History People Are Talking About: Archives 2-28-03 to 4-10-03History Being Talked About
John O'Sullivan, editor in chief of United Press International, reviewing Nial Ferguson's new book on the British Empire; in the Wall Street Journal (April 10, 2003):
If a Martian historian with Methuselah's life span devoted himself to observing from afar the broad patterns of human activity over the past millennium, he would see an explosion of energy in the British Isles from the 16th century onward. In particular, between the early 1600s and the 1950s more than 20 million people emigrated from Britain and settled in other lands. The British also developed dense patterns of trade with such faraway areas as India and Africa. Only a few of them emigrated to those countries, yet they reshaped them in line with their own practices.
From the standpoint of Mars, 1776 hardly registers. Eighty percent of British emigrants ended up in America, before and after independence. "Manifest Destiny" looks like a local instance of the emigration that was fueling Britain's imperialism. In any case, the same liberal principles -- free trade, the rule of law, representative institutions -- shaped both the U.S. and Britain's possessions.
Altogether this Anglo-American network of emigration, trade and rule amounted to the first global order. What might puzzle our Martian was why this order broke down in 1914 -- and why, when it reappeared in 1989, its center had moved from London to Washington.
Or has it? Niall Ferguson believes so. The neologism he coins to describe the British Empire is "Anglobalization." He concludes "Empire" (Basic Books, 392 pages, $35), his brilliant survey of its rise and fall, with an appeal to the U.S. to overcome its anti-imperialism and accept the responsibilities that the end of the Cold War has thrust upon it. So he must rescue British imperialism from the obloquy that descended upon it in the age of de-colonization.
Mr. Ferguson's main defense is an economic one. He notes that the British Empire, by establishing a world order based on free trade and free capital movement, assisted the development of poorer countries and raised living standards in its far-flung colonies. Imperial rule also spread institutions and practices favorable to good government, such as secure private property, personal liberty and impartial law. These often took root. Seymour Martin Lipset points to a marked correlation between being a former British colony and enjoying liberal democratic government today. ...
[W]hen the balance sheet is added up, one wonders why someone as sympathetic to imperialism as Mr. Ferguson scorns Curzon's judgment that "the British empire is under Providence the greatest instrument for good that the world has ever seen." Given the record of other human institutions, Curzon had a point.
It is a point that Americans are reluctant to grasp even when the empire is their own "informal" one -- and even when U.S. troops intervene to remove threats to international stability, as in Afghanistan and Iraq. The more forthright Mr. Ferguson believes that the U.S. should sustain networks of trade, aid, investment and defense that will mimic the British world order. Rogue states will be curbed, failed nations healed and brushfire wars smothered -- by aid and investment where possible, by arms where necessary.
It will, of course, be an imperialism that dare not speak its name. Some of the imperialists in progressive NGOs will even believe that they are anti-imperialist. And the logos under which they operate will be derived from the United Nations or the IMF rather than from the U.S. itself. But the underlying networks of cooperation that sustain this shy imperialism are likely to link the U.S. with such "Anglosphere" nations as Britain and Australia and perhaps, in due course, India and South Africa, which share the liberal world outlook.
Eric Alterman, writing on his blog (April 8, 2003):
Heres a post from H-DDiplo from the historian David Kaiser outlining the reasons why Vietnam, the United States and the world would all be better places had Lyndon Johnson had the good sense to take Richard Russells advice and stay the heck outta that quicksand quagmire.
He makes an important point to remember with regard to Iraq and the rest of the imperial wars Bush and company have planned for us: intentions are not deeds; comparing what is with what youd like it to be is almost always a pointless and ultimately counter-productive exercise when it comes to the use of war as an instrument of policy, rather than a matter of self-defense.
I would agree that what the United States wanted for South Vietnam was better than what South Vietnam eventually got. However, 'wants' and 'wishes' do not necessarily pay off for anybody. I find it dubious to compare the present state of Vietnam to what would have happened had the United States 'triumphed' in the absence of any proof that the United States could have done so. What we are comparing, I thought, are two alternatives, one of which occurred (we fought and lost), and one of which certainly might have occurred (we didnt fight, and lose.) Im going to suggest some best case scenarios for the latter option.
1. A coalition government led by Buddhists and General Khanh, formed early in 1965, might have survived. (Doubtful, I agree, but possible.)
2. The neutral governments in Cambodia and Laos would have survived. (Extremely possible, in my opinion, especially with respect to Cambodia, where Sihanouk was politically strong.)
3. Ho Chi Minh would immediately have sought a relationship with the US (Almost certain: the falling out with Mao was, I believe very likely.)
4. In any case, without American intervention, the North Vietnamese Army would never have become the massively armed conventional force that it did, with Soviet help.
5. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Vietnamese lives would have been saved.
6. American prestige in the Third World would have been much higher.
7. With the United States not distracted, there would have been no Six Day War, with all its consequences. (Anyone who doubts that is referred to Judith Klinghoffers excellent book on the subject.)
8. The Democratic Party would have remained the majority party. (In my view, a good thing.)
9. The student revolt at home would not have become nearly so destructive.
Now if someone looks at this list, I think, roughly, that it proceeds from the merely speculative (1) to the almost certainly true. And since so many people are still so willing to speculate freely on the benefits of American victory (and to blame liberals for the American defeat, as I heard William Kristol do the other day), it seems only fair to assess, realistically, the benefits of American non-intervention.
Linda Comins, writing in the Wheeling News Register (April 2, 2003):
A prominent Jewish scholar and author believes the biggest threat posed by those who deny the Holocaust is a future danger - when few Holocaust survivors remain to speak the truth.
Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University professor, spoke at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Wheeling Tuesday night about researching the Holocaust denial movement and defending her written conclusions in a British courtroom.
After a six-and-a-half-year legal fight and a three-month trial in London, Lipstadt won a libel case brought by an author whom she had labeled as a Holocaust denier.
She visited Wheeling as part of the Holocaust Remembrance Series of West Liberty State College's Hughes Lecture Series. The West Virginia Humanities Council provided financial support for the program.
"Denial is a form of anti-Semitism. Many of the deniers are also virulent racists," she charged.
When deniers claim that the Holocaust is a myth,"it is not a clear and present danger; it is a clear and future danger," she commented.
"The ability of people to deny it becomes stronger as there are fewer people around to give first-hand accounts."
Offering a composite portrait, she said Holocaust deniers are anti-Semites and"many are racists; many are supporters of national socialism (Nazism)." She said the Holocaust stands out"because it was state-sponsored terrorism. It was state-sponsored genocide in which virtually every aspect of government was involved."
Christine Stansell, professor of history at Princeton, writing in the New Republic (March 24, 2003):
Not so long ago, the history of New York in the nineteenth century was the province of sensationalizing journalists. For years, professional historians did little to supplant old potboilers such as Herbert Asbury's Gangs of New York, weirdly exhumed this year by Martin Scorsese. Graduate students were warned away. New York was too big, too weird, too complicated (and too Jewish? ) to fit into approved models of the urban "case" provided by the tidier cities of Boston and Philadelphia, where WASP elites dominated and it was possible to imagine the Irish as the sole placeholders for ethnicity. Few wanted to muck about in New York's polyglot mix. There were important exceptions, such as Moses Rischin and Irving Howe, but their dense and delectable books about the Lower East Side elicited more public interest than academic respect.
It was not until the late 1970s, in fact, that students looking for dissertation topics ventured into the New York City archives with any frequency. The books that they eventually wrote--some of them monographs, others crossovers for general readers--broke through the disinterest of the earlier generations of scholars. New York was undoubtedly atypical, they frankly acknowledged. But it was the great American exception, more properly compared to Paris or London than to Boston or Philadelphia. And this was all the more reason to study it.
In American history as it is taught today, three decades of scholarship, culminating in Edwin Burrows and Michael Wallace's grand synthesis in Gotham, have pushed New York to center stage. Aside from Scorsese's historically preposterous film, which turns the ragtag Victorian gangs into warriors out of a biblical epic of the 1950s, sensationalism has given way to nuanced historical work that takes on the city's peculiar combinations of hauteur and hustling, snobbery and democracy, preening and poverty. The interpretations are rich, and the research is ambitious and near archaeological in the delicacy and the assiduity given to excavating the sources. There are marvelous books on the 1800s--books about artists and intellectuals; writers and actors; politicians, criminals, and prostitutes; the Jews, the Irish, and the Chinese; workers and women. There are studies of real estate, museums, crowds, high society, vaudeville, the opera.
Except for a few monographs, though, there is almost nothing on African Americans. African Americanists have looked elsewhere: the tininess of the free black community in the antebellum period--16,358 people at its peak in 1840, about 5 percent of the population, shrinking to 1 percent in 1860--made it seem like an ancillary phenomenon, both to the city and to the system in which millions of black Americans lived in bondage. So the historians' narrative of black New York has only begun full throttle with the Great Migration from the South, when thousands of black people packed into Harlem. From this vantage point in time, New York seems a haven for African American freedom, however compromised it was by Northern racism. The city was far from emancipated, but it still wasn't Dixie.
Still, it turns out that New York in 1800 was a slave city no less than Charleston. The largest slave city outside the South, its ties to the slave system and the Southern states remained strong in the nineteenth century. Even after emancipation, "the shadow of slavery" lay long across New York's African American residents. In finance and trade, its mercantile and financial elites were heavily dependent on Southern cotton; and Manhattan merchants, bankers, and retailers made sure that the city was a hospitable place to visiting planters, their commercial agents, and their slave catchers.
This made New York the most dangerous place in the North for fugitive slaves, since someone from home might recognize them on the streets. Slave catchers not only apprehended runaways; they aggressively kidnapped free people, trumping up evidence that they were fugitives. Fights, melees, and scuffles between slave catchers and their victims often broke out on the streets. Unlike Boston, where anti-slavery sentiment made it hard for slave catchers to operate, the police and the courts in New York helped them. Merchants cautioned that any other attitude toward the representatives of Southern "property" interests would "embarrass trade."
Edward Rothstein, writing in the NYT (March 29, 2003):
In the public imagination, the heroic image has long been the dominant one. Churchill himself joked that he would ensure his place in history by writing that history himself as he did in the six volumes of "The Second World War," which helped win him the Nobel Prize in literature in 1953. The stentorian prose of William Manchester's first two volumes of his Churchill biography ("The Last Lion") reinforced that stature for the lay reader. And the eight volumes of the "authorized" biography by Martin Gilbert testified to its subject's monumental importance.
But beginning in the 1960's, Churchillian scholarship also began to focus on Churchill's military and political mistakes. The historian Robert Rhodes James subtitled his 1970 book about Churchill "A Study in Failure." (Mr. Lukacs considers it one of the best written about Churchill.) Mr. James argued that Churchill's warnings about Germany may have fallen on deaf ears partly because Churchill was so widely distrusted after a long career of party-switching, posturing and political misjudgments. In fact, as he was fulminating against Germany, Churchill was also opposing constitutional changes in the government of India and said it was "nauseating" to see a "fakir" like Gandhi being met on equal terms. Historians attacked Churchill from the political left for such imperial sentiments as well as for his admiration of political personalities like Mussolini (whom Churchill called a "really great man" in 1935 before he changed his mind).
Historians also attacked Churchill from the right. John Charmley's 1993 book, "Churchill: The End of Glory," argued that Churchill was wrong even when most triumphant. Mr. Charmley suggested that an agreement might well have been reached with Hitler in the 1930's, thus preventing war, but that instead Churchill's war strategy doomed the empire to dissolution and put Britain in America's pocket.
At the same time, Churchill's own histories including his multi-volume accounts of the first and second world wars, his epic "History of the English-speaking Peoples" and his study of his ancestor Lord Marlborough came to seem academically quaint. J. H. Plumb criticized them for philistinism and their author for showing no mastery of Marx and Freud.
In this critical context, some essays in a new book by the British historian David Cannadine, "In Churchill's Shadow" (Oxford), even provide a bit of reprieve, for while Mr. Cannadine says that Churchill was often "a bombastic and histrionic vulgarian, out of touch, out of tune and out of temper," he also believes that Churchill brought to British life "a breadth of vision, a poetry of expression and a splendor of utterances" unlikely to be heard again a political poet of sorts, comforting, in Mr. Cannadine's view, a "nation in decline."
Churchill poses a challenge because there is no simple way of accounting both for the scope of his achievements and for the range of his failures. Roy Jenkins's large-scale 2001 biography of Churchill (Farrar Straus & Giroux) sometimes risks reducing Churchill to a mere politician, but Mr. Jenkins himself a veteran of the Parliament and the Cabinet is still seduced into awe. The military historian John Keegan recounts in his recent brief biography of Churchill (published by Viking) that as a young man in the 1950's, Mr. Keegan, like many of his generation, found Churchill to be simply irrelevant an aging conservative leader, a relic of a passing imperial age. But recordings of Churchill's speeches changed his mind.
Stephen Kotkin, Princeton historian, writing in the New Republic (March 22, 2003)
Hitler started the Cold War. Let us remember, he decisively won World War II. By 1941, through conquests, annexations, and alliances, Nazi Germany controlled all of Europe from the English Channel to the Soviet border. The defiant British, an irritant, posed no threat, and the compliant Soviets were obediently fulfilling a nonaggression pact and a trade pact with their Nazi comrades. But Hitler unilaterally broke his deal with Stalin and invaded the one country that had the power to defeat the Nazi land army, calling forth an epochal defensive war that unexpectedly implanted the Soviets in Berlin. The crusade that Hitler thrust upon the Soviets afforded them the transcendent purpose and the geopolitical aggrandizement that Communist ideology professed but that had largely eluded the Soviets outside their factory towns. The war integrated the huge village population into the revolution, extended state borders in all directions, and brought a bonus European buffer empire. The Vozhd, as Stalin liked to be called, never had a greater partner than the Fuhrer, not even Lenin.
And Stalin, in turn, conjured up today's Pax Americana. Flush with victory in the great war, not only did he stubbornly refuse to accept change, or to bring his devastated domestic order even minimally in line with the more powerful liberal ascendancy being imposed on defeated Germany and Japan, but he also force-cloned Soviet regimes in the windfall lands that Hitler's racist megalomania had perversely bestowed. In the years after the war, Stalin appears to have expected a capitalist crisis still greater than the Great Depression, as well as divisions among the capitalist powers even deeper than those of the interwar period. Mistake! He and his heirs came smack up against the capitalist world's greatest economic boom, while his ideologically inflected opportunism in Eastern Europe, and then in Korea, united the highly fractious Western powers and decisively mobilized the internationally circumspect United States for a sustained global campaign. Stalin is long dead and the Cold War won (except, of course, on the Korean peninsula). But the world that the Soviet menace induced, with a huge initial hand from the Nazis (and a lesser one from the Japanese), lives on: an American superpower engaged and deployed across the entire planet, not to mention outer space.
Dred Scott Wasn't the Only Slave to Sue for His Freedom (posted 3-26-03)Stephanie Simon, writing in the LA Times (March 18, 2003):
The creamy linen pages are creased and torn, smudged with grease or sweat. The ink has faded to sepia. A squashed fly is smeared on the edge of one sheet.
Through these tattered documents, the unheard voices of America's slaves call out for justice.
Tempe complains in 1818 that her master has failed "to supply her with clothing necessary for comfort and decency." Ralph, in 1830, expresses "fear that James and Coleman Duncan will take me by force from this place and sell me." Daniel, in 1835, states simply that he is "entitled to his freedom."
Winny speaks, and Celeste, and Milly, Arch and Anson and Matilda, Charlotte and Julia, Jerry, Rachel. These were men and women who had no last names, who could not read or write, who were bought and sold like livestock. Yet, in a remarkable display of courage and desperation, they and hundreds of others sued for their freedom in the white man's court.
Their stories, their voices, are emerging now as Missouri state archivists sort through 4 million court documents that had been stashed away in metal cabinets, untouched since the Civil War.
Among heaps of musty affidavits about contract disputes and unpaid debts, the archivists have uncovered 283 "freedom suits" filed in St. Louis from 1806 to 1865.
Decades before Dred Scott became the most famous slave to sue for freedom, the imposing, domed courthouse here echoed with the defiant voices of Tempe, of Ralph, of so many others who refused to accept their bondage. They dictated their petitions to lawyers or clerks and signed them with faltering Xs in black ink. "He has frequently abused and beaten her, particularly yesterday." "Unlawfully an assault he did make in and upon her."
Before this cache of documents was discovered, historians had no idea how many slaves had put their faith, and their fates, in the courts. They thought Dred Scott was an anomaly. Now, they are uncovering evidence of an underground grapevine that passed word about the freedom suits from slave to slave, emboldening men and women and even teenage children to sue.
Was the Truman Administration Correct in Believing that Stalin Was Behind the North Korean Invasion of the South? (posted 3-25-03)Leo Lovelace, a professor at the University of Southern California, commenting on H-Diplo about the Truman administration's belief that North Korea decided to invade the South in 1950 at the behest of Joseph Stalin (March 25, 2003):
The most authoritative source on this matter now, on the basis of declassified documents from the Soviet archives, is now at the National Security Archives, and may be found at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/CWIHP/BULLETINS/b3a2.htm.
These documents show Kim Il Sung's attack plan was deliberate in its attempt to gain control of a unified Korea, and that Stalin supported it. According to Kathryin Weathersby, of the National Security Archive, this proves the revisionist thesis is incorrect.
The revisionist thesis proves to be correct, however, to the extent that, contrary to the Truman's administration absolute assumption--pivotal for the consolidation of the Cold War mindset and strategic framework--the Soviet declassified materials show the plan was not a Stalin's initiative, but Kim's own design.
Was Palestine Filled with Arabs Before the Founding of Israel? (posted 3-24-03)Harry Mandelbaum, writing in Think-Israel (March 2003):
Unknown to most of the world population, the origin of the"Palestinian" Arabs' claim to the Holy Land spans a period of a meager 30 years - a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of years of the region's rich history.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were practically no Arabs in the Holy Land. By contrast, the Jews, despite 2000 years of persecution and forced conversions by various conquerors, have always been the majority population there. When General Allenby, the commander of the British military forces, conquered Palestine in 1917/1918, only about 5000 Arabs resided there. Other Muslims in the area either came from Turkey under the Ottoman Empire, or were the descendents of Jews and Christians who were forcefully converted to Islam by the Muslim conquerors. None of these other Muslims were of Arab origin.
The local inhabitants did not call themselves"Palestinians". The concept of a"Palestinian" to describe the local residents had not yet been invented; neither was there ever in history a"Palestinian Arab" nation. None of today's Arabs have any ancestral relationship to the original Biblical Philistines who are now extinct. Even Arab historians have admitted Palestine never existed.
In 1937, the Arab leader Auni Bey Abdul Hadi told the Peel Commission:"There is no such country as Palestine. Palestine is a term the Zionists invented. Palestine is alien to us."
In 1946, Princeton's Arab professor of Middle East history, Philip Hitti, told the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry:"It's common knowledge, there is no such thing as Palestine in history."
In March 1977, Zahir Muhsein, an executive member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), said in an interview to the Dutch newspaper Trouw:"The 'Palestinian people' does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel."
Mark Twain - Samuel Clemens, the famous author of"Huckleberry Finn" and"Tom Sawyer", took a tour of the Holy Land in 1867. This is how he described that land:"A desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given over wholly to weeds. A silent, mournful expanse. We never saw a human being on the whole route. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country."
In 1874, Reverend Samuel Manning wrote:"But where were the inhabitants? This fertile plain, which might support an immense population, is almost a solitude.... Day by day we were to learn afresh the lesson now forced upon us, that the denunciations of ancient prophecy have been fulfilled to the very letter -- `the land is left void and desolate and without inhabitants.'"
Here is a report that the Palestinian Royal Commission, created by the British, made. It quotes an account of the conditions on the coastal plain along the Mediterranean Sea in 1913:"The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track, suitable for transport by camels or carts. No orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached the [Jewish] Yabna village. Houses were mud. Schools did not exist. The western part toward the sea was almost a desert. The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many villages were deserted by their inhabitants."
NEW STUDY: GEOGRAPHY'S IMPORTANT IN SCHOOL (posted 3-21-03)Chester Finn, writing in Gadfly (March 20, 2003):
We learn from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, from surveys by the National Geographic Society, and from a hundred other sources that American students’ knowledge of history and geography is lamentably thin, that their understanding of their nation’s past is weak, and that their comprehension of the world outside U.S. borders is skimpy indeed. Yet there has never been a time when such knowledge mattered more. Geography plays a crucial role in shaping history and the study of history provides an important context for students learning geography. Yet K-12 teachers rarely take advantage of the complementary nature of these two subjects by teaching both in one integrated curriculum. A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation shows how the study of U.S. history can be enriched by blending geography into the curriculum. The centerpiece of the report is an innovative curricular framework for studying the American past, a course in which each historical period is supplemented and enriched by the introduction of relevant geography. See www.edexcellence.net to download a copy of the report or to order a hard copy.
The Best of Both Worlds, Blending History and Geography in the K-12 Curriculum, by Richard G. Boehm, David Warren Saxe and David J. Rutherford, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, February 2003, http://www.edexcellence.net/library/GeoHistfinal.pdf
LAMAR ALEXANDER'S HISTORY INITIATIVE (posted 3-21-03)Chester Finn, writing in Gadfly (March 20, 2003):
Rarely does a newly introduced bill deserve comment before it’s even gotten to the stage of hearings, but you should know about this one. Senator Lamar Alexander--former U.S. Secretary of Education, Governor of Tennessee, president of that state’s flagship university, and chairman of the National Governors Association--used the occasion of his “debut” speech on the Senate floor to introduce S. 504, The American History and Civics Education Act of 2003. As he put it, this bill joins “two urgent concerns that will determine our country’s future…: the education of our children and the principles that unite us as Americans.” It authorizes the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a dozen “Presidential Academies for Teachers of American History and Civics” and a like number of “Congressional Academies for Students of American History and Civics.” (It also provides for a new “National Alliance of Teachers of American History and Civics.) Authorized at $25 million, the measure is seen by Alexander and his co-sponsors as a pilot to demonstrate the value and effectiveness of residential summer programs for K-12 teachers specializing in history and/or civics, and for high school students who are accomplished and interested in those subjects. About 300 teachers would attend each 2-week program (i.e. about 3600 per annum) as would a similar number of students (their programs would last a month). Universities and education research organizations would run these projects. If enacted, these would be substantial--as well as highly symbolic--sources of encouragement to K-12 and higher education to pay closer heed to what Alexander terms “better teaching and more learning of the key events, persons and ideas that shape the institutions and democratic heritage of the United States.”
ULTRAORTHODOX JEWS ARE SPLIT OVER THE WAY TO WRITE HISTORY (posted 3-21-03)Steven Aftergood, writing in the newsletter for Secrecy News (March 20, 2003):
A new book by ultra-orthodox Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky, entitled The Making of a Godol [Great Man] has been banned by other ultra-orthodox rabbis, who have burned copies of the book and defamed its author for his respectful but unvarnished description of leading figures in the early 20th century orthodox
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