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: Wilson Quarterly (10-4-09)
In 1981, Singapore’s long-ruling People’s Action Party was shocked when it suffered its first defeat at the polls in many years, even though the contest was in a single constituency. I asked Dr. Goh Keng Swee, one of Singapore’s three founding fathers and the architect of its economic miracle, why the PAP lost. He replied, “Kishore, we failed because we did not even conceive of the possibility of failure.”
The simple thesis of this essay is that American society could also fail if it does not force itself to conceive of failure. The massive crises that American society is experiencing now are partly the product of just such a blindness to potential catastrophe. That is not a diagnosis I deliver with rancor. Nations, like...
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (12-31-09)
Tonight marks that rarest of events, not just the opening of a new year and a new decade but also the heralding of those events by a blue moon.
A blue moon is defined as a full moon that occurs twice in the same calendar month. When the date for one full moon falls on or near the beginning of a calendar month, the following full moon—always about 29.5 days later—comes before the end of the month. February has only 29 days (except for leap years), so there is never a blue moon in this month. Blue moons occur approximately seven times every 19 years, an average of once every 33 months, or 37 per century.
Why are they called “blue moons”? According to research by Philip Hiscock, a professional folklorist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, the first use of the...
SOURCE: Tabsir.net (12-28-09)
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (12-23-09)
Thirty years ago today, on Dec. 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The United States saw the invasion as unmistakable evidence that the Soviets were committed to aggression in the Middle East and the Third World. It was “the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War,” President Jimmy Carter announced.
But archival documents released since the cold war’s end show that the Soviet’s actions were defensive, not offensive. The Soviets had sincere, albeit highly exaggerated, concerns about US involvement in Afghanistan.
Far from intending to use Afghanistan as a trampoline from which to jump to conquer nearby countries, the Soviets were reluctant to invade the economically backward, illiterate Islamic nation. But the US misinterpreted the Soviet invasion, and as a result overinflated its dangers and overreacted to its occurrence. A dangerous new phase in the cold war began –...
SOURCE: New Nixon blog (12-24-09)
On Christmas day 20 years ago, Nicolae Ceausescu – long time dictator of Romania – was, along with his wife Elena, executed by firing squad just days after fleeing Bucharest, while his tyrannical regime unraveled before the eyes of a watching world. His demise and the surrounding events are etched in the memory of those of us who watched it all unfold via various news reports.
The look on the once strong-man’s face as a massive crowd began to boo during a speech on December 21st, was one of the defining moments of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. The scene of his helicopter flying him out of the city and his preoccupation during the interim with looking at his watch (which had been equipped with a tracking device for his security people, the gadget – unbeknownst to him – having been disabled by his captors) – these events moved with breakneck speed two decades ago this week.
And while much of the world rekindled almost forgotten traditions of faith and...
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (12-23-09)
The only truly global power was in rapid relative decline. Not long before, it had won a pyrrhic victory in a costly colonial war. New great powers were on the rise. An arms race was under way, as was competition for markets and resources in undeveloped areas of the world. Yet people still believed in the durability of the free trade and free capital flows that had nurtured prosperity and, many believed, had also underpinned peace.
That was how the world looked to many at the end of the “noughties” of the 20th century. Yet catastrophe lay ahead: a world war; a communist revolution; a Great Depression; fascism; and then another world war. The world order – built on competing great powers, imperialism and liberal markets – proved incapable of providing the public goods of peace and prosperity. It took calamity, the cold war and the replacement of the UK by the US as hegemonic power to re-...
SOURCE: Newsweek (12-21-09)
"If you're going to ask me questions about my regrets, plan to spend the next month or so in my house!" Those were the words with which Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri greeted me when I interviewed him at his home in the holy city of Qum four years ago. He was then 83 years old and could look back on a life in which he'd served as a founding father of the Islamic Republic only to become its most vocal critic. More recently, especially in the last seven months of protest and crackdowns following the disputed June 12 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Montazeri has emerged as the authoritative voice of religious opposition to a supposedly religious regime. He has been lionized as an idealist speaking truth to those in a power structure riddled with cynical and corrupt ideologues. For many Iranians, Montazeri became more than a hero, more than an ayatollah; he was truly, as Shiites...
SOURCE: Moscow Times (12-22-09)
Nicolae Ceausescu liked to hunt bears. With his retinue, he would retreat to a lodge in Transylvania and sally forth, locked and loaded. He was accustomed to good fortune, for his huntsmen took precautions. They would chain some poor beast to a tree, drug it to keep it still and conceal themselves around the blind from which the great man would shoot.
One day, they did their job haphazardly. Ceausescu took aim, and then fell backward when the bear, inadequately sedated, reared on its hind legs as if to attack. His shot flew into the treetops, even as three bullets entered the bear’s heart from the snipers who guaranteed the dictator’s marksmanship. I was told by a forester who claimed to have witnessed the incident that Ceausescu did not acknowledge the applause of his retainers.
This could be the story of the Romanian revolution, 20 years ago. The bear is the...
SOURCE: Asia Times (12-23-09)
The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan's capital city, doesn't look very different from monuments devoted to communist icons in mainland China. The Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) both create propaganda scenarios that mix ideological fanfare, a lack of historical rigor and the colossal architecture commonly used to worship dictators.
Maybe because they find it familiar, hundreds of tourists from the mainland gather every day at the late generalissimo's memorial with no sign of displeasure at such a demonstration of totalitarian kitsch. On the contrary, they say they are delighted to discover that Taiwan praises Chiang, who was once the mainland Communist Party's fiercest enemy.
Chiang, a lifetime rival of Mao Zedong, had long been portrayed as devil No 1 in Communist Party propaganda. And it was not long ago that the KMT was still regarded as an enemy...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (12-18-09)
On Dec. 20, 1989, nearly 30,000 U.S. troops invaded Panama and captured the country's military dictator, Gen. Manuel Noriega. The invasion lasted just over a month, and the U.S. military suffered just 23 casualties. Thomas Pickering was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the conflict, and a key advisor to President George H.W. Bush as the United States solidified its position in Central America and ushered in a new age of interventionism in the post-Cold War era. For Pickering, however, the conflict now has a different legacy: He believes that the invasion of Panama helped lead America into the Iraq war.
The brief and relatively bloodless war in Panama convinced Americans that the use of force could easily solve their problems overseas -- and, what's more, that the United States could largely accomplish this on its own. The United States did not seek international approval before invading...
SOURCE: Times (UK) (12-21-09)
Afghanistan and Iraq have monopolised the headlines but Somalia is arguably an even greater victim of George W. Bush’s ill-conceived and lamentably executed War on Terror. America’s interventions have proved so catastrophic that its best hope of salvaging something from the wreckage is a president it chased from power three years ago, who controls a few square miles of a country three times the size of Britain.
It has delivered a people that practised a moderate form of Islam into the hands of religious extremists. Its efforts to combat terrorism have turned Somalia into a launchpad for global jihad. Somalia is now the ultimate failed state whose mayhem threatens to destabilise the region and whose pirates maraud the vital shipping lanes off its shores. Its people endure Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis.
During the Cold War, the US pumped arms into Somalia to counter...
SOURCE: The Cutting Edge News (12-21-09)
Today we are bombarded with allusions to the “culture war,” the conflict over the basic values that govern public life in the West. The war is grounded in a clash between the traditional West with its roots in the Christian heritage and a growing disillusionment with truth and meaning itself arising from a materialistic and secularistic world view.
The full dimensions of the conflict are seldom recognized primarily because of the superficial understanding of the intellectual heritage of the West, a superficiality spelled out by E.D. Hirsch in his Cultural Literacy (1987). Furthermore, Stephen Prothero has maintained in his book Religious Literacy (2007) that even among Americans--who overwhelming purport to believe in God--there is a “lack [of] the most basic understanding of their own religious...
SOURCE: Clare Spark blog (12-18-09)
http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html. See also the two blogs on Arne Duncan’s statism. )...
SOURCE: Special to HNN (12-11-09)
John Sweeney reports Stalin’s Return: This World, BBC Two, Wednesday, December 2, 7pm.
Having been unfortunate to stumble across this programme while channel surfing I must say that this was the worst piece of journalism and history I have seen for a long time. It also shows that the BBC is also responsible for a gross dumbing down of history.
The subject matter is a legitimate one the attempt to rehabilitate the former soviet dictator in order to defend Russia’s growing nationalist ambitions. But the BBC’s programme sought not to expose the crimes both political and physical but acted as a provacation and clearly the programme was being used to to forward Britain’s and America’s geo- political interests in the area.
John Sweeney is not an expert on this history and is clearly out of his depth also the absence of a major historian to guide the programme was a mistake at best....
SOURCE: Commentary (12-16-09)
When your own outfit is trying to put you in jail, it’s time to go.” Those are the words of Robert Baer, once a CIA operative in the Middle East, describing the days in 1995 when he found himself under investigation by the Clinton administration, the FBI, and the CIA’s own inspector general. Baer’s crime? Daring to talk to Iraqi dissidents who were plotting to assassinate Saddam Hussein.
CIA officers in 2009 who are living with a Sword of Damocles hovering over their heads—in the form of a special prosecutor appointed by Barack Obama’s attorney general in August to probe allegations of torture during interrogations of al-Qaeda members and other suspects—now know how Baer felt. In September, every...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (12-11-09)
I was the head of the KGB's foreign counterintelligence branch when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Dec. 24, 1979. The fateful order to send our military into such difficult terrain was by no means a foregone conclusion. Before Soviet leaders made the final call, we wrung our hands, considered our options, and argued among ourselves. Here is the inside story of how that wrenching decision was made.
At the time, I viewed Afghanistan as a country within the Soviet sphere of interest and thought we had to do whatever possible to prevent the Americans and the CIA from installing an anti-Soviet regime there. How wrong I would turn out to be.
My first and only trip to Afghanistan came in August 1978. Four months earlier, a pro-Communist coup headed by Noor Mohammad Taraki had...
SOURCE: Newsweek (12-11-09)
Talk to Russian veterans of Afghanistan and it's hard not to think that they're rooting for the U.S. to lose. For these proud men, seeing NATO succeed at a job they botched would deepen the humiliation of defeat. Easier to affirm that if the Soviets couldn't win there, no one can. "We did not succeed and you will not either," says Gen. Victor Yermakov, who commanded Soviet forces in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1983. "They didn't trust us. They won't trust you." Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, who served in Afghanistan under the occupation and has just completed a four-year term as Russia's envoy in the country, is no more optimistic. "We tried to impose communism. You are trying to impose democracy," he says. "There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that the international community has not repeated."
Such unrelenting bearishness is hardly encouraging,...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (12-11-09)
On Oct. 7, 2001, U.S. aircraft began bombing the training bases and strongholds of al Qaeda and the ruling Taliban across Afghanistan. The leaders who sent murderers to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon less than a month earlier and the rogue government that provided them sanctuary were running for their lives. President George W. Bush's expression of America's desire to get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" seemed about to come true.
Three months later, American civilian and military leaders celebrated what they viewed as a lasting victory with the selection of Hamid Karzai as the country's new leader. The war had been conceived as a swift campaign with a single objective: defeat the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda by...
SOURCE: New Republic (12-8-09)
The power of this narrative is that it goes beyond these mythological qualities to muster the stuff of history. It was the CIA, the story goes, that deposed a democratically elected Iranian leader back in 1953, and then spent 26 years propping up a despotic Shah while he mercilessly abused his people.
As Iranians protested the sham election last summer, the regime wielded this narrative to bolster itself. Its opponents were...
SOURCE: Washington Decoded website (run by Max Holland) (12-12-09)
What makes Douglass’s volume unique is that his argument is dressed up in verbiage unfamiliar to JFK assassination buffs. Most authors of books on the assassination Jwd attempt to cloak their political views, and pretend to arrive at the truth about the assassination after a supposedly objective analysis of the facts. Douglass wears his politics on his sleeve. He is a Catholic “peace activist” and disciple of Thomas Merton, whose observations infuse the book. Self-styled activists like Douglass have a long history of being opposed to the use of military power by the United States, although they don’t seem...