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.
SOURCE: Guardian (5-5-07)
... In modern schools, of course, history tends to mean Hitler. A simple lesson is served up to students on a plate: fascism is bad. The political and moral ambiguities of classical history, which inspired Machiavelli and Shakespeare, Jefferson and Marx, barely intrude upon the classroom. Students who wish to study Greece and Rome - no less the bedrocks of our own civilisation now than in previous centuries - already find it difficult enough. Next year, however, they will find it impossible. OCR, the single examination board in the country to set an A-level in ancient history, has decided to abolish it. Any student inspired by seeing 300 in the cinema, or watching Gladiator on DVD, or playing Rome: Total War on a PC, will soon have nowhere to go.
At a time when the profile of classical history has never been higher in the mainstream media, and when the uptake of the AS-level alone has tripled since 2000,...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (5-1-07)
When America went to an all-volunteer force in the 1970s, many predicted that a gap in outlook would arise between the military and civilian worlds. To counter the growing gap that has indeed arisen...
SOURCE: Atlantic Monthly (5-4-07)
For decades now, two analogies have battled for supremacy in American foreign policy circles: those of Munich and Vietnam. At the moment, Vietnam has the upper-hand. But don’t count Munich out.
The appeasement of Nazi Germany at the Munich Conference in 1938—when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, after a meeting with Adolf Hitler, declared, he had brought “peace for our time”—has haunted western policymakers and intellectuals ever since. The fear of not stopping a tyrant in his tracks—before it is too late—has been particularly acute in America, weighed down as it is by the responsibilities of a great power. Because such a fear may demand preemptive military action, the Munich analogy flourishes after a lengthy and prosperous peace, when the burdens of war are far enough removed...
SOURCE: NYT Book Review (5-13-07)
The only sure thing that can be said about the past is that anyone who can remember Santayana’s maxim is condemned to repeat it. As a result, the danger of not understanding the lessons of history is matched by the danger of using simplistic historical analogies. Those who have learned the lessons of Munich square off against those who have learned the lessons of Vietnam, and then they both invoke the bread-and-circus days of the overstretched Roman empire in an attempt to sound even more subtle and profound.
In his provocative and lively “Are We Rome?” Cullen Murphy provides these requisite caveats as he engages in a serious effort to draw lessons from a comparison of America’s situation today with that of imperial Rome. Founded, according to tradition, as a farming village in 753 B.C., Rome enjoyed 12 centuries...
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (5-13-07)
Why do some people have the power to remember, while others are asked to forget? That question is especially poignant at this time of year, as we move from Holocaust Remembrance day in early spring to Monday's anniversary of Israel's declaration of independence on May 14, 1948.
In the months surrounding that date, Jewish forces expelled, or intimidated into flight, an estimated 750,000 Palestinians. A living, breathing, society that had existed in Palestine for centuries was smashed and fragmented, and a new society built on its ruins.
Few Palestinian families lack a personal narrative of loss from that period -- an uncle killed, or a branch of the family that fled north while the others fled east, never to be reunited, or homes, offices, orchards and other property seized. Ever since, Palestinians worldwide have...
SOURCE: WaPo (5-16-07)
It is commonly agreed that the destruction of the ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt was one of the most devastating losses of knowledge in all of civilization. Today, however, the digital information that drives our world and powers our economy is in many ways more susceptible to loss than the papyrus and parchment at Alexandria.
An estimated 44 percent of Web sites that existed in 1998 vanished without a trace within just one year. The average life span of a Web site is only 44 to 75 days. The gadgets that inform our lives -- cellphones, computers, iPods,...
SOURCE: http://zenpundit.blogspot.com (5-15-07)
Last week, HNNran a somewhat critical piece by John Elrick on Colonel H.R. McMasterand Frederick Kaganentitled"The Two Historians Who Are Playing a Key Role in"The Surge". The primary hook for HNN's readers was the aspect of two historians (albeit one a serving military officer) playing an influential role in developing administration policy:
"Like Kagan, H.R. McMaster holds a PhD in military history, earning his from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Col. McMaster was commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in northwestern Iraq from 2005-2006 and is...
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (5-15-07)
President Bush, Queen Elizabeth, Bill Clinton, and Sandra Day O'Connor are among the notables helping to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the once-struggling little outpost on the edge of a swamp that gave the English a permanent footing in North America. According to the official Web site, the organizers intend to "showcase Virginia's unique role as the birthplace of modern America and the cradle of American democratic traditions, cultures, ideologies, and principles." But that focus undermines what we can learn from Jamestown's history. The party this month tells us as much about ourselves as it does about 1607.
The myriad events scheduled for this gala are not the first celebrations of early...
SOURCE: Haaretz (5-10-07)
The Palestinians will mark the annual Nakba Day on May 15, as they have done in previous years. We must listen to their voices. As human beings and as Jews we must listen and be attentive to the other's pain, even if the other is - at the moment - our enemy. However, we must listen critically.
First and foremost we may ask, why May 15? It was on this day that the British Mandate on Palestine ended and the State of Israel was established. But the United Nations' resolution of November 29, 1947 also stipulates that an Arab state was to be established on part of Palestine this very same day. This resolution gave the seal of international approval to erecting two nation states on the controversial territory of mandatory Palestine.
Do the Palestinians mention this along with their rejection of the compromise resolution proposed by the international community, in the...
SOURCE: NY Review of Books (5-31-07)
One of Germany's most singular achievements is to have associated itself so intimately in the world's imagination with the darkest evils of the two worst political systems of the most murderous century in human history. The words "Nazi," "SS," and "Auschwitz" are already global synonyms for the deepest inhumanity of fascism. Now the word "Stasi" is becoming a default global synonym for the secret police terrors of communism. The worldwide success of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's deservedly Oscar- winning film The Lives of Others will strengthen that second link, building as it does on the preprogramming of our imaginations by the first. Nazi,...
SOURCE: CNN (5-14-07)
SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- There is an ongoing battle between filmmaker Ken Burns and a coalition of Hispanic veterans, organizations and lawmakers over plans by Burns and the Public Broadcasting System to release a documentary on World War II that ignores the 500,000 Hispanics who fought in the war.
Now there could be a truce. After initially insisting that he wouldn't make any changes, Burns said last week that he would re-edit the film to add stories about Hispanic soldiers -- not as an addendum as was suggested earlier in a lame compromise, but as part of the film itself.
The word came after Burns met with the Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility, which had asked Anheuser-Busch and General Motors Corp. to end their sponsorship of"The War" -- a 14-hour documentary slated to air in September. HACR Chairman Manuel...
SOURCE: LAT (5-12-07)
AS WILLIAM STRACHEY, later secretary to the little colony of Jamestown, put it in his account of the settlement, "Captain [Christopher] Newport … had sight of an extended plaine & spot of earth, which thrust out into the depth, & middle of the channel…. The Trumpets sounding the admiral stoke saile, and … the Colony disembarked, and every man brought his particular store and furniture, together with the generall provision ashoare…. That little halfe Stand of ground, was measured, which they began to fortifie, and thereon in the name of God, to raise a Fortresse."
Thus, on May 14, 1607, 400 years ago Monday, the second successful invasion of America began, on a low-lying peninsula on the north bank of what they were to call the James River. It was a moment of great significance for both the Old World and the New, for not only did...
SOURCE: WaPo (5-13-07)
The colonists landed, short of food and supplies, after a long and harrowing transatlantic voyage. The initial exploring party stole a large quantity of corn that the Indians had carefully stored away for the hard winter. They then dug up some graves, looted items that had been buried with the dead and ransacked Indian houses. Furious fighting with the natives soon ensued. Once they had selected a site for their settlement, the migrants endured a winter of death in which they lost more than half their number.
Ah, of course, you're thinking -- Jamestown. All that looting and fighting and stealing and death. It's the creation story from hell. But think again.
That description is not of the troubled Virginia colony settled by a group of men popularly derided, then and now, as the scum of the Earth. Rather, it depicts the...
SOURCE: National Review Online (5-11-07)
In a battle of celebrity versus substance, substance almost always loses. Such was the case this past week in D.C. and Virginia, where the Queen Mother set hearts a-flutter. Wherever she went, people clamored for tickets to see her, fretted about protocol should they actually meet her, and gleefully endured traffic snarls and cool weather to greet her.
The principal reason for her visit, however, isn’t generating the same buzz. Four hundred years ago this weekend, the Jamestown settlement was founded. It was the site of our first representative government, the cradle of tobacco (a noxious weed today, but a cash cow back then and the reason the slave trade exploded), and possibly the entry point of earthworms (slimy, but a big, big deal). Yet many, it seems, could care less.
To be sure, scholars and the well-read are debating recent discoveries. (The fort was unearthed...
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (5-14-07)
It is obvious that China is a radically different place than it was 20 years ago. But it is equally clear that not everything about the country has been transformed. The tricky part is figuring out which things deserve to be put in the "dramatically altered" category and which belong in the "surprisingly unchanged" one.
Some calls are easy: China's global economic significance goes in the first column, while the Communist Party's enduring monopoly on power goes in the second. But other calls are tougher. For example, in what category do Chinese ideas about the past fall?
If the only information on China you get is from front-page stories in US newspapers, you might conclude that Chinese views of history belong in the "...
SOURCE: Boston Globe (5-13-07)
... Two scholars have just published studies -- one on Napoleon's Europe, the other on the annihilation from the air, by German bombers, of the Basque city of Guernica in 1937 -- that trace the roots of total war. These works, and others, argue that total wars have been, in part, a product of modern technology (poison gas, bombs, etc.) and the modern economies that can produce these weapons on a mass scale. But, this burgeoning work suggests, total wars are also very much a product of modern ideologies that contribute to the idea that a nation at war should hold nothing back.
"I think the rhetoric that is used today has opened us up into being dragged deeper and deeper into a series of conflicts," says David A. Bell, a historian at Johns Hopkins University and author of "The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It."
In his book, Bell stresses how ferocious...
SOURCE: Jewish Press (5-9-07)
SOURCE: Magazine of History (4-1-07)
American school children have always had some exposure to our national history. In the reading books used in nineteenth-century schools, such as the famous McGuffey readers, there were almost always biographies of great men, stories of important incidents in the nation’s evolution, and orations...
SOURCE: http://www.washingtondecoded.com/ (5-11-07)
June 17, 2007 will mark the 35th anniversary of a “third-rate burglary” at the Watergate office complex that burgeoned into the downfall of Richard Nixon. If past were prologue, the anniversary would surely have sparked off a whole new round of speculation about the identity of the fabled secret source known as “Deep Throat.”
But two years ago, the “source to end all sources” was unmasked after three decades of more or less successful anonymity. Deep Throat turned out to be W. Mark Felt, the number...
SOURCE: NYT (5-11-07)
Blair’s worldview began to take shape when he was 11 and his father suffered a debilitating stroke. That sent him off on an intellectual journey that led him to the theologian John Macmurray. “If you really want to understand what I’m all about, you have to take a look at a guy called John Macmurray,” Blair once said. “It’s all there.”