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: WSJ (11-9-09)
There was Günter Schabowski, the muddled East German politburo spokesman, who in a live press conference that evening accidentally announced that the country's travel restrictions were to be lifted "immediately." There was Mikhail Gorbachev, who made it clear that the Soviet Union would not violently suppress people power in its satellite states, as it had decades earlier in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. There were the heroes of Poland's Solidarity movement, not least Pope John Paul II, who did so much to expose the moral bankruptcy of communism.
And there was Ronald Reagan, who believed the job of Western statesmanship was to muster the moral, political, economic and military wherewithal not simply to contain the Soviet bloc, but to bury it. "What I am describing now is a plan and a hope...
SOURCE: The New Nixon (11-3-09)
Forty years ago today, Richard Nixon wrote and delivered a speech that both changed the course of American foreign policy and altered the course of American politics. As he later wrote, “Very few speeches actually influence the course of history. The November 3 speech was one of them.”
By the end of 1969, it was clear that the new President’s dreams of ending the Vietnam War during his first year in the White House hadn’t survived the light of common day. His early optimistic predictions were already poignant by midsummer.
RN never had —and never said he had— a “secret plan” to end the war; that was a press creation that morphed into a political canard. He thought that a renewed resolve on the battlefield (to convince...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (11-4-09)
Nineteen eighty-nine was the biggest year in world history since 1945. In international politics, 1989 changed everything. It led to the end of communism in Europe, of the Soviet Union, the cold war and the short 20th century. It opened the door to German unification, a historically unprecedented European Union stretching from Lisbon to Tallinn, the enlargement of Nato, two decades of American supremacy, globalisation, and the rise of Asia. The one thing it did not change was human nature.
In 1989, Europeans proposed a new model of non-violent, velvet revolution, challenging the violent example of 1789, which for two centuries had been what most people thought of as "revolution". Instead of Jacobins and the guillotine, they offered people power and negotiations at a round table.
With Mikhail Gorbachev's breathtaking renunciation of the use of force (a luminous...
SOURCE: Newsweek (11-5-09)
The Berlin wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, marking the end of one era and the beginning of another. I'll never forget East and West Germans striking their blows for freedom, taking sledgehammers to the barrier that divided them for almost three decades. The 20th anniversary of this moment provides an opportunity to reflect on an extraordinary event—and to draw lessons that might guide us today.
It may seem now like the fall of the Berlin Wall was a historical inevitability—after all, the same European nations that battled one another for most of the 20th century cooperate today on economic, political, and military matters. Though tensions still exist between Washington and Moscow, and between Russia and some of the former Soviet republics, there is cooperation on a range of issues unimaginable in 1989. It's easy to take what happened that day for granted.
We shouldn't. For most of my adult life, I lived with...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (11-8-09)
At the Brandenburg Gate tomorrow evening in Berlin, one of the defining figures of the last century's history will sit down to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in which he played a key role. In the audience will be Lech Walesa and Hillary Clinton, invited to listen to Daniel Barenboim conduct the Staatskapelle Berlin.But the star guest will be Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet premier under whose leadership the Cold War in eastern and central Europe was brought to an end.
If a sense of his importance to the events of 1989 is required, it was supplied last week by Timothy Garton Ash, the British historian, who described Gorbachev's "breathtaking renunciation of the use of force" while Soviet leader as "a luminous example of the importance of the individual in history".
Garton Ash's reminder feels long overdue. For there is a conundrum...
SOURCE: Japan Focus (11-2-09)
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories. He is the author of many books, including The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order After Iraq.The War Crimes Trials and the Issue of Indiscriminate Bombing
On May 14, 1946, ten days after the opening of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (popularly known as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal), Captain George Furness, a member of the defense counsel, cast serious doubt on the...
SOURCE: WSJ (11-7-09)
It may be no accident that, while some of the best American mathematical minds worked to solve one of the century's hardest problems—the Poincaré Conjecture—it was a Russian mathematician working in Russia who, early in this decade, finally triumphed.
Decades before, in the Soviet Union, math placed a premium on logic and consistency in a culture that thrived on rhetoric and fear; it required highly specialized knowledge to understand; and, worst of all, mathematics lay claim to singular and knowable truths—when the regime had staked its own legitimacy on its own singular truth. All this made mathematicians suspect. Still, math escaped the purges, show trials and rule by decree that decimated other Soviet sciences.
SOURCE: WSJ (11-7-09)
On a bright Nov. 6 morning 140 years ago, a "jerky little train," as someone later described it, left Princeton, N.J., at 9 bound for New Brunswick, about 20 miles to the north. The "foot ball" players of the College of New Jersey or Nassau Hall—some just called it Princeton, but that official designation was 27 years away—stepped off the train and greeted their Rutgers hosts.
After a midday stroll around town and some friendly games of billiards, the players from the two teams walked over to College Avenue and Sicard Street to a field that today is behind the Rutgers gymnasium (it was known as Bishop's Ground and wasn't even Rutgers property at the time). They then played a game of something vaguely resembling today's football, and from there it's pretty much been a straight line to tailgate parties, bowl games and million-dollar halftime shows.
Well, perhaps not so much a...
SOURCE: Open Salon (11-5-09)
In the crusade against Obama administration efforts on behalf of economic recovery and health care reform, we encounter lies, damn lies, and Republican talking points. Touchstones like: “government takeover,” “government-run,” “profligate spending,” “usurpation of power”—where did they all come from? Well, in a word, they all came from this guy named Albert Jay Nock.
Albert Jay Nock was one of the most virulent critics of President Roosevelt and his administration’s efforts to extract the nation from the Great Depression. Nock’s opus, Our Enemy, the State, published in 1935, attacked the New Deal in terms that, well, you’d have to listen to Glen Beck to replicate. Or Michele Bachmann. Or Rush. It is the source code for anti-Obama talking points.
Born in Pennsylvania and based for much of his...
SOURCE: Media Research Center (conservative media watchdog) (11-6-09)
Yet during the Cold War, the harsh repression that invariably accompanied communism was often given short shrift in favor of stories about the need for detente or peaceful coexistence. Some correspondents working in the Soviet Union were not eager to shine their spotlight on the plight of anti-communist dissidents. Nicholas Daniloff, the Moscow correspondent for U.S. News...
SOURCE: The Chronicle of Higher Education (11-1-09)
During homecoming this year, the University of Pittsburgh marked the 40th anniversary of a campus protest in 1969, when black student activists occupied the computer center and called on the university to increase the enrollment and hiring of African-Americans, provide support for black students, and recognize the significance of black culture. One of the negotiators was a former student leader and new assistant professor named Jack L. Daniel, who later became vice provost for academic affairs, vice provost for undergraduate studies, and dean of students. Now a professor of communications, he joined in recent celebrations of Pitt's advances in diversity.
Q. What was the University of Pittsburgh campus like at the time of the protests?
A. In 1969 we had a...
SOURCE: Washington Decoded (website run by Max Holland) (11-3-09)
When W. Mark Felt unmasked himself as Deep Throat, in May 2005, the ballyhoo was dampened by a distinct feeling of anticlimax. As the FBI's number two man in 1972, Felt was the first real suspect: speculations that he had been Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's Ÿber-source appeared in print as early as 1974. And despite 30 years of denials, he never lost his status as the most likely leaker in most observers' eyes. His eventual admission was less a thunderbolt than a confirmation of what was already widely believed.Much more surprising is that the...
SOURCE: Open Democracy (11-4-09)
1948 was a year of triumph and tragedy - triumph for the Jews and tragedy for the Arabs of Palestine. Israelis refer to the key event of that year as"the war of independence" whereas Palestinians refer to it as the nakba or the catastrophe. Each of the participants in the first Arab-Israeli war has its own narrative of what happened in that fateful year. In this article I shall look exclusively at the Israeli narrative and its consequences.
To begin with, a personal note. I am an Iraqi Jew who grew up in Israel and lived most of his life in Britain. And I feel doubly guilty towards the...
SOURCE: NYT (11-3-09)
NEW DELHI — On its 20th anniversary, the fall of the Berlin Wall stands out as the most momentous event in post-World War II history. The end of the Cold War transformed geopolitics, thereby changing the world. But no continent benefited more than Asia, as has been epitomized by its dramatic economic rise, the speed and scale of which has no parallel in world history.
An important post-1989 effect was the shift from the primacy of military power to a greater role for economic power in shaping global geopolitics.
That helped promote not only an economic boom in Asia, but also led to an eastward movement of global power and influence, with Asia emerging as an important player on the world stage.
Global power shifts, as symbolized by Asia’s ascent, are now being...
SOURCE: WSJ (11-3-09)
Most Americans would not be surprised to learn that Harvard is our nation's oldest institution of higher learning, that it boasts the largest endowment, and that it has produced more U.S. presidents than any other university.
Most Americans, however, might be hard-pressed to guess another Harvard distinction: the highest number of Medal of Honor recipients outside the service academies.
The bar for our highest military award is high: a recipient must distinguish himself by "gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." Since the medal's establishment during the Civil War, 10 Harvard men have received it. And next Wednesday at 11 a.m., these 10 will be honored with a plaque to be placed in the sanctuary of the university's...
SOURCE: NYT (11-2-09)
Ever since June 15 in Tehran I’ve been asking the most alluring and treacherous of historical questions: “What if?”
What if the vast protesting crowd of perhaps three million people had turned from Azadi (Freedom) Square toward the presidential complex? What if Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader, had stood before the throng and said, “Here I stand with you and here I will fall?” What, in short, if Azadi had been Prague’s Wenceslas Square of 20 years ago and Moussavi had been Vaclav Havel?
In history, of course, the hypothetical has little value even if at any one moment — like that one in the Iranian capital three days after the disputed election — any number of outcomes was as plausible as what came to pass.
Retrospective determinism (Henri Bergson’s phrase) now makes it hard to imagine anything other than the brutal clampdown that has pushed Iranian anger beneath the surface...
SOURCE: WaPo (11-3-09)
On Friday, as Russia recognized its annual commemoration of political prisoners, President Dmitry Medvedev published a videoblog in which he condemned Joseph Stalin's crimes and called on the nation not to forget about past political repression or its victims. Medvedev called Stalin's repression "one of the greatest tragedies in Russian history" and expressed concern that "even today it can be heard that these mass victims were justified by certain higher goals of the state." He said that "no development of a country, none of its successes or ambitions can be reached at the price of human losses and grief." His statement, which led the state-controlled television news, was sharply at odds with official rhetoric of the past decade.
Medvedev's address may have sounded radical, but many here are skeptical that the...
SOURCE: NYT (10-2-09)
Ask an average American how the Cold War ended and often as not he or she has a ready answer. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” said Ronald Reagan. And lo, as if word were deed, it was so.
Everyone remembers that immortal line. A generation of speechwriters wish they had crafted it. A generation of statesmen wish they had uttered it. And for a generation of Americans, particularly on the political right, it has become shorthand for an entire geopolitical worldview.
Like the Gipper, we have only to stand tall against tyrants. Hollow at the core, they will fall. Their downtrodden people will rise up, triumphant, like the multitudes of captive East Europeans of yore. Democracy will bloom.
Twenty years ago next week, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Never mind that Reagan delivered his epochal speech a full...
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (10-9-09)
Forty two years ago this week, Ernesto “Che” Guevara got a major dose of his own medicine. Without trial he was declared a murderer, stood against a wall, and shot. Historically speaking, justice has rarely been better served. If the saying “what goes around comes around” ever fit, it’s here.
Consider the kind of man Che was. “When you saw the beaming look on Che’s face as the victims were tied to the stake and blasted apart by the firing squad,” a former Cuban political prisoner told this writer, “you saw there was something seriously, seriously wrong with Che Guevara.”
As commander of the la Cabana execution yard, Che often shattered the skull of the condemned man (or boy) by firing the coup de grace himself. When other duties tore him away from his beloved execution yard, he consoled himself by viewing the slaughter. Che’s second-story office in La Cabana had...
SOURCE: National Interest (10-27-09)
The grisly subject of torture is back with us again, with fresh allegations of CIA misconduct. It is a subject which first came to occupy my thoughts when I was writing a book on the Algerian War, A Savage War of Peace, back in the 1970s. It has never left me. In the course of my researches in France, one of the men I came most to respect, Paul Teitgen, former French prefect of Algiers, remarked to me:
All our so-called civilisation is covered with a varnish. Scratch it, and underneath you find fear. The French . . . are not torturers by nature. But when you see the throats of your copains [buddies] slit, then the varnish disappears.
Teitgen was a thoroughly honorable man, and he has surely been...