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.
Mark Levene, in the London Independent (1-25-05):
[The writer is Reader in Comparative History at Southampton University. The first two volumes of his Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State' (I B Tauris) is published this summer.]
There has always been something rather odd about Holocaust Memorial Day. Its main purpose, so runs the mantra, is to increase public awareness of "the ideals of peace, justice and community for all", and in the words of David Blunkett, the Education Secretary at the time of its inception four years ago, "to ensure that our children understand the value of diversity and tolerance".
All good universal stuff, and who could possibly demur? Yet using the Holocaust as a tool for the achievement of this goal seems to cut in a rather different direction. In a century which arguably saw scores of genocides, the attempt to exterminate an entire community across a whole continent, relentlessly...
Martin Gilbert, in the London Times (1-27-05):
SHOULD WE have, could we have, bombed Auschwitz? Some believe that if the Allies had acted some of the horrors could have been prevented. On the 60th anniversary it is worth examining the historical evidence. Apart from anything, it reveals the identity of an overlooked heroine.
From the summer of 1942 until the spring of 1944 more than a million Jews were deported to Auschwitz, where they were either murdered or kept as slave labourers.
Deliberate German deception kept the secret of Auschwitz's location and purpose hermetically sealed for almost two years. For the deportees, it was "the unknown destination", "somewhere in the East", or "somewhere in Poland".
Throughout that time, Auschwitz lay beyond the range of Allied bombers. It was first overflown by an Allied reconnaisance aircraft on April 4, 1944. The South African pilot later showed me...
John Lichfield, in the London Independent (1-27-05):
... In truth, the story of the Holocaust is imperfectly understood, even by many of us who think we know what happened. (I was astonished by my own ignorance when I visited Auschwitz, even though my father was Jewish, even though some of my distant, Slovakian-Jewish relatives almost certainly died there.)
The details are imperfectly known, even to honest, specialist historians, because so much of the evidence was destroyed by the Nazis themselves in 1943-44. The story was further muddied by the Soviet domination of Poland up to 1990 - years when Auschwitz was turned into an "anti-fascist" shrine and the suffering of the Jews was pushed into the background.
Did 5,000,000 Jews die in the Holocaust or 6,000,000? Even now, honest historians disagree. The generally accepted figure of 1,100,000 dead in Auschwitz alone (including 960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles and 21,000 gypsies...
[Melanie Phillips is a British social commentator and author and a columnist for the Daily Mail. Her articles can be found on her website, www.melaniephillips.com.]
Countries around the world marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz yesterday but the Muslim Council of Britain did not take part in the commemorations for reasons that belie an underlying anti-Semitism. The Muslim Council of Britain did not attend Britains Auschwitz commemoration in Westminster Hall, because, according to its Secretary-General Iqbal Sacranie, the event excluded ongoing genocide and human rights abuses around the world and in the occupied territories of Palestine. In a subsequent radio interview, he attempted to undo the damage. The report, he claimed, had been misleading and...
'A Rigorous Scholar Who Cannot Defend Himself' That's how blogger Andrew Sullivan has now described the late Clarence Arthur Tripp in the course of a long, serial complaint against The Weekly Standard's recent "hatchet-job" review of Tripp's posthumous book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln ("Honest, Abe?" by Philip Nobile, January 17). Our reviewer thought the book--an attempt to establish that America's 16th president was gay--a "hoax and a fraud." But Sullivan rejects that charge as a piece of "character assassination" against a highly regarded "Kinseyite social scientist" with a "Ph.D. in clinical psychology" and a "superb and invaluable" collection of documentary evidence. For this (and for what he...
Tom Palaima, in the Austin American-Statesman (1-27-05):
[Palaima teaches classics and war and violence studies in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.]
Every Martin Luther King Day, I make sure to reread a few speeches and sermons by this great man of God. His words remind me that a great political figure can stand bravely for peace and justice.
This year I also rented the just-released DVD of Abby Mann's classic docu-drama "King." In one of the extra short documentaries, Mann and singer Tony Bennett talk about their own personal impressions of King. Their memories are vivid after 40 years.
Tony Bennett? Who knew? Or rather, how easily we forget.
Mann and Bennett speak simply as American citizens. They are not intellectuals. They say what they know and what they still feel about the Martin Luther King they knew and loved.
Bennett recounts what made him see the racism that he...
Olivia Ward, in the Toronto Star (1-26-05):
... The Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals brought the murder of Jews to international attention after World War II. But, points out Yale University historian Jay Winter, the full impact of their revelations was delayed. The complexities of memory in a war that traumatized and exhausted millions - while forging a new geopolitical order - allowed the Holocaust to recede from the foreground of history.
"Until the 1960s, World War II was seen as one of good and evil, with a clear moral choice," he says. "But the emphasis was on the victors, and the rebirth of nations, not the victims of the violence."
However, he says, the morally ambiguous later wars in Vietnam and Algeria reminded the world of the suffering of war's victims, and brought the tragedy of the European Jews back into focus. Israel's 1961 trial of Hitler's henchman Adolf Eichmann, opened the...
Joe Carroll, in the Irish Times (1-26-05):
[Joe Carroll is the author of Ireland in the War Years 1939-1945 and is former Washington correspondent of The Irish Times.]
The mass extermination of Jews revealed as concentration camps such as Auschwitz were liberated could not be reported in Irish newspapers until after the war. Despite photographic evidence, such horrific scenes were regarded as "propaganda" and banned under the official censorship system.
When the censorship was lifted after the German surrender in May 1945, many Irish people found it hard to grasp the scale of the atrocities they had been shielded from during what was officially described as the "Emergency". Some still clung to the belief that it was Allied propaganda at work. A newspaper reader in Kilkenny wrote that the British had faked the newsreel showing victims of Belsen by using "starving Indians".
The censorship of...
[Mr. Sheehan is president of the AHA 2005.]
... It seems to me that one of our primary responsibilities as professionals is to subject the alleged lessons of the past to persistent critical scrutiny. Let me illustrate what I have in mind with two contemporary examples.
First, a relatively easy and straightforward one: the lessons drawn from a
comparison between the American
occupation of Germany in 1945 and the occupation of Iraq in 2003. Resistance to American forces in Iraq, it was suggested, should neither surprise nor discourage us since similar resistance could be found at the beginning of the United States' extraordinarily successful project of nation building in postwar Germany. With the proper patience and resolve, this resistance would be overcome and a stable democratic state could emerge...
David Horowitz, in a communication to HNN (1-25-05):
I will be one of those not celebrating John Hope Franklin's 90th birthday. Four years ago this spring I attempted to place an ad challenging the proposal to pay reparations 135 years after the fact to black Americans who had never been slaves. A massive effort to suppress this ad was mounted by the anti-intellectual left on campuses across the country. The ad was censored in 40 college papers. At Duke University where John Hope Franklin is the most honored professor emeritus on campus, the editors of the Duke Chronicle and I were denounced as "racists" and demands were made to destroy the paper for having the temerity to print the ad. Franklin supported these despicable attacks on freedom of speech and freedom of the press and intellectual discourse. He even...
Choosing just three books that might best explain the U.S. presidency as George W. Bush takes his second oath of office is a formidable if irresistible challenge.
We cannot expect much enlightenment from the self-serving memoirs of ex-presidents, as anyone who waited in line last year in Toronto to buy Bill Clinton's big mess of a book should now be able to attest. The one former president -- George H. W. Bush -- who might have cast light on George W. Bush was the only modern president to resist writing a memoir.
There are often useful insights into how presidents operate in the recollections of former aides, of which my favourite are two from the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt -- Samuel I. Rosenman's Working with Roosevelt and Robert Sherwood's Roosevelt and Hopkins -- and two from Richard Nixon's presidency -- William Safire's Before the Fall and Leonard Garment's Crazy Rhythm .
If you're going to call a book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History," readers will expect some serious carrying on about race, and Thomas Woods Jr. does not disappoint. He fulminates against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, best known for forcing restaurants and bus stations in the Jim Crow South to integrate, and against Brown v. Board of Education. And he offers up some curious views on the Civil War - or "the War of Northern Aggression," a name he calls "much more accurate."
The introduction bills the book as an effort to "set the record straight," but it is actually an attempt to push the record far to the right. More than a history, it is a checklist of arch-conservative talking points. The New Deal public works programs that helped millions survive the Depression were a "disaster," and Social...
On Sunday, I posted an entry at my weblog Sandbox, on a conference scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, at Columbia University. The conference was to deal with the Arab-Israeli peace process, and the advertised speakers included the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon.
The event looked to me like a public relations set-up and a disaster in the making. For months now, the national press has reported Columbia's mishandling of the crisis prompted by the documentary film Columbia Unbecoming, in which Jewish students tell of faculty intimidation over Israel. In the midst of this maelstrom,...
From the newsletter of the Chronicle of Higher Ed (1-25-05):
Some historians are approaching American history from a new direction -- from the West, via the Pacific Ocean.
From that perspective, the cast of characters in the nation's past is less familiar, say Edward G. Gray, an associate professor of history at Florida State University, and Alan Taylor, a professor of history at the University of California at Davis, in an introduction to an issue on the topic.
Instead of the Pilgrims and colonists of the Atlantic Coast, Pacific history is peopled by "Russian fur traders, Spanish missionaries, Japanese fishermen, French and Spanish explorers, British naval officers, American travelers, German naturalists, Tahitian translators, Aleutian hunters, Polynesian navigators, Yankee merchants, and that peculiar species of Pacific go-between, the beachcomber," they write.
Such figures were relatively obscure for too...
From the South China Morning Post (1-23-05):
The occupation of Iraq has compounded the looting of historically priceless
sites and artefacts, literally trampling the roots of western history. Peter
The longer the war in Iraq grinds on, the more worried historians are becoming. Western civilisation's roots are disappearing at an ever-increasing pace because of the conflict and they are powerless to do anything about it.
Beneath Iraq's sands lie more than 6,000 years of history - the ruins of what archaeologists have determined to be the oldest-known cities and towns. Few have been discovered and study of those that have been found is sporadic because of war and the stifling rule of dictator Saddam Hussein.
But the end of Hussein's rule, with United States-led military intervention in March 2003, only exacerbated the situation: with the ensuing chaos came destruction of the sites.
A British Museum...
Simon Kuper, in the London Financial Times Weekend Magazine (1-22-05):
[Two responses to the Nazis.]
... Tens of thousands of Danes - politicians, pastors, fishermen, ambulance drivers - helped smuggle 7,300 of the country's 7,800 Jews into Sweden. Many more helped by not betraying the operation. Only 116 Danish Jews, or 1.5 per cent of the total, died in the Holocaust.
The other extreme in western Europe was the Netherlands. More than 100,000 Dutch Jews - three-quarters of the total - were massacred. This was nearly twice the proportion killed in Belgium, where Jews had far more chance of finding hiding places, and three times as high as in France. Only in Poland were proportionately more Jews murdered. The Dutch had a reputation for wartime heroism, even - until recently - among themselves. But they owe it chiefly to the hiding of Anne Frank....
In the spring of 1940, Denmark and the Netherlands looked alike: two small...
David Pugliese, in the Ottawa Citizen (1-23-05):
For the last 60 years, most history books on the Second World War have concentrated on the battles, tactics and leaders of that global conflict. But now, some historians are turning their attention to the war's social impact and are examining such controversial topics as sex, alcohol, patriotism and crime, on the battlefield and at home.
The result is a worm's eye view of the lives of the Allied troops who defeated the Nazis. And while these new books help drive home the brutality and terrible conditions endured by those soldiers, some veterans question why historians would go down that road.
British author Max Hastings' new book, Armageddon, chronicles the last years of the war, highlighting bravery, cowardice and abuses on both sides. Antony Beevor's The Fall of Berlin, published in 2002, unveiled detailed information about the mass rapes committed by Russian troops...
Kelly Patterson, in the Ottawa Citizen (1-23-05):
It is past midnight. A forbidding house bathed in moonlight looms in the background. At the centre, a grisly scene -- a glowering psychopath stands over the body of a pregnant woman he has just killed and mutilated.
Hannibal II? Halloween? Friday the 13th? The possibilities are endless: After all, gory movies are still all the rage. And that's hardly surprising: These are violent times, so they say. We live in an age of serial killers, gang wars, drug lords, sexual predators. This is, in short, an age -- the age -- of violence.
But our psychopath is not the latest Quentin Tarantino creation; rather, he figures in a 17th-century engraving by English artist William Hogarth. And Hogarth's Cruelty in Perfection reflects a level of real-life, everyday brutality that our supposedly savage society can't even begin to imagine, for all our talk of modern violence.
[Roger Pulvers -- who translated all the Japanese writings quoted in this article -- is an American-born Australian author, playwright and theater director, and a professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology. A collection of his fiction and nonfiction writings,"Half and More," will be published by Shinchosha in March 2005. His website is: http://homepage2.nifty.com/uesugihayato]
In many senses the Japanese people have been in denial since the end of World War II.
With the Tokyo War Crimes Trials they blamed their leaders for the catastrophes of war, so allowing themselves to believe that the atrocities were committed by their soldiers, politicians, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs in their name. They themselves could be carefully let off the hook.
The postwar thinking of...
Twenty of the biggest chemical companies in the United States have launched a campaign to discredit two historians who have studied the industry's efforts to conceal links between their products and cancer. In an unprecedented move, attorneys for Dow, Monsanto, Goodrich, Goodyear, Union Carbide and others have subpoenaed and deposed five academics who recommended that the University of California Press publish the book Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner. The companies have also recruited their own historian to argue that Markowitz and Rosner have engaged in unethical conduct. Markowitz is a professor of history at the CUNY Grad Center; Rosner is a professor of history and public health at Columbia University and director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public...