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 End is Coming (History Blog) (1-18-10)
Stating “The majority of the world’s countries have chosen to abolish the death penalty. We should follow this path”, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj has refused to sign any further orders to execute the country’s inmates. He is in full constitutional right to impose a moratorium on the measure but it will be up to the parliament in Ulaan Bator to pass a complete ban on capital punishment or rather to continue offering the punishment for their most serious crimes. This will bring us to 96 countries that have abolished the penalty, excluding of course the four most populous nations on earth: Indonesia, the United States, India and China.
As we cross over into a new decade, we must review the historical reasons why most of the planet still had the legal execution of its most incurable criminals but a short century ago and if the measure is still relevant, desirable and...
SOURCE: Crooked Timber (Blog) (1-15-10)
One hesitates to refer to the rational kernel in any statement coming from Pat Robertson, of course. But his recent venture into explaining the earthquake in Haiti does contain a small, heavily distorted, yet recognizable fragment of historical reality.
That kernel has passed through his system without giving him any nourishment, but I’ll try to pluck it out of all the batshit craziness.
C.L.R. James wrote The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938) after about ten years of research, having been inspired, it seems, by a condescending biography of Toussaint that irritated him so much that he...
SOURCE: Informed Comment (1-13-10)
And you know Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, uh you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True Story, and so the Devil said OK it's a deal. And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they've been cursed by one thing after the other desperately poor. That island is Hispaniola is one island. It's cut down the middle. On one side is Haiti on the other side is the Dominican republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc.. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island.The video is here
It is of...
SOURCE: OpEdNews (1-13-10)
Announcing emergency help for Haiti after a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake, President Barack Obama noted America's historic ties to the impoverished Caribbean nation, but few Americans understand how important Haiti's contribution to U.S. history was.
In modern times, when Haiti does intrude on U.S. consciousness, it's usually because of some natural disaster or a violent political upheaval, and the U.S. response is often paternalistic, if not tinged with a racist disdain for the country's predominantly black population and its seemingly endless failure to escape cycles of crushing poverty.
However, more than two centuries ago, Haiti represented one of the most important neighbors of the new American Republic and played a central role in enabling the United States to expand westward. If not for Haiti, the course of U.S. history could have...
SOURCE: The Nation (1-12-10)
Now, newly released documents from the Nixon Library provide fascinating details about the debate within the White House staff two months earlier about how the president should respond. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, at the time an influential member of Nixon's inner circle, suggested that the president could "take away the day" from the protesters if he would "close down" the White House "in sympathy."
"That will show the little bastards," Moynihan said. He knew the kind of talk that impressed Nixon....
SOURCE: WaPo (1-12-10)
To the columnist's obligation to provide a 10-best list of 2009 films, I punt by offering just one. It is "The Baader Meinhof Complex," which Anthony Lane, the film critic for the New Yorker, said he saw "three or four times." When I saw it, I thought that once was enough. Yet the movie lingers because, to me, it is only incidentally about the 1970s-style radicalism of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, and more about how wrong I was when I was young.
The movie portrays the sudden bloody rise and just as sudden bloody fall of the Red Army Faction, or the so-called Baader-Meinhof Gang, in what was then West Germany. Neither Baader nor Meinhof thought they were leading a gang, although they did rob banks and kidnap rich people and set buildings afire with abandon. Instead, they believed they were leading a revolution, one that would start in their...
SOURCE: WSJ (1-6-10)
Abdurrahman Wahid, who died last week at the age of 69, was the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country and third largest democracy. It has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. Although he was forced from office after less than two years, he nevertheless helped to set the course of what has been a remarkably successful transition to democracy.
Even more important than his role as a politician, Wahid was the spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, and probably in the world, with 40 million members. He was a product of Indonesia's traditionally tolerant and humane practice of Islam, and he took that tradition to a higher level and shaped it in ways that will last long after his death....
SOURCE: New York Times (1-5-10)
Foreign Relations. He was U.S. ambassador to South Africa from 1992 to
1995 and is the author of “Partner to History: The U.S. Role in South
Africa’s Transition to Democracy.”]
Early this year, an appeals court in the United States will decide whether a suit against three companies — two of them American — can go forward charging them with contributing to the crimes of apartheid in South Africa. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status that would allow them, depending on the exact definition accepted, to represent tens of thousands, or even tens of millions, of black South Africans who suffered under the apartheid regime.
There are complex legal questions raised by this suit, brought under the Alien Torts Statute. But perhaps the most fundamental moral and practical question is how the victims of the deep wrongs of apartheid should be compensated. Unfortunately, for these...
SOURCE: The New Republic (1-5-10)
Barack Obama has been compared to almost every American President of the last hundred years--favorably to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan; and unfavorably to Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. I want to put another name in the hat: Herbert Hoover.
It might seem ludicrous, or unfair, to compare Obama to one of the most vilified presidents of the last century, but that’s because Hoover’s reputation is largely, or at least somewhat, undeserved--the product of Democratic attacks and Hoover’s own strident responses to these attacks.
To his contemporaries, Hoover had been the American most suited to be president. He had performed brilliantly as head of the American Relief Administration after World War I. In 1920, The New Republic and Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged him to run for president as a Democrat. Hoover chose not to run. Instead, he became perhaps the greatest of...
SOURCE: Times (UK) (1-5-10)
The anti-Nazi resistance within Germany took different forms: some fought against Hitler, and some thought against Hitler; some defied the horror physically, and others intellectually.
Chief among the latter group was Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, the Christian thinker and jurist, who used the power of his mind and the strength of his beliefs to oppose fascism, and was executed by Hitler in January 1945.
Von Moltke’s widow, Freya, died last week after a lifetime spent chronicling her husband’s wartime activities: the von Moltkes offer a powerful reminder that heroism in war is not always a matter of bombs and bullets.
For many years after the war, discussion of anti-Nazi resistance was all but taboo, as if focusing on the small majority who opposed Hitler might excuse the German majority who supported him. In this Manichean struggle there was little...
SOURCE: The Cutting Edge News (12-14-09)
Mesopotamia—now known as Iraq--enjoyed a 2,000-year head start on Western civilization. What happened?
Part of the answer lays millennia before our current turbulent times. Understanding this pivotal land and its peoples is necessary.
A single ancient people did not monopolize the historic territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates to create one cohesive, shining civilization as a beacon to others. Mesopotamia was in fact a diverse, often contentious, network of competing city-states. At different times, in different centuries BCE, cities such as Uruk, Lagash, and Eridu in the south, and Kish, Nippur, and Sippar in the midsection, as well as Assur, Nineveh, and Nimrud in the...
SOURCE: Times (UK) (1-3-10)
The white flashes of explosions and red traces of artillery fire filled the moonlit sky on the night of October 7, 2001, as Britain and the US launched the war in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
From the roof of a mud-caked house in Tobdara, a mountainside village high above the Shomali valley, 30 miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, I watched as allied war planes and cruise missiles streaked beyond a high ridge separating us from the front line.
Loud explosions echoed into the night as I was joined by a group of hardened Northern Alliance fighters, the loose coalition of former mujaheddin rebels who had sided with the West. Armed with AK-47 machine guns and careful not to use even a torch to avoid attracting incoming fire from an enemy position above, the men had come to witness the twilight of the Taliban.
“It won’t take long,” predicted one...
SOURCE: WSJ (1-1-10)
If ever one year in recent times was a catalyst for change in the broader Middle East and Muslim world, it was 1979. One ray of bright light in that year of darkness was the signing of the historic Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Conversely, three events had dire consequences with which we live today.
First, there was the overthrow of the shah of Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Second, there was the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, by a group of Islamic extremists. And third, there was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Each event fostered the forces of radicalization with implications far beyond...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (1-1-10)
'Prediction is always difficult," Niels Bohr, the atomic physicist, famously remarked, "especially when it's about the future." Few decades provided better proof of the perils of prediction than the Noughties. The past three years of financial turmoil, for example, made fools of most economic forecasters.
From the September 11 attacks to the worst banking crisis in history, the century has begun with some startling events. Neither occurrence bears any comparison with some of the world-changing happenings of the past, such as the two great wars of the 20th century or the fall of the Berlin Wall. But largely unpredicted they were, which in some way makes them more shocking. How were they not foreseen, and what lessons can we learn from these oversights?
The four most expensive words in the English language, according to Sir John Templeton, the stock market guru, are "it's...