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: Smithsonian Magazine (9-28-11)
Gilbert King is a writer for Smithsonian Magazine.
Ananda Mahidol was a slight and painfully shy boy. When he was nine years old in 1935, he became the eighth king of Siam and captured the hearts of his people. But his reign was painfully brief, ending in his bedroom with a single bullet fired into his head at close range. He was 20 years old. Within hours, Ananda’s 18-year-old brother, Bhumibol, ascended to the throne, where he sits today. He has ruled for 65 years, longer than any current head of state, and has amassed a fortune estimated at more than $30 billion, making him the wealthiest royal in the world. His spending on schools and hospitals, as well as on disaster relief efforts, have helped bolster his considerable popularity among his subjects. Ananda’s death, however, remains unsolved and largely unmentioned in Thailand today.
So what exactly happened in Thailand on that June morning in 1946? The answer is no clearer today than it was in the...
SOURCE: Conscience of a Liberal (Blog) (9-28-11)
Paul Krugman is an economist at Princeton and a columnist for the New York Times.
Kevin O’Rourke follows up on some of what I’ve been writing, and argues that doing good macroeconomics depends crucially on knowing a fair bit about economic history. Indeed....
I’d also say that there’s history and then there’s history. Knowing the time-series properties of US quarterly data since 1947 isn’t what I mean. In macro, in particular, you need to know about drastic events. I don’t have it in front of me, but in his book on the German hyperinflation Frank Graham said roughly this: “Disorder is, for the social sciences, the sole substitute for the controlled experiments of the natural sciences.” That means knowing about prewar experience; it also means knowing about international experience — for there have been numerous crises even since World War II, just not in the United...
SOURCE: East Asia Forum (9-27-11)
Ezra F. Vogel is Henry Ford II Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at Harvard University. He is author of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Harvard University Press, 2011).
When Deng Xiaoping became pre-eminent leader of China in December 1978, China was still in the chaos from the Cultural Revolution. Per capita annual income was less than US$100.
By the time he stepped down in 1992, several hundred million Chinese citizens had been lifted out of poverty, and China was rapidly becoming stronger, richer and more modern.
Deng Xiaoping did not originate reform and opening — that began under the leadership of Hua Guofeng after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. But Deng provided the steady hand, the clear...
SOURCE: openDemocracy (09-27-11)
SOURCE: NYT (9-25-11)
SOURCE: NYT (9-23-11)
A.O. Scott is a film critic for the NYT.
In the endlessly popular musical “Billy Elliot,” the villain is played not by an actor but by a larger-than-life puppet with a gigantic head, an effigy of the kind that sometimes still appears at European protest rallies. This one has a beaked nose, a pronounced overbite and upswept blond hair, a visage immediately familiar to anyone who remembers the 1980s, and one that theatergoers — paying $100 a ticket for a dose of solidarity with the beleaguered British proletariat in the age of late capitalism — are eager to boo. “Who was that lady?” one of my children asked as we departed a recent matinee performance, not having recognized the Iron Lady.
Kids these days! How could they not know Margaret Thatcher? But then again, why would they?...
SOURCE: WSJ (9-21-11)
Mr. Augustine, a former Under Secretary of the Army, is the retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin.
In the spirit of the new school year, here’s a quiz for readers: In which of the following subjects is the performance of American 12th-graders the worst? a) science, b) economics, c) history, or d) math?
With all the talk of America’s very real weaknesses in the STEM subjects (science, technology, English and math), you might be surprised to learn that the answer—according to the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress—is neither science nor math. And despite what might be suggested by the number of underwater home loans, high-school seniors actually fare best in economics.
Which leaves history as the answer, the subject in which students perform the most poorly. It’s a result that puts American employers and America’s freedoms in a worrisome spot.
But why should a C grade in history matter to the C-suite? After all, if...
SOURCE: National Review (09-22-11)
Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full.
Having just spent four pleasant months in New York City, it was my misfortune to have to leave just before the opening of two historic sites that demonstrate the longstanding, dramatic importance of that city.
The relocation and renovation of Alexander Hamilton’s house, the Grange, reminds us that New York has been an influential city in the world since before Napoleon was emperor of the French. The house was built in 1802, two years before Hamilton died in the still hotly debated duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. It is, as one reviewer said, not Mount Vernon or Monticello — but then, Hamilton was the illegitimate son of a wandering Scot from the Caribbean island of Nevis, not a member of one of the First Families of Virginia, rich in land, slaves, and connections. But, from...
SOURCE: Mother Jones (9-20-11)
Stephanie Mencimer is a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau.
Back in May, tea party groups began urging their members to "adopt a school" and pressure it to teach students about the Constitution—tea party-style. They set up webinars and provided helpful form letters addressed to school superintendents and principals reminding them of the congressional mandate that requires any school receiving federal money to teach students about the Constitution during the week of September 17. And they offered up kits complete with teaching materials from the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a nonprofit founded by...
SOURCE: National Review (09-21-11)
Jim Lacey is professor of strategic studies at the Marine War College and the author of a new history of the Battle of Marathon.
Before dawn on Sept. 12, 490 b.c., 10,000 mostly Athenian hoplites formed for an assault on the Persian force assembled before them on the Marathon Plain, nearly 25 miles from Athens. At the sound of a single trumpet, the advance began. Eight men deep on the flanks and four deep in the center, the phalanx of bristling spear points and blazing shields began its slow, inexorable march toward the enemy.
Picking up the pace, first to a fast walk and then to a trot, the Athenian hoplites closed on their enemy at what must have appeared to the waiting Persians a dazzling pace. At 600 yards’ distance the mass of men began to scream their fierce and nerve-shattering battle cry: Alleeee!
Hastily, the Persian commanders aligned their troops. Men holding wicker shields went to the front as thousands of archers arrayed themselves behind...
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (9-18-11)
This past August, I wrote a letter to the chair of my department explaining why I am no longer willing to teach U.S. military history. Although I taught the class regularly and, I believe, successfully for nearly 30 years, a situation I encountered last semester makes continuing to do so untenable.
It wasn't a classroom-management problem: In spite of my gender and lack of military service, asserting authority in the classroom has never been a problem. And over the years, student evaluations and university accolades have suggested that I am an accomplished teacher.
No, the discomfort I endured last semester was something new. From the start, I realized that many students in the class were not as interested in exploring the seminal issues of U.S. military history as they were in finding solace, seeking closure, or securing an understanding...
SOURCE: American Interest (09-19-11)
John R. Schmidt, the U.S. political counselor in Pakistan from 1998 to 2001, currently teaches at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. His book, The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad, is just out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
To a casual observer, the behavior of the Pakistani state must seem puzzling, if not utterly inexplicable. Consider its relationship with the United States. Both U.S. and Pakistani officialdom have long insisted that Pakistan is a close ally that agreed to assist the United States in the global war on terror in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It has helped bring a significant number of senior al-Qaeda leaders to justice, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It has permitted U.S. Predator aircraft to attack al-Qaeda and Taliban targets on Pakistani territory, despite strong opposition from the Pakistani public. It has also permitted U.S. armed forces to ship supplies to...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (09-17-11)
Robert Fisk is an award-winning Middle East correspondent for the Independent.
Never a man to neglect a good tale, I return to that old saw about German U-boats refuelling in neutral Ireland. Not because I believe it – I spent much of my PhD thesis on Ireland in the Second World War disproving it. But because a reader has sent me a fascinating account of his dad's war service as an SOE recruit.
He was an expert in bomb disposal, demolition and sabotage, trained at Brickendonbury Manor, near Hertford, with the rank of lieutenant and later attached to the Royal Navy in Derry – or Londonderry, as all good Protestants and Brits would at the time have called the last of our Irish Treaty Ports. The other three had been cheerfully handed over to de Valera by Malcolm MacDonald in 1938, earning Churchill's most poisonous...
SOURCE: NYT (9-16-11)
THE second secretary general of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, died 50 years ago this weekend on a mission to the Congo, when his plane crashed on its landing approach to Ndola, now in Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia. In his eight years at the United Nations, he brought vitality to the world organization and established its secretary general as a major player in global affairs.
Hammarskjold’s resolute international leadership has never been equaled....
SOURCE: To the Point Analysis (Blog) (9-15-11)
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.
On Monday 12 September 2011 I had sixty five students in a "Twentieth Century World" history class ask me what I thought were the origins of the 9/11 attacks. I said I was quite willing to tell them what I thought, but first they had to give me their opinions. The vast majority believed that Muslim fanaticism led to the tragedy. The only other competitive theory, held by a small minority, was that the attacks were the result of a conspiracy located within the U.S. government itself.
I made it clear that I do not believe in the conspiracy explanation, if for no other reason than it would be...
SOURCE: LA Times (9-15-11)
...Most of our idols have flaws. But in a family that has ruthlessly guarded the images of President Kennedy and his wife and presented them both as admirable and heroic, it is significant and commendable that Caroline Kennedy would allow the release of these interviews, showing a fuller, more complex, sometimes disconcerting, even disappointing picture of her mother. The subject herself, who died in 1994, was famously controlling of her public image, instructing in her will that her children "make every effort to prevent publication of her personal papers, letters and writings," according to her daughter's thoughtful forward to the book. These particular interviews were always going to be made public eventually, but Caroline Kennedy's decision to publish them as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of JFK's presidency was a brave one. At a time when there could have been only hagiographic reminiscences, this is a compelling and necessary contribution to a fuller...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (9-14-11)
Lee Palmer Wandel is the author, most recently, of "The Eucharist in the Reformation: Incarnation and Liturgy," and "The Reformation: Towards a New History," both with Cambridge University Press. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. In 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses. So began two stories that have shaped the West since the 16th century. But what happens if we link the two?
The first story cast the relationship between Europe and the Western hemisphere in terms of conquest: Columbus crossed the Atlantic and "discovered" islands. He was followed by Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, who conquered first Central and then South America for Spain. The second is the foundation story for modern...
SOURCE: American Spectator (9-14-11)
Eric Dezenhall is the author of The Devil Himself, five other novels, and two nonfiction books about damage control. He is the CEO of Dezenhall Resources, Ltd., a communications firm in Washington, D.C.
Quentin Tarantino's darkly comic 2009 film, Inglourious Basterds, was rollicking Nazi vengeance porn, the core shtick being a handful of Jewish American soldiers wreaking havoc on Hitler, Goebbels, and their goose-stepping ilk. The movie was alternative history, of course, but the story of shtarkers, Jewish tough guys, going after Nazis has a basis in fact.
This is the theme of my new historical novel, The Devil Himself, which is about the very real collaboration between...
SOURCE: Daily Beast (9-14-11)
John Barry joined Newsweek's Washington bureau as national-security correspondent in 1985.
“There were two hunters,” Yitzhak Rabin began. It was 1975, and Rabin was prime minister of Israel. He was trying to explain to a visiting reporter Israel’s policy toward “the Palestinian question.” And, as usual, he was telling a story to make his point. “The hunters were stalking deer in thick brush. Suddenly, a deer appeared in front of them. They fired and the deer dropped. They took the deer by its antlers and began to drag it back toward their car. But the deer’s antlers caught in the brush. Finally one of the hunters suggested: 'If we drag it the other way, the antlers won’t catch like that.' So they took the hind legs of the animal and began to drag it the other way. After a while, the first hunter said: 'There, didn’t I say it would be easier this way?' 'Yes,' the...
SOURCE: NYT (9-13-11)
Maureen Dowd is an op-ed columnist for the NYT.
The most mysterious, fascinating — and feline — woman in American political history has at long last spoken up. And Jackie Kennedy has plenty to say in that inimitably breathy little voice.
The former first lady talked to historian and courtier Arthur Schlesinger after J.F.K.’s assassination in taped interviews that were sealed for 47 years. Caroline Kennedy is now releasing them as a book and audio recording, “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy.”...
But she maintains her reputation as J.F.K.’s best image wizard, a novelistic observer of history and the most deliciously original, glamorous and compelling political spouse we’ll ever see.
Who else would read “War and Peace” during the Wisconsin primary and recommend the “Memoirs of Duc de Saint-Simon” as the best preparation for life in the White House?
Who else could persuade the Egyptians to hand over the...