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.
Roosevelt and Stalin met only twice – in Tehran in November 1943 and in Yalta in February 1945. They met each time with the third of the Big Three, Winston Churchill. By the time they met at Yalta, all three were old and tired. Churchill, who had spent the 1930s in constant frustration, was seventy-one. Stalin at sixty-six had governed his country for seventeen draining years. Roosevelt, who had turned sixty-three the week before the Yalta meeting, had led his country through the worst economic depression and the worst...
Oren Ben-Dor, in the London Independent (5-30-05):
[Dr. Oren Ben-Dor, originally from Israel, is a Lecturer in Law at Southampton University in the United Kingdom.]
Driving towards my birthplace of Nahariya in northern Israel, you pass an impressively designed Holocaust memorial, dedicated to 'the fighters of the ghettos'. It is difficult not to be touched by its importance and prominence. Three hundred metres further along the same road, lie the forgotten remains of the Arab village, al-Sumuriya, whose people were among the 750,000 Palestinians displaced in 1947-49 war. The contrast illustrates the way in which, in Israel, the Jewish catastrophe monopolises the national collective memory at the expense of the Other.
The decision last week by UK academics to overturn their boycott of two Israeli universities is a missed opportunity to awaken Israelis, and in turn Palestinians, to the urgent...
Ian Buruma, in the Financial Times of London (5-28-05):
... Asked what he thought was wrong with most Japanese textbooks, one well-known Tsukurukai member, Nobukatsu Fujioka of Tokyo University, said that "they are not written with Japanese people in mind. They present a history that is hostile to Japan." He attributes this to "Japanese socialists, communists and liberal media", as well as foreigners who see "Japan as nothing but an evil aggressor during the war". This kind of masochism, he believes, must be stopped.
Neither Fujioka, who is an expert on education, nor Kobayashi, nor most of their colleagues who are concerned about Japanese masochism, are professional historians. But their views, reflected in the latest textbook that sparked protests in China, have a growing appeal among young Japanese who are tired of being told that their country was uniquely wicked in the war and should apologise for it all...
James Pinkerton, in Newsday (5-26-05):
On Memorial Day, next Monday, many Americans will commemorate past war sacrifice. Sadly, more Americans will watch TV, oblivious to our sacred national history.
But what's new for Memorial Day 2005 is the recasting of America's past in such a way that "blasphemes" our civil religion of service and sacrifice. That's the view of historian Michael Vlahos of Johns Hopkins University - making a sharp thesis, using a cutting argument.
Vlahos starts by pointing to George W. Bush's speech to the International Republican Institute on May 18 in which the president attempted to contextualize the current violence in Iraq. "As we push the freedom agenda, we must remember the history of our own country," Bush declared. "The American Revolution was followed by years of chaos." He went on to assert that the Articles of Confederation, governing the U.S. from 1781 to 1788, "failed miserably...
[Jeff Shesol is the author of ''Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Defined a Decade,'' and was a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton.]
Just about one year ago, as millions of television viewers watched the sun set in Simi Valley, Calif. -- the terminus of Ronald Reagan's cross-country funeral procession -- the late president's advance men called an end to Operation Serenade, their code name for this national farewell. In a manner that recalled Reagan's time in the White House, every move had been carefully choreographed. This was no ordinary funeral. ''This,'' as one former advance man said, ''is a legacy-building event.''
That work goes on, with Reagan's acolytes still building and burnishing. The Reagan Legacy Project, started in 1997 by the conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist, seeks to name something -- a stadium, a stretch of turnpike, anything -- after Reagan in every state in the...
[Mark Lilla is a professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. His study of modern theology and politics, ''The Stillborn God,'' will be published next year.]
EVERYONE, it seems, wants to get religion. Since the re-election of George W. Bush our magazines and newspapers have been playing catch-up, running long articles on the evangelicals and fundamentalists, an alien world the press typically ignores. Anxious Democratic strategists have issued pleas to find common ground with the religious center on issues like abortion, and elected officials have dutifully begun baring their souls in public. This is a media bubble, and like all bubbles it will burst. Far more interesting and consequential has been the effort to reinterpret history to give religion a more central place in America's past -- and, perhaps...
A REPORT JUST ISSUED BY the Bible Literacy Project (more on this later) suggests that young Americans know very little about the Bible. The report is important, but first things first: A fair number of Americans don't see why teenagers should know anything at all about the Bible.
Scripture begins with God creating the world, but there is something these verses don't tell you: The Bible has itself created worlds. Wherever you stand on the spectrum from devout to atheist, you must acknowledge that the Bible has been a creative force without parallel in history.
Go to the center of Paris and drop in on the apotheosis of the French Middle Ages--Sainte Chapelle, whose walls are made almost entirely of stained glass. It "has rightly been called," writes the scholar Shalom Spiegel, "the most wonderful of pictured Bibles." The King James Bible, says Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, "has influenced our...
Had it not been for his fear that a faction of liberal senators might filibuster his judicial confirmation, Richard H. Poff would have been nominated to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court instead of William H. Rehnquist.
A conservative Republican congressman from Virginia who opposed civil rights laws, Poff was tapped by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971 in his drive to reshape the then-liberal Warren Supreme Court.
But Poff withdrew rather than subject his family to the exposure of a filibuster, and Nixon then turned to Rehn- quist, who went on to become chief justice and serve for more than three decades.
That rarely recalled event is one of several examples of how senators have used a filibuster - or more often the threat of a filibuster - as lever- age with the Senate majority or the White...
Kevin Myers, in the Sunday Telegraph (5-22-05):
Gitta Sereny - a writer whom I respect greatly - has been arguing that Albert Speer, Hitler's confidant and armaments minister, did not know of the Holocaust. She was prompted to do this by the recent broadcast by the BBC of German films made by Heinrich Breloer: Speer und Er, which clumsily translates as "Speer and He", "he" being Hitler.
I do not speak German, I have not read the thousands of documents that she has read, I was not at the Nuremberg trials as she was, I never met Speer, and she knew him well: I speak thus from the position of a reasonably well-informed layman impudently arguing with an expert. But when I hear that Speer did not know of the Holocaust, I feel a Jeremy Paxman moment assailing my soul, as I throw down a sheaf of papers, and exclaim: "Oh come off it. You don't really expect me to believe that, do you?"
For the moment, let us ignore archives...
Antony Beevor, in the London Independent (5-21-05):
THE HISTORY of warfare is never black and white. This is true even of that most morally justifiable struggle, the fight against Nazism. On the British side, few leaders have been so controversial as Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, who directed the strategic air offensive against Germany.
'Bomber' Harris took over in early 1942, a year which turned out to be a very hard time for the Allied cause. Rommel was pushing the British back towards Alexandria, while German armies advanced into the Caucasus and towards the Volga at Stalingrad. Stalin was demanding an Anglo-American invasion of the European mainland to form a 'Second Front' to relieve the terrible pressure on the Red Army which was taking all the casualties....
Harris, when observing the Blitz on London, had promised that the Nazis, having sown the wind, would reap the whirlwind. He gloated over the destruction of the Ruhr, and he almost...
Editorial in the Columbus Dispatch (5-24-05):
Gettysburg has to be the worst place in Pennsylvania for a casino.
Historians, Civil War buffs and preservationists would like to crush this asinine proposal before it gets off the ground.
If approved by a state commission, the casino and spa would be built about 1 1/2 miles east of the Gettysburg National Military Park, near enough to be considered a desecration of the memory of the thousands of soldiers who are buried there.
James M. McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author on the Civil War, opposes this "tawdry, tasteless enterprise next to their fields of honor."
A 10-member investment group, aptly named Chance Enterprises, is led by David LeVan, a Gettysburg businessman who also owns Battlefield Harley-Davidson. He asserts that the casino would not be visible from the park, unlike the Gettysburg Tower, which was so hated by the National Park...
For the conservative student entering a graduate history program there is no simple advice. Your way will be tenuous, precarious, and often downright dangerous. Can a conservative student survive? Yes. But more often than not, he or she is corrupted along the way, and often forced, through a series of "suggestions," "requirements," and less-than-obvious hints to conduct research on the appropriate topics, with acceptable methods, arriving at agreeable conclusions, or face a tough time on the job market . . . if not in front of a dissertation committee.
A typical student at Big State U enters a history graduate program starry-eyed, ready to "make a difference" by "revealing the past....
A debate at Slate.com between Jon Wiener and Diane Ravitch (week of May 16, 2005):
[Diane Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University and is the author of The Language Police. She was the primary writer for the California History/Social Science Framework adopted by the State Board of Education in 1988 and has served as consultant for history curriculum to several other states. Jon Wiener is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, a contributing editor of the Nation, and is the author, most recently, of Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower.]
Debates about how much American students know about their own history, and about how our citizens should be taught what they don't know, are anything but abstract ones these days. Before we get down to the business of discussing those questions, let me set the current scene. President Bush campaigned in...
No one has listened and captured the human voice better than Studs Terkel in his twelve books of oral histories, including Division Street: America, The Good War, Race and Working. Someone once said, "When America talks, Studs listens." On the occasion of his 93rd birthday (May 16), we turn the tables--Terkel talks. The following is an abridged transcript of a 2003 interview with Studs conducted by Jonathan Cott, who started by asking him, "What do you think it is in many Americans that makes them have little curiosity about or interest in knowing what has happened in our past?"
We have a new medium, television, that's at this moment, and it's you watching it at this moment--you and your family or you and yourself. How does what is happening in other countries affect me? We don't ask how did these things come to be, you see? The Korean War is hardly discussed today, how it came about. We don't want to know...
When Yale awarded President John F. Kennedy an honorary degree, he said he had the ideal combination -- a Yale degree and a Harvard education. Today he might rethink that, given the Harvard faculty's tantrum that caused President Lawrence Summers's cringing crawl away from his suggestion of possible gender differences of cognition. At least the phrase "Yale education" does not yet seem, as "Harvard education" does, oxymoronic.
And will not while Donald Kagan adorns Yale's campus, where he is a professor of history and classics. Last week, in Washington, he delivered the 34th Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, "In Defense of History," which was agreeably subversive of several sides in today's culture wars.
"The world we live in," he said, "is a difficult place to try to make a case for...
... André Malraux said that "All art is a revolt against man's fate." If he is right, Sophocles's plays, the other tragedies, and much of ancient Greek literature are not art. Malraux seems to me to reflect the Romantic view that is determined to see the artist as an individual apart from, superior to and in rebellion against the established order. Sophocles, like Aeschylus and Thucydides, was very much a part of his society. He fought its battles as a soldier, he understood and appreciated its necessity and excellences even as he probed its dilemmas and weaknesses. His plays, among other things, helped their audiences to understand and come to terms with man's fate. It is man's fate, part of the tragic human condition, to revolt and struggle against its negative elements. But human excellence, virtue, even survival depend on...
[Jacob Heilbrunn is an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times and is at work on a book about the neoconservative movement.]
Belief in America's decline is on the rise. The surge began with the Yale historian Paul Kennedy's 1987 best seller The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Random House), which argued that Ronald Reagan's economic bungling would bring about America's collapse. Shortly thereafter, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet empire disintegrated. Although Kennedy has since performed a U-turn, other prophets of doom have emerged. Now that another Republican president, George W. Bush, is in his second term, it has become an article of faith among many of his detractors that the United States may be on the verge of ruin.
It would be hard to find a more striking example of this phenomenon than Metropolitan Books'...
Anthony Paul, in the Straits Times ( Singapore) (5-14-05):
ON A sunny Saturday afternoon a century ago, an extraordinary sight transfixed Singapore. Headlines in The Straits Times files of April 10, 1905 capture the city's excitement:
'Most magnificent sea spectacle since the Armada. Forty-four mighty vessels in battle array.'
Said the accompanying report: 'Never - according to all the chances of war and precedents of history - will ( Singapore) ever witness it again.'
The then British colony had been treated to the sight of Czarist Russia's Baltic Fleet passing through the Singapore Strait en route to teach a lesson to that upstart Asian empire, Japan.
The procession, about 10km long, took 50 minutes to pass a given spot. Because Britain had declared neutrality in the Russo-Japanese War then under way, the Russians were barred from revictualing in Singapore. So the 'Baltickers', as the fleet was known, steamed north to Vietnam's Cam...
Carla Crowder, Newhouse News Service (5-15-05):
TUSCUMBIA , ALA. -- It’s impossible to miss the ubiquitous brown signs for Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller. She’s the pride of the north Alabama town of Tuscumbia. Townspeople celebrate her with an annual festival and performances of "The Miracle Worker" play, and her childhood home is preserved like a shrine.
Visitors learn that her father was a captain in the Confederacy. They see the water pump where the blind and deaf child made the connection that things have names, with teacher Anne Sullivan spelling w-a-t-e-r into her hand. Photos of the adult Helen Keller with U.S. presidents hang in a museum.
Not on display are Keller’s membership in the Socialist Party, her letters praising the work of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, her anti-war essays, or much about her helping to found the American Civil Liberties Union.
Les Payne, in Newsday (5-15-05):
My bank, it turns out, accumulated early assets by trafficking in slavery. So did my insurance company. Ditto the newspaper I delivered door-to-door as a child growing up in Hartford, Conn.
What should descendants of slaves make of J.P. Morgan Chase Bank? Aetna Insurance Co.? The Hartford Courant?
Consider the current evidence against this most honorable U.S. banking institution that held in human bondage hundreds of Africans brought to these shores in chains. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. hired historian James Lide to examine the 170-year-old records of its predecessor, Citizens Bank in Louisiana, according to The Wall Street Journal. The probe to clear the bank's name was not launched for reasons of altruism or ethics.
An alarm was triggered when Chase Bank conducted business in Chicago, which now requires companies doing business with the city to disclose links to slavery. With the title of Business,...