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.
[Pu Zhiqiang is a Chinese lawyer. This article was translated by Perry Link from the Chinese.]
EVER since June 4, 1989, when the world's cameras embarrassed the Chinese government by recording the slaughter of unarmed protesters in Beijing, spring has been a sensitive period in Chinese politics. Public demonstrations of all kinds have been repressed as if they were vicious cancers. It is indeed news, then, that people have been protesting in the streets of Chinese cities about Japan's wartime past, its textbooks' reluctance to face history squarely, and its proposed accession to the United Nations Security Council.
Of course, the fundamental nature of these protests is different from that of the demonstrations of 1989, because they so far have had the tacit approval of the authorities. The protesters have incurred essentially zero risk, and suspense over the...
Hubert Van Es, in the NYT (4-29-05):
THIRTY years ago I was fortunate enough to take a photograph that has become perhaps the most recognizable image of the fall of Saigon - you know it, the one that is always described as showing an American helicopter evacuating people from the roof of the United States Embassy. Well, like so many things about the Vietnam War, it's not exactly what it seems. In fact, the photo is not of the embassy at all; the helicopter was actually on the roof of an apartment building in downtown Saigon where senior Central Intelligence Agency employees were housed.
It was Tuesday, April 29, 1975. Rumors about the final evacuation of Saigon had been rife for weeks, with thousands of people - American civilians, Vietnamese citizens and third-country nationals - being loaded on transport planes at Tan Son Nhut air base, to be flown to United States bases on Guam, Okinawa and elsewhere. Everybody knew that the city was surrounded by the...
Gwynne Dyer, in the New Zealand Herald (4-28-05):
Adolf Hitler has now been dead slightly longer than he was alive, and he is about to stop being real.
As long as the generation whose lives he terrorised is still with us, he remains a live issue, but the 60th anniversary of his death tomorrow is the last big one that will be celebrated by those who survived his evil and knew his victims.
By the time the 75th anniversary comes around, they will almost all be gone. And then Hitler will slip away into history.
It's a process that is almost impossible to avert because basic human psychology is at work here. Once enough time has passed that all the people involved in a given set of events would be dead, we stop treating them as real people whose triumphs and tragedies matter, and only the attention of a film-maker, dramatist or a novelist can bring them to life again for us.
Federico Fellini made the point once and for all in his 1969 film...
Joanne Laucius, in the Ottawa Citizen (4-28-05):
Muslims and Christians clash in the desert. There are bloody battles, power struggles and even gruesome decapitations, all in the name of faith.
Familiar as this may seem to any consumer of the nightly news, this is Gladiator director Ridley Scott's tale Kingdom of Heaven, to be splashed across the big screen starting next week. The film is about the Crusades, a centuries-old subject that is history to most Westerners, but is still an open wound to many Muslims.
Kingdom of Heaven focuses on the events between 1185 and 1187. After a period of peaceful Christian-Muslim coexistence in the Holy Land, the militant Knights Templar began attacking Muslim caravans. In response, the brilliant Muslim general Saladin and his vast army laid siege to Jerusalem.
Orlando Bloom stars as the French knight Balian, a fictionalized version of a historic figure who defends Jerusalem, but loses against...
Lynn Smith, writing in the LAT about the new HBO movie about FDR's disability ("Warm Springs"), starring Kenneth Branagh (4-23-05):
... David Taylor, producer-director of "FDR: A Presidency Revealed," said he encountered 53 scholarly books about Roosevelt's policies but little about his physical disability. Of 35,000 photos of Roosevelt, only two show him in a wheelchair, and they were not published while he was alive.
When Taylor researched archival newsreel footage looking for rushes that might show Roosevelt in a wheelchair, he found none. "I saw no evidence of a cut or a splice. I would see the cameraman filming Roosevelt on top of steps, coming off a ship, then the camera switches off. The next thing you see, he's in a car. It wasn't just a decision on what you choose to broadcast, but what you choose to put in the camera. It was an understanding -- you don't film the president's disability."
When a respected public figure in Washington DC describes the view that people should pay tax on large amounts of inherited wealth as “the morality of the Holocaust”, one can only conclude that something has gone seriously wrong with political debate. The statement was made by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, board member of the National Rifle Association of America and general booster of conservative causes.
Norquist elaborated on his astonishing statement to the journalist Terry Gross, who pointed out that estate tax only concerns those who inherit more than $2m: “the morality that says it’s OK to do something to a group because they’re a small percentage of the population is the morality that says that the Holocaust is OK because they didn’t target everybody......
SOURCE: Philadelphia Gay News (4-15-05)
Historians have disagreed over the origin of the modern gay civil-rights movement, debating whether it began in the 1950s or 1960s or even earlier.
This year, the argument was re-ignited with some prodding by Equality Forum organizers who suggest it originated in Philadelphia.
Organizers of Equality Forum, which runs through May 1, have dubbed this year's event the "40th Anniversary of the GLBT Civil Rights Movement," and also referred to Philadelphia as the site of the first gay and lesbian civil rights demonstrations. While the July 4, 1965, protest held by more than 40 gays and lesbians outside Independence Hall was noteworthy because it was repeated every year through 1969, many historians question its significance in the overall movement.
"There's no basis for considering the first annual reminder as a founding, launching or in any way decisive event in the history of the g/l/b/t movement in the U.S.," said John D'Emilio a University of Illinois history,...
For most of the history of this country, differences between the black and the white population--whether in income, IQ, crime rates, or whatever--have been attributed to either race or racism. For much of the first half of the 20th century, these differences were attributed to race--that is, to an assumption that blacks just did not have it in their genes to do as well as white people. The tide began to turn in the second half of the 20th century, when the assumption developed that black-white differences were due to racism on the part of whites.
Three decades of my own research lead me to believe that neither of those explanations will stand up under scrutiny of the facts. As one small example, a study published last year indicated that most of the black alumni of Harvard were from either the West Indies or Africa, or were the children of West Indian...
Norman Solomon, in the Baltimore Sun (4-26-05):
FORTY YEARS AGO, on the morning of April 26, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson spoke with a top State Department official about fast-moving events in the Dominican Republic. A popular rebellion was on the verge of toppling a military junta and restoring the country's democratically elected president, Juan Bosch, to power.
"This Bosch is no good," Mr. Johnson said. "He's no good at all,"
replied Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Mann, who added: "If we don't get a decent government in there, Mr. President, we get another Bosch. It's just going to be another sinkhole."
Two days after that phone conversation, thousands of U.S. Marines landed on the beaches of Santo Domingo. By then, the White House spin machinery was in high gear. When the president went on television to declare that the military action was necessary to rescue U.S. citizens, he didn't mention that nearly...
[Jörg Friedrich was born in 1944. Since the 70s he has written extensively on the legal history of the Second World War, and the NS war crimes. His Book "Der Brand", on the Allied bombing of Germany, achieved international acclaim. Jörg Friedrich lives as a freelance author in Berlin.]
... Like the bombing of Hiroshima, Dresden's destruction has ever since been bound up with the question: "Why?" Two attacks with maximum overkill, each on a hopelessly defeated people! In the final spurt between the German and the imminent Japanese capitulations, the atomic physicists perfected their work with a test explosion whose lightning a blind woman claimed to have seen. Some of them started to grumble: "Why?" What had begun as an attempt to stop Hitler's world domination was being directed at the last convulsions of...
In Professor Joseph Massad's mid-March statement to the ad hoc committee investigating faculty intimidation of students at Columbia, he listed the support he'd received from various quarters, including petitions and letters. He then added this:
The Middle East Studies Association’s Academic Freedom Committee also issued a letter defending my academic freedom, as did the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
I'd seen all of these missives, with a major exception: the letter from the American Association of University Professors. The AAUP has much more weight than any of the other outfits: it's the union of professors, and the prime defender of their academic freedom and tenure rights. It can and does...
Edwin Black, in a syndicated article by Feature Group (4-23-05):
[ Edwin Black is the bestselling author of The Transfer Agreement (Macmillan 1986), IBM and the Holocaust (Crown 2001) and, War Against the Weak (Avalon 2003) and Banking on Baghdad (Wiley 2004). His next book appears in April 2006.]
Aproximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.
The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh’s wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared...
A member of the U.S. Congress calls for an assistant professor at a major university to be summarily fired. The right-wing tabloid press runs a series of vicious attacks on him, often misquoting him and perpetuating previous misquotes. Opinion pieces attacking "tenured radicals" and questioning professors' patriotism use him as their centerpiece. All of these attacks are spurred by a propaganda film made by an advocacy group, in which anonymous accusations are made and the professor is not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
It is not 1953, the Congress member is not Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and the professor is not being accused of being a communist. No, it is 2005, the Congress member is Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and the professor is being accused of being anti-Israel.
The lesson for academics, and...
Arun Pereira, in the Toronto Star (4-21-05):
[Arun Pereira is an associate professor at Saint Louis University. His book Papal Reich, an historical novel about the papacy, is set in a world where religions are displacing nations as the global powers.]
In an age of globalization, people's identities and loyalties are increasingly tied to the one constant in their lives: Religion. Can the new Pope make a difference in their lives, asks A time of expanding global trade, new technologies disseminating information in unprecedented ways, and religious fanaticism forcing people to take up arms. Yes, the 16th century was a momentous period that saw a surge in globalization, the invention of the printing press, and wars driven by religious fanatics.
It also saw the unravelling of a unique alliance between the popes and the emperors of the so-called Holy Roman Empire, after eight centuries of mutually beneficial - and sometimes, uneasy - collaboration. That...
David McNeill, in the Independent (4-21-05):
... Japanese troops poured into the wartime capital city of Nanjing on 13 December 1937, after suffering heavy casualties in Shanghai. They then began a six-week orgy of medieval raping, killing and looting, carrying out what the United Human Rights Council called 'the single worst atrocity during the World War Two era in either the European or Pacific theatres of war'.
An American eyewitness, Minnie Vautrin, who kept a diary, wrote on 16 December 1937: 'There probably is no crime that has not been committed in this city today.' Witnesses said soldiers practised with bayonets on tied-up prisoners, burnt others alive and set dogs on children.
Pregnant women were raped and bayoneted, decapitated heads were put on spikes or waved around like trophies, hundreds of unarmed civilians were mown down with machine guns and dumped in rivers and open graves.
Tillman Durdin, the New York Times reporter who...
Bruce West, in the Montreal Gazette (4-21-05):
The new head of the Catholic church is "carving his own space" by taking the name Pope Benedict XVI, one of Canada's leading church historians said yesterday.
"He has strategically not placed his name as being an immediate successor to John Paul II," said Mark McGowan, a professor of church history at the University of Toronto and principal of the university's St. Michael's College.
"He didn't take John Paul III. He wanted to distinguish himself from that pontificate. In some ways, this is rather an interesting choice," McGowan said.
But another expert cautioned against reading too much into the new pope's first major decision: choosing a name.
"You don't necessarily deduce anything from it," said William Oddie, former news editor of the Catholic Herald, a weekly newspaper published in London.
"Pope John XXIII, for instance, chose a...
Cathy Lynn Grossman, in USA Today (4-19-05):
... When the Rev. John O'Malley, a professor at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor at Notre Dame and author of Lives of the Popes, were asked their choices for the 10 most influential popes, both listed Pope John XXIII. But they diverged sharply on several other names, citing some as influential for good, others for ill -- and some for both, underscoring that "influential" and "good" are not always the same.
The two historians set aside St. Peter, considered the first pope. The rock of the Roman Catholic Church is in a class by himself, and no one has had the audacity to call himself Peter II.
They held off, as well, on including John Paul II. Funeral crowds called him "the Great" -- a title bestowed on just two popes before -- but it's too soon to see his imprint in history.
Indeed, only three popes they named are...
Following is an excerpt from a speech by Professor Nobukatsu Fujioka, professor of education at Tokyo University, and Vice-Chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. It was delivered before the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Feb. 25, 1999. Professor Fujioka is recognized as the leader in the movement to make Japan's textbooks more patriotic:
Thank you very much for your kind introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great honor for me to have an opportunity to speak to this distinguished audience on our history textbook reform movement in Japan, even though you may have called on me just out of curiosity.
State of History Education in Japan Today
The Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform was established two years ago, by those of us who became deeply concerned by the very serious state of history education in Japan.
Half-a-century has passed since...
[Mr. Woodward is a contributing editor at Newsweek, where he served as Religion Editor for 38 years. He is the author, most recently, of "The Book of Miracles: The Meaning of the Miracle Stories in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam" (Simon & Schuster, 2001), and is currently writing a book on American religion and culture.]
... Does the Roman Catholic Church really need another intellectual as pope? Surely, one of the achievements of the previous papacy was the clarifying of church doctrine -- which is why many Catholics hoped the next Roman pontiff would be a more "pastoral" pope in the tradition of John XXIII.
Moreover, John Paul II left a huge library of writings that will take decades for church scholars to thoroughly digest. The new pope, of course, will add to that body of...
Theodore K. Rabb, in the Boston Globe (4-18-05):
Patriots Day, April 19 th, is a date that ought to have particular resonance at this juncture in the history of the Republic. It commemorates the beginning of our first war: the day in 1775 when the first shots were fired, in Concord, on America’s path to independence. If in recent years the most widely reported event of that day has been the Boston Marathon, it is surely time to put its larger meaning front and center in the nation’s consciousness.
The central question we should all be asking ourselves is: How can one be a patriot without knowing what happened not only in 1775 but also in the years before and after? Without an understanding of history, patriotism is empty. And that is why, on this Patriots Day, the National Council for History Education is sponsoring a series of events, including a gathering on the steps of Capitol, to emphasize the need...