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: BBC (10-30-08)
So it is with the Saigon Songs, recordings made in the Vietnam War, which have never been broadcast before.
They are among the most moving mementoes of war I have ever heard.
Their edge is sharpened, it seems to me, by a special relevance to the wars of today.
The Saigon Songs date from the Americans' hearts and minds campaign, between 1965 and 1967, as they poured their ground troops into Vietnam in support of the South Vietnamese government.
Hearts and minds
The campaign was run by Maj Gen Ed Lansdale of the US Army, who by all accounts was a most remarkable man.
His weapons were not guns but words and music, through which he hoped to persuade the people in the villages to resist the North Vietnamese communists and the home-grown insurgents, the Viet Cong....
SOURCE: LA Weekly (10-22-08)
SOURCE: Harvard Business Review Online (10-27-08)
In business and government, executives benefit from nurturing strong constituencies so that when times get rough they have enough support to carry them through. This is an obvious point, but it is a lesson too often forgotten, even by U.S. Presidents. Jimmy Carter is a case in point, a powerful reminder as to how strong leadership and political skill are insufficient to sustaining a chief executive over the long term.
When Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976, he proved to be a masterful campaigner. Instead of courting the party establishment,...
SOURCE: Times (UK) (10-27-08)
Today, 150 years ago, John Bright launched in Birmingham Town Hall his historic campaign for parliamentary reform and the vote for working men. The Liberal MP wrote to his wife that “The Times reporter called this morning to ask when I thought the meeting would be over that he might arrange for their special engine! Other men, I mean our public men, must be very little if I am so great.” The meeting ran late but The Times's special train still ensured the journalist met his deadline.
Bright, with Richard Cobden, his fellow believer in free trade, had in 1846 saved the masses from starvation by forcing Peel to repeal the Corn Laws. He turned his attention on October 27, 1858, to reducing “the fabric of privilege” by campaigning for the vote for all working men.
As G.M. Trevelyan noted: “That great audience swayed, like a cornfield beneath the wind, under the gusts of cheering and laughter that shook them as...
SOURCE: Daily Telegraph (UK) (10-27-08)
Well, it is an alternative to DIY. In the northern French town of Agincourt on Saturday and Sunday a collection of French historians spent the weekend rewriting history.
Not anything recent, mind. No, their challenge was to assault 593 years of received wisdom about the conflict for which the town has long been renowned.
All that history about the Battle of Agincourt we have long grown up on - the stirring speech by the English king Henry, English archers sticking two fingers up to the heavily armoured French cavalry, the astonishing bravery of English victory against the odds - is nothing more than fiction, the gathered historians claimed.
It is the result of deliberate myth-making by Shakespeare in his Henry V, perpetuated to this day by authors such as Bernard Cornwell whose best-selling novel Azincourt is a gripping, galloping, gore-filled celebration of the English underdog....
SOURCE: Times (UK) (10-23-08)
The streets of Paris ask an insistent moral question, now more than half a century old but as pertinent as ever. On many street corners, small plaques commemorate those who faced up to Nazism: “Here died so-and-so, résistant de guerre.”
When I lived in Paris, I often pondered the question posed by these small memorials: what would I have done? Would I have done anything? Some Frenchmen and women actively collaborated during the war; many quietly acquiesced to protect themselves and their families. Those who chose to resist fascism did so in different ways: some secretly and discreetly, some with guns and actions, others with words. Those who spoke up, and out, were perhaps the bravest of all: the saints, and the martyrs.
Exactly 50 years after the death of Pope Pius XII, supporters of the wartime pontiff are demanding his beatification, the last step on the road to sainthood,...
SOURCE: China Brief (10-23-08)
China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which lasted roughly from 1966 to 1976, was a period of immense turmoil in Chinese society during which millions were killed or persecuted. A majority of the 11 new officials appointed to China's elite 25-member 17th Communist Party Politburo in 2007 are part of the Cultural Revolution generation—those who came of age during a tumultuous period, and also known as the "lost generation." This group of primarily urban youth endured traumatic experiences during their formative years; a select group eventually rose above the vast majority of their peers to join the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) leadership elite. This generation of leaders, many of them children of high-ranking Party officials, had to survive years of manual labor in the countryside and won coveted places in China's top...
SOURCE: International Herald Tribune (10-22-08)
The print, from 1960, shows a line of workers and peasants marching under a giant red banner. Underneath is a caption that brought a kind of chill: "Oppose Rightist Tendencies," it reads. "Arouse Enthusiasm; Continue the Great Leap Forward."
The poster is one of the more expensive ($1,000) on sale at the East is Red booth within the poster show - East is Red (www.theeastisred.com) being the avocation of Dwight McWethy, an American business consultant who lives in Beijing and sells memorabilia from China's Cultural Revolution and other political movements, mostly to foreigners.
But why the chill? Certainly there's...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (10-22-08)
Before George W Bush, the titanic battle in American foreign policy was between so-called realists and liberals. But the Bush doctrine does not fit definitively into either category.
I believe it should be categorised as a "crusading realism" that deals with the moral bankruptcy of realism and the moral cowardice of liberalism. There are four pillars to that doctrine: prevention, pre-emption, primacy and democracy promotion. Pre-emption is nothing new: every state has used it and will continue to use it. It is the least controversial aspect of the four.
The next pillar is prevention and refers to the eradication of a threat that is not immediate: that is, WMD, and al-Qa'ida's attempts to access a nuclear weapon.
The third pillar is primacy, which dictates that if the US is to pursue the...
SOURCE: victorhanson.com (10-16-08)
Precisely 100 years of Islamic conquests after Muhammad's death (632), the Muslims, starting from Arabia, found themselves in Gaul, modern day France, confronting a hitherto little known people — the Christian Franks. There, on October 11th, 732, one of the most decisive battles between Christendom and Islam took place, demarcating the extent of the latter’s conquests, and ensuring the survival of the former.
Prior to this, the Islamic conquerors, drunk with power and plunder, had, for one century been subjugating all peoples and territories standing in their western march — from Arabia to Morocco (al-Maghreb, the “furthest west”). In 711, the Muslims made their fateful crossing of the straits of Gibraltar, landing for the first time on European ground. Upon touching terra firma, the leader of the Muslims, Tariq bin Zayid, ordered all the boats used for the...
SOURCE: American Spectator (10-21-08)
Woodrow Wilson's last surviving grandchild died earlier this month, having served for 27 years as the liberal Dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Following, or leading, the trajectory of the Episcopal Church towards left-wing activism, Francis Sayre Jr. turned the Gothic and still uncompleted edifice into a rallying point for anti-war activists during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. In 1973, he hosted a Counter-Inauguration with Leonard Bernstein to protest the start of Richard Nixon's second term.
Born in 1915 in the White House (the last baby born there!), and dying at his home on Martha's Vineyard, Sayre represented both the public spiritedness and faulty judgment of America's WASP elite in the 20th century. His father was a Harvard law professor and Assistant Secretary of State under FDR. His wife was the daughter of a...
SOURCE: Boston Review (10-1-08)
I have often been involved in arguments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that focus on its history. Usually, the defender of current Israeli behavior urges the importance of appreciating all that Israel has been through and why it exists in the first place. I respond by reviewing the dispossession of 1948, terror attacks on Arab villages in the ’50s, Israeli provocations over the DMZ on the Golan Heights in the ’50s and ’60s, and on and on. Eventually and invariably, the defender of Israeli behavior insists that we not be so distracted by the history, that we need to focus on resolving the current conflict, not rehearsing the past. And thus we are struck by a larger question: is the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations important in our attempts to...
SOURCE: Nation (10-20-08)
The Austrian right-wing politician Jörg Haider died in a Hollywood-style crash October 11. Driving alone, he lost control while passing another car and went off the road near his beloved town of Klagenfurt. Yes, he was traveling 140 kilometers per hour--twice the legal limit--but all his life Haider pushed limits. We can assume that he died pleased with himself--once again, at the center of political attention.
In the recent elections in Austria Haider's splinter party BZOe (Alliance for Austria's Future that he had established in 2005) got an incredible 11 percent of the votes. Together with his original FPOe (Austrian Freedom party), with 18 percent of votes, the Austrian far right had its strongest showing ever, capturing almost 30 percent. In comparison,...
SOURCE: FSB email to HNN (10-20-08)
Three of our presidents have been particularly fascinated by rifles: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. But all for different reasons.
Washington was what we would call an "early adopter" of rifle technology. As early as the French and Indian War (1754-1763), when he was first baptized into frontier warfare, the young, ambitious officer owned his own rifle. This was at a time when few, apart from frontiersmen, even knew what one was.
In 1775, for instance,...
SOURCE: Commentary: Date Uncertain (10-20-08)
Sixty years after its establishment by an internationally recognized act of self-determination, Israel remains the only state in the world that is subjected to a constant outpouring of the most outlandish conspiracy theories and blood libels; whose policies and actions are obsessively condemned by the international community; and whose right to exist is constantly debated and challenged not only by its Arab enemies but by segments of advanced opinion in the West.
During the past decade or so, the actual elimination of the Jewish state has become a cause célèbre among many of these educated Westerners. The “one-state solution,” as it is called, is a euphemistic...
SOURCE: LAT (10-16-08)
Among the ways in which freedom is being chipped away in Europe, one of the less obvious is the legislation of memory. More and more countries have laws saying you must remember and describe this or that historical event in a certain way.
The wrong way depends on where you are. In Switzerland, you get prosecuted for saying that the terrible thing that happened to the Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman empire was not a genocide. In Turkey, you get prosecuted for saying it was. What is state-ordained truth in the Alps is state-ordained falsehood in Anatolia.
Of all the countries in Europe, France has the most intense and tortuous recent experience with "memory laws." It began rather uncontroversially in 1990, when denial of the Nazi Holocaust of...
SOURCE: Houston Chronicle (10-11-08)
As the world struggles to come to grips with the global financial crisis, it might be instructive to look back at how Jesse Jones and other Houston leaders dealt with an earlier banking calamity.
The Chronicle's Loren Steffy recently published an interview with Jones biographer Steven Fenberg describing how Jones, chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, saved the nation's banking system. (A Houston icon dealt with '30s credit crisis, by Loren Steffy. October 1, 2008).
Before he went to Washington in 1932 to serve on the RFC board, Jones saved Houston's banks. In effect he created a Houston Deposit Insurance Corporation before Congress created the federal version (FDIC).
In 1931, the Public National Bank, owned by W. L. Moody of Galveston, and the Houston National Bank, owned by Governor Ross Sterling, were in deep trouble. Public National was sure to close, to be...
SOURCE: http://crosscut.com (10-12-08)
I envied the days of my father, who seemed to have a knack for running across exciting stuff when he was young, from bones to old military buttons. When he worked at a logging camp on the Olympic Peninsula in the 1930s, two loggers came across a musket ball buried deep in a tree they were felling. My father, a college boy, asked to see it and the tree where they found it. By counting the rings, he estimated it had been fired in the late 1700s — right around the time the Spanish established Washington's first...
SOURCE: Jewish Press (10-15-08)
They did not sing "Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Manischewitz," nor do they ever seem to appear in any of the Disney films about pirates in the Caribbean. The website piratesinfo.com carries not a single reference to them.
And while September 19 has for a number of years now been designated International Talk Like a Pirate Day (there are even Internet courses available in pirate lingo), none of its initiators seems to have had Ladino (the language spoken by Jewish refugees expelled by the Spanish and Portuguese after the Reconquista) in mind.
Swashbuckling buccaneers who took time to put on tefillin each morning? Better get used to the idea. Long overlooked, the history of Jewish piracy has been...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (10-11-08)
cabinet and later became deputy leader of the Labour party.]
Our cause is just. But so it was in 1975, when Iceland decided - unilaterally and illegally - to create an "exclusion zone" around its coast. Foreign trawlers were forbidden to fish within its boundaries.
When Grimsby skippers ignored the edict, Icelandic gunboats severed the cables which connected boats to nets - risking fishermen being cut in half by steel hawsers ripping across the deck. All Whitehall agreed that the Icelanders - the most highly educated people in the world - would respond to an offer of compromise. I was chosen to carry it to Iceland. I returned home full of sympathy for Neville Chamberlain - though, as compared with Reykjavik, Munich was a meeting of true minds.
Harold Wilson had been explicit. Hostilities must be abandoned during negotiations. If a cable was cut while the British...