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: Huffington Post (12-15-10)
The "most powerful and influential political cartoonist that America has ever known" is the way historians Eric Foner and John A. Garraty describe Thomas Nast (1840-1902). His political commentary was influential in his day, but Nast also lives on because he created iconic drawings that are still with us today--including Santa Claus.
In the mid-nineteenth century when Thomas Nast became well-known, the political cartoon had already been a popular feature as social commentary in American newspapers. Ben Franklin's newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, ran political cartoons as early as the 1750s. By the 1850s, the process of printing papers was become more efficient. With the increase in papers that were published, competition soon ramped up on whose paper provided the most intriguing illustrations.
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (12-13-10)
When it comes to writing about sex, ancient Romans do it in togas while feeding each other grapes. I've recently been reading Ovid's poems the Amores, published a few years BC, and still able to capture modern readers. There is definitely something very special about Ovid's erotic poetry. He may be an old writer, but at times he is a new man....
...But only in Pompeii can you explore a Roman brothel, visit Roman baths decorated with saucy scenes and see the seriously kinky frescoes in The Villa of the Mysteries....
To let this magical place decay, to fail to care about such rare survivals of human intimacy, is more obscene than anything Ovid wrote. Shame on those responsible.
SOURCE: Spiegel Online (12-14-10)
There is little doubt that he was the embodiment of US diplomacy. Richard Holbrooke, who died on Monday evening at the age of 69, was a widely-respected negotiator, a former US ambassador in Berlin and elsewhere, a key player in bringing peace to Bosnia. Most recently, he was President Barack Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was, in short, a "giant of US foreign policy," as Obama said on Monday.
That, though, is only part of the story.
In his most recent book, investigative journalist Bob Woodward describes how Holbrooke, prior to being introduced by Obama as his special representative, asked the president to use his full name, Richard, rather than his oft-used nickname Dick. His wife, he explained, wasn't fond of the name.
Obama, who despises all forms of vanity, agreed -- but he later confessed that he found the request...
SOURCE: New Yorker (12-10-10)
What did the American Revolution look like? Nathaniel Hawthorne imagined it as an angry face, painted so as to appear divided in two. “One side of the face blazed of an intense red, while the other was black as midnight,” he wrote. This uncanny visage appears in Hawthorne’s tale “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” of 1831; its owner rides on horseback through moonlit Boston streets, carrying a drawn sword and leading a mob of people who laugh and shout as they wheel along a rich elderly man whom they have tarred and feathered.
Hawthorne’s “double-faced fellow” was modelled on a historical figure who went by the pseudonym Joyce Jr. and, in the seventeen-seventies, claimed to lead Boston’s Committee for Tarring and Feathering. In 1777, Abigail Adams recorded the charges against five merchants who were his victims: “It seems they have refused to take...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (12-14-10)
The last words of Richard C. Holbrooke, a lion of U.S. diplomacy, were "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan" -- a sentence worth pondering as the United States heads into a fresh round of debate over a conflict that has ground on for more than 9 years, steadily escalating from a sideshow to a nightmare that threatens to consume Barack Obama's presidency.
What did Holbrooke mean? Did he oppose the war?
Holbrooke, who until last week was running the civilian side of the Afghan war, had expressed few public doubts about the wisdom of U.S. efforts there. Despite constant sniping at him in the press (and some unkind words in Bob Woodward's latest), he remained officially upbeat about what he was doing, touting U.S. aid efforts in Pakistan, highlighting agricultural programs in Afghanistan, and trying valiantly to broker some sort of modus vivendi between the two South Asian...
SOURCE: The New Republic (12-13-10)
[Martin Peretz is the editor-in-chief of The New Republic.]
Richard Nixon was a psychopath for whom Henry Kissinger worked, first as national security adviser and then concurrently in that position and also as secretary of state....
Every so often as the secret tape recordings President Nixon made in the Oval Office are released we assume that some scarlet blush will come to Kissinger's face. No doubt Kissinger is very much embarrassed today.
Here is the shameful exchange put out yesterday between the late president and his secretary of state:
Kissinger:"The emigration of Jews from the the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."
Nixon:"I know. We won't blow up the world because of it."...
SOURCE: LA Times (12-12-10)
Did Ronald Reagan secretly give the FBI names of people he suspected were communists when he was a movie star and Hollywood labor chief in the 1940s?
This allegation resurfaced in the media just before Thanksgiving when the San Jose Mercury News, which published excerpts from Reagan's FBI file to great international acclaim in 1985, ran a column revisiting its original story about Reagan the snitch. It implies that Reagan was a shadowy operator in cahoots with the notorious FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, orchestrating their next Hollywood Red scare.
The answer? Maybe. But Reagan was hardly betraying friends and confidants. He told the bureau what he told others publicly about communist influences in the Hollywood he knew. He didn't seek out the FBI originally;...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy in Focus (12-10-10)
published next year by New York University Press.]
Albania's communist regime was orthodox and extreme. When other East European countries liberalized slightly after Stalin's death in 1953, the Albanian ruler Enver Hoxha held firm, calling the Soviet Union "revisionist." Albania turned to China for aid. That ended with the Mao-Nixon rapprochement. Albania then embarked on an experiment of autarky and self-imposed isolation as the world's "only true Marxist state."
Hoxha died in 1985. His hand-picked successor, Ramiz Alia, inherited a crumbling economy and growing pressure for reform. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Alia introduced the "pluralism of ideas" to discuss the country's problems, which was distinctly different from the "pluralism of parties." The Albanian Party of Labor still ruled supreme....
SOURCE: NYT (12-11-10)
TO the best of my knowledge, Frank Sinatra acknowledged the existence of rap music only once in his life: at the lavish 1995 tribute in honor of his 80th birthday, after the hip-hop trio Salt-n-Pepa performed a special-lyrics version of their hit “Whatta Man,” he turned to his wife, Barbara, and said, “Marvelous.”
That was, in all probability, the obligatory Hollywood “marvelous.” Yet Sinatra, who would have turned 95 today, surely would have been flattered and amused — bemused, too — at the lavish attention and respect tendered to him over the past two decades by rap musicians. A case in point: the 2005 album “Blue Eyes Meets Bed-Stuy,” whose tracks mash up such Sinatra songs as “For Every Man There’s a Woman” and “Fools Rush In” with raps by the late Biggie Smalls (a k a the Notorious B.I.G.) like “Nasty Boy” and “10 Crack Commandments.”...
Frank Sinatra adopted a tough outsider’s stance, as a...
SOURCE: American Conservative (12-8-10)
One of the stupidest historical debates I’ve ever tried to follow concerns the personal religious conviction of our founding father George Washington. Presently there seem to be two opposing schools of propagandists. They can be divided more or less into Beckites and Obamaites, and both seem obsessed with Washington’s theological leanings. The generally leftist historian Joseph Ellis is eager to tell us in his relevant work that Washington was not on the evidence a Trinitarian Christian. Although he dutifully attended Anglican-Episcopalian services with his wife Martha, he avoided taking communion after the American Revolution.
This lack of ritual practice, which was clear to Washington’s minister in Philadelphia (and the local Episcopal bishop), William White, supposedly reveals a great...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (12-8-10)
I woke up bleary and disoriented on the morning of December 9, 1980. I was at my girlfriend's apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was, like most pre-War Manhattan apartment buildings -- especially those in which students could afford to live -- drafty despite the clattering radiator and pipes that seemed to give the building a life all its own.
The radio spluttered out static and then the report from the night before that John Lennon had been gunned down in the street fifty blocks, about two and a half miles, from where we had been sleeping. Alison was in the bathroom and I called out to her to share the news and for a while we sat on the bed listening and trying to soak it in.
It was one of those news reports that hits you squarely in the equilibrium. In my life, there have been about half a dozen such...
SOURCE: National Review (12-8-10)
A conservative friend of mine asked me why the public continues to rank John F. Kennedy first among Barack Obama’s nine predecessors in public opinion surveys, as they did again just this week — a Gallup poll showed Kennedy with an 85 percent approval rating, eleven points higher than that of his closest competitor, Ronald Reagan.
At first blush, my friend’s bafflement seems justified. In office barely a thousand days, Kennedy was hardly the kind of president Barack Obama would term “transformative” — not like Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan, who each set the nation on a new course consistent with their vision.
Kennedy had few legislative achievements. Those enacted while he was in office — such as the Peace Corps, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and mental-health initiatives...
SOURCE: American Conservative (12-6-10)
After John Lennon was shot on Dec. 8, 1980, thousands of fans spontaneously gathered around his apartment in New York City, imagining what the apostle of peace might have accomplished with the rest of his life. The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund received an outpouring of donations, some of which described the late Beatles songwriter as a “humanitarian.”
That was one John Lennon. And it was the one the world chose to remember, the Lennon opposed to the Vietnam War and hosting bed-ins for peace with Yoko Ono. But that was not the only Lennon, nor the final one. In fact, the one who emerged in 1980 after five years of shunning public life held views far removed from those of the counterculture icon. Yet this Lennon—a wiser, more honest self, according to the singer—seems to have been erased from public memory in favor of the bearded prophet perpetually singing “Imagine...
SOURCE: National Interest (12-7-10)
I slept badly in the Hotel Ritsa in Abkhazia. I had an unsettling dream in which I walked through an old house with an elderly Stalin, muttering malevolently to himself. In the morning, wondering who had disturbed my sleep, I had a long list of suspects from the other world.
Many of Abkhazia’s numerous ghosts must live within the walls of this whitewashed hotel. A convalescent Trotsky lived here in 1924 and gave a valedictory speech for Lenin from the first-floor balcony on the day of his old comrade’s funeral. Or I could have slept in the room of another of Stalin’s victims, the poet Osip Mandelstam. In 1993 the hotel produced more ghosts when it was burned to the ground in Abkhaz-Georgian fighting. It has only recently been rebuilt.
Pretty much everything about the past, present and future of Abkhazia is disputed. That includes the name of its capital city...
SOURCE: Spectator (UK) (12-7-10)
The Adam Smith Institute kindly asked me to speak at their Christmas reception last night, and yesterday I was mulling what to say. When at The Scotsman ten years ago, I would sometimes visit the great man's grave in Edinburgh, and be surprised to see only Chinese tourists paying tribute. It was a pretty good sign of how political power would play out. Edinburgh is, with Prague and Stockholm, among the most beautiful cities in Europe; itself a monument to the Enlightenment. And how tragic that students – even Scottish ones – are taught about the E word only in the context of the French Enlightenment. The likes of Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot wrote of grandiose ambitions and recasting society using state power. Smith, Hume, Ferguson etc were far more modest – advocates of letting go of power. These two competing intellectual traditions have, for me, marked the...
SOURCE: New Republic (12-8-10)
Seventy years ago, in the summer and fall of 1940, Western civilization teetered in the balance as Britain stood alone against Nazi-controlled Europe. Other major world powers did not lend aid; Russia supported Germany, and the United States remained neutral. After Britain resisted the assault of Nazi bombers, in what was dubbed the “Battle of Britain,” the country was saved and German momentum stymied. The whole course of the war then radically shifted. Germany turned east and attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 and then declared war on the United States in December 1941, sealing its ultimate defeat.
It was Winston Churchill who, upon becoming prime minister in May 1940, fortified the British people against the German assault. Churchill’s role has become the stuff of legend. Less well understood is how he came to...
SOURCE: Bakinization (Blog) (12-6-10)
[Mary L. Dudziak is Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science at the University of Southern California.]
On December 7, the nation will remember the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as the beginning of World War II. What happened in the U.S. territory of Hawaii that day was not the beginning of American involvement in World War II, however. And Japan, on her own, did not bomb Pearl Harbor into American memory. Instead, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his dramatic address the next day, honed the nation’s attention on the Hawaii attack, and away from simultaneous Japanese military strikes throughout the Pacific. Pearl Harbor would come to be remembered as a decontextualized attack on America, as the nation was thrown, by the acts of another, quickly into the war.
Remembering Pearl Harbor as the beginning of World War II, and seeing the war as captured between the bookends of...
SOURCE: The New Republic (12-6-10)
[Ronald Radosh is co-author of The Rosenberg File, an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute, and a writer for Pajamas Media.
Steven Usdin is author of Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley. He is Senior Editor at BioCentury.]
In March of 1951, a young Jewish couple from New York City, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, both secret members of the American Communist Party, were tried in Federal Court for “conspiracy to commit espionage.” The Rosenbergs were accused of having passed secrets pertaining to the atomic bomb from Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who worked in a lab at Los Alamos, to the Soviets. In June of 1953, all legal appeals having been exhausted, the Rosenbergs were executed, becoming the only American civilians executed for espionage by the United States government. Their sentence shocked the world and was immediately seized by communists as a powerful tool in the propaganda war...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (12-3-10)
Hanukkah is a time of heroes, but who those heroes are is not so obvious. The popular story of Divine intervention in the form of a miracle, which caused a small amount of oil to last for eight days instead of one, is a relative late-comer to the holiday. As beautiful a tale as it is, suggesting that there is always more light to found than we first imagine possible, this story of God's miracle was absent from any official telling of the story for at least 350 years after the actual war in ancient Israel.
So if it isn't God the miracle-worker, who plays...
SOURCE: Boston Globe (12-5-10)
...Though he lived for 40 years, Lennon’s reputation as a peacenik derives from just a brief period in the very late ’60s and early ’70s, when antiwar attitudes were practically de rigueur among the hip cognoscenti. Until then, he had largely kept quiet about politics. The Beatles had originally fashioned themselves as bohemian, leather-clad rockers, but in early 1962, under the supervision of their savvy manager, Brian Epstein, they began styling themselves as teen idols. From then until Epstein’s death in August 1967, the group was under strict orders to avoid controversial statements of any kind, for fear of alienating part of...