All posts filed under: History

The Fog of Youth: The Cornell Student Takeover, 50 Years On

On April 20, 1969, an era of student rebellions that had rocked American campuses at Berkeley, Columbia, San Francisco State, and Harvard reached a culmination of sorts with the triumphant exit of armed black students from Cornell’s Willard Straight student union building after a two-day occupation. The students had just won sweeping concessions from the university’s administration, including a pledge to urge faculty governing bodies to nullify reprimands of several members of the Afro-American Society (AAS) for previous campus disruptions on behalf of starting up a black studies program, judicial actions that had prompted the takeover. White student supporters cheered the outcome. And when the faculty, at an emergency meeting attended by 1,200 professors, initially balked at the administration’s request to overturn the reprimands, the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led a body that grew to six thousand students in a three-day possession of the university’s Barton gymnasium. Amid threats of violence by and against the student activists, the faculty, in a series of tumultuous meetings, voted to reverse themselves, allowing the crisis …

My Testimony on Reparations

Editor’s note: Coleman Hughes delivered the following testimony at a United States House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Bill H.R. 40 on June 19, 2019. If passed, the bill would establish a commission for reparations. Thank you Chairman Cohen, ranking member Johnson, and members of the committee. It’s an honor to testify on a topic as important as this one. Nothing I’m about to say is meant to minimize the horror and brutality of slavery and Jim Crow. Racism is a bloody stain on this country’s history, and I consider our failure to pay reparations directly to freed slaves after the Civil War to be one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by the U.S. government. But I worry that our desire to fix the past compromises our ability to fix the present. Think about what we’re doing today. We’re spending our time debating a bill that mentions slavery 25 times but incarceration only once, in an era with zero black slaves but nearly a million black prisoners—a bill that doesn’t mention homicide once, at a …

The Ultimate ‘Concept Creep’: How a Canadian Inquiry Strips the Word ‘Genocide’ of Meaning

In 208 AD, the Roman warrior emperor Septimus Severus arrived in Britain with 40,000 soldiers, intent on subduing the tribes inhabiting the northern part of the island. These tribes were part of the Caledonian confederacy, which occupied modern Scotland. But to the Romans, most everyone who lived outside the empire was a barbarian, full stop. So when Severus became frustrated by the Caledonians’ (sensible) refusal to submit to pitched battle, the emperor settled on another strategy, which we would now call genocide. In 210, he assigned the job of extermination to his son Caracalla, a mass-murdering lunatic who would later assassinate his own brother Geta in front of their mother. It likely was only Severus’ death in 211 that cut the operation short and saved Scotland from a complete holocaust. Caracalla always is listed by historians among the worst emperors of Roman history. But tellingly, his attempted annihilation of the Caledonians isn’t typically cited in the historical bill of particulars. In ancient Rome, genocide was seen as an acceptable military tactic if it was directed …

Conspiracism at the Atlantic

In his short story The Portrait of Mr W.H. (1889), Oscar Wilde depicts a quest to identify the mysterious dedicatee, known only as Mr W.H, of Shakespeare’s sonnets. On purely internal evidence, his protagonists “prove” that it must have been an enchanting boy actor called Willie Hughes. The conceit, clearly deriving from Wilde’s own sexual interests, is compellingly written and completely fictitious. Last weekend the Atlantic magazine published a long article that I initially assumed must be a similarly imaginative parody of misplaced literary ingenuity. The piece, titled “Was Shakespeare a Woman?”, suggests that the works attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford may have been written by a woman. The author, Elizabeth Winkler, maintains: “Doubts about whether William Shakespeare … really wrote the works attributed to him are almost as old as the writings themselves.” She accuses what she calls orthodox Shakespeare scholars of “a dogmatism of their own” on the issue, whereby “even to dabble in authorship questions is considered a sign of bad faith, a blinkered failure to countenance genius in a glover’s …

Seventy-five Years Later, Hungary Still Hasn’t Come to Terms with its Role in the Holocaust

On the 75th anniversary of the extermination of most of Hungary’s Jews—including the Auschwitz deportations, which began in May, 1944—we should also take note of the Hungarian government’s apparent determination to distort the country’s historical record. In some circles, this effort includes even the rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy, the longtime Hungarian Regent who governed Hungary during the Holocaust. A former admiral and adjutant to the Habsburg Emperor-King, Horthy entered Budapest in dramatic style with his army on November 16, 1919, astride a white horse. His army defeated the ragtag Bolshevik forces that had imposed 133 days of “Red Terror” upon the country, but also inflicted its own “White Terror,” in some ways more brutal than its communist predecessor. Early during Horthy’s rule, Hungary enacted some of Europe’s first 20th-century anti-Jewish laws. Jews were capped at 6% of university admissions, and subsequent measures limited Jewish participation in elite professions to the same benchmark. Jews also were prohibited from working in the public service and judiciary, or as high school teachers. During World War II, an additional …

A Girl’s Place in the World

Worth mentioning here is the way in which the boy’s plight differs from the girl’s in almost every known society. Whatever the arrangements in regard to descent or ownership of property…the prestige values always attach to the occupations of men. —Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, 1935 It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest obsession in history is that of man with woman’s body. —David D. Gilmore, Misogyny, 2001 In the volume Gender Rituals: Female Initiation in Melanesia, anthropologist Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin recounts meeting a woman who had undergone a male initiation among the Central Iatmul fisher-foragers of Papua New Guinea. One day years back, when the woman was a young, pre-pubescent girl visiting her mother’s village of Tigowi, she had climbed a Malay apple tree to get some fruit. At that moment, two men were blowing flutes in a fenced-off enclosure nearby and saw the girl in the tree. This was a serious matter, as the flutes were meant to be kept secret from the women and children, who were …

Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane

How many people who followed the BBC’s podcast series about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter were startled—or even outraged—when Carter was not triumphantly vindicated in the final episode? In the small hours of June 17, 1966, two black men walked into a late-night Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey and opened fire on the occupants. They left bartender James Oliver and patron Fred Nauyoks dead at the scene and mortally wounded a woman named Hazel Tanis, who would succumb to her injuries a month later. Another customer named Willie Marins lost an eye in the shooting but survived. Neighbors Patty Valentine and Ronald Ruggiero told police that they had seen two black males flee the scene in a white vehicle. This testimony was corroborated by petty thief Alfred Bello who walked past the dead and the dying to empty the cash register after the shooters had fled. Half an hour later, Paterson police stopped middleweight boxer Rubin Carter and his companion John Artis in a car bearing out-of-state plates that matched the eyewitnesses’ description. A search …

The Scars of Rwanda, 25 Years On

I was home from University for the Easter holidays when the genocide began. April 7, 1994 is a date seared into my family’s psyche. My parents and I were transfixed by the news. They’d been front-line aid-workers for decades. My father was with the UN’s refugee agency. My mother, a child psychologist, worked with child soldiers. Neither were naïve about the world’s darker recesses, but the speed and scale of the savagery in Rwanda left everyone, even the most jaded and battle-hardened of my parents’ colleagues, reeling. The phone rang repeatedly. Meetings ran late. People we knew were dispatched to the region.  Over the next 100 days, an estimated 800,000 Tutsi were hacked to death with machetes wielded by their Hutu countrymen. House by house. Village by village. Town by town. Often it was neighbor killing neighbor. Occasionally, family members butchered their own kin. Two pieces of footage from those days remain clear in my mind. One was shot clandestinely, by someone hiding in some bushes. It filmed a makeshift roadblock with a few Tutsi …

Milan Kundera Warned Us About Historical Amnesia. Now It’s Happening Again

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. —Milan Kundera Milan Kundera is 90-years old on April 1, 2019 and his central subject—The Power of Forgetting, or historical amnesia—could not be more relevant. Kundera’s great theme emerged from his experience of the annexation of his former homeland Czechoslovakia by the Soviets in 1948 and the process of deliberate historical erasure imposed by the communist regime on the Czechs. As Kundera said: The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster. I first read Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) back in 1987, when I was a member of the British Communist Party. The book shook my beliefs and Kundera’s writing became a part of a process of truth-speaking that shook the USSR …

Socialism’s Endless Refrain: This Time, Things Will Be Different

Germany’s socialist left is currently embroiled in a row over the correct stance on Venezuela. The conflict came to the fore at the February conference of Die Linke, the country’s main socialist party, when a group of Nicolás Maduro fans stormed the stage, chanting slogans and waving banners with pro-Venezuela messages. Nicolás Maduro is the successor to Hugo Chávez, and has served as Venezuelan President since 2013. The legitimacy of his presidency has been in free fall in recent years, and many now call him a dictator. As Maduro’s popularity has waned, his tactics have become increasingly brutal. In 2018, a panel of legal experts convened by the Organization of American States recommended that the regime be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Many members of the Die Linke party establishment, however, still side with Maduro, whom they see as a comrade under siege. Others, especially in the party’s youth organisation, take the opposite view—which is why the February conference was contentious. One young member describes the party’s in-house Chavistas as …