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: CNN (4-14-09)
Does the legacy of Thomas Jefferson speak to Americans today? Or perhaps we should ask about Jefferson's legacies, for there are many. His fingerprints are everywhere.
Politics, government, race, slavery -- our third president's life and words touch on so many aspects of the nation's journey from rebellious colony to world superpower that it is impossible to understand the country's history without dealing with him in some fashion.
Even today, Jefferson's name is regularly invoked in the news -- the latest example being writers harking back to the forceful action he took against the Barbary pirates 200 years ago.
His soaring language in the Declaration...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (4-13-09)
Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1976 and 1980 challenging the establishment's views on domestic economic policy and foreign policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Empire.
Reagan first defeated and then largely absorbed the Republican establishment on both domestic and foreign policy. Howard Baker, once a contender for the 1980 Republican nomination did vote for the Reagan income tax rate reductions, while calling them a "riverboat gamble." George Bush called supply side economics "voodoo economics" but then in 1988 signed a pledge to protect the lower rates. Bob Dole voted for the lower tax rates while bitterly criticizing supply side economics only to endorse marginal tax rate reduction when he ran for president in 1996.
On foreign policy Reagan's "peace through strength" has become the party's mantra and "détente" is now viewed as another of Richard...
SOURCE: New York Daily News (4-14-09)
Former President George Bush and some of his White House aides are gathering in Dallas to plan the future George W. Bush Policy Institute. There, I guess, they will ponder grand themes and marble foyers, but I propose they begin by simply renaming the place. I suggest the "George W. Bush Institute of Management Failure" and dedicate it to studying how this presidency went so wrong - a task as big as Texas.
Bush's tenure was truly remarkable. He left office with the lowest poll ratings in 60 years, two wars had begun and not ended and the deepest recession since the Great Depression. If it's true that we learn from our mistakes, Bush's eight years represent a bonanza of lessons.
What commends the Bush presidency to further study was its sheer managerial ineptitude. This is irony aplenty for a man not known for irony. Bush's one area of expertise, after all, supposedly was in management....
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (4-13-09)
... We looked in, each of us, zeroed our eyes on his face, trying to read the root of the slowed-down reading.
Only then, as the next few words sputtered, did I see what I thought looked like a tear. And then another and another.
He was crying and reading, the boy who would not let the tears stop the cadence, the moment, not until the end when we all crushed him, a tangle of arms, cheeks, tears.
"Sweetheart, what is it?" I asked, not sure if the hard words had netted his courage, swallowed his sense of the moment.
"It's the soldiers," he managed to choke out in a short few syllables, before burying his face in my sleeve.
We all stood in this knot for a minute or two. I...
SOURCE: Times (UK) (4-13-09)
What could be more British than Handel's Messiah, Holbein's portraits of Henry VIII or a traditional Christmas Day? With museums, concert halls and opera houses commemorating the 250th anniversary of Georg Friedrich Handel's death on April 14, 1759, this seems the right moment to remember the signal contribution of German culture to British identity. An appreciation all too often obliterated today by our obsession with the Nazis.
Few embody that Germanic shaping of Britishness more than Handel. He arrived on the tailcoats of his royal patron, the Elector of Hanover, Georg Ludwig von Braunschweig-Luneburg, better known as George I. And his compositions reflected an increasingly confident sense of national destiny as Britain - a Protestant nation in a predominantly Catholic Europe, committed to parliamentary governance, liberty and the rule of law - was projected...
SOURCE: Investor's Business Daily (4-9-09)
On the nations' campuses and even in some of its boardrooms, people were talking about capitalism as a failed system.
Some advocated a "third way" between socialism and capitalism, as in Europe, which would include heavy doses of government intervention in markets to bring them back to life. Still others took up the call in E.F. Schumacher's best-seller, "Small Is Beautiful," to downsize expectations. Live frugally, they said. Inhabit small houses. Drive small cars. Don't use oil. Rein in your ambitions.
One man didn't agree with this: President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 amid a wave of voter disgust at his predecessor's failures.
SOURCE: Media Beat (4-9-09)
A headline in the New York Times announced a few days ago: “Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory.” This news ran above the fold on the front page.
“Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain,” the article began. Readers quickly learned that it’s starting to happen: “Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory...”
American media outlets have been pulling off such feats for a long time.
The scientists trying to learn how to wipe out...
SOURCE: Slate (4-9-09)
A central statement in traditional Christian creeds is that Jesus was crucified"under Pontius Pilate." But the majority of Christians have only the vaguest sense what the phrase represents, and most non-Christians probably can't imagine why it's such an integral part of Christian faith."Crucified under Pontius Pilate" provides the Jesus story with its most obvious link to larger human history. Pilate was a historical figure, the Roman procurator of Judea; he was referred to in other sources of the time and even mentioned in an inscription found at the site of ancient Caesarea in Israel. Linking Jesus' death with Pilate represents the insistence that Jesus was a real person, not merely a figure of myth or legend...
SOURCE: Nation (4-8-09)
During Barack Obama's first hundred days, history has provided pundits and politicians with a grab bag of analogies. Obama himself has invoked Abraham Lincoln and put him on a pedestal. I'm not speaking figuratively: a bust of the sixteenth president sits on the same plinth in the Oval Office where Obama's predecessor had displayed a sculpture of Winston Churchill. Obama has also cited Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, an analysis of Lincoln's complex relationships with leading members of his cabinet, as a model for his own style of presidential leadership. Journalists have compared the youth and idealism of Obama and his supporters to John F. Kennedy's Camelot, and fashionistas have twittered about the...
SOURCE: New Republic (4-2-09)
A week before Germany's invasion of Poland, Hitler reportedly urged his generals to slaughter civilians--Slavs and Jews, the two most hated groups in Nazi ideology--without mercy. "After all," he flippantly asked, "who remembers the Armenians?" In fact, the attempted genocide of the Armenians by the Turks during the First World War was very well documented, at the time and ever since. Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the massacres, wrote at length in his memoirs about this attempt to wipe an entire population off the face of the earth. The word genocide had not yet been coined, but that is clearly what happened in Armenia between 1915 and 1918; in fact, Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish activist who coined the term, had the Armenian example in mind.
Yet it is true that the Armenian genocide has not...
SOURCE: Slate (4-8-09)
For thousands of years, skeptics and believers alike have debated whether the events described in the Passover story—the parting of the Red Sea, the 10 plagues, and the burning bush—actually took place. Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius speculated that the parting of the Red Sea "might be of God's will or of natural origin. Let everyone believe at his own discretion." The skeptic's skeptic, Sigmund Freud, called the Passover story "a pious myth," contending that Moses was a rebellious Egyptian prince who worshiped the sun god Akhenaton and made up the Jewish religion as a political ploy. In more recent times, scientific explanations of the Passover story range from formula-laden academic papers like "Modeling the Hydrodynamic Situation of the Exodus" to more popular inquiries such as Cambridge materials scientist...
SOURCE: American Conservative (4-6-09)
Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech, delivered from the Oval Office on July 15, 1979, has long been a symbol of Democratic defeat—and defeatism. Republican politicians from presidents on down have used it to tar Democrats as the party of “malaise,” a word that Carter himself never uttered in the address.
Rarely has a speech so backfired. Yet what if the text, obscured by recriminations, turns out to be one of the most conservative presidential statements of the last 30 years?
It was delivered as the Carter presidency was beginning to crater, as the turmoil of the Iranian Revolution caused oil prices to rise, and gas shortages once again afflicted the nation as they had six years before during the Yom Kippur War. Anger over higher prices and long lines at the pumps threw the administration into disarray. Carter wanted to make another speech on the energy crisis, the...
· in 1937, Senator Hugo L. Black (D.-AL);
· in 1938, Solicitor General Stanley F. Reed;
· in 1939, Harvard Law School Professor Felix Frankfurter;
· also in 1939, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William O. Douglas; and
· in 1940, Attorney General Frank Murphy.
Each of these Justices came to the Court from public prominence. Most came from the Roosevelt Administration itself. These appointees were well known to the President. Their selections involved no surprises or mysteries.
In contrast, the process by which an outsider, W.E. Lantz of West Virginia, came to White House...
SOURCE: Slate (4-6-09)
Even before President Barack Obama set off on his visit to Turkey this week, there were the usual voices urging him to dilute the principled position that he has so far taken on the Armenian genocide. April is the month in which the Armenian diaspora commemorates the bloody initiation, in 1915, of the Ottoman Empire's campaign to erase its Armenian population. The marking of the occasion takes two forms: Armenian Remembrance Day, on April 24, and the annual attempt to persuade Congress to name that day as one that abandons weasel wording and officially calls the episode by its right name, which is the word I used above.
Genocide had not been coined in 1915, but the U.S. ambassador in Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, employed a term that was in some ways more graphic. In his urgent reports to the State Department,...
SOURCE: Japan Times (4-5-09)
The questions that nobody will ask out loud about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: How much is enough?
How many new members can NATO afford to take on? If Georgia had already been a member last August, would NATO have gone to war with Russia in its defense? And how far beyond Europe should it try to operate?
When U.S. President Barack Obama asks NATO countries to send more troops to Afghanistan, few member nations will comply, but nobody will ask what a "North Atlantic" alliance is doing in the middle of an Afghan civil war.
Well, it is a party, after all, and nobody wants to spoil it. NATO marked its 60th anniversary Saturday in Strasbourg and Kehl, and that really is something to celebrate: The organization's survival for 20 years after the disappearance of the threat that justified its formation defies most historical precedents. It will probably be around for another 20,...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (4-6-09)
"Japan's Economy Collapsed in the 1990s."
Not exactly. Decades of extraordinarily high growth in postwar Japan culminated in a huge asset price bubble that reached its peak in 1989. When the bubble finally popped in 1990, wiping out billions of dollars in accumulated wealth, the country's growth rates turned anemic. Between 1990 and 2003 Japan dipped into and out of recession. Despite these troubles, though, Japanese GDP in the 1990s ultimately continued to grow at an average of about 1.5 percent per year, measured in real terms. That translates to a 10 percent increase in the size of the economy over the course of the decade, well lower than the much more robust rates of growth in many other industrialized economies during the same period, but hardly a Great Depression. What's more, unemployment never rose over 5.5 percent -- a rate that would be considered quite an...
SOURCE: NYT (4-4-09)
In the past week, Egypt marked the historic 30-year anniversary of its peace treaty with Israel without any public celebration and only the barest public mention.
It is not surprising, really, that there was no cheering here. The timing could hardly have been worse, with memories still fresh of the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
But mention of the anniversary also served as a reminder of promises unfulfilled. Egyptians were told that the treaty would lead to a comprehensive peace, and it did not. They were told that it would allow the government to focus on political, social and economic development, instead of war. But they still live in an authoritarian state, defined for many by poverty.
Egyptians were told that the treaty would give them a voice to advocate for the Palestinians. But few see it as having turned out that way.
“Today Egypt is not influential in anything,” said...
SOURCE: New Republic (4-15-09)
As a candidate, Obama was perfectly clear. "The facts are undeniable," he said in a January 2008 statement. He called the massacre not an allegation or matter of opinion--many Turks maintain that the killing resulted from anarchy accompanying the Ottoman Empire's collapse--but a clear exercise in race-based killing: "As president," he vowed, "I will recognize the Armenian genocide." Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, who said America's "morality" and "credibility" demanded such a statement, agreed. And why not? Last year, all were presidential candidates looking for easy ways to sound bold and noble, not to mention courting Armenian-American votes...
SOURCE: Asia Pacific Journal (4-4-09)
Reprinted material from “The Ordeal of Henry L. Stimson,” in Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb against Japan,” by Sean L. Malloy. Copyright © 2008 by Cornell University. Used by permission of the publisher, Cornell University Press.]
Among the myriad controversies surrounding the American use of nuclear weapons against Japanese cities in August 1945 is the seemingly simple question of exactly when President Harry S. Truman decided to use the bomb. The closest thing to a presidential directive regarding use was an order dispatched on July 25, 1945 from Acting Army Chief of Staff Thomas T. Handy to General Carl A. Spaatz, commander of the United States Army Strategy Air...
SOURCE: Special to HNN (4-6-09)
I begin with the event, as described by John Cabot. “The line wheeled instantly into a dense and solid column, crowding the street with its impenetrable mass. Emerging from the shelter upon the full run, while rending the air with their enthusiastic shouts, they rushed upon the bridge. They were met by a murderous discharge…the whole head of the column was immediately cut down like grass before the scythe, and the progress of those in the rear was encumbered by piles of the dead. Still the column pressed on,…until it had forced its way to the middle of the bridge. Here it hesitated, wavered, and was on the point of retreating…when...