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.
From a review of major April Fools hoaxes, published by National Geographic (March 31, 2004):
On April 1, 1996, readers in five major U.S. cities opened their newspapers to learn from a full page announcement that the Taco Bell Corporation had purchased the Liberty Bell from the U.S. government. The announcement reported that the company was relocating the historic bell from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Irvine, California. The move, the corporation said in the advertisement, was part of an"effort to help the national debt."
Hundreds of other newspapers and television shows ran stories related to a press release on the matter put out by Taco Bell's public relations firm, PainePR. Outraged citizens called the Liberty Bell National Historic Park in Philadelphia to express their disgust. A few hours later the public relations firm released another press announcement stating...
We have long continued our effort to raise public awareness of the need to abolish nuclear weapons by conveying to the world the facts of the atomic bombing and the message born out of the suffering and struggles of the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombings. Our hope and wish is to create a 21st century of peace and humanity free from nuclear weapons and violence and free from all hatred and terror.
The theme of my presentation today is ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. According to Ernst Heinrich Haeckel and Sigmund Freud, it means that the development of the individual is a short and quick recapitulation of the development of the entire human race. I am interpreting this rather...
John Taylor, executive director of the NIxon Foundation (March 29, 2004), at a conference held in memory of Watergate at the Lou Frey Institute of Politics & Government at the University of Central Florida in Orlando:
Our gathering this week is timely indeed – and not just because of the approaching anniversary of the end of the Nixon Administration.
During the recent Presidential primary season, it sometimes felt like 1972 all over again.
Nearly ten years after President Nixon's death, Howard Dean denounced President Nixon's so-called Southern Strategy – which was a little ironic, since Gov. Dean had himself said he wanted the votes of guys with Confederate flags on their windshields.
John Kerry told audiences at his rallies that he was proud of having stood up to Richard Nixon over Vietnam.
President Bush was questioned about his...
Alan Power, in the Guardian (March 23, 2004):
One of the buildings at the Ivy League Brown University bears a plaque that says: "Erected in 1822 by Nicholas Brown." What it does not add is "with money his family made from the slave trade".
Rikki Baldwin, 18, a first-year student walking into the building, wears a thoughtful expression. "It's history, it's ugly," she says. "Mmm, slavery. It's bad, but it's not this generation and I'm not sure if we deserve . . . it."
That final "it" refers to the attempt currently being made to go some way towards making reparations for the damage done to African-Americans through slavery by offering apologies and economic compensation.
Brown has now launched an investigation to clarify links between the college, its eponymous founding fathers and their role in the Rhode Island slave industry - and to decide what to do about it....
Robert Sibley, in the Ottawa Citizen (March 21, 2004):
If you read only one book on this first anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, it should be be Harris's Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History (Free Press).
Harris has been described as "the philosopher of 9/11," and rightly so. He is one of a few scholars and commentators who recognize that 9/11 was what the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel called a "world-historical moment;" that is to say, an event that forced a fundamental shift in the way we think about the world.
Essentially, he argues that if we want to defeat the Islamists we must understand them on their terms. "Our first task is to try to grasp what the concept of the enemy really means ... Before 9/11, the very concept of the enemy had been banished from our moral and political vocabulary ... (but) the enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you...
Adam Cohen, in the NYT (March 21, 2004):
The presidential elections of 1876 and 2000 have the sort of eerie parallels that make amateur historians' pulses race. Both ended in a deadlock, with Florida holding the key. Each time, Florida officials who were partisan Republicans gave the state's electoral votes to the Republican candidate, and Democrats challenged the result. Both challenges were decided by a single vote, cast by a Republican Supreme Court justice, in favor of the Republicans.
In 2000, William Rehnquist led the court that, by a 5-to-4 vote, called the election. In 1876, Joseph Bradley broke a tie, giving the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel Tilden. Now, Chief Justice Rehnquist has written "Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876," which casts Mr. Bradley in the hero's role. It is a strange book, and even readers keenly interested in history may have trouble seeing it as anything but an...
Jack Valenti, in the Wash Post (March 20, 2004):
The blending of a fragment of fact into a volume of fiction is becoming a staple of so-called docudramas. Recently the History Channel ran a "documentary" wherein the author of a book from which the film was taken, in full close-up, says without ambiguity that Lyndon Johnson killed President Kennedy and ordered the murder of eight others, including his own sister!
I joined other former aides to LBJ -- Bill Moyers, Tom Johnson and Larry Temple -- to ask the History Channel how this monstrous piece of film was allowed to air without even a cursory fact-checking. To the History Channel's credit, it has now appointed three distinguished historians to examine these direct accusations and present their findings on the History Channel.
Which takes me back to what was arguably the most...
Jack Malvern, in the London Times (March 20, 2004):
THE Duke of Wellington's victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo was as much a German as a British triumph, according to a leading historian who has discovered evidence of a cover-up.
The truth lies in the story of the official model of the battle, first revealed to the public in 1838, that showed 48,000 soldiers coming to the aid of the British Army. When the model was displayed for the second time seven years later, 40,000 of the German soldiers had disappeared.
The shrinking of the Prussian forces on the model, now on display at the National Army Museum in London, can be attributed to a bitter dispute between William Siborne, the model's maker, and the Duke of Wellington.
The Iron Duke realised from the beginning that Waterloo would be his making. He wrote his official account, the Waterloo Despatch, the day after the battle and it was published in The...
Tony Paterson, in the London Independent (March 20, 2004):
To outsiders Fitz Kolbe was a typically correct Nazi official. The balding, impish German who liked wearing lederhosen, worked as a mere bureaucrat in Adolf Hitler's Foreign Ministry for most of the Second World War, where he was employed shredding documents.
Yet for what was later to become the CIA, Fritz Kolbe was and still is "the most important spy of the Second World War". Kolbe loathed the Nazi regime and was prepared to do everything in his power to bring about its downfall.
He smuggled hundreds of top-secret files to American intelligence from 1943 onwards, continuing undetected until the end of the war. Rejected by postwar Germany, he was reduced to becoming a salesman for an American chainsaw manufacturer.
The information that Kolbe supplied to Allen Dulles, who later founded the CIA, included secrets about where the Germans expected the...
Bill King, who has a BA in History and Sociology from Simon Fraser University and is a former trader for one of Canada's major banks; his articles have appeared at enterstageright.com and frontpagemag.com. In enterstageright (March 22, 2004):
In one of the first in-depth studies written about neoconservatism in the 1970s, The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics (1978), Peter Steinfels observed that it is impossible to understand the neoconservatives without understanding their history. Yet it is precisely the history of"the neocons" that is today being systematically distorted by paleoconservatives through the polemical campaign they are waging against leading neoconservative intellectuals and the foreign policy of the Bush administration.
As part of the two-decade old civil war within intellectual conservatism, paleoconservatives have forcefully...
Masha Lipman, editor of the Carnegie Moscow Center's Pro et Contra Journal, in the Wash Post(March 21, 2004):
Rewriting history was an important part of the Bolshevik project to remake the world. Throughout the decades of Communist rule, the U.S.S.R. was a country with an unpredictable past: Russia's -- and in fact the world's -- history was continuously being reshaped by Communist ideologues.
Events of remote and recent times were reinterpreted, distorted or erased so as to better fit Marxist theory and ensure the political dominance of the Communist Party.
Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika was in large part about a return of history. His policy of glasnost brought an avalanche of disclosures -- of hidden and hideous stories of the totalitarian past. And while this policy was initiated from above, Soviet intellectuals responded with enthusiasm.
Vaishnavi C. Sekhar, in the Times of London (March 22, 2004):
The next time state BJP leaders want to ban a book, they might want to think about reading it thoroughly. Earlier this week, BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde had called for a ban on the floor of the assembly on Jawaharlal Nehru's book Discovery of India , alleging that some editions contained disparaging remarks about Shivaji. But noted historian Y D Phadke told this newspaper that the first edition of the book, published in 1945, contains no such derogatory remark.
"The problem is that today's leaders don't bother to read," complains Phadke. In fact, the book's single paragraph on Shivaji is laudatory, describing the Maratha warrior king as an"ideal guerilla leader of hardened mountaineers", a man who was" courageous and possessing high qualities of leadership". The paragraph continues,"He...
Jacquelyn Hall, president of the Organization of American Historians and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, in the Boston Globe (March 20, 2004):
ARE TODAY'S students knuckleheads when it comes to American history? Is democracy endangered as a result? Pointing to the dismal results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, educational watchdogs across the political spectrum say yes.
As president of the Organization of American Historians, which will hold its national convention in Boston next week, I'm glad to see history education get the attention it deserves. But how useful is it to bash the younger generation for what they don't know?
The current brouhaha over students' poor scores is only the latest round of hand-wringing about "historical illiteracy" and "civic ignorance." The problem is that no one bothers to "think historically" about these...
Washington Post 3-14-04
Washington Post Staff Writer
Bill and Annie Smith, strolling past the stately, stone entry pillars of Mary Washington College, are typical of Fredericksburg residents in their enthusiasm for the school's namesake: She wears an "MWC" sweatshirt, and his car has a bumper sticker that says, "Mary Wash."
They're also typical in another way: They don't know much about her.
"Obviously, she was George Washington's mother, and so of course she had a big influence on him," said Bill Smith, 28, a technology assistant.
"I think she was from here, from Fredericksburg," Annie Smith -- who said she was in her "early 30s" -- noted incorrectly. In fact, Mary was from Lancaster County, at the southern tip of the Northern Neck.
Students and neighbors of the small public liberal arts college and others in the Fredericksburg area...
Sunday Mail (Queensland, Australia) 3-14-04
Christopher Morgan and Stuart Wavell
[I]s the Bible itself historically reliable?
A study of biblical texts shows that [Mel] Gibson's account is rooted in the scriptures.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are its main sources of material.
Those chroniclers leave no doubt about who, in their opinion, was responsible for Christ's death -- the Jewish leaders.
The film begins with Christ's agonies of doubt in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper. Judas, Christ's betrayer among the 12 disciples, arrives with a detachment of soldiers and the police of the Jewish chief priests. From there Jesus is taken to the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest.
In the Bible, St Matthew records: "The chief priests and the whole council tried to make some allegation against Jesus on which a death sentence could be based."
According to Matthew, the high...
Minn. Star Tribune 3-17-04
Teacher of European and Russian history at St. Mary's University of Minnesota in Winona.
If the proposed K-12 social studies standards are approved in their present form, someday soon a bright high school senior will face an exam question about the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The student will consider her dilemma, and then write something like this:
"I know that the current Republican administration which controls how history is taught in Minnesota requires me to answer that the United States won the European war when it stormed ashore at Normandy in June 1944, fought the Battle of the Bulge, and then pushed on to liberate Paris and Germany. This is my official answer, and whoever is grading this need not read further. I add, purely for my own sake, the following.
"Although the D-Day...
From CBS News (March 19, 2004):
Unemployment and outsourcing are big issues in Campaign 2004, but Democrats hoping to make political hay out of them might want to be a bit more original than Democrats of yesteryear.
They've traditionally been fond of pointing to the Republican Party as the party of Herbert Hoover, on whose watch the nation sunk into the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Hoover has in fact been mentioned repeatedly by the John Kerry campaign as the last president until George W. Bush to oversee a loss of jobs. But a national poll finds that most people don't connect the Hoover name with the presidency, the Depression (whose camps of suddenly homeless individuals were known as"Hoovervilles") or the 1929 stock market crash.
Just 43 percent of the 634 adults questioned by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey...
Militant Islamists in the United States and their allies have set their sights on our American children. They seek to provide an education similar to that taught in the controlled regimes of the Arab world. So far, American textbook suppliers are more than willing to accommodate them.
It is well known that the Palestine Authority, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world use propaganda in their schools to support Islamic hegemony and stir up sentiment against Israel and the West. Students in the Middle East are taught to distrust Christians and Jews and are then taught to apply those lessons to opposing the free and democratic—and non-Muslim—nations of the world. These...
Justin Ewers, in U.S. News & World Report (March 22, 2004):
Brown v. Board of Education is remembered as a case of simple justice. In the fall of 1950, the story goes, Linda Brown, a 7-year-old girl living in Topeka, Kan., had to travel 21 blocks each day, by foot and by bus, to get to her all-black elementary school. Yet only seven blocks from her home was another elementary school--a school for whites only. Her father, Oliver Brown, asked that she be allowed to enroll there instead. When the principal refused, Brown sued. Two years later, Linda's long walk ended in the highest court in the land.
The rest, of course, is history. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous opinion declaring segregated schools unconstitutional, overruling Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 decision that had cemented the "Jim Crow" notion of "separate but equal" into American law. Twenty-one states' school segregation...