All posts filed under: History

Abandon in Place: The Price of the First Steps to the Moon

The sun pours down on a sweaty Florida morning. The deserted, circular concrete slab just steps from the Atlantic Ocean is wider than an American football field. Today, it hosts two visitors: Someone with a very intimate connection to this place, who has agreed to serve as my tour guide. And me. That’s it. Somehow, this space seems to expand in all directions, across the wetlands to the immediate west and out to sea to the east. And then vertically all around. Up, up, up. To forever. Dominating the space is the looming, four-post, 25-foot-high pedestal in the center of the slab. It supports a platform with a wide, circular opening to the sky. A few other items are strewn about amid blowing sand and random scrub vegetation. Two heavy, angled metal structures, neglected and alone across the slab at the edge, resemble skateboard ramps. These turn out to be rocket exhaust flame deflectors. Nearby are the two launch pads on which the moon rockets once stood. But this morning, except for the occasional squawk …

Age of Amnesia

We live, as the Indian essayist Saeed Akhter Mirza has put it, in “an age of amnesia.” Across the world, most notably in the West, we are discarding the knowledge and insights passed down over millennia and replacing it with politically correct bromides cooked up in the media and the academy. In some ways, this process recalls, albeit in digital form, the Middle Ages. Conscious shaping of thought—and the manipulation of the past to serve political purposes—is becoming commonplace and pervasive. Google’s manipulation of algorithms, recently discussed in American Affairs, favors both their commercial interests and also their ideological predilections. Similarly, we see the systematic “de-platforming” of conservative and other groups who offend the mores of tech oligarchs and their media fellow travellers. Major companies are now distancing themselves from “offensive” reminders of American history, such as the Nike’s recent decision to withdraw a sneaker line featuring the Betsy Ross flag. In authoritarian societies, the situation is already far worse. State efforts to control the past in China are enhanced by America’s tech firms, who are …

Canada’s Treatment of Indigenous Peoples Was Cruel. But Calling It an Ongoing ‘Genocide’ Is Wrong

Two months after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the public: “As his armies advance, whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands, literally scores of thousands of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police troops…We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” By the end of World War II, we had at least two names for it, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. Now, almost 80 years later, a debate over the semantics of genocide has erupted in Canada, following a report from a National Inquiry investigating the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). The report claims not only that Indigenous communities were historically victimized by racist and murderous colonial policies, but also that a “genocide” is still going on in Canada to this very day. While many well-meaning activists are pressuring the Canadian government to act on the findings of the Inquiry, others have questioned the use of this term. The fact that the overall Canadian homicide rate …

Why China is Hiding the Horrors of Its Past

While the Chinese government continues to transform Xinjiang through its cultural genocide program aimed at eliminating the distinct identity of the Uyghur population, it is also putting a high priority on controlling the history of the region and its people. In October 2018, the state-run newspaper People’s Daily published an article outlining the official stance towards Xinjiang’s history, saying, “A correct understanding of the history of Xinjiang is not about examination of specific historical details. It is about a deep understanding of the Party Central Committee’s basic understanding, viewpoints and conclusions on issues related to Xinjiang’s history, culture, religion and so on, and enhancing our confidence in Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” The statement illustrates how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) generally regards the purpose of history. For the CCP, the purpose of historical study is not to understand past mistakes to ensure they are not repeated, an extremely important goal for a nation with the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward in the living memory of much of its population. The purpose of history …

So This Is the (Real) Tale of Our Castaways: Lessons from Shipwrecked Micro-Societies

Survivor camps established after shipwrecks provide fascinating data about the societies that groups of people make when it’s left up to them, about how and why social order might vary, and about what arrangements are the most conducive to peace and survival. An archipelago of shipwrecks, formed over centuries, more or less at random, has resulted in people participating, unintentionally, in multiple trials of this experiment. Shipwreck survivors have had a special hold on the human imagination for thousands of years, beginning at least since Homer crafted the Odyssey and stretching through when Shakespeare penned The Tempest, Cervantes described Don Quixote’s marooning, and more modern authors wrote Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, and Lord of the Flies. In fiction, the castaway narrative tends to feature an idyllic state of nature, following Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or a state of anarchy and violence, following Thomas Hobbes—two philosophers with rather conflicting ideas about human nature. Hobbesian examples abound in real-world shipwreck situations. Consider the crew of the Batavia, who in 1629 systematically planned the mass murder of women …

How Antifa’s Apologists Fell in Love With Street Violence

A day before the 2017 Women’s March, spectators and activists of all stripes descended on Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of President Trump. Supporters of the new president wore “Make America Great Again” baseball caps and toted “Trump-Pence 2016” signs. Detractors were more colorful. “Trump is the symptom, capitalism is the disease, socialism is the cure,” read one sign, wielded by a woman with a T-shirt depicting a clenched fist. Others were at least funny: I spotted a man holding a sign featuring a cartoon Batman slapping Trump in the face with the caption “Stop tweeting!”—a parody of a drawing from the Batman comics, in which the caped crusader slaps Robin. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful. Mostly. Masked protesters known simultaneously as the “black bloc” (because they wear black clothes and hoods to mask their identities) and “antifa” (as in anti-fascist) smashed the windows of a local Starbucks and a Bank of America. They also set a limousine on fire. How these acts of property damage were intended to undermine Trump remains a mystery, given …

Whither Léon Blum?—Paul Berman’s Misplaced Faith in Bernie Sanders

Just before the Second World War, the father of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas told him why it was necessary to make France their home: “A country capable of splitting itself in two over the honor of a little Jewish captain is a country where we have to go as soon as possible.” Levinas was a Lithuanian Jew who became a French citizen in 1939, after which he joined the military as a translator and ended up as a prisoner of war in Germany. Many of his family members died in the Holocaust, but he survived the war and returned to France where he lived the rest of his life. The Dreyfus Affair divided France just a few decades before the Second World War, and Levinas’s father saw in the controversy the soul of a society that values truth and justice over the ancient hatreds and violent dogmas that were consuming so much of Europe. But the pardon and vindication of the “little Jewish captain” Alfred Dreyfus—who had been falsely accused of treason—was the result of a …

Say It Ain’t So, Doc: How Should Martin Luther King Scholars Deal With the Rape Story?

These are difficult days for students of Martin Luther King, Jr. The man many of us have dedicated long months and years to researching, often out of a profound sense of respect, is facing an allegation of laughing and even offering advice while a fellow Baptist minister raped a woman in a Washington, D.C. hotel room in January 1964. The source of this explosive claim is a trove of newly released FBI surveillance documents unearthed by the dean of MLK historians himself, David J. Garrow, author of The FBI and Martin Luther King: From “Solo” to Memphis and the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on King, Bearing the Cross. Since the article detailing Garrow’s new findings came out at the end of May in the British magazine Standpoint, Garrow has taken more of a pounding in the press than King. No surprises there, perhaps. Like those now criticizing Garrow, I desperately want to believe that the 55-year-old allegation is a trumped-up product of the FBI’s “viciously negative attitude” toward King, as Garrow described it in “Solo” to …

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 …