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.
[John T. McGreevy teaches history at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Catholicism and American Freedom: A History.]
... The primary task for the next Pope and the next generation of American Catholic leaders will be to manage the transition from a Catholic culture to a Catholic creed. Until the 1960s, the faith inherited by American Catholics came from an extraordinarily dense network of Catholic families, schools, parishes, and Catholic associations. This Catholic faith was not an assent to an abstract set of propositions. Instead, it was the result of a shared culture--one that allowed Catholics to recognize that they had been speaking "Catholic" all their lives.
To some extent, this Catholic culture still exists: There are 60 to 65 million Catholics in the United States, and two-thirds of them describe...
Paul Vitello, Carol Eisenberg and Letta Tayler, in Newsday (4-4-05):
The signs of the campaign were already abundant, one day after the pontiff's death.
Pope John Paul II, "The Great," banners and T-shirts read.
Even before the pope is buried, the quest is under way to make him not only a saint but also a "magnus," or great - a title bestowed by historians only twice in the papacy's 2,000-year history. The fledgling drive is stirring controversy in a Roman Catholic Church already divided over the late pope's orthodox views and what critics saw as his autocratic style.
Several prominent Roman Catholic intellectuals are waving the magnus banner. They include Vatican insider Vittorio Messori, who glowed over the prospect in a column published Saturday in the respected Italian daily Corriere della Sera - just hours before the pope's death - titled "Already a Saint."
"It is with...
Tony Barber, in the Financial Times of London (4-4-05):
, John Paul's long reign was a period of such rapid social modernisation that believers from the US and western Europe to Latin America and Asia are better educated, more prosperous, more geographically mobile and correspondingly less willing to show deference to the Church hierarchy than did their parents or grandparents.
An earlier version of this trend caught the Vatican unawares in the 19th century, when the full-scale industrialisation of western societies uprooted millions of Catholic faithful from their native parishes and, in many countries, detached the new working class from organised religion.
In the late 20th century and early 21st century, the biggest threat to the Church's control over its 1.1bn flock came to be its attitude to women and the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s.
Thomas Reese, an expert on the US Roman Catholic Church, says that, if the Church...
Nicholas Thompson, in the Boston Glob (4-3-05):
IN THE SUMMER of 1943, George Kennan and Paul Nitze met on a train going from New York to Washington. Neither knew who the other was, nor was there any reason they should have. Kennan was a 39-year-old diplomat, just returned from Portugal. A Wall Street man four years Kennan's junior, Nitze was a second-level official at the Board of Economic Warfare. But Nitze found something compelling about Kennan and sat down across from the distinguished-looking gentleman in the dining car. The pair started talking and began a friendship that would last throughout the Cold War, a war that both men did much to define but about which they would almost never agree.
Kennan and Nitze didn't cross paths again until a few years later, when the two worked together at the State Department as Washington was remaking the postwar world. In the interim, Kennan had served in Moscow, making his reputation with his famous 1946 "...
Toby Axelrod Jta, in the Jerusalem Post (3-3-05):
How much detail did Adolf Hitler know about the genocide of the Jews? Quite a bit according to a rediscovered Soviet book on the subject commissioned by Josef Stalin. Hitler knew in detail about the attempted extermination of the Jews. That's according to Das Buch Hitler - "The Hitler Book" - a newly published German translation of a work written in Russian for the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1949.
Though few have really doubted that Hitler knew about the genocide of European Jewry the book seeks to make clear that SS chief Heinrich Himmler conferred with Hitler about the details of the mass murder according to historian Matthias Uhl of the Institute for Contemporary History in Berlin.
An English-language edition of "The Hitler Book" is due out in November.
"The most remarkable thing about the book is the direct connection between Hitler and the Holocaust Uhl...
Derek Scally, in the Irish Times (4-2-05):
Hitler is big box office. That's the likely message from the weekend box office receipts for Downfall, the German Hitler film that went on release yesterday.
More than five million Germans saw the film, well timed by its producer to capitalise on the coming 60th anniversary of the end of the second World War.
It comes at a time of an extraordinary glut of "Hitler news", an increasingly trivial fuel to feed the apparent growing interest in the dictator as the period retreats further into history. Leading German newspaper columnist Jens Jessen describes this latest wave as "the Third Reich, second-hand".
"We are witnessing a change. The last eye-witnesses are dying out, and historians and artists are now turning to the archives to present the era in whatever way they want," he says. "But what you miss as a result is the confusion of the time, the fact that things...
Jason Berry, in the Boston Globe (4-4-05):
WHEN JOHN Paul II in 1979 made his first trip back to Poland as pope, he was determined to change the course of modern history. The stirring sermons exhorting human freedom, spiritual freedom, had long resonance through the final decade of the Cold War. He orchestrated clandestine support to Solidarity leaders in Poland, keeping pressure on the Communist regime. In 1989, when we watched the Soviet Empire crumble on television, John Paul stood a victor on the world stage, his very person transcending Stalin's famously cynical remark: "How many divisions has the Pope?"
In like measure, the middle years of his papacy demonstrated a remarkable honesty about a runaway consumerist mentality in Western capitalism and the church's own sins, committed in the Crusades, toward Jews, Muslims, even Galileo.
These and other virtues secure his role as one of history's...
A steady feature in Pope John Paul II's obituaries has been mention of his unwaveringly conservative stances on issues such as abortion, birth control, gay rights, and the ordination of women. While these positions were sources of consternation for many American Catholics, they far from represent the whole of John Paul's ethical beliefs. Particularly in his teachings about the global economy, the Pope advanced a vision of social justice that challenges the current, narrow political debate about "moral values."
Many commentators have highlighted the Pope’s extensive travels throughout the world and his use of advanced telecommunications to spread his message. Less noted is the fact that John Paul's vision of globalization sharply countered the pro-corporate triumphalism spread by "free trade" boosters.
[Professor Lipstadt teaches Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and is the author of "History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving" (Ecco, 2005).]
C-Span and I must occupy different planets and speak different languages. But more on that in a moment. Let me start by saying that "Book TV" is a national treasure. The only thing wrong with "Book TV," the 48 hours that C-Span devotes to serious discussion of non-fiction books, is that it does not run all week. This is especially true today, as most TV news networks are more interested in infotainment. With wall-to-wall coverag e of Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, and Scott Peterson, we need C-Span more than ever.
I cannot, however, figure out what they were thinking when it came time to cover my book "History on Trial: My Day in Court with...
... In essence, the pope made two contributions to the defeat of totalitarian communism, a system in which the state claimed ownership of all or most physical property -- factories, farms, houses -- and also held a monopoly on intellectual life. No one was allowed to own a private business, in other words, and no one was allowed to express belief in any philosophy besides Marxism. The church, first in Poland and then elsewhere, broke these two monopolies, offering people a safe place to meet and intellectually offering them an alternative way of thinking about the world.
Here's how it worked: When I lived in Poland in the late 1980s, I was told that if I wanted to know what was going on, I'd have to go every week to a particular Warsaw church and pick up a copy of the city's weekly underground newspaper. Equally, if I wanted to see...
[Gerald L. Zelizer, rabbi of Neve Shalom, a Conservative congregation in New Jersey, is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.]
At best, many popes have merely suffered the Jews as God's outcasts. A few actively promoted their forced conversion.
• In 1963, Pope John XXIII convened a church council that uprooted the pernicious idea that Jews are cursed by God. Pope John Paul II went even further. He described both Jews and Judaism as our "elder brother," while his papal actions dressed that rhetoric with meaning.
• In 1964, Pope Paul VI visited Israel but refused to speak its name lest it suggest recognition. In 1993-94, Pope John Paul II led the Vatican to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
• In 1979, John Paul prayed at Auschwitz and in later years asked forgiveness for...
WHATEVER future generations may say about Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday April 2nd, aged 84, they will look back with amazement on the moment when, for the first time in 500 years, a Christian bishop was in the vanguard of world history. That was in June 1979, barely nine months after the Polish prelate's surprise call to the Vatican, following the untimely death of Pope John Paul I. On a return visit to his homeland, the new pope was bathed in an outpouring of popular devotion that amazed almost everybody, from Warsaw's dissidents to an appalled Soviet Politburo. Millions of Poles turned out to sing, weep and pray with the man they knew as Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of the university town of Krakow. From then on, the Soviet communists began losing their grip on their East European vassals, and the end of the Iron Curtain was in sight. Stalin's...
The world lived this death. It was a global Calvary. People from every corner of the earth gathered in St Peter's Square, peering up at those two windows of the papal apartment, illuminated against the night sky. Across five continents, Christians, Jews and Muslims joined them through television. Marcello, from Rio de Janeiro, emailed CNN: "We are watching the agony of the greatest man of our time." Mohamed, from Birmingham, emailed the BBC: "He will be missed by Catholics and non-Catholics alike."
What does this tell us? It tells us that Pope John Paul II was the first world leader. We talk of Bush, Blair or Hu Jintao as "world leaders", but they are merely national leaders who have a world impact. That's true even of Nelson Mandela, his closest contender for Marcello's title of "greatest man of our time...
[Keith Windschuttle is author of, among other books, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Macleay Press, 2002) and The White Australia Policy (Macleay Press, 2004).]
A university education in the humanities was once supposed to be a civilising experience. But just how antiquated are the traditional advocates of this ideal - such as Charles Badham, professor of classics at the University of Sydney from 1867 to 1884 - can be seen from two new developments at Badham's old institution.
The first is the university's invitation to Antonio Negri to speak at a conference from May 4 to 6 on Physiognomy of Origins: Multiplicities, Bodies and Radical Politics, hosted by the University of Sydney's Research Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences and funded by its school of languages and culture.
And who's Negri? Well, he was one of the...
The panoramic television coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II has represented him as an athlete, an actor, an enemy of totalitarianism, a world traveler, a polyglot, a pacifist, a penitent and an ecumenist. He has also been described, almost compulsively, as a rock star.
What has been harder to divine in all these television images is the pope's identity as a Roman Catholic....
But some programs have ventured to present John Paul II as, first and foremost, a Catholic, and one, furthermore, with grave reservations about American life. On Saturday, ABC's perceptive special, "John Paul II, Legacy of a Pope," featured an interview with James Carroll, a writer and onetime Catholic priest. While Americans have understandably found an anti-Communist ally in the pope during the cold war, Mr. Carroll suggested, they have...
Thomas Cahill, in the NYT (4-5-05):
[Thomas Cahill is the author of"How the Irish Saved Civilization,""Pope John XXIII" and, most recently,"Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter."]
With the news media awash in encomiums to the indisputable greatness of Pope John Paul II, isn't it time to ask to which tradition he belonged? Partisans unfamiliar with Christian history may judge this a strange question. Why, they may answer, he belonged to the Catholic tradition, of course. But there is no single Catholic tradition; there are rather Catholic traditions, which range from the voluntary poverty of St. Francis of Assisi to the boundless greed of the Avignon popes, from the genial tolerance for diversity of Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century to the egomaniacal self-importance of Pope Pius IX in the 19th century, from the secrecy and plotting of Opus Dei to the openness and humane service of the Community of Sant'Egidio. Over its 2,000-year history...
Jaroslav Pelikan, in the NYT (4-4-05):
[Jaroslav Pelikan, professor emeritus of history at Yale, is the author of the five-volume history"The Christian Tradition."]
On June 3, 1979, a few months after Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became the first Slavic pope, he set out as the vision of his pontificate"that this Polish pope, this Slav pope, should at this precise moment manifest the spiritual unity of Christian Europe," even though"there are two great traditions, that of the West and that of the East," with roots in Old Rome and"in the New Rome, at Constantinople."
He spoke these words at a time when all the Slavic peoples, whether Orthodox or Catholic (or Protestant) were subject to the atheist tyranny of Marxism-Leninism, and one of his principal contributions to the realization of that vision was, in his native Poland but with ripple effects throughout the Soviet empire, to help set in...
[Mr. Weigel is a senior fellow and director of the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is author of "Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II," (HarperCollins, 1999) and "The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God," just out from Basic Books.]
... In a 1968 letter to the French Jesuit theologian, Henri de Lubac, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla suggested that "a degradation, indeed a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person" was at the root of the 20th century's grim record: two World Wars, Auschwitz and the Gulag, a Cold War threatening global disaster, oceans of blood and mountains of corpses. How had a century begun with such high hopes for the human future produced mankind's greatest catastrophes? Because, Karol Wojtyla proposed, Western...
Once upon a time there was the West, winner of history's race to modernity, and there were the rest, trying to catch up.
Every society was thought to make the same journey, at greater or lesser speed, from hidebound tradition to the bright promise of industrial modernity and unrestricted economic growth. If it did not, something had gone wrong: it might be excessive attachment to (non-Christian) religions and creeds, or to pre-modern sources of loyalty such as the family and the tribe.
Women were a litmus test: where their feet were bound or heads covered, there was little hope for their communities without radical change delivered by western-oriented saviours. Secularism, urbanisation and market forces would propel them forward.
During the cold war, fleshing out this self-congratulatory model kept academics busy. According to the historians, the West owed its ascent not just to anything as recent or crudely violent...