"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
December 27, 2004
HISTORY: Thought for the Day
"I have long since learned that a man may give offense and yet succeed."
--John Adams, on diplomacy (in a letter to Congress from the Netherlands defending his decision to press aggressively for Ducth support in the American Revolution, against charges of, among other things, having offended the French)
December 21, 2004
HISTORY: Log Cabin Republican?
The New York Times has an article about a historian’s rather thin-sounding argument that President Lincoln was gay. This sounds like wishful thinking on the part of the Times, but, for more, see here.
UPDATE: Actually, it is misleading to call the author of the book in question a “historian” – the Times, in fact, describes him as a “psychologist, influential gay writer and former sex researcher for Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey.” Make of that what you will.
December 15, 2004
HISTORY: The Cold Hard Truth
Here’s a tribute to the late Iris Chang, who committed suicide in November. It is a sad tale, almost as sad as the one Chang became famous for retelling.
December 07, 2004
HISTORY: Remembering Pearl Harbor
63 years ago today. Go here for one of the less-remembered (by me, anyway) stories of that attack.
UPDATE: Murdoc Online has a fascinating account, including the after-action report, for the initial confrontation with a Japanese submarine a little over an hour prior to the bombing.
November 30, 2004
BASEBALL/HISTORY: Alibi Ike
For reasons that are unclear to me, I got a free sample issue in the mail of "At The Yard," a magazine following the minor leagues. What caught my attention was an article on how Dwight Eisenhower apparently told reporters in 1945 that he had played minor league ball under an assumed name ("Wilson") in 1909 when he was 19. Grantland Rice reported that Ike played center field in the Central Kansas League (presumably a fairly low-level minor league), batting .288, scoring 43 runs and stealing 20 bases in a season of a little over 200 at bats. (Here's what little else I could find on this online).
(A side note: am I the only one who thinks Grover Alexander, a Nebraskan who was three years older than the Kansan Eisenhower also entered pro ball in 1909, bore a striking resemblance to Ike?)
Anyway, as the article (not available online, so far as I can tell) points out, Eisenhower abruptly stopped talking about his pro baseball career after that, and with good reason: he played football and baseball at West Point, which he entered in 1911, and to do so he would have had to sign an NCAA eligibility card stating that he had not played professional sports - and if he signed that card falsely, it would be a violation of West Point's honor code, something Ike would not want to admit to once he was embarked on a career in politics. In today's atmosphere, of course, it's unlikely he would have gotten away with this without someone digging this up.
But if there's some enterprising SABR type out there who would like to dig up the old minor league box scores, this sounds like a fun project to look into.
HISTORY: Happy Birthday to Churchill
October 22, 2004
HISTORY: Passing of a Foreign Policy Giant
Nitze, an ideological rival of the surviving George Kennan, helped encourage a more militarily aggressive approach to containing Communism that would controversially manifest itself in Korea and Vietnam, but which would ultimately contribute to American victory in the great struggle of the second half of the 20th century. The graduate school that bears his name issued this statement.
September 12, 2004
HISTORY: Sad Song
The Daily News has an interesting article about legendary 19th century songwriter Stephen Foster; I'd never known that Foster wrote most of his classic American folk songs from an apartment in lower Manhattan, or that he died a nearly penniless alcoholic at age 37.
June 21, 2004
HISTORY: Really, You Don't Want To
Dr. Weevil notes that there was at least one example of someone trying to cross the Berlin Wall in the other direction:
May 31, 2004
HISTORY: Worst. Government. Ever.
Nazis, Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge . . . there's plenty of candidates. But very high on the list, and in close competition with Pol Pot's regime, has to be the government of Francisco Solano López, who ruled Paraguay from 1862 to 1870. Solano López, placing undue faith in his large and powerful army and completely ignoring geographic and demographic realities, led Paraguay into the catastrophic War of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The war, described in more detail here, left 57% of Paraguay's population dead and the nation at the mercy of its neighbors:
May 11, 2004
HISTORY: Pearl Harbor
You learn something new every day - my dad was telling me this story about Pearl Harbor over the weekend, and it's pretty horrifying. When they righted the capsized USS Oklahoma in 1943 and raised the USS West Virginia in 1942 they found that men had survived inside each of the ships for some two weeks after the attack, waiting in vain to be rescued; sailors in the West Virginia had scratched off days on a calendar as far as December 23, 1941:
Late Spring 1942 found Navy salvage teams finally getting to work on the WV.
April 10, 2004
POLITICS/HISTORY: Presidential Precedential
For all of President Bush's obstacles to re-election, there are a number of reasons why I have a hard time imagining Kerry actually winning this thing. The history of incumbent presidents is one of them. When was the last time an incumbent president got ousted really by surprise, without massive dissension in his ranks, without a huge overhang of economic doom? I mean, look how many things had to go wrong for incumbents to lose in the past century:
Bush I - Major fissures in the party (as shown by Buchanan's primary challenge), major third party candidate (Perot), more severe recession than anyone could claim today with a straight face (though they try), and his party had been in power 12 years, which always exerts a pull back to the middle. His opponent (Clinton) won with 43% of vote.
Carter - Major recession (remember stagflation?), international humiliations, malaise, major fissures in the party (between Kennedy's primary challenge and fighting between the Carter White House and Hill Democrats), and a serious third party candidate (John Anderson) who gave anti-Reagan voters an alternative to re-upping the incumbent.
Ford - Watergate overhang, gigantic debate gaffe (Poland), never elected in his own right, barely survived primary challenge by Reagan that split the party.
LBJ - Hung it up after New Hampshire primary after internal revolt on war, and his party was rent in two in November; never faced general electorate.
Hoover - Great Depression, and his party had been in power for 12 years.
Taft - Party split in two, Taft's popular predecessor (Teddy Roosevelt) ran as a third party candidate, his opponent (Wilson) won with less than 40% of vote, and his party had been in power 16 years.
Compare these to, say, Harry Truman, who saw his party split three ways and still got re-elected amid a weak economy and international crises. I think the forces of inertia and incumbency are stronger than we think, and may help Bush on top of his other strengths.
March 09, 2004
HISTORY: War in the Atlantic
I've been off my routine with various work-related crises since Friday; hopefully, I'll be back to something like a normal blogging schedule in another day or two.
In the meantime, here's is an interesting site giving an overview of the Battle of the Atlantic, one of the key and less-remembered campaigns of World War II. (Steven den Beste has argued here and here and here that this was the most important battle of the war).
My grandfather was in the US merchant marine; if I remember correctly, I think he was at sea during World War II (he was also in the British Royal Navy in WWI as a teenager); it's sobering that the site notes that, at least on the British end, the casualty rate in the merchant marines was higher than for any of the branches of the armed services, with about 1/6 of the men who went to sea losing their lives.
March 02, 2004
HISTORY: RIP Boorstin
Distinguished historian Daniel Boorstin has died at 89. One of the several books I'm still working through at the moment is Boorstin's The Seekers, which is well-written and has a nice general summary of the history of major thinkers in Western Civilization (some of whom I can use to brush up on).
February 21, 2004
POLITICS/HISTORY: Poll Watching
February 07, 2004
HISTORY: And What About A Plaque For KITT?
Baywatch star David Hasselhoff is griping that his role in reuniting East and West Germany has been overlooked....
February 03, 2004
HISTORY: Silent Cal
Liberal writer Jack Beatty had an interesting article in The Atlantic online about Calvin Coolidge, noting that Coolidge was never really the same after his son died from a freak infection in the summer of 1924. I'm not sure I buy all of Beatty's animosity towards Coolidge's record, but it's an argument worth reading.
January 20, 2004
HISTORY: What's Cambodian For "Chutzpah"?
So, Nuon Chea - second-in-command to Pol Pot with the Khmer Rouge -- makes a grudging admission of "mistakes":
I admit that there was a mistake. But I had my ideology. I wanted to free my country. I wanted people to have well-being . . . I didn't use wisdom to find the truth of what was going on, to check who was doing wrong and who was doing right. I accept that error.
Even with this tepid apology, however, the denial continues:
Nuon Chea said the number of people who died was not in the millions. He acknowledged that many did die but said it was impossible to say how.
The record, however, is out there for those who care to look. Cambodia from 1975-1979 wasn't Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany; it was much worse:
By far, the most deadly of all communist countries and, indeed, in this century by far, has been Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his crew likely killed some 2,000,000 Cambodians from April 1975 through December 1978 out of a population of around 7,000,000. This is an annual rate of over 8 percent of the population murdered, or odds of an average Cambodian surviving Pol Pot's rule of slightly over just over 2 to 1.
(See the chart here as well). You know, there's a lot bad that can be said of the Vietnam War, from any political perspective, a lot more than there's space to deal with here; it was a poorly conceived and run enterprise in many ways, and has led to many necessary reforms and refinements in American foreign and military policy. But it's just awfully hard to look with any trace of human compassion at what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, as well as in Vietnam and Laos after the war, and say it wasn't worth fighting the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia at all. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, Americans were fighting a real enemy, one that was deeply evil and unalterably murderous. Let us hope that, in the present war, we never elect a government that repeats the mistakes of 1975 in abandoning the field to such an enemy. (Veterans of the Ford Administration's failed attempt to get aid from Congress for South Vietnam in its last need, like then-White House Chief of Staff Don Rumsfeld and then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, remember this). Cambodia can happen again.
January 17, 2004
POLITICS/HISTORY: Songs for Dean
Matt Labash's look at songs written for Howard Dean is so funny it almost brought tears to my eyes:
While I'm hardly the first to state that the Dean campaign is remarkably free of people of color, I am, after spending a day on songsfordean.com, the person who has suffered through the most painful reminders of it in rapid succession. From coffeehouse bluesmen who over-enunciate every whitebread word, to hot blasts of undiluted folk so earnest that it could make the Weavers cry uncle, the songs are by and for white people. Sort of. There are two versions of the "Howard Dean Rap" . . . They use dated rap terminology like "chill" and "wack." One line goes, "Stop and stare, say hey, lookie there! / It's a doctor! Where? And he knows health care!" "Lookie there?" If they were real rappers, they'd get their asses kicked even in East Hampton, where Dean hails from. By the time they recite Bush's falling "P to the O to the double L" numbers, you just want to grab the first B-to-the-L-to-the-ACK person you can find, and tuck a reparations check into their breast pocket while apologizing profusely.
Labash also has some amusing thoughts on past presidential campaign songs:
[T]here's John Quincy Adams's "Little Know Ye Who's Coming." With the melody pinched from the Scottish "Highland Muster Roll," it's a sunny little ditty that reminds voters what's coming if they fail to elect Adams. The list is not encouraging: "Fire's comin', swords are comin', pistols, knives and guns are comin'." Additionally coming were slavery, knavery, hatin', and Satan, "if John Quincy not be comin'."
Read the whole thing.
December 07, 2003
September 22, 2003
HISTORY: Sleepy Bill
The Washington Post notes a recent study that diagnoses William Howard Taft as suffering from sleep apnea; apparently, Taft was known to fall asleep at inopportune moments, including in meetings with the powerful Speaker of the House.
Insert your own joke about the fact that the accounts of Taft's sleeping habits were drawn from the notes of presidential aide Major Butt.
August 05, 2003
HISTORY: Whacking The Duke
I'm still not sure what to make of the story that Josef Stalin wanted John Wayne killed. MSNBC can't seem to decide, though, whether this comes from a bio of Stalin or of the Duke.
June 02, 2003
HISTORY/WAR: History of Israel
The folks over at Setting the World to Rights are still going strong with their pro-Israel but warts-and-all history-of-Israel series; the first chapter covered 70AD-1921, and chapters 2-5 cover 1923-56. There was some interesting stuff there I hadn't known, including some vivid accounts of the 1948 war. I'm sure some of their accounts are controversial -- in Israel, everything's controversial -- but it reads like a good primer if you're unfamiliar with the history.
Another source that looks worth an exploration (if a bit popup-infested) is the online Encyclopedia of the Orient (so-called, but focusing on the Middle East and North Africa). I've no idea if this is a fair or reliable source, but it does appear to have some pretensions to comprehensiveness.
May 04, 2003
HISTORY/POLITICS: The Irrelevence of Doris Kearns Goodwin
After watching Meet the Press this morning, I'm stuck with the same thought I have every time I watch Doris Kearns Goodwin speak on an interactive panel: Why is she valued by the mainstream media? Leaving aside her plagarism problems, her analysis is superficial ("If we don't increase government revenue for causes like protecting the environment, who is going to protect the air that we all breathe??"). In addition, she typically strains to draw a historical analogy to current events. Her performance today included (a) reminding the viewers that Churchill lost an election shortly following the end of WWII and thus Bush was highly vulnerable in 2004 and (b) in criticizing proponents of a tax cut, relaying that tired anecdote about the man who offers an attractive female a large sum of money for sex and then, after she agrees, offering her one dollar claiming that he has already established the type of woman she is. Commentary like this can be provided by a moderately-accomplished college student, not a historian that certain people hold in esteem.
May 02, 2003
History: Louisiana Purchase
As an update to Hibernian's posting on the Louisiana Purchase, here is an article from the Washington Post that has some interesting details regarding the transaction, including that the U.S. had to work with outside bankers (who charged 6% interest) in order to finance the purchase.
April 23, 2003
HISTORY: Deep Throat
Was 'Deep Throat' White House deputy counsel Fred Fielding?
January 22, 2003
HISTORY: The Civil War Is Over
The job of balancing the federal budget got a little easier this weekend, when the last remaining Civil War widow died, taking her $70/month VA pension with her.
January 14, 2003
HISTORY: Did The Chinese Discover America?
CNN has an interesting report on a new book claiming that the Chinese discovered America more than 70 years before Columbus. It's hard to tell if this is legit, but hopefully the book will provoke serious scholarly debate that will give the rest of us a better fix on the answer.
November 07, 2002
David Pinto had the link to this short, time-wasting questionnaire; here's how I scored:
Guess I'll be brushing up on my dueling and my New York Post . . .
October 13, 2002
HISTORY: Ambrose Joins History
On the other hand, as far as sympathy is concerned, the campaign to vilify Stephen Ambrose should be about done for a while.
September 10, 2002
HISTORY: Buried Valor
On the subject of the French, if you wanted a reason for the cultural decline of the martial spirit in France, think about the military families and veterans organizations, even in such a demilitarized culture as the U.S., that helps keep that spirit alive. Then think about the wholesale slaughter of France's best fighting men in several wars, stretching from the decimation of Napoleon's Grand Armee (Paul Johnson's biography tells of how his best troops were massacred by close-quarters cannon fire at Waterloo) to Verdun. I'm not going to get all Social Darwinist here, but the loss of so many men of any inclination to soldier had to have a depressing impact on the culture's tolerance for battle, one that Americans (even given the bloodletting of the Civil War) can scarcely imagine.
Anyway, that's one thought that came to mind in this fascinating Newsweek/MSNBC story on the discovery of a mass grave of Napoleon's army in Vilnius, in Lithuania. And there's a modern touch, too: the Lithuanians, bless their hearts, want to exploit the grave to further their campaign to get into the EU. Commercialism is the best revenge.
August 29, 2002
HISTORY: REVISE YOUR HISTORY BOOKS
Just in time for the first test of George W. Bush's pre-emption doctrine, comes news that the United States fired the first shot at Pearl Harbor.