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: The Wall Street Journal (9-11-09)
It was the ultimate gathering of statesmen, thinkers and artists, the likes of which aren't likely to be found in Davos or at any Renaissance Weekend. "The Club," as it was simply known, was founded in 1764 by the moralist and polymath Samuel Johnson, and included the likes of political philosopher Edmund Burke, painter Joshua Reynolds, naturalist Joseph Banks, historian Edward Gibbon and economist Adam Smith.
Over Monday night dinners at London's Turk's Head tavern, members would chew over everything from philosophy to rhetoric to art to questions of human character and nature. It's been said that the late 18th century was the last time in history a well-educated person could have a mastery of every great scholarly discipline. But it's also true that the greatest minds of the era believed that there was an essential unity of knowledge, and that the natural and humane sciences, or the moral...
SOURCE: The Guardian (9-7-09)
The far east has too often been seen as a distant and relatively minor theatre of the war in Europe. This perspective needs to be reversed. The great Asian war had a seismic momentum of its own. Fighting began in 1931 and there was barely a hiatus when Japan surrendered to the allies in August 1945. Between 1941 and 1945 alone, war claimed around 24 million lives in Japanese-occupied Asia, perhaps 3 million Japanese, and 3.5 million more in India through war-related famine. Of these victims, the European, American and Australasian casualties numbered perhaps 1% of the total. But such tallies do not convey the full scale of the tragedy.
Roads to war...
SOURCE: Humanities (9-9-09)
When Winston Churchill ominously announced in March 1946 that an “Iron Curtain had descended over Europe,” the United States government employed around two dozen experts on the Soviet Union and even fewer on Central and Eastern Europe. Two years later, after a steady drumbeat of Cold War crises, the young Central Intelligence Agency employed thirty-eight Soviet analysts, only twelve of whom spoke any Russian. The few university-based Russia specialists varied tremendously in intellect and energy; only a handful were willing and able to contribute to shaping policy. How could American officials chart a foreign policy without knowing what was going on inside the Soviet Union, let alone inside the Kremlin? As...
SOURCE: Humanities (9-10-09)
In the aftermath of the Senate hearings to consider the president’s nominee to become the next U.S. Supreme Court justice, it’s hard to remember that the process wasn’t always like this. There weren’t always weeks of media coverage, and there weren’t always hearings. Nor did individual senators spend hours calling witnesses, making statements, or cross-examining the nominee. In fact, the first nominee didn’t testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee until 1925, when Harlan Stone proposed an appearance to answer questions about his ties to Wall Street. It would be another fourteen years and five justices until nominee Felix Frankfurter appeared before the committee to address rumors that he was secretly a Communist. Starting with John Harlan in 1955, all nominees appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Southern senators, unhappy with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, wanted the opportunity to...
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (9-10-09)
Eight years ago, 2,600 people lost their lives in Manhattan, and then several million people lost their story. The al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers did not defeat New Yorkers. It destroyed the buildings, contaminated the region, killed thousands, and disrupted the global economy, but it most assuredly did not conquer the citizenry. They were only defeated when...
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (9-10-09)
As for myself, I was on my bedroom floor...
SOURCE: FrontPageMag.com (9-9-09)
Twenty years ago, the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe began to fall one by one -- so quickly that the coming months will be very dense with 20th anniversaries of great historic events. That was the final battle of the Cold War, where the Iron Curtain was finally broken, and the monstrous Soviet Empire ruined. Freedom triumphed in Europe at last. Or so it seemed. For the next twenty years have shown that that victory was not as final as many hoped during that momentous autumn of 1989. Once more, we are threatened by the surviving heirs of the Soviet...
SOURCE: Slate (9-8-09)
A month after 9/11, Fouad Ajami wrote in the New York Times Magazine, "I almost know Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian [at] the controls of the jet that crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center." While the Middle East scholar had never met the lead hijacker, Ajami knew his type: the young Arab male living abroad, tantalized by yet alienated from Western modernity, who retreats into fundamentalist piety.
Eight years after 9/11, we still almost know Mohamed Atta. We can almost see him, a gaunt and spectral figure making his...
SOURCE: Daily Mail (UK) (9-9-09)
The surge of memories and commentaries about September 1939 has supposedly offered any number of moral, political and military lessons.
But there is another, perverse side to the process - overlearning, often as big a danger as not learning at all.
As we slid into World War II, British and French leaders remembered acutely how disaster had built on one minor event.
World War I developed from Austria's wild assumption that the Serbian government was behind the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo.
A grim question hovered at the back of many minds in the late 1930s. Surely another East European quarrel, this time involving Czechoslovakia - yet another country of which we knew little - could not be allowed at any price to start another major war? We had learned too much about Austria, too little about Hitler.
Overlearning also emerged in our generals. In...
SOURCE: NY Review of Books (9-24-09)
SOURCE: Slate (9-3-09)
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That was college football's quiet racial revolution. The noisy one took...
SOURCE: Adam Holland Blog (9-6-09)
The debate was sponsored by Intelligence Squared and took place in London's Methodist Central Hall. Two historians who debated Buchanan took dim views of Buchanan's historical analysis. Antony Beevor said:
"I never expected to hear Pat Buchanan backing up Vladimir Putin's idea that somehow the Brits were responsible for World War Two."Pat Buchanan's arguments during the debate were quite bizarre. At times people didn't know whether he was sympathising with Hitler or just being anti-British." Historian Richard Overy said:"I thought what Pat Buchanan said...
SOURCE: OAH press release (9-8-09)
"'Young Men for War': The Wide Awakes and Lincoln's 1860 Presidential Campaign," by Jon Grinspan
Jon Grinspan explores the influence of the forgotten campaign organization the Wide Awakes on Lincoln's 1860 election and the coming of the Civil War. This grassroots movement demonstrates the importance of novice political participants and helps explain how the 1860 campaign inadvertently led to the secession of the South.
"Lincoln and the Ethics of Emancipation: Universalism, Nationalism, Exceptionalism," by Dorothy Ross
Dorothy Ross argues that recent historians have emphasized Abraham Lincoln's opposition to slavery to the neglect of his ardent nationalism. Putting Lincoln's opposition to slavery in the context of his nationalism...
SOURCE: WaPo (9-5-09)
Twice in 25 years, Afghanistan has been cast in American politics as the "good" war, worthy of American support, and contrasted with a "bad" war that allegedly was not. The first time, this worked out reasonably well for America and its Afghan allies. It is unclear whether that will be true this time around.
Twenty-five years ago, Afghanistan was the setting for "Charlie Wilson's War," chronicled in George Crile's book and the movie of the same name. At the heart of that story is a seeming paradox: A Democratic congressman from Texas leads Speaker Tip O'Neill's Congress to stake out a position well to the right of Ronald Reagan on whether America should try to defeat the Red Army in Afghanistan. Urged on by Wilson for the...
SOURCE: The Washington Post (9-6-09)
Justice Souter agreed last month to donate his personal and professional papers to the New Hampshire Historical Society in his home state. But he ordered that they be off-limits to the public, including academic researchers, historians and journalists, for 50 years from the date of his retirement -- or until 2059. This restriction is excessive and puts Justice Souter's records out of reach for two generations, making it that much harder to fully and accurately assess his work and impact on the court.
Yet it could have been worse. Only documents that are part of an official case record -- such as briefs, final opinions and orders -- must be preserved for at least some time. No such strictures exist for a justice's work product, which could include...
SOURCE: Harper's (8-29-09)
SOURCE: guardian.co.uk (9-2-09)
Who to blame for the second world war, the nostalgia industry is asking this week. As the hours tick away towards the 70th anniversary of Britain's fateful declaration – Sunday morning, 3 September 1939 – the simplest, most obvious answer remains the right one. Hitler did it, though Bismarck has a lot to answer for.
Yet through most of my adult life all sorts of clever people have been wriggling. In 1961 AJP Taylor published The Origins of the Second World War, in which he explained that Hitler was a pretty run-of-the-mill European politician in foreign policy and that the war was made likely by the unwise Versailles treaty of 1918 but its immediate cause was the usual crop of mistakes by politicians.
I remember it because when I sat my history special paper in remote Cornwall two years later I was still...
SOURCE: BBC (9-3-09)
For five years, SS Oberscharfuehrer Rochus Misch had been part of Adolf Hitler's inner circle, as a bodyguard, a courier and telephone operator to the Fuehrer.
"My first meeting with Hitler was rather strange," Mr Misch recalls."I'd been in the job 12 days when Hitler's chief adjutant, a man called Bruckner, started asking me questions about my grandmother, about my childhood.
"Then he got up and walked towards the door. Being an obedient soldier, I flung myself forward to open it, and there was Hitler standing right behind the door. I felt cold. Then I felt hot. I felt every emotion standing there opposite Hitler....
SOURCE: OpEdNews.com (9-1-09)
Four decades ago – on September 2, 1969, to be precise -- Leonard Kleinrock and a handful of associates began tests on what was soon to become the Internet. About forty people gathered in Kleinrock's lab at the University of California, Los Angeles to observe two bulky computers fifteen feet apart send test data to each other across a gray cable.
That was the humble beginning of what was originally called the ‘Arpanet' network -- a government-supported data network that would use the technology which by then had come to be known as "packet switching."
Soon, the Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah joined UCLA – and the rest, as they say, is history"
In short order, TCP/IP communications protocols, which allowed multiple networks to...
SOURCE: CommentaryMagazine.com (9-1-09)
More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, there can be no question about the significance of the event that crystallized the West’s determination to win the standoff with Communism. The 1948 Berlin Airlift was the West’s first victory on the way to eventual triumph in the long twilight conflict with Moscow. Though the saga of the breaking of the Soviet blockade of the city is familiar, there is one aspect of the story that has not yet been told: while prop-engine C-54s were bringing tons of goods into the besieged city, they were also taking out an even more precious cargo—more than 5,000 homeless survivors of the Holocaust trapped in Berlin. The airlift was a response to Soviet dictator -Josef Stalin’s crude attempt to increase the extent of his domination of...