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: http://blogs.cqpolitics.com/spytalk (12-31-08)
Carter loved the CIA briefings he had been getting during his campaign against President Gerald R. Ford, according to the agency's official history of presidential transitions.
Sometimes the sessions, which usually took place at his modest home in Plains, Ga., went on for six hours.
"Carter was a very careful and interested listener and an active participant," writes longtime CIA official John L. Helgerson, the study's author.
"All who were present remember that he asked a great many questions, often in minute detail. He was especially interested in the nature of the Intelligence Community's evidence, including satellite photography of deployed Soviet weapons."...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (12-31-08)
Ronald Reagan, the slayer of the "Evil Empire", might have been ruined before his political career began had his attempt to join the American Communist Party succeeded. He was rejected because the Communists thought him too dim. It emerged in a 1999 authorised biography that he had tried to join in 1938. Some of his closest friends were members. One, scriptwriter Howard Fast, revealed that he had felt "passionate" about it. But the Party refused him. "They thought he was a feather brain... a flake who couldn't be trusted with a political opinion for more than 20 minutes." As the anti-Communist blacklisting in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s destroyed many careers, Reagan flourished as an actor, then as President of the Screen Actors Guild, the actors' union. And, most importantly, his political credentials remained all-American.
The key to this disaster
The Titanic disaster might have been...
SOURCE: WSJ (12-26-08)
We know that Barack Obama and his allies identify themselves as "progressives," and that they aim to implement the big-government liberalism that originated in America's Progressive Era and was consummated in the New Deal. What remains a mystery is why some conservatives want to claim this progressive identity as their own -- particularly as it was manifested by Theodore Roosevelt.
The fact that conservative politicians such as John McCain and writers like William Kristol and Karl Rove are attracted to our 26th president is strange because, if we want to understand where in the American political tradition the idea of unlimited, redistributive government came from, we need look no further than to...
SOURCE: WaPo (12-30-08)
Still, after a presidential campaign marked by an unusually high standard of political rhetoric, it was weirdly revealing to listen to Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, JFK and RFK, Franklin...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (12-30-08)
Why are we asking this now?
From the back of a £10 note to the awards in his name that celebrate those who remove themselves from the gene pool by dying in foolish ways, Charles Darwin's legacy is everywhere. He has been on more stamps than anyone save members of the royal family, and yesterday the Royal Mail unveiled another one, to celebrate 2009 as the 200th anniversary of his birth, and the 150th of the publication of his landmark work, The Origin of Species. But that's not the only way the occasion is being marked, and Darwin's influence is felt in far more profound ways than his popular cultural contributions to this day.
Why were Darwin's ideas so important?
It's a mark of how extraordinary a step Darwin took on humanity's behalf that a...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (12-29-08)
Joseph Stalin was edged into third place in a nationwide poll to name Russia's greatest historical figure yesterday amid controversy over the results.
The Name of Russia project, which captivated the country for several months, ended with accusations that the final tally was rigged.
More than 5 million votes by telephone, text and the internet were registered in the poll, which named Alexander Nevsky, a medieval warrior prince, as the winner. Stalin had led the poll early on and narrowly missed the top spot.
The dictator took 519,071 votes compared to Nevsky's 524,575.
Critics said the results were massaged to produce winners convenient to the Kremlin. Nevsky rallied Russian forces against foreign invaders in the 13th century and has been promoted as a national hero by the Kremlin, which hints that Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, and the president, Dmitry...
SOURCE: Spiegel Online (12-30-08)
SPIEGEL: Since the beginning of your online campaign, more than 25,000 Turks have signed a statement apologizing for war crimes committed by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. More than a million Armenians lost their lives in the catastrophic events which began in 1915. Is this the beginning of a critical examination of the past?
Oran: The Turks who are now apologizing are not responsible for the sins of 1915. There is no collective crime, but there is a collective conscience. With our campaign, we are eroding one of Turkey's biggest taboos. But still, the campaign is coming decades late.
SPIEGEL: Turkish nationalists say that you are damaging the country's image. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agrees.
Oran: I disagree. I think that our image...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (12-29-08)
Myself, I have some doubts about the veracity of this poll, particularly given that the television station in question is state-owned, and therefore manipulated by the Kremlin. Also, first place went to Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince who defeated German invaders – and an ideal symbol for the Putinist regime, which prides itself on its defiance of the West. Second place went to Piotr Stolypin, a turn-of-the-century economic reformer who, among other things, gave his name to the cattle cars (Stolypinki) in which prisoners were transported to Siberia – another excellent symbol for the “reformer with an iron fist” label to which both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev aspire...
SOURCE: Vanity Fair (2-1-08)
January 20, 2001 After a disputed election and bitter recount battle in Florida whose outcome is effectively decided by the Supreme Court, George W. Bush is sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States. In foreign affairs he promises an approach that will depart from the perceived adventurism of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, in places such as Kosovo and Somalia. (“I think the United States must be humble,” Bush said in a debate with his opponent, Al Gore.) In domestic affairs Bush pledges to cut taxes and improve education. He promises to govern as a “...
SOURCE: Japan Times (12-28-08)
We live apart from our land
Our words dying at 10 paces
And anything put edgewise
Concerns the Kremlin backwoodsman
His coarse fingers are thick, like worms
His statements trusty, like the weights
on a scale
Cockroaches smile on his upper lip
And the rims of his shoes blind
He is surrounded by a flock of
He plays on the servility of half-men
Who whistle, who meow, who sob
But he alone roars and sticks it in
Forging his edicts like so many
One in the groin, one on the brow, one in the eye
Execution is his relish, this Southerner
With an open heart
By Osip Mandelstam, November 1933;
translation © Roger Pulvers, 2008
Has there ever been a poet with more courage? This is Osip Mandelstam's "ode" to the Russian dictator Josef Stalin (1878-1953). His reading of it...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (12-27-08)
For all the despair of one year ago and the doom-laden forecasts for Pakistan that followed, the balance sheet has not been all negative. Ms Bhutto's death, in the midst of a keenly fought election campaign that her party had looked set to win, did not unleash the widespread violence that had been feared. The delayed election brought her People's Party to power.
The country also completed the transition to civilian rule, set in train by President Pervez Musharraf the previous year – even if it did not happen quite as he might have envisaged. Any suspicion...
SOURCE: New Republic (12-25-08)
The Jesus of Christmas, Pelikan tells us in "Jesus Through the Centuries," owes a particular debt to St. Francis of Assisi, who preached "a new and deeper awareness of the humanity of Christ, as disclosed in his nativity and in his sufferings."
It was St. Francis who, in 1223, set up the first creche in the Umbrian village of Greccio, depicting Christ's infancy in the rather less-than-regal circumstances of the manger. St. Francis founded a religious order that stressed liberation from the tyranny of material possessions and, Pelikan notes, the role of...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (12-24-08)
I was a 19-year-old college sophomore when Apollo 8 flew. I watched it on television – in black-and-white. So I can never share the experience in the same way as it is shared by those of you who lived it. But while I am a dyed-in-the-wool slide-rule-and-pocket protector engineer, I have tried also to understand the history of our enterprise, and the events and decisions that came before my time. I believe that an understanding of how and why our predecessors took the actions they did provides a rich context with which to inform our decisions today.
With that in mind, I have long thought that the decision to send Apollo 8 to the moon was one of the most crucial in NASA's history, and might well stand first on the list. To decide to send people to the moon for the very first time would always be a historic moment. But in the circumstances under which it...
SOURCE: NYT blog (12-23-08)
Think of the merchandise! Newton is said to have discovered the phenomenon of gravity by watching apples fall in an orchard. (His insight came after pondering why they always fall down, rather than upwards or sideways.) Newton’s Birthday cards could feature the great man discovering gravity by watching a Christmas decoration fall from a tree. (This is a little anachronistic — Christmas trees didn’t come to England until later — but I don’t think we should let that get in the way.)
All very jolly — but then, ’tis the season. Yet things are not so simple. It turns out that the date of Newton’s birthday is a little contentious. Newton...
SOURCE: Japan Focus (12-23-08)
... [C]an Japan continue to seek harmonization of its own memory with history, while achieving reconciliation with Asia simultaneously? This is again a very difficult question about which I do not have a definite answer. But I can outline the relevant circumstances and indicate that further strengthening of the centrists’ position on historical memory may lead to, or at least be compatible with, reconciliation with Asia.
First, it is axiomatic to say that “apology is a one-way action, whereas reconciliation requires a two-sided action. You apologize because you think your actions were wrong. You do not apologize on the condition that the apology be accepted.”  Keeping the centrist position strong is partly based on the hope that this may be helpful...
SOURCE: NYT (12-19-08)
Obviously the council did not draw the sheer numbers who gather for the Olympics or political conventions. But consider that for two and a half months each fall from 1962 to 1965, 2,400 Roman Catholic bishops from 116 nations, assisted by thousands of aides, theological advisers and other Christian and non-Christian leaders, met in St. Peter’s Basilica to debate, revise and vote on documents that would significantly change the life of a two-millennia-old institution now claiming more than a billion adherents worldwide.
Whether or not Vatican II was the world’s biggest meeting, it certainly had huge consequences. Catholics the world over began to worship actively in their own languages with a new emphasis on Scripture. The church affirmed religious liberty, condemned anti-Semitism, highlighted common...
SOURCE: Oliver Kamm at his blog (12-21-08)
Well, the Telegraph reported yesterday:"George S. Patton, America's greatest combat general of the Second World War, was assassinated after the conflict with the connivance of US leaders, according to a new book."
The author of the story at least has the grace, or perhaps the defensiveness, to add that"the scenario...
SOURCE: Facebook (12-21-08)
Several years ago, David Cornwell (better known by his nom de plume, John Le Carré) told an interviewer that, “espionage was not really something exclusive and clandestine. It was actually the currency of the Cold War. Spies were the poor bloody infantry of the Cold War.”
They still are – though these days we are in a different war and battling another pernicious ideology.
Cold War spy novels make for entertaining reading, but the more we learn about the nuts and bolts of what actually went on back then, the more we come to understand that truth is in many ways even more dramatic than fiction.
Consider, for example, the case of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski. He was a Polish patriot who may have saved his nation, the whole continent of Europe - maybe even the world – from massive suffering at the hands of a Soviet war machine once poised to race from behind Warsaw Pact...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (12-21-08)
Last week saw more than its share of stories about miscarriages of justice. But spare a thought this Christmas for the victim of the biggest miscarriage of justice in Scottish legal history, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the man convicted of blowing up Pan Am flight 103 en route from London to New York, 20 years ago today.
For many years, it looked as if there would be no trial over Lockerbie. British and US governments believed Colonel Gaddafi would never hand over the two Libyan intelligence officers accused of the bombings, which some regarded as fortunate as they believed the evidence against Libya would not stand up in a court of law.
But thanks largely to the persistence of Nelson Mandela, 12 years after the bombing a trial did take place. In exchange for the lifting of sanctions Gaddafi handed over the two accused and the Scottish court swallowed almost the whole improbable story....