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: Boston Globe (6-21-09)
My father Tom Childers and Willis Allen, my best friend Gary’s father, were veterans of the Second World War, prototypes of what we have come to call “the Greatest Generation.” Raised in modest circumstances during the Great Depression, with little in the way of social or economic advantages, they fought and survived the war, returned home, had families, and built successful careers. They prospered, joined social clubs, watched their sons play Little League, took their families on vacations to Florida. They were model veterans, model family men.
But for Tom and Willis and many other men who returned from World War II, there was another, more complex and unsettling reality that lurked below the glossy surface of...
SOURCE: New Nixon blog (6-20-09)
Jonathan Movroydis: Blind Ambition Not Absolutely Accurate
In his Wednesday lecture at the Nixon Presidential Library, disgraced and former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean devoted a portion of his time to address his lawsuit against the authors of Silent Coup: The Removal of a President. Interestingly enough, Fox News correspondent and author of ...
SOURCE: NYT (6-19-09)
If there is a heaven, and it has a place for virtuous skeptics, I imagine Michael Harrington is looking down, amused by the recent cover of Newsweek proclaiming, “We Are All Socialists Now,” not to mention Newt Gingrich’s lament that the United States is seeing “European socialism transplanted to Washington.” Back in the 1960s, Harrington had some experience trying to “transplant” some socialist ideas to Washington — and the results were rather different from what he had hoped.
Fifty years ago this July, Commentary magazine (at the time a journal of bracingly liberal sentiments) ran Harrington’s article “Our Fifty Million Poor,” in which he sought to overturn the conventional wisdom that the United States had become an overwhelmingly middle-class society. Using the poverty-line benchmark of a $3,000 annual income for a family...
SOURCE: Washington Post (6-20-09)
The Russian government has intensified its attempts to perfect the nation's past. The Defense Ministry posted an academic article on its Web site arguing that Hitler's territorial claims on Poland were "moderate" and "can hardly be referred to as unsubstantiated." After Poland rejected these claims, seeking "to gain a great power status," the article went on, it was only natural that Germany would attack -- starting World War II. When the article became the subject of news coverage, sparking discussion at home and abroad, it was removed from the site.
Even if the Defense Ministry, or the government at large, would balk at supporting the theory of Poland's "guilt" in provoking World War II, the publication of this article -- "Fabrications and falsifications in evaluating the role of the U.S.S.R. on the...
SOURCE: WSJ (6-19-09)
... Richard Hofstadter and other thinkers in the postwar years saw conservatism as a morally compromised project in which vested interests played on populist fears to thwart progressive reforms. Lionel Trilling dismissed conservative thinking as "irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." His Harvard contemporary Louis Hartz loftily claimed that a liberalism derived from John Locke provided the only authentic political tradition in the U.S.
Patrick Allitt begs to differ. In "The Conservatives" he traces the evolution of conservative thought in America, from the Founding period to the present, tracing its shifting emphasis and its particular way of responding to the challenges of the times. To be sure, conservatism lacked a full political meaning in America until the 20th century, and it didn't exist as an organized...
SOURCE: Ed Black, responding to a reader complaint at ThecuttingEdgeNews.com (6-15-09)
SOURCE: Nation (6-3-09)
The year 1943 seemed, to contemporary observers, "1776 for the Negro"--a revolutionary time in which the promises of full citizenship for African-Americans were finally to be redeemed. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had desegregated the war industries two years before, and blacks were migrating en masse from the Jim Crow South to Northern cities, streaming into decent-paying jobs as welders, shipbuilders and machinists. The war was stirring a passionate commitment from black Americans, who came to understand it as a fight against fascism abroad and racism at home--and to understand themselves, in turn, as democracy's cutting edge.
Yet in retrospect 1943 was also a time of quiet counterrevolution, in which...
SOURCE: http://www.culturekiosque.com (6-5-09)
The student protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989 felt that two nations in the world were beacons for their cause: the United States and France. That was a time when, arguably, the the People's Republic of China was not yet a daunting behemoth, and when Chinese civil society was still adolescent and the parental authority still benign. Confucius, as it were, had not been resurrected yet, and youthful political dreaming was possible while the Communist party was in flux.
The protestors had indeed constructed a goddess of democracy in the image of the Statue of Liberty, the famous statue which the French Republic commissioned the sculptor Bartholdi to build as a gift for the Centenary of the United States. This Franco-American symbolism may have been marginal to the protestors; not so the reputation of France as "the...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (6-4-09)
SOURCE: American Scholar (Summer) (6-1-09)
What a pleasure to be here tonight among people who care about the craft of history! I feel honored to share this award with such a distinguished list of writers. Most meaningfully to me, the register of past winners includes my mentor, Richard White. Richard influenced my writing as well as my thinking. In particular, he helped me to appreciate the creative tension between literary expression and logical structure.
To be honest, a history book is less creative than a novel, for the novelist creates a whole new world. The historian, meanwhile, is restricted by this world—the extant sources, especially, but also the rules of the guild. However, much like a fugue or a sonata can be surprisingly creative and stunningly beautiful, an...
SOURCE: Slate (6-18-09)
Times reporter Patricia Cohen doesn't mention my contribution to the genre—she singles out books about 1968, 1989, and A.D. 33 (the year of Jesus' crucifixion)—but she seems to have my number. Or does she?
I entered into my project with apprehensions of just this sort of eye-rolling. There are a lot of books out there that insist a specific year, or type of fish or grain or mathematical equation, altered the course of civilization. But I went ahead with it anyway, not because I figured I was...
SOURCE: Gilder Lehrman Institute's historynow.org (6-17-09)
In the 1920s, Teapot Dome became synonymous with government corruption and the scandals arising out of the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Since then, it has sometimes been used to symbolize the power and influence of oil companies in American politics. In the days before Watergate, one historian called it “the greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics.”
Teapot Dome is a geological feature in Wyoming, named for nearby Teapot Rock, and the site of an oil field. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson...
SOURCE: Gilder Lehrman Institute's historynow.org (6-17-09)
Most Americans’ knowledge of the seventeenth century comes from semi-mythical events such as the First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Pocahontas purportedly saving Captain John Smith from execution in early Virginia, and Salem witchcraft. This witchcraft scare, and the trials that followed, have especially seized the popular imagination.
Separating the myths from the reality of the Salem witchcraft episode is the historian’s task. In large part, students learn about the Salem witchcraft trials from reading Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, frequently assigned in high school classes. Miller’s play is a work of fiction, not history, but its enormous popularity has effectively distorted what really happened in Essex...
SOURCE: http://www.theolivepress.es (6-17-09)
Taking place in the plush top floor office of the Instituto de la Moneda, the director was meeting with the heads of both the German and British secret services.
The topic: to decide, allegedly, how to divide up the enormous piles of Nazi gold – much of it looted from Jews – that had found its way into Spain towards the end of the Second World War.
“There were two British agents and four German agents,” claims Dr Shimon Samuels, who has investigated the movement of looted gold for decades. “Each of them were making offers. The British wanted the Gold, insisting it should not fall into the hands of the Americans, while the Germans wanted their gold protected by Franco, officially to be used for post war reconstruction in Germany.
“But we think it went to oPERATION Odessa to help Nazis escape to South America.”
The piles of gold in question...
SOURCE: Edge of the American West (blog) (6-17-09)
The “traditional forms of history are dying” meme is strong within conservative precincts, and, oddly, the New York Times. “Traditional” in this case usually means one of a choice of political, diplomatic, economic or military history. The regular story is that these important kinds of history are being excluded from academia by (unstated but usually implied) less important forms of history that involve politically correct topics like race and gender. The articles are written from the viewpoint of the traditional forms of history, and those quoted represent those forms. Input from those historians practicing the PC forms are largely ignored.
A canonical example of this came a few years ago, in the National Review. John Miller wrote “...
SOURCE: RealClearWorld (6-18-09)
One of the fundamental pillars of Europe's political architecture is a strong and enduring belief in the universal validity of equal, universal, and inalienable human rights.
At the core of this is a belief in the rights of human beings to a life of freedom and the protection of their dignity.
In the years after World War II, this humanist ideal became the basis of Europe's spiritual and political identity and hence it is contained in the founding documents of the European Union. This doesn't mean the EU could or would want to conquer the rest of the world in the name of imposing its values, rules and culture on the rest of humanity. Far from it.
What Europe's devotion to humanism does mean, however, is a determination, no matter the circumstances, to stand firm and not abandon the fundamentals of European civilization and European...
SOURCE: Japan Times (6-17-09)
In the Soviet Union, the future was always certain; only the past could change without notice. The signal that it had changed was often the publication of a pseudo-scholarly article that denounced the "falsifications" of the existing version of history.
Here we go again. Recently Col. Sergei Kovalev, director of the scientific research department at the Institute of Military History, published an article on the Web site of the Russian Ministry of Defense titled "Fictions and Falsifications in Evaluating the USSR's Role On the Eve of the Second World War." He says it was the Poles who started the war in 1939, not the Nazis.
The British and the French were to blame too, because earlier in 1939 they guaranteed Poland's independence if it stood up to Hitler's demands. That gave the Poles "delusions of grandeur,"...
SOURCE: Email to HNN (6-15-09)
James Loewen: Separate but Equal Wreaths are Not a Permanent Solution to the Memorial Day Conundrum Edward Sebesta and James Loewen: Dear President Obama: Please Don't Honor the Arlington Confederate Monument
Ron Maxwell is the writer-director of the motion-pictures Gettysburg, Gods...
SOURCE: American Scholar (6-15-09)
When Ronald Reagan stepped down from the presidency in 1989, he had acquired a reputation as a resilient, savvy politician. To his acolytes on the right, he had become a hero, a man whose love of country and desire to shrink the size of government had changed the trajectory of the nation in the final decades of the 20th century. Reagan’s reputation soared higher still after his 1994 open letter to the American people disclosing his Alzheimer’s disease. It has recently risen so high, in fact, that a C-SPAN poll of historians and journalists released in February ranked him as the 10th best president in our history, ahead of such leaders as John Adams and Andrew Jackson. The icing on his reputation came...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (6-6-09)
There are few things more dangerous or terrifying than when a nation, or the state apparatus that controls it, falls into the grip of a collective delusion. Such was the case in Nazi Germany, when a straightforward decision was taken to scapegoat Jews, Communists and, in the end, anyone else who didn't agree with the prevailing madness, and persecute them to the point of mass murder. Stalin, in his own pursuit of totalitarianism, behaved similarly.
Some of us hoped that, in Europe at any rate, such absurdities were over; but a dispatch from The Daily Telegraph's Moscow correspondent last week showed that the madness is back, in Russia at least, and with it the determination to abuse and manipulate history.
A research official in the Russian defence ministry has published an essay saying that Poland effectively started the Second World War by refusing to accede to Germany's "modest...