Archive for the ‘History’ Category
What if…World War II started because of a giant miscalculation on Hitler’s (and von Ribbentrop’s) side? After all, it would perfectly fit with the incredible mess they made out of managing the conquered territories:
When I entered the next room Hitler was sitting at his desk and Ribbentrop stood by the window. Both looked up expectantly as I came in. I stopped at some distance from Hitler’s desk, and then slowly translated the British Government’s ultimatum. When I finished, there was complete silence. Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him. He was not at a loss, as was afterwards stated, nor did he rage as others allege. He sat completely silent and unmoving. After an interval which seemed an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. ‘What now?’ asked Hitler with a savage look, as though implying that his Foreign Minister had misled him about England’s probable reaction. Ribbentrop answered quietly: ‘I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour.
The London Review of Books has kindly allocated some space in the Letters section of the latest issue to my letter on the (mis)treatment of Turkey by Perry Anderson, Professor at UCLA.
One important addendum, as my original text has been energetically and mercilessly shortened: at the end of the letter, when it says
“the left, the Kurds and the Alevis are precisely the factors impeding Turkey’s ‘accession process’”
it should actually read as
“according to Anderson, the left, the Kurds and the Alevis are precisely the factors impeding Turkey’s ‘accession process’”
and these Anderson’s articles I am referring to in my letter:
(Addendum to “Thirty Thousand Attempts to Keep Turkey Out of the EU“, Sep 24, 2008)
Perry Anderson is not new to writing historical but relentlessy leftist pamphlets. In his 24 April 2008 article on the LRB, “The Divisions of Cyprus“, the “baddies” are colonialist Brits, whilst Turks are either depicted as semi-passive bystanders going from one fabricated outrage to another, or even beastly thugs.
Tellingly, Anderson describes Turkish Cypriots as “a community that felt itself entitled as of right to a disproportionate share of power on the island, yet continually lived on its nerves as if under imminent siege” but then spends no time dwelling on the reasons for that “siege” mentality.
Archbishop Makarios is portrayed somewhat sympathetically (perhaps due to his willingness to defy NATO). But it’s the Communist AKEL party that, as expected, is the hero of the story, always on the receiving end of violence and the only group capable to express a leader like current President Dimitris Christofias, seemingly on the verge of an historical settlement with the Northern, Turkish area of Cyprus.
Exaggerations abound, including comparisons to the West Bank, Guantanamo, and pro-Franco Italian and German forces in the 1930’s. The British intervention in the 1944-1949 Civil War in mainland Greece is depicted as bigger than the USSR’s in Hungary in 1956 (never mind there was no civil war in Hungary, in 1956). Greek leaders Papandreou and Karamanlis are weaklings in the extreme, with the latter a “sentry duty in the Cold War” retreating “to his bedroom as details of the [Zurich] agreement were fastened down“.
Successive British Governments are invariably scheming and evil, and Greek-Cypriot General George Grivas “a nervi of extreme wing of counter-revolution“.
Furthermore, Anderson’s essays describe eminently self-consistent stories, with little or no space for mistakes, random circumstances, and the revelation that some critical information may be missing and/or open to different, equally valid interpretations.
All in all, one is forced to classify Anderson’s historical efforts not as much as scholarly analysis, rather as documented fiction. And by trying to present it as some kind of unvarnished history, one risks cheapening both Literature, and History.
James Grant is right in pointing out that one root of today’s financial troubles lies in the Nixon administration’s decision, on Aug. 15, 1971, “that the dollar would henceforth be convertible into nothing except small change” (“The buck stopped then“, IHT, Sep 25).
Really, there’s lots of disasters that can be directly linked to the fewer-than-usual days of Richard M. Nixon as President.
Abroad: the bombing of neutral Cambodia and Laos, resulting in 4 students dead at Kent State in Ohio, and the establishment of the genocidal Pol Pot regime; the threat to India with nuclear-powered USS Enterprise in 1971, resulting in India’s and subsequently Pakistan’s nuclear (bomb) programs; the approval of Pinochet’s bloody coup in Chile in 1973, with a dwindling support for US interests by Latin American governments ever since.
Domestically: the end of all human voyages beyond Earth orbit; the ballooning-up of the Federal Government with the establishment of a long list of Government Agencies; the abuse of Presidential powers with their following corrosion for more than a quarter of a century; the “culture wars” between Republicans and Democrats, all trying to despise each other most; Donald Rumsfeld; and of course the original declaration of the “war on drugs” that surely must have been the most inefficient endeavor ever taken by humanity.
Nixon’s Presidency started a little less than forty years ago. Its legacy, who knows when it will end?
Is America the first culprit in the Death and Suffering of US Veterans?
Has anybody caused the deaths of more Muslims than Osama bin Laden? Who’s killed a greater number of Russians and of Communists than Stalin? Who’s been directly and indirectly responsible for the massacre of millions of Germans but Hitler? When did a bigger mass of Chinese met their final destiny than under Chairman Mao?
Such examples are too many to mention. Wouldn’t it be a nice headstart towards global peace, say, if we would all stop killing our own let alone the purported enemies? Some hope! For now, history will continue its history as a murderous farce.
History is never pure chronicles, rather always an interpretation. And so with double skepticism we should confront all “Arguments from History” that elicit hatred and separation: because they are likely to be unmasked as simplistic manipulations.
Excerpts from Peter Brown’s “The Voice of the Stones“, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 6 · April 17, 2008 – reviewing G.W. Bowersock’s new book “Mosaics as History: The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam“, Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 146 pp., $22.95 (article on the web for subscribers only):
[…] The second-to-last chapter of Mosaics as History—entitled “Iconoclasms”—shows that [the] descendants [(Jews, Christians, and pagans in the Middle East] were still [commissioning figurative mosaics] after well over a century of Muslim rule. Only in the year 723 did the local Christians find themselves forced to remove some of the figures from the exuberant mosaics in their churches, at the bidding of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid II. They did so with care. As Bowersock shows, this first premonitory tremor of Muslim iconophobia was limited in its extent, and it was Christians themselves who undertook to respond to it.
Far from showing a Muslim fundamentalist state flexing its muscles against religious minorities, the decree of Yazid II arose from a surprising situation. Up to that time, Muslims had often worshiped in Christian churches. They did not like all that they saw there. Some found themselves increasingly disquieted by the exuberant animal and human life that they saw on the pavements. (Put briefly: to attempt to create living beings through art began to awake fears in them that were like those stirred up, in recent years, by experiments in cloning.)
But they did not descend upon the Christians from outside, to inflict random destruction on all Christian images. Rather, the Muslims who advised Yazid II seem to have acted like partners who had already been taken into a firm. They slowly bought out their colleagues and imposed their own policies, by tweaking the image that the company was supposed to project. Eventually (as we all know) the policy of avoiding images would win out. But it only did so (and only to a certain degree) in Muslim circles, and never among the large Christian populations of the Near East, many of whose images have survived (icons, frescoes, mosaics, and all) up to this day.
[…] Altogether, Mosaics as History offers little support to inert stereotypes. Here is no abrupt end of the ancient world, brought about by Arab invaders from the desert. Here are no Christians trembling under the shadow of an intolerant Muslim empire. It is not as we had been told. But then, we are seldom told as much as we should be told about the non-Western shores of the Mediterranean and even less about the complex strands that linked the world of late antiquity to that of early Islam. We need to listen to Bowersock:
Late antiquity and early Islam are full of challenges to old easy dichotomies, such as Orient oder Rom [East or Rome—with nothing in between], that have so long dominated historical interpretation.
[…] Only the sharp tang of scholarship like Bowersock’s, devoted to a seemingly distant past, can clean our eyes, a little, of the itch of modern pseudohistory, of modern stereotypes, and of modern hatreds, so that we can view the present, if not with comfort, then at least with clarity.
Another day, another series of reports on tens of dead, dying and injured people in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
I’ll leave the sorting out of who’s to blame to anybody wishing to waste their time.
Sure, there are more victims on the Palestinian side than on the Israeli, indicating an overwhelmingly disproportionate response as if the value of human life really depended on nationality (a consideration unfathomably shared by the Palestinian leadership too: prisoners exchange usually involve a handful of Israelis to tens of Palestinians).
On the other hand what purpose can it be in the launching of aimless rockets by Hamas, randomly towards civilians? Apart, that is, from killing if not terrorizing them on purpose, because they are civilians: as if that has ever won anybody’s war.
The height of mutual stupidity is that people in charge on the two sides are determined to brutalize each other. At the same time, retaliation after retaliation, they have kind of abdicated all hopes of recovering their own humanity…to the sudden appearance of virtuous behavior in the other camp.
It’s fairly obvious that whatever the causes of their madness, they are all directly responsible for untold miseries that will befall on their own children.
What should be done to bring peace to Israeli and Palestinians alike? It’s more than obvious, it’s actually boring. Stop wishing the others could go away. Realize the land is for the two of them, and for the rest of humanity as well. Decouple Israel from the messianic undertones, by getting it into the European Union.
But that doesn’t look like in anybody’s interest. The main hope is that the situation has worsened since the quasi-agreement with President Clinton in 2000, because when everybody knows peace is tantalizingly near, everybody rushes to settle the last scores.
But that’s still too easy an analysis.
Who else is brutalizing civilians in the futile attempt of getting a military and thus a political advantage in a never-ending war, worsened exactly because and by that brutalization?
It’s us from NATO.
The civilian victims are in Afghanistan, nowadays, and likely but less evidently in Iraq.
And it’s no novelty. Leaving aside the famously useless killings of tens of thousands in Dresden during World War II, just fifty years ago the French Government tried almost casually to defend the bloody bombing of a Tunisian border village, in the Algerian war.
Despite our illusions, things have not changed since. We are still eliminating fellow human beings without much of a thought. Here’s NATO proudly using American and European taxpayers’ money to kill road building workers. Never, or almost never, big news in our media.
It is high time we leave aside idle discussions about other peoples’ business to mind about our own idiocy.