Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
In the end, the American proconsul slipped out of Iraq with scarcely a word. L. Paul Bremer III pronounced the country a better place than the one once littered with Saddam Hussein's torture chambers, thanked the officials who had served with him on the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, bestowed power on the new Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and was gone.
It was a low-key exit reflecting problems that Mr. Bremer, and perhaps any American, could not resolve. Iraqis, in their vast majority, were pleased to be freed of their dictator and were mesmerized by his first appearance in court last week, but they have no wish to be ruled by the United States.
The Age of Empire is passed, and governments throughout the world were uncomfortable with what they saw as the brazen exercise of American authority over a country reduced to vassal status through force of arms. Mr. Bremer, a Christian ruling a Muslim country, could not fail to be a lightning rod to Islamic extremists in Iraq and beyond.
Perhaps"proconsul," with its echoes of imperial Rome, is a harsh word for the former administrator of Iraq. I met Mr. Bremer last December in his office in Mr. Hussein's bizarre Republican Palace, built in the despot's favored Mesopotamian Fascist style. He was businesslike, determined and self-effacing. But the setting, an ornate monument to a tyrant, seemed to capture all the irreconcilable contradictions of his role.
Mr. Bremer's mission was to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. Yet he proposed rule"of the people, by the people and for the people" from a palace inside a sprawling fortress known as the Green Zone, where he was severed from contact with the life of average Iraqis.
"We don't do empire," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld declared memorably after the first phase of the war. But Mr. Bremer was obliged to do something that looked very much like it. He directed political affairs, doled out contracts, drafted regulations and discussed the next military move with American commanders at the palace - all in a country where hostility could not be tamed and that was not and would never be his.
Here, perhaps, was the core of the problem: the United States seldom, if ever, looked more like an empire in a 19th-century British guise than over the 14 months of Mr. Bremer's rule. Indeed, the extent of America's wealth, firepower and cultural influence today gives it a dominance that almost certainly exceeds any achieved by Britain, even at the height of its power.
In Iraq, America's use of its power was blunt. This was not consensual hegemony, or empire by invitation, or rule through surrogates, but the direct hand of President Bush's proconsul placed on every significant lever of Iraqi power. That the rule had a goal declared noble by the United States scarcely seemed to matter.
Yes, the United States ruled over Cuba and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, but it retreated from Cuba quickly enough and from the Philippines in 1946. Yes, the United States governed and remade Germany and Japan after 1945, but the consensus around that enterprise after World War II was overwhelming. Yes, the United States, during the cold war, was ready to show it would punish defectors from the Western camp, and did so in Chile and elsewhere. But there were two empires then.
"When we had half the world and the other guys were really nasty, our imperial power was often seen as a good thing," said Charles S. Maier, a historian at Harvard."But when you are one of one, it looks less attractive and more conspicuous."
Certainly, American rule of Iraq has often looked heavy-handed. So it is not surprising that the United States' presence there, which endures in the form of more than 130,000 troops, has prompted a lively debate over whether the United States is today an empire. Views have ranged from an embrace of the label to outrage....
On a sweltering day in August 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark clambered to the top of a 70-foot knoll north of the Missouri River. Local Yankton Sioux believed the landmark to be haunted, but instead of ghosts the explorers took in a vista that awed them with its majesty and potential.
''We beheld a most butifull landscape," Clark recorded in his journal, describing a realm of grassland extending ''without interruption as far as Can be Seen . . . the soil of those Plains are delightful."
The land has been tamed in the 200 years since then. The view from the rise called Spirit Mound today offers a bucolic version of the American dream that President Thomas Jefferson might have imagined when he dispatched the Corps of Discovery on its journey from St. Louis to the Pacific: tidy farms, busy shops, solid civic buildings, and church steeples protruding from cottonwood groves. Less charming, but still telling of prosperity, double-trailer truck rigs roar over wide highways while a crop-duster buzzes low over newly sown fields. The dome of a university sports stadium glints in the sun. In the hazy distance, a gigantic American flag floats languidly over a Phillips 66 gas station.
Yet to travel today the route taken by Lewis and Clark at the dawn of America is to encounter a nation that seems unsettled in its soul. Although an abiding faith in the future remains almost the national trademark, many people seem uneasy about the direction the country is taking.
''You've got to wonder where we're going as a nation and a people," said June Bosley Dabney-Gray, 69, a Missouri schoolteacher and former professional singer. Dabney-Gray graduated from the segregated St. Louis school system. Her father was the first black mail clerk on the old Wabash Railroad run from St. Louis to Omaha. Her nephew was the first black mayor of St. Louis.
She loves America, she said. And fears for it -- fears the fallout of a confusing war; fears for a society that, she believes, has strayed from religious values; fears for children lost to a world of ''hip-hop and street smarts" before they acquire basic learning skills. Her love of country but alarm about America comes close to summarizing the views of scores of people who spoke to a Globe reporter this spring in a journey across the broad arc of land that Lewis and Clark traveled -- territory that stretches from what is now St. Louis's Gateway Arch to land's end near Astoria, Ore.
''This is a country that makes you want to clap your hands and rejoice," she said. ''But also a country that makes you want to weep. There is a goodness in Americans, in our love of freedom, our quest for equality. But we are also people who are losing the light of the principles that have guided us. . . . People should sing the American anthem, should recite the pledge. We've got to be one nation indivisible, under God, or we're not going to stay together as a people at all...."
CLARIFICATION: It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.
John Carroll, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, who edited this newspaper from 1979 to 1991, recently proposed a correction like the one above during a speech on journalism ethics. Today, as the nation celebrates its liberties and marks the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this report looks back at the hidden history of Lexington's civil rights struggle -- and how this newspaper covered it. Or failed to.
Nearly every detail is fuzzy in her memory now of that summer day in 1960 when Audrey Grevious took part in one of Lexington's first lunch counter sit-ins. But she vividly recalls one thing: the cold, wet shock she felt as a waitress poured a glass of Coca-Cola all over her, while the whites standing behind her hissed,"Nigger!" Kay Grimes Jones remembers a night in 1960 at the Ben Ali Theater, where she and others stood in line, fruitlessly waiting to buy tickets for the"whites only" section. A crowd of whites jeered and spat on them."That's when I decided to help out in other ways," said Jones, who'd studied non-violence as a member of the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE."I wasn't sure I wouldn't spit back." The Rev. Thomas Peoples remembers the searing summer of 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Peoples, head of the local NAACP, joined city officials in a police car, driving around Georgetown and Deweese streets, begging people to stay calm as cities across the country exploded in rage.
These memories have made it into master's theses and oral histories as stories of Lexington's rich civil-rights struggle. But until now, they'd never made it into the local newspaper.- The people in charge of recording the"first rough draft of history," as journalism is sometimes called, ignored sit-ins and marches, or relegated them to small notices in the back pages. The omissions by the city's two newspapers, the Lexington Herald and the Lexington Leader, weren't simply mistakes or oversights, according to local civil rights leaders and former employees of the newspapers. The papers' management actively sought to play down the movement....
You can see him in action on the back of the book jacket, working a crowd with two hands, smiling, sucking up the attention, devouring the love. And it's fully reciprocated: The people are straining to reach him, to touch him, to receive his presidential validation. Bill Clinton's world has a radial symmetry, like a flower, with his white thatch of hair popping out at the center.
This was the life he wanted, the one he constructed, the one he recounts in 957 pages."My Life" has neither a subtitle nor subtlety, but it's surely a very American tale, a story of a kid who bounded from nowhere into the history books, erupting from the land like a force of nature (or a natural disaster, some might argue).
He was not a prince of the political universe like the guy who would one day be his vice president, or the fellow who would be his successor. Clinton was not anointed from on high. He never knew his dad, had a lush of a stepfather who once nearly gunned him down. He was pudgy. Talked too much. Silly clothes."I was a fat band boy who didn't wear cool jeans."
And now he's in the books as the 42nd president, two full terms, notwithstanding a wee bit of impeachment tarnish.
Historians will judge his merit as a president, and readers can decide for themselves whether"My Life" is as interminable as many reviewers suggest, but in any case the million-selling memoir adds more data to one of the great mysteries of America: Why do some people defy all the probabilities of the world and wind up as the president of the United States?
Political success at the highest levels may require such things as intelligence, cunning, idealism, an ability to read other people, an instinct for when to attack and when to retreat, and so on, but you usually don't get anywhere near the White House without boodles and boodles of drive. You need more than your garden-variety vim and vigor. You need to ache for greatness. You need to crave distinction. Often it is referred to in political circles as"fire in the belly."
This is the norm for presidents. They can sprout from the most depleted soils, and flower brilliantly, as though what flows in their veins is not the same kind of juice that sustains everyone else.
"They're not normal people," says Richard Shenkman, author of"Presidential Ambition: Gaining Power at Any Cost.""All of these presidents seem to have extra hormones. . . . They are not normal in their appetites, in their passions, in their drives, in their willingness to take on great burdens in service to their ambitions, and to sacrifice almost everything on the altar of their ambitions."
Their great attribute -- drive -- can be their downfall as well. Their success can be intoxicating. They sense they are invulnerable. They overreach. They take unneeded risks. They become the leaders of their own cult of personality....
David Hendee, in the Omaha World Herald (June 27, 2004):
It was the Nebraska version of a gold rush.
Thousands of land-seekers poured into remote towns from O'Neill to Alliance 100 years ago this week to stake a claim to a square-mile homestead in Nebraska's last frontier.
They temporarily reversed a period of declining population that had started in the 1890s.
In less than two decades, the population of the 37 central and western Nebraska counties included in the federal Kincaid Act swelled by 84 percent as farmers fenced and plowed the vast grasslands of cattle barons.
After that initial population spike, however, the gains in most of Nebraska's Kincaid counties were erased by decades of decline.
Now, a century after the boom, a majority of the Kincaid counties have fewer people today than they did in 1900. And Congress is considering a new bold initiative to break the cycle of out-migration.
The depopulation hasn't gone unnoticed, especially by descendants of the Kincaiders.
"I wish they'd do it again," said rancher Dorothy Barthel of Amelia. "We're losing our people."
The Kincaid counties are the heart of a swath of the Great Plains where seven of 10 counties from the Dakotas to Texas saw population declines averaging 30 percent since 1980.
Among the century's big losers was Custer County in central Nebraska. It grew by 1,000 people a year from 1904 to 1910 and added a few more hundred in the next decade before starting a steady decline. The county now has nearly 8,000 fewer people than in 1900....
The Kincaid Act was the work of first-term Republican congressman Moses P. Kincaid, an O'Neill attorney.
Although historians, in general, write off the law as a failure, O'Neill High School history teacher Lauren Hiebner doesn't agree. Hiebner wrote his master's degree thesis on the legacy of the Kincaid Act.
"The Kincaid Act was an avenue for bringing progress to what had been considered an undesirable region of western Nebraska," he said. "If not for Kincaid, a lot of towns in the Sand Hills would have dried up a long time ago."...
Just as the Kincaid Act was a refinement to make the Homestead Act of 1862 viable in semiarid western Nebraska, Hassebrook said, the Great Plains needs a new federal policy.
He sees hope in the New Homestead Act proposed by Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. The legislation promises economic benefits such as tax credits and forgiven student loans to people willing to try to make a living in a depopulated community.
"This is a big bill, and we recognize that we're not going to accomplish everything in one gulp," Hagel said. "But if we can make progress every year . . . then at least we give people more options and opportunities for their families and children."...
Kincaid Act of 1904
Named for U.S. Rep. Moses P. Kincaid of ONeill. Effective June 28, 1904. Allowed 640-acre homesteads. Original Homestead Act of 1862 limited claims to 160 acres. Settlers received title to the land after living on it five years and making $ 800 in improvements. Many settlers requested extensions. Created a land rush in the Sand Hills. Last Kincaid claim completed in 1941.
Confined to 37 counties in semi-arid western Nebraska
Michael Hill, in the Balt Sun (June 27, 2004):
...In the same way that the Bush administration prefers to portray American troops as liberators instead of occupiers, it would rather compare the Iraqi transformation to the aftermath of World War II in Germany and Japan instead of post-colonial independence in places like Africa.
But Jeffrey Herf, a historian at the University of Maryland, says there are significant differences. "As soon as people began saying that the war was over last April, I was making comparisons to Germany and pointing out that that war lasted six years and that when it was over in May of 1945, Germany was truly defeated, with millions of its people killed and its cities destroyed," he says.
"I view the various disasters that have befallen our actions as one consequence of having made the mistake of assuming the war was over when the Iraqi army was defeated in that first phase," Herf says. "The war has never ended, and you have to win the war. Everything else is secondary. If you don't do that, all the other talk about democracy is just nonsense."
Even with total defeat, Herf notes, it took fours years of Allied occupation after the end of World War II before Germany held a national election in 1949. And that occupation was not just a celebratory liberation of the German culture from the clutches of a handful of Nazis.
"There were several hundred thousand people arrested in Germany and about 5,000 convictions for war crimes," he says. "There were 800 death sentences issued and 400 carried out. That was in the Western zones alone. It was very harsh."
And, he points out, that was without any real armed opposition of the type U.S. forces are facing in Iraq. Herf says the United States should have realized that Hussein's Baath party ruled Iraq for 35 years, three times as long as Hitler's Nazis ruled Germany, and thus had roots that ran even deeper.
"The Baath party was very large, with several million members," he says. "It wasn't like it was Tony Soprano and 10 other people running the country. But (the Americans) actually seemed to think that once they got rid of those 55 people on the playing cards, that would take care of it. That was ridiculous."
"The basic problem is that we underestimated terribly the amount of resistance we would face, and I think that is unforgivable," says Herf, who says he supported the war....