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: NYT (1-31-12)
Roger Cohen is a columnist for the NYT.
VILNIUS, LITHUANIA — The “double genocide” wars that pit Stalin’s crimes against Hitler’s are raging in wide swathes of Europe and every now and again along comes a gust from the past to stoke them. The 70th anniversary this month of the Nazi adoption at Wannsee of annihilation plans for the Jews provided one such squall.
Yes, the past is still treacherous beneath Europe’s calm surface. Memory swirls untamed in the parts of the Continent that the American historian Timothy Snyder calls “Bloodlands,” the slaughterhouses from Lithuania to Ukraine that Hitler and Stalin subjected to their murderous whim.
To mark the Wannsee anniversary, over 70 European Parliament members, including 8 Lithuanians, signed a declaration objecting to “attempts to obfuscate the Holocaust by diminishing its uniqueness and deeming it to be equal, similar or equivalent to Communism.” It also...
SOURCE: Japan Times (01-27-2012)
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.
I go to France quite often, but after this article is published, I may be liable to arrest if I set foot in the country. The French parliament has just passed a bill, proposed by President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, that will make it a crime to question whether the Armenian massacres in eastern Turkey in 1915 qualified as a genocide. Sarkozy will doubtless sign it into law next month, just in time for the presidential elections.
It won't be just a crime to deny that hundreds of thousands of Armenians, perhaps as many as a million, were killed in eastern Anatolia in 1915, and that it was the responsibility of the Turkish state. That is a historical fact, and only fools, knaves and Turkish ultranationalists deny it. It will also be a crime, punishable by one year in prison and a fine of up to 45,000 even to question the use of the word "genocide...
SOURCE: American Interest (01-24-2012)
Walter Russell Mead is professor of foreign affairs and the humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest.
Writing about the onset of the Great Depression, John Kenneth Galbraith famously said that the end had come but was not yet in sight. The past was crumbling under their feet, but people could not imagine how the future would play out. Their social imagination had hit a wall.
The same thing is happening today: The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age. The end is here, but we can’t quite take it in.
In the old system, most blue-collar and white-collar workers held stable...
SOURCE: openDemocracy (UK) (01-24-2012)
The recent passing of the French bill criminalising denial of the Armenian genocide has been the cause of much celebration for Armenians in France and across the world. Though celebrated by many as a step towards recognition and justice for a crime committed nearly 100 years ago it is difficult to see how the law presents anything other than another obstacle to the process of reconciliation between Armenians and...
SOURCE: The Atlantic (1-25-12)
Dominic Tierney is assistant professor of political science at Swarthmore College. He is the author of How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War.
On June 5, 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower wrote down a message, carefully folded it, and placed it in his wallet. It contained a public statement in case the D-Day invasion failed. Twenty-five years later, in 1969, Richard Nixon's White House drafted a speech to use if the moon landing was unsuccessful and the astronauts were trapped on the lunar surface. This is not alternate history. This is very real history, about leaders preparing for a contingency that never transpired. More than...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (01-24-2012)
Michael Dobbs is a prize-winning foreign correspondent and author.
The photograph above is a unique historical image. It captures a massacre actually in progress near the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica around 17:15 on July 13, 1995. What makes this image even more remarkable -- and worth studying by anyone interested in the subject of genocide prevention -- is that it became a public document one day after the massacre, on July 14. It was part of a video reportage on events in Srebrenica aired by a Belgrade television station.
Granted, the photograph is initially difficult to interpret. If you look closely, however, you can identify bodies piled outside a warehouse, guarded by a soldier. In the video from which the image was taken (shown below), you can hear shots, and a reporter talking about "dead Muslim soldiers." Combined with overhead reconnaissance collected by the United States, intercepts, and eyewitness accounts, the fleeting image...
SOURCE: LA Times (1-25-12)
Jon Wiener teaches U.S. history at UC Irvine and is a contributing editor at the Nation.
This week, a forgotten work of political art is being reconstructed on Sunset Boulevard. But it is unlikely that the new Tower of Protest, going up as part of the months-long, Southern California-wide Pacific Standard Time art initiative, will spark the kind of reaction it did during its first appearance in 1966.
The skirmishes back then began before the tower even existed. One day in January 1966, a group of artists announced their intention on a billboard-sized sign on Sunset near La Cienega Boulevard. "Stop War in Vietnam," it screamed in 3-foot-tall letters. "Artists' Protest Tower to Be Erected Here."
The very night the sign went up...
SOURCE: The New Republic (1-19-12)
David Greenberg, a contributing editor, is a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University and the author of Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image, among other works.
A BOOK SUCH as Chris Matthews’s biography of President Kennedy would not ordinarily seem like best-seller material. Unlike Robert Dallek’s recent big study of JFK, An Unfinished Life, it is not the product of extensive research. Nor does it cater, like bottom-feeding, gossip-mongering books such as Seymour Hersh’s Dark Side of Camelot, to a vulgar taste for trash by luridly promising titillating disclosures. And, much to its credit, Jack Kennedy shies away from the fashionable Kennedy-bashing in which conservatives and academics alike now indulge, although it has no real new insight into Kennedy to offer instead.
In fact, this book doesn’t really try to illuminate the past at all. It doesn’t try to say anything...
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (1-22-12)
Erasmus quoted the Iliad in a time of widening war:
Men get their fill of sleep and love, of beautiful singing and carefree dance, but they never get enough of war.
And they never get enough of the Iliad. In his anthology, Homer in English, George Steiner asked in 1996, Why are there so many Iliads in English? His answer: notions of noble manliness. "There shines throughout the Iliad an idealized yet also unflinching vision of masculinity, of an order of values and mutual recognitions radically virile."
Small wonder the epic has appealed to warrior nations like England and the United States. William Blake warned, "It is the Classics & not Goths nor Monks, that Desolate Europe with Wars."
According to The Oxford Guide to Literature...
SOURCE: openDemocracy (UK) (01-21-2012)
Andrew Wallis is a researcher who specialises in central and east Africa.
The source of the rocket attack on an aeroplane carrying the president of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, on 6 April 1994 is a matter of profound historical importance, since this event was the prelude to the genocide that over the next eight weeks saw 800,000 of the country's citizens massacred. In 2006, a report on the incident authored by the French report judge Jean-Louis Bruguière was published, but its conclusions were immediately contested and the report failed to convince that it had established anything near the truth of the matter.
Now, parts of a new report looking into responsibility for the incident - also written by a French judge, Marc Trévidic - have been published. This report demolishes...
SOURCE: Foreign Affairs (01-23-2012)
Timothy Snyder is professor of history at Yale University.
As Steven Pinker observes, we recall the twentieth century as an age of unparalleled violence, and we characterize our own epoch as one of terror. But what if our historical moment is in fact defined not by mass killing but by the greatest levels of peace and safety ever attained by humankind? By way of this provocative hypothesis, the acclaimed psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist aims to liberate us from the overblown victimhood-by-contiguity of the present moment, maintaining quite credibly that we ought to be grateful for living when we do.
In his vivid descriptions of the distant and recent past, Pinker draws from a wide range of fields beyond his own to chart the decline of violence, which he says "may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history." He argues that prehistory was much more violent than early civilization and that the past few decades have been much...
SOURCE: Dissent Magazine (1-23-12)
Maurice Isserman is the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of History at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and the author of The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington (2000). This article is adapted from the introduction to The Other America by Michael Harrington. Copyright © 2012 by Maurice Isserman.
When Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States first appeared in bookstores in March 1962, its author had modest hopes for its success, expecting to sell at most a few thousand copies. Instead, the book proved a publishing phenomenon, garnering substantial sales (seventy thousand in several editions within its first year and over a million in paperback since then), wide and respectful critical attention, and a significant influence over the direction of social welfare policy in the United States during the decade that...
Heather Horn is a writer based in Chicago. She is a former features editor and staff writer for The Atlantic Wire, and was previously a research assistant at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
There's something deeply distasteful about the news out of Germany this week. It's not that the latest edition of a British publisher's excerpts of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf has sold 250,000 copies in just a few days. It's that the Bavarian state government, which technically owns the copyright, is considering fighting it.
Hitler's ideological dumping ground of an autobiography isn't technically banned in Germany. But it might as well be. The finance ministry of the state of Bavaria, in the south, holds the copyrights to Mein Kampf and has simply refused to let it be republished. It's done the same for other Nazi works. This same British publisher, Peter McGee of Albertas Ltd.,...
SOURCE: NYT (1-20-12)
Tony Perrottet is the author of “The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe.”
Librarians may regard me as a highbrow pervert, frowning over their spectacles at my choice of reading matter. In certain archives, I’ve even been directed to sit at a solitary table, where my movements can be carefully watched. But I’ve learned to ignore the suspicious looks. The truth is, for any writer who is researching a “golden age” of vice — whether it be Renaissance Venice, Georgian London, belle époque Paris or fin de siècle New Orleans — there is nothing quite so satisfying as a guide to local harlots.
...[T]oday, the rare survivals of these flimsy publications are revered — at least by social historians. There is no more vivid means of evoking the shadowy back streets, raucous taverns and perfumed boudoirs of a vanished city than to pore over a prostitute directory’s brittle, yellowed pages. “Historians love it when they stumble...
SOURCE: NYT (1-21-12)
The Tucson Unified School District has dismantled its Mexican-American studies program, packed away its offending books, shuttled its students into other classes. It was blackmailed into doing so: keeping the program would have meant losing more than $14 million in state funding. It was a blunt-force victory for the Arizona school superintendent, John Huppenthal, who has spent years crusading against ethnic-studies programs he claims are “brainwashing” children into thinking that Latinos have been victims of white oppression.
As a state legislator, he co-wrote a law cracking down on ethnic studies, and as superintendent he decided that Tucson’s district was violating it. School officials in Tucson and elsewhere strenuously disagree, saying he misunderstood and mischaracterized a program that brought much-needed attention to a neglected part of America’s history and culture. They say it engaged students, pushed them to excel, and led to better grades and attendance....
SOURCE: NYT (1-21-12)
SOURCE: City Journal (01-19-2012)
Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred.
In last year’s extensive commentary marking the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, one name—Hannah Arendt—was mentioned nearly as often as that of the trial’s notorious defendant. It’s hard to think of another major twentieth-century event so closely linked with one author’s interpretation of it. Arendt, who fled Nazi Germany at 27, was already an internationally renowned scholar and public intellectual when she arrived in Jerusalem in April 1961 to cover the trial for The New Yorker. Arendt’s five articles, which were then expanded into the 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, proved hugely controversial. Many Jewish readers—and non-Jews, too—were shocked by three principal themes in Arendt’s report: her...
SOURCE: BBC History Magazine (1-18-12)
Chris Bowlby is a presenter on BBC radio, specialising in history.The implications for Britain and the west of the rise of China are debated intensely today. Yet we can find a similarly intense version of this debate over a century ago
As Professor Peter Cain of Sheffield Hallam University puts it, China has been viewed by many in the west as “a potential economic giant for a very long time”. His research has focused on the reception of a book published in 1893 by CH Pearson, entitled National Life and Character.
Pearson, a former education minister in Australia, discussed what he saw as the consequences of ever increasing western engagement with Asian and other societies. This, he believed, would transform the balance of global power and undermine British society. The west’s ‘civilising mission’, he claimed, contained the seeds of its own destruction....
SOURCE: Smithsonian Magazine (2-1-12)
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of Explaining Hitler and, most recently, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Nineteen sixty: Only 15 years had passed since the end of World War II. But already one could read an essay describing a “wave of amnesia that has overtaken the West” with regard to the events of 1933 to 1945....
But in 1960, there were two notable developments, two captures: In May, Israeli agents apprehended Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and flew him to Jerusalem for trial. And in October, William L. Shirer captured something else, both massive and elusive, within the four corners of a book: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. He captured it in a way that made amnesia no longer an option. The issue of a new edition on the 50th anniversary of the book’s winning the National Book Award recalls an important point of inflection in American historical consciousness....
Rereading the book, one sees how subtle Shirer is in...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (01-17-2012)
Michael Wahid Hanna is a fellow at The Century Foundation.
In a tumultuous year that witnessed the fall of Arab tyrants and the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, proponents of the 2003 invasion, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and conservative academic Fouad Ajami, have sought to portray the decision to topple Saddam Hussein's regime as the hidden driver of the Arab Spring. But rather than revisit history, why not-- on this one-year anniversary of Tunisian strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's downfall -- try our hand at alternate history: If the U.S. had never invaded Iraq, would Saddam's Baathist regime still be standing in today's Middle East?
This question, of course, is a bedeviling one. It is difficult to imagine the region absent U.S. military intervention in Iraq. The war itself fueled regional dysfunction -- particularly in reaffirming and expanding pernicious notions of sectarian identity. Clearly, the specter of enhanced Iranian influence and...