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.
Japan's rightist groups have relapsed into historical distortion. The Tokyo education board has adopted a history textbook that deletes or rationalizes Japan's past atrocities for use by a top high school. The Japanese Foreign Ministry is reportedly stepping up diplomatic efforts to claim Tokto as its territory and calls the East Sea as the Sea of Japan. The world's No. 2 economy pursues a matching political power by becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
To the west of the Korean Peninsula, Beijing, armed with its newly earned economic confidence, is trying to portray the ancient Korean kingdom of Koguryo as a vassal state of China. As some foreign media see it, China might be guarding itself against the territorial claim for its northeastern region by a unified ``Greater Korea.'' But Korea, ill prepared even for an unexpected unification by the sudden collapse of North Korea, can hardly afford to...
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Neil Sheehan, in the NYT (Aug. 27, 2004):
Thirteen years after the 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, announced that America had "kicked the Vietnam syndrome'' with his crushing expulsion of Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait, the war in Vietnam is back. Its memories and divisions are reverberating as forcefully as ever in the campaign between his son, George Walker Bush, the 43rd president, and Senator John Kerry.
Seeking to convince voters that he would make a better commander-in-chief in the war on terror than Mr. Bush has been, Mr. Kerry placed his status as a Vietnam War hero front and center, only to find his reputation under assault by a group calling itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. As well as can be determined, the accusations are unfounded and Mr. Kerry deserved his medals.
Mr. Bush has his own problem with Vietnam; he did not serve there. In the spring of 1968, when he was a senior at Yale, casualties in...
James Rosen, in the NYT (Aug. 28, 2004):
"I am a product of the Nixon era," President Bush told a small audience of journalists shortly after his inauguration. Yet when Mr. Bush accepts his party's nomination in New York next week, his listeners are not likely to hear many references to Richard Nixon, his father's political mentor and the modern-day chief executive many observers see as the president he most strongly resembles - in his relish for partisan combat, his occasional deviations from conservative dogma, and in the irrational hatred he engenders in liberals.
Instead, conventioneers will bathe anew in the glow of the man Nixon soundly defeated in an all-out battle for the soul of the Republican Party in Miami Beach in the summer of 1968: Ronald Wilson Reagan.
In the outpouring of emotion and nostalgia that greeted President Reagan's death, Nixon...
James MacPherson, Associate Press writer, in Newsday (Aug. 29, 2004):
Two centuries ago, before Lewis and Clark went in search of a passage to the Pacific Ocean, David Thompson paddled the Columbia River, worked to establish a trading alliance with Mandan Indians and made maps of North America that ultimately became the guide for explorers who followed him.
A British-born fur trader, Thompson traveled more than 50,000 miles across North America. He learned native languages, made celestial observations, counted aboriginal populations and documented his discoveries in journals flourished with his own sketches.
A monument near this now-abandoned town commemorates the man historians believe to be one of the greatest explorers of North America. His name is inscribed on the pedestal of a 6-foot-high granite globe on...
Michael Hill, in the Balt Sun (Aug. 22, 2004):
... If there is a rift between the French and Americans over the war in Iraq, it is not evident in Normandy this summer. There seem to be almost as many U.S. - and British and Canadian - flags flying as tricolors of France. Sixty years after D-Day, they affirm the welcome given to liberators, the reception U.S. troops hoped for in Iraq....
Wednesday marks the 60th anniversary of the celebrated liberation of Paris. That was the end of the battle of Normandy, fought for a day on the beaches, for weeks on the bocage, the rolling Norman countryside criss-crossed by tall, thick hedgerows that concealed German troops and forced armor onto vulnerable roadways.
"Ultimately, if you look at World War II and the names that pop up as the worst of combat - the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima - realistically, the nine weeks of Normandy was about the worst there ever was," says [Joe]...
[Sarah Hammerschlag was a 2003-2004 junior fellow at the Martin Marty Center and is currently a dissertation fellow at the Erasmus Institute at the University of Notre Dame. She is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School and is writing her dissertation on the reappearance of the trope of the Jew in twentieth-century French philosophy.]
Those Who Forget the Past, a recent collection of essays on the reappearance of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere after September 11, alludes in its title to the imperative phrase that has become a Holocaust memorial mantra: Never Forget! The conventional wisdom backing this sentiment is that by studying the past, we are able to avoid repeating its mistakes. Yet, given the reappearance of so many of the phrases and images of nineteenth and...
Mary Jacoby, at Salon (Aug. 26, 2004):
... unelected and unappointed, Lynne Cheney is back in charge at the National Endowment for the Humanities, operating without that pesky "mandate from the voters" through handpicked surrogates in key positions. "It's pretty obvious that she's running the agency," William Ferris, a history professor who headed the NEH from 1997 to 2001, said of Cheney.
The endowment's chairman, Bruce Cole, a Renaissance art scholar from Indiana University, is a conservative ally of Cheney whom George H.W. Bush had appointed to the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory body that oversees grant-making for scholarly research, preservation, media and teaching projects at the $137 million agency. At Cole's swearing-in as chairman in December 2001, Cheney and her husband, Vice President Dick Cheney, showed...
Who's still afraid of Keith Windschuttle By Ean Higgins THE AUSTRALIAN 22 July 2004 AS the elite of the nation's academic historians met in the stately rooms of the Newcastle Town Hall, fear and loathing lurked the corridors.
The Australian Historical Association spent virtually an entire day trying to work out strategies to deal with the menace. Would there be safety in numbers if academics stood together? What should be done when the terror struck again? How could anyone survive when the mass media was in on the conspiracy?
Over 18 months after Keith Windschuttle published his book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, the academic world is still anguishing over its impact. It is terrified of what he will do next. Windschuttle struck at the heart of the accepted view of Australian colonial history in the past 30 years - that the settler society had engaged in a pattern of conquest,...
Children growing up in this part of the country aren’t usually taught about it, but James T. Campbell of Brown University said New England, Rhode Island in particular and old institutions like Brown University are deeply implicated in the history of slavery.
Campbell, an associate professor of American civilization, African studies and history at Brown, was the guest speaker Thursday at a meeting of the Fall River Rotary Club at White’s of Westport. He heads Brown’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which was appointed by President Ruth Simmons in 2003.
Campbell said coincidentally the room where the steering committee meets has an old grandfather’s clock with a plaque identifying it as the family clock of Esek Hopkins. Hopkins was a Revolutionary War hero and master of the brig Sally, a slave ship that sailed to the West Indies on behalf of the merchant brothers...
Robert Spencer at frontpagemag.com (Aug. 20, 2004):
[Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery Publishing), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).]
Now that the Democratic Party has committed itself to warmed-over Carterism in its platform document, the comically titled “Strong At Home, Respected In The World,” and Mickey Kaus has contributed a ringing endorsement worthy of the Man From Malaise (“We survived Carter and we...
Niall Ferguson, in the Daily Telegraph (London) (Aug. 14, 2004):
Orientalism - Edward Said's scathing critique of the way European scholars portrayed what used to be called "the Orient" - has spawned a host of imitators. In university libraries the world over, there are whole shelves of "post-colonial" tomes, each dedicated to laying bare the wicked, racist assumptions of this or that early anthropologist. Devoted though one may have been to Sanskrit poetry, steeped though another may have been in Islamic law, they were all, to a man, despicable "Orientalists", taking for granted the innate superiority of the West and condescending odiously to the East.
A few historians, however, have sought to turn Said's argument around. In Ornamentalism, David Cannadine portrayed Victorian colonial administrators as projecting their own romantic notions of a pre-lapsarian, Merrie England on to native cultures. Now...
Betty Lowry, in the St. Petersburg Times (Aug. 15, 2004):
He was the "Young Hickory of the Granite Hills," and at age 48, the youngest and handsomest U.S. president up to that time. He had rapidly climbed the political ladder, although it took 49 ballots before he was nominated at the deadlocked 1852 Democratic Convention.
If today he seems to have been a nonentity, never mind. A liberal arts college (with 1,500 undergraduates plus six graduate-professional branches), a private law school, high school, lake, highway and self-guided trail have been named for him. As the only New Hampshire citizen who ever made it all the way to the top, he appears prominently in local history books.
Now, his home state is examining, rather than excusing, his four years in the White House as it celebrates the bicentennial of his birth.
Of course, by now you must have figured out we're talking about Franklin Pierce. Or maybe not,...
Jill Jonnes, in the NYT (Aug. 13, 2004):
[Jill Jonnes is the author of "Empires of Lights: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World.'']
Last year's blackout - when we were rudely reminded that electricity is the lifeblood of our civilization - still holds the dubious honor as America's biggest blackout. The nation's first struck Manhattan on Oct. 14, 1889, when New Yorkers stepped out into a bleak, rainy dusk to find what was called "A Night of Darkness - More than One Thousand Electric Lights Extinguished."
These days we take electricity completely for granted as a commonplace necessity. But 115 years ago, electricity was very much an exotic, glamorous neophyte technology battling to replace the ubiquitous gas lighting. Throughout the 1880's, Gotham had been gradually electrifying, and the citizenry proudly gloried in the dazzling blaze of the electric arc lights in stores, theaters, and...
Martin Kramer, at his blog (Aug. 9, 2004):
Balance your syllabus, with a Kramer supplement. It's that time of year again, when my professorial friends are scrambling to put together their syllabi. You can usually tell a professor by his or her syllabus. That's because, as every mandarin of Middle Eastern studies knows, balance is a false god."University teaching is not about 'balance'," writes one of them."Our cancer institute isn't required to hire at least a few biologists who believe smoking is good for your health.... some stories only have one true side." (You didn't...
Eve-Ann Prentice, in the Guardian (Aug. 6, 2004):
[Eve-Ann Prentice reported from Poland in the 1980s; she is the author of One Woman's War.]
The commemoration of cataclysmic events of the second world war has become a sorry business. Not just because today's leaders seem to feel the need to apologise - or demand apologies - for unspeakable deeds perpetrated by long-dead compatriots. But also because accounts of the events are distorted by the tunnel vision of time and the demands of modern geopolitics.
In the past week Gerhard Schroder, the German leader, was in Poland acknowledging guilt for the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of Poles during the Warsaw uprising 60 years ago this month, while Polish prime minister Marek Belka has been pressing for a British apology for failing to come to the Poles' aid.
The sweeping impression from the anniversary coverage of the uprising has been that both the western allies and Soviet forces...
John Kearney, in the Boston Globe (Aug. 13, 2004):
SINCE 9/11, THERE HAS been no shortage of calls for an "Islamic reformation" to counter religious extremism in Muslim societies and lift them out of economic and political stagnation. Reform boosters often target Saudi Arabia's state-sponsored creed, known as Wahhabi Islam, claiming that Wahhabism's alleged repression of women, its rigid, literalist readings of the Koran, and its belligerence towards other Muslims and non-Muslims have impeded development and fostered the rise of groups like Al Qaeda.
But according to the author of a new book published by Oxford University Press, Islam already has its Martin Luther - none other than Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabi Islam.
In "Wahhabi Islam: From Revival to Global Jihad" - billed by its publisher as the first book-length...
Leon Trotsky once wrote that anyone with a hankering for the quiet life had made a mistake to be born in the 20th century. For some public figures who made that mistake, the 21st century has been no more tranquil.
One such person is Dmitry Shostakovich, whose life and output have once again become the subject of heated debate in anticipation of his centennial in 2006. It's a debate that began at the height of the Cold War and that is marked to this day with the cultural deceptions, false impressions and hidden agenda of those times. This Friday, the Bard Music Festival in upstate New York will re-air those tensions with a three-week program of concerts and talks as the polarized American musical community tries to get to the heart of the composer's identity. Was Shostakovich a Soviet loyalist or a dissident in disguise? What is written...
I recently spoke with a group of bright, young law students and undergrads from the best schools in the country, including Yale, Georgetown, the University of Chicago and William and Mary. We discussed my new book, In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror.
When I mentioned that a large number of those interned in U.S. Department of Justice camps were of European descent, the students showed surprise. "I didn't know that," someone said aloud.
Thanks to a left-wing monopoly on the teaching of World War II history, not many other Americans know about these long-forgotten internees, either.
Generations of schoolchildren have been taught to believe that our government threw only ethnic Japanese into camps because of wartime...
From ABC News (Aug. 11, 2004):
Throughout history, kings, commoners and even slaves have resorted to beheadings as a method of punishment, a weapon of vengeance and sometimes even a path to emancipation.
Here is a look at some of history's most famous beheadings.
Judith Beheads General Holofernes: The Bible is replete with decapitations. Severed heads are displayed in victory and headless bodies left behind as a mass morality lesson, many of which were illustrated by some of the Western world's greatest artists.
In the Old Testament, a poor Jewish widow named Judith volunteers to deliver her people from an Assyrian siege around the town of Bethulia. Pretending to be an informer against her people, the beautiful Judith enters the Assyrian camp and seduces the military general, Holofernes. She enters his tent, gets him drunk and...