History Being Talked About Archives 12-10-03 to 12-28-03





Click here for the archives.


Click here to return to top of page.

NYT Reports on Vietnam Atrocities (postd 12-28-03)

John Kifner, writing in the NYT (Dec. 28, 2003):

Quang Ngai and Quang Nam are provinces in central Vietnam, between the mountains and the sea. Ken Kerney, William Doyle and Rion Causey tell horrific stories about what they saw and did there as soldiers in 1967.

That spring and fall, American troops conducted operations there to engage the enemy and drive peasants out of villages and into heavily guarded"strategic hamlets." The goal was to deny the Viet Cong support, shelter and food.

The fighting was intense and the results, the former soldiers say, were especially brutal. Villages were bombed, burned and destroyed. As the ground troops swept through, in many cases they gunned down men, women and children, sometimes mutilating bodies — cutting off ears to wear on necklaces.

They threw hand grenades into dugout shelters, often killing entire families.

"Can you imagine Dodge City without a sheriff?" Mr. Kerney asked."It's just nuts. You never had a safe zone. It's shoot too quick or get shot. You're scared all the time, you're humping all the time. You're scared. These things happen."

Mr. Doyle said he lost count of the people he killed:"You had to have a strong will to survive. I wanted to live at all costs. That was my primary thing, and I developed it to an instinct."

The two are among a handful of soldiers at the heart of a series of investigative articles by The Toledo Blade that has once again raised questions about the conduct of American troops in Vietnam.

The report, published in October and titled"Rogue G.I.'s Unleashed Wave of Terror in Central Highlands," said that in 1967, an elite unit, a reconnaissance platoon in the 101st Airborne Division, went on a rampage that the newspaper described as"the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War."

"For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians — in some cases torturing and mutilating them — in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public," the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians.

"Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers," The Blade said."Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed — their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings."

In 1971, the newspaper said, the Army began a criminal investigation that lasted four and a half years. Ultimately, the investigators forwarded conclusions that 18 men might face charges, but no courts-martial were brought.

In recent telephone interviews with The New York Times, three of the former soldiers quoted by The Blade confirmed that the articles had accurately described their unit's actions.

But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a"rogue" unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing.

"The story that I'm not sure is getting out," said Mr. Causey, then a medic with the unit,"is that while they're saying this was a ruthless band ravaging the countryside, we were under orders to do it."

Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops.

The tactics — particularly in"free-fire zones," where anyone was regarded as fair game — arose from the frustrating nature of the guerrilla war and, above all, from the military's reliance on the body count as a measure of success and a reason officers were promoted, according to many accounts.

Nicholas Turse, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities.

"I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported," Mr. Turse said by telephone."I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds."

Yet there were few prosecutions.

Besides the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1968, only 36 cases involving possible war crimes from Vietnam went to Army court-martial proceedings, with 20 convictions, according to the Army judge advocate general's office.

Guenter Lewy, who cited the Army figures in his 1978 book,"America in Vietnam," wrote that if a soldier killed a civilian, the incident was unlikely to be reported as a war crime:"It was far more likely that the platoon leader, under pressure for body count and not anxious to demonstrate the absence of good fire discipline in his unit, would report the incident as `1 VC suspect shot while evading.'"

Mr. Causey, now a nuclear engineer in California, said:"It wasn't like it was hidden. This was open and public behavior. A lot of guys in the 101st were cutting ears. It was a unique time period."

Mr. Kerney, now a firefighter in California, agreed that the responsibility went higher.

"I'm talking about the guys with the eagles," he said, referring to the rank insignia of a full colonel."It was always about the body count. They were saying, `You guys have the green light to do what's right.'"

While Mr. Causey and Mr. Kerney became deeply troubled after they returned from Vietnam, Mr. Doyle, a sergeant who was a section leader in the unit, seemed unrepentant in a long, profanity-laced telephone conversation.

"I've seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like Sunday school," said Mr. Doyle, who joined the Army at 17 when a judge gave him, a young street gang leader, a chance to escape punishment.

"If you're walking down a jungle trail, those that hesitate die," said Mr. Doyle, who lives in Missouri."Everybody I killed, I killed to survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that's almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I've seen."

The American public was shocked in November 1969 when the reporter Seymour M. Hersh broke the news of the My Lai massacre. Years later, it was revealed that a Navy Seal team led by Bob Kerrey, who would go on to become a United States senator and is now president of New School University in New York, had killed 21 women, children and old men during a raid on the village Thanh Phong in 1969.

"My Lai was a shock to everyone except people in Vietnam," recalled Kevin Buckley, who covered the war for Newsweek from 1968 to 1972 and reported on an operation called Speedy Express, in which nearly 11,000 were killed but only 748 weapons were recovered.

At his court-martial in the My Lai massacre, Lt. William L. Calley Jr., the only person convicted in the case, said:"I felt then — and I still do — that I acted as directed, I carried out my orders, and I did not feel wrong in doing so." He was paroled in 1975 after serving three and a half years under house arrest.

In spring 1971, embittered veterans demonstrated against the war in Washington, many throwing away their medals.

One of their leaders, John Kerry, then a recently discharged Navy officer, now a senator and presidential candidate, delivered an impassioned speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971.

American troops in Vietnam, he said, had"raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."

Mr. Kerry's account came from his own experience, as well as from a three-day conference of the fledgling Vietnam Veterans Against the War. At the conference, he said,"over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."

A transcript of that meeting makes for hair-raising reading. The returned troops told of the slaughter of civilians;"reconnaissance by fire," or soldiers shooting blindly;"harassment and interdiction fire," with artillery being used to shell villages; captives thrown from helicopters; severed ears drying in the sun or being swapped for beers; and"Zippo inspections" of cigarette lighters in preparation for burning villages.

Click here to return to top of page.

New Transcripts: What Kissinger Thought and Did About Chile (posted 12-28-03)

Larry Rohter, writing in the NYT (Dec. 28, 2003):

Henry Kissinger, who had been President Richard Nixon's national security adviser, became his secretary of state less than a month after a bloody military coup in Chile toppled its leftist president, Salvador Allende, on Sept. 11, 1973, and brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power. The Nixon administration had instigated and supported Allende's overthrow, but the extensive human rights abuses that resulted were to plague Mr. Kissinger until he left office in 1977, along with President Gerald Ford.

Recently, after a long legal struggle, United States government documents from that period were declassified under the Freedom of Information Act, thanks to the efforts of the National Security Archive, a private nonprofit group based in Washington. Some of the most important papers have already appeared in"The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability" (The New Press) by Peter Kornbluh, an analyst for the National Security Archive, and next month those and others will be posted on the organization's Web site, nsarchive.org. Excerpts follow.

The realpolitik approach Mr. Kissinger favored was enunciated at an Oct. 1, 1973, meeting with officials from the Latin American division of the State Department. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jack Kubisch had arrived bearing news that at least 2,700 people were killed during the coup and expressing concern that the United States appeared too close to the Pinochet regime.

Secretary Kissinger: I agree that we should not knock down stories that later prove to be true, nor should we be in the position of defending what they're doing in Santiago. But I think we should understand our policy - that however unpleasant they act, the government is better for us than Allende was. So we shouldn't support moves against them by seemingly disassociating.

Congress felt differently, however, and led by Senator Edward M. Kennedy soon began moving to cut off arms sales to the Pinochet dictatorship. In a Dec. 3, 1974, meeting also attended by the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, William D. Rogers, Mr. Kissinger expressed frustration at what he saw as Congressional meddling and naïveté.

Secretary Kissinger: Also, I'd like to know whether the human rights problem in Chile is that much worse than in other countries in Latin America or whether their primary crime is to have replaced Allende and whether people are now getting penalized, having gotten rid of an anti-American government. Is it worse than in other Latin American countries?

Mr. Rogers: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I think the consequences could be very serious, if we cut them off from military aid.

Later in the same meeting, Mr. Kissinger tried another approach, suggesting that the Pinochet regime was an improvement over Allende in the field of civil liberties. Again, Mr. Rogers gently challenged his assumptions.

Secretary Kissinger: The worst crime of this government is that it's pro-American in the eyes of many of these supporters of these cut-offs. Is this government worse than the Allende government? Is human rights more severely threatened by this government than Allende?

Mr. Rogers: Well, I can't say that, Mr. Secretary. In terms of freedom of association, Allende didn't close down the opposition party. In terms of freedom of the press, Allende didn't close down all the newspapers.

At a Dec. 23, 1974, meeting, Mr. Kissinger argued that compromising with Senator Kennedy on the arms sales prohibition would only lead to other Congressional demands. He also worried that banning arms sales to Chile would encourage General Pinochet, who was alarmed at the presence of Cuban advisers and Soviet-made tanks and aircraft in neighboring Peru, to seek an accommodation with China or the Arab world.

Secretary Kissinger: We never cut off aid to them while Allende was there. So now while they are in power, we cut off aid to them. It is insane.

Mr. Rogers: It is insane. But, Mr. Secretary, it does reflect an extraordinarily strong feeling amongst the Congress, as you well know.

Later in the same conversation, Mr. Rogers said that"it is very hard to make a national interest argument on Chile." But Mr. Kissinger and Assistant Secretary of State Philip C. Habib saw dominoes falling all over the world if they gave Congress any ground.

Secretary Kissinger: If it happens in Chile now, it will be Korea next year. There isn't going to be any end to it. And if we are going to wind up in an unbelievably precarious position, in which no country can afford to tie up with us, unless it is a pure democracy, then we will find some other reasons.

Mr. Habib: We will get it in the Philippines, in Vietnam.

Mr. Rogers: My diagnosis of the reason they stuck it on the department in this case is because they didn't think we were being sincere on the human rights issue. That is what they all told me.

By 1975, Chile had become a virtual pariah state and was seeking to alleviate that status by persuading the Organization of American States to meet in Santiago. On Sept. 29, Mr. Kissinger received the Chilean foreign minister, Patricio Carvajal. Mr. Kissinger not only expressed Washington's support for the idea, but opened the meeting with a sarcastic jab at his own staff.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I read the briefing paper for this meeting and it was nothing but human rights. The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there were not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State.

The O.A.S. meeting was held in Chile in June 1976. There Mr. Kissinger met with General Pinochet, expressed support and told him not to worry about the human rights criticisms that would appear in the speech Mr. Kissinger would deliver to his fellow foreign ministers.

Secretary Kissinger: The speech is not aimed at Chile. I wanted to tell you about this. My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world, and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government that was going Communist.

General Pinochet complained about the arms buildup in Peru and hinted that he might invade if American arms were not forthcoming. In response, Mr. Kissinger apologized for Congressional opposition and promised to step up efforts to send F-5 fighters to Chile.

Secretary Kissinger: It is a phenomenon that we deal with special severity with our friends. I want to see our relations and friendship improve. I encouraged the O.A.S. to have its General Assembly here. I knew it would add prestige to Chile. I came for that reason. We have suggestions. We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende. Otherwise Chile would have followed Cuba.

In an account of the conversation with General Pinochet that was published in his memoirs, Mr. Kissinger said that the"underlying theme" of the meeting was that"any major help from us would realistically depend on progress on human rights.'' But the declassified transcript includes only brief mentions of human rights, with Mr. Kissinger presenting them to the general principally as a problem of politics and public relations, rather than as a moral problem. Mr. Kissinger, for example, talks of the need to"remove the weapons in the arms of our enemies."

Secretary Kissinger: It would really help if you would let us know the measures you are taking in the human rights field. None of this is said with the hope of undermining your government. I want you to succeed and I want to retain the possibility of aid.

A month later, back in Washington and meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Harry W. Shlaudeman, the subject was Argentina, Chile's neighbor. A military dictatorship led by Gen. Jorge Videla had taken power there earlier that year, and the new government, inspired by Chile's example and the lack of American sanctions, was carrying out political killings and forced"disappearances" that would eventually lead to the deaths of as many as 30,000 people in what became known as Argentina's"dirty war."

Mr. Shlaudeman: Well, let me just say that it looks very much that this group for Videla in Argentina - the security forces are totally out of control. We have these daily waves of murders. We get our human rights constituents - who, it sometimes seems to me, are the only ones we have - clamoring after us all the time about Argentina, because they think it is another Chile - but it isn't.

Secretary Kissinger: It's worse.

Nevertheless, Mr. Kissinger decided that the doctrine he had defined for Chile should also be applied in Argentina. Meeting with the Argentine foreign minister, Adm. César Augusto Guzzetti, in New York on Oct. 7, 1976, he made it clear that the clamor about human rights abuses would not affect relations, a response that Robert Hill, the American ambassador to Argentina, later said in a cable had left Admiral Guzzetti"euphoric."

Secretary Kissinger: Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems, but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better.

Click here to return to top of page.

Why The Nixon Library Shouldn't Be Given the Nixon Tapes (posted 12-28-03)

Maarja Krusten, National Archives' Nixon tapes archivist, 1976-90, in a letter to the editor of the NYT (Dec. 28, 2003):

National Archives officials vow to protect records as they prepare to negotiate with John H. Taylor, director of the Richard Nixon library ("Adrift With the Trick, the Tapes, and the Passage of Time," by Francis X. Clines, Editorial Observer, Dec. 21). But who protects archivists?

In 1986, the Justice Department tried to force the Archives to accept without discretion Mr. Nixon's claims against release of records. A court threw out the directive.

In 1987, Mr. Nixon blocked the opening of 42,000 documents deemed releaseable by archivists. Mr. Taylor later claimed that the blocked items represented information "routinely" withheld at presidential libraries. The Archives sat on the documents for nine years before upholding most of its archivists' decisions on disclosure.

The belated release showed that Mr. Nixon wanted information about Vietnam ("tell Henry [Kissinger] get best deal — let Thieu paddle his own canoe") and Watergate ("put it on Mitchell") withdrawn as "personal." Who will prevail in future battles, Mr. Nixon's advocates or archivists?

Click here to return to top of page.

Apologizing for Sterilization in the Past Isn't Enough (postd 12-24-03)

Howard Markel, writing in the NYT (Dec. 23, 2003):

Ever since 1972, when the American public first learned about the Tuskegee syphilis research that subjected African-American men to scientific experiments without their consent, the medical profession has had much explaining to do about its past.

Since then, several disturbing instances have come to light. In those cases, scientists, physicians and the government-sanctioned research or treatments that we would today consider unethical, like trials of untested vaccines or medications on mentally retarded children and prisoners.

Increasingly, public apologies have been made to smooth over these clinical transgressions. Yet the doctor in me wonders whether these gestures will cure what ails us.

Since 2002, five states — Virginia, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina and California — have publicly apologized to people who were forcibly sterilized under laws in effect from the early 1900's until the 1970's. Thirty-three states enacted such laws in this period, and about 60,000 women and men were sterilized. All were deemed "unfit to reproduce" by the medical experts of the day.

When these sterilization laws were written, many subscribed to a simplistic version of genetics called eugenics and hoped to improve American society by encouraging the "healthy" to reproduce while simultaneously preventing those with "deleterious inherited traits" from doing so. Under this rubric, mental retardation, insanity and even criminal behavior were considered hereditary and the "carriers" of these traits a danger to future generations.

Sadly, those targeted for reproductive quarantine were already defined as outcasts by a white majority: the mentally ill or retarded, "sexual deviants," the impoverished, African-Americans and immigrants.

The recent series of public apologies for forced sterilizations has unfolded with markedly different results, depending on who did the apologizing and the motives of the person or group.

In March, with no survivors on hand to hear it, Gray Davis, then the governor of California, issued an apology for the 20,000 forcible sterilizations conducted in his state. In contrast, the previous December, Gov. Michael F. Easley of North Carolina not only made a meaningful apology to the families of the 7,500 victims of his state's mandatory sterilization laws, he also ensured that their stories would be remembered by creating a special historical archive. And last month, Dr. William Applegate, the dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine apologized for his institution's involvement in these forced sterilizations.

Some activists are now eager to broker a formal apology from Gov. Jennifer Granholm to the 3,700 people sterilized in Michigan. But Alexandra Minna Stern, a historian of medicine at the University of Michigan, said the issue was far deeper than merely uttering words of contrition.

"The biggest danger of the public apologies is that they too readily allow us to blame our predecessors as being scientifically misguided or evil and pat ourselves on the back for an enlightened, morally informed present," she said.

Thankfully we have moved out of an era of heavy-handed, coercive sterilization statutes, but many of the era's ethical issues remain.

Today, there is a great risk of societal pressures more subtly influencing reproductive choices thanks to an ever-expanding repertoire of genetic reproductive technologies, therapies and prenatal genetic screening tests.

Dr. Paul A. Lombardo, a bioethicist at the University of Virginia, worked successfully last year with his state's Legislature to commemorate Carrie Buck, a young woman sterilized against her will in 1924 after eugenics field workers diagnosed her, her mother and, by assumption, Carrie's 7-month-old daughter, Vivian, as "feebleminded." Ms. Buck's case was contested all the way to the Supreme Court where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously opined, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Although there is a symbolic value to apologizing for the sins of our fathers, Dr. Lombardo admits that these "are limited ways of addressing public harms done in the past."

Reflecting on her experience as a member of the citizens committee that convinced President Bill Clinton in 1997 to apologize for the government's role in the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, Susan Reverby, a historian at Wellesley College, said: "There needs to be more than a television talk show format of confession and a pledge for repentance. Relying only on emotion, while critical and cathartic, is a temporary fix, at best."

These apologies would be far more meaningful if they prompted us to reflect on some troubling aspects of medical research financed by federal agencies and American pharmaceutical companies in developing countries today, like experimental drug trials in Africa, where there are markedly less strict regulations on patients' rights.

Perhaps the cruelest aspect of such trials is how comparatively little these federal agencies or companies do to ameliorate or prevent the scourges that are killing Africans and others by the tens of thousands every day.

Click here to return to top of page.

The Real Alamo (posted 12-24-03)

Ted Mahar, writing in Oregonlive.com (Dec. 14, 2003):

Sometimes history just will not stay put.

The History Channel documentary "Remember the Alamo" illustrates the fact that history can be elusive, subversive and useful. George Orwell's "1984" hero Winston Smith works in a government office, revising history on a daily basis. The past -- even last week's past -- can be evoked to rouse pride, anger or dread, whichever seems best suited to stirring the proper public attitude or action.

Of course, the very phrase "Remember the Alamo" played its role in stirring Gen. Sam Houston's men into defeating Gen. Santa Anna in the weeks following his massacre of the Alamo defenders and other Texans at a place called Goliad.

One of the nuggets unearthed in the documentary is the never-hidden but little-known fact that many factions lived in Texas in the early 1800s. One was Texians, people from a foreign country -- the United States -- who moved to a part of the Spanish empire called Texas to farm and make a new life. Others were Tejanos, Mexicans who moved to Texas for the same reason. They were generally friendly with each other and wanted to colonize their areas peacefully.

Spain was a sclerotic empire losing its grip on its vast North American territory. A new, dangerously vigorous empire was swarming west and south and gaining speed. It doubled with the Louisiana Purchase, which Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery explored. And Mexico grew rebellious. Before the fall of the Alamo in March 1836, Texas was Mexican, not Spanish, as was the West Coast up to what is now Oregon.

The Texians and Tejanos who occupied the Alamo in February 1836 took positions in a long-abandoned, partly ruined complex nearly a century old. Part of it had been a church, but not for decades.

Santa Anna felt he was quelling a subtle invasion of Mexico -- which was not always subtle. Another group of Americans, called filibusters, favored armed seizure of Texas. Filibuster forays and skirmishes ended mostly in tactical defeat, but Santa Anna felt that they justified his fatal campaign.

Making extensive use of re-enactors, "Remember the Alamo" recounts not just the history of the siege but the history of its history. Useful as the battle was in stiffening rebel morale, after the war the Alamo itself quickly became just another army base in a region that could still be called frontier.

Click here to return to top of page.

Historians Discover the Five Senses (posted 12-24-03)

Emily Eakin, writing in the NYT (Dec. 20, 2003):

The English mistook the Indians' war chants for songs of welcome, while the Indians mistook the red wine the settlers offered them for blood. When Powhatan, the powerful Chesapeake chief, offered food to the Jamestown settlers, it was to signal the visitors' dependent status, allies who required his protection. To his delighted guests, however, the gesture had another meaning: proof of willing subordination. The Indians, the English agreed with relief, would become docile subjects of King James.

So went some of the culture clashes in the New World as Europeans and Native Americans encountered each other for the first time. Misunderstanding was inevitable, says Peter Charles Hoffer, a historian at the University of Georgia who cites these incidents in his new book, "Sensory Worlds in Early America" (Johns Hopkins University Press). But violence, he insists, was not. The reason potentially benign missteps escalated into war, he argues, had originally less to do with competition over land and resources than the simple fact that "the two peoples employed their senses in such profoundly different ways."

Mr. Hoffer offers a catalog of sensory conflict, from Jamestown — where the Indians saw a densely populated woods bordered by water, and the English saw an uninhabited peninsula ripe for settlement — to pre-Revolutionary Boston, where rioting mobs engaged in "sensory warfare," destroying the visual symbols of British rule. His book is the latest bid in an increasingly aggressive campaign to elevate sight, sound, smell, touch and taste to a central place in the study of history.

"There's a tremendous interest in the sensory," Mr. Hoffer said in a telephone interview. "But I think I'm the only one who's dared to argue that these elementary sensory perceptions are causes, dictating in a thousand ways how we respond." ...

In the 1930's the French Annales school historian Lucien Febvre called for a cultural "history of the sensibilities," which, he said, would reveal the gradual triumph of reason over raw emotion. But more than half a century later, in a 1994 essay in The Journal of American History, George H. Roeder Jr., a professor of liberal arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, could still complain that "ours is a nearly sense-less profession." ("A Natural History of the Senses," the 1990 best seller by the poet and science writer Diane Ackerman, was a notable exception. But it was less a work of scholarship than a creative meditation on scientific research into the senses.)

A mere decade later, however, Mr. Roeder's charge is clearly no longer accurate. The senses — or several of them at least — are hot. The proof is a recent spate of papers, conference sessions and books devoted to sensory history, including "Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell" (Routledge, 1994), by Constance Classen, David Howes and Anthony Synnott; "Listening to 19th-Century America" (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), by Mark M. Smith; "The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America" (M.I.T. Press, 2002), by Emily Thompson; and "How Early America Sounded" (Cornell University Press, 2003) by Richard Cullen Rath.

In addition the works of Alain Corbin, a French sensory historian, have been translated into English, among them, "Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the 19th-Century French Countryside" (Columbia University Press, 1998), a 300-page study of the social function of church bells....

[Historians agree that sight has received more attention than the other sense.] Mr. Smith was optimistic that all five senses would eventually get their due. "Once historians begin to think in sensorial terms, work on taste and touch will probably balloon, just as it has with aurality," he said, adding that several long-neglected senses are turning out to be crucial to his current project: a history of Americans' changing conceptions of race.

"In the 19th century white Southerners began to talk about blacks in terms of smell because they were no longer sure they could differentiate black and white by sight alone," he said. "Questions of touching (handshake, caress, pummel) and taste (eating, kissing) are of immense relevance. It becomes quite clear that smell, taste and touch are, or at least should be, important not only to understanding the paternalist thrust of antebellum slavery but to the evolution of segregation after the Civil War."

Click here to return to top of page.

Tom Palaima: Why Do Wars Begin? (posted 12-22-03)

Tom Palaima, professor of classics at the University of Texas, Austin, writing in the Times Higher Education Supplement (Dec. 12, 2003):

Why do wars begin? The simple answer is they never end. Peace is an illusion conjured up by a version of the old Roman magic trick: "Where they make a desolation, they call it peace." The full implications of Tacitus' oft-quoted observation can be translated like this: "Use your advanced military technology and overwhelming superiority in human and natural resources to create a wasteland. Call it peace. The people back home will believe you. They want to believe in their own benignity."

Do you doubt this? Then notice that peace always comes with qualifiers. Take A. J. P. Taylor's explanation of the widespread romantic innocence that the "war to end all wars" shattered: "(T)here had been no war between the Great Powers since 1871. No man in the prime of life knew what war was like."

In August 1914, the nearly 22,000 British soldiers who died in South Africa between 1899 and 1902 were not around to tell stories. Those among the 425,000 Boer-war veterans who were still alive were past their prime. And South Africa was not a great power - nor were the Zulus, Ashanti, Afghanis or other peoples butchered in colonial wars throughout this period of European peace.

War is endless. As Paul Fussell remarks in The Great War and Modern Memory: "The idea of endless war as an inevitable condition of modern life would seem to have become seriously available to the imagination around 1916."

Fussell catalogues the wars that have made the imagined real: the Spanish civil war, the second world war, the Greek civil war, the Korean war, the Arab-Israeli war and the Vietnam war. Orwell published the canonical modern myth of eternal war in 1948. Events have proved him prescient and timeless.

Ancient Greek history had already proved him right.

Among recent students of war, Philip Bobbitt, in The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, comes closest to seeing war for what it is. He thinks and writes from the perspective of modern nation-states and international diplomacy, but his title alludes to Homer's Iliad, and he begins by considering Thucydides' reassessment of the stops and starts in what the Athenian general-in-exile eventually identified as a continuous war that ravaged the entire known world. We now call it the Peloponnesian war and place it at 431-404BC, thereby creating the comforting illusion that the founders of our western cultural tradition unwisely let war out of its cage for a nearly disastrously long time, but eventually forced it back inside. However, endless war was an inevitable condition of ancient Greek life.

Thucydides, like other Greeks, distinguished between periods of formally declared war and periods of official peace. But he also knew the primary enculturating texts of Hesiod and Homer and enough about contemporary diplomatic and strategic affairs, and human nature, to grasp that eris, "strife, contention, political discord", was a constant force within and among the ancient Greek poleis, or city-states, and that competing elements within most poleis or the controlling powers within individual poleis would find, with terrible regularity, true causes (aitiai) or pretexts (prophaseis) for open civil or inter-state warfare. Thucydides took for granted that they would do so single-mindedly in their own interests....

If war is a stern teacher, the Greeks were very sternly taught. Lincoln MacVeagh, US ambassador to Greece, observed in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt on Christmas day 1940 that "the history of Greece is at least 50 per cent discord". A. G. Woodhead, author of the standard guide to Greek historical inscriptions, quotes MacVeagh to correct him: "Ninety-five percent, on the record as we have it, would be nearer the mark." War was reality in ancient Greece. I doubt whether many families during any of the four generations of 5th-century Athens were without the experience of a father, husband, brother, son or close male relative risking or losing his life in battle. The city itself was under virtual siege conditions for the much of the final three decades of its one truly great century. In a single six-year operation in Egypt mid-century, the Athenians lost an estimated 8,000 men, roughly 18 to 25 per cent of their adult male population. And, according to conservative estimates, the Athenians would have had their own "lost generation" during the Peloponnesian war, in which at least 30,000 adult male citizens died.

The Greeks would have had no illusions about war and peace of the sort that prompted Freud at the outset of the first world war to write his essay Thoughts for the Times on War and Death: I. The Disillusionment of the War.

Freud attributes the trauma caused by the great war to the enormous chasm between the artificial morality of modern civilised society and human behaviour in times of war. No such chasm existed in the 5th century BC.

Young men learnt about war from the Iliad. Homer's epic showed them the true costs of war and it portrayed the many contradictions in human behaviour within an army on active campaign and within a city-state under siege.

No Greek would ever have forgotten that his community was constantly under threat from rival communities. The plays of Aristophanes convey an appreciation of the benefits for common citizens of a cessation of armed conflict. But an Athenian farmer would never have mistaken the absence of active campaigning for what we call peace, and he would be perplexed that we have to ask why wars begin.

Click here to return to top of page.

When Books Are Destroyed (posted 12-21-03)

André Bernard, writing in the NY Observer (Dec. 21, 2003):

In 1562, a Franciscan friar who had accompanied Spanish troops to Mexico ordered the burning of thousands of Mayan hieroglyphic books, in an attempt to eradicate the repository of local spiritual beliefs and to pave the way for Christianity. In one afternoon, practically the entire record of a civilization had been turned to ashes; only four codices are known to have survived. In 1914, the German Army invaded the Belgian city of Louvain, a treasure house of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. In an act of no military significance whatsoever, Louvain's magnificent library of 300,000 volumes, which included nearly a thousand irreplaceable illuminated manuscripts, was burned to the ground. ("At Louvain," said a man who watched it happen,"Germany disqualified itself as a nation of thinkers.") More recently, during its psychopathic reign in Cambodia in the mid-1970's, Pol Pot's regime destroyed nearly all of ancient Cambodia's manuscripts and monuments. In its rage against modernity and civilization, the Khmer Rouge went so far as to examine ordinary citizens for marks on the bridge of the nose, the telltale sign of reading glasses—which was enough to bring down a death sentence.

In two earlier books, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (1995), and Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture (2001), journalist and book addict Nicholas Basbanes explored the curious universe of book collectors, an oddly riveting place full of passion, skullduggery and misadventure—like a good mystery novel. In his new book, Mr. Basbanes leaves behind the fragrance of fine leather bindings and the Oxbridge atmosphere of finely arched library rooms; he fixes his eye instead on the killing fields of cultural elimination. From the razing of Carthage to the Serbian leveling of Bosnian repositories, he examines the bonfires that have consumed entire centuries of man's musings on matters great and small.

If books are not the most perishable products of human civilization, they have, throughout recorded history, attracted the homicidal attentions of every conquering army. In large-scale versions of the penalty the Romans called damnatio memoriae, a punishment for individuals found guilty of committing crimes against the state which involved erasing every reference—whether on stone, in a monument or on parchment— to the person in question, invaders have settled not just for mass murder of the local citizenry, but have indulged in the wholesale disappearance of every written trace of a culture (as the Taliban did to non-fundamentalist Afghans), a language (as the Normans did to the Saxons), a people (as the Romans did to the Etruscans). Early Christian and medieval monks attacked the memory of non-Christian culture with zealous efficiency.

Click here to return to top of page.

McNamara's Deceptions in The Fog of War (posted 12-21-03)

Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate about the new documentary by Errol Morris, The Fog of War (Dec. 19, 2003):

[M]any viewers are going to come away from this film with a distorted picture of two key chapters of history in particular—the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. Here is a corrective.

McNamara's recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a self-serving travesty."Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war," he tells Morris."I was trying to help him keep us out of war." Well, the first part of that statement is true. The second part is also true, at least for the first two of the crisis's 13 days. But after the second day, McNamara became an increasingly firm advocate of bombing the Soviet missile sites, which were surreptitiously being installed in Cuba, and of then invading the island of Cuba itself—even if doing so risked sparking a larger war with the USSR. (For details, click here .)

The crisis was resolved through a combination of overt pressure and covert diplomacy. On Friday, Oct. 26, 1962, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev sent Kennedy a telegram offering to remove his missiles if the United States promised never to invade Cuba. Kennedy was set to agree. But then on Saturday, Oct. 27, Khrushchev sent another telegram upping the stakes, saying he'd remove his missiles from Cuba if the United States took its own nuclear missiles out of Turkey (which bordered the USSR in much the same way that Cuba borders the United States).

For two decades, Kennedy's aides and palace historians propagated the myth that the president accepted the first telegram and simply ignored the second. However, in 1982, on the 20 th anniversary of the crisis, a group of these aides—including McNamara—revealed that, in fact, Kennedy acceded to the missile trade; that he told only a handful of advisers about the deal; and that he even told the Soviets that the deal would be off if they publicized it. (During the Cold War, presidents could not politically afford to be seen as trading away military assets for the sake of peace; that would be condemned as"appeasement." Soviet threats were  to be met strictly with American might.) In 1987, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston started to release tape recordings of the ExComm sessions, the meetings that Kennedy held with his advisers during the missile crisis. (JFK, like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon after him, secretly taped many White House conversations.) The tapes not only confirmed the revelation about the missile trade but also revealed that nearly all of Kennedy's aides—again, including McNamara—had vociferously opposed the deal at the time.

So it's bizarre to see, in this film, McNamara parroting the myth that even he long ago punctured—that Kennedy accepted Khrushchev's first telegram and ignored the second. More than that, he invents two new falsehoods. First, he mischaracterizes the second telegram as a harsh message"dictated by a bunch of hard-liners." (He says nothing about the Turkey trade.) Second, he claims that Llewellyn"Tommy" Thompson, a former U.S. ambassador to Soviet Union, persuaded Kennedy to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, not force.

This too is misleading. A full hearing of the tapes indicates that Kennedy didn't need anybody to steer him toward negotiation. From the third day of the crisis, Kennedy was looking for a peaceful solution, pondering a way to let Khrushchev save face—and was virtually alone in doing so. A week before Khrushchev brought it up, he mused about the possibility of trading away the Turkish missiles.

In short, McNamara tries to paint himself as no less dovish than Kennedy on dealing with the Russians. Yet, as he must know on some level, the opposite was true.

McNamara's recollections of the Vietnam War are still more deceptive. Congress gave President Johnson carte blanche to go to war in August 1964 after reports that a North Vietnamese patrol boat had attacked the Maddox , a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. McNamara concedes that it now appears this attack didn't happen, but claims that he and Johnson honestly believed that it did at the time.

Two things are wrong with his account. First, the officers on the Maddox did send cables reporting a torpedo attack. But they also sent cables a few hours later, taking it all back and attributing the confusion to a misreading of sonar signals. (Daniel Ellsberg, who later leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers, spent his first day as a Pentagon aide watching this cable traffic and compellingly recounts the sequence of events in his recent memoir, Secrets .)

Second, McNamara fails to mention that the Maddox itself had engaged in covert attacks on the North Vietnamese coastline. The ship's sonar officers thought they saw a torpedo attack in part because they were expecting one. This covert operation, known as"Plan 34A," was designed to provoke a North Vietnamese response, which would then provide an excuse for U.S. escalation.

Even at the time, McNamara misled outsiders on this operation. When he was asked about rumors of provocation during hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he replied,"Our Navy played no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any." Notice the careful wording:"South Vietnamese actions." Technically, he was telling the truth. There were no South Vietnamese actions. The provocations were entirely American . (As McNamara says in the film, in a different context,"I learned early on … never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you. And quite frankly, I follow that rule. It's a very good rule.")

Morris plays a fragment of a secret tape-recording from February 1964—very early in the Johnson administration—in which McNamara advocates a gradual withdrawal from Vietnam, and Johnson strongly opposes it. (At the time, the U.S. presence amounted to a small number of military advisers.) This is a significant conversation and counters the widely held view that LBJ was McNamara's puppet on the war.

However, the film neglects other evidence that reveals McNamara donning combat fatigues with gusto. For instance, there is a document of May 24, 1964, signed by McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, urging Johnson to"use selected and carefully graduated military force against North Vietnam" for as long as the North's leaders refuse to back down. The words are haunting, in retrospect—"selected and carefully graduated," as if the United States could control the pace of escalation, as if war could be mathematically calibrated. It's McNamara, the hyper-rationalist, not yet disabused.

There is also the secretly taped conversation of June 16, 1964 (nearly two months before the Gulf of Tonkin), in which Johnson says some people want him to pull out of Vietnam and McNamara says,"I just don't believe we can be pushed out of there, Mr. President. We just can't allow it to be done. You wouldn't want to go down in history as having …" Johnson interrupts, in agreement:"Not at all." (Michael Beschloss, who transcribes this conversation in his book Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964 , footnotes McNamara's remarks with a description of his tone:"McNamara is pressing Johnson very hard.")

So, yes, Johnson was responsible for Vietnam. But, more than McNamara is willing to admit—and more than this film suggests—so was McNamara.

Click here to return to top of page.

The Alamo--Is Anything Left of the Old Yarn? (posted 12-19-03)

Virginia Heffernan, writing in the NYT (Dec. 16, 2003):

If the main thing you remember about the Alamo is that you're supposed to remember it, you won't do yourself any harm by tuning in to"Remember the Alamo," a lightly revisionist documentary that will have its premiere tonight on the History Channel....

The outlaw settlers in Texas, which belonged to Mexico at the time, especially the swindler Jim Bowie and the all-around rogue slave owner William Travis, are modestly picturesque at this historical distance. And many Delacroix-like propaganda images of the showdown are on display.

But there's still the problem of what happened at the Alamo."Remember the Alamo" says that what went down at that Texas outpost 167 years ago was above all not a whole slate of things: not a race war, not a clash of civilizations, not an expression of patriotism, not a defense of freedom.

It seems — come on, you can pretend you know all this — that the Alamo was the Mexican Army's massacre of some deranged Americans who kind of had it coming. The ungood guys, including Bowie and Travis and the half-feral Crockett, illegally set up shop at a mission in Texas.

They were armed. They wanted something: Texan statehood, or a Texan republic, or legalized slavery in Mexico, or money and land. Or perhaps a diverting way out of debt and tuberculosis.

No wonder we have to be urged to remember it. Designing a durable mnemonic ("Valley Forge = turning point, American Revolution") for the Alamo is trying. Watch the movie for its smattering of entertainment, but don't disturb your long-term memory with the details.

Latter-day historians, confronted with the political ambiguity of the battle, claim that the Alamo is still a powerful symbol: this time of political ambiguity itself.

Sounds impressively progressive, but I'm not convinced: we don't need a symbol for that.

Click here to return to top of page.

Jesus in America (posted 12-19-03)

Linda Kulman; Jay Tolson; Katy Kelly, writing in US News (Dec. 22, 2003):

Way back in February of 1804 President Thomas Jefferson, ever the enlightened rationalist, sat down in the White House with two identical copies of the New Testament, a straight-edge razor, and a sheaf of octavo-size paper. Over the course of a few nights, he made quick work of cutting and pasting his own bible, a slim volume he called "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth." After slicing away every passage that suggested Jesus's divine nature, Jefferson had a Jesus who was no more and no less than a good, ethical guide.

The third U.S. president is credited with being among the first wave of Americans to tinker with the traditional image of Jesus. But that wave was far from the last. As two new scholarly studies show, for more than two centuries Americans have been busy recasting the image of Jesus to suit contemporary sensibilities and to advance personal or political agendas. From the revivalist sermons of the 19th century's Second Great Awakening to the '70s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar to Mel Gibson's forthcoming film depicting Christ's Passion, those engaged in representing Jesus always claim to be returning to the real Galilean. And typically, as Richard Wightman Fox points out in his soon-to-be-published Jesus in America , these Americans believe they are recovering the true meaning of Christianity. Adds Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University and author of a new book, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon: "One way you figure out your place in America is figuring out what you think about Jesus."

Today, of course, the most successful instance of this ongoing revisionist enterprise is Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, a gripping thriller suggesting that some of the fundamental beliefs held dear by millions of Christians are not only wrong but were deviously foisted upon believers by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. A surprise blockbuster with 4.3 million copies in print, it has become the "it" book in book clubs and the talk of Internet chat rooms, with many readers convinced of its far-fetched premise--"that the greatest story ever told is, in fact, the greatest story ever sold."...

To be sure, Brown doesn't make his story up out of whole cloth. He uses not only Holy Blood, Holy Grail but also Margaret Starbird's 1993 The Woman With the Alabaster Jar, in which Starbird "proves" that Mary Magdalene was the lost bride of Christ, and bits and pieces from scores of scholarly works. In fact, the myths and legends on which Brown relies have been circulating for centuries--in the way of urban legends. "We know the legends about [Mary Magdalene's] being married to Jesus, and we can sort out what is more or less probable," says Karen King, a professor of ecclesiastical history at Harvard and the author of The Gospel of Mary of Magdala. "These notions about the conspiracy theory, Mary Magdalene being the Holy Grail, The Last Supper [are] all very marginal ideas that have no historical basis." But, she concedes of herself and her scholarly peers, "we're not a particularly interesting lot--and Dan Brown is."

Click here to return to top of page.

Indians Are Being Taken in by a Myth About Columbus (posted 12-18-03)

David A. Yeagley, who teaches humanities at the College of Liberal Studies, University of Oklahoma, writing in frontpagemag.com (Dec. 18, 2003):

Liberal leaders tell Indians like Russell Means to go around the country saying American Indians are spiritually superior to whites. They say Columbus was so impressed with the spirituality of the American natives he found that he called them, “ una gente en dios ” (a people in God). Indigenous Americans today love the grandeur of this phrase, and it's quoted on many American Indian websites. But I'm afraid it isn't quite accurate.

Though “ una gente en dios ” is referenced even by quasi-scientific sources like Genealogical Research Using FBI Files , the story behind this faddish phrase involves error and deceit, and indicates anything but spirituality in those Liberals who created it and promote it. It's anti-White chauvinism for liberal Indian talk, and nothing more.

The journals of Christopher Columbus (Cristόbal Colόn) in 1492 record his thoughts about the first human beings he encountered in the Americas. There's no phrase, “ una gente en dios .” Kirkpatrick Sale, quoting the journal extensively in The Conquest of Paradise (1991) makes no mention of it, nor does the Athena Review (1996-2001), which cites more journal passages than Sale. The absence of such a phrase in these research works is our first clue of fraud.

Furthermore, what Columbus first wrote about the native people October 12 was this: “They all go around as naked as their mothers bore them.” In the same entry he wrote, “I believe that they would easily be made Christians, because it seemed to me that they had no religion.” The spirituality of these indigenous folk was not something Columbus initially noted, but rather the lack of it. (Of course, to him, spirituality comprised ritualistic Catholicism, so he certainly didn't associate nakedness with spirituality.)

The Spanish language itself offers more clues. One Spanish word for poor or naked is indigente , like the English words “indigent” and “indigenous.” (This is curious, because a colloquial Spanish word for “great wealth” or “plenty” is india . But, there's no india gente , or rather, gente india , so indigente for Columbus meant poor and naked.)

It's true that gente , by itself, means “people,” and Dios of course means “God,” but if “ una gente en dios ” was ever a meaningful Spanish phrase, Columbus' supposed use of it never survived as a idiomatic phrase in Spanish. Even if being “in God” was a late 15th century idiom for ‘naked,' or ‘birthday suite,' (a point of knowledge in historical linguistics beyond my range), it was short-lived, and wasn't used as such before or since.

But liberal American Indian leaders now believe the name “Indian” was not used by Columbus because he thought he had reached India, but because he called the native people “ en dios ,” instead of indios as the records show. Thus the word “Indian,” according to the spiritual malfeasance of liberal linguists, is believed to have derived from “ en dios ,” or, in “God. ”

To bolster their erroneous superfluity, liberals say no country was called “India” in 1492, but instead it was “Hindustan.” Thus error compounds. India was never called Hindustan in Spanish, but India (or China). A northern Aryan province of India was once called in Persian “Hindustan,” from the Persian word hindu. Of course, that derives from indus , the Sanskrit word for “river.” The great Indus (river) was well known in early English writing. As early as 893 A.D ., in his De consolatione philosophiae , Boethius Æfred uses the words India, Indus, and Indea, but not Hindustan.

The Tartar Relation manuscript ( ca .1247), written in Latin, regarding the Mongolian invasions toward Eastern Europe, uses the words Indos and Indiam (Latin for “Indians” and “India”), and never Hindu, or Hindustan.

In 1662 John Davies (of Kidwell) translated into English The Travels of J.A. de Mandelslo from Persia into the East-Indies . “Hindou” is used for the first time in English. The words Hindou, Indian, and Pagan appear synonymous.

What did European officials later call the docile natives Columbus first encountered? “ Taíno ”―good or noble. (Taino is not some tribal name; Later, violent Indians were called Carib, as in Caribbean.). Columbus' first accounts call them all “Indians.” The fact is he believed he'd reached India.

So American Indian leaders have simply been misled and once again play the fool for deceitful, leftist social architects. Columbus did not use the phrase “ una gente en Dios ” in the Journal of the first voyage. But he did write (December 16) that the people “love their neighbors as themselves.” Now we're talking spirituality! But let's stick to the text, and drop the homonymic, transnational linguistic manipulation.

Click here to return to top of page.

The Wright Brothers Expected Their Planes to Be Used for War (posted 12-17-03)

William L. Holmes, writing for the AP (Dec. 15, 2003):

The Wright brothers envisioned early on that their flying machine would have a place in the machinery in the war. Their hope was that it would result in peace.

A century later, military aviation has a mixed legacy, giving nations the ability to level cities from miles away while protecting troops from deadly close combat.

"It's an integral part of how we operate," said Navy Cmdr. Rich Dann, a military historian.

Orville and Wilbur Wright suspected their invention could be. The first potential buyer they contacted immediately after their first flights on Dec. 17, 1903, was the U.S. government, their great grandniece Amanda Wright Lane said Monday. The government turned down the Wrights three times before signing them to a $25,000 contract in 1908.

"They felt very strongly that our government be the first to have the airplane," Lane said.

The contract called for a two-seat plane that could travel 125 miles at up to 40 mph and land without crashing.

The Wrights initially believed the airplane could be used to spy on opposing forces, she said. Later, they suggested using it to bomb heads of state or the buildings where policy-makers worked.

"They weren't mad at the guys in the trenches," said Stephen Wright, Lane's brother."They were mad at the guys in the government."

But by World War I, planes already battled in the air as they conducted reconnaissance missions, Dann said. Planes could launch from the deck of aircraft carriers by the second World War and travel faster and longer, allowing bombing of troops and cities. A nuclear bomb delivered by an airplane leveled Hiroshima, Japan, and brought the war to a close in 1945.

Click here to return to top of page.

The Wright Brothers Weren't the First to Fly, But ... (posted 12-17-03)

Paul Hoffman, author of Wings of Madness, writing in the NYT (dec. 17, 2003):

[W]hat was really so historic about the [Wright Brothers'] flight? The Wrights were certainly not the first people to rise above the Earth. Balloonists had been doing that for more than a century. In June 1783, Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier, paper makers from Annonay, France, demonstrated in a public square the first hot-air balloon capable of carrying a load as heavy as a human being. Before the end of the year, two intrepid volunteers ascended by gas-bag for a five-mile flight of half an hour. (King Louis XVI had initially wanted the volunteers to be prisoners, whose sentences he'd commute if they survived the trip, but his attendants convinced him that the thrill of the first flight should not be wasted on ruffians.)

The Wrights were also not the first to pilot a heavier-than-air craft. In 1849, Sir George Cayley, a British physicist, constructed a three-winged glider that lifted a 10-year-old child a few feet. After four years of further experimentation, the octogenarian Cayley enlarged his"boy glider" into a man-size craft and sent his carriage driver through the air for several hundred feet. After the glider came down hard, the shaken coachman announced,"I wish to give notice, sir, I was hired to drive and not to fly" — hardly a celebratory end to what was evidently the first true manned glide in history.

Nor were the Wright brothers the first to achieve powered flight. In 1901, a dapper, diminutive Brazilian named Alberto Santos-Dumont entertained all of Paris by making a 14-mile trip over the city, including a revolution of the Eiffel Tower, in a cigar-shaped balloon powered by a car engine. By the time of Kitty Hawk, Santos-Dumont had shrunk his airship so that he could keep it moored to the base of a gas lamppost outside his apartment on the Champs-Élysées and fly every night to Maxim's, where he'd entrust the balloon to the doorman while he dined inside.

The Wrights were not even the first to leave the ground in a powered plane. That honor apparently went to a French sailor whose name has been lost to history. In 1874, Félix du Temple, a French naval officer, watched the steam-powered plane he devised speed down a ski-jump-like ramp and sputter through the air with the guileless young sailor at the helm. (If the pioneers of aviation were smart about anything, it was in their use of surrogates as pilots.) In 1884, an officer in the Imperial Russian Navy, Aleksandr Mozhaisky, also employed a ramp to coax a monoplane into the air for 65 to 100 feet outside St. Petersburg. And in 1890, a French engineer, Clément Adler, was the first to succeed in getting a plane to ascend from level ground; his steam-powered, bat-shaped monoplane traveled 160 feet at a friend's estate near Paris, and a year later may have gone twice that distance.

Of course, it is one thing to be hurled through the air for a few fleeting moments — what aviation historians call a"hop" — and quite another to make a controlled flight under one's own power. Control is what the Wright brothers so ably and singularly demonstrated between 1903 and 1906. While other aviation pioneers concentrated on how to power a plane — not a difficult task by the time automobile engines had come into their own — the Wrights focused on how to stabilize it.

Click here to return to top of page.

When Did Homosexuality Come to be Regarded in the West as Abhorrent? (posted 12-17-03)

Edward Rothstein, writing in the NYT (Dec. 13, 2003):

[I]n Louis Crompton's sober, searching and somber new history,"Homosexuality and Civilization," homosexuality is associated with the inner workings of civilization itself....

It begins in the gladness of early Greece, where homosexuality had an"honored place" for more than a millennium and concludes with the madness of 19th-century Europe. In between is what Mr. Crompton calls a"kaleidoscope of horrors" lasting more than 1,500 years. In the 13th century, a French law stated:"Whoever is proved to be a sodomite shall lose his testicles. And if he does it a second time, he shall lose his member. And if he does it a third time, he shall be burned." Beginning in 1730 in the Netherlands, 250 trials of"sodomites" took place, followed by at least 75 executions. Between 1806 and 1835, 60 homosexuals were hanged in England.

Mr. Crompton, an emeritus professor of English at the University of Nebraska and the author of"Byron and Greek Love," a much-praised study of Byron's sexuality, was one of the first American professors some 30 years ago to teach the history of homosexuality, a project that was at the time both daring and inherently polemical.

But this is a restrained, careful, clear book of scholarly exposition; it is no martyrology. It also hopes to be a post-mortem. Mr. Crompton ends the book"at the moment when executions finally cease in Europe," promising both the fading of homosexuality's stigma and the slow healing of its stigmata.

But what led to this"kaleidoscope of horrors"? In ancient Greece, homosexuality was philosophically praised and institutionally sanctioned, associated with virtues of courage and mentorship. In ancient Rome, it was primarily cultivated in relationships between masters and slaves, but homosexual behavior was common to Pompey, Caesar, Mark Antony and Octavius."Of the first 15 emperors," Gibbon pointed out,"Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct."

Why did such indulgence, tolerance and even sanction disappear? Mr. Crompton offers a very different interpretation from the influential theory outlined by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. In Mr. Crompton's view, the concept of homosexuality was not something created in 19th-century Europe when it was first considered a medical condition, nor was it, despite cultural variations, so drastically different in other times and places.

Mr. Crompton argues that Christianity created the most radical change in attitudes toward homosexuality."The debt owed by civilization to Christianity is enormous," he writes; but so, he believes, have been Christianity's sins. In Japan, for example, before the mid-19th-century Western influence, homosexuality was"an honored way of life among the country's religious and military leaders so that its acceptance paralleled, and in some respects even surpassed, ancient Athens." It was common among Buddhist sages, part of samurai culture and an accepted aspect of the Kabuki theater world.

Click here to return to top of page.

The Smithsonian Is Being Disingenuous About the New Enola Gay Exhibit (posted Dec. 17, 2003)

Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, co-authors of a forthcoming biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Knopf), writing in the LAT (Dec. 17, 2003):

This week, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum unveiled a fully restored, finely polished artifact of World War II — a Boeing B-29 "Superfortress." This particular airplane — the Enola Gay — is the centerpiece of the museum's sleek new $311-million annex.

Visitors to the museum will read a brief label identifying the Enola Gay as "the most sophisticated propeller-driven bomber of World War II, and the first bomber to house its crew in pressurized compartments."

Schoolchildren will learn that the plane's wingspan is 141 feet and 3 inches, and that it had a top speed of 339 mph.

But does such a history lesson justify a field trip to a museum? Isn't there something more important about the Enola Gay that our children should know?

Of course there is, and the museum's brief label provides a hint. Its final sentence notes, almost as an afterthought, that "On August 6, 1945, this Martin-built B-29-45-MO dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan."

Some curious children might want to ask questions about that last sentence. What does an atomic bomb do when it is dropped? Why was one dropped on a city? What happened to the people in Hiroshima? Was it necessary to drop it?

The answers to these questions should be part of any American child's (and adult's) education, but retired Gen. John Dailey, the Air & Space Museum's director, insists that that aspect of their education is not the museum's responsibility: "We are displaying it [the Enola Gay] in all its glory as a magnificent technological achievement…. Our primary focus is that it was the most advanced aircraft in the world at the time."

In other words, the consequences of its historic mission are beside the point.

This is as ridiculous as it is disingenuous.

The Smithsonian doesn't limit its observations to technological advances when it displays weapons invented and used by other nations. The exhibit of Germany's V-2 is accompanied with photographs of the slave workers who built the rockets and the bodies of civilians killed by them.

Displaying the Enola Gay as just another B-29 is a charade — undertaken because our national museum is afraid to deal honestly with the consequences of the plane's historic mission.

The first and most immediate of those consequences was the death of 140,000 people — 95% of whom were civilians. After that, the consequences become contentious.

According to President Harry Truman, one direct consequence was the decision of the Japanese to surrender — after the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on Aug. 8 and the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9. But others have insisted that the atomic bombings were not necessary to end the war.

It is an interesting and relevant fact that this controversy was initiated in 1945 by conservatives such as Time magazine publisher Henry Luce, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, New York Times military correspondent Hanson Baldwin and David Lawrence, editor of U.S. News, who wrote in October 1945: "Competent testimony exists to prove that Japan was seeking to surrender many weeks before the atomic bomb came."

This is a view that historical research has confirmed. The discovery of President Truman's handwritten private diary, for example, revealed that on July 18, 1945, he had read a "telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace…. Believe Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will when Manhattan [atomic bomb] appears over their homeland." And again, on Aug. 3, 1945, Walter Brown, an aide to Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, noted in his diary that Truman and his aides "agreed Japs looking for peace…. "

How nations deal with their histories can be an exacting litmus test of national character.

Throughout Asia, the Japanese are reviled for their dishonest refusal to acknowledge their barbarous behavior during their occupations of China, Korea and the countries of Southeast Asia. Our nation's uneasy relationship to the historical debate over the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is such a test and, despite history's patient annual re- administration of it, the U.S. has yet to achieve a passing grade.

As a result, we find ourselves — ironically it must be said — in the same remedial national history class as the Japanese. And we are certain to remain there, mocked by world opinion, as long as our misguided sense of American exceptionalism continues to dictate that public displays of American history be morally pure and patriotically correct.

Click here to return to top of page.

Bellesiles Admits Errors, but Not Fraud (posted 12-16-03)

Michael Bellesiles, in the new edition of Arming America published by Soft Skull Press in December 2003:

Arming America has been the subject of sustained polemical assault starting nearly a year before its appearance. Along the way a number of accusations have been made against the book’s scholarship and its author. Most of these accusations focus on the three paragraphs and one table dealing with probate records—addressed elsewhere on this web site. I prefer not to enter into the highly political and personal tone of these attacks, and so prefer to simply answer each of the charges of falsification in turn.

I do not mean to suggest for a moment that Arming America is free of error or in some way beyond criticism. I am confident that no work of scholarship is free from error; the individual scholar thus has a responsibility to correct any mistakes in his or her work, as I have consistently endeavored to do with Arming America. In his biography, Truman, David McCullough quotes a memo from General Thomas Hardy of George Marshall’s staff as stating that the military expected 500,000 to one million casualties in the invasion of Japan.(2) As it turned out, the memo was actually written by former President Herbert Hoover and that General Hardy’s covering memo dismisses the prediction as ridiculous. The Army’s highest casualty figure for the invasion was 67,000. Though McCullough acknowledged the error, it has never been corrected in Truman, which is still available in bookstores. The failure to correct that mistake in print has had major consequences, as it is often quoted to justify US actions in dropping two atomic bombs on Japan and was repeatedly cited in the debate over the cancelled Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian.(3) Even the finest scholars, and I certainly place McCullough in that camp, make mistakes. However, acknowledging an error is not enough, it must be corrected. From the first appearance of Arming America, I have done my best to correct any errors.

There is not a document that can be produced that would demonstrate that I "fabricated" evidence because I did not do so. Some people have kindly made corrections and offered alternative readings. Others behave as inquisitors, demanding that I confess to heresy. They do not seek to correct, but to condemn. In this uneven debate, the most relentless critics have demonstrated a willingness to adopt rather unusual methods, such as attempting to persuade reviewers to repeat charges of fraud and even to get those who have found some value in Arming America to publish retractions. Several of these commentators have even stated that the loss of the supportive notes to three paragraphs of the book discredit the entire book, implying that the Arming America is entirely about probate records. Such a statement is a patent lie. Yet it is sadly evident that many people who criticize the book have not in fact read it.

Click here to return to top of page.

Korean Historians Protest China's Claim that the Goguryeo Dynasty Was Chinese (posted 12-16-03)

From the Korea Herald (Dec. 16, 2003):

The decades-long debate between Korea and China over the historical dominion of ancient Manchuria entered a new phase earlier this week, when 17 historian societies across the country declared joint action against Beijing's "hegemonic" attempts to claim the Goguryeo Dynasty (37 B.C.-668 A.D.) as a Chinese state.
The resolution comes as the most significant counter as of yet against China's "Northeast Asian Project," a five-year government research program which the Korean academia accuses of distorting historical facts to provide a Chinese origin to Goguryeo - which extended from the northern part of the Korean Peninsula to the greater part of Manchuria in its prime - and other states that existed in Manchuria before the medieval times.

"China has been manipulating historical evidence and making unconscionable theories on certain events, just to strengthen their absurd argument that Goguryeo was part of Chinese national history," said Korea University's Choi Gwang-shik at the groups' news conference held Tuesday at the Seoul History Museum.

"Such actions pose a possible threat to the identity of Korea as a nation. We demand Beijing scrap the 'Northeast Asian Project' and other attempts to claim Goguryeo as part of China's national history."

The groups - including the Korean Ancient Historical Association and the Korean Archaeological society - also urged the government to support North Korea's bid to put its Goguryeo tomb murals on the U.N. World Heritage list, an effort that was put on hold after Chinese opposed the move at the International Council of Monuments and Sites, which works as a UNESCO subcommittee.

The government has responded positively to the call, promising extensive support on the North Korean bid at the UNESCO's general meeting held in Suzhou, China, in June. The Yonhap News Agency reported yesterday that the government is also planning to launch an international study group with the participation of North Korea, Japan, Mongolia and possibly China, an effort in part to withhold China from dictating interpretations of Northeast Asian history.

The scuffle between Korea and China over the "historical sovereignty" of Goguryeo and other Manchuria-based states such as Gojoseon (dismantled in 108 B.C.) and Balhae (698-926), dates back as far as to the early 1960s, but this is essentially the first time the issue has spilled over into the political arena.

The difference in perspective stems from China's official definition of national history, a concept that puts the histories of all ethnic groups that live or lived within the current national border as part of Chinese legacy.

This doctrine, an adaptation from Stalin's theory of a nation as "historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up, manifested in a community of culture," has provided the ideological framework for China's policies of merging of ethnical minorities. Ethnic diversity has always been thought of as a critical factor in forging national unity in China, where 55 ethic groups aside from the majority Han Chinese (92 percent of the total population) inhabit approximately 60 percent of the territory.

Under such circumstance, claiming Goguryeo and the other ancient Manchuria states as part of their national history becomes a priority, considering the large communities of ethnic Koreans in the northeastern provinces. The NAP, a $ 2 million program launched in February of 2002 by the Chinese Institute of Social Sciences, could be seen as a bold extension of such policies.

Click here to return to top of page.

Spare Us the Dreary Science Behind Art (posted 12-16-03)

Kate Taylor, writing in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 13, 2003):

Heard the latest from the astronomy department at Texas State University?

Edvard Munch's famous painting The Scream, depicting a gape-mouthed skeletal figure clutching his hands to his ears against the backdrop of a fiery sky, was inspired by the lurid sunsets visible in Norway in 1883. These unusual sunsets, which could be seen everywhere from Europe to North America, were caused by the eruption of a volcano on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa, hundreds of thousands of miles away.

Well, I'm glad we've got that little mystery cleared up. Here I was thinking that The Scream was fuelled by Munch's extraordinary talent for rendering emotion in paint, and represented both the apogee of expressionist painting and the quintessential statement of human alienation in the industrial age. I am relieved to discover it's just a picture of a geological event.

I was similarly relieved to read in the British press last month that eye surgeon James McGill had diagnosed J.M.W. Turner's deteriorating sight from a pair of spectacles on auction at Sotheby's. He had concluded from the difference between that prescription and an earlier one on display at the Tate gallery that the artist, whom he also believes was red-blue colour blind, was suffering from cataracts in his later years. The creator of the first modern British painting? Not at all, just an old man going blind.

We already know that Vincent Van Gogh suffered from hallucinations caused by epilepsy, probably experienced ringing in his ears that lead him to cut one off, and painted The Starry Night after witnessing spiral nebula M51 in the night sky at Arles.

Soon, somebody will finally identify that pesky mountainous landscape behind the Mona Lisa, put to rest the old myth that it's a fantasy place that issued forth from Leonardo da Vinci's fertile imagination, and we can all go home happy, reassured that the artistic mind has been firmly put in its proper place.

But seriously, this reductivist school of criticism, fascinating though its conclusions may be, is of little value in appreciating art.

Click here to return to top of page.

Why's Everybody Picking on Rosa Parks? (posted 12-16-03)

Mary Wiltenburg, writing in the Christian Science Monitor (Dec. 15, 2003):

If she was tired then, she must surely be tired now. Forty-eight years ago this month, Alabama seamstress Rosa Parks took a seat in history, touching off a legal battle - and a 381-day bus boycott - that proved pivotal to the American civil rights movement.

Nearly a half century later, Ms. Parks is in court again - not to fight for her rights, but to defend her name.

Parks is suing rap duo OutKast for naming a song after her on its 1998 album"Aquemini." Last week, the US Supreme Court cleared the way for her to proceed with the lawsuit, which claims the song uses her name to sell a product she does not endorse.

This is not the first time the civil rights pioneer has taken a stand against popular culture's appropriation of her legacy. Last year, Parks boycotted the NAACP Image Awards, at which a movie about her life was celebrated, to protest another nominated film,"Barbershop," in which a character makes what Parks called"hurtful jokes" about her status as a black icon.

The ensuing flap has left some Americans raised on tales of Parks's heroism wondering: Why is this venerable icon suddenly under siege?

"Rosa Parks' legacy is in danger," says Doreen Loury, a professor of African-American studies at Arcadia University in Philadelphia."Not because of its mention in popular movies and song, but because so few Americans who can recognize the great lady's face on a poster, have any idea what legal, political, and personal struggles put her there."

Partly, historians say, Parks's discomfort with these portrayals resembles that of other unintentional celebrities. But Parks's struggles also bring up race issues that are anything but black and white. Her renown spans the country. Her story - or a version of it, anyway - will be taught in almost every school in America. She is commonly promoted, often by white teachers, as a role model for black students.

It stands to reason, says Thomas Ross, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in race issues, that African-American artists who grew up on her story would need to grapple with it - even to an extent that might appear a kind of cultural blasphemy.

Dr. Loury believes that black Americans should be suspicious of figures white America has embraced as"black icons." In Parks' case, she says, that skepticism is justified, not by the woman herself, but because the stories most often taught about her in school are a whitewash.

Parks was not just"tired" when she sat at the front of that bus, historians agree. She volunteered for the NAACP. She knew its lawyers were waiting for a case with which to test Montgomery's segregation laws. And when they came to bail her out of jail, she answered their call.

Besides, others point out, it's not clear that the artists in question are picking on Parks. Apart from a pair of lines in the"Rosa Parks" chorus -"Ah ha, hush that fuss/ Everybody move to the back of the bus" - the song contains no reference to her, dwelling instead on the popularity of its singers and their fears that such fame is transient.

The"Barbershop" scene, by contrast, is an explicit critique of Parks' iconization by mainstream America. In it, Eddie, a crusty old barber, argues that plenty of African-Americans took courageous stands on buses before Parks did, but that she got the publicity - and the place in history - because she was a secretary at the NAACP."There's three things that black people gotta tell the truth about," he says."One, Rodney King shoulda got ... beat for driving drunk.... Two, O.J. did it. And three, Rosa Parks ain't do nothing but sit ... down."

Click here to return to top of page.

Where the Gestapo Headquarters Once Stood (posted 12-12-03)

Victorino Matus, an assistant managing editor at the Weekly Standard, writing in the Weekly Standard (Dec. 10, 2003):

The rubble surrounding me was not from the usual construction found throughout the city. Rather, it dated back to the Second World War. The buildings that once stood here, on a city block along Niederkirchnerstrasse, Wilhelmstrasse, and Anhalter Strasse, were once home to the most feared addresses in Europe: At 102 Wilhelmstrasse stood the Reich Security Service (SD). At 8 Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse stood the Reich Security Main Office and the Gestapo. The rest of the SS leadership resided next door at the Prinz Albrecht Hotel.

From here, policies were issued, including the removal of political threats, the arrest of undesirables, and, eventually, the liquidation of all enemies of the state, especially the Jews. It was here that the ideas for the Wannsee Conference (where the Jewish Question was answered) were first formulated. It was here the Einsatzgruppen (special task forces) were created, before they were unleashed on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, leading to such massacres as that of Vinnitsa, where 4,000 Ukrainian Jews were executed in one day, including 1,000 children, or Babi Yar in Kiev, where 34,000 men, women, and children were murdered in two days. This city block was home to Heinrich Himmler, his henchman Reinhard Heydrich (aka"The Hangman"), and Adolf Eichmann--all architects of the Final Solution. It was also here at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse where countless individuals were rounded up and interrogated, including those who plotted to assassinate the Führer.

Specifically, suspects were taken to the Gestapo's house prison, which consisted of 39 cells, within which unspeakable acts of torture and murder took place. The story of Joseph Beyrle is especially enlightening. Beyrle is the only American to have fought for the United States and also (after escaping a stalag) for the Red Army in World War II. In 1944, Beyrle landed in Berlin, having gotten on a railcar headed in the wrong direction. Eventually he and two other Americans were taken to 8 Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse for interrogation. As Beyrle related to author Thomas Taylor in"The Simple Sounds of Freedom":

I'd resisted interrogation before, better than most. Under the Gestapo I was not being interrogated, just tortured. . . . They used their boots, truncheons, whips, and things I won't remember. The physical senses are an electrical system. The goons knew from lots of practice how to extremely stress but not short it out. Pain built up, beyond where pain had ever gone. . . . They were looking for a weakness, something like my shoulder wound [where Beyrle was hit by a bullet] . I was stripped so they could see how it was healing. They reopened the wound and probed around. And they had a favorite shoulder torture. They hung me up backwards, hoisted and dropped me till the shoulders dislocated. Releasing the ropes brought equal pain in reverse. The combination blacked me out for the first time.

...

The horrors at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse continued until the end of the war--the building's last defenders being battalion commander Henri Fenet and his band of French Waffen SS. By the time the Red Army reached what remained of the Gestapo house prison on May 2, 1945, there were only six prisoners alive, including a Communist, a former Gauleiter, and a pastor.

In 1953, all that was left of the block was demolished. Less than 10 years later, the Berlin Wall went up, right along Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse (renamed Niederkirchnerstrasse, after a resistance fighter murdered by the SS). The plot on the West Berlin side remained barren until 1985 when historians launched an excavation that uncovered the kitchen, basement, and later a garage of Gestapo headquarters. In 1987, the area was designated the"Topography of Terror," an exhibition that has now become a major architectural project and will hopefully turn into a permanent museum, if the city can find the money.

"The Topography of Terror is a very obvious site to keep," said Levin von Trott zu Solz, managing director of the Bergedorf Round Table, a forum for dialogue between politicians, academics, and journalists."It is a place that makes very clear that the Germany of the Berlin Republic is true to all remarkable and honorable parts of its intellectual, political, and cultural history for the last 200 years--as well as to the shameful, thorny, and forceful reminders of the abyss of the Holocaust and the many other terrible atrocities that Germans brought upon large parts of the world during World War II."

Click here to return to top of page.

Historians Working to Place Women's Sites on the Map (posted 12-12-03)

Allison Stevens, writing for WeNews (Dec. 11, 2003):

Someday, families will plan their summer vacations around an entirely new set of historic monuments and sites.

Gettysburg, yes. But also, the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington.

This is the vision of the founders of the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites that first started meeting in 1999. They knew there were acres of gender gap to fill out there in the U.S. landscape.

Of the thousands of historic sites associated with notable Americans, fewer than 4 percent focus on women's contribution to history, says Rhonda Carboni, co-chair of the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites, based in Washington. The lack of such sites deprives educators and activists of one of the best means to teach the public about women's history, added Marty Langelan, vice-president of the National Women's Party. Such sites are invaluable because they provide a "direct connection" between the past and present, she said. "There's just no substitute for walking the hallways they walked."

The paucity of female subjects wasn't something that people such as Dr. Heather Huyck, a historian with the National Park Service, felt comfortable leaving to posterity. It was time, she and other women's history advocates decided, to put more female historic figures on the map.

"America's story makes no sense with half of its participants missing," Huyck said two years ago upon announcing the group's formal launch in October 2001. "Leaving women out of the story is as serious a distortion of our history as trying to tell the history of the Civil War without talking about black history."

It is a thesis that Gail Lee Dubrow and Jennifer Goodman pick up on in their January 2003 book, "Restoring Women's History Through Historic Preservation." The preponderance of male-centered historical sites, the authors argue, perpetuates the notion that men have been the primary agents of social change.

With the archives well stocked with notable female contributors to U.S. history, such as Susan B. Anthony and author Pearl S. Buck, the gap seemed to be depriving vacationing families and history buffs the chance to understand "her" story as well as his.

Two activists, Barbara Irvine, who founded the Alice Paul Institute in New Jersey in 1985, and Dorothy Farrell, former president of the National Women's Party, set about filling in the historic gaps in 1999. They reached out to historians, preservationists and citizen activists and scheduled the group's first meeting in Philadelphia in March of that year, Irvine said.

Click here to return to top of page.

What Newly Declassified Documents Reveal About the U.S. Role in Undermining Chile's Allende (posted 12-12-03)

Kristian C. Gustafson, writing in Studies in Intelligence (Vol. 47, No. 3, 2003):

From 1970 to 1973, the United States government was involved in overt and covert actions against the elected government of Chile led by Marxist Salvador Allende. Unfolding events during these politically tumultuous years included the death of Chilean Minister of Defense René Schneider in October 1970. Ultimately, Allende was overthrown and replaced by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The initial history of this period, recorded in the 1970s and early 1980s, told of a US government that abused its power and betrayed its principles. Public reaction was universally negative. This interpretation of events has affected the conduct and perception of American intelligence activities ever since.

A generation has now passed and it is time to reexamine this “accepted” version of events. Recently, the US government posted thousands of declassified documents to its on-line “Chile Collection.” These newly available resources allow a more candid—and realistic—look into the actions and thoughts of the CIA agents and officers involved in those controversial operations. This study focuses on CIA covert action during the six weeks following Allende’s victory at the polls in mid-September 1970. While the activities of the CIA may not always be excused, they can at least be better understood.

...

[Conclusion:]

The bottom line, in my view, is that Kissinger and the White House were aware of the coup plotting and were happy to see it go ahead, but at the same time had no control over events. In light of the CIA’s surprise over the death of Gen. Schneider, the White House neither planned nor desired the assassination. Moreover, US officials may have failed to realize the level of complicity between all the various factions involved in plotting. Ultimately, it may have been impossible to separate the plotting of one group from the next.

Click here to return to top of page.

Alexander Graham Bell Saw a Working Telephone One Year Before He Invented His Own Version (posted 11-12-03)

Randy Boswell, writing in the Ottawa Citizen (Dec. 9, 2003):

First, long-hidden documents were discovered in Britain suggesting a German scientist created a functioning telephone 15 years before Canada's Alexander Graham Bell.

Now, in another intriguing twist in the debate over who should be called father of the phone, documents from the U.S. show Bell was given a demonstration of the German device less than a year before he perfected his own telephone in 1876.

The private showing of the "telephon" built by Philipp Reis took place in March 1875 and was conducted by Joseph Henry, then the leading man of science in the United States and director of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Bell was 27 at the time, a struggling young inventor who was still doubting his ability to make a major scientific breakthrough despite some successes in the laboratory.

He had arranged the meeting, Bell wrote in a letter a few months later to his parents, to tell Henry about his designs and to "ascertain what was new and what was old" among his ideas.

"Bell showed Henry how an empty coil might produce audible sound, and Henry demonstrated a Reis telephone to Bell," Smithsonian historian James King wrote in a 1962 paper based on archival documents in the U.S. detailing the development of the telephone.

Bell's biographer, Robert Bruce, has also written that "Henry gave Bell his first sight of an actual Reis membrane transmitter," built in the early 1860s. The Reis telephone that Henry showed Bell is still in the Smithsonian's collection.

Bell viewed his meeting with Henry as a turning point in his career: "My visit to the Smithsonian Institute seems to me to be the brightest spot in my whole life," Bell told his parents.

"Such a chimerical idea as telegraphing vocal sounds would indeed to most minds seem scarcely feasible enough to spend time in working over," he wrote. "I believe, however, that it is feasible, and that I have got the cue to the solution of the problem."

Bell's newfound confidence stemmed largely from Henry's enthusiasm for Bell's own ideas. In the letter, he didn't mention the Reis phone, and it isn't clear whether Henry's demonstration of it contributed to Bell's excitement or not.

But the viability of the machine made by Reis -- and what Bell knew of its design before perfecting his own device -- would eventually become issues in the court battles waged by Bell in the 1880s to protect his telephone patent, the most lucrative in history to that time.

And his apparent first-hand knowledge of the Reis telephone is particularly interesting in light of documents found in October at the Science Museum in London that detail secret experiments conducted in 1947 that proved Reis's instrument worked.

The operation of the Reis phone wasn't perfect, but the results had led the museum's curator at that time, Gerald Garratt, to say in one memo: "You must know as well as I the old controversy 'Did Bell invent the telephone?' and I have here an unpublished manuscript of over 400 pages which proves pretty conclusively that he didn't."

Click here to return to top of page.

Her Brothers Invented the Airplane, She Wowed France (posted 12-11-03)

Donald Myers, writing in Newsday (Dec. 9, 2003):

The French fell for the schoolmarm charm of Katharine Wright in the winter of 1909 during a grand tour of Europe, her debut in the eyes of the world. The newspapers called her bachelor brothers "les bluffeurs," the bluffers, because they looked and acted more like grocery clerks than inventors who had solved the secrets of aviation.

Wilbur and Orville Wright had no daring, no dash, the French said. The taciturn brothers from Ohio were too cool and quiet. The Wright sister, friendly and funny and barely 5 feet tall, supplied the splash and dash - and the credibility - her brothers lacked.

Since the Wright brothers' first flight on Dec. 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, N.C., they had been largely ignored by the world press. That all changed in early 1909, when Katharine joined Wilbur and Orville in France as their social ambassador for a series of demonstration flights they hoped would help sell their flimsy little cloth-and-wood planes powered by 12- hp. engines.

Katharine Wright and flight went together like Beaujolais and brie, the French raved.

As the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of flight this month, the life of the only Wright sister - and her role in the creative lives of her brothers - remains largely unknown.

Click here to return to top of page.

Canadians Remember One of the Most Tragic Events in Their History: The Deportation of Acadians (posted 12-11-03)

Randy Boswell, writing in the Ottawa Citizen (Dec. 10, 2003):

One of the most tragic episodes in Canadian history will be in the spotlight today as Heritage Minister Sheila Copps and the leader of the country's 300,000 Acadians celebrate the signing of a royal proclamation acknowledging the brutal deportation of French-speaking Maritimers in the 1750s by British forces.

But one of Canada's best-known historians, Jack Granatstein, will be rolling his eyes: "All I can say is that apologies for historic wrongs are always delivered for present political purposes and have very little to do with any deep understanding of history," he told CanWest News Service.

Another, Michael Bliss, may manage a shrug: "(It's) historically irrelevant -- you can't change the past -- but harmless and may make some people feel good in the present, which may have some political utility."

The precise wording of the proclamation is not being revealed until this afternoon's ceremony at Parliament Hill. However, Euclide Chiasson, head of the New Brunswick-based National Society of Acadians, says the document will recognize "wrongs" were committed during the expulsion of about 11,000 people from Nova Scotia and adjacent parts of Eastern Canada between 1755 and 1763.

No one disputes the facts of history. The Acadians established a thriving culture under the French regime and staunchly maintained their neutrality when the British took over in the early 18th century. But on July 28, 1755, in the face of more war between France and England, the Acadians were ordered to declare their loyalty to Britain -- and possibly take up arms against the French -- or be deported.

Some hid in the forests or fled to Quebec, but about three-quarters of the Acadian population were herded onto boats. Many eventually settled in Louisiana, giving rise to the Cajun culture that today includes hundreds of thousands of descendants.

Click here to return to top of page.

How the Wright Brothers Did It (posted 12-11-03)

Neil Skene, writing for creativeloafing.com (Dec. 11, 2003):

One thing you have to say about the Wright brothers. They were a little weird. OK,"iconoclastic," let's say. You have to admit it's a bit peculiar, even crazy, for a couple of guys in a bike shop -- who had no college education and little apparent social life, who never married and lived with their father and a sister, and who were named Wilbur and Orville for heaven's sake -- to decide all of sudden that they could do what famous civil engineers had failed to do: fly in a powered airplane.

Will and Orv set out in mid-1899 with virtually no preparation except reading some books from their father's home library and with no experience except their mechanical skills as pressmen and bike-builders.

But four-and-a-half years later, they did it. On Dec. 17, 1903, they flew all of 120 feet in an odd-looking biplane, with Orville lying across the lower wing. One of humanity's most longstanding dreams had finally come true.

And thus they joined a long line of eccentrics, iconoclasts and downright nutcases who changed the world. Like many others, they had to fight for the credit due them and were unable to translate their inventiveness into wealth. And like many others, they succeeded because of the intensity of their focus, their invulnerability to doubts and jeers -- and above all, their ability to think about things differently from everyone else.

To the proprietors of the Wright Cycle Company, flying was just like riding a bike. Leaning into a curve gives a bike-rider balance and control. The biggest problem afflicting glider experiments in those days was that pilots had little control. Otto Lilienthal, the world-famous German engineer who had made a number of advances in glider flight, was killed when his glider suddenly stalled out of control. He was trying to steer the plane simply by throwing his legs around and shifting his weight from one side to another.

The Wrights' solution to the problem was a thing they called"wing warping," which morphed into what today we call ailerons. By making air flow at different speeds across the left and right wings, wing-warping made the airplane bank, or roll over a bit, at the same time the rudder was making the plane change direction -- just like a bicycle leaning as the front wheel turns. At the time, others thought the challenge was to stop the plane from doing that.

It seems so obvious now, looking back 100 years. But not everyone got it at first, even when Orville and Wilbur patiently explained it. One who didn't was the man often considered a leading American expert on aeronautics in the 1890s, civil engineer Octave Chanute, builder of railroads and bridges.

"Safety, strength and stability were the watchwords on which Chanute had built his reputation," says Wright biographer Tom D. Crouch, senior curator for aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum."Some men might have overcome the limitations of personal experience and tradition. Chanute was not one of them. He could conceive of the problem of flight control in only two dimensions. The idea of a roll axis did not even occur to him when Wilbur described his notion of twisting the wings to raise or lower the tips."

But, notes Crouch,"Wilbur's experience with cycling had stretched his imagination and focused his attention on the need for active control in all three axes of motion" -- up and down, side to side, and rolling over. (The aeronautical terms are pitch, yaw and roll.)

Click here to return to top of page.

Was Nathan Hale Really Naive? (posted 12-10-03)

From the newsletter of the American Revolution Round Table (Dec. 2003):
Newspapers recently made much of a manuscript given to the Library of Congress that supposedly clears up the mystery of how the British caught and executed Nathan Hale for spying. Reporters all but gloated about Hale's"monumentally naive mistakes" that led to his capture. The manuscript was written by a Connecticut loyalist, Constable Tiffany. A descendant gave it to the Library. According to Tiffany, Major Robert Rogers, the guerilla hero of the French and Indian War, who switched to the British side early in 1776, spotted Hale and conned him into admitting he was a spy by pretending to be a rebel too. Rogers supposedly invited Hale to dinner at his quarters and soon a detachment of redcoats arrived to take Hale away for hanging. The story omits a great deal of what we know went on in New York during the days of Hale's mission. Tom Fleming explored it in detail in an article in New York Magazine many years ago. For one thing, Tiffany apparently makes no mention of the great fire which burned down a third of New York. This was set, Tom argued with much supporting evidence, by men from Hale's company, who were trained to deal with incendiary material, having served on fireships on the Hudson River. Several were caught and hanged in the act and the enraged British and loyalists in the ravaged city launched an angry search for any and all suspects with New England accents. This made the rattled Hale, who had no prior knowledge of the plan to set the fire, an easy target. There was no need for Rogers to lure him into confessing anything; he was under suspicion the moment he opened his mouth. Essentially, Nathan Hale was a spy who was unlucky.

Click here to return to top of page.

Did FDR Make Things Worse in the 1930s? (posted 12-9-03)

Martin Hutchinson, writing for UPI (Dec. 8, 2003):

FDR's folly" (Jim Powell, Crown Forum, $27.50) demonstrates, by use of economic rather than political analysis, that the majority of New Deal policies (and of president Herbert Hoover's economic policies) were counterproductive, and prolonged the Great Depression. Yet neither president was stupid, or under-educated. So could such counterproductive policies be tried again, in a similarly stressful situation?

President Franklin Roosevelt has been universally hailed both in his lifetime and since as one of America's greatest presidents. By serving for three presidential terms and the beginning of a fourth, and confronting two of the greatest crises in America's history, he became a hero to political historians both of his generation and since. Even in 2003, an allegedly conservative tycoon, Conrad Lord Black, has published a laudatory biography of Roosevelt that has been received with general critical acclaim. Whatever the criticisms of his economic policies, or indeed of his foreign policies, right and left can agree that he was a consummate politician, probably the best in U.S. history.

Economists, however, have been more critical of his policies since the 1960s, and Powell goes into considerable detail on their criticisms. Output in the early 1930s dropped about as much as in the previous two depressions, of 1893-94 and 1920, but the recovery was far more sluggish than in either case. Only politically was Roosevelt more successful than at least one of his predecessors -- Grover Cleveland, the president in 1893-97, was repudiated by his own party at the 1896 Democrat presidential convention that nominated William Jennings Bryan.

There's no question that there's an economic case for Roosevelt's supporters to answer. Britain, which after 1931 pursued conventional policies of tight control of government spending and sound money (and abandoned her quixotic experiment with unilateral free trade) recovered much more quickly than the United States, and by 1934 was already reaching new heights in output. The United States was still below its 1929 level of private sector output in 1941, when World War II was declared. Yet U.S. population increased throughout the 1930s, and technological progress did not go away, so why did the economy not recover properly?

There's plenty of blame to go round -- Hoover's policies were in many respects even more misguided and deflationary than Roosevelt's, while, as famously documented by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz in their 1963 classic "Monetary history of the United States" the Federal Reserve played a major though largely unwitting part both in the initial downturn and in the sharp relapse of 1937-38.

Some of Hoover's and Roosevelt's policies were conventional political wisdom, that flew in the face of economic theory; others were experimental both politically and economically. Almost none of the political and economic experiments worked properly, creating huge disillusion with the system.

Hoover believed in the free market, but he believed even more strongly in his own "Great Engineer" capacity to manage the market to correct its defects. In this respect he was quite close to the ideas that John Maynard Keynes was contemporaneously working out, and would publish in his 1936 "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money." Roosevelt's economic mistakes were only tangentially Keynesian; even the dirigiste social democrat Keynes caviled on a number of occasions at some of his more eccentric inventions. It's fair to claim that Roosevelt and those who surrounded him had neither a clear understanding of how the free market works, nor any coherent plan for how to replace it.

As we sit in the aftermath of a stock market bubble even greater than that of 1929, it must be worth asking: what are the chances of the mistakes of the 1930s being repeated, and if we don't repeat them, are we fully secure from a repetition of that dreadful decade?

To take the most notorious policy first, there is very little chance, thank goodness, of a modern U.S. President signing a huge across-the-board tariff increase like Smoot-Hawley. The intellectual argument for free trade is much better understood in the United States than it was in 1930 (it was well understood even back then in the free-trading Britain) and the World Trade Organization mechanism, battered though it is, would make such a broad based tariff diplomatically extremely perilous. Of course, the real damage caused by Smoot-Hawley was exacerbated by the U.S. position as a major creditor nation, and Europe's continuing need for dollar recycling from Wall Street; Smoot-Hawley increased the imbalances in world trade that already existed, and triggered a further sharp recession in Central Europe, and the Creditanstalt bankruptcy.

Click here to return to top of page.

Brazil Claims One of Its Own Invented a Flying Machine Before the Wright Brothers (posted 12-9-03)

Carlos A. DeJuana, writing for Reuters (Dec. 9, 2003):

As Americans prepare to celebrate the centennial of the Wright brother's first flight, a whole country is cringing at what it believes to be a historical injustice against one of its most beloved heroes.

Ask anyone in Brazil who invented the airplane and they will say Alberto Santos-Dumont, a 5-foot-4-inch bon vivant who was as known for his aerial prowess as he was for his dandyish dress and high society life in Belle Epoque Paris.

As Paul Hoffman recounts in his Santos-Dumont biography "Wings of Madness," the eccentric Brazilian was the first and only person to own a personal flying machine that could take him just about anywhere he wanted to go.

"He would keep his dirigible tied to a gas lamp post in front of his Paris apartment at the Champs-Elysees and every night he would fly to Maxim's for dinner. During the day he'd fly to go shopping, he'd fly to visit friends," Hoffman told Reuters.

An idealist who believed flight was spiritually soothing, Santos-Dumont financed his lavish lifestyle and aerial experiments in Paris with the inheritance his coffee-farming father had advanced him as a young man. Always impeccably dressed, he regularly took a gourmet lunch with him on his ballooning expeditions.

But it was on Nov. 12, 1906, when Santos-Dumont flew a kite-like contraption with boxy wings called the 14-Bis some 722 feet on the outskirts of Paris. It being the first public flight in the world, he was hailed as the inventor of the airplane all over Europe.

It was only later that the secretive Orville and Wilbur Wright proved they had beaten Santos-Dumont at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, three years earlier on Dec. 17.

But to bring up the Wright brothers with a Brazilian is bound to elicit an avalanche of arguments -- some more reasonable than others -- as to why their compatriot's flight didn't count.

"It's one of the biggest frauds in history," scoffs Wagner Diogo, a taxi driver in Rio de Janeiro, of the Wright's inaugural flight. "No one saw it, and they used a catapult to launch" the airplane.

Click here to return to top of page.

Are Scholars Inventing a False History of Women from the Bible? (posted 12-9-03)

Ken Woodward, writing in Newsweek (Dec.8, 2003):

Pity poor Mary Magdalene. For nearly two millenniums she was loved and honored by Christians as the archetypal reformed sinner. Then, a half-century ago, Biblical scholars recognized that she was a victim of mistaken identity: the “real” Mary of Magdala was not a prostitute. In truth, she was so faithful a follower of Jesus that she was chosen to be the first of his disciples to behold the risen Christ (Jn 20:11-18). Now, at the hands of some feminist revisionists, Mary is undergoing yet another cultural face-lift.

RELYING ON GNOSTIC Gospels rejected by compilers of the New Testament, these revisionists claim that Mary was actually Jesus’ intimate female partner. After the Resurrection, she became a leader within the early church and a rival of Saint Peter’s. All this, they argue in books such as Jane Schaberg’s “The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene,” was suppressed by patriarchal authorities who favored a males-only clergy. The implication is that gender warfare lies at the heart of Christianity, and if Mary and her faction had triumphed the history and structure of the church would be radically inclusive.

No one, of course, denies that both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures—like the God who rules the Biblical heavens—exhibit an overarching androcentric outlook. Few women are mentioned by name, fewer yet get their stories told. The promise of feminist Biblical scholarship is that it can alter this imbalance by interpreting the Bible from the perspectives of women’s experiences. The danger is that feminist ideology will overreach the text.

One important goal set by feminist scholars such as Prof. Carol Meyers of Duke University is to uncover the roles and status of women in ancient Israel. Already, some have found—surprise!—that then, as now, women exerted considerable, sometimes controlling, power within the household, despite an officially patriarchal culture. Others, however, are in quest of a grander holy grail: proof that sometime before the institution of kingship, there was an ideal era when Israelite men and women lived as public equals. But without a lot more archeological evidence, the real world behind much of the Hebrew Bible will never be recovered. “We just don’t have the information about some historical periods,” acknowledges Susannah Heschel, associate professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth, “so there is a temptation to resort to fantasy.”

Click here to return to top of page.

Samurai Values Still Permeate Japanese Culture (posted 12-9-03)

Ken Belson, writing in the NYT (Dec. 7, 2003):

The climax of the new film "The Last Samurai" is no ordinary fight scene: It is a coda to Japan's medieval past and a nod to its enduring fighting spirit.

After a dramatic battle, the leader of a group of rebel holdouts commits ritual suicide rather than surrender in shame to the well-armed and newly Westernized Japanese Army. The victors, awed by the rebels' bravery, bow in reverence. Though they now wear Prussian-style uniforms, they remain true to the samurais' unspoken code of Bushido.

The film takes place in the late 1870's, when Japan was abandoning its feudal society and industrializing, yet the same tug of war between preserving tradition and opening Japan to the world persists today. Even as Japan is about to commit troops in Iraq, sending its military abroad for the first time since World War II, the tension between old ways and modern life is evident.

The movie, though fictional, reminds us that while the samurai are gone, many of their values are still part of the fabric of Japanese society. Though outsiders — and many Japanese — exaggerate the resonance of this mix of allegiance, self-control and shame, the social structure that nurtures these values has resisted everything from the American occupation to encroaching globalization.

"Hierarchy is still part of everyday life in Japan," said Sheldon M. Garon, a professor of history at Princeton University and author of "Molding Japanese Minds" (Princeton University Press, 1997). "It's in every relationship, whether it's a company, college or otherwise. The basic organizational structure is remarkably resilient."

American society may celebrate initiative and reward upstarts, but most Japanese still define themselves by their affiliations and their ranking in these groups. The samurai did not invent the system; they were just ardent followers of it. But their fervor has become lore in Japan, where "salarymen" are compared to warriors, baseball teams are like armies and students cramming for exams wear headbands like kamikaze pilots.

The flip side is the shame in letting down one's boss, coach or teacher. "The Japanese ethical code consists of three main pillars: obligation, shame and the environment that surrounds people," said Shinichi Yanaka, a professor at Japan Women's University and a specialist in Bushido, the samurai's code. "To do something bad in Japan does not only mean breaking the rules but also doing something that society does not permit."

This system of social checks and balances was heavily refined during the shoguns' rule from 1600 to 1868. The circles people moved in and the roles they performed were far more rigidly defined than today, and the penalties for failure were often crueler, including banishment and death by sword.

The arrival of the Americans and the industrialization they ushered in threatened the system and the ruling class that long benefited from it. Within two decades — the time frame for "The Last Samurai" — Japan's industrialists and their Western backers all but replaced that status quo.

Click here to return to top of page.

Germans as Victims of Allied Bombing: What Photographs Show (posted 12-9-03)

Michael Kimelman, writing in the NYT (Dec. 6, 2003):

In "Brandstätten" ("Places of Fire"), a new book by the historian Jörg Friedrich, we see a photograph of a seated woman.

I think. Is it a woman?

Assuming it is, she has a child on her lap. The child is perhaps 3 or 4 and wears an overcoat with big buttons. The woman's head is facing up (heavenward), her mouth wide open. She wears a cape with a hood, which surrounds her like a halo. Behind her are two figures.

Mother and child with two saints. Or so you might think, except that the figures are incinerated. Their corpses are lightly dusted with rubble. The backdrop is a collapsed wall. The caption says, "Hamburg, July, 1943."

Some years ago the art critic John Berger wrote about the violence that is in all photographs shot by strangers, what he called public photographs, as opposed to private snapshots, which we take for ourselves and are continuous with our own memory. Public photographs "carry no certain meaning in themselves," he wrote. They are "like images in the memory of a total stranger," lending themselves "to any use."

Presumably a photojournalist or a German official shot the picture in Hamburg. Without the caption in the book, we would not know that it was Hamburg or 1943. It could be a picture of any conflagration. It could be put to any use.

In this case it is being used to recover a supposedly neglected and contested part of modern military history. Mr. Friedrich is following in the footsteps of the writer W. G. Sebald, who died in 2001. In his last book, "On the Natural History of Destruction," based on lectures he gave in Zurich in 1997, Sebald addressed a "scandalous deficiency": what he perceived as a self-imposed silence by Germans after World War II about the effects of Allied bombings on German civilians and cities.

Against this "collective amnesia," Sebald, a Trümmerkind, a child who grew up in the ruins, tried to piece together what had transpired during the war. The bombs on Hamburg, Sebald recounted, caused a firestorm that rose miles into the air, sucking oxygen, lifting roofs off of buildings and rolling at a tremendous speed, "like a tidal wave through the streets."

Mr. Friedrich's "Places of Fire" is a collection of photographs of Germany during the war, visual traces of Sebald's missing history. Mr. Friedrich is mysterious about their origin. They seem to have been amassed by the country's efficient record keepers and collected in town archives. They show scenes of Nazis hauling corpses across the smoking ruins of bombed-out Dresden and Hitler Youth clearing dead children from streets in Cologne.

Mr. Friedrich, another Trümmerkind (like Sebald, born in 1944), published an earlier book, "Der Brand" ("The Fire"), which incited charges that he wished to portray Germans as victims and the British and Americans as war criminals. Now "Places of Fire" has caused even more criticism. The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung recommended that readers throw it directly into the garbage.


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Margaret - 1/8/2004

HI, I love this website. I will be back to read more. Thanks .. Me


Dave Livingston - 9/27/2003

The causes of the War Between the States were 1) the fundamentally different economic systems that prevailed between the North, industrail, in the South Agricultural. Northern industrails wanted to sell to the South excluding foreign, principally Britsh, competition. The South wanted to import manufactured goods from Europe without having protectionist-driven imp[ort duties.

Once the break between the states was made the power-mad tyrant Lincoln and greedy Northern industralists strove for an illegal, forcable retention of the Southern states within the Union.


Wright - 8/22/2003

One should be reminded that Ulysses Grant owned and worked a slave on his Ohio farm before leading the Union forces. That Abraham Lincoln tried to have Congress ship African Americans back to Africa and told a delegation of African Americans in the White House that they would never be equal because of their black features. The north began the slave trade, held slaves in the border states during the war and, since the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate states, the Union officially had slaves longer than the South.


Robin Edgar - 7/13/2003

Dr. Anthony Perks' Stonehenge theory deserves to be given some serious consideration and certainly deserves better than the gratuitous and quite disingenuous dismissal of David Miles, chief archaeologist of English Heritage, in the Observer article. The full text of my letter to the editors of the Observer condemning David Miles irresponsibly dismissive attitude may be read here -

http://treasuresofdarkness.homestead.com/stonehengeletter1.html


alejandro serrano - 6/11/2003

at least put some pictures


David Foster - 6/3/2003

"According to Mr. Tucker, even if (the kite) had got off the ground, there was no way it could have reached the heights needed to draw electricity from thunderclouds. He then tried the experiment using a modern kite, but that did not work, either."

I'm not grasping this. Lightning strikes objects at ground level, or a few hundred feet above, all the time. So why couldn't it strike a kite? True, you might have to wait a while...it wouldn't "draw" the electricity. But it could happen.


Arnold Beichman, Hoover Institution - 4/30/2003

The "omission" by Dr. Beschloss of the Allies’ Declaration in December 1942 condemning Nazi atrocities against Jews and vowing retribution is not as important as the fact that President Roosevelt did little to save European Jews when it was in his power to do so. The detailed documented record is there (Schlesinger to the contrary) in the three-volume "Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence", edited with a commentary by Professor Warren F. Kimball who writes (Vol. II, page 293):
"One of the unhappiest stories of the war was the failure of the American and Britrish governments to provide relief and safety for refugrees, particularly for Jews who had fled German-occupied areas in Europe. In April 1943, British and American represenatives met in Bermuda to discuss the problem, but the talks were, in the words of a British participant, ' a conflict of self-justification, a facade for inaction. We said the results of the conference were confidential, but in fact there were no results that I can recall.' " Rarely did the refugee problem intrude upon the Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence, and when it did, they only mentioned small, partial measures or the political implications of various proposals."
FDR deserves the "bad rap." Beschloss does not.


Jim Lynch - 4/26/2003

Might Roosevelt and Churchill have considered the implications of their allied peoples cutting a deal with the Axis powers, even in the face of genocide?

A diary entry of General Patton as late as January, 1945, states that "we could still lose this war". Its outcome, needless to say, was never pre-ordained.

Anti-semitism was endemic throughout 'christiandom' before and during the the holacaust years. Perhaps the two leaders weighed that fact against the inherent risks of military gambles, and concluded humanity could not afford even chancing such a betrayal of itself, by acquiecing in any conclusion short of unconditional surrender. Perhaps they assumed to bear that responsibility, themselves alone. In that scenario, had catastrophe struck the allied cause, and their peoples demanded a cessation of war, general ignorance of magnitude of the Nazi genocide could be invoked by posterity, for posterity's own sake.

In any event, it must have crossed their minds.



Lawrence Baron - 4/9/2003

While I admire Deborah Lipstadt's research about Holocaust denial, I do not share her view that denial that the Holocaust
happened will increase when there are no longer Holocaust
survivors to refute them. After approximately 100 years, no historical event has eyewitnesses to confirm that the event
occurred. By then, the event depends on documentary evidence,
scholarly works, and the oral histories compiled when its survivors were still alive. I can think of no other event that has been so well chronicled through archival materials, monographs, and extensive interviews with perpetrators, surviving victims, and bystanders than the Holocaust. Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Project has videotaped over 50,000 such interviews. The incorporation of the Holocaust into the public school curriculum, the massive volume of scholarship on it, and the proliferation of courses at the college level are all indications that Lipstadt's
pessimism is unfounded. Indeed, what greater recogition of an
event is there than the establishment of a Federal museum in America's most important site for civil commemoration.
Finally, the presence of survivors has never deterred deniers from making their spurious claims.


dan - 3/27/2003

All of the above is true.

But, ask yourself this question: why was the country divided north and south? The only real difference was slavery. Slavery permeated all thought and political processes. The south's economy was based entirely on slavery, the north's on the lack of slaves. Nothing about the economy in the north was precluded from the south by anything other than the free access to slaves. The spread of short staple cotton exacerbated the divide because it could not be grown economically without slaves, and the south depended upon it for a huge plurality of its economy.

The spark for the Civil War came when southerners finally decided they could not gain ascendency in the Senate - parity was not enough, since that had been the norm since the Republic was formed. IF anything, it was a war of southern agression, rather than the reverse title the post-war southern revisionists would have people believe.

Argue all you want about the spark, but the CAUSE of the Civil War (no euphemisms for me) was most definitely slavery.


Davmos - 3/11/2003

The leaders of both sides denied that slavery was the cause of the war. Slavery in the south was secure because the Missouri comprimise, the Dred Scott decision, Lincoln's pledge not to end slavery, and other social and legal forces protected slavery. Abolishionists had similar standing to the status of anti-abortionists today. They were a fringe group. (Think of John Brown). Nevertheless, the south tried to secede. Northern attempts to tax imports (which hit the south, not the north) and general dissatisfaction with the north were motivation. Most scholars believed they had a right to secede. Lincoln saw it diferently. He fought to save the union not to abolish slavery. He even returned slaves who escaped during the early days of the war. Abolishing slavery became a tool to help fight the war. Only after the war had gone on and on, did the north assume the mantel of morality and add the goal to abolish slavery.


clarence swinney - 3/2/2003

Reagan was embraced by Conservativs for his constant attacks on big Government and Soviet Union.

Gorby changed Soviet Union with Glasnos and Peristroika. Period.

Conservatives do not increase Califonia spending by 112% in eight years--Federal spending by 80% --debt by 187%--deficits by 112%. 80-187-112. Shameful for any President.

Clinton as true Conservative. His numbers were 28-28-surplus.

Reagan's long list of promised actions which were not achieved showed he was more Blarney Baloney than Achiever.
clarence swinney


Bradley R. Smith - 1/19/2003

It would be interesting to read something new about why the primary murder weapon the Nazis used to murder the Jews of Europe was not systematically investigated at Nuremberg or the following war crimes trials.


James Cheeks - 12/18/2002

In the interview “Michael Beschloss talks about his new book”, Mr. Beschloss says that Roosevelt failed to speak out in public on Nazi treatment of the Jews “for almost 2 years” after 1942, and failed to threaten the Nazis with punishment for their crimes. In this view, repeated at book promotion ceremonies, Mr. Beschloss is less than straightforward with the full historical record, failing to mention the fact and the effects of the Allies’ Declaration in December 1942 condemning Nazi atrocities against Jews and vowing retribution.

This omission or distortion is continued into the book itself. “The Conquerors” text says this, and no more, about the Declaration: “On December 17, 1942, at the initiative of the British, the Allies issued a declaration against ‘exposure and starvation’ and ‘mass executions’ imposed by the Nazis ‘on many hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.’”

Mr. Beschloss has selected his quotes to give the impression that general Nazi frightfulness, rather than specific treatment of Jews, is being condemned. The Declaration’s title, which Mr. Beschloss nowhere mentions, is “German Policy of Extermination of the Jewish Race”. The Declaration contains these statements: “Hitler's oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe ... From all the occupied countries, Jews are being transported in conditions of appalling horror and brutality … . In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the Ghettoes established by the German invaders are being systematically emptied of all Jews…. The able-bodied are … worked to death in labor camps.”

This is the context in which the Declaration’s denunciations of “exposure and starvation” and “mass executions” are set. It took much ingenuity on Mr. Beschloss’s part to refer to and quote from this Declaration and still manage to conceal that it spoke specifically and exclusively about treatment of Jews.

The Declaration is also mentioned in his notes, without its title or any more of its contents. Though the Declaration, an act of the “Governments of …the United States of America” and its allies, is part of the United States official records (7 Dept of State Bulletin 1009 is one source), Mr. Beschloss’s notes refer the reader only to other authors.

In his book “The Holocaust in History”, Michael R. Marris says that the December 1942 “declaration denouncing the murder of Jews … could not have been more clear.” (Meridian edition, p. 163) “By December 1942 … the news about the mass slaughter … had been broadcast all over the world and featured in all major newspapers outside Nazi-occupied Europe”. (Marris, p. 163, quoting Walter Lacquer’s “Terrible Secret”)

Mr. Beschloss also said in the interview and elsewhere that Roosevelt’s failure to speak out forfeited the opportunity to threaten the Nazis with punishment for their crimes. His mode of reporting the December 17 Declaration keeps his readers and listeners from learning that the Declaration says: “The above-mentioned Governments”, including the government headed by FDR, “reaffirm their solemn resolution to ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution”.

Might Mr. Beschloss think that the U.S. government positions in the Declaration were not FDR’s positions? If so, he’s at odds with Joseph Persico, who says that in December 1942 “FDR finally and publicly condemned the Nazi extermination of the Jews and declared America’s policy—those perpetrating mass murder would be dealt with as criminals when the fighting ended.” (“Roosevelt’s Secret War”, p. 220)

Some while before “The Conquerors” came out Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. said that Roosevelt “has been given a bad rap” on Holocaust issues. In “The Conquerors”, the rap goes on, at some cost to the historical record.


Joe Soll, CSW - 11/29/2002

Ms. Melosh's statistics are in error.

Adoption is in fact, on the rise again.
In the mid sixties there were about 150,000 non-kinship adoptions.
In the late 60's thru mid 70's the rate averaged 100,000 per year.

The rate had been steadily dropping but has levelled off at about 51,000+ non-kinship (domestically born) adoptions per year.

The reason for the consistency is that adoption has become a huge "industry" in this country. In the last 5 years at least 51,000 babies have been processed into adoption at an average fee of $30,000. That amounts to over $1.5 billion a year in fees paid to lawyers and adoption agencies.

There seems to be a vested interest in convincing young, resourceless women to give up their babies for the welfare of those who are infertile or otherwise unable to have a baby on their own.


John G Linton - 11/15/2002

I found your comment about KW-7 key lists interesting. The public has been interested in the subject after the televised airing of "The falcon and the snowman." and other television movies about the Walker navy family, and most currently, the FBI agent who sold information. I think the public simply gets lost in the technical details of the televised presentations, and becomes disinterested in the subject. There also appears to be some public confusion between fiction and reality. I simply regard the world of cryptography as a means of communication, not a black world of Dr Stranglove. I see much of the public fear as unwarranted.

I was a repair SP-5 during the vietnam era and worked for two years on the repair and upgrade of field returns. I would trouble shoot and repair returns to the component level. I have
seen the inter-net posted image of the KW-7 ORESTES posted by ontario and I can certify the images and your comments are true and accurate.

I hope someday to author letters that may be of interest to people in the field of communications and communications history.

If there is any interest, I can be reached at my e-mail address.


James J. Divita - 11/3/2002

If both Menzies and the team of anthropologists etal. are correct, then Cheng Ho may have been the first to bring Old World diseases to the Americas in 1421. Hey, another first evil erased from Columbus!!


Brian Gordon - 7/27/2002

I was a shipboard naval officer in 1968 when the USS Pueblo was captured. Among my duties was to serve as what the Navy called a Registered Publications Custodian, meaning that I kept custody of all the crypto codes for the ship (my office was a walk-in safe). The usual practice was to carry several months' worth of key cards for the various crypto machines, and my job was to keep inventory of them, dole them out to the communications people as needed, and to shred and burn old codes. When the Pueblo was captured, it appeared that no one was absolutely certain what codes it had on board, and the result was a slew of messages to the effect that yet another series of codes was assumed to have been compromised, and that therefore it was necessary to destroy another month's worth of key cards. Once we reached port, we had to stock up on new codes. The line at the door of the Honolulu NSA distribution point was almost as long as the line of burn-bag-toting RPCs at the Pearl Harbor naval base's incinerator. (Most ships had shredding capability, but incineration usually required a shore facility.) What amazed me at the time (assuming, of course, that the destruct orders were based on actual inventory carried aboard USS Pueblo) was how many seemingly irrelevant code series had been carried on board that ill-fated snoop-ship. I recall seeing NATO operational key codes included on the shred-and-burn lists that came out following Pueblo's capture. It would have been more sensible to have such a vessel going in harm's way carry only a minimum inventory of codes, not the standard worlwide inventory issued to other ships. (And contrary to Professor Williams's thread above, Navy ships, including, apparently, USS Pueblo, carried several months' worth of keylists, not just enough for one month, so when it became evident that USS Pueblo had been captured with its crypto gear and code inventory mostly intact, every ship in the fleet went through several months' worth of codes in less than a week. We would switch to a series for the following month, then the next day a message would come through saying that that series was also assumed to have been lost, and ordering a switch to still another month, and so on.)

Of course, it could also be argued that, despite security breaches, spies like the Walkers, incidents like the capture of the Pueblo, inadvertent leaks of classified information, and so on through a dismal list of intelligence mishaps, none of it made much difference----even if the Soviets were reading our mail, they STILL lost the Cold War! They even had the technical manuals for the 1980s KH-11 spy satellite, and they still couldn't reverse-engineer anything close to it.


Jim Williams - 7/25/2002

Not only am I a history professor. I also was an Army Signal officer in the Vietnam era who worked some with generally low-level codes, including KW-7 keylists. This essay reveals a lack of understanding of cryptography and underestimates the careful complexity of our cryptographic system. If this is the level of care which Lerner put into the rest of his book, then the book is not credible.
The Soviets' possession of the operating manual for the KW-7 and the machine itself were not disastrous compromises, nor were even the seizure of the keylists on board the U.S.S. Pueblo. There was not one universal KW-7 keylist. There were hundreds, probably thousands (my vague memory is that my index of keylists was updated bi-monthly or quarterly and was hundreds of pages long, with 30-50 codes listed per page; this may have been only the Army's codes also), with different missions and organizations having different keylists. Moreover, each specific list was good for only one day, sometimes for even shorter periods (3 hours, 6 hours, etc.). How many days of keylists did the Pueblo have? I'm not a Navy guy, but I bet it wasn't more than a month's worth at a time - and probably for a few radio nets not directly related to Vietnam. The NSA and DoD intelligence and communications personnel resist whenever possible the excessively broad use of a single key to reduce the possibility of it being compromised and the damage caused if it is compromised. In other words, they aren't dumb, despite the cliche that military intelligence is an oxymoron.
NSA knew and knows exactly who has which editions of which keylists. The NSA and DoD intelligence agencies should have and probably did immediately supersede all keylists known to have been on the Pueblo. However, that information is probably classified.
Walker's cryptographic treason was more serious, since he may have gained access to global, strategic codes, not merely naval operational intelligence codes. I don't know which codes he betrayed to the Russians, but do not underestimate the difficulty of betraying a whole lot of codes on an ongoing basis. A lot of paper is involved, and copying thousands of pages a month invited detection and arrest, while people would notice if the actual serial number accountable keylists were missing.
More dangerous than the seizure of keylists in the Pueblo, keylists which probably had a limited application, would have become obsolete quickly and were probably immediately superseded, was the possibility that the Russians, by analyzing the sequence of the characters in the keylist, could figure out the computer program which generated that specific group of keylists. That's why we had to destroy used or obsolete unused key lists carefully and thoroughly. Did the Soviets figure the computer program(s) out? Maybe the NSA or CIA knows. I sure don't - no "need to know". However, to do this required luck, great ingenuity and great computers. The Soviets had the ingenuity, but did they have the luck and the computers? Maybe some day we'll find out. If they did, however, it is a little surprising that we have not yet heard about it.