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: Asia Pacific Journal (10-26-09)
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (10-30-09)
Twenty years have passed since the fall of the Berlin wall, one of the shameful symbols of the cold war and the dangerous division of the world into opposing blocks and spheres of influence. Today we can revisit the events of those times and take stock of them in a less emotional and more rational way.
The first optimistic observation to be made is that the announced "end of history" has not come about, though many claimed it had. But neither has the world that many politicians of my generation trusted and sincerely believed in: one in which, with the end of the cold war, humankind could finally forget the absurdity of the arms race, dangerous regional conflicts, and sterile ideological disputes, and enter a golden century of collective security, the rational use of material resources, the end of poverty and inequality, and restored harmony...
SOURCE: National Security Archives (10-30-09)
The debate over U.S. policy in the Afghanistan war features striking and troubling parallels with the choices faced by Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, according to Soviet documents posted today on the Web by the National Security Archive. The documents have sparked a series of recent articles by Rodric Braithwaite (“New Afghan Myths Bode Ill for Western Aims,” October 15, 2008) in the Financial Times,...
SOURCE: WSJ (10-31-09)
"All war is based on deception." —Sun Tzu
In the summer of 1962, the leader of the great Soviet empire, Nikita Khrushchev, faced a serious problem. His huge intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) didn't work. Their launchers were unreliable, their aim was off and the fuel used to rocket them skyward was so volatile that they had to be stored empty. In case of an attack, they would first have to be tanked up before being fired. The Soviet premier understood that since his ICBMs were a crucial part of his nuclear balance with the U.S., this put him at a major disadvantage.
However, Khrushchev did have a smaller, intermediate-range missile that was dependable, accurate and quite deadly. But it was too small to hit the U.S. all the way from Russia. So Khrushchev, the chess enthusiast, thought up a bold countermove. He decided to...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (10-30-09)
This month will mark the 46th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A recently declassified oral history by Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh, President Kennedy's military aide on the Dallas trip, sheds new light on the critical hours after the shooting. McHugh makes startling claims about Lyndon Johnson's behavior in the wake of the assassination.
The interview with McHugh, originally conducted for the John F. Kennedy Library in 1978, remained closed for 31 years. It was finally declassified in the spring of 2009. I just happened to be working at the Kennedy Library on the day the interview was opened to the public and have used it for the first time in my new book, The Kennedy Assassination -- 24 Hours After.
After being informed at Parkland Hospital that Kennedy was dead, Johnson raced back to Air Force One, where he waited for Mrs. Kennedy and the body of the...
SOURCE: Standpoint (UK) (10-30-09)
The Cold War was the first conflict that came close to annihilating Western civilisation — the first but almost certainly not the last. Yet the story of this global 40 Years War ended happily: it concluded almost bloodlessly in the European Revolution of 1989.
This was a genuine popular revolution, not a coup by professional subversives and terrorists like the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It came from below, taking the statesmen, diplomats and intelligence services on both sides by surprise.
Unlike most revolutions, that of 1989 did not become a vehicle for new tyrannies: it brought freedom and democracy to hundreds of millions who had lived a twilight existence under the political religion of Marxism-Leninism.
Twenty years after, the fact that all this came to pass seems almost too miraculous to be credible. Yet I was there. As a foreign correspondent for the...
SOURCE: The New Republic (10-27-09)
You probably don't know who Rudolf Kasztner was. But, actually, I've know about him since I was a teenager. Was he a Jewish hero? Or was he a traitor to the Jews? I can still hear the familiar piercing locutions of my parents' bad marriage, fought out over politics, Jewish politics, daily, unrelenting, almost viperous.
My mother was for him, this Dr. Kasztner who in the late days of the Second World War, while 12,000 Hungarian Jews a day were being gassed almost rhythmically in the crematoria, bribed Nazi officers to release a train with some 1,600 otherwise also doomed men, women and children to their new destination: freedom. Actually, Switzerland.
My father thought Kasztner a recreant. To my father, the choice of "which Jews?" and "why?" were the questions that could never be put to rest. And, at our dinner table, they never were.
The rescue taunted the...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (10-27-09)
When I was a kid in the early 1960s, the autumn social calendar was highlighted by the Halloween party in our church. In these simpler day, the kids all bobbed for apples and paraded through a spooky "haunted house" in homemade costumes -- Daniel Boone replete with coonskin caps for the boys; tiaras and fairy princess wands for the girls. It was safe, secure and innocent.
The irony is that our church was a Congregational church -- founded by the Puritans of New England. The same people who brought you the Salem Witch Trials.
Rooted in pagan traditions more than 2000 years old, Halloween grew out of a Celtic Druid celebration that marked summer's end. Called Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sow-een), it combined the Celts' harvest and New Year festivals, held in late October and early November by people in what is now Ireland, Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe. This ancient...
SOURCE: NYT (10-23-09)
In the Nov. 10, 1901, edition of The Sunday Republican of Springfield, Mass., tucked away in an item at the bottom of Page 4, an unnamed writer put forth a modest proposal. “There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill,” the writer began. “Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs. is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts.”
How to avoid this potential social faux pas? The writer suggested “a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation,” namely, Ms. With this “simple” and “easy...
SOURCE: The Chronicle of Higher Education (10-25-09)
Today Masaryk University's Faculty of Social Studies occupies a beautifully renovated 19th-century building in Brno's historic center, not far from the tourist crowds on Námestí Míru, or Peace Square. Its founder, Ivo Mozny, and his colleagues enjoy spacious quarters, an exhaustive library, and, most important, freedom of inquiry.
Twenty years ago, sociologists at the university had none of those things. Classes were held behind locked doors, so that no one could walk in on discussions of forbidden topics. Current academic works were carried in by visiting foreign scholars and were passed from professor to professor and student to student. Mozny himself—blacklisted from teaching after the Soviets overthrew the reformist government, in 1968—was reduced to working as a mere research technician and had to hold his lectures...
SOURCE: The Chronicle of Higher Education (10-26-09)
Football has changed enormously since I grew up with the game in the 1950s and 60s. Most broadly, today there seems to be a general sense of a continuous path from youth leagues all the way to the NFL. Boys of my generation knew little about the NFL beyond what they figured out from watching the weekly game on Sunday. Boys today know everything about the NFL that SportsCenter and the rest of our 24/7 sports media and entertainment industries show and tell them. Boys of my generation might have dreamed of playing pro football some day. Like-minded boys today plot a course—through weight rooms, diet supplements, summer camps, personal trainers, recruiting gurus—for getting...
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (10-26-09)
Over the past two decades we have witnessed the emergence of a mass movement of political extremism and support for totalitarianism on Western college campuses. Large numbers of university professors and administrators today advocate politically extremist positions that combine support for totalitarian Islamofascism and its terrorism with deep hatred of Israel and anti-Americanism. The dimensions of the phenomenon vary by campus and also by academic discipline. Middle East Studies is arguably the worst. The pro-totalitarian ideology and the hostility towards Israel and the United States have been documented for years by campus monitoring watchdogs like Campus-Watch in the United States and by Isracampus in Israel, as well as by web magazines, notably Frontpage.
Reading the exposes about campus political extremism today is numbingly shocking. No doubt many a reader responds bewilderingly by asking how such...
SOURCE: The Cutting Edge (10-26-09)
Just who were the Arabs and how did they begin?
Mesopotamia’s original peoples were an indistinct amalgam of Sumerian, Semitic, Indo-European, and other groups. The Arabs as a group were generally thought to be the scattered people who spoke a similar Semitic language and who, with few exceptions, dwelled stateless in the nearly empty desert far to the south that came to be known as the Arabian Peninsula. By legend and tradition, the Arabs were the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, who roamed the wilderness.
One of the earliest references to Arabs is found in the Old Testament, dating to about 900 BCE, when Chronicles II records that “the Arabs” offered tribute to Israel’s King Solomon. In 853 BCE, King Ahab of Israel...
SOURCE: Providence Journal (10-20-09)
IT IS AN INTERESTING TURN in the argument over the name of our state when the proponents of dropping “Providence Plantations” think that they have to trash and defame the founder of Providence (“ ‘Plantations’ evokes R.I.’s history of slavery,” by Julianne Jennings, Oct. 15, Commentary).
Of course, Roger Williams was no stranger to such attacks from opponents in his own time after he founded and defended the first place in modern history to separate religion from citizenship. However, if one is to make an intelligent decision about Williams’s role in the issues of slavery and the treatment of Native Americans, it is important to get the history right.
The author failed miserably on that count. It would take columns and columns to correct all of the errors, misinformation and misunderstandings, so I will deal only with a few of them.
Since the author saw fit...
SOURCE: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (10-24-09)
George Washington rode on horseback to congratulate him in person. Soldiers who noticed his reckless bravery gave him his nickname.
Later, the fiery leader trained a fearsome army outside of Pittsburgh in 1792, conquered the Indians and negotiated a treaty with them so the Northwest Territory could be settled.
And 200 years ago, in events being marked today, the daring soldier became the subject of one of Western Pennsylvania's grisliest tales.
After he died at age 51 from an attack of gout, his body rested for 12 years in an oak coffin at Presque Isle, a peninsula off Lake Erie. In 1809, his only son, Isaac, journeyed 900 miles round-trip from Eastern Pennsylvania to Western Pennsylvania to return his father's remains to the family plot...
SOURCE: Truthout (10-24-09)
On October 13, we lost a resolute champion of the law, a man who left his impact on the lives of untold numbers of Americans.
His very name made his life's work almost inevitable, a matter of destiny. William Wayne Justice was a federal judge for the Eastern District of Texas. That's right, he was "Justice Justice." And he spent a distinguished legal career making sure that everyone - no matter their color or income or class - got a fair shake. As a former Texas lieutenant governor put it last week, "Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century, God bless him."
Dragged it kicking and screaming, for it was Justice who ordered Texas to...
SOURCE: Salon (10-23-09)
I had a nagging question about whether I should write about the book again, though, and it wasn't laziness; it's that most everything I found remarkable in the second half of the book closely matched my first two blog posts. But that's a story in itself. "The Clinton Tapes" makes clear that from start to finish, President Clinton was besieged by a vicious just-say-no GOP abetted by the perversely, inexplicably, cruelly anti-Clinton leaders of the so-called liberal media -- from the New York Times' lame crusades against Whitewater and Chinese donors and Wen Ho Lee, to the integrity-free "opinion" journalism by Maureen Dowd and, sadly, Frank Rich, to a whole host of other liberal media characters...
SOURCE: WSJ (10-24-09)
This fall marks the 1,341st anniversary of a watershed moment in history—though not likely one you've heard about before. It began with an event that would have been comical if not for the fact that a murder was involved. Even to those living through it, it must have seemed more farcical than ground-breaking.
The unlikely instigator was a disgruntled chamberlain who was tired of paying outrageous taxes and had taken it into his head to address the situation in the most direct way possible. On the morning of Sept. 15, 668 he snuck into the imperial bathhouse in Sicily and brought a heavy soap dish crashing down on the head of the drowsy emperor Constans II. It was hardly a dignified way to die, but the Roman Empire had seen inglorious deaths before, and this one turned out to be a conclusive turning point for much of Mediterranean history....
SOURCE: NYT (10-22-09)
FOR connoisseurs of financial mayhem, the stock market crash of October 1929, which started 80 years ago this week, still holds pride of place. Like a tautly directed drama, it unfolded with graphic horror at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, captured in grainy black-and-white newsreels. It capped a stylish era in which well-tailored men and chic flappers set a racy tone for stock investing. To the delight of historians, it possessed clear-cut villains, a riveting story line and plenty of palpable abuses for reformersto correct.
In retrospect, the evils of the 1920s seem almost quaint in their simplicity. Finance today is far more esoteric, marked by complex securities sure to baffle reformers as they seek solutions to the problems exposed by last year’s crash.
Before the ’20s, common stocks were deemed unsuitable for ordinary investors. That stigma began to fade...
SOURCE: NYT (10-18-09)
Republican editors throughout the land were soon rubbing their hands over a dispatch which, on quick reading, seemed to convict the New Deal’s cherished resettlement Administration of photographic fakery and bad faith.
— Time Magazine
Summer of 1936. One of the worst droughts in American history. On June 7, North Dakota’s Republican governor, Walter Welford, proclaimed a day of prayer. The citizens of North Dakota would kneel en masse to pray for rain. “Only Providence,” the governor declared, could avert “another tragedy of tremendous proportions.” Devil’s...