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.
William Safire, in the NYT (April 21, 2004):
A stunning new history coming in May about the relationship between Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy came floating into my office. I immediately flipped though "Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House" by Sally Bedell Smith to see if it included "the lunch" of March 22, 1962.
On that afternoon, F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover met privately with President Kennedy to disclose what his wiretaps had revealed: a woman named Judith Campbell had been heard frequently calling the president's secretary to arrange trysts with J.F.K.
In that era, a president's private life was his own business. The Secret Service facilitated arrangements, the press winked, and Hoover's discretion ensured that he would never be fired. But this case was different.
"The reason for Hoover's disclosure,...
From "The War Powers Resolution: After Thirty Years," prepared by the Congressional Research Service. Click here to read the full report, which appeared March 11, 2004 and has now been posted on the Internet:
This report discusses and assesses the War Powers Resolution, its application since enactment in 1973, providing detailed background on a variety of cases where it was utilized, or issues of its applicability were raised. It will be revised biannually.
In the post-Cold War world, Presidents have continued to commit U.S. Armed Forces into potential hostilities, sometimes without a specific authorization from Congress. Thus the War Powers Resolution and its purposes continues to be a potential subject of controversy. On June 7, 1995 the House defeated, by a vote of 217-201, an amendment to repeal the central features of the War Powers Resolution that have been deemed unconstitutional by every...
Martin Kramer, on his blog (March 2, 2004):
On Monday of last week, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs plenum met in Faneuil Hall in Boston to honor Alan Dershowitz, renowned Harvard law professor. The JCPA is an umbrella for the nation's Jewish organizations. Dershowitz is highly regarded in the Jewish community, especially for his book The Case for Israel . He came to Faneuil Hall to accept the honor—and caused a stir with an inadvertent remark on H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act. That's the piece of legislation that would reform the Title VI subsidy program for area studies, and append to it an advisory board.
After accepting the award, Dershowitz began to talk about issues of the day, and then spoke these words:"There is a far-right-wing effort underway to allow...
William Dalrymple, in the Guardian (March 20, 2004):
Few would dispute Naipaul's status as probably the greatest living writer of Indian origin; indeed some would go further and argue that he is the greatest living writer of English prose. For good reason his views are taken very seriously. He is a writer whose fiction and non-fiction written over half a century forms a body of work of great brilliance, something the Nobel committee recognised in 2001 when it awarded him literature's highest honour, and singled out his analysis of the Islamic world in his prize citation .
Naipaul's credentials as a historian are, however, less secure.
There is a celebrated opening sequence to Naipaul's masterpiece, India: A Wounded Civilization . It is 1975 - a full quarter century before he won the Nobel - and Naipaul is surveying the shattered ruins of the great medieval Hindu capital of Vijayanagar, the City of Victory.
Jim Fish, in BBC News (March 29, 2004):
A two-hour drive south-east of Budapest, the village of Nagyrev is like countless others dotted across the Danubian plain.
Modest single-storey homes line its few muddy streets. But beneath its pastoral exterior, Nagyrev nurses a dark secret. Nearly a century ago, with World War I raging, the womenfolk here began to poison their husbands.
Now aged 83, Maria Gunya was a little girl when her father, a local official, was asked by the police to help investigate a series of unexplained deaths in the village.
It turned out that the woman behind many of the deaths was the village midwife, Zsuzsanna Fazekas. At that time, under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there was no resident doctor or health service.
The midwife enjoyed a monopoly of basic medical training.
"The women used to come to Mrs Fazekas with their problems," Mrs Gunya recalls.
She said that...
Sean Wilentz, in a cover story in the New Republic (March 29, 2004), commenting on Garry Wills's new book, "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power:
[Garry Wills's] main argument is the old Federalist canard that the three-fifths clause was the only reason that Thomas Jefferson was elected president and that the Democratic-Republicans won control of Congress. With that control, the Democratic-Republicans, led by slaveholders and with their national interests inextricably bound up with slavery, created legislation to shore up human bondage and to permit its expansion. "On crucial matters," Wills writes, "the federal ratio gave the South a voting majority." That influence lasted long after Jefferson left office--preventing, according to Wills, the exclusion of slavery from Missouri and in the late 1840s dooming the Wilmot Proviso that would have banned slavery in territories won from Mexico . The chief political...
From the CBS News show, "Sunday Morning" (Feb. 15, 2004):
Announcer: It's SUNDAY MORNING on CBS, and here again is Charles Osgood.
CHARLES OSGOOD, host:
George Washington was famously first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen. But it is his own Change of Heart that attracts our attention this morning. Martha Teichner has the story of a momentous decision he made just before he died.
(Footage of Mt. Vernon; paintings of George Washington; footage of Washington's will)
MARTHA TEICHNER reporting:
(Voiceover) George Washington died in winter, on December 14th, 1799, at Mt. Vernon. Months before, he had awakened in the night and told his wife, Martha, he'd had a dream he was convinced was a premonition of his own death. It was then he began to write his will with the urgency of a man racing against fate, and in absolute secrecy, because in it, he would do...
Steven Lee Beeber, in the NYT (Feb. 23, 2004):
What do you do 25 years after creating a new artistic genre? If you are Will Eisner, you do the same thing again in your late 80's.
"A Contract With God," set in the tenements of his Bronx youth and published in 1978, established Mr. Eisner as the father of the graphic novel. Now he has taken the adult comic-book format a step further, with a graphic history that applies his dark, 1930's-style illustrations to real events of a century ago.
This latest work, called"The Plot," tells the story behind the creation of"The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the infamous Russian forgery that purported to reveal a Jewish plan to rule the world. Mr. Eisner, the son of Jews who fled Europe, has reached into the past to say something about the present: a time, he says, when anti-Semitism is again on the rise.
"I was surfing the Web one day...
Richard Wightman Fox, professor of history at the University of Southern California, in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) (Feb. 20, 2004):
... the broad features of Christ's identity were passed along from one culture to another. At different times greater or lesser weight was assigned to his roles as divine king, sacrificial redeemer, holy child, apocalyptic prophet, miracle worker and healer, wisdom teacher, social critic and reformer, luminous personality. Jesus assumed regional and national shapes as those perennial features of his identity were adapted to local conditions. In 19th-century America, for example, urban and rural working-class Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists all appealed to Jesus for support as they sought leverage against mostly Anglo-American cultural, political, and economic establishments. They...
An interview with Garry Wills on NPR conducted by Tavis Smiley (Feb. 16, 2004):
While we have recent memories of an especially tight presidential election in 2000 and, who knows, potentially a tight election this November, history tells the story of how in 1800, Thomas Jefferson won a close election on the strength of slave representation. Slaves did not vote, of course, but the original Constitution mandated that slaves be considered three-fifths of a person, giving a great deal of power to slave owners and slave states.
Gary Wills joins us now from the studios on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois. He is an adjunct professor and cultural historian there. He's best known, of course, for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Lincoln at Gettysburg," but his new book is called "Negro President: Jefferson and Slave Power."
Professor Wills, nice to have you on, sir.
Wendell Edwards, on KHOU.com (Feb. 11, 2004):
An incredible story of freedom and justice unfolded more than a century ago inside a Harris County courtroom. One hundred and fifty-six years ago Emeline Thompson, a free woman of color, came to Texas only to be enslaved again.
But that is not the end of her story -- it's just the beginning. A remarkable legal challenge that was once lost has been recently found.
Houston in the 1840s was hardly a place for a free woman of color. But in 1846 26-year-old Emeline Thompson moved to Harris County.
"A black woman who had been freed, coming to Houston and being enslaved and trusting the law courts run by slave owners to set her free make this a compelling story," says Judge Mark Davidson.
The story can be found in the original court case...
Goldie Blumenstyk, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) (Feb. 4, 2004):
It takes only a few minutes of peering into the felt-lined drawers filled with heavy, iron tooth-extraction keys, examining the collections of pearl- and ebony-handled probes, and staring up at the museum display cases brimming with tiny sets of false teeth before the feeling overwhelms: I should have flossed.
It's a pretty common reaction, says Scott D. Swank, the curator. And hardly unintended. What kind of dentistry museum would this be if it didn't guilt visitors into thinking about their teeth?
But for Dr. Swank, a dentist by training but a historian at heart, it's history, not hygiene, that makes this museum so compelling.
Perhaps best known for its display of a set of dentures worn by George Washington (three are held elsewhere and...
Brett Sokol, in miaminewtimes.com (Feb. 5, 2004):
While it's certainly true that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter , with Che Guevara that maxim has become downright surreal. Today the revolutionary icon's writings are simultaneously admired by teenage Howard Dean volunteers in Burlington and Taliban leaders in the Afghan countryside; they are parsed for strategies by narco-guerrillas in Colombia as well as counterinsurgency experts at the U.S. Southern Command.
Meanwhile the same Che T-shirt spotted on several masked anarchists cavorting through downtown Miami during November's FTAA protests was also sported by actress Elizabeth Hurley as she club-hopped across London. Hurley, though, chose to accessorize her sartorial ode to class struggle with a $4500 Louis Vuitton handbag. And just to add a further dash of the...
Daniel Okrent, ombudsman for the NYT (Feb. 1, 2004):
THIS week, it's time for some journalism heresy. I'd like to suggest that newspapers with aspirations to greatness - like the one you're holding in your hands - learn to be generous to their rivals, and in the process provide value for their readers.
It has long been Times policy to credit other news organizations for their scoops: "Such and so was first reported Monday in 'The Daily Bugle.' '' It has even longer been part of the paper's genetic code never to let someone else's scoop lie unmassaged by Timesian hands. "What can we add?'' goes the editors' refrain. Sometimes - often - that works. Sometimes, though, the effort at addition becomes, for the reader, an act of subtraction....
Last October, The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, published a series of articles revealing that...
Randy Boswell, writing in the Ottawa Citizen (Jan. 21, 2004):
With help from Herodotus and an Aegean Sea octopus, a Canadian-led scientific expedition appears to have discovered the site of a turning point in world history: the sinking of a massive Persian invasion fleet in a fierce storm that saved Greece at the dawn of western civilization.
During an October dive off the country's northeast coast near Mount Athos -- a site pinpointed by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus -- archeologists retrieved ship storage jars dating from the 5th century BC and the metal butt of a spear that matches those carried by Persian warriors.
The researchers also learned of an earlier find in the same waters by a fisherman that clinches the significance of the site: two bronze battle helmets that the Persians would have worn at the time of the world's first great clash between East and West.
Project co-leader Shelley Wachsmann,...
AHA president James McPherson (2003), writing in the AHA's Perspectives, about Lincoln books that falsify history (Jan. 2004):
The latest entry in the field is Dark Union: The Secret Web of Profiteers, Politicians, and Booth Conspirators That Led to Lincolns Death, by Leonard F. Guttridge and Ray A. Neff (John Wiley & Sons, 2003). The subtitle summarizes the thesis, which incorporates and augments all of the apocryphal interpretations of previous sensational exposés except the Jesuit-conspiracy theory. Among the new revelations, Dark Union claims that Booth not only escaped but also made his way to India where he changed his name to John B. Wilkes and accumulated a fortune by the time he died there in 1883....
Robert J. Miller, associate professor of Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland,
Oregon, writing in the Seattle
Times (Jan. 28, 2004):
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark sit high in the pantheon of American folk heroes. Even today, Lewis and Clark are viewed as brave adventurers who went where no one had gone before, exploring and conquering the wilderness for the betterment of America.
There is another way to view Lewis and Clark, however, which is nearer to the truth. Lewis and Clark were military officers serving American empire and manifest destiny and they were the vanguard of American policies that ultimately robbed the indigenous peoples of nearly everything they possessed.
Historian Bernard DeVoto stated, "The dispatch of the Lewis and Clark expedition was an act of imperial policy." This imperialism was...
A decade ago, heated controversy marked the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945. Some historians said the bomb had been necessary to end the war and save hundreds of thousands of American lives, while revisionists insisted that Japan had been on the verge of capitulating and would have offered a surrender if only the Truman administration had facilitated it.
Since that contentious anniversary, a “middle ground” school of thought about the bombing has emerged. Writing in Diplomatic History (April 2005), J. Samuel Walker, the historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, surveys the recent literature. It seems that Japanese leaders were not, in fact, ready to surrender when the bomb was dropped on August 6, but had it (and the second A-bomb, dropped on Nagasaki three days later) not been...
It has been 60 years since the U.S. government used atomic bombs to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The weapons killed 200,000 people outright and left tens of thousands of others dying of radiation-induced cancers or afflicted by birth defects, immunological disorders and psychological traumas. It was a grim beginning to the nuclear age and led millions of people around the globe to conclude that the world stood on the brink of destruction.
Fortunately, since 1945, we have managed to avert that fate. Thanks to widespread public pressure and the efforts of some far-sighted statesmen, governments around the world have exercised a surprising level of nuclear restraint. They have resisted the temptation to carry their quarrels to the level of nuclear war and have agreed to important nuclear arms control...
[Mr. Iklé was undersecretary of defense for policy in the Reagan administration. His book, "Annihilation from Within," written at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, will be published by Columbia University Press next year.]
... The news about Hiroshima reached the White House on Aug. 5, 1945 -- precisely 60 years ago. President Truman's statement next morning informed the world of the "atomic bomb" and the Manhattan Project. Four days later, the A-bomb attack on Nagasaki prompted Japan's surrender and ended World War II. Since then, America has devoted immense effort to the nuclear problem -- an intellectual, political, and military endeavor that has no parallel. We know how we entered the Nuclear Age. We do not know how to exit from it.
First we tried arms control to kill the...