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.
Stephen Bayley, in the London Independent (5-15-05):
With the shortcomings " moral, oratorical, practical, symbolic " of our present crop of national leaders very much in mind, it is interesting to reflect on that famous photograph of our most revered warrior chieftain. He stands pin-striped and pugnacious, bow-tied beneath a dark Homburg. I dare say he has enjoyed a glass or two of his favourite Pol Roger champagne (and it was his habit to start the day with a whisky and soda in bed: 'I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me,' he once said). Clamped in his jaw is one of the eight to 10 Romeo y Julieta cigars he smoked every day (a habit he picked up on furlough in Cuba in 1895, later maintaining a store of 3,000 or so at his house in Kent). Additionally, a nice touch, this, he is holding a Thompson M1928 sub-machinegun.
I find myself in the subterranean gloom of the new Churchill Museum, an addition to the Cabinet War Rooms...
"YOU should have a blog."
Apparently I push my opinions on my friends rather aggressively, because I often hear this remark.
Last week, I had my chance. My wife and I agreed to be "guest bloggers" - the online equivalent of what David Brenner used to do for Johnny Carson - for Dan Drezner, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, who runs a popular libertarian-conservative blog, DanielDrezner.com.
How hard could blogging be? You roll out of bed, turn on your computer, scan the headlines, think up some clever analysis while brushing your teeth, type it onto your site and you're off.
But as I discovered, blogging is no longer for amateurs or the faint of heart. Blogging - if it's done well - has evolved into an all-consuming art.
Last Sunday, after a cup of coffee, I made my first...
[Roger Cohen, who writes the Globalist column for The International Herald Tribune, is author of"Soldiers and Slaves: American P.O.W.'s Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble" (Knopf).]
THE Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Yakovenko, had an interesting suggestion the other day."The job of historians is to tell the truth," he ventured. If only it were that simple.
Mr. Yakovenko made this cute observation as he waded into the historical minefield that President Bush was also navigating last week. At the core of the explosive issues confronted by the president in the Baltic states and Moscow lies this vexed question: Can a meaningful distinction be made, in moral terms, between Communist totalitarian terror and Nazism?
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the president of Latvia, gave her own answer in a statement before Mr....
[Arthur Hertzberg, a visiting professor of the humanities at New York University, is the author of"The Fate of Zionism."]
LASTweek, Pope Benedict XVI vowed to Rome's former chief rabbi that he would renew the Vatican's commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue. The statement, which came at the same time that Germany unveiled its new Holocaust memorial in central Berlin, was but one of several gestures the new pope has extended toward a receptive Jewish community. The Israeli government, the Anti-Defamation League and the European Jewish Congress have welcomed these overtures and urged Benedict to continue his predecessor's work.
But from my own experience as the chairman, more than 30 years ago, of the first international Jewish delegation to meet formally with a comparable delegation from the Vatican, I am far from...
I saw Kingdom of Heaven Sunday. The film has many virtues, with its attention to costume and scene. I could quibble. Medieval European swords of the 1100s could not be wielded in the way they were shown here; they were very heavy. And I doubt that whatever the catapults were throwing in the way of fiery material would explode like bombshells on impact. Even bombshells didn't explode until the 18th century, as I recall. The history is not entirely wrong, though predictably liberties are taken.
I'll have something to say with regard to history in a moment. Here let me complain about the lack of character development. There is no reason why, in an epic, character has to be kept constant. Characters can learn and change even in the midst of large scale change. Nobody in this film seems to. Everyone ends the film as they began it. Instead, we are given a medieval morality play where each character is a virtue or vice and stays that way...
As the 20th century faded into the 21st, the Internet gave birth to a new form of communication, the weblog or"blog." A blog is a commonplace journal maintained on the Internet, where it is accessible to other readers. At the beginning of 1999, there were about two-dozen blogs known to exist. This was an intimate world, in which every blogger could be known to all other bloggers, but during that year the first free create-your-own-weblog tools became available and the numbers of bloggers grew into the hundreds.1
Blogs take a variety of forms, from daily personal journals to occasional essays. Some blogs are exclusively individual efforts; others are collective ventures or group blogs. Some are done anonymously or pseudonymously; other people blog in their own names. Some enable readers...
Kwan Weng Kin, in the Straits Times ( Singapore) (5-13-05):
IT ALL began with 'comfort women', a euphemism to describe the thousands of mostly Asian women forced to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers during World War II.
In 1996, when Professor Nobukatsu Fujioka, 62, learnt that all seven history textbooks for Japan's junior high schools included that term, he rounded up several like-minded acquaintances to rewrite history.
Together, they established the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, or 'Tsukurukai' for short.
One of its founders, the late historian Takao Sakamoto, once derisively compared the comfort women issue to the 'history of the toilet', saying it had no place in any textbook.
He was a professor of political thought at no less than Gakushuin University, which counts Emperor Akihito and his children among its alumni.
Prof Fujioka, an educationist by training, thinks comfort women never...
[John J. Tkacik, a retired State Department officer who served in Taipei, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou, is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.]
MILLIONS OF CHINESE FAMILIES SUFFERED during the invasion and occupation of the mainland by Imperial Japanese armies in the Second World War. But President Hu Jintao's and Premier Wen Jiabao's family tragedies came at the hands of fellow Chinese, not Japanese--and occurred rather more recently.
Wen Jiabao is the third-ranked member of the Chinese Communist party and as such is probably the third-from-last person in China who should complain about anyone's inability to"face up to history squarely." Of course, this didn't deter him from demanding exactly that of Japan on April 12."Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for history,...
[Mark Selden is a coordinator of Japan Focus. His most recent book is War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century. ]
Japan, the Japanese people, and Japanese-Americans enter the pages of American history textbooks only in treatments of World War II, which, together with the American Revolution, constitutes the high water mark of American triumphalism. At a time when Japanese textbooks are subject to intense public scrutiny for their treatment of the war and colonialism, it is appropriate to examine their American counterparts. Like the treatments of wartime foes in the textbooks of other nations, these reveal as much about...
Goose-stepping soldiers. Hammers and sickles. That was some spectacle in Red Square to commemorate the 60th anniversary of V-E Day. Like his communist predecessors, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin isn't shy about claiming for his country an outsized share of the credit for defeating Nazi Germany.
No one can gainsay the sacrifices of the Soviet people. I should know. Both of my grandfathers served in the Soviet armed forces and survived the war. They were lucky. At least 25 million Soviet citizens perished, while the United States and the British empire together lost "just" 700,000.
What rankles me is that successive rulers in the Kremlin, from Josef Stalin to Putin, have exploited their people's suffering to justify their own misrule. This is reminiscent of a teenager killing his parents and then throwing...
Eric Silver, in the London Independent (5-5-05):
'To boycott this university among all the universities in Israel is so bizarre and so distorted that I simply can't understand it,' said Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, the president of Haifa University, one of two Israeli academic institutions blacklisted last week by Britain's Association of University Teachers (AUT). 'We are the most pluralistic and most tolerant university in Israel.' He could hardly be expected to say less, but he made out a strong case, which he said the AUT never let him present.
Some 20 per cent of Haifa's 16,500 students are Israeli Arabs, the same proportion as Arab citizens make up in the country as a whole. A month ago the university elected an Arab professor to the key post of dean of research. Majed el-Haj, a Muslim sociologist who specialises in problems of Arab education and of Jewish immigrants, will be the first Arab dean in any Israeli university.
Ramzi Suleiman, a Christian Arab...
Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle and literary critic of The Philadelphia Inquirer, was a finalist this spring for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in criticism.
... As the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II arrives in Europe, it's appropriate to bring bookish context to a bookish man. Ratzinger's own autobiographical accounts, in his Salt of the Earth (Ignatius Press, 1997) and Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-77 (Ignatius Press, 1998), throw light on his personality, especially when juxtaposed with other sources.
Almost all information on Ratzinger's wartime experiences comes from his own testimony or that of surviving family and friends from Traunstein, his hometown between Munich and Salzburg.
Ratzinger's own accounts sometimes clash...
"It just offends me that the president of the United States is, directly or indirectly, attacking his own country in a foreign land." That was 1998. The speaker, Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), was then House majority whip. The president was Bill Clinton, who had "attacked his own country" while in Uganda. "Going back to the time before we were even a nation," Clinton had told an African audience, "European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade. And we were wrong in that."
Fast-forward seven years; the president is now George W. Bush. Last weekend he unexpectedly proffered an apology for the 1945 Yalta agreement, which legitimized Soviet control of Eastern Europe. Speaking in Latvia, one of the countries that remained under Soviet occupation, Bush said that Yalta, an agreement...
Clemens Wergin, in the London Financial Times (5-10-05):
[The writer is an editorial writer for the German daily Der Tagesspiegel]
This week, memories of German atrocities again feature in media headlines around the world. That the past has not disappeared - neither for Germany nor for its neighbours - is a fact the majority of Germans have come to accept. Perhaps the Japanese, too, should not have been surprised that their history came back with a vengeance this year, in the form of anti-Japanese riots throughout China and complaints about Japan's failure to come to terms with its history of aggression in east Asia.
Some Koreans, Chinese and others say Japan should look to Germany as an example when dealing with its history. This may seem a little unfair, to elevate Japanese war crimes, as atrocious as they might have been, to the level of the genocidal politics of Nazi Germany. But it is still valid to ask why Japan has not dealt squarely with its...
Andrew Osborn, in the London Independent (5-9-5):
In London they danced in the fountains but in Moscow they were too shell-shocked, too exhausted and too battle-weary to manage such high jinks. Up to 30 million soldiers and civilians were dead, the Soviet Union had lost a third of its national wealth, cities such as Stalingrad had been reduced to lunar landscapes, and an entire generation of men had been decimated. ...
Today, 9 May, is the traditional day when first the USSR, and now its principal successor state, Russia, marks 'Victory Day', the most sacred of all public holidays. Moscow celebrates victory over Nazi Germany 24 hours later than the other Allies because the German high command surrendered to the Soviets one day later than they did to the Americans and the British.
They hoped they would get better treatment at the hands of the Western Allies and they were right. But Stalin's ghost is not as disturbing and threatening as some Western...
Paul McKay, in the Ottawa Citizen (5-6-05):
A brave teenager, now a Canadian, made a daring escape from Auschwitz and first warned the world of its horrific secret. His report saved 200,000 lives.
Rudolf Vrba was once imprisoned there. After 21 harrowing months, the teenager and a fellow Slovak Jew escaped to alert Europe about the Nazi death factory in Poland.
Scholars generally agree that the escapees' 60-page report, including diagrams of the camp layout and defences, halted Nazi death trains poised to send some 200,000 Hungarian Jews to oblivion three months later.
The pair escaped in April 1944 by hiding for three days in a pile of building planks soaked in gasoline and Russian tobacco, the only scent known to thwart SS Alsatian dogs. It took three weeks to steal their way on foot through the mountains of southern Poland, freezing in the spring snow, starving and dressed in rags. At one point, they barely escaped the sniper fire of an...
Jonathan Steele, in the Guardian (5-6-05):
Like other recent "60ths" - D-day last June, and the liberation of Auschwitz in January - this year's remembrance in Moscow has the poignancy of being the last in which significant numbers of survivors will be able to join. But will it make the breakthrough in western minds that previous postwar historiography has failed to do? Will the Soviet Union's overwhelming role in defeating Hitler finally be accepted, or is Monday's event just another empty ritual of being polite to the memory of a foreign country's dead soldiers and civilians without understanding how much we owe them?
The "role denial" of what the Soviet Union and the Red Army achieved is not as perverse as "Holocaust denial" but it is considerably more widespread in the western world. During the cold war, western leaders routinely laid wreaths at the tomb of the unknown soldier below the Kremlin walls or visited the...
Dennis M. Mahoney, in the Columbus Dispatch (5-6-05):
In 1096, the rallying cry of western Europe's Christians was "Deus volt," or "God wills it." Today, the Crusades serve as a rallying cry for some as an example of the West's mistreatment of Muslims.
But in reality, misconceptions about the Crusades abound in the modern world.
The Crusades, contends historian Thomas Madden, were primarily a reaction by Christians to aggression by Muslims, who had controlled the Holy Land and other parts of the Middle East for more than 400 years.
Crusaders who signed on for the First Crusade in the late 11th century were told by the Roman Catholic Church that heaven could be their reward, he said.
"This was a way for you to do something good with your sword, and in the same token do a penitential act that could help your quest for salvation," Madden said.
The First Crusade was born when Emperor Alexius I of...
Olivia Ward, in the Toronto Star (5-7-05):
The end came with ironic calm: signatures penned on a piece of paper by five generals in a makeshift schoolhouse building in northeastern France - a German, an American, a Briton, a Russian and a French observer.
Sixty years ago today, Germany surrendered to the Allied forces, and the most destructive war in history ended in Europe. The ceremony was brief and businesslike. Victory in Europe Day would be officially celebrated a day later, on May 8, 1945.
As fires were lit, electric lights blazed, and weeping, dancing, embracing survivors thronged the streets of European and North American cities, the great blackout that was World War II ended.
But in the bleak, grey dawn came the reckoning: 60 million dead, 46 million uprooted from their homes, millions more sick and starving and the majority of Europeans faced with rebuilding their lives on the ashes of a world that no longer existed.
TOMORROW, it will be 60 years to the day since the German Reich's unconditional surrender. That is equivalent to a working life with a pension to look forward to. It goes so far back that memory, that wide-meshed sieve, is in danger of forgetting it.
Sixty years ago, after being wounded in the chaotic retreat in Lausitz, I lay in a hospital with a flesh wound in my right thigh and a bean-sized shell splinter in my right shoulder. The hospital was in Marienbad, a military hospital town that had been occupied by American soldiers a few days earlier, at the same time as Soviet forces were occupying the neighboring town of Karlsbad. In Marienbad, on May 8, I was a naïve 17-year-old who had believed in the ultimate victory right to the end. Those who had survived the mass murder in the German concentration camps could regard themselves as liberated,...