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.
Brendan Miniter, in the WSJ (Aug. 10, 2004):
With a wink and a nod John Kerry is running for president. He says he'll keep the troops in Iraq, even as he calls the war they are fighting optional. He promises to aggressively fight the war on terror, even as he promises to work better with France and his supporters rally to repeal the Patriot Act. And he's running as a fiscal conservative, even as he lays out a vigorous new spending agenda....
Bill Clinton knows a little bit about the pitfalls of the bait-and-switch approach. He was elected in 1992 on a similar wink and nod campaign and promptly veered to the left once in office. He managed to increase taxes, pass new gun control measures, cut military spending and roll out a massive health care initiative. And for a while it seemed liberalism was back.
But then the voters spoke in November 1994,...
Hiroshima did not matter much this year, but then it rarely does, except in anniversary years ending in "0." Alas, this year marked merely the 59th anniversary of the first use of an atomic weapon over the center of a city, on Aug. 6, 1945. If Hiroshima barely made the press this year, Nagasaki didn't register at all, but that's nothing new. It is, as a sociologist in Nagasaki once told me, "the inferior A-bomb city."
Few journalists bother to visit Nagasaki, which was half-destroyed by an American bomb 59 years ago today. It remains the Second City and "Fat Man" the forgotten bomb. No one ever wrote a bestselling book called "Nagasaki," or made a film titled "Nagasaki, Mon Amour." Yet in some ways, Nagasaki is the modern A-bomb city....
Exhausted by the self-absorption of Bill Clinton, I turned late one recent night to the exhilarating self-deception of Richard Nixon. A switch from Clinton's $12 million memoir to Nixon's mostly forgotten, secret audiotapes was timely. Baby Boomers may feel very moth-eaten when realizing that Monday marks the 30th anniversary of his resignation as president amid the nation's greatest political scandal, Watergate. While Clinton provides an interesting take on the hectic essence of life in the Oval Office, his is a personal memoir with all the failings of the genre. It's not journalism, it's not history; it's one man's quite self-serving take.
Nixon, however, presents us with the most detailed account of an American presidency--perhaps of any world leader--via an astounding 3,800 hours of the once-secret tapes. And he also presents us, posthumously, with some distinct cautionary notes when it comes to...
Mark Feldstein, in the American Journalism Review (Aug./Sept. 2004):
... Even conservative critics have accepted the notion that Woodward and Bernstein were instrumental in Nixon's downfall."[T]he Washington Post.. decided to make the Watergate break-in a major moral issue, a lead followed by the rest of the East Coast media," Paul Johnson wrote in his book"Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the Year 2000." This"Watergate witch-hunt," Johnson declared, was"run by liberals in the media..the first media Putsch in history."
Woodward dismisses both detractors and fans who contend that the media unseated a president."To say that the press brought down Nixon, that's horseshit," he says."The press always plays a role, whether by being passive or by being aggressive, but it's a mistake to overemphasize" the media's coverage.
But it was Woodward and Bernstein's best-selling book,"All the President's...
Thomas Cahill, in the NYT (Aug. 9, 2004):
The ancient Greeks were the world's first sports fans. They loved games of all kinds, which they called"agones.'' That's how we came by our words"agony'' and"antagonist,'' which should give us a good idea of how the Greeks viewed their games: as agonies in which antagonist is pitted against antagonist until one comes out on top. A better English term for what they had in mind might be" contest'' or"struggle'' or even"power performance.''
Ancient Greece was a society of alpha males who took their fun seriously. Whether they were at war with one another (which they often were, and which they got a huge bang out of) or enjoying more peaceful pursuits, they insisted that certain rules be followed and that there always be, right in the middle of everything, an agon.
In war, there was nothing that thrilled them more than a fight to the death, one army's...
According to legend, the ancient Olympic Games were founded by Heracles (the Roman Hercules), a son of Zeus. Yet the first Olympic Games for which we still have written records were held in 776 BCE (though it is generally believed that the Games had been going on for many years already). At this Olympic Games, a naked runner, Coroebus (a cook from Elis), won the sole event at the Olympics, the stade - a run of approximately 192 meters (210 yards). This made Coroebus the very first Olympic champion in history.
The ancient Olympic Games grew and continued to be played every four years for nearly 1200 years. In 393 CE, the Roman emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, abolished the Games because of their pagan influences.
Approximately 1500 years later, a young Frenchmen named Pierre de Coubertin began their revival. Coubertin is now known as le Ré...
Suzuki Chieko, in an article published by Japan Focus:
Japan Focus IntroductionIn late 1937, a Tokyo newspaper reported on a "hundred head contest" in which two Japanese imperial army officers competed to see who could lop off one hundred Chinese heads first during the campaign to take the Chinese capital city of Nanjing. The contest is symbolic of the perversion and loss of military discipline during the Japanese capture and occupation of the city that has come to be known variously as the Nanjing Massacre, the Rape of Nanjing, or simply the Nanjing Incident. The event belongs to a long list of 20th century atrocities, and is emblematic of Chinese suffering at the hands of a barbarous Japanese military as well as of Japanese predations across wartime Asia and the Pacific.
As part of what one might call a "canon" of horror, various groups have interests in...
The College Board is about to add a writing test to the SAT, making the new possible score 2400 instead of 1600. The writing part will provide thirty minutes for the candidate to give an opinion in response to a prompt, and these responses will be scored at the rate of thirty an hour, or no more than two minutes each.
This is the sequel to the SAT II writing test, for which students have in the past spent up to six hours preparing a generic essay with which they can respond to any prompt, for instance with the help of tutors at the Chyten organization in Boston, who charge about $165 an hour.
The new test will add pressure to students already working on their micro-mini autobiographical “personal” essays which they need to submit to many college admissions officers when they apply to college.
These writing exercises then have to be...
Jonathan Aitken, in the Sunday Times (London) (Aug. 1, 2004):
...By coincidence I had a ringside seat at the ensuing drama of America's only presidential resignation on August 9, 1974. That summer I was the house guest of a well-known Georgetown hostess, Kay Halle. Kay's basement was occupied by a White House aide, Frank Gannon, and his girlfriend Diane Sawyer. She is now a CBS television presenter but in those days she worked for Ron Ziegler, Nixon's press secretary.
Four days before the resignation Gannon invited me to lunch in the White House mess. The place was as gloomy as a funeral parlour, but as a newly elected British MP who knew and admired Nixon (I had met him while working as private secretary to the former British foreign secretary, Selwyn Lloyd), I was welcomed and introduced to various departing aides to the president including Alexander Haig, Ziegler, Don Rumsfeld and Bob Finch.
Rose Mary Woods, the...
A.N. Wilson, in the Daily Telegraph (London) (Augus 2, 2004):
... Having done not much else for years except read historical books about the 20th century, I am in awe at the scholarship and industry of the many authors I have read, but, in general, I am less impressed by their sense of perspective, by their take on events. Neither the dons nor the popular historians weighing in at 700 pages know much about distillation. Even clever writers seem to be terribly insensitive to the sheer appallingness of the lives thatmost human beings, thanks to politicians and Fate, have lived in the 20th century. I turn for consolation to Geoffrey Hill, who is more and more not just my favourite modern poet but favourite poet.
Historians strike attitudes and posture. They make a lot of noise and they cover a lot of pages, but they don't very often give me a sensation of the drill touching the nerve. Hill's poetry does this to me all the time. He does...
Charles Hawley, in the Christian Science Monitor (Aug. 2, 2004):
In 1961, historian Fritz Fischer shocked Germany with his book, "Germany's Grasp for World Power," which asserted that Kaiser Wilhelm II was largely responsible for the outbreak of World War I. To a population that had grown up viewing the war as defensive, Mr. Fischer's book was widely rejected.
Now, public opinion is beginning to shift. And new theories that test old notions about World War I are surfacing.
Already this year, there have been over a dozen books published on the subject, as well as countless television specials, and a six-issue series by the prominent newsmagazine "Der Spiegel."
The change is also making its way into German schools and universities. More and more students are showing an interest in World War I courses.
"I have noticed that World War...
Colin White, in the London Independent (July 29, 2004):
[Colin White is one of Britain's leading experts on Nelson. He is director of Trafalgar 200 for the National Maritime Museum and will be publishing two books in 2005, Nelson: The New Letters' and Nelson: The Admiral']
Where is Trafalgar? When visitors to the Royal Naval Museum's Tra- falgar Experience' in Ports-mouth are confronted with this question in a multi-choice computer quiz, a surprising number of them select The Channel.
Or perhaps it is not surprising at all. For,
Napoleon had spent months of planning, and had expended millions of francs, on the creation of a special "Army of England", and a huge flotilla of transports to get it across the Channel. But in the end he was outmanoeuvred by the Royal Navy, skilfully blocked at every turn, when he tried to unite his fleets of battleships and push them into the Channel to cover his army's crossing.
Before the nineteenth century was more than a couple of decades old, certainly by the fiftieth anniversary of 1776, the United States had come to regard the veterans of its revolution with a sort of wistful romanticism. An emerging American popular culture developed a vision of the common soldier of that war which more or less reflects ours: citizen-soldiers—farmers, laborers, men of the middling sort, young and old—minutemen who picked up their muskets and fell in with their militia units to defend home and community from invading Redcoats. The enemy driven from the field, the fighters returned to the plow, or anvil, or hearth, alert for the next threat. As the years drew on, and more and more of the old soldiers mustered for the march to the grave, the nation's veneration of them only advanced. A sort of...
Nicholas D. Kristof, in the NYT (Aug. 4, 2004):
"The virgins are calling you," Mohamed Atta wrote reassuringly to his fellow hijackers just before 9/11.
It has long been a staple of Islam that Muslim martyrs will go to paradise and marry 72 black-eyed virgins. But a growing body of rigorous scholarship on the Koran points to a less sensual paradise - and, more important, may offer a step away from fundamentalism and toward a reawakening of the Islamic world.
Some Islamic theologians protest that the point was companionship, never heavenly sex. Others have interpreted the pleasures quite explicitly; one, al-Suyuti, wrote that sex in paradise is pretty much continual and so glorious that"were you to experience it in this world you would faint."
But now the same tools that historians, linguists and archaeologists have applied to the Bible for about 150...
Earlier this year Sen. John Kerry caused a stir by saying that the Democratic party “always makes the mistake of looking South… . Al Gore proved he could have been President of the United States without winning one Southern state, including his own.”
Kerry was lamenting the party’s perennial efforts to woo back the Southern states that once reliably stood in the Democratic column. For 70 years Republicans were effectively shut out of the “solid South,” a result of their having been the party of Lincoln, abolition, and Reconstruction. But over time, as the Democratic party emerged as a champion of black civil rights and then embraced the rights revolutions of other groups—women, gays, lesbians—white Southern voters shifted their support to the GOP.
Jimmy Carter gained the Presidency in...
As many as 72 wartime forced labor compensation lawsuits were filed between the 1990s and January 1, 2004). In March the Niigata District Court returned a landmark judgment, for the first time ordering the Japanese state to pay compensation in a case concerning the draconian conditions of World War II forced laborers
This is a very busy year for the still unresolved issue of postwar compensation, especially for wartime forced labor. Although the Sapporo District Court dismissed the claims of the Chinese forced laborers' Hokkaido Lawsuit on 23 March, three days later the Niigata District Court returned a landmark judgment in a suit brought by ten Chinese and the bereaved relatives of an eleventh against the Japanese state and the Hong Kong Transportation Company (Rinko Corporation, based in Niigata City), ordering the payment of 8 million yen per person, with a total award of 88...
Proposals for the reorganization of the United States Intelligence Community have repeatedly emerged from commissions and committees created by either the executive or legislative branches. The heretofore limited authority of Directors of Central Intelligence and the great influence of the Departments of State and Defense have inhibited the emergence of major reorganization plans from within the Intelligence Community itself.
Proposals to reorganize the Intelligence Community emerged in the period immediately following passage of the National Security Act of 1947 (P.L. 80-253) that established the position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Recommendations have ranged from adjustments in the...
It is rare that literary research begins at a rock-music show, but Claire A. Culleton's work on the FBI and its interest in prominent literary figures began at a concert by David Baerwald, a Los Angeles musician whose 1986 album, Boomtown (made with David Ricketts under the name David and David), is a cult classic in rock circles.
Ms. Culleton, a professor of English at Kent State University, attended a Cleveland performance by Mr. Baerwald and signed up for his mailing list. A year later, she says, the singer sent Ms. Culleton information that included a "tirade" about "political corruption and subterfuge" and the FBI's role in it. Mr. Baerwald urged his fans to file Freedom of Information Act requests on themselves with the FBI.
"Conveniently," writes Ms...
Dennis Overbye, NYT News Service (August 2, 2004):
Just exactly when the readers of The New York Times first heard about the double helix is a mystery, and there is a lesson in that.
If journalism is the first draft of history, as the saying goes, then it’s often a terrible draft. A case in point happened in 1953, when Francis Crick, a graduate student at Cambridge University, and Dr. James D. Watson, a young biochemist, published a short paper in the journal Nature proposing that DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule seemingly responsible for heredity, had a double helix structure.
By suggesting that DNA could split into complementary strands, the two men had established the first plausible physical basis for the encoding and transmission of genes, literally the secret of life. It was biology’s biggest moment in the 20th century.
One might expect...