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: Newsweek (7-7-08)
How's this for a coincidence? Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born in the same year, on the same day: Feb. 12, 1809. As historical facts go, it amounts to little more than a footnote. Still, while it's just a coincidence, it's a coincidence that's guaranteed to make you do a double take the first time you run across it. Everybody knows Darwin and Lincoln were near-mythic figures in the 19th century. But who ever thinks of them in tandem? Who puts the theory of evolution and the Civil War in the same sentence? Why would you, unless you're writing your dissertation on epochal events in the 19th century? But instinctively, we want to say that they belong together. It's not just because they were both great men, and not because they happen to be exact coevals. Rather, it's because the scientist and the politician each touched off a revolution that changed the world.
As soon as you do start comparing this odd...
SOURCE: Guardian (6-29-08)
In 1962 the male athletes of East and West Germany toured Asia. At the Rome Olympics two years earlier the united team had won six track medals, including gold in the 4x100m and silver in the 4x400m relays. Now the Teutonic superstars travelled the East, displaying their prowess to one undeveloped sporting nation after another. India was one of those nations. India sent few athletes to the Olympics. They only ever won one medal per Games - although it was generally gold - in the men's hockey.
The Germans arrived in Delhi, for a two-day competition, and found to their surprise that the Indians were not the humble, easygoing athletes they had expected...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (6-28-08)
We've already read a lot on Comment is free about 1968 - the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Paris riots and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But there's one interesting aspect of that most tumultuous of years - and of the late 1960s in general - that has so far escaped attention. Namely, just how open we were in Britain to European culture. It might seem paradoxical, but the more Britain has integrated into the European Union, the less European cultural influences there are in this country.
In the late 60s, the pop charts were full of great European music. In the spring/summer of 1968, a regular play on Radio Caroline was the hauntingly beautiful French orchestral hit Ame Câline (Soul Coaxing) by Raymond Lefèvre (itself a cover of a song by French singer-songwriter Michel Polnareff). Another big hit in 1968 was L'Amour Est Bleu (Love is Blue) performed by Paul...
SOURCE: Times (UK) (6-27-08)
President Bush receives scant credit for the transformation of his foreign policy in the past four years. In contrast to the go-it-alone president who in his first term rode roughshod over international sensibilities when he took the US to war in Iraq, Mr Bush now seeks the legacy of a leader who sought diplomatic solutions.
He told The Times recently that he wanted to “leave behind a series of structures that make it easier for the next president” — or, as he put it later, “a multilateralism to deal with tyrants”.
Yesterday, he took a small but significant step towards that goal. North Korea's decision to hand over a long-awaited account of its nuclear activities — and the subsequent announcement from Mr Bush that he is ready to take the country off the list of state terrorism sponsors — represents the most visible proof yet that his tough diplomacy can work.
Yesterday's announcement from...
SOURCE: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 4, 2006, p. 662-686 (6-25-08)
During my years as a high school history teacher in the early 1990s, I observed the extent to which history...
SOURCE: Slate (6-24-08)
I got bad news from the FBI a few months ago. A file I'd requested under the Freedom of Information Act wasn't going to be available. Ever.
And not for one of the reasons I already knew to expect—that the material was classified, that the file concerned a living person, or that no file existed to begin with. Judging by the FBI's final response letter, there might have been a file on my subject, a long-deceased Mississippi lawyer name John R. Poole. But if there was, it got shredded.
"Records which may be responsive to your … request were destroyed on July 01, 1995," the letter said. "The FBI Records Retention Plan and Disposition Schedules have been approved by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and are monitored by knowledgeable representatives of the NARA."
NARA is the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency that keeps...
SOURCE: American Scholar (Summer) (6-1-08)
... To put this another way, we can say that 40 years after the epic battles for specific civil rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, after two monumental and historic legislative triumphs—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—and after three decades of affirmative action that led to the creation of a true black middle class (and not the false one E. Franklin Frazier described in his classic 1957 study, Black Bourgeoisie), a people oppressed for so long have finally become, as writer Reginald McKnight once put it, “as polymorphous as the dance of Shiva.” Black Americans have been CEOs at AOL Time Warner, American Express, and Merrill Lynch; we have served as secretary of state and White House...
SOURCE: Altercation (Media Matters column) (6-24-08)
In Sunday's NYTBR, the diplomat Richard Holbrooke writes effusively of journalist Michael Dobbs' new book on the Cuban missile crisis, here.
I'll say this for Dobbs. He is a lucky man. He gets a front-page review from a famous man in the most influential space there is. Still, while Holbrooke is a smart fellow, and as expert as anyone alive on the practice of international diplomacy, he doesn't know much about the Cuban missile crisis. The literature on the topic among historians and political scientists is as vast as on perhaps any eight days in actual -- as opposed to biblical -- human history. It is very nearly a full-time job to keep up with it. And that is not Holbrooke's job. So while it's lucky for Dobbs, it's unlucky for people who devote themselves to the topic.
For instance, Holbrooke writes that"Kennedy had asked that [the missiles...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (6-24-08)
Robert Mugabe has been cut off from his feelings ever since his carpenter father abandoned the family when Robert was a shy 10-year-old. Had his mother, Bona, been emotionally robust, he might have weathered the crushing abandonment. But she was fanatically religious, having arrived at the Catholic mission station near Harare, where Mugabe and his siblings grew up, with hopes of becoming a nun.
Although she had struggled with faith-based issues throughout her married life, Bona fell apart after the death of Robert's much-loved older brother, Michael, in 1934. "That was a terrible blow," Zimbabwe's octogenarian president told me, in a rare interview at State House, Harare, last December. "It was poisoning, and Father Jerome O'Hea (the village's Anglo-Irish headmaster, who became Mugabe's surrogate father) was very sad. He thought this boy was a genius. He was very bright,...
SOURCE: Commentary Magazine (7-1-08)
According to an April 2008 poll in U.S. News & World Report, fully 61 percent of American historians agree that George W. Bush is the worst President in our history. Some of these scholars cite the President’s position on the environment, or on taxes, or on the economy. For most, though, the chief qualification for obloquy lies in Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.
In this, of course, the historians are hardly alone: five years after the launching of Operation Iraqi Freedom, both the mainstream media and America’s political elites treat the Iraq war as a disaster virtually without precedent in our national experience. But while politicians and journalists are not necessarily expected to be adepts of the long view, for professional...
SOURCE: Newsweek (6-14-08)
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (6-22-08)
As he leaves the White House at the end of his second term, the President has a poll rating of only 23 per cent, and is widely disliked and even despised. His foreign policy has been judged a failure, especially in view of the long, painful, costly war that he declared, which is still not over.
History may place President Bush in a far better
light than he currently enjoys
He doesn't get on with his own party's presidential candidate, who is clearly distancing himself, and had lost many of his closest friends and staff to scandals and forced resignations. The New Republic, a hugely influential political magazine, writes that his historical reputation will be as bad as that of President Harding, the disastrous president of the Great Depression.
I am writing, of course, about Harry S Truman, generally regarded today as one of the greatest of all the 43...
SOURCE: New Republic (7-9-08)
While visiting his family in Asia after he graduated from Harvard Business School mor than three decades ago, George W. Bush discovered the joys of Chinese dentistry "George got his tooth fixed the day he left for 60 cents, " recorded his father, George H.W Bush, then America's top diplomat in Beijing. "He is now a great admirer of the Chines medicine, and he is struggling, as a lot of us are, as to whether this universal health care--how it should work, etc. etc.
We learn of this Bush family struggle--which has, of course, since been resolved--and others from the newly published journal of George H.W. Bush, eventually the forty-first president of the United States. In 1974-1975, he served...
SOURCE: NYT Magazine (6-22-08)
To a famous phrase that will be reprised in the 2008 campaigns: the Southern strategy was supposedly concocted at a meeting that Nixon’s campaign manager, Mitchell, arranged with Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina at the 1968 Miami convention. Unknown to Nixon and Mitchell, one of the Southern delegates had been secretly outfitted with a tape recorder by The Miami Herald, which published a transcript of the session. Though the candidate made no blatant regional or racist appeals,...
SOURCE: TruthDig.com (6-20-08)
“In Reckless Hands: Skinner v. Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenics” demonstrates that Skinner also opens a window into a little-known chapter of American eugenics: how prisoners at a hardscrabble prison in Oklahoma in the aftermath of the Depression led a sophisticated struggle to limit the practice of compulsory sterilization in the United States.
Much has been written about the history of eugenics, but until publication of this book we knew little about how eugenic sterilization was used in prisons and against men, and even less about the views of its targeted victims. It’s a lively tale, well told, until the...
Last February, Syracuse University hosted a screening of the 2007 film UNREPENTANT: Kevin Annett and Canada's Genocide and a public conversation with Kevin Annett. Reverend Annett started his first ministry for the United Church of Canada (UCC) on Vancouver Island in the 1980s. He immediately noticed that in spite of the large Native American population in the community, none of them attended his church. He made a concerted effort to reach out and listen to their stories, and was shocked to learn that UCC-run boarding schools, as well as their Catholic and Episcopalian counterparts, had been directly involved in traumatizing Native American children.
For nearly seventy years, sexual abuse, torture, and murder occurred in these boarding schools. These Christian-run and government-funded boarding schools dedicated to 'civilizing' Native Americans were the means by which...
SOURCE: NYT (6-17-08)
The party is about to begin.
In a week or so, the trumpets will sound, heralding the start of 18 months of non-stop festivities in honor of Charles Darwin. July 1, 2008, is the 150th anniversary of the first announcement of his discovery of natural selection, the main driving force of evolution. Since 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth (Feb. 12), as well as being the 150th anniversary of the publication of his masterpiece, “On the Origin of Species” (Nov. 24), the extravaganza is set to continue until...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (6-17-08)
The "special relationship" is a concept that cuts little ice with hard-headed diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet it was once more than a platitude. While the default position of much of the world has traditionally been to look upon America with guarded scepticism, Britons (at least for the past century) have been instinctively well-disposed to the United States and its leaders. The bonds of a common language and a history of shared struggle in two world wars did indeed make this relationship something out of the ordinary.
So perhaps Mr Bush's most significant legacy, as far as Britain is concerned, will be the destruction of the...
SOURCE: The American Prospect (6-16-08)
George W. Bush has been running around Europe misting up and emoting about how much he regrets talking and acting like the warmonger he's proven to be. "I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric," he told The Times of London.
Well, yes; he could have. But tone-deafness has been a defining characteristic of this administration from its inception. Remember that Bush campaigned in 2000 on a promise to "change the tone in Washington," only to keep his promise by making the tone worse. Bush has clearly turned his attention to burnishing his legacy, but it seems a little ridiculous to be apologizing at this late stage for the least of his offenses, when the large ones are so monumental.
Just so we're clear, the most regrettable elements of the Bush years have nothing to do with what the...
SOURCE: Newsweek (6-23-08)
If you were making the movie, the scene might go something like this: It is late May 1940. France is collapsing and the Nazis are pushing the British Expeditionary Force into the English Channel. Britain stands alone against Hitler's mighty onslaught. In London the War Cabinet has gathered to consider a peace feeler: if Britain agrees to stop fighting, Hitler will allow the British to keep most of their empire. The notion seems tempting, under the dire circumstances, and politicians like Neville Chamberlain—the former British prime minister who, wrongly, thought he could appease Hitler by letting him swallow a chunk of Czechoslovakia in 1938—want to pursue it. But, lo, no! A lone voice—a familiar bulldog growl—fills the room. England must never yield, insists Winston Churchill (contemptuously mispronouncing the word Nazi as "Nahr-zee"). "If this long island story of ours...