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: Independent (UK) (8-29-09)
One might have thought that 70 years was time enough to work out what really happened in 1939. It isn't the case. Misunderstandings and misinformation abound.
The British media is all geared up to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the declaration of war on Thursday 3 September. Once again, we shall hear Neville Chamberlain's prim radio announcement, since Germany had not withdrawn its troops from Poland, that "this country finds itself in a state of war with Germany". He inimitably accentuated the "Po-" of Poland. And his words clearly indicated that fighting had already begun.
But British people recall it differently. They are convinced that the declaration of 3 September was followed by months of a "phoney war", in which nothing really happened. Every nation...
SOURCE: Times (UK) (8-31-09)
It is 70 years since war broke out in 1939, but historic questions remain. “Appeasement” is still a dirty word, but so is “war-monger”. President Bush repeatedly used the memory of Winston Churchill in 1940 to justify his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Revisionist historians question whether Neville Chamberlain, the architect of the 1930s appeasement policy, had any choice. One witness was Sir Nevile Henderson, who published his account in Failure of a Mission.
Henderson was Neville Chamberlain’s Ambassador to Germany in the period immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War. He arrived in Berlin early in May 1937. As Ambassador he came to know all the leading Nazis, and had several interviews with Hitler himself. He was chosen as the envoy for...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (8-30-09)
At 04.45am on Friday 1 September, German forces activated Plan White, which had been formulated that June by the German Army High Command, the Oberkommando des Heeres. On either side of a relatively weak and stationary centre, two powerful wings of the Wehrmacht would envelop Poland, crush its armed forces and capture Warsaw. Army Group North, under Colonel-General Fedor von Bock, would smash through the Polish Corridor, take Danzig (modern-day Gdansk), unite with the German 3rd Army in East Prussia, and move swiftly to attack the Polish capital from the north. Meanwhile, an even stronger Army Group South, under Colonel-General Gerd von Rundstedt, would punch between the larger Polish forces facing it, push east all the way to Lvov, but also assault Warsaw from the west and north.
The Polish Corridor, which since the Versailles Treaty had cut off East Prussia from the rest of Germany, had long been...
SOURCE: telegraph.co.uk (8-29-09)
... Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, when he was exactly my age, Lorca was shot by Nationalist sympathisers in Granada, and his body thrown into a mass grave. The reasons for his assassination have never been fully explained. It may have been his Leftist sympathies, or his homosexuality, or it may simply have been a grudge. Until recently, no one much wanted to raise the subject.
Now, though, Lorca's body is to be unearthed, and the story of its exhumation is the story of Spain's recent past. For a long time, the first rule of Spanish society was "Don't mention the war".
It was almost impossible to get Spaniards to talk about what happened between 1936 and 1939: as soon as they...
SOURCE: Salon (8-28-09)
I did not need a cup of coffee to wake up this morning -- I just checked my e-mail, and saw the subject header:"Hoover's pro-labor stance helped cause Great Depression, UCLA economist says."
Without reading the message, I knew instantly who the economist must be -- Lee Ohanian, a tireless Great Depression/New Deal revisionist whose work is oft-cited by Amity Shlaes, the author of"The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression." Last we saw of Ohanian at How the World Works, he was arguing that FDR's New Deal policies extended the Great Depression and resulted in"less work than average" for American workers. Which might be true, if you don't count anyone who got a job through"the Works Progress Administration (WPA) or Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), or any other of Roosevelt's popular New Deal workfare programs." Makes sense -- if you don't count Roosevelt's pro-labor programs, he doesn't end up...
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal (8-28-09)
And so, June 24, 1985. I had worked on the speech, to my delight—JFK had been a childhood hero—and Reagan went off in a happy mood, waving his cards at Pat Buchanan, the director of communications. "I bet you love my speech, Pat!" he said as he bounded out of the West Wing.
And this is what Ronald Reagan said of John F. Kennedy, on a...
SOURCE: Boston Review (8-28-09)
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help or pardon.
Auden’s anthem to the doomed Spanish Republic, his somber warning, has rarely been more relevant.
Last September Spain’s homegrown “super-judge” Baltasar Garzón—best-known for his dramatic 1998 effort to arrest the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London— announced that he was investigating not only the whereabouts of the remains of the “disappeared” of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), but also the huge numbers of defeated Republicans executed by General Francisco Franco in the grim postwar years. His goal was to try to amass enough evidence to charge Franco’s regime posthumously with crimes against humanity. Could it be that, after so long, “help” and “pardon”...
SOURCE: Media Research Center (conservative media watchdog) (8-26-09)
However the complexities and seeming contradictions are interpreted, if Bush at any point had volunteered to fly combat...
SOURCE: NYT (8-27-09)
Vladimir Putin plans to be in Poland on Sept. 1 to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II, a visit that could go a long way toward reducing renewed tensions over Europe’s troubled history.
As the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, observed, the Russian prime minister’s presence in Gdansk “would be a breakthrough in our evaluation and reevaluation of historical events.”
Seventy years ago, as Nazi Germany was invading Poland, W.H. Auden famously wrote of being “uncertain and afraid as the clever hopes expire of a low dishonest decade.”
Europe’s descent into madness had been a long saga of balancing and double-crossing between the great powers — democracies and dictatorships alike.
One of the many “low dishonest” points on the path to war was the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact signed in Moscow on the night of Aug. 23, 1939,...
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal (8-28-09)
No theme is more deeply embedded in Jewish history than exile and return. The biblical exodus from Egypt to the promised land, the return from Babylonian exile, and, most recently, the establishment of the state of Israel all affirmed the enduring determination of the Jewish people to return to their homeland.
Ye t another wrenching exile and return, now rarely remembered, occurred 80 years ago this week. On Aug. 23-24, 1929, the Jewish community of Hebron was exiled following a horrific pogrom. The tragedy is known as Tarpat, an acronym for its date in the Hebrew calendar.
Until 1929, Jews had lived in Hebron for three millennia. There, according to Jewish tradition, Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah to bury Sarah. It was the first parcel of land owned...
SOURCE: Salon (8-27-09)
Commodity prices plummeted, factories shut their doors, railroads declared bankruptcy, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs, and land prices deflated. As the economy ground to a halt, immigration dropped in 1858 to its lowest level in more than a decade.
What caused it? A confluence of factors, including the Crimean War, a speculative Western land boom, the newish technology of telegraph wires (damn those newfangled gadgets!), an embezzlement scandal, and the accidental sinking of a ship carrying $2 million of California gold. I like this post because it reminds us to look for multiple causative factors when trying to explain any discrete event. Conspiracy theories that pin all the blame on one villain -- Goldman Sachs! Phil Gramm! The...
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal (blog) (8-21-09)
Wall Street without the Dow?
It seems to be a possibility. We know Dow Jones & Co Inc. has been sounding out potential buyers for the company’s stock-market indexing business. The Journal’s story contains this tantalizing bit:
"A new owner might have the option to rename the Dow Jones Industrial Average, bringing the 125 year-old name to a close. The broad name recognition of the index, however, will likely be a reason to keep it intact. A person familiar with the matter said that any deal will likely require that the Dow Jones name remain."
Luckily we were able to catch Charles Geisst, a professor of finance at Manhattan College and author of “Wall Street: A History,” for a chat. Here’s a condensed version of our quick interview, with some...
SOURCE: The Huffington Post (8-24-09)
The first annual European-wide commemoration of the"the victims of Stalinism and Nazism" took place on August 23. The resolution to hold this event was passed recently by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a fifty-six-nation body, which includes the United States and describes itself as the world's largest regional security organization. The date, August 23, 2009, was chosen not by chance: it happens to be the seventieth anniversary of the Non-Aggression Treaty signed between the Soviet Union and the Third Reich. Stalin and Hitler agreed to divide Poland and to carve Europe into spheres of influence. The Second World War began only days later.
The Assembly's resolution, which celebrates the"reunification" of Europe encourages members to promote...
SOURCE: The National Security Archive (8-26-09)
Before addressing the substance in the new CIA histories it will be useful to pause and consider what this case also shows about the U.S. Government's broken system for declassifying and releasing records. In actuality, this CIA release was not at all a voluntary contribution to American history, but was compelled by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Filed in 1992, that FOIA request may be the longest running case in the CIA's files, and its treatment shines a blinding light on how the agency handles its statutory duty to release records. A whole series of questionable actions were...
SOURCE: The National Security Archive (8-26-09)
The Central Intelligence Agency's Vietnam war history actually begins in 1950, when agency officers moved to French Indochina as part of the United States legation in Saigon. During the French war in Indochina the CIA's involvement grew to encompass a base in Hanoi but not much more, since the French did not encourage CIA activity. The French tamped down further after an incident in which CIA officers were revealed as reaching past them to open channels to Vietnamese nationalists. When the lands of Indochina—Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia—became independent "associated states" the CIA...
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal (8-26-09)
Ms. Ramey, who died Aug. 15 at the age of 85, had been on the air for more than a decade by the time "Noon News" had its debut. She specialized in reporting from the scene at a time when newscasts were conducted mostly from the studio. She rode along on a night police patrol in a high-crime zone, peered into the exotic haunts of a Beatnik from Greenwich Village, and reported on the construction of San Francisco's latest high-rise from inside the emerging building's skeleton.
Within a year Ms. Ramey's hard-news leanings led to a different slogan: "The Woman on the Beat."...
... On New Year's Eve of 1960, Ms. Ramey filmed a report about inmates at California's San Quentin State Prison. The story kicked off a lengthy relationship...
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (8-26-09)
Tomorrow, August 27, will see a gala celebration in the little town of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Titusville is in the northwest part of the state, just southeast of Erie. There, 150 years ago, occurred one of those epochal events whose significance far exceeded anything imagined by those immediately involved.
First, there was George Bissell. He was a New Hampshire lad and, like so many ambitious and energetic lads of the day, he made his way through a succession of careers. He taught school, worked as a reporter in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, and then took up law. In 1854, with his law partner, he started a business, the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, to capture surface oil in the area around Oil Creek, Pa. At the time rock oil was used primarily in medical applications, and for a time the new company was a money-losing enterprise. But there seemed to be a...
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (8-26-09)
Though Ted Kennedy will mostly be remembered for his work on domestic issues, his contributions to human rights around the globe are unmatched.
Ted Kennedy’s greatest contributions—affecting hundreds of millions of Americans—were on domestic issues such as health, education, labor, and civil rights. But with the exception of his opposition to the war in Iraq, he played a largely overlooked but important role in international affairs, fighting for refugees from Vietnam to Ethiopia to Iraq and crusading against political oppression in nations such as Pakistan, Chile, Northern Ireland, and South Africa.
His first venture came in 1965 when he used an obscure chairmanship, a Judiciary Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees, to get involved in Vietnam issues. He started out as a Johnson administration cheerleader, saying the...
SOURCE: Daily Mail (UK) (8-26-09)
Senator Edward 'Ted' Kennedy stood for sleaze. Bloated and drunken, he used his standing in the Kennedy clan to chase vulnerable women - which brought his dream of reaching the White House to a shameful end.
He was the youngest of the four Kennedy brothers, and by far the longest lived.
Incredibly, he was in line to inherit his brother John F. Kennedy's legendary presidency, but his chances were dashed following the drowning of the pretty, young campaign assistant Mary Jo Kopechne.
Forever known as the Chappaquiddick Incident after the Massachusetts island where it took place, the scandal in 1969 broke the Kennedy grip on the White House.
A drunk Ted had been driving back from a party to the family 'compound' on Martha's Vineyard when he veered off a bridge and into a deep tidal dyke.
Mary Jo was in the back seat and,...
SOURCE: History Today (8-21-09)
The rebirth of history in Russia began at least two years before the European turning point of 1989. It was Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness, launched in 1986, that encouraged the tentative debates, discussions that were sponsored initially by the Kremlin itself. As a graduate student in Moscow University’s Faculty of History in 1986 I watched the process unfolding and I followed its gathering momentum during the next three years. The debates were unforgettable and culminated in a crisis so profound that school and university examinations in history had to be cancelled. Textbooks, teachers and curricula faced ignominy; the old questions were irrelevant. It was as if the past had come to life after more than 70 years, breaking through the tissue of political illusion to reclaim its place at the centre of Russia’s national imagination.
First came the...