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.
Loren Steffy, in the Houston Chronicle (June 9, 2004):
DON'T be surprised if Ronald Reagan's death inspires members of Congress to try once again to put his face on the dime, replacing Franklin Roosevelt.
Hard currency, though, isn't the best place for Reagan's likeness.
A credit card would be a more fitting homage.
Reagan reshaped our popular view of economics, and with it, our view of debt. He transformed us from the world's largest creditor to its largest debtor.
His vision is still with us. It lives on in the $ 1.7 trillion in tax cuts enacted by the current administration, in the record deficits that have surpassed Reagan's own and in the feel-good projections that the country's finances will sort themselves out in about 10 years and everything will be OK.
Reagan's policies sparked an unprecedented economic expansion, but it came at a price. We got so enamored with the prosperity, we forgot the meter was running...
James Taranto, in the WSJ (June 10, 2004):
Ronald Reagan has had a hard time getting his due from scholars. In 1996 Arthur Schlesinger Jr. conducted a poll of historians asking them to rank the presidents, and Mr. Reagan came in 25th out of 39, putting him in the "low average" category. The Gipper had done only slightly better in a Siena College survey two years earlier, finishing 20th out of 41--below Bill Clinton (16th), who had been in office less than two years, and well below Lyndon B. Johnson (13th). It's hard to agree that the president who won the Cold War was less successful than the one who escalated the Vietnam War.
The flaw in these studies is obvious. Because academics tend to be far to the left of the general population, conservative presidents, especially recent ones, usually get short shrift. (A C-Span survey in 1999, which included "...
Jennifer Jacobson, in the Chronicle of Higher Education (June 11, 2004) (subscribers only):
As rebel forces closed in on Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, last summer, most newspaper accounts gave Americans in-depth coverage of the fighting -- and only a single sentence or so as to why they should care.
Reporters in Monrovia briefly noted that the United States had historical ties to Liberia dating back to 1822, when the U.S. government and freed American slaves founded the West African nation and named its capital city after the American president James Monroe. Few reporters, however, attempted to explain the complex history of that relationship.
That complicated knot of history is at the center of two new books: Claude A. Clegg III's The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia (University of North Carolina Press) and Ibrahim...
David Corn, in tompaine.com (June 9, 2004):
Aren't we mature enough as a democracy to memorialize our leaders with clear eyes? While the nation mourns one of its most popular presidents, it must be truthful in assessing his leadership. The very resolve being celebrated on op-ed pages across the country also led Reagan to ignore and sometimes sanction the brutality being committed in the name of fighting the "evil empire."
I have a vision. On the day that the remains of Ronald Reagan are transported from the US Capitol to the National Cathedral for the funeral services, the hearse will pass 800 black crosses.
Each cross will represent one of the men, women and children who were killed by the Salvadoran military in the village of El Mozote in December 1981. Each would be a reminder that the dead man now celebrated in the media as a lover of freedom and...
Elisabeth Bumiller, in the NYT (June 9, 2004):
... Although [both the Bush and Reagan families are] ... offering nothing but tribute to the other during this week of Reagan nostalgia, over the past quarter-century the relationship between the families has been strained for periods by political ambition, social resentment and a lack of chemistry between two formidable first ladies....
When asked in an interview with Tom Brokaw the other day about his best memory of Mr. Reagan, the president came up with a public rather than a private moment. "I'd just gotten out of college in '68, and I went to a Reagan rally in Jacksonville, Fla.," he told Mr. Brokaw, recalling that Mr. Reagan had "electrified the crowd" and that there had been something "unbelievably charismatic about him."
The intense personal emotions came from Nancy Reagan...
Max Holland, in the Atlantic (June 2004):
In July of 1973, six months after the death of Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Atlantic published an article by a journalist and former Johnson speechwriter named Leo Janos. "The Last Days of the President," about LBJ in retirement, was elegiac in tone and fact, save for one dissonant paragraph—in which Johnson volunteered his opinion that President John F. Kennedy's assassination had been the result of a conspiracy organized from Cuba."I never believed that [Lee Harvey] Oswald acted alone, although I can accept that he pulled the trigger," he explained to Janos. Johnson thought such a conspiracy had formed in retaliation for U.S. plots to assassinate Fidel Castro; he had found after taking office that the government"had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean...
Walter Russell Mead, in Wash Post Book World (Nov. 24, 2002):
In 1990, former President Ronald Reagan visited the birthplace of the Solidarity movement in Gdansk, Poland. As 7,000 people stood to cheer Reagan in heavy rain and hail, a priest presented him with a sword for, as the priest said, "helping us to chop off the head of communism." This story comes from Peter Schweizer's ambitious Reagan's War, a book that tries to show that Reagan deserved that sword.
Schweizer argues that Reagan was a hard-nosed, ideologically convinced anti-communist whose entire public life was shaped by a determination to rid the world of this great evil. He saw his presidency as an opportunity to shift the United States out of detente and containment policies into a new and much tougher confrontation with its Cold War adversary. Reagan's hard line against the Soviets was politically unpopular, and as his poll numbers plummeted -- and as opponents in Europe and...
Robert Parry, in consortiumnews.com (June 7, 2004):
The U.S. news media’s reaction to Ronald Reagan’s death is putting on display what has happened to American public debate in the years since Reagan’s political rise in the late 1970s: a near-total collapse of serious analytical thinking at the national level.Across the U.S. television dial and in major American newspapers, the commentary is fawning almost in a Pravda-like way, far beyond the normal reticence against speaking ill of the dead. Left-of-center commentators compete with conservatives to hail Reagan’s supposedly genial style and his alleged role in “winning the Cold War.” The Washington Post’s front-page headline – “Ronald Reagan Dies” – was in giant type more fitting the Moon Landing.
Yet absent from the media commentary was the one...
D.M. Giangreco and Kathryn Moore, in the Kansas City Star (June 6, 2004):
The storm had been building for more than two years. Some 3,600,000 Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen had assembled in England for the sole purpose of destroying the Nazi tyranny of Adolf Hitler which had engulfed nearly all Europe. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, described the force as “a great human spring, coiled for the moment when its energy would be released and it would vault the English Channel.” Defending Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” were 850,000 German troops including nine of the dreaded panzer (armored) divisions.
Sixty years ago today, 170,000 men penetrated the German defenses at Normandy, France, in the greatest amphibious invasion ever mounted: D-D AY , June 6, 1944. War and the inexorable passage of time has taken many of them from us...
David Corn, in his blog; a rpt. of an article he published in the Nation in 1998 (June 6, 2004):
The firing of the air traffic controllers, winnable nuclear war, recallable nuclear missiles, trees that cause pollution, Elliott Abrams lying to Congress, ketchup as a vegetable, colluding with Guatemalan thugs, pardons for F.B.I. lawbreakers, voodoo economics, budget deficits, toasts to Ferdinand Marcos, public housing cutbacks, redbaiting the nuclear freeze movement, James Watt.
Getting cozy with Argentine fascist generals, tax credits for segregated schools, disinformation campaigns, “homeless by choice,” Manuel Noriega, falling wages, the HUD scandal, air raids on Libya, “constructive engagement” with apartheid South Africa, United States Information Agency blacklists of liberal speakers, attacks on OSHA and workplace safety, the invasion of Grenada, assassination manuals, Nancy’s...
David Yeagley, adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma College of
Liberal Studies, in frontpagemag.com (June 1, 2004):
Im still an American Indian patriot. Even after watching CNNs 90 minute program featuring the May 29 dedications of the new National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., I still love this country, more than ever.
No, I didnt hear one mention of the American Indian. No one acknowledged themore than 190,000 living American Indian veterans, who represent nearly one out of every ten Indians. I didnt hear any praise for the unique contribution Indians have made in all war efforts of the twentieth century.
I heard instead repeated praise of black, Hispanic, and Japanese Americans and their contributions to the war effort, and American society in general.
Indeed, the featured musical moment of the program, was given to a black female, Denyse Graves, mezzo soprano opera...
Andre Glucksman, in the WSJ (June 4, 2004):
... It wasn't until the middle of the 1970s that a President of the Federal Republic clearly and distinctly admitted that Germany had been "liberated" rather than "invaded" at the end of the Second World War. It was to display the crucial difference between these two words that people -- both close to me and foreign -- gave their lives in Lyon, Omaha beach, and Stalingrad....
The right of people to be liberated from extreme despotism -- the right to D-Day -- overcomes the usual respect for borders and the age-old principle of sovereignty. In regards to the universal declaration of human rights, and with our knowledge of totalitarianism, the essential right of the people to self-determination must not guarantee nor imply a right of the rulers to dispose of their people. The...
Rita Trichur, in the Montreal Gazette (May 25, 2004):
For most Canadians, the Hudson's Bay blanket is a symbol of Canadian identity; a cherished emblem of the fur trade representing exploration, wilderness survival and the birth of a nation.
But as the Hudson's Bay Co. relaunches its historic multi-stripped blanket as part of a new Hbc Signature collection, a provocative Canadian art exhibit touring the country is suggesting the icon is tainted by controversy.
Artist Marianne Corless says while the blanket is steeped with national pride for the Canadian mainstream, some aboriginals view it as a grim reminder of the smallpox epidemic that ravaged their communities during the 1700s and 1800s - a dark consequence of the fur trade glossed over by history books but smouldering in native consciousness.
"It is not something that is really well known," Corless said in an interview from Victoria, adding some natives...
Chris Hasting and Julie Henry, in the Sunday Telegraph (London) (May 30, 2004):
IT IS 1899 and Denzel Washington, the American president, orders Anne Frank and her troops to storm the beaches of Nazi-occupied New Zealand.
This may not be how you remember D-Day but for a worrying number of Britain's children this is the confused scenario they associate with the events of June 6, 1944.
A survey of 1,309 pupils aged between 10 and 14 and from 24 different schools found alarming levels of ignorance about the invasion of Normandy 60 years ago.
Only 28 per cent of primary and secondary pupils who sat the Sunday Telegraph quiz last week were able to say that D-Day, involving the largest invasion force ever mounted, was the start of the Allied liberation of occupied western Europe.
Many of them could only say that it was something to do with the Second World War - though 26 per cent were flummoxed by even that fact. Some thought...
John Noble Wilford, in the NYT (June 1, 2004):
Capt. James Cook needs no introduction. Son of the commonest soil of Yorkshire, he rose to command three voyages that opened European minds to the wide world of the Pacific Ocean and epitomized maritime exploration in the 18th-century Enlightenment. Even his cruel death, in 1779, only magnified his heroic reputation.
Then there is Alejandro Malaspina, Spain's answer to Cook and a brave, intelligent explorer in his own right. He led a five-year scientific expedition, in 1789-94, that charted the western coast of the Americas and traversed the Pacific as far as the Philippines, with a side trip to China.
Yet Malaspina might as well have sailed off the edge of the earth, so forgotten have he and his achievements been in the annals of exploration over the last two centuries. He was without honor even in his own country...
Bao Tong, former director of the Office of Political Reform of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, was the highest party official imprisoned for opposing the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in the WSJ (June 1, 2004):
It's fashionable in some quarters today to argue that China owes its present prosperity, at least in part, to the Tiananmen crackdown. That the supposed threat to social stability posed by the pro-democracy protests in 1989 had to be crushed before China could experience the economic growth of the past 15 years.
That's a dangerous myth, propagated primarily by Chinese leaders, which needs to be firmly debunked. Not only does it ignore the fact that much of this economic growth was inevitable, as soon as China began to abandon decades of Mao Zedong's backward-style socialism. But its corollary is terrifying. For if turning...
Theodore K. Rabb, a professor of history at Princeton University, in the Chronicle of Higher Education (June 4, 2004):
...Appalled by what has happened to historical literacy, three years ago Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia persuaded his colleagues in Congress to support a program, Teaching American History, to enable school districts around the country to enhance teachers' knowledge and skills, refresh curricula, and in general improve history instruction. That was certainly a promising move, but it is now being undermined by another Washington initiative: the No Child Left Behind Act....
Here, I would argue, is the most insidious effect of the law: not its financial,
pedagogic, or constitutional shortcomings, but its devastation of subjects other
than reading and math in the first eight grades.
That outcome is clear and widespread. Because so...