Tag Archives: history

Presentism

About a month ago, my partner showed me this article. Written by historian James Sweet, it is terrific, and the only thing I could possibly criticize the author for is his after-the-fact apology for what he had written (it appears at the link, prior to the main article). Why on earth did he grovel like that? He wrote nothing wrong and indeed, he was quite sensitive and considerate in his writing. (Of note: Sweet links to a 2002 piece along the same lines, published before we all went mad and utterly gutless.) A propos, Bill Maher’s rant from his show last week. I wish he were not so vulgar – he could make his point without any of that, but still, I admire his moxie here. He is strong on Israel, animal welfare and free speech. And now, it seems, on ahistorical nonsense.

When Journalists Could Write

We have seen deeply touching, solemn and bittersweet images this past week and in the coverage accompanying those images, references were made to this piece of writing:

Two rivers run silently through London tonight, and one is made of people. Dark and quiet as the night-time Thames itself, it flows through Westminster Hall, eddying about the foot of the rock called Churchill.

The paragraph above comes from Vincent Mulchrone’s coverage of Winston Churchill’s lying-in-state in January 1965, reprinted and linked here. The content is moving, of course, but what really strikes me is how well written it is. It’s what I notice when I read something from an old copy of Life, for example. Or an old New Yorker. People who wrote for a living could actually write.

Below, a video of Sir Winston’s funeral. The crowds may look different now, more multicultural, which is good – though they were not without diversity in 1965 – certainly more casual now, but the lack of cynicism is the same. We need more of this – more of recognizing people who make us better and who deserve our grief, more of admitting that they will be missed.

VE Day

It is VE Day and, as such, I would be remiss in not promoting my book here. My mother features prominently in the book, so I guess it is fitting to promote it this Mother’s Day, too. (She would be all in favour of trying to push sales, but I must admit, I find it rather cringe, as the kids say.) I would also like to share this song, so get out your Kleenex. I can’t listen to it without thinking of mum – both my parents, actually.

Ukraine

There is so much to be said, but today I will only say a couple of things: first, how impressed I am with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I thought he was sort of an accidental president, and maybe he was, but he is surely proving his worth right now. There is something extra meaningful about his being Jewish, given the painful history of the Jews in Ukraine – Babi Yar, Pale of Settlement, not to mention so many Ukrainian collaborators during the Holocaust. Zelenskyy himself is the grandson of Holocaust survivors and lost many family members at the hands of the Germans. Ukraine has its own horror in recent memory – the Holodomor – at the hands of Stalin. Interesting fact: Zelenskyy’s grandfather served in the Red Army during World War II. And when I reread this paragraph I remember something my mother said about Europe, when I asked her if she would like to go back there, either to live or visit. “No,” she said. “Europe is a graveyard.” She was right, of course, though for about 75 years after World War II, largely because the United States was the world’s dominant power, it was less of one. I fear what will happen now, with a weak U.S. president. (Compare him and our clown of a prime minister with Zelenskyy and weep.)

Second: this invasion ought to be uniting people. It isn’t. And that is very upsetting. Where are the angry social justice folks? They are awfully quiet about Russian aggression. They will scream and yell when Israel defends itself or when a building in their own free and safe country doesn’t have a unisex bathroom. But a large swath of them are either saying nothing or – you can guess it – blaming the United States. They will probably find a way to blame Israel/Jews too, soon enough. There is an element on the Trumpian right that is also spewing similar nonsense – this sort of, “Ukraine is a client state of the U.S. so Russia is justified/it’s our fault/everyone but Putin is to blame,” foolishness. It’s beneath contempt. Useful idiots all. The extreme left and the extreme right meet in the worst places.

I wrote that I would only say two things and I have ranted a bit. I will add that I don’t think this will end in Ukraine, and places like the Baltics and Taiwan should not count on the West to guarantee their sovereignty. Neither should Israel. All of that said, I am glad for the sanctions and the international condemnation. I am in awe of the anti-war protesters in Russia. I am in awe of so many Ukrainian acts of defiance. Good column here from Bret Stephens and another from Bernard-Henri Levy and a prescient piece – from six weeks ago – by Niall Ferguson. Oh, and Mitt Romney was right. Read about it here and here.

Finally, Condoleezza Rice this morning.

New Anne Frank Theory

I watched with interest the 60 Minutes segment about Anne Frank last Sunday. It was an investigation into finding out exactly who betrayed Anne Frank and the others hiding with her in the famous annex in Amsterdam. The researchers behind the quest came to a conclusion that, as this article says, seems full of conjecture and lacking in certainty and factual foundation, rather than the opposite.

“They came up with new information that needs to be investigated further, but there’s absolutely no basis for a conclusion,” said Ronald Leopold, the Anne Frank House’s executive director. He added that the museum would not be presenting the findings as fact, but perhaps as one of several theories, including others that have been considered over the years.

I am not opposed to speculation in these matters – sometimes, considered and educated guesses are all we have. But presenting it as something other than that is dangerous.