Roundup: Talking About History
This is where we excerpt articles about history that appear in the media. Among the subjects included on this page are: anniversaries of historical events, legacies of presidents, cutting-edge research, and historical disputes.
SOURCE: NYT (12-29-10)
And why, after all, should it be any different? Isn’t that the cry made by most of us? We want to be acknowledged, given credit for our unique experiences. We want to tell our stories. We want to convert you from your own narrow views to our more capacious perspective.
I am exaggerating slightly — but only slightly. In recent years, I have been chronicling the evolution of the “identity museum” or “identity exhibition,” designed to affirm a particular group’s claims, outline its accomplishments, boost its pride and proclaim, “We must tell our own story!”
These cries have been made with varying degrees of urgency and justice. But in the last few weeks, with the opening of a...
SOURCE: National Interest (12-16-10)
In August 1942, Churchill and Stalin met for the first time. That event was the least discussed and yet perhaps the most important among the many “summits” of the Second World War.
The entire history of World War II proves the then-supreme importance of great national leaders and of their relationships. How contrary this is to the widely accepted and trusted idea: that history and politics and societies are governed by economic and “material factors,” that the primary importance of individual persons belongs (if it ever belonged) to earlier ages. The entire history of the Second World War denies this. Its course was set by Adolf...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (12-27-10)
Since moving back to my home state of Texas, I have found myself living about 400m from a statue commemorating a man who was the moving force behind a military and political uprising that led to the deaths of several hundred thousand US soldiers; an uprising that was prompted by the lawful election of an American president who was widely seen as being insufficiently committed to the perpetual practice of black slavery; an uprising that, even after having been put down, was followed by well over a century of often successful efforts to deny the franchise and other basic political rights to America's citizens of African descent – efforts perpetrated with suspicious concentration among those who revered the uprising and lived in the lands from which it was launched.
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (12-19-10)
"A joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink" is probably not how most people would choose to mark an event setting the stage for a conflict that lasted four years, cost 620,000 lives, and ended in annihilating defeat.
But when it comes to the American Civil War, South Carolina is not ordinary. It was the state where passions ran highest then, and where the flame of the "Lost Cause" is most tenderly nourished now. The war was made inevitable by an act of defiance by South Carolina. How fitting, indeed how inevitable, that the 150th anniversary commemorations of the most traumatic and divisive event in the country's history should begin in similar vein, in the same state, tomorrow.
Whatever else the "Secession Ball" (tickets $100 apiece) at the handsome Gaillard Auditorium in downtown Charleston will be a colourful occasion. The programme kicks off with a 45-minute play...
SOURCE: National Review (12-23-10)
It ill behooves the New York Times to become quite so sanctimonious about the latest Nixon tapes, which reveal some comments by the former president and Henry Kissinger about Israel, Russia, the Jews, and other groups. The Times comes to the subject of Nixon and Kissinger, and to the status of Israel and the Jews in the world, with hands that have rarely been clean for many decades. Kissinger stated, during the controversies in the early Seventies over encouragements to the Soviet Union to permit Jewish emigration (which in practice included a great many people whose rabbinical connections were tenuous), that “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
This was a regrettable comment by a man who was a Jewish fugitive from the Nazi atrocities, and an unbecoming sentiment...
SOURCE: Boston Globe (12-22-10)
Storms of criticism at once descended upon the Constitution. "Fraudulent usurpation!" exclaimed Gerry, who had refused to sign it. "A monster" out of the "thick veil of secrecy," declaimed a Pennsylvania newspaper. – from History of the United States" by Charles Austin Beard, Mary Ritter Beard
It had been four long months in the making, and spring had matured into fall, when the Convention delegates presented their creation to their fellow citizens at the Pennsylvania State House, in Philadelphia (now Independence Hall). And now, more than halfway through September, 1787, after all the weary days and nights of argument, compromise and craft, the ship of state suddenly seemed about to founder while yet on its launch ramp.
Vociferous among those who protested the...
SOURCE: openDemocracy (12-21-10)
I was surprised to hear Steve Richards, whose journalism I admire greatly, declare on the Today programme that the Coalition government was a radical administration on par with the 1945 Attlee and 1979 Thatcher governments. For one thing, the Owl of Minerva spreads her wings at dusk, not dawn. It is impossible to judge prospectively whether a government is truly radical. What matters is the legacy it leaves behind and how much of its reforming zeal endures, as Douglas Alexander pointed out in the discussion afterwards. We must therefore await the verdict of history, even if today the first historians to record a judgment tend to be of the contemporary variety (such as Anthony Seldon and my ippr colleague Guy Lodge, co-authors of a new book on Gordon Brown's premiership).
But radicalism is also not self-determined by politicians, however much leadership matters in politics. Men make history,...
SOURCE: WaPo (12-21-10)
Early in his service as President Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger paid a visit to his homeland. The West German government suggested to the press that Kissinger intended to visit some relatives. "What the hell are they putting out?" Kissinger vented to his aides. "My relatives are soap."
Blunt, and true. Kissinger had left Germany in August 1938 as a 15-year-old refugee, three months before Kristallnacht. His granduncle, three aunts and other relatives were murdered in the Holocaust.
So it is appalling to hear Kissinger, an epic life later, telling Nixon on a scratchy recording from March 1, 1973: "Let's face it: The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. It may be a...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (12-20-10)
One hundred fifty years ago, on 20 December 1860, the South Carolina secession convention officially dissolved the state's connection with the American Union. The secession of South Carolina set in motion a crisis that culminated in four years of civil war, the preservation of national unity and the destruction of the largest slave system the modern world has known.
Contemporaries had little doubt about the reasons for secession. With no support in the slave states, the Republican party had just elected Abraham Lincoln president on a platform committed to halting slavery's westward expansion. Lincoln himself had called slavery a "monstrous injustice" and had declared that the...
SOURCE: ALPLM Blog (12-20-10)
The memorable holiday character of Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’s 1843 classic A Christmas Carol brought into popular usage the phrase “Bah! Humbug!” Scrooge went beyond ignoring the holiday. He believed it to be a conspiracy of slackers to get a day off from work. “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December,” exclaimed Scrooge. Ultimately, Scrooge’s problem was his inability to embrace the spirit of the season that also included reconnecting with friends, family, and the less fortunate. The Scrooge model is supported by a recent study suggesting that the higher one’s socioeconomic status, the lower the “empathic accuracy.” In other words, one becomes less attuned to the needs of others. In the triumphal ending, Scrooge’s change of heart also allows for the future of individuals such as Tiny Tim to change as well.
There is little evidence that Abraham Lincoln celebrated...
SOURCE: openDemocracy (12-19-10)
May I tell you the story of Saint Nicholas´s yearly visit to Holland, but at a slant? A slant that takes account of real history to open up a space for real myth. Which is to say: for the politics of tradition as innovation. Precisely because folk-myths are different from policy. Policy is made by politicians, but folk-myths are made by the contradictions of history, a creature for which politics has no good name. Sometimes these flow to places we have yet to imagine, lead the way so to speak, open new doors. As happened one morning in Amsterdam: the day Saint Nicholas arrived. We spend much time thinking about social and economic politics, but the politics of social fantasy is just as engaging...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (12-20-10)
On December 20, 1860 South Carolina seceded from the American Union because of the election of an antislavery president, Abraham Lincoln, setting into motion the creation of the southern Confederacy and the start of the Civil War. Remarkably, on the 150th or sesquicentennial anniversary of South Carolina's secession, arguments used to legitimize disunion are back in vogue.
In a speech before Congress on the eve of Lincoln's election to the presidency, Senator James Chesnut of South Carolina, a southern rights Democrat, accused that "red republicanism" in America had merely "blacked its face." Chesnut was referring to the antislavery platform of the original Republican Party, whose centerpiece was the non-extension of slavery into the western territories. The election...
SOURCE: NYT (12-18-10)
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW published his best-known poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” 150 years ago tomorrow — the same day that South Carolina seceded from the United States.
“Listen, my children, and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” Before Longfellow published those lines, Revere was never known for his ride, and Longfellow got almost every detail of what happened in 1775 wrong. But Longfellow didn’t care: he was writing as much about the coming war as about the one that had come before. “Paul Revere’s Ride” is less a poem about the Revolutionary War than about the impending Civil War — and about the conflict over slavery that caused it. That meaning, though, has been almost entirely forgotten.
Longfellow, a passionately private man, was, just as...
SOURCE: NYRB (12-15-10)
Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, opening this month in New York twenty-five years after its original release, is one of the great works of art of the twentieth century. As it begins, Simon Srebnik, a Polish Jew who was one of two survivors of Chełmno, returns to the death facility at Lanzmann’s request, and sings a song of his boyhood—about a white house, a house that is no longer—in the language of a country that was his homeland as it was of millions of Jews for centuries, a Poland made wretched by war. Mordechai Podchlebnik, the other survivor of Chełmno, in another conversation with Lanzmann, remembers human smoke against blue skies. The work of the stationary gas chambers began in German-occupied Poland on December 8, 1941. Here is the beginning of Lanzmann’s nine-hour reconstruction of the Holocaust, and in...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (12-16-10)
"The Katyn crime was committed on direct order by Stalin and other Soviet leaders." This line, from a formal statement issued by the Russian parliament on Nov. 26, marks an important breakthrough. The execution in 1940 of about 22,000 Poles by the Soviet security police may be a well-recorded and broadly known historical fact, but it is the first time the Duma officially recognized that Stalin and his government were guilty of the massacre. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has now chimed in as well, telling Polish media before a visit to Warsaw this month that "Stalin and his henchmen bear responsibility for this crime."
These two official statements are the most recent examples of a surprising shift by the Russian government: Under Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin's stance on Stalinism was evasive at best, leading to a creeping restoration of...
SOURCE: Commentary (12-1-10)
During the first four years of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI put the beatification proceedings of the controversial World War II–era pope, Pius XII, in abeyance. It was, Benedict announced, a time for “reflection”—not yet the time to grant sainthood. At the end of last year, however, the pope apparently decided that the time for “reflection” should draw to a close. In a Mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of the wartime pontiff’s death, Benedict moved Pius XII closer to canonization by declaring him “blessed” and “venerable.” Born Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII presided over the church from 1939 until his death in 1958. In the mysterious, intramural language of the Vatican, venerabilis is a posthumous recognition that designates one who, in...
SOURCE: American Interest (blog) (12-15-10)
Politically speaking, America may be the most confused country in the world. Millions of people in this country are conservatives and even reactionaries who think they are liberals; we have millions more liberals and radicals who call themselves conservative.
It is an unholy mess and it needs to be cleared up. It’s time for a language intervention.
Despite the mess so many “liberals” have made of this great political tradition, liberal and progressive are two of the noblest and most important words in the dictionary. They describe essential qualities of the American mind and essential values in American politics.
But today the words have been hijacked. They’ve been turned into their opposites: a liberal today is...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (12-15-10)
'The United States of America and the Kosovo Liberation Army stand for the same human values and principles ... Fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values." So declared the neocon US senator (and current foe of WikiLeaks) Joseph Lieberman back in 1999 at the height of the US-led military intervention against Slobodan Miloševic's Yugoslavia.
It would be interesting to hear what Senator Lieberman makes of the report of the Council of Europe – Europe's premier human rights watchdog – on his favourite band of freedom fighters. The report, which cites FBI and other intelligence sources, details horrific rights abuses it claims have been carried out by the KLA, the west's allies in the war against Yugoslavia 11 years ago.
The council claims that civilians – Serbian and non-KLA-supporting Kosovan Albanians detained by the KLA in the 1999 hostilities...
SOURCE: National Catholic Register (12-14-10)
One of the more unhinged criticisms of Sarah Palin flirts with accusing her of anti-Catholicism. “Is Sarah Palin anti-Catholic after attacks on JFK, Nancy Pelosi’s religious beliefs?” a writer for the Irish Voice asked by way of critiquing Palin’s new book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag.
Instead of grief, the former vice-presidential nominee and governor of Alaska deserves some credit for legitimately taking on a sacred cow of American civil religious history: John F. Kennedy speaking to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12, 1960.
“In the best American tradition, he nobly defended religious tolerance and condemned official governmental preference of any faith over any other,” Palin writes. “But his language was more defensive than is portrayed today, in tone and content. Instead of telling the country how...
SOURCE: WSJ (12-15-10)
Richard Holbrooke, who died this week at age 69, loved epigraphs. They are strewn all over his writings—poems and passages from Euripides, W.H. Auden, Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot, the diplomatist and historian Harold Nicolson.
An epigraph from Herman Melville turns up early in Holbrooke's remarkable chronicle of his experience in the Balkans, "To End a War" (1998). "With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts."
Holbrooke lived the life of his choice, driven by that itch. The Holbrooke story could have ended in the Mekong Delta, where as a young man he served as "pacification adviser." He could have perished, as...