Aug 19 2013

New Evidence for U.S. Role in 1953 Iran Coup

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Marking the 60th anniversary of the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadeq, the U.S. government released documents containing the frankest admission yet of an act already well known.


“The military coup… was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy,” says one excerpt.

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Aug 19 2013

Indigenous Mexicans as migrants

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National Geographic looks at what it calls “The Other Mexicans”, which are the migrants from that country whose primary language is one of the 60 indigenous tongues rather than Spanish.

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Mar 15 2013

The Chosin Few

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CNN is trying to draw more attention to one of the worst chapters in the largely overlooked war fought in Korea from 1950 to 1953. This is the battle and siege at the Chosin Reservoir in the far north of the peninsula, where UN troops including U.S. Marines were overrun by a massive Chinese attack in the midst of winter weather so brutally cold that would even a Wisconsinite (Sconnie?) would shudder.

China, in a brilliant feat of mass infiltration, had intervened to support its North Korean ally, then led by Kim Il Sung, late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. As a Siberian cold front descended over the highlands, the 30,000-strong U.N. force found itself surrounded by eight Chinese divisions with an estimated 80,000 men.

Around 65 miles from the sea, in temperatures of minus 37 degrees Celsius (minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit) and winds of 60 knots, the British and U.S. troops’ only hope of escaping annihilation was to hack their way through massed enemy in a fighting withdrawal.

I do not follow military history as closely as these cable channels seem to, but CNN deserves credit for revisiting this overlooked stories, and I have always been in awe of the endurance of the U.S. soldiers who survived. In particular, I was impressed by what I read in one of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s terrific oral histories that allowed the Korea War (I realize it was not officially and constitutionally declared. But “Police Action”? Puhleeze.) veterans from the state tell their own story.


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Nov 02 2012

Ex-History Teacher Digs His Retirement

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An English historian has created a faithful recreation of a World War I trench in his yard —  sorry, garden — as a way to relive the misery, boredom and butchery of that war now almost 100 years past.

‘My grandfather fought in the war and was wounded three times,’ said the historian [Andrew Robertshaw], who also runs the Royal Logistics Corps Museum in Deepcut, Surrey.

‘I wanted to show people that the war was about survival and not just about death. When the soldiers weren’t fighting this is how they were living.

‘The most common experience was living in a trench and trying to be as comfortable as possible while living in a hole in the ground,’ he added.

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Sep 14 2012

History is Irrelevant and What’s Done is Done

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Female victim in Karachi factory fire

Is globalizing labor the same as regressing in a time machine? How else to explain the eerie and infuriating time warp that duplicates the appalling murder of women workers in New York in 1911 with the killing of desperately poor minority workers in Karachi this week, just over one century after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire?

Beyond the basic fact that they died in a clothing factory due to a fire, the similarities extend to locked exits in both cases, and the fact, then and now, that workers are treated like garbage.

Survivors of the blaze said rule-breaking was the norm at the plant, where many worked 12-hour shifts and were paid as little as $58 per month — one-third less than the statutory minimum.

German-language labels on bundles of denim that survived the blaze carried a brand named “Okay Men.” And workers at the factory said they had been forced to lie about their working conditions to auditors representing foreign buyers.

Hafeeza Bano, a 35-year-old with burn wounds on her leg and arm, said she had to misrepresent her working hours and pay or face the threat of dismissal. “The owners were very cruel, and very greedy,” she said.


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Jul 24 2012

Paraguay: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Gabriel García Márquez would tamp down his readers’ praise for his own imagination by pointing out that reality is fantastic enough in his native Latin America. Almost too wild to be true are the characters and stories out of Paraguay’s past, which Trevor Cohen of  The Council on Hemispheric Affairs summarizes in a report tied to the recent impeachment of its latest tragic-comic leader Francisco Lugo.

An earlier example of Paraguay’s colorful leaders was one of the country’s founding fathers at the dawn of independence in the early nineteenth century, Dr. Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia:

Part Colonel Kurtz, part Kim-il Sung, and part Robin Hood, Francia placed the estates of the incarcerated landholders under state control, using them to produced [sic] food for a new Paraguay. Meanwhile, he all but cut off the nation from trade and entrance to foreigners, and only the odd botanist or explorer who did happen to enter Paraguay was forced to stay for as long as 14 years under Francia’s watchful eye.

The short summary is riddled with errors and could use a good edit, but scratches the surface of a literally fantastic history. Proof that  this history is suitable for, if not superior to, fiction is the novel The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck, published in 2004.

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Dec 01 2011

The Weary Neville Chamberlain Allusion

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I’m not here to praise Neville Chamberlain nor to bury him. But I would like to bury the tendency to bring up the poor chap every time someone wants to go off half-cocked. Thus the term that that former British prime minister made infamous after the Munich Conference with Hitler in Oct. 1938, namely “appeasement”, has been stretched in the aftermath beyond all recognition;  it is used by anyone against some political enemy who wants to be even a little less aggressive in geopolitics than the accuser wants to be.

Pundit Kevin Drum shines a light on one instance of this tendency, going after the mangled comparisons of conservative pundit Max Boot. Boot wants war with Iran, and wants to think Bill Clinton did to al Qaeda what Neville did to Hitler:

But without that, Boot is left with only two examples: Neville Chamberlain, poster boy of the hawkish right for over 70 years now, and Bill Clinton. And Clinton isn’t even a very good example: al-Qaeda didn’t truly start to seem dangerous until 1998, and Clinton actually kept a fair amount of attention focused on them. It wasn’t enough — primarily because the CIA and the Pentagon, like the American right, refused to take non-state terrorism seriously at the time — but it wasn’t an example of appeasement. So at best, let’s call it one and a half examples.

Not everything people who want war don’t like is properly called appeasement. But it’s laughable to ask political operatives for precision. The funny thing is that in the midst of this nonsense, I never get tired of Robyn Hitchcock’s mention of Chamberlain. Poets I like.



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Aug 22 2011

Twenty Years Since The End for the USSR

Published by under History in the News

The New York Times has been noting the twenty-year anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union with some outstanding work that combines history with journalism.

One recent story is an inside look at the failed plot to take out Gorbachev. Another article traces the emotional path, true of the supporters of many revolutions, that begins with idealism when the promise of change is new and ends in disillusionment when the promise is not kept.

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Jan 18 2011

Troubling Data Shows The Futility of Universities

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Although this blog is about history, it is also about learning history in college. Off the topic a little is a new study and book about college, and about how little many students gain from their college experience.

The book is “Academically Adrift,’’ by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. New York Times writer Jacques Steinberg says of it:

In the book, and in an accompanying study being released Tuesday, the authors followed more than 2,300 undergraduates at two dozen universities, and concluded that 45 percent “demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college. . .they found that 32 percent of the students whom they followed did not, in a typical semester, take “any courses with more than 40 pages of reading per week” and that 50 percent “did not take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages over the course of the semester.”

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Dec 02 2010

60 Years Ago: Frozen at Chosin

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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel commemorates the darkest days of the Korean War in this article. In the winter of 1950, five months after the war began, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers crossed into North Korea and attacked U.S. soldiers in the midst of brutal cold. It’s hard to comprehend the impact of the high daily death tallies during this onslaught.=

On Dec. 2, 1950, 12 of the 16 dead from Wisconsin served in the Army’s 7th Infantry Division. On Nov. 30, 11 of the 14 Wisconsinites killed were from the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. Of the 14 who died on Nov. 28, half were in the 1st Marine Division.

The accounts by veterans of the Korean war from Wisconsin is more deeply and directly told in a terrific book published by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

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