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: American Prospect (7-31-09)
Freedom in America has been the subject of several lines of scholarship. Philosophers attempt to derive freedom's true meaning, intellectual historians examine what eminent minds have argued about it, and social historians study continuities and variations in its meanings and practices, while linguists decipher the ways of framing freedom in the political mind and empirically minded social scientists use surveys and interviews to probe what Americans think about freedom. In recent years, a more synthetic approach has emerged in which theory, intellectual and political history, and findings from political studies inform a critical appraisal of freedom in America. These works run the ideological gamut from James Bovard's Freedom in Chains on the right to the centrist critique of Matthew Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg in Downsizing...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (7-31-09)
What does it say about Britain that today we merrily laud a historian who celebrates the most murderous acts of the British Empire – and even says women and children who died in our concentration camps were killed by their own stupidity?
Andrew Roberts is routinely described in the British press as a talented historian with a penchant for partying. They affectionately describe how the 46-year-old millionaire-inheritee sucks up to the English aristocracy. He brags: "To [the] charge of snobbery I plead guilty, with pride," saying he has "an exaggerated sense of – and tak[es] an unapologetic delight in – class distinctions." But all this Evelyn Waugh tomfoolery masks the toxic values that infuse Roberts's works of "history".
Roberts, who has a new book out this week, describes himself as "extremely right-wing". To understand him, you need...
SOURCE: Asia Times Online (7-30-09)
In the early stages of the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s, Adlai Stevenson, United States president John F Kennedy's notoriously dovish United Nations ambassador, suggested that Washington offer Moscow a non-confrontational trade to stave off a nuclear exchange: we withdraw our missiles from Turkey, and the Soviets withdraw their missile components from Cuba.
On hearing his advice, Kennedy and every member of his secretive ExComm group (assembled to troubleshoot the crisis)
scolded Stevenson for recklessly forgetting the obvious lessons of Munich, when Britain and France in the late 1930s appeased German leader Adolf Hitler prior to World War II. Only a fool, they said, would reward the aggression of tyrants like Hitler and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev with diplomacy. But then, lo and behold, under cover of absolute secrecy,...
SOURCE: New Republic (8-12-09)
Ebersol was producing a new documentary series called "The Wanted,"...
SOURCE: Austin American-Statesman (7-17-09)
Cesar Chavez was not a saint. He was, at times, a stubborn authoritarian bully, a fanatical control freak, a wily fighter who manufactured enemies and scapegoats, a mystical vegetarian who healed with his hands, and a union president who wanted his members to value sacrifice above higher wages.
He was also a brilliant, inspirational leader who changed thousands of lives as he built the first successful union for farmworkers, a consummate strategist singularly committed to his vision of helping the poor — a vision that even those close to him sometimes misunderstood.
That one man embodies such complexity and contradictions should be a key lesson underlying any history curriculum: Students should learn to think in shades of gray, to see heroes as real people, and to reject the dogma of black and white.
SOURCE: Teachers College Record (subscription required) (11-10-08)
In recent years, it has become conventional wisdom among many historians to blame the emergence of the social studies for the demise of history in American secondary schools. This interpretation has not only become the default explanation in the academic discourse, but it has also had an influential effect on educational policy. Historians’ direct role in the drafting of national and state standards and the reform of teaching requirements in many states can be viewed in part as initiatives to wrestle the history curriculum away from social studies educators and place it back in the hands of professional historians. Accompanying this movement has been a greater interest among historians in developing their own empirical research base for improving the teaching and learning of history at all levels.1
The effort by...
SOURCE: Cleveland Plain Dealer (7-26-09)
Consider the smiling young man in white tie and cap, whose photo appeared in a 1916 report by the"Committee on Cripples of the Welfare Federation of Cleveland." His name is not recorded, but Cleveland's ugly law, banning"diseased, maimed and deformed persons" from appearing in public, cost him his job.
Don't see the problem? Look closer -- the vendor has clubbed hands and feet.
"Although it [the law] seems rather hard," the report states,"he appreciated the meaning of it, but considered it ill-advised unless some steps went with it for providing other opportunity for work for cripples."
Susan M. Schweik, the scholar who found and published this photo for her provocative, disturbing new book,"The Ugly Law," asks this question:"What was it, exactly, that this man, in his guarded, strategic protest, is said to appreciate?"
Her book is filled with such nuanced inquiry as she traces the first incident of this law's enforcement to 1867 San...
SOURCE: TheCuttingEdgeNews.com (7-27-09)
Every day, politicians and pundits talk of another chance at Mideast peace missed, delayed or subverted. The focus is always on Palestinians and Israelis as the keystone to a global settlement with the West and across the region. But in the original peace arrangement between the...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (7-25-09)
The Russians have a saying that there is no such thing as cold weather, only the wrong kind of clothing. Prior to Operation Barbarossa, the Nazis could have been certain that their invasion of Russia, which began on June 22, 1941, was in for a very cold winter.
It was a matter of simple statistical analysis, the kind at which Adolf Hitler's High Command was supposed to excel. But the German commissariat had hubristically not transported anything like enough woollen hats, gloves, long johns and overcoats to Russia.
Suddenly, there was a desperate need for millions of such items, over and above what could be looted from the Russians and the Poles. On December 20, 1941, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, broadcast an appeal for warm clothing to send to the troops, saying:"Those at home will not deserve a single...
SOURCE: NYT (7-23-09)
I was in that kitchen, not because I then had anything to do with Nixon, the exhibition’s official host, but as a young press agent for the American company that built the house. The exhibit was designed to show Russians that free enterprise produced goods that made life better for average Americans. However, my client’s house was not on the official tour.
Instead, “Nik and Dick,” as the adversaries were promptly dubbed, were steered into the RCA color television exhibit, a consumer marvel at the time. This display of technical...
SOURCE: BBC (7-24-09)
President Dmitry Medvedev recently announced the setting up of a commission to counter the falsification of history. He said this was becoming increasingly "severe, evil, and aggressive".
"This is absolute poppycock," says Robert Service, professor of Russian History at Oxford University. "History is all about argument. There is no absolute historical truth about anything big in history."
Mr Service dismisses the Russian leader's suggestion that his country is facing some kind of academic aggression.
Instead, he sees a desire to dominate, worthy of the most repressive totalitarian regimes of fiction.
"President Medvedev, following in the path of his predecessor President [Vladimir] Putin, wants to control history," he says.
"And he wants to control history as a means of controlling the present. This is...
SOURCE: World Politics Review (7-22-09)
Once upon a time, there was a grand and influential foreign policy doctrine. It was based on some traditional notions about U.S. statecraft that placed severe constraints on when America went to war. It asserted that when the United States used military force, it must do so in overwhelming fashion and only in the service of vital national interests. For any military action, it counseled the dispassionate weighing of costs and benefits, recommended that policymakers have clear, realistic and achievable political objectives, and called for the strong support of the American people and a clearly defined exit strategy.
This doctrine was called the Powell Doctrine, and it was based, in large measure, on a long-simmering debate in the military about how, when and where the United States should use force. While many in the...
SOURCE: The New Nixon blog (6-24-09)
Ken Hughes, a Nixon scholar and research fellow at the University of Virginia’s Presidential Recordings Project, said he was struck by listening on one of the new tapes to Nixon telling his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, that to get Thieu to sign the treaty, he would “cut off his head if necessary.”
“What this quote shows is that Nixon was willing to go to any length to force the...
SOURCE: Spiegel Online (7-21-09)
Without Ferdinand Porsche, neither automotive giant Volkswagen nor luxury marque Porsche would exist today. The man who would have a huge influence on German car-making was born in Bohemia in 1875 and completed his apprenticeship in his father's mechanical shop.
While working for the Viennese coach-building firm Lohner, which produced coaches for the court of Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria, Porsche developed an engine that many engineers are once again working on today: the electric motor. A vehicle equipped with the motor was an attraction at the Paris World's Fair in 1900.
Even at a young age, Porsche enjoyed such a strong reputation that two dictators vied for his favor and service: Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. But that never seemed...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (7-19-09)
The History Institute for Teachers is co-chaired by David Eisenhower and Walter A. McDougall.Core support is provided by the Annenberg Foundation and Mr. H.F. Lenfest. Additional funding for the military history program is provided by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the...
SOURCE: Columbia University Press blog (7-21-09)
Walter Cronkite’s recent death prompted thoughts about the complex relationship between the great anchor and Fred Friendly. The mixed feelings were very apparent when I interviewed Cronkite in 1999 for Friendlyvision, my biography of Friendly.
For one thing, their relationships with Edward R. Murrow differed. Friendly virtually deified Murrow, who was his hero, mentor and partner. Whereas Murrow never understood—or forgot—Cronkite’s refusal to accept the offer to leave United Press and join the CBS team of “Murrow Boys” in Europe during the Second World War. Hence, despite mutual respect, the Murrow-Cronkite relationship remained cool and distant.
When Friendly became president of CBS News in 1964, his relationship with Cronkite got off to an unfortunate start. The national political conventions took place that year, and Friendly was...
SOURCE: Asia Pacific Journal (Click here to view illustrations.) (7-20-09)
On 27 May 2009, the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) provoked worldwide alarm and protest by announcing that it no longer considered itself bound by the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War. Amongst the mass of western media reports deploring this announcement, however, only a few noted the fact that the armistice has never been signed by the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea), because its then President Yi Seungman [Syngman Rhee] did not accept that the war was over, and wanted to go on fighting. The armistice was therefore signed only by some of the belligerents, and, since negotiations on...
SOURCE: Slate (7-20-09)
It was distinctly eerie to learn of the death of professor Leszek Kolakowski just 15 minutes before entering a room in which I was to give a short lecture on his influence. But it was also rather inspiring to be in a country that made the passing of a public intellectual into the front-page headline of every national daily paper the following day.
The photographs of Kolakowski almost invariably portray a man with a forbiddingly craggy visage, austere to the point of asceticism. Yet he was one of the most engagingly witty people it was possible to meet. And his wit was deployed to puncture every kind of intellectual fraud or imposture. I remember his comment when he heard that Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukacs had said that even the worst socialism was preferable to the best capitalism: "Ah yes, the advantages of...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (7-19-09)
I was sitting in a press room the size of a football field at Nasa headquarters in Houston, Texas, watching a grainy black and white television screen that would show Neil Armstrong climbing down a ladder to step on to the Moon. The spaceship Eagle had landed, with its huge legs standing securely on the lunar surface, but apart from that absolutely nothing was happening.
All we could see on the screen was the empty, rugged lunar landscape in the Sea of Tranquillity – the Moon has some picturesque place names – with a horizon only half as distant as a horizon on Earth. For the 400 or so journalists in the room this was just a story. A big and wonderful story, it is true, but still just a story. No one present, as far as I know, had any idea that what was about to happen would change human...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (7-20-09)
Opponents couldn't make political hay out of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's withholding (if he did) from congressional scrutiny secret CIA programs to assassinate high-ranking al Qaeda operatives, if people had no qualms about targeted killing. But they do. Governments can bomb faceless troops of enemy conscripts with impunity, but are questioned closely about bombing photographable individuals. Numbers numb; identity humanizes. That's the general rule.
Countries put their weaponry for random killing on ceremonial display, but are evasive about their assets and capabilities for targeted killing. Some reticence makes sense -- stealth is an operational requirement for such missions -- but much of the evasiveness is due to moral reservations. The media will let an administration get away with a sweeping military operation...