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: WSJ (8-24-07)
Ever since the mid-1970s, critics of American military involvement have warned that any decision to deploy armed forces abroad--in Lebanon and El Salvador in the 1980s, in Kuwait, Somalia, and Kosovo in the 1990s, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan--would result in "another Vietnam." Conversely, supporters of those interventions have adamantly resisted any Vietnam comparisons.
President George W. Bush boldly abandoned that template with his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Wednesday. In a skillful bit of political jujitsu, he cited Vietnam not as evidence that the Iraq War is unwinnable, but to argue that the costs of giving up the fight would be catastrophic--just as they were in Southeast Asia.
This has met with predictable and angry denunciations...
SOURCE: New Republic's Open University (4-16-07)
SOURCE: Oliver Kamm (blog) (8-21-07)
This is the third post dealing with objections to my Guardian column a fortnight ago on Hiroshima Day. I had intended it to be the last in the series, but there will in fact be one more after this.
In my article, I argued that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible but not a crime. The previousposts dealt with criticisms published in, respectively, The Guardian and in other publications. I faulted my critics particularly on their treatment of history. This post deals with ethical objections, as will the next. My principal target will be the critique advanced by my friend Norman Geras, who in turn invokes the reasoning of...
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (8-22-07)
Apologizing for the sins, real and contrived, of Western Civilization, is suffocatingly trendy among the West’s cultural elites. It fits their ideological assumption that the West and its religion have ceaselessly victimized benign indigenous cultures around the world.
But this fad was tossed topsy turvey, recently, when Papua New Guinea tribesmen apologized for their ancestors having cannibalized Methodist missionaries 129 years ago. Thousands of villagers attended the apology ceremony in East New Britain province and listened to words of praise for the English missionary who had brought the Gospel to their region.
The apologetic Papuans, led by the Governor General of Papua New Guinea, offered their apologies to the High Commissioner of Fiji. Four Fijian missionaries, under the command of Rev. George Brown of the London-based Wesleyan Missionary Society,...
SOURCE: City Journal (Summer Issue) (7-1-07)
Try explaining to a college student that Tet was an American military victory. You’ll provoke not a counterargument—let alone an assent—but a blank stare: Who or what was Tet? Doing interviews about the recent hit movie 300, I encountered similar bewilderment from listeners and hosts. Not only did most of them not know who the 300 were or what Thermopylae was; they seemed clueless about the Persian Wars altogether.
It’s no surprise that civilian Americans tend to lack a basic understanding of military matters. Even when I was a graduate student, 30-some years ago, military history—understood broadly as the investigation of why one side wins and another loses a war, and encompassing reflections on magisterial or foolish generalship, technological...
SOURCE: WSJ (8-21-07)
In the 1990s, most people who played video games were teenagers. Now the average gamester age is nearly 30. Cultural products aimed at tots and preteens capture the attention of adults. "SpongeBob SquarePants," intended for the 6-to-11 age group, draws almost 19 million viewers from the 18-to-49 crowd. Some famous museums, uncomfortable with their adult role as guardians of historical memory, have gone adolescent, staging exhibits on motorcycles, hip-hop and "Star Wars" movies. Many college courses, even on major campuses, make rainy-day activities at summer camp seem profound.
Such examples of America's descent into perpetual adolescence populate Diana West's provocative "The Death of the Grown-Up." Ms. West, a columnist for the Washington Times, argues that the country is suffering a case of arrested development, with teen tastes...
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (8-16-07)
As negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at creating a Palestinian state willing to live side-by-side with Israel in peace resume, one of the major sticking points continues to be the Arab refugee issue. Bitter arguments among politicians and scholars continue to surround the creation of the refugee problem during Israel's War of Independence in 1948.
It has become fashionable in recent decades to frame the 1948 war as one in which the Arabs were victims of Zionist aggression. Anti-Zionist scholars such as Noam Chomsky, Rashid Khalidi and Ilan Pappe have presented the war as if the only important events were Deir Yassin and the flight or expulsion of Arabs from Haifa, Acre, Tiberias, west Jerusalem, Jaffa and numerous villages.
IN THIS context, Ilan Pappe's work deserves special attention. He was born to a German Jewish family in...
SOURCE: News of Delaware County (8-22-07)
About 15 years ago, when I was still practicing law with a firm in downtown Philly, a colleague at the firm was politely thumbing through some vacation pictures I’d foisted in his face. Suddenly he turned and shoved one back at me. My kids and I were splashing in the Ocean City surf together.
“What do you think you’ll be willing to pay in 30 years to able to jump back into that picture?” he asked me.
Only half way there, but with the nest now empty, I sometimes slip a video cassette into our player and slide mentally back to the early nineties, when our kids were… well, still kids. Honestly, I don’t get maudlin. But I can’t watch...
SOURCE: Mercury News (8-19-07)
In "India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy," historian Ramachandra Guha looks at the 60 years since independence. It is an ambitious work that takes on the world's most unwieldy nation and produces an account that's both remarkably comprehensive and yet totally accessible.
That India is the world's largest democracy is by now almost a cliche. Every general election in India generates colorful stories in the West of democracy in action - ballot boxes borne on elephant-back and the toothless old woman being carried in to cast her vote. The slightly patronizing subtext is a sense of amazed wonder that India has survived as a democracy.
SOURCE: WSJ (8-17-07)
Granted, the order is unique in its explicit inhumanity. "Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which the traitors have often used to their advantage," the document reads. Like other totalitarian regimes, East Germany's apparatchiks usually referred to state-sanctioned murder in more ambiguous terms.
The document, published days before the 46th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, may help silence former East German officials and their apologists who deny that an order to shoot ever...
SOURCE: WSJ (8-17-07)
... Nearly six years into the war on terror, there is reason to believe that the Vietnam-era legacy of mistrust--even hostility--between academe and the military may be eroding.
This shift in the zeitgeist is embodied by Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus, who holds a doctorate from Princeton University in international relations, made a point of speaking on college campuses between his tours in Iraq because he believes it is critical that America "bridge the gap between those in uniform and those who, since the advent of the all-volunteer force, have had little contact with the military." In a recent essay in the American Interest, Gen. Petraeus reflects on his own academic journey and stresses how the skills he cultivated on campus help him operate on the fly in Iraq. As such, he is a staunch proponent of Army officers attending civilian...
SOURCE: Nation (8-16-07)
Dennis Hastert, who served eight years as the most lamentable Speaker of the House in the chamber's history, will begin a slow exit from the Congress Friday. It is on that day that the former wrestling coach, who attained the speakership not on the basis of any political skills or policy expertise but because he was willing to front for the unpalatable Tom DeLay, is expected to announce his decision not to seek reelection from the Illinois district that has elected him since 1986.
Among the fifty...
SOURCE: Salon (8-15-07)
For eloquent meditations on the 60th anniversary of independence for both countries, I recommend British historian William Dalrymple, author of the fabulous"The Last Mughal," writing in The Guardian on the topic of Pakistan, and Nobel Prize winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, writing on India for Forbes.
But neither man, unfortunately, takes this opportunity to ponder whether South Asians discovered calculus 250 years before Isaac Newton and then transmitted their knowledge to the West by way of Jesuit missionaries. The Indian blogosphere has been quite chuffed at the news, announced by researchers at the Universities of Manchester and Exeter, that a group of Malayali scholars known as the"Kerala School""identified the 'infinite series' -- one of the basic components of calculus -- in about 1350."
SOURCE: Newsday (8-12-07)
In the current wave of media-generated nostalgia over the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, it's fitting that one of that summer's most recognizable songs is "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Procol Harum's lyrics had nothing to do with race - die-hard fans still debate what "One of sixteen vestal virgins/Who were leaving for the coast" means - but for historians the title is suggestive. For the images usually recalled from that summer are tinted in all too pale a shade, as if the only ones involved were the sons and daughters of White America.
Black America gets segregated in a different corner of our historical memory of the 1960s. But it was examples set by the black freedom struggle in the years leading up to the summer of '67 that made possible all...
SOURCE: Japan Focus (8-10-07)
My recent book, Cold War Frontiers in the Asia-Pacific, from which the present article draws, examines the...
SOURCE: Radio Free Europe (8-13-07)
As Russia marks the 70th anniversary of Josef Stalin's drive to purge opponents of his regime, the commemorations have sparked a debate on how Stalin is currently portrayed in Russia and the former Soviet Union. In this part of RFE/RL's series on the Great Terror examines Stalin's legacy as it appears in history textbooks, television programs, and the rhetoric of Russian leaders.
Arseny Roginsky is running out of space.
The shelves of his dusty office on a winding alley in central Moscow are crammed with an ever-increasing number of files containing information about the victims of Soviet repression.
This includes the one out of...
SOURCE: New Republic (8-6-07)
When The Passion of the Christ elicited such great public controversy a few years ago, it raised once again the old question of how Jews and Judaism are portrayed in classical Christian sources, first and foremost in the New Testament. And it raised the new question as to how accurately Mel Gibson's film represented that portrayal. From at least a cursory reading of the New Testament accounts of Jesus's relations with his fellow Jews and with Judaism, the image one retains seems to be largely a negative one (although we are now aware that the picture of Jews and Judaism in the Qur'an is far more negative, and far more dangerous). And in the minds of many people, certainly in the minds of many Jews, Gibson's film made a bad image even worse.
Gibson, whether he knew it or not, drew upon a long history of Christian anti...
SOURCE: UPI (8-6-07)
Historic revisionism is now under way. Without fanfare, just below the media radar screen, the Israeli Education Ministry has approved a textbook for Arab third-graders in Israel that concedes the war that gave birth to Israel was a “nakba” for the Palestinians. The textbook refers to the “expulsion” of some of the Palestinians and the “confiscation of many Arab-owned lands.”
Textbooks for Jewish Israelis in the same grade make no such verbal concession. But Israel’s “new wave” historians have been combing through fresh material now available from the British mandate period and Israeli archives that document the history of Israel before and after it became a state. Long-lasting myths are being debunked.
Ilan Pappe, an...
SOURCE: Guardian (8-10-07)
Douglas Hurd's new biography of Robert Peel and Gordon Brown's Courage: Eight Portraits show the appeal of the ethically minded biography to the political mind. Both authors have a high sense...
SOURCE: Atlantic Monthly (subscribers only) (9-1-07)
Michael J. Gerson, my former speechwriting colleague in the Bush White House, is a talented fellow with a first-rate mind and serious purposes—all of which we can expect to see in his new book, Heroic Conservatism. But reading a few insider stories in the first chapter of the book, which his publisher has sent out for publicity, I was not surprised to find that the personal heroics begin early.
By page 3, a “solemn quiet” has fallen over the Oval Office, and we have one of those crossroads moments that come in every White House memoir. Large and consequential matters were in the balance, “the keepers of the budget” were about to crush the hopes of millions, only truth well spoken could save the day, and guess who had the courage to speak it? The conviction and idealism of his words...