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.
[Tristram Hunt is the author of 'Building Jerusalem: the Rise and Fall of the Victorian City']
... Heroic biography has become the bestselling history brand of Bush's America. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Abraham Lincoln are all speaking from the grave with new-found loquaciousness. Barely a week passes without another definitive life of a Founding Father, Brother or Sister, each one more adulatory than the last.
Not least the vice-president's wife, Dr Lynne Cheney, whose recent contribution, When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots, is the kind of "history" that any ministry of information would have been proud of. Museums and TV schedulers have not been slow to catch the mood. The New York Historical Society currently hosts a...
Edwin Black, in a syndicated column (2-14-05):
[Edwin Black is the author of award-winning five books and scores of articles, including the New York Times bestseller IBM and the Holocaust, all of which dealt with the Holocaust, all predicated on his parents’ experience.]
A few days ago, a 79-year old Polish Holocaust survivor died in West Palm Beach after a long illness. Born in Bialystok with the name Ethel Katz, her story was known all over the world, having been retold for some four decades in newspaper and magazine articles, books, documentaries, TV presentations and lectures in 60 countries.
Ethel’s intersection with history began long ago in August 1943, in the terrifying darkness of a boxcar as a train that swayed rhythmically sped toward the Treblinka death camp. Ethel, nicknamed Edjya, a thin, 13-year-old girl, sat on the boxcar floor, listening to the thudding rail ties, trying to understand the scream of terrible events befalling...
Peter Steinfels, in the NYT (2-12-05):
Today is the birthday of a man thought by many to be the nation's greatest president. It is also the birthday of a man whom many believe to be if not the nation's greatest theologian, at least to come close. That is no coincidence, because they are the same man.
Abraham Lincoln seems an unlikely candidate for the Theological Hall of Fame. He belonged to no church. He had read little theology. The exact nature of his religious beliefs remains a matter for debate.
Lincoln's standing as a theological thinker rests, above all, on his Second Inaugural Address. Although its closing lines about binding up the nation's wounds ''with malice toward none, with charity for all'' are so familiar and so susceptible to a sentimental reading that the extraordinary force of the whole speech can be missed, a sizable and thoughtful literature has grown up around this address.
Mark Noll, an outstanding historian of...
Max Hastings, in the Sunday Telegraph (London) (2-13-05):
IT IS INTERESTING to compare codes of massacre among the nastier participants in the Second World War. Throughout the struggle, the Soviets continued to kill their own people, as well as their enemies, in hundreds of thousands for supposed failures of courage or loyalty. The Germans murdered captive Russians, Poles, Jews and other "sub-humans" in millions, yet treated uniformed Western allied prisoners with relative humanity - only four per cent died.
The Japanese conferred "sub-human" status on all allied prisoners. More than a quarter perished in consequence, 12,000 of them while working on the Burma railway. The survivors suffered experiences matching those of inmates of Hitler's concentration camps.
The Japanese rationalised their behaviour by claiming that they were exacting revenge on behalf of the peoples of Asia for centuries of humiliation at the hands of...
Jason Horowitz, in the NYT (2-13-05):
After decades of willful amnesia, Italy turned its attention this week to the thousands of Italians who were massacred by Yugoslav partisans and dumped into mountain crevices at the end of World War II.
The killings occurred in and around Trieste, in the north, when, in 1943 and 1945, Communist partisans from neighboring Yugoslavia rounded up Italians in anti-Fascist raids and condemned them to execution by firing squads. Between 5,000 and 15,000 people were shot and dropped into the pits of the Carso mountain range. Some were alive when they were forced into the ditches.
''If we look back at the 20th century, we see pages of history that we wish we could forget,'' Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday of the massacre. ''But we cannot forget, and we do not want to forget.''
For 60 years, however, Italy did seem to forget, and whether reviving the subject now is a good idea has been a subject...
... The late W.G. Sebald, a German-born writer who has been regarded as one of Europe's greatest modern intellectuals, has described the silence over the destruction and civilian deaths from Allied bombing as "a kind of taboo, like a shameful family secret."
For at least a half-century after World War II, the bombing raids were seen as a "just punishment, even an act of retribution on the part of a higher power with whom there could be no dispute," Sebald wrote in "On The Natural History of Destruction," a work that was published just before he died in 2001.
The book was the first of several treatises on a German victim status in recent years. Gunter Grass's latest novel, "Crabwalk," dealt with the Allied sinking of a cruise ship filled with German refugees, including 4,000 children, in one of the largest maritime...
Stephanie Coontz, a history professor at Evergreen State College, is the author of the forthcoming "Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. "
... For thousands of years, love, passion and marriage were considered a rare and usually undesirable combination. Valentine's Day was originally envisioned by the Roman Catholic Church as a check on sexual passion. Even though young people centuries later turned the holiday into an occasion to celebrate romantic love and sexual attraction, few of them expected to marry on the basis of such irrational emotions. Almost no one believed that falling in love was a great and glorious thing that should lead to marriage, or that marriage was a place to achieve sexual fulfillment.
Before he was either a saint or a holiday,...
Thanks in large measure to the impassioned public outcry prompted by his invitation to speak at Hamilton College, some of the disquieting aspects of Ward Churchill’s career are now common knowledge. He is, infamously, the tenured professor of “Ethnic Studies” at the University of Colorado who waxed rhapsodic about the September 11 terrorist attacks while vilifying its victims inside the World Trade Center “as little Eichmans.” Less well known is the fact that he has long advocated political violence—and has apparently practiced what he preached. He has also falsified his own personal history (apparently including his ethnicity and combat status) and twisted history to accuse white Americans of genocide.
Indeed, on at least two occasions, Churchill has been accused of throttling speech he does not endorse by...
Hours after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Ward Churchill compared the victims to the Nazis. A professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he wrote in an essay that those killed at the World Trade Center were not innocent civilians but "little Eichmanns."
The analogy is so outrageous, one thinks, that surely he immediately got into trouble. Surely it prompted angry letters and calls for him to be fired. But it didn't.
Instead, for years the comparison just sat there quietly. Mr. Churchill, by contrast, rarely stays still. He has spoken on more than 40 college campuses since the 2001 attacks.
He traveled to elite liberal-arts colleges like Williams and Swarthmore, to big public universities like Arizona State and Michigan State, and to prestigious private...
[Mark Selden is a coordinator of Japan Focus. Kyoko and Mark Selden are the editors of The Atomic Bomb: Voices From Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Translations in this article by Kyoko Selden.]
Until the last six months of World War Two, the home islands of Japan were virtually untouched by the ravages of war. That changed definitively on the night of March 9 1945, as the full fury of U.S. firebombing was unleashed on Tokyo. The raid turned a fifteen square mile area of Tokyo into an inferno. Police Cameraman Ishikawa Koyo described the streets as "rivers of fire. Everywhere one could see flaming pieces of furniture exploding in the heat, while the people themselves blazed like match sticks. . . . Immense vortices rose in a number of places, swirling, flattening, sucking whole blocks of houses into their maelstrom of fire." 100,000 civilians died. More than one million homes...
[Quentin P. Taylor is an assistant professor of history and political science at Rogers State University, Claremore, Oklahoma.]
“The story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to pleasure children of today” (Dighe 2002, 42). So wrote L. Frank Baum in the introduction to his popular children’s story published in 1900. As fertile as his imagination was, Baum could hardly have conceived that his “modernized fairly tale” would attain immortality when it was adapted to the silver screen forty years later. Though not a smash hit at the time of its release, The Wizard of Oz soon captured the hearts of the movie-going public, and it has retained its grip ever since. With its stirring effects, colorful characters, and memorable music (not to mention Judy Garland...
A.N. Wilson, in the London Daily Telegraph (2-7-05):
... One of the delights of writing my book The Victorians was to revisit the novels of Disraeli. I had read Coningsby and Tancred in my youth, but Lothair, a very funny one, was a discovery for me. I enjoyed them as examples of high camp, with their extravagant descriptions of dinners, clothes, great houses. I also enjoyed the many good jokes, and in Lothair the amusing caricature of Cardinal Manning. The "ideas" in Disraeli's books about One-Nation Toryism and so forth rather passed me by. It was only when I came to write a continuation of The Victorians, and to consider the Victorian legacy in the 20th century, that I began to re-examine my feelings about Disraeli's intellectual legacy.
It is hardly surprising, after the nightmare that the Third Reich visited upon the world, that our generation has decided to teach its children that racial prejudice is just about the worst sin imaginable. Short...
Gary Lemke, in the London Independent (2-6-05):
... He was buried in Hollenstedt, in his home state of Lower Saxony on Friday. A funeral service in Hamburg is planned. Schmeling, born on 28 September 1905, was a strapping white athlete who once dined with Hitler. An autographed picture of der Fuhrer even hung in his study.
In truth he was not a supporter of the Nazi party. On 9 November 1938, when Nazi gangs destroyed 191 synagogues and murdered 91 Jews, Schmeling sheltered two Jewish youngsters in his Berlin flat and helped them flee. He also employed a Jewish manager, against Hitler's orders.
Schmeling was used by the Nazis as a symbol of Aryan supremacy. The heavyweight had become a reluctant hero two years earlier, when on 19 June 1936, he travelled to New York and knocked out Joe Louis, a black boxer who was considered unbeatable. But it is the rematch for which he is best remembered.
By 22 June 1938, Louis had become world champion. A defence against...
Robert Fisk, in the Independent (2-5-05):
The laptop has done bad things to us. I've spent the past year writing a history of the Middle East which has proved to me - quite apart from the folly of man - that the computer has not necessarily helped our writing or our research into the sins of our fathers.
As a journalist who still refuses to use e-mail - forcing people to write real letters cuts down the amount of ungrammatical and often abusive messages we receive - I would say that, wouldn't I? But, along with two researchers, I've ploughed through 338,000 documents in my library for my book - my reporter's notebooks, newspapers, magazines, clippings, government statements, letters, photocopies of First World War archives and photographs - and I cannot escape the fact that the laptop has helped to destroy my files, my memories and, indeed, my handwriting.
My notebooks of the Lebanese civil war in the late 1970s are written in a graceful easy-to-...
Alexander Chancellor, in the Guardian (2-5-05):
...You would have thought that, by now, because of the overwhelming evidence, everyone would have accepted that the Nazis tried to exterminate the Jews and came terrifyingly close to achieving their purpose. Yet the Holocaust deniers still cling so tenaciously to their belief that nothing much happened, and that Hitler, poor dear, was just a victim of malicious propaganda by the victorious allies, that eight European countries, including France and Germany, have made denial of the Holocaust a crime.
Tony Blair has considered doing the same - he said in 1997 that there was "a very strong case" for it - but luckily he seems to have decided not to. For once you start legislating against the falsification of history, where do you stop? Do you declare it a crime to describe the Irish potato famine as an English attempt at genocide, or to claim that the Americans never landed on the moon? And what if a...
[Oleg Preusner is a New York writer. This analysis was prepared at the request of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, to monitor, critique and review Middle East Studies in North America.]
Columbia University's panel"One State or Two: Alternative Proposals for Middle East Peace" presented a biased, tendentious Israel-bashing program on Monday, January 31, that provided more heat than light. The very title was a dead giveaway: a one-state solution is widely understood to be a code word for the disappearance of the Jewish state and its replacement violently and/or demographically by an irredentist Palestinian majority.
The evening, nonetheless, began on a largely sober note with an overview of the Islamic Middle Ages by Professor Mark Cohen of Princeton. He spoke of the intolerance of monotheism, broad brushing all three Abrahamic faiths. He did, however, stress that Jews did a lot better under the...
David Hackett Fischer, in the NYT (2-7-05):
IN Baghdad's Fardus Square, where Iraqi civilians and American marines so famously pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003, Iraqi artists have raised a new sculpture on the same pedestal. It is a monument to liberty and freedom, and unlike any other in the world.
In Europe and America, the favorite symbols of liberty and freedom are individual figures like Marianne or the Statue of Liberty. This Iraqi statue is a family group: mother, father and child so close together that they become one being. Above them are a crescent moon and sun, emblems of Islamic faith and Sumerian culture. One of its creators remarked that both civilizations "have called for love, peace and freedom."
The Baghdad monument was the work of a group of Iraqi artists called Najeen, or the Survivors. After the Persian Gulf war in 1991, they worked underground to keep alive the spirit of liberty and...
... ARTHUR BOWEN'S MIDNIGHT RAMBLE was followed by Washington's first race riot, an outbreak of violence that has largely been forgotten. Above all, the malign role of Francis Scott Key in the capital's first convulsion of racial violence has not been properly recognized. This American icon stood at the intersection of the racial, political and social forces that stoked Washington's unrest. Back then, the city was an embryo of the metropolis...