlike a television show, movie or book, it does not tell only one story. Unlike a textbook, it encourages exploration, challenge and dissent.
Most radically, the Web allows every person to be his or her own historian. By giving easy access to a deep set of historical records, people can handle the pieces of the past for themselves. The Web puts diaries, letters, newspapers, censuses, military records, memoirs, photographs and maps into the hands of...
Hiroyuki Fuse Yomiuri Shimbun, writing in the Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo) (Jan. 29, 2004):
Through a break in rain clouds, mountains on the Korean Peninsula emerged on the shore. Through my binoculars, I saw a flapping flag placed above the foremast of a large vessel that is sailing along the coast.
Located in the northwest of the Tsushima islands in Nagasaki Prefecture, Mt. Eboshi faces the Korea Strait. From the top of the mountain to the South Korean city of Pusan is only 49.5 kilometers as the crow flies.
Hiroo Takesue, a 59-year-old local historian in Nagasaki Prefecture, said, "I've heard that during the Korean War, the sounds of gunfire could be heard here."
North Korea's nuclear threat increases in realness.
Tsushima, which used to be called Sakimori no Shima (Coast Guards' Island), has had strong links with Russia.
In 1861, shortly before Japan opened to the world, Russian...
To the Editor:
"Movie on Armenians Rekindles Flame Over Turkish Past" (Arts pages, Jan. 20) says"Turkish and Armenian historians have given widely differing accounts of what happened in 1915." But that is not a matter of ethnic perspective. The extermination of the Armenians is recognized as genocide by the consensus of scholars of genocide and Holocaust worldwide. The failure to acknowledge this trivializes a human rights crime of enormous magnitude.
The Ottoman Turkish government's meticulously planned extermination of its Christian Armenian citizens took the lives of more than a million Armenians in 1915 and 1916. Another million Armenians survived the death marches but were permanently exiled from their homeland of 2,500 years. It is denigrating to refer to these facts as Armenians being" chased from their ancestral homelands."
It is ironic as well, because in 1915 The New York Times published 145 articles about the...
From CNN (Jan. 23, 2004):
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR : Welcome to Q&A. Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has been applauded for its portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But it's also been criticized for fueling bigotry and anti-Semitism and for opening up old wounds that were on the way to being healed. It's an old debate, but now it could begin anew.
With us from Orlando in Florida is Ted Haggard. He is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and the founder of the New Life Church. He is a board member for the Center of Christian-Jewish dialogue. Ted Haggard, you've seen this film. Is it a good film? Is it historically accurate?
TED HAGGARD, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS: It is a good film, it's a work of art, it's a piece of art that Mel Gibson has put together, based on historical facts. But of course, it's just like "...
Clifford Kuhn, professor of history at Georgia State University, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Jan. 30, 2004):
As a scholar of American history, as a professor to many teachers-in-the-making and as a parent of two children who have gone through the public schools, I have a deep, abiding interest in how history and social studies are taught and learned.
Accordingly, I'm disturbed by various aspects of the recently announced proposed state standards for social studies. In addition to their often dubious ideological underpinnings and associated teaching exercises, many of the standards suffer from unclear, sloppy phrasing and just bad history.
For instance, Standard SS8.33 for the eighth-grade unit on "Reconstruction and the New South" reads, "The student will identify events in Georgia and the South that...
Writer and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn, reviewing the Fog of War in Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper (Jan. 2004):
The Fog of War opens with a classic McNamarism. As the octogenarian is getting seated for another interview session, he checks in with Morris about sound levels, then declares:"Now I remember exactly the sentence I left off on, I remember how it started. You can fix it up some way. I don't want to go back and introduce the sentence, because I know exactly what I wanted to say."
It is the McNamara of old. Didactic, always in control, asserting his intelligence and the perfect command of memory. The changes are subtle. He is clearly in the autumn of his years, slightly frailer, grayed, his hair thinned, a touch vulnerable, certainly more reflective, but he is nonetheless vital, engaged, articulate and,...
Michael J. Glennon, a professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, writing in the Wilson Quarterly (Summer 2003):
The most monumental case ever decided by any court in any country began as a petty dispute over a patronage job. The underlying controversy quickly blossomed into a clash between two titans of the early American republic, and it ended with the unveiling of a new judicial doctrine that would alter the course of American history and spread around the world to protect the liberty of hundreds of millions of people.
The doctrine was judicial reviewthe practice by which courts strike down acts of other governmental entitiesand it led to such epoch-making Supreme Court judgments as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ended the legal racial segregation of public schools, and United States v. Nixon (1974), in which the Court...
Julius Strauss, writing in news.telegraph.co.uk (Dec. 27, 2003):
Even by the high-octane standards of Stalinist-era propaganda, the storyline was a powerful one.
Pavlik Morozov was a handsome 14-year-old schoolboy who lived in a tiny Siberian village, never played truant, always did his homework and was polite to his teachers. He loved communism so much that when his own father broke the law he informed on him to the authorities.
When Pavlik's vengeful relatives found out, they sneaked up on him as he was picking berries in the woods with his little brother and stabbed him to death.
For generations the story of Pavlik the boy martyr was taught to tens of millions of schoolchildren throughout the Soviet Union.
The embodiment of fierce Soviet patriotism, he was pronounced Pioneer-Hero No 1 and elevated to the rank of communism's untouchables....
Although historians and educators tell us that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ended the Great Depression, in reality, the New Deal prolonged chronic unemployment in the U.S. in the 1930s, Cato Institute scholar Jim Powell said early this month.
"The New Deal was substantially financed on the backs of the middle class and the poor," Powell said at a Cato Institute Forum. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank.
Powell spoke, along with Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report, on the findings of his new book, FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression (Crown Forum, 2003). Powell's book brings together evidence from the recent findings of several dozen economists at Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Brown, the University of Chicago, and the University of California at...
Universities today routinely scrap history courses in favor of politically correct attitude-adjustment seminars, witnesses from academia itself told U.S. senators at a congressional hearing last month. Three out of four of the witnesses identified themselves politically as liberal.
Anne Neal, J.D., the President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) noted,"In two studies conducted by ACTA, Losing America's Memory and Restoring America's Legacy, we discovered that not one of the top 50 [colleges and universities] require a course in American history of their graduates."
Only five institutions required any history at all. Instead, students are picking from course offerings that include"From Hand to Mouth: Writing, Eating and the Construction of Gender" at Dartmouth,"Witchcraft, Sorcery and Magic...
Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji), a Lakota Indian, writing in the Baltimore Sun (Dec. 28, 2003):
On crystal-clear nights, when winter winds whistle through the hills and canyons around Wounded Knee Creek, the Lakota elders say it is so cold that one can hear the twigs snapping in the frigid air.
They called this time of the year"the Moon of the Popping Trees." It was on such a winter morning on Dec. 29, 1890, that the crack of a single rifle brought a day of infamy that still lives in the hearts and minds of the Lakota people.
After the rifle spoke there was a pause and then the rifles and Hotchkiss guns of the 7th Cavalry opened up on the men, women and children camped at Wounded Knee. What followed was utter chaos and madness. The thirst for the blood of the Lakota took away all common sense from the soldiers.
The unarmed Lakota fought back with bare hands. The warriors shouted to their wives, their elders and their children,"run for...
Ambrose Leung, writing in the China Morning Post (Dec. 29, 2003):
Historians and clerics from Hong Kong, the mainland, Taiwan and overseas will gather in the city for the first time next year to discuss the role of Christian churches in China during the Boxer Rebellion.
The topic has long been considered sensitive due to the links between foreign missionaries and western nations that were expanding their influence over the declining Qing dynasty.
The canonisation of Christians killed during the rebellion has been the source of friction between China and the Vatican .
Organisers say about 30 historians and clerics will attend the June conference, which aims to shed new light on religious developments in contemporary China .
Peter Ng Tze-ming, director of Chinese University 's Centre for the Study of Religion and Chinese Society, which is organising the conference with the Catholic Church's Holy Spirit Study...
Robert Jackson, writing in the London Times (Dec. 29, 2003):
It is another dreary sign of present-day historical disconnection that even William Hague should join in the modish campaign against honours referring to the " British Empire ".
The idea that empire refers only to one of the most recent episodes of our history -the overseas expansion of England/Britain after 1600 -shows a profound lack of historical insight, information and imagination.
In fact, the notion of "Empire" connects us with the most remote origins of our civilisation, and with many of its highest values.
With regard to the overseas expansion of "Empire", I think that the future will agree with the judgment of Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, that this was a profoundly progressive development in the history of mankind.
But behind the 19th-century " British Empire " there is an older...
Andrew Ferguson, writing in the Weekly Standard (Dec. 29-Jan. 5, 2003):
Abraham Lincoln, with his son Tad in tow, walked around Richmond, Virginia, one day 138 years ago, and if you try to retrace their steps today you won't see much that they saw, which shouldn't be a surprise, of course. The street grid is the same, though, and if you're in the right mood and know what to look for, the lineaments of the earlier city begin to surface, like the outline of a scuttled old scow rising through the shallows of a pond. Among the tangle of freeway interchanges and office buildings you'll come across an overgrown park or a line of red-brick townhouses, an unlikely old belltower or a few churches scattered from block to block, dating to the decades before the Civil War and still giving off vibrations from long ago....
No one knows for sure whether Lincoln and Tad...
Nadine Cohodas, biographer of Strom Thurmond, writing in the NYT (Dec. 27, 2003):
Now that we all know about Ms. Washington-Williams, there has been much conversation about how such rumors remained unexplored, especially on the part of the many journalists who followed Mr. Thurmond's long career. As one of them, I have to say that things weren't as obvious as they may now seem. If the existence of Mr. Thurmond's daughter was an article of faith in the black community of South Carolina, it was not fodder for the rumor mill on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, even during Mr. Thurmond's re-election campaigns.
During my research between 1989 and 1992 for a political biography of Mr. Thurmond, this matter was occasionally mentioned but was hardly the focus of any conversation I had with the politicians, activists and ordinary citizens — white and black — I spoke to. It seemed like the kind of...
Recently, Thomas Jefferson has been viciously maligned in ways normally reserved only for modern American presidents and liberals. Jefferson-bashing historians criticize Thomas Jefferson for having a secret affair with a slave, slight his authorship of the Declaration of Independence, compare him badly with John Adams (who mistrusted democracy and signed the Alien and Sedition Acts) and call Jefferson the forerunner of Pol Pot. A prominent new book disparages him as a callous pro-slavery politician, and celebrates, as the anti-Jefferson, one Timothy Pickering — a raving antidemocratic plotter with a dubious record on slavery.
Eventually, critics will catch up with these writers' distortions and basic factual errors. Historians will retrieve Abraham Lincoln's judgment that"the principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society."
Garry Wills, in a letter to the NYT (Dec. 27, 2003):
I am astounded that Gordon Wood, reviewing my '' 'Negro President' '' (Dec. 14), can defend slavery -- which is what defending the three-fifths clause in the Constitution amounts to. Wood says that the fact that slaves were counted but could not vote is ''irrelevant'' because free women and children were also counted but could not vote. This is like saying that the fact that trains carried Jews to death camps is irrelevant because trains carried passengers to other destinations as well. The different goals determine our evaluation of the trips.
In the same way, the different aims in counting slaves and in counting white families are the test of their ''relevance.'' In the sexist 18th century, men voted for their wives, but they consulted the interests of their wives. They used the slave count, on the contrary...
John Schwartz, writing in the NYT (Dec. 28, 2003):
History is the story of the mighty oaks; the acorns get little ink. There are too many seeds, and their existence is too transient. So historians, in professional retrospect, tell us which of the acorns got lucky.
We go forward armed with the lessons of the past: it's not always the obvious things that change the course of the world. Sometimes they are small, or overlooked. The best sellers of pre-Revolutionary France were largely ignored by literati of the time and by literary tradition since. They tended to be roughly drawn and raw, even pornographic. But those works have been rediscovered by historians like Robert Darnton of Princeton University who see the possible causes of social movements in the bawdy tales," certain books that were never reviewed, that appeared and were ignored by the media of the time, but that made a...
Jon Meacham, writing in Newsweek (Dec. 29, 2003):
[T]he reverence in which Reagan's held seems confounding to critics of his administration. Many liberal-leaning people who still can't get over the move to count ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches find themselves flummoxed by Reagan's rising reputation: he is outpolling Washington, Lincoln and FDR in some surveys of great presidents.
Presidential hero worship is nothing new—FDR's death brought tears to the eyes of millions, and Kennedy memorials proliferated in the grief after Dallas—but the intensity of the affection for Reagan is remarkably wide and deep for this more cynical age. The fury over the soap-operatic CBS mini-series about the president and Nancy roiled the nation for weeks in this year of hot wars and fears of terrorism; other docu-dramas with fictional elements, from a heroic rendering of Bush 43's 9/11 performance to Kennedy shows...
Jim Powell, writing forNational Review(Nov. 20, 2003):
It has been 70 years since Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched his New Deal in an effort to banish the Great Depression — perhaps the most important economic event in American history. The New Deal was controversial then, and still is, because it failed to resolve the most important problem of the era: chronic unemployment, which averaged 17 percent throughout the New Deal period.
Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson acknowledged that if World War II hadn't come along, America might have stumbled through many more years of high unemployment. Samuelson, however, is among those who give FDR high marks for handling the political crisis of the 1930s, the worst this country has faced since the Civil War.
But this crisis was caused by the double-digit unemployment rate, and in my new book, ...