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.
Richard E. Rubenstein, professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University, in Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages (rpt. from Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 9, 2004):
The struggle between faith and reason did not begin, as is so often supposed, with Copernicus's challenge to earth-centered cosmology or Galileo's trial by the Inquisition but with the controversy over Aristotle's ideas during the 12th and 13th centuries. For decades, specialists in medieval history have understood that the awakening of the West began during this"medieval renaissance." Many believe that the conflict among Christians over whether to accept or reject Aristotelian science marks a turning point -- perhaps the turning point -- in Western intellectual history. But this understanding has not become part of our generally accepted cultural"story...
Robert Fulford, writing in Canada.com (Jan. 3, 2004):
The faculty at Bard College , a liberal arts school at Annandale , NY , includes a scholar who glories in the title Alger Hiss Professor of Social Studies. Anyone aware that Hiss was a Washington bureaucrat who spied for the Soviet Union will consider this as sensible as a John Dillinger Chair in Business Ethics or a Jack the Ripper Chair in Criminology. But at Bard College no one is laughing, least of all the occupant of the chair, Joel Kovel, who believes the Soviets were never a threat to the Americans and that U.S. criticism of communism was the product of hysteria. His views resemble those of Hiss, and he's not lonely. Hard as it may be for outsiders to imagine, a lingering affection for communism remains part of American university life.
Elements of farce have been threaded through the history of this issue since the 1940s. Half a century ago, the late Leslie Fiedler, who had a nasty way of...
From the Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 5, 2004):
The destructiveness of the Civil War is the subject of many local legends among the narratives of white Southerners collected by Elissa R. Henken, a professor of English at the University of Georgia. Many of the stories involve Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's 30-day March to the Sea, in 1864, and "narratives about hardship and suffering -- and just plain meanness -- on the part of Sherman's troops certainly occur,"
More frequently, however, she encounters a different theme:
"stories about the places Sherman did not destroy." In these local legends, "towns each have a story about why that town, and that town alone," escaped burning and pillaging by "that Devil Sherman."
While emphasizing that the march was destructive, she also finds antecedents for the ruthlessness attributed to Sherman...
Guy Gugliotta, writing in the Washington Post (Jan. 12, 2004):
What does it take to become an artist?
Do you need to study it first, or do you just pick up a brush or a knife and do it?
This question lies at the heart of a prolonged debate among archaeologists and anthropologists over the origin of figurative art -- drawing, sculpting or otherwise creating recognizable images of figures or objects -- and what it implies about human cultural development.
For years, scholars regarded the appearance of figurative art as the initiation of an evolutionary process -- that art became progressively more sophisticated as humans experimented with styles and techniques and passed this knowledge to the next generation.
But a growing body of evidence suggests that modern humans, virtually from the moment they appeared in Ice Age Europe, were able to produce startlingly sophisticated art. Artistic ability thus did not "...
Ken Ringle, writing in the Wash Post (Jan. 12, 2004):
If the Chinese discovered America before Columbus , wouldn't they have hungered an hour later to discover someplace else? This is only one of the galaxy of intriguing questions provoked by Gavin Menzies, a former submarine commander in the British Royal Navy, who since retirement has submerged himself in the maps and mysteries of China 's short-lived and little-known age of nautical exploration.
Last year he hit the New York Times bestseller list with a 550-page book asserting (with a fair amount of rhetorical arm-waving) that a fleet of Chinese treasure ships led by a eunuch admiral named Zheng He reached the New World 71 years ahead of Columbus and, just for good measure, circumnavigated the globe, discovered how to calculate longitude and maybe even stumbled upon Antarctica as well.
SOURCE: Boston Phoenix (1-9-04)
[T]his past fall, while teaching an undergraduate course called"Plagues and Politics: The Impact of AIDS on US Culture" at Dartmouth College, I was shocked — profoundly shocked — by the fact that only three of the 34 students in the class had any idea that AIDS was once widely regarded as a gay-male disease. As someone who lived through the AIDS epidemic, who has lost lovers and friends too numerous to count, I was literally stunned: how could this be?
As much as I had prepared for this class, it never occurred to me that the students would not share one of my own basic assumptions about AIDS, not to mention about US history. But in matters both large and small, the students had almost no concept of the relationship between AIDS and gay men. They had no idea that a homophobic stigma was once attached to AIDS. They had no idea that mainstream magazines, such as New York , routinely referred to AIDS as"the gay plague." They had no idea that William F. Buckley...
Farhad Manjoo, writing in Salon (Jan. 2004):
In 1932, the United States Public Health Service alerted hundreds of poor black men in Macon County, Ala., to a new treatment for"bad blood," a term locals used to refer to a wide range of sexually transmitted diseases. The"special treatment," the government said, would be offered by doctors at the Tuskegee Institute, the Alabama college founded by Booker T. Washington; the men would be treated for free as long as they allowed doctors to observe their condition.
Almost 400 men responded, and when they arrived at Tuskegee, doctors from around the country descended on the school to monitor them. But the men who checked in to Tuskegee for salvation from bad blood were not offered any new medicine there. Instead, doctors administered aspirin and an"iron tonic" placebo and, over four decades of annual visits, watched the men descend to grisly deaths...
Elise Labott, writing in CNN.com (Jan. 12, 2004):
After reviewing documents dating back 36 years, the State Department has concluded that Israel's attack on a U.S. spy ship in 1967 was an act of gross negligence for which it should be held responsible.
The USS Liberty was attacked off the Egyptian coast June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War, while gathering electronic intelligence. The attack killed 34 Americans and injured another 171.
"In many respects this is kind of a classic bi-national case of Murphy's Law," a State Department official said Monday."Everything that could possibly go wrong, on either side, did."
The official said that though Israel should be held responsible for the attack, the United States was also negligent for failing to notify Israel the Liberty was in international waters and for failing to withdraw the ship from the war zone.
Bryn Nelson, writing in Newsday (Jan. 13, 2004):
The superhero and the serpent waged a battle of mythic proportions. Mythic, of course, since the protagonist was Hercules and his opponent was the many-headed hydra, a venomous sea monster that had left the inhabitants of southern Greece utterly terrified.
As recounted by Homer in the eighth century BC, Hercules finally prevailed, but only after cauterizing the serpent's neck wounds to prevent its multiple heads from regrowing, and only after burying its immortal central head under a boulder. Then Hercules did something that may have proven much more profound: He dipped the quivers of his arrows in the deadly hydra poison, opening up "a world not only of toxic warfare, but also of unanticipated consequences."
So writes classical folklorist Adrienne Mayor, whose declaration may come as...
History becomes painfully vivid when it deals with violent death-- especially when the reason for death remains a matter of dispute decades later. That was the uncomfortable setting when a U.S. Naval inquiry in early January went through the motions of considering what happened on June 8, 1967, when Israeli warplanes attacked the U.S. spy ship, Liberty, in international waters off the coast of Egypt. Those motions were reminiscent of a similar pattern followed in a 1967 inquiry into what happened. Conclusion of the Bush government today remained unchanged from that of the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration of 1967, which ruled the cause was "negligence on the part of Israel-- and the United States."...
Brad Glosserman, director of research at Pacific Forum CSIS, in the South China Morning Post (Jan. 15, 2004):
For most Americans, the second world war began on December 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour. Europeans date the beginning to the 1939 invasion of Poland. Few westerners appreciate the length and savagery of the Sino-Japanese war that was already in full force.
More than 50 years after its conclusion, that war and its aftermath continue to define Sino-Japan relations. The conflict claimed an estimated 20 million lives, bringing out the very worst in soldiers and leaders of both countries. Periodically, leftovers from the war are discovered, such as the poison-gas shells uncovered in China last year that killed one person and sickened dozens of others. Japanese courts are still hearing cases regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and forced labour.
Yet despite the...
Tom McNamee, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times (Jan. 18, 2004):
In the movies, people change. George Bailey in"It's a Wonderful Life." Phil Connors in"Groundhog Day." All those jerks in those Adam Sandler movies who turn sweet. So thank God for documentaries, where people almost never change. At least that's honest.
Watch enough documentaries and it's easy to doubt the transformative powers of growing older. Documentaries tend to confirm what most of us secretly suspect on our way to grammar school reunions -- the dreamer will still be dreaming and the apple polisher will still be sucking up.
In the 1989 documentary"Let's Get Lost," jazz trumpeter Chet Baker is forever the romantic and manipulative brooder. In"The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" (1993), the Nazi filmmaker remains resolutely disconnected from horrific consequences of her art.
Isambard Wilkinson, writing in the Daily Telegraph (London) (Jan. 17, 2004)
AFTER two centuries of bitterness over Britain's role in ousting Napoleon's forces from the Iberian Peninsula, Spain yesterday honoured the soldiers' efforts by commemorating one of the most famous retreats in the British Army's history.
Cannon fire and muskets rang out across the bay of Corunna as Spanish, French and British officials yesterday marked the 195th anniversary of the"Retreat to Corunna" led by Sir John Moore during the Peninsular War.
Spanish officials put aside residual enmity over the action, which led to British soldiers drinking, raping and pillaging their way across the Spanish countryside.
"This commemoration contributes to the unity of the European nations," said Francisco Vazquez, the mayor of Corunna.
"We must bury past conflicts and celebrate a lasting peace."
The head of the expeditionary force, Sir John managed to march 15,000...
Guy Dinmore, writing in the Financial Times (London) (Jan. 13, 2004)
Survivors of one of the most hotly disputed incidents in American military history - the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty spy-ship in 1967 - yesterday accused the US authorities, past and present, of a cover-up in backing Israeli claims that it was a tragic mistake.
Emotions boiled over in the basement of the State Department as the Office of the Historian opened a public conference on the six-day Arab-Israeli war with heated debate over newly released intercepts from the archives of the secretive National Security Agency.
Most of the basic facts are undisputed. On June 8 1967, Israeli aircraft and later torpedo boats struck the Liberty just off the Mediterranean coast, killing 34 crew and wounding 172. The ship, one of the world's most sophisticated listening vessels but only lightly armed, limped into port.
From there the controversy begins. An immediate US Navy court of...
Rory Carroll , writing for the Guardian (Jan. 12, 2004)
They were Africa's Vikings. Tough, daring voyagers who sailed thousands of miles to pluck riches from unmapped lands known today as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Nigeria.
Centuries before Europeans, mariners from Indonesia raided and traded across the continent, filling their vessels with gold and silver for the princes of Java and Sumatra.
In return they gave Africa the secrets of iron and bronze, exotic plants such as banana and yams, and a new culture enriched with music, architecture and spirituality.
And then the seafarers vanished. Some died, some returned home, others inter-married with the locals. So absorbed was the Asian influence that by the time the white man came he never noticed it.
So says a controversial new theory about Africa's development more than 2,000 years ago...
Tim Weiner, writing in the New York Times (Jan. 9th, 2004)
In the American South, William Faulkner once wrote, the past isn't dead. It isn't even past.
This may become truer the farther south one goes.
In the United States, almost no one remembers the war that Americans fought against Mexico more than 150 years ago. In Mexico, almost no one has forgotten.
The war cut this country in two, and"the wound never really healed," said Miguel Soto, a Mexico City historian. It took less than two years, and ended with the gringos seizing half of Mexico, taking the land that became America's Wild West: California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and beyond.
In Mexico, they call this"the Mutilation." That may help explain why relations between the nations are sometimes so tense.
As President Bush prepares to fly down to Mexico from Texas, where the war began back in 1846, the debate here over how to relate to the United States is...
Jim Bronskill writing for the Canadian Press (Jan. 8, 2004)
The navy plans to tell Canadians about its secret role in the war on terrorism -- for a price.
The Defence Department has commissioned a book on the navy's overseas missions, based partly on classified material, with the aim of hitting store shelves by summer.
The government is seeking a co-publisher for the volume, tentatively titled Operation Apollo: The Golden Age of the Canadian Navy in the War Against Terrorism.
An outline of the book claims it will reveal"significant but unreported operations" undertaken abroad by Canadian sailors following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
The federal plan to chronicle Canada's efforts against terrorism rankles Jay Hill, the Canadian Alliance defence critic.
"I see this as just an effort at blatant propaganda on the part of the department," Mr. Hill said yesterday in an interview.
Maj. Tony White...