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The Nation


  • Originally published 08/19/2013

    Ron Radosh: The Nation’s Continuing Denial of Soviet Espionage during the New Deal Years

    Harry Dexter White, the assistant secretary of the Treasury and the man who created the postwar financial structure and the International Monetary Fund, was arguably the top Communist spy working in our top government agencies during the New and Fair Deal days. As I argued in these pages a while back, economist Benn Steil’s new research not only revealed that White was a Soviet agent, but also brings to the mainstream what many of us have known for years — that the New Deal administration was heavily penetrated by Soviet spies, many of them American citizens who were working for Stalin’s intelligence agencies.

  • Originally published 08/13/2013

    Elizabeth Castelli: Reza Aslan—Historian?

    Elizabeth Castelli is the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Religion at Barnard College.The “most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done,” in which anchor Lauren Green challenged the legitimacy of author Reza Aslan for writing Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, seemed to be popping up everywhere on social media last week. The absurdity of the spectacle was multifold: Why—why?!—would a Muslim want to write about Jesus, Green kept asking, as though a nefarious plot to undermine Christianity were somehow afoot. Meanwhile, Aslan made a show of insisting that he possesses not only the academic credentials and but also the professional duty to do so (“My job as a scholar of religions with a PhD in the subject is to write about religions”). The story was quickly framed as a battle between the right-wing Islamophobes of Fox News and Aslan, the defender of intellectual life and scholarship....

  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Robert Cohen and Sonia Murrow: Who's Afraid of Radical History?

    Sonia Murrow is an assistant professor of education at Brooklyn College. Robert Cohen is a professor of social studies and history at New York University.A recent Associated Press expose—drawing on e-mails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act—revealed that in 2010, Mitch Daniels, then Indiana’s Republican governor, covertly set out to ban Howard Zinn’s best-selling A People’s History of the United States from Indiana’s classrooms. Daniels had privately responded to Zinn’s death that year with unseemly glee; “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away,” he crowed. Daniels attempted to banish Zinn’s book on the grounds that it was “a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page…. How do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?” When Daniels’s education adviser replied that A People’s History was being used in a social movements course for teachers at Indiana University, the governor insisted that “this crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state,” sparking a proposed statewide review of university courses designed to “disqualify propaganda” from Indiana’s curriculum.

  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Rick Perlstein: ALEC's Illegal Past?

    Rick Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history, and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008), a New York Times bestseller picked as one of the best nonfiction books of the year by over a dozen publications.

  • Originally published 07/29/2013

    Jon Wiener: The Gore Vidal FBI File

    Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine.The first page of Gore Vidal’s FBI file, released by the bureau after his death a year ago on July 31, is not about his political activism, his critique of the National Security State or even about his homosexuality. The first page, from 1960, says he made disparaging remarks about FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.The problem: Vidal’s play The Best Man (a satire of Washington politics with characters loosely based on real political figures) had just opened on Broadway, and the assistant special agent in charge of the New York City office sent a memo to Cartha DeLoach, Hoover’s right-hand man, informing him that the play contained “an unnecessary, quite unfunny and certainly unfair jibe [sic] at J. Edgar Hoover”—according to a show-biz columnist for a daily newspaper.

  • Originally published 07/22/2013

    Laurence Zuckerman: FDR Holocaust revisionism serves right-wing agenda

    David Austin Walsh is the editor of the History News Network.It's a cliche, but it's true: historical controversies are as much about contemporary politics as they are about history.Laurence Zuckerman, a former reporter for the New York Times and currently an adjunct professor at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, just published a feature article in the The Nation that profiles the dispute between Richard Breitman and Allen Lichtman on the one hand and Rafael Medoff on the other about President Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to the Holocaust and his failure to save European Jews.Roosevelt's critics, argues Zuckerman, are motivated less by the historical evidence and more by contemporaries challenges faced by Israel. "The not-so-subtle message" of critics like Medoff, Zuckerman writes, is "like the Jews of Europe in 1939, Israel is under an existential threat and cannot count on anyone for help -- even the United States, even liberals, even Jews in the United States."

  • Originally published 07/18/2013

    Stephen F. Cohen: Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, Truth-Teller Who Exposed Stalin’s Crimes

    Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University. His Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War and his The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin are now in paperback. One of the last and irrepressible truth-tellers about the Stalin era, who themselves experienced the horror of those years, has died. Having lost both his mother and father in the 1930s, in the tyrant’s prisons of torture and execution, Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko was arrested three times (in 1940, 1941 and 1948) and spent nearly thirteen years in Gulag forced-labor camps, including the infamous complexes at Pechora and Vorkuta.Anton had one mission, as he passionately declared in my presence many times during our thirty-seven-year friendship: “To unmask Stalin, his henchmen and their heirs.” The first major result was Anton’s book Portret tirana (Portrait of A Tyrant), written in the 1960s and 1970s, long before it could be published in Russia, but published in English in New York in 1981 as The Time of Stalin. It remains one of the monumental works of historical truth-telling of the pre-Gorbachev and pre-glasnost era, along with Roy Medvedev’s Let History Judge and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Rick Perlstein: Chicago Rising!

    Rick Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history, and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008), a New York Times bestseller picked as one of the best nonfiction books of the year by over a dozen publications.On a sunny Saturday this past May, far down on the city’s black South Side where corner stores house their cashiers behind bulletproof plexiglass, about 150 activists assembled at Jesse Owens Community Academy. In just a few days, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointed Board of Education would vote on the largest simultaneous school closing in recent history. Owens, along with fifty-three other public schools, was on the chopping block. A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll found that more than 60 percent of Chicago citizens opposed the closings, and a healthy cross section of them had turned out for the first of three straight days of marches in protest.

  • Originally published 06/13/2013

    Norman Birnbaum: JFK’s Presidential Courage—June 10, 1963

    Norman Birnbaum is professor emeritus at the Georgetown University Law Center. He was on the founding editorial board of New Left Review and is a member of the editorial board of The Nation. His most recent book is After Progress: American Social Reform and European Socialism in the Twentieth Century (Oxford).The Cold War did not end with the opening of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. By the time of these events, it had already lost much of its earlier intensity. A skein of international agreements, some formal and explicit, others tacit and even denied, averted the dangers of unintended confrontations. More importantly, the populations on both sides of the Iron Curtain were disinclined to think that the risk of nuclear obliteration was worth incurring.

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    Rick Perlstein: The NSA Doppelganger

    Rick Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history, and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008), a New York Times bestseller picked as one of the best nonfiction books of the year by over a dozen publications.What goes around comes around.The latest news in the National Security Agency spy scandal: that the NSA has been Hoovering up your emails, documents, and connection details directly from the servers of nine US Internet companies. And that, according to NBC News, the government has been collecting records on every phone call made in the United States ever since the passage of the Patriot Act. And they have been doing so with legal immunity. Barack Obama has been helping with that, since well before he was president; and now that he is, he does what presidents do, which is to aggrandize the power of their office by whatever means at their disposal.We have been here before.

  • Originally published 05/17/2013

    Thomas Meaney: On Pankaj Mishra

    Thomas Meaney is a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University and an editor of The Utopian.In the fun-house mirror of the present, the contours of the twentieth century have assumed a strange symmetry. It begins and ends with imperialism. The century opens with the West plundering the Rest, until one Asian nation, Japan, joins the action and becomes an empire itself. In the century’s last decade, the pattern repeats: the forces of liberal capitalism are again as dominant as ever, only this time China is the apt pupil of Western rapacity. The way historians speak of the present in terms of “imperialism,” ”anti-imperialism” and “the rise of Asia” makes the burst of decolonization after World War II seem like an interlude in a perpetual age of empire. The temptation to see Western colonials still lording it over hapless subalterns continues to guide our understanding of the relations between the “North” and “South” since the end of formal imperialism in the 1960s. But this perspective passes over the major structural changes in the history of the postwar decades, when the United States reconceived its mission in the world and new nations were no longer willing to support it on the same terms. Without grasping how this new configuration of forces reshaped the world order, we will continue to misidentify ways to change it.

  • Originally published 05/02/2013

    Rick Perlstein: Times Square Blues

    Rick Perlstein is the author of Nixonland.I was in New York last week, and one of the people I visited with was my friend Mike Edison, whose qualifications for the job (being my friend, I mean, and for being your friend, too) are listed on the résumé that doubles as the title of his 2008 memoir: I Have Fun Everywhere I Go: Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and the Most Notorious Magazines in the World. The notorious magazines include stoner rag High Times, which he published, and the only-in-New-York Bible of repulsiveness known as Screw, which Edison helped take over upon the retirement of Al Goldstein. I met Mike after he sent me his most recent book, Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!, a history of pornography, to blurb. I did so from the bottom of my heart: “Mike Edison can go toe to toe with some of the best writers of the (old) New Journalism. This is foul-mouthed popular history at its most entertaining. Plenty smart, too—and also, strange to say, poignant and loving.” (Hugh Hefner is the villain. I liked that.)

  • Originally published 04/23/2013

    Richard Parker: After Boston -- The Banality of Shock and Sentiment

    Richard Parker,a Nation editorial board member, is an Oxford-trained economist who teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He serves as an adviser to Prime Minister Papandreou. He is the biographer of John Kenneth Galbraith....My parents lived through the Depression and Second World War; they’d been children in the First World War; and they’d taught us in the Cold War fifties and sixties not to be fearful but to be brave—and quiet about our bravery. When President Kennedy was assassinated, we all wept—but I don’t remember Walter Cronkite offering therapeutic advice to viewers or Lyndon Johnson keening on about “our” suffering and fears.

  • Originally published 04/01/2013

    Michelle Dean: Is 'Game of Thrones' Escapist Enough?

    Michelle Dean's writing has appeared at The New Yorker's Page Turner blog, Slate, Salon, the Globe and Mail, and a variety of other publications.Game of Thrones is a pageant of a show, all velvet-curtain costumes and dye jobs that somehow never extend to the eyebrows. The accents are weird and randomly assigned, particularly the ones that are English by way of Denmark and New Jersey. And the CGI’s not all that different from the psychedelic drawings in 1970s cartoons. But somehow, every year, it rolls around just in time for people to feel like the real world’s a little much to handle, and we forgive its pieties and excesses for a few hours of entertainment.In fact, it rarely feels like the ten hours we get each season are enough, and that feeling arises in spite of the amount of violence, exploitation, rape and suffering on the thing, which makes the daily headlines of life in America look like they were written by Captain Kangaroo. This season, whose prose analogue is the third book of the trilogy, A Storm of Swords, starts dark—the rotund and lovable Samwell Tarly running from one of the blue-eyed northern zombies they call the Others, or White Walkers—and will end darker. I won’t say a lot more, except to say that the first big twist comes three episodes in and things devolve from there....

  • Originally published 03/28/2013

    Melissa Harris-Perry: What Difference Will Same-Sex Marriage Make?

    Melissa Harris-Perry is professor of political science at Tulane University, where she is founding director of the Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. She is author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. She is also a contributor to MSNBC.In his essay “Message in the Stars,” the American Presbyterian writer and theologian Frederick Buechner conducts a thought experiment. What if God decided to prove—dramatically, irrefutably and publicly—that God does exist by writing across the night sky. Buechner imagines the heavenly author arranging the stars to read—GOD IS—and the subsequent hope, terror, regret, joy and utter astonishment that such a message would bring. He fantasizes that God would write the message in all the different languages of the world, so that on any given night one might go outside, look up and see, in French, Mandarin or Arabic: GOD IS.He invites us to envision the sense of relief that would come with the utter certainty that God exists. Then he imagines this:

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Patrick Cockburn: The American Legacy in Iraq

    Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and also contributes to the London Review of Books.Ten years ago, Iraqis, even if they had originally opposed them, hoped that the US invasion and occupation would at least bring an end to the suffering they had endured under UN sanctions and other disasters stemming from defeat in the first Gulf War in 1991. Today, people in Baghdad complain that they still live in a permanent state of crisis because of sectarian and criminal violence, pervasive corruption, a broken infrastructure and a dysfunctional government. Many Iraqis say that what they want in 2013 is the same as what they wanted in 2003, which is a visa enabling them to move to another country, where they can get a job.

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Jon Wiener: Homeless Vets vs. the VA: An LA Story Continues

    Jon Wiener teaches history at UC Irvine and is a contributing editor to The Nation.Greg Valentini is a homeless vet in Los Angeles who took part in the initial invasion of Afghanistan and participated in the assault on Tora Bora that sought Osama bin Laden. He’s also a plaintiff in the class action suit brought by the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU-SC) arguing that the VA has “misused large portions of its West Los Angeles campus and failed to provide adequate housing and treatment for the people it was intended to serve.” (See my Nation article “LA’s Homeless Vets.”) Valentini was a private in the 101st Airborne, and the lawsuit describes his service in Afghanistan: “He took part in significant ground fighting, under nearly constant sniper fire and mortar bombardment” and “witnessed the gruesome deaths of numerous civilians, including children.” He was redeployed to Iraq, where he again experienced heavy combat. He received six decorations for his service.

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Stephen B. Bright and Sia M. Sanneh: "Gideon v. Wainwright", Fifty Years Later

    Stephen B. Bright, who teaches at Yale Law School, is president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. Sia M. Sanneh, Senior Liman Fellow at Yale Law School, is an attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama.March 18 marked the fiftieth anniversary of one of the Supreme Court’s most celebrated decisions, Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Court unanimously declared that poor people accused of crimes are entitled to lawyers and that every person “stands equal before the law.” But resistance to—and outright defiance of—this landmark ruling endures. Fairness and equality are in short supply in the criminal courts, which have incarcerated 2.3 million people, a grossly disproportionate number of them people of color. Because a major consequence of poverty is often inadequate representation, racial discrimination in the system as a whole—from stops by police, to disparities in charging, to the exclusion of blacks and Latinos from juries, to the severity of sentences—often goes unchallenged and even unremarked upon.

  • Originally published 03/21/2013

    Greg Mitchell: When Chris Hedges, 10 Years Ago, Warned About Coverage of the Iraq Invasion

    Ten years ago, as the US invasion of Iraq began, and I was the editor of Editor & Publisher, I turned to veteran war reporter (then still at The New York Times) Chris Hedges for insight on what was going on—and what was likely coming. On most questions, his was a minority voice.  Also, as it turned out, quite prescient.He told our reporter Barbara Bedway that the US military's use of embedded reporters in Iraq had made the war easier to see and harder to understand. Yes, "print is doing a better job than TV," he observed. "The broadcast media display all these retired generals and charts and graphs, it looks like a giant game of Risk. I find it nauseating." But even the print embeds had little choice but to "look at Iraq totally through the eyes of the US military," he pointed out. "That's a very distorted and self-serving view."

 

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    Greg Grandin: The Legacy of Hugo Chávez

    Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book, Fordlandia, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.I first met Hugo Chávez in New York City in September 2006, just after his infamous appearance on the floor of the UN General Assembly, where he called George W. Bush the devil. “Yesterday, the devil came here,” he said, “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.” He then made the sign of the cross, kissed his hand, winked at his audience and looked to the sky. It was vintage Chávez, an outrageous remark leavened with just the right touch of detail (the lingering sulfur!) to make it something more than bombast, cutting through soporific nostrums of diplomatese and drawing fire away from Iran, which was in the cross hairs at that meeting.The press of course went into high dudgeon, and not just for the obvious reason that it’s one thing for opponents in the Middle East to call the United States the Great Satan and another thing for the president of a Latin American country to personally single out its president as Beelzebub, on U.S. soil no less.

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    Jon Wiener: Lincoln's Birthday Special: Management Advice from Honest Abe

    Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine.Thanks to Steven Spielberg and his film Lincoln, we’ve been hit by a new wave of management wisdom supposedly gleaned from the film’s central character.  Business Week ran a piece titled “Career Lessons from Spielberg’s Lincoln”; the New York Times called theirs “Lincoln’s School of Management.”  Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book on Lincoln and his cabinet, Team of Rivals, famously provided the basis for some of the movie, has been back on the “leadership advice” circuit.......[But] there are some key moments in Lincoln’s life that the management advice people have neglected.  One came in his Second Inaugural, when he declared that, if the Civil War continued “until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”—if that happened, he said, he would conclude that "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." 

  • Originally published 01/31/2013

    Jon Wiener: 'The Americans': Soviet Spies on Cable TV

    Jon Wiener teaches U.S. history at UC Irvine. His most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America. The best thing about “The Americans,” the new spy show on FX cable TV, is that the Soviet spies are not Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  They are a different married couple--Russians, sent by the KGB from Moscow to Washington DC.  The show begins shortly after Reagan takes office....If Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin of “Homeland” had been assigned to this case, they would have caught Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, the stars of “The Americans,” in episode one.Ron Radosh, David Horowitz & Co. will be unhappy with this show (of course they are unhappy about so many things) because the spies in question are not American communists.  They do have a point there – the most successful Soviet spies in the US were not Russians.  I’m not talking here about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  Historians today pretty much agree that Julius was a spy but he didn’t give the Soviets the secret of the A-bomb; Ethel was innocent but was framed by her brother, David Greenglass, because the FBI threatened to indict his own wife....

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Jon Wiener: When Universities Sell Art: The Case of Columbia's Rembrandt

    Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine and is a contributing editor for "The Nation."A Rembrandt portrait that had been protected by Columbia student protesters in 1968 and later sold by Columbia for $1 million is back on the market this year, with a price tag of $47 million.  The story of the 1658 painting, Man with Arms Akimbo, has many lessons, starting with the folly of universities selling art to make money.When radical students at Columbia occupied several buildings, including Low Library, the administration building, in May 1968 to protest university complicity in the Vietnam War, the painting hung in the office of then president Grayson Kirk. According to The New York Times, the student occupiers agreed to allow police to remove the painting to protect it.Student radicals in 1968 were criticized as barbarians out to destroy the university and all that it stood for. But the students at Columbia protected the university’s Rembrandt—and then the university put it in storage, and sold it in 1975 in a secret transaction with a private collector. A painting that should have been on display disappeared from public view for the next forty years—in exchange for which the university got $1 million. So who were the real barbarians?...

  • Originally published 01/16/2013

    Rick Perlstein: Our Obama Bargain

    Rick Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history, and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008).We have on our hands a President Groundhog Day. Tom Tomorrow nails it in this recent cartoon, as he so often does: regularly, and regularly and regularly, Obama initiates a negotiation; finds his negotiating partner maneuvering him into an absurd impasse; then “negotiates” his way out of a crisis with a settlement deferring reckoning (in the former of further negotiation) to some specified time time in the future, at which point he somehow imagines negotiation will finally, at long last, work—at which point the next precipice arrives, and he lets his negotiating partners defer the reckoning once more....

  • Originally published 12/17/2013

    American Hellfire: Historian Robert Neer on "Napalm"

    February 1942. Just two months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, at a dark time of defeat and anxiety for America, a bright spot for the military: Harvard researchers led by revered chemist Louis Fieser developed an incendiary weapon that would burn longer than traditional weapons, stick to targets, and extinguish only with difficulty. It was cheaper and more stable than existing alternatives, could survive extremes of hot and cold in storage, and could be mixed by soldiers on the battlefield.      

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