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: Guardian (UK) (11-29-11)
Ed Pilkington writes for the Guardian.
To his many detractors, Joseph Stalin was a monster on an epic scale who sent millions of "class enemies" to their graves. To the considerably smaller band of his enduring admirers, he was the man who saved the world from the far worse fate of Nazi tyranny. And then there was Svetlana. For her, his "little sparrow", Stalin was the imposing father whose long shadow haunted her throughout a lifetime spent in vain pursuit of escape.
The story of Lana Peters, nee Svetlana Stalina, is on one level quite unexceptional. Spanning as she did the period from 1926 to her death last week in the American heartlands of Wisconsin, she experienced extremes of hardship and joy, success and poverty, that were common to generations of Europeans and Americans who lived through the brutal 20th century....
SOURCE: BusinessWeek (11-29-11)
Robert Dallek’s latest book, “The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953,” has just been published in paperback.
Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The historian Richard Hofstadter said that the U.S. is the only country in history that believes it was born perfect and strives for improvement. The idea that we are a nation without flaws or that we can permanently eliminate our very human failings is, of course, delusional....
The attraction to easy answers is echoed in a 2010 Gallup poll that asked Americans to assess the last nine presidents from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. Kennedy topped the list with an 85 percent approval rating. Only Ronald Reagan was in hailing distance of him, with 74 percent. Deciphering these results presents a challenge: Kennedy’s thousand days comprised one of the briefest presidencies in U.S. history. His slight record, devoid of major domestic legislative achievements, seems smothered by the country...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Ross Douthat's Hit Job on JFK)
Joseph A. Palermo has written two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia University Press, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson Longman, 2008).
Appearing in the New York Times' "Sunday Review" on the first Sunday following the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is the conservative commentator Ross Douthat's take on the former president. Right-wing pundits rarely make good amateur historians and Douthat's short hit piece, dripping with contempt, is fresh evidence for this conclusion. He sets out to debunk what he calls "premises" and "myths" associated with President Kennedy, but his effort is an embarrassing failure on all counts. Interpreting history is all about nuance and nuance is...
SOURCE: American Conservative (11-14-11)
Marian Kester Coombs writes from Crofton, Maryland.
All history is biography, it’s said, but an individual biography usually shines a mere flashlight on surrounding historical events. John Szwed’s book on Alan Lomax is more like a floodlight thanks to his subject’s centrality to so much of American 20th-century culture. Alan Lomax knew everyone, went everywhere, appreciated just about everything, and worked tirelessly to foster in all Americans his own great love for them: the people, the folk.
Imagine a world scarcely acquainted with the blues, bluegrass, work chants, gospel music and spirituals, jazz, zydeco, calypso, cowboy songs, and most of the great ballads of British and American folk music. Such a world would never have spawned rock ‘n’ roll. For some, that’s a tempting thought. But the world is richer for knowing these ancestors of rock. And for much of that knowledge we have the work of Alan Lomax to thank.
Alan’s story (1915-2002) is in many...
SOURCE: LA Times (11-27-11)
Carl T. Bogus, a professor of law at Roger Williams University, is the author of "William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism."
The modern conservative movement began 60 years ago with the publication of a book by a 26-year-old first-time author. Reflecting on that work teaches us something important about the nature and trajectory of modern conservatism, about the energy that propelled the movement and about serious problems with the movement today.
The book was "God and Man at Yale." The author was...
SOURCE: LA Times (11-27-11)
Caroline Moorehead's book, "A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship and Resistance in Occupied France," is out this month.
On Jan. 24, 1943, 230 French women who had been arrested for resistance activities were put on a train at Compiegne, outside Paris, and sent to Auschwitz. The youngest had just celebrated her 17th birthday; the oldest was 67. They were teachers and seamstresses, students and farmers' wives; there was a doctor, a dentist and several editors and chemists. They were to be a lesson to other would-be troublemakers.
The women were not Jewish, so they were not sent immediately to be gassed. However, they were subjected to interminable roll calls in arctic conditions, crushingly tough physical labor and the random, ceaseless brutality of the SS guards....
SOURCE: NYT (11-27-11)
Ross Douthat is an op-ed columnist for the NYT.
THE cult of John F. Kennedy has the resilience of a horror-movie villain. No matter how many times the myths of Camelot are seemingly interred by history, they always come shambling back to life — in another television special, another Vanity Fair cover story, another hardcover hagiography.
It’s fitting, then, that the latest exhumation comes courtesy of Stephen King himself. King serves a dual role in our popular culture: He’s at once the master of horror and the bard of the baby boom, writing his way through the twilit borderlands where the experiences of the post-World War II generation are stalked by nightmares and shadowed by metaphysical dread.
In this landscape, the death of J.F.K. looms up like the Overlook Hotel. The gauzy fantasy of the Kennedy White House endures precisely because the reality of the assassination still feels like a primal catastrophe — an irruption of inexplicable evil as...
SOURCE: NYT (11-26-11)
Lawrence Downes writes for the New York Times.
To people in parts of Hale County, Ala., it isn’t “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” it’s “that book,” the one everyone knows, even those who haven’t read it. The one that even now can stir the descendants of the families in it to feelings of irritation, weariness and sometimes seething anger.
Seventy-five years ago, in the summer of 1936, James Agee and Walker Evans went to Alabama to find subjects for an article about tenant farmers for Fortune magazine. They found three families living on Mills Hill, south of Tuscaloosa between Moundville and Greensboro, and spent weeks listening, watching and taking notes and pictures. Agee’s article, brilliant yet bloated with guilt and literary grandeur, was rejected by the magazine, which had been expecting something readable. So it became a book in 1941 — a classic of Depression documentary, thanks to Evans’s haunting photos and Agee’s writing, which turned reporting into...
SOURCE: NYT (11-25-11)
Dudley Clendinen is a former national correspondent and editorial writer for The New York Times, and author of “A Place Called Canterbury.”
JUST before Christmas in 1952, J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the F.B.I., let President Dwight D. Eisenhower know that the man Eisenhower had appointed as secretary to the president, his friend and chief of staff, my godfather, Arthur H. Vandenberg Jr., was a homosexual.
It was part of a pattern of persecution that would destroy thousands of lives and careers. Earlier that year, the American Psychiatric Association’s manual had classified homosexuality as a kind of madness, and Republican senators had charged that homosexuality in the Truman administration was a national security threat. Hoover — the subject of...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (11-23-11)
Colum Lynch has been been reporting on foreign policy and national security for the Washington Post since June 1999.
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (11-22-11)
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Current primary frontrunner Newt Gingrich is often referred to as one of the leading "intellectuals" of the Republican Party. Gingrich has encouraged this view, even suggesting that the $1.6 million in consulting fees he received from Freddie Mac were for his services as a "historian."
In recent years, Gingrich's historical output has been mainly confined to a series of co-authored war thrillers and ...
SOURCE: Salon (11-21-11)
Lisa Pease is an expert on the assassinations of the '60s in general and the Robert Kennedy assassination in particular. Several of her articles were published in "The Assassinations" (Los Angeles: Feral House, 2003), a book she also co-edited.
Each November, the media recalls the assassination of President Kennedy and its attendant controversies. Rarely, however, is a second Kennedy anniversary acknowledged. On Nov. 20, 2011, Robert Kennedy — JFK’s brother and devoted political partner — would have turned 86 years old had he not also been assassinated. Although the mainstream media has been all but silent on this case, the facts scream out for a deeper investigation.
The story of Robert Kennedy’s assassination seems deceptively simple. After winning the California Democratic presidential primary on June 4, 1968, Sen. Robert Kennedy traversed a pantry at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. A young Palestinian Christian named Sirhan Sirhan pulled a gun and...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (11-19-11)
Robert Fisk is a multiple award-winning journalist on the Middle East, based in Beirut.
In 1942, in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, a Polish postal official working for the resistance opened a letter sent by a German soldier to his family.
Inside was a photograph which so shocked the man that he forwarded it to the Polish underground; thus it fell into the hands of a brave 16-year-old called Jerzy Tomaszewski, one of whose tasks was to pass on evidence of German atrocities to London so that the Allies could publicise Nazi cruelties in Eastern Europe.
Tomaszewski made a duplicate of the photograph for London and kept the original. He is still alive and, more than 60 years later, allowed freelance documentary photographer and writer Janina Struk to see the precious and terrible evidence – from which she made a perfect copy.
I will let Struk describe the photograph in her own words as they appear in her terrifying new book Private...
SOURCE: LA Times (11-20-11)
William M. Adler is the author of "The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon."
On the morning after the killings, Salt Lake City awoke to sensational headlines. "Father and Son Slain by Masked Murderers," the Herald-Republican bannered across its front page. The father, a 47-year-old grocer named John G. Morrison, and his son Arling, 17, had been shot to death on the night of Jan. 10, 1914.
Within hours, the police had detained a prime suspect for the father's death: Frank Z. Wilson, an alias of one Magnus Olson, an ex-convict who had done time in the Utah state penitentiary. Evidence that I uncovered — in court files, clippings buried in newspaper morgues, correspondence and photographs in prison archives — shows his rampaging criminal itinerary in the days and weeks before the killings, and his startlingly violent 50-year criminal career (including a later stint as a henchman for...
SOURCE: The Atlantic (11-14-11)
Tom McNichol, a frequent contributor to TheAtlantic.com, is a San Francisco writer whose work has also appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and on NPR's "All Things Considered."
Richard Nixon had some pretty strange moments as president -- an Oval Office meeting with Elvis Presley during which the pill-addled singer lobbied to be deputized as a federal agent-at-large in the War on Drugs; Nixon's declaration to a roomful of newspaper editors at the height of the Watergate scandal, "I am not a crook;" Nixon asking Henry Kissinger to kneel down and pray with him and then bursting into tears the night before he resigned.
But perhaps the most bizarre moment of the Nixon presidency took place in the early morning hours of May 9, 1970, during which Nixon, with his faithful White House...
SOURCE: TomDispatch (11-17-11)
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published momentarily. This piece first appeared in slightly different form in the October issue of Harper’s Magazine.
Every childhood has its own geography and every child is an explorer, as daring as any Peary or Amundsen or Scott. I was the mildest of children, such a picky eater that my parents called...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (11-16-11)
Rowan Williams is the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Communion. He is also a distinguished theologian and published poet.
This is the text of a sermon delivered at a Thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey for the 400th anniversary of the 1611 authorised King James translation of the Bible.
What is a good translation? Not one that just allows me to say, when I pick it up: "Now I understand." Of course, if I'm faced with a text in a strange language, I need to be able simply to read it; but a good translation will be an invitation to read again, and to probe, and reflect, and imagine with the text. Rather than letting me say: "Now I understand," it prompts the response: "Now the work begins."
One of the most striking things in the wonderful preface to the King James Bible composed by Miles Smith is the clear conviction that there is never an ideal or a final translation. To translate any work of significance...
SOURCE: Moscow Times (11-15-11)
Peter Rutland is a professor of government at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
With Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s impending return to the presidency, he is set to rule Russia for even longer than General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, in power from 1964 to 1982. There is increasing talk of a Communist-type restoration. But what do we really know about the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev years? This topic has received scant scholarly attention in the West. The period is too distant to be worthy of study by political scientists, and yet recent enough that it is only now attracting the attention of historians.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachevcleverly branded the Brezhnev period as the era of “stagnation” in contrast to what he saw as his own dynamic and visionary leadership. This...
SOURCE: WSJ (11-12-11)
Mr. Massie's new book is "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman." His previous books include "Nicholas and Alexandra" and "Peter the Great," for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.
One by one, the despots are falling. Some remain: in Syria, Yemen, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere. The word "despot" applies to rule by a single person, wielding absolute power, and we use it as a term of condemnation.
But it is useful to remember that its connotation was not always negative. For most of the past millennium, most nations on Earth were governed by rulers who could be described as despots. Some were popular and accepted; others hated; a few overthrown. Some were even called "benevolent."
Perhaps the most remarkable member of this last (and admittedly small) class was Catherine the Great, who became Empress of Russia in 1762 and ruled for more than three...
SOURCE: Salon (11-15-11)
Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos and a senior writer of the new series, Moyers & Company, premiering on public television in January 2012
J. Edgar Hoover passed away on May 2, 1972. The legendary FBI director lay in state at the Capitol rotunda, the doors kept open all day and night for the convenience of mourners.
I remember because I was still at college in Washington then, and around 3 o’clock in the morning a bunch of us drove up there, not to pay our respects, but to make sure he was really dead.
In those pre-9/11 days, you could still do that sort of thing.
The memory of our predawn visit came rushing back last week as I introduced a screening of “J. Edgar,” the new film directed by Clint Eastwood, and interviewed its screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, who won the Oscar a couple of years ago for the movie “Milk.”...
Last week, as if cued by the release of “J. Edgar,” there were new developments in the life stories of...