2011/2 "What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"

Table of Contents for the Second Quarter of 2011


  1. 1 Rape as a War Crime Today and during the Holocaust    29 June 2011
  2. 2 Ukraine’s Ex-Prime Minister Tried, Apparently for Political Reasons    24 June 2011
  3. 3 EU Talks with Croatia on Accession Progressing    24 June 2011
  4. 4 Dartmouth Students Help Restore Kosovo Jewish Cemetery    24 June 2011
  5. 5 Chinese Copy the Town of Hallstatt, Austria    22 June 2011
  6. 6 The Pink Tank Rolls Again in Prague    23 June 2011
  7. 7 Restoration Complete on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London   22 June 2011
  8. 8 Seventieth Anniversary of the Barbarossa Campaign    22 June 2011
  9. 9 Czech Health Care at Western Standards, but Opponents Fear American-Style Reforms    22 June 2011
  10. 10 Bush White House Possibly Targeted Anti-War Professor Juan Cole during the Iraq War    20 June 2011
  11. 11 American Children Sweep History into the Dustbin    14 June and updated 20 June 2011
  12. 12 Turkey’s Justice and Development Party Wins Its Third Consecutive Election 13 June 2011
  13. 13 Two Historians View the History of Opposition to Public-Sector Unions    13 June 2011
  14. 14 Czech Art to Be Auctioned at Sotheby's    12 June 2011
  15. 15 1919 Letter from Hitler Displays His Early Anti-Semititic Views    10 June 2011
  16. 16 Government Coalition Wins Election in Macedonia (Updated from 5 June)    6 June 2011
  17. 17 Government Coalition Wins Election in Macedonia    5 June 2011
  18. 18 Pope Supports Croatia’s EU Bid    4 June 2011
  19. 19 Controversy in Poland over CIA Prison    3 June 2011
  20. 20 Attend a Confederate Reenactment . . . Just Outside Berlin    3 June 2011
  21. 21 Timothy Garton Ash on Mladić    3 June 2011
  22. 22 House Panel Votes to End “Teaching American History” Grants    1 June 2011
  23. 23 Evidence that Hitler Approved of Hess’s Mission: Interpreting Primary Sources    1 June 2011
  24. 24 Mladić at The Hague  1 June 2011
  25. 25 When Is Criticism of War Patriotic?    30 May 2011
  26. 26 Obama in Poland    28 May 2011
  27. 27 Mladić Arrested in Serbia    27 May 2011
  28. 28 What Is a History Major Worth?    24 May 2011
  29. 29 Commemorating Nakba Day, 15 May 2011    20 May 2011
  30. 30 Hitler’s Body Guard Gives Last Interview    17 May 2011
  31. 31 Post-Secondary Education: America’s Strength and Weakness    17 May 2011
  32. 32 What Is Foreign to Our Legal System?    17 May 2011
  33. 33 Commemorating the Second World War in Germany    13 May 2011
  34. 34 Students! Awaken from Your Comma Coma!    13 May 2011
  35. 35 One Life Every Thirty Minutes    12 May 2011
  36. 36 The Second World War Sixty-Six Years Later    11 May 2011
  37. 37 The First Bomber    11 May 2011
  38. 38 Missed Opportunities?    9 May 2011
  39. 39 In the EU, Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder    7 May 2011
  40. 40 America Found Its Substitute for the Soviet Union in Osama bin Laden     May 2011
  41. 41 Juan Cole’s Analysis of Al-Qaeda and bin Laden    5 May 2011
  42. 42 Holy Wars, Cold War, and Star Wars    5 May 2011
  43. 43 The Secret Life of the American Politician    27 April 2011
  44. 44 The Pendulum Swings against Big Government    26 April 2011
  45. 45 The Limits of Denazification    25 April 2011
  46. 46 More Than 200 Pieces of Medieval Jewelery Found in Austria    24 April 2011
  47. 47 How the EU Got a President    14 April 2011
  48. 48 American Internal Conflicts, Past and Present    13 April 2011
  49. 49 Should Anyone Be Surprised?: Belgium without a Government for 300 Days    10 April 2011
  50. 50 Archaeologists Find Grave of Copper Age Transsexual

Rape as a War Crime Today and during the Holocaust    29 June 2011

A graphic and informative two-part article about the horrors of rape during wartime is available at CNN World.  The second part of the article underscores the Germans as perpetrators during the Second World War.  Well known in the literature, although not covered in the article, is the frequency with which Soviet soldiers raped German women (to be distinguished from German-Jewish women) as they progressed toward Berlin.  There were many occasions of women committing suicide as a result of the indignation of rape and even cases of women who committed suicide as the Soviets approached because of the rumors that preceded their advance.  The second part of the article does mention that the Soviets were often those who raped Jewish women they found in the concentration camps.  The first part is at http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/06/23/war.rape.interviewers/index.html, and the second portion, which deals with the Holocaust, is at http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/06/24/holocaust.rape/.  Both parts are dated 24 June 2011.

Ukraine’s Ex-Prime Minister Tried, Apparently for Political Reasons    24 June 2011

Ukraine’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is being tried for abuse of office for an allegedly illegal natural gas deal with Russia.  Tymoshenko claims that the current president, Viktor Yanukovych, is attempting to keep her out of the upcoming 2012 parliamentary elections and future elections by having her branded as a convicted felon.  There is speculation that even if she is found guilty, she would not serve time in prison.  The EU and United States have condemned the trial, and the Czech Republic has given asylum to her former economics minister.  Tymoshenko was involved in the 2004 Orange Revolution that toppled Yanukovych from power, but Yanukovych won the presidential election in 2010 because of voter frustration with the economy.  The AP release is available at: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Ukraine-s-ex-PM-faces-abuse-of-office-trial-1438382.php.

EU Talks with Croatia on Accession Progressing    24 June 2011

The European Council has targeted the end of June 2011 for the conclusion of negotiations regarding Croatia’s accession to the EU.  It also expects to sign a treaty of accession with Croatia by the end of the current year with 1 July 2013 as an expected accession date.  The European Council charged Croatia with continuing the reforms it must undertake to enter the EU, particularly in the areas of the judiciary and fundamental rights.  In its report, the European Council concluded that:

These developments bring a new momentum to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, provided these countries continue on the path of reform.  The European Council will return to this matter in its December 2011 meeting.  In this context, it welcomes the arrest and transfer to the Hague Tribunal of Ratko Mladić, which constitutes a positive step for international justice as well as for Serbia’s EU perspective.

The 23-24 June 2001 Conclusions of the European Council, which contains the references to Croatia on p. 12, is available through the EU web site at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/123075.pdf.  An AP release on Croatia is at: http://hosted2.ap.org/COGRA/APWorldNews/Article_2011-06-24-EU-Croatia%20Accession/id-36313617207c4159881a9f009ff7eaff.

Dartmouth Students Help Restore Kosovo Jewish Cemetery    24 June 2011

Students from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire travel each year to restore Jewish cemeteries in the Baltics, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans where the Holocaust has left few or no Jews to tend to the graves.  This year, the students focused on a cemetery in Kosovo in Prishtina, the capital city.  The web site for the project is: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~projpreservation/.  An AP news release with photographs is available at http://www.vosizneias.com/86156/2011/06/24/pristina-kosovo-kosovos-neglected-jewish-cemetery-restored.

There are a large number of neglected Jewish cemeteries in the region where Jewish communities have vanished as a result of the Second World War.  The Nazis destroyed some cemeteries.  One of the most famous cases is the Remuh Cemetery in the old Jewish Quarter of Kraków (Cracow), Poland.  The cemetery since has been restored in part with headstones that the Germans had used for paving. Some headstones that could not be associated with a grave are displayed on the cemetery wall.  In Bratislava, Slovakia, the regime of Msgr. Tiso, which cooperated with Nazi Germany, destroyed a Jewish cemetery in order to build a road and run trolley tracks to a newly-constructed tunnel.  The authorities at the time preserved only a small portion of the cemetery, enclosing it in a masonry structure because the surrounding construction required that the area be graded to a higher level.  That cemetery now has a new mausoleum, which includes the grave of Moshe Sofer (1762–1839), a noted Orthodox rabbi.

Chinese Copy the Town of Hallstatt, Austria    22 June 2011

To promote tourism, a subsidiary of the Chinese Minmetals Corp. is building an exact replica of the central portion of the Upper Austrian village of Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The Chinese copy will be located near Huizhou in Guangdong Province.  For more information, see http://www.chinapost.com.tw/china/national-news/2011/06/20/306835/Chinese-copy.htm.

The Pink Tank Rolls Again in Prague    23 June 2011

In 1991 the Czech sculptor David Černý, then in his mid-twenties, added a giant erect finger and a layer of pink paint to the Soviet tank that was part of the memorial in Prague to the city’s Red Army liberators at the end of the Second World War.  The Russians complained, and the authorities repainted the tank green, but members of parliament again painted it pink.  The solution was to remove the pink tank, and this author saw it not long afterwards when it was stashed away in a temporary location at the military archive and museum in the Žižkov section of Prague.  It regular location is now in a museum outside of Prague.

Today, the tank is on the move.  To be precise, until 1 July it is swimming in the Vltava River.  There is no controversy just yet, but one never knows.  The tank, with its finger, is on a barge in the middle of the river as an artistic contribution to Prague’s Week of Freedom that commemorates the departure of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia and the withdrawal of the country from the Warsaw Pact.  Images and a brief video of the tank during transport are at http://www.lidovky.cz/ruzovy-tank-se-vratil-se-vztycenym-prstem-f2k-/ln_domov.asp?c=A110620_160222_ln_domov_mev.

When asked why he painted the tank pink, Černý quipped that he did it to attract women.  Černý went on to create other politically-loaded works of art.  His sculpture “Kun” [Horse] of St. Václav riding on the belly of a dead upturned horse first appeared at the lower end of Václavské náměstí in Prague, on the opposite end of the boulevard from the famous statue of St. Václav by Josef Václav Myslbek.  “Piss,” also known as Peeing Statues, features two men urinating in a pond whose outline reflects the borders of the Czech Republic.  “Entropa” depicts stereotypes common to each country in the European Union (the representation for Bulgaria, for example, includes squat toilets; Germany's symbol is a swastika-like Autobahn).  Černý’s web site is http://www.davidcerny.cz/.  Click the button at the top right for views of some of his art and sculptures.  His sculpture “Metalmorphosis” is located in Charlotte, NC, and can be viewed at Černý’s web site or through the live video camera at http://www.metalmorphosis.tv/.  Photographs of “Entropa” are at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/7827747.stm.  There also is a gallery of his works at http://www.flickr.com/photos/calypsospots/galleries/72157623179643747#photo_1384765987.  A brief interview with Černý is at http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/article/20960/david-cerny-president-klaus-is-a-dk.html.

Restoration Complete on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London   22 June 2011

Restoration work on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, which has taken 15 years and cost £40 million (approximately 64.2 million US dollars), is complete.  Christopher Wren (1632-1723), who is interred in the cathedral, constructed the church after the 1666 fire destroyed the previous structure.  The planning and construction took more than 45 years because Wren was working on changing the existing cathedral before the Great Fire.  The actual construction lasted from 1675 to 1710, and St. Paul’s was dedicated on 25 December 1711, 300 years ago.  Wren considered the cathedral to be in the Renaissance style that imitated Classical structures, but architectural historians commonly view it as a Baroque structure.  An article about the restoration and a brief video of the cathedral is available from The Telegraph at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/architecture/8580467/St-Pauls-Cathedral-emerges-from-15-year-restoration.html.  Photographs of St. Pauls and additional information are available from the Great Buildings web site at http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Saint_Pauls_Cathedral.html.

Seventieth Anniversary of the Barbarossa Campaign    22 June 2011

Several articles have appeared in commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. Deutsche Welle interviewed a German professor of history, Wolfram Wette, which readers can view at http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15154398,00.html. The BBC released an article available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13862135 that outlines some of the blatant signs of imminent invasion that Stalin ignored. The “Lens” blog of the New York Times has articles with amazing photographs from the Second World War by a German photographer. The article posted with the confirmed identity of the photographer is at http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/22/world-war-ii-mystery-solved-in-a-few-hours/. An earlier article, released at a time when the photographer was unknown, has photographs of prisoners and other scenes from the Eastern Front, Hitler, and Admiral Horthy of Hungary. It is available at http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/21/mysteries-of-a-nazi-photo-album/.

Czech Health Care at Western Standards, but Opponents Fear American-Style Reforms    22 June 2011

Radio Prague has released an article on the current state of Czech health care, noting that proposed changes may have a negative impact on the ability of average individuals to receive adequate health care.  The article is at http://www.radio.cz/en/section/talking/czech-health-care-20-years-on-better-more-expensive-and-in-need-of-serious-reforms.  Another article, available at http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/parliament-approves-first-stage-of-controversial-health-reform, presents the government’s point of view along with arguments against the reforms by the opposition Social Democratic party, which has threatened to test the reforms in court, should the legislature approve them.

Bush White House Possibly Targeted Anti-War Professor Juan Cole during the Iraq War    20 June 2011

Information has surfaced that the Bush White House called on the CIA to investigate and discredit Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, during the Iraq War.  Cole is an expert in the Middle East and writes a popular blog titled “Informed Comment.”  Based on his knowledge of the Middle East, he opposed the war in Iraq and wrote blogs about it during the hostilities.  Information about the charges and possible Senate investigation into the matter are at Cole’s web page, http://www.juancole.com/.  News about the White House action against Cole is at:
http://www.juancole.com/2011/06/retd-cia-official-alleges-bush-white-house-used-agency-to-get-cole.html.  Cole’s interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is at: http://www.juancole.com/2011/06/cole-on-goodman-cia-surveillance.html.  On the Senate Intelligence Committee’s possible investigation of the matter as well as some heated responses to the affair, see: http://www.juancole.com/2011/06/feinstein-senate-intel-committee-may-investigate-cia-targeting-of-cole.html.

American Children Sweep History into the Dustbin    14 June and updated 20 June 2011

National Report Card testing of 31,200 American grade school and high school children revealed that they know few fundamentals of their own country’s history.  The results divide the scores into three levels: basic, proficient, and advanced.  In 2010, only 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors were above the basic level.  The test has no failing category.  One explanation for the poor scores is that the “No Child Left Behind” program stresses mathematics and sciences, prompting administrators to reduce their commitment to other subjects, like history.  More information is in the New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/education/15history.html?_r=3&hp.  The full report from the Nation's Report Card titled U.S. History 2010: A National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 4, 8, and 12 is available at http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ushistory_2010/ushistory_2010_report/.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party Wins Its Third Consecutive Election 13 June 2011

On 12 June, the party of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), won its third consecutive election.  The party received 49.9 percent of the vote and secured 326 seats in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM).  The opposition had feared that if the AKP had won the election with more than 50 percent of the vote, it could have rewritten the outdated military-era constitution on its own and submitted the draft to a referendum.  Had the AKP won a two-thirds majority, it could have adopted a new constitution without a referendum.  Prime Minister Erdoğan, in his victory speech, stated that “the people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation” and promised that he and the AKP “will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties.”

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), a secularist party that traces its heritage to the founding of the Turkish Republic and once was the only party in Turkey, increased its number of seats to gain 25.9 percent of the vote and to become the second strongest party in the TBMM.  The CHP, which identifies itself with Western European social democratic parties, expects to play a role in writing the new constitution.

The European Union welcomed the election results, with the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission sending Mr. Erdoğan a congratulatory letter.  The EU awaits a new Turkish constitution, strengthened guarantees for democracy, and further economic development as it continues to weigh Turkey’s accession to the EU.  Immediately after the elections, the Dutch former Foreign Minister Bernard Bot supported Turkey’s bid to enter the EU.

The strength of the AKP derives in part from its conservative religious politics, which some claim could lead to Islamic fundamentalism, threatening the secular state that traces its heritage to the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  Another source of the AKP’s popularity is the government’s capable handling of the administration and the economy.  Turkish economic growth has been phenomenal in recent years, and the government has improved the infrastructure and national health care.

A pre-election report by NPR is available at http://www.npr.org/2011/06/12/137135025/opposition-hopes-turkish-elections-balance-parliament.  Official news about the election is posted on the Voice of Turkey’s web page: http://www.trtenglish.com/trtworld/en/news.aspx.

Two Historians View the History of Opposition to Public-Sector Unions    13 June 2011

In an article for the History News Network, Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman, both American labor historians, consider the struggle of public-sector unions against opposition from governing entities to their existence and to having the rights that other labor unions enjoy.  Despite one’s opinions on the issue, the article by Fraser and Freeman presents an important perspective to help understand the position of both sides in the argument.  The article is available at http://hnn.us/articles/139820.html.

Czech Art to Be Auctioned at Sotheby's    12 June 2011

On 13 June 2011, Sotheby’s in London will auction a large collection of 200 works of art by well-known Czech painters and sculptors from the Hascoe Family.  The painters represented in the collection include Josef Čapek (1887-1945), the brother of the writer Karel Čapek (1890-1938), Emil Filla (1882-1953), František Foltyn (1891-1976), František Kupka (1871-1957), Vojtěch Preissig (1873-1944), Alfons Mucha (1860-1939), and Jan Zrzavy (1890-1977).  There are works from several sculptors, such as Otto Guttfreund (1889-1927) and Otakar Ševc (1892-1955), who is famous for his massive monument to Joseph Stalin in Prague.  In the auction are a few pieces of cubist furniture, some by the architect Otakar Novotný (1880-1959).  The estimated value of the collection is five million British pounds.  The catalog is available at http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2011/property-from-the-hascoe-family-collection-important-czech-art-l11105/overview.html.

1919 Letter from Hitler Displays His Early Anti-Semititic Views    10 June 2011

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles has acquired a letter Adolf Hitler wrote in 1919 to a German soldier in which he expressed his beliefs that Jews are an alien race, can not assimilate into other societies, and have an insatiable “lust for gold and domination.”  Because of the negative impact Hitler believed Jews had on society, the only alternative he saw, his “ultimate objective,” was “the irrevocable removal of the Jews in general.”  The letter is on display at the Museum of Tolerance in New York and in July will become part of the permanent exhibition at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.  See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13692755.  A translation of the letter is available at http://www.h-net.org/~german/gtext/kaiserreich/hitler2.html.  Information about the letter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center is at http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4441467&ct=10863025.

Government Coalition Wins Election in Macedonia (Updated from 5 June)    6 June 2011

The governing coalition under Nikola Gruevski of conservatives in the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and their Albanian partners, the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, won the 5 June 2011 general elections.  The opposition Social Democrats gained 42 seats, not nearly enough to form a government, even if they were to enter a coalition.  Gruevski’s coalition “For a Better Macedonia” favors integration into the EU and NATO, but its Social Democratic competitors accuse it of wasteful spending and abuse of power.  They also fear that after a third win, Gruevski may become more authoritarian.  The VMRO-DPMNE claims to have an ideological link with the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization that came into existence in the 1890s first to win autonomy from the Ottoman Empire and then to join Macedonian areas with Bulgaria.  In reality, the VMRO-DPMNE functions as a modern Christian Democratic party.  A news story immediately after the election from the AP as well as a number of photographs are available at NPR’s web site: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=136984879.  An update, including the final results of the election, are at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=136984879.

Government Coalition Wins Election in Macedonia    5 June 2011

The governing coalition under Nikola Gruevski of conservatives in the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and their Albanian partners, the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, won the 5 June 2011 general elections.  The opposition Social Democrats gained a significant number of seats, at least 39, but not nearly enough to form a government, even if they were to enter a coalition.  Gruevski’s coalition “For a Better Macedonia” favors integration into the EU and NATO, but its Social Democratic competitors accuse it of wasteful spending and abuse of power.  The VMRO-DPMNE claims to have an ideological link with the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization that came into existence in the 1890s first to win autonomy from the Ottoman Empire and then to join Macedonian areas with Bulgaria.  In reality, the VMRO-DPMNE functions as a modern Christian Democratic party.  A news story from the AP as well as a number of photographs are available at NPR’s web site: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=136984879.

Pope Supports Croatia’s EU Bid    4 June 2011

On a trip to Croatia, Pope Benedict has publicly supported Croatia’s application for membership in the European Union.  For the papacy, Croatia’s entry would mean another strong Catholic voice in the EU to join Italy and Poland.  In Croatia, however, there is the normal Euroscepticism present in many EU member states that is grounded on the distaste for surrendering sovereignty to a multinational body and objections to the EU’s large bureaucracy.  Croats also are angry over the sentencing of Gen. Ante Gotovina at the Hague to 24 years in prison for ethnic cleansing in 1995 that involved killing more than 324 Serbs and driving approximately 90,000 from their homes.  They had been residents of Krajina, which during the Yugoslav Wars had separated from Croatia and had proclaimed a republic.  It is likely that the comments of the Pope, who is highly respected among Croatians, will bolster support for the EU in Croatia, especially in combination with the continued determination on the part of the Croatian government to join the EU and the solid backing of the EU from at least a quarter of the Croatian population.  The recent arrest of Ratko Mladić in Serbia and his impending trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity during the Yugoslav Wars also may serve to soften the blow of Gotovina’s sentence.  The AP release on Pope Benedict’s statements is available at http://www.salon.com/wires/allwires/2011/06/04/D9NKV3C80_eu_pope_croatia/index.html.

Controversy in Poland over CIA Prison    3 June 2011

New information leaked by a Polish newspaper about an alleged secret CIA prison in Poland in which torture may have taken place is sending shock waves through the Polish political world.  If Polish leaders in some way lent their support to Americans who at the site tortured detainees charged with terrorism, they violated Polish and European Union laws.  While some Poles are outraged, given the mistreatment of the secret police during the Communist era and the Nazi terror during the Second World War, others view the entire matter as a potential threat to national security and would prefer to put an end to the investigation.  Information from an AP feed is available at http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/06/03/world/europe/AP-EU-Poland-CIA-Prison.html?_r=1&ref=news.

Attend a Confederate Reenactment . . . Just Outside Berlin    3 June 2011

According to a PRI article, Germans enjoy dawning American Civil War uniforms and soldiering in mock battles.  Part of the attraction of the American Civil War for Germans is the large number of Germans, approximately 200,000, who fought in the American conflict.  The article is at http://www.pri.org/world/germans-love-reenacting-the-american-civil-war4157.html.

Timothy Garton Ash on Mladić    3 June 2011

The journalist and Central European historian, Timothy Garton Ash, published an article on 1 June in the Guardian that puts the arrest of Ratko Mladić into the broader perspective of recent prosecutions for crimes against humanity.  It is available on line at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/01/ratko-mladic-extradition-great-day.

House Panel Votes to End “Teaching American History” Grants    1 June 2011

On a strict party-line vote, the House Education and Workforce Committee voted to end the Teaching American History (TAH) grant program, through which the Department of Education raises the competency of teachers of American history with the goal of improving student performance. The measure also would end 42 other programs in the Department of Education.  For more information on the vote, see http://historycoalition.org/2011/05/27/house-panel-clears-bill-to-terminate-teaching-american-history-grants/.  The web site for the TAH program is at http://www2.ed.gov/programs/teachinghistory/index.html.  For a list of programs, including TAH, that the majority has deemed “wasteful,” see http://edworkforce.house.gov/UploadedFiles/SUMMARY_-_Setting_New_Priorities_in_Education_Spending_Act.pdf and http://edworkforce.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=242519.

Evidence that Hitler Approved of Hess’s Mission: Interpreting Primary Sources    1 June 2011

A German historian working in a Moscow archive discovered that Karlheinz Pintsch, the adjutant of Rudolf Hess, wrote a report in February 1948, during his captivity in the Soviet Union, that Hitler had approved of Hess’s May 1941 flight to Britain.  The intent was to use well-connected British contacts who were sympathetic to Germany to help negotiate peace with Winston Churchill.  The idea behind the mission was consistent with Hitler’s immediate aims: conclude hostilities with Britain so that Germany could take on the Soviet Union and acquire the Lebensraum that Hitler long had desired for Germans.  According to Pintsch, a letter that Hess wrote to Hitler just before he departed expressed Hess’s confidence in the mission but noted that if it fails, “it will always be possible for you to deny all responsibility. Simply say I was out of my mind.”  That is exactly how the Nazi propaganda machine presented the case to the public after the British had arrested Hess.

The newly-discovered document would end the debate of whether Hess acted alone or had Hitler’s approval were it not for conflicting evidence.  After he had returned to Germany, Pintsch stated in a 1963 interview with a British journalist that Hess had acted without Hitler’s knowledge.  Pintsch’s Moscow report also is tainted with references to anti-Western Soviet propaganda, including accusations that Britain and the United States were conspiring against the Soviets.  At the time Pintsch wrote the report, Stalin viewed the British-American Bizone in occupied Germany as an effort to strengthen Germany for a war against the Soviet Union.  Had Hitler approved of Hess’s efforts to cooperate with the British, the Soviets could point to a continuity between what they perceived to be British-German anti-Soviet policy in 1948 and wartime policy. 

The Moscow report of Pintsch does not decisively prove that Hitler authorized Hess’s mission, but it supplies additional evidence to fuel the debate.  For more information on the document, see the article in Der Spiegel at http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,765607,00.html and the article in the Daily Mail at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1392208/Hitler-gave-ahead-Rudolf-Hess-peace-mission.html.

Mladić at The Hague  1 June 2011

Despite protests from his defense lawyer in Serbia, who claimed that Ratko Mladić, the former military leader of the Bosnian Serb military, was too ill to stand trial, doctors for The Hague determined that he was well enough to be transported to the World Court’s detention center and to be tried.  As a result, Mladić made the trip on Tuesday, 31 May, and now awaits trial for war crimes.  A brief report on Mladić’s transfer by B92 is available at http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics-article.php?yyyy=2011&mm=06&dd=01&nav_id=74678.

When Is Criticism of War Patriotic?    30 May 2011

Doug Bandow, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote “Memorial Day Tribute: Keep the Troops at Home” on 28 May 2011 for the Huffington Post.  While respectful of those who fought and especially those who died defending America, Bandow raises some interesting points about necessity of wars and calls on Americans to challenge leaders who want to initiate military action.

With hindsight, his arguments seem sound, but in many cases he fails to take into account the complexity of the situations in which America found itself before resorting to war.  Furthermore, there are other incidents just shy of military intervention that Bandow neglected to mention that would have made his case even more compelling, such as the 1973 controversial removal of Salvador Allende as president of Chile.

Bandow also simplifies some events abroad and internal affairs of other countries, causing the reader to speculate why America did not remain neutral.  For students of Central Europe, his characterization of German and Austro-Hungarian politics as well as external politics of the Allied countries on the eve of the First World War raises questions:

The "bad guys" included Wilhelmine Germany, which had a constitution, elected Reichstag, and broader franchise than Great Britain. Austro-Hungary [sic] was a somewhat ramshackle and messy liberal autocracy with elected legislative bodies. Not democrats by today's standards, but not totalitarians either.
The "good guys" included Imperial Russia, the anti-Semitic despotism of the Tsar. Little Belgium committed big atrocities in the Belgian Congo, a heritage which continues to afflict the same tormented African territory. Italy came into the war to claim promised territorial booty–that is, the opportunity to force its rule on unwilling Austrians. France was intent on exacting revenge for its territorial losses in the Franco-Prussian War–after spending several hundred years ravaging all of its neighbors, including the German states. And Great Britain was a democracy which used brute force to rule over hundreds of millions of subject peoples around the globe.

One indeed might wonder why America would go to war with developing democracies, but the question of democracy was not central to the problems that led to the First World War and America’s entry into the conflict.  Yet, Bandow does not address those issues.

Bandow’s notion that Americans need to be more circumspect about foreign military involvement is correct, but support for his argument could benefit from more histoical perspective.  The article is available at  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/doug-bandow/memorial-day-tribute-keep_b_868387.html.28 May 2011.

Obama in Poland    28 May 2011

For the latest news on President Obama's visit to Poland, click on Polish Radio at http://www.thenews.pl/.

Mladić Arrested in Serbia    27 May 2011

Authorities in Serbia on 26 May 2011 have arrested Ratko Mladić, the accused war criminal from the time of the Yugoslav Wars.  As the chief of staff for the Army of the Republika Srpska, that is, the Bosnian Serb army, Mladić is accused of atrocities linked with the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted from 1992 to 1996, and the Srebrenica massacre, which in July 1995 claimed the lives of approximately 8,000 Muslim men and boys.  The European Union refused to implement the Stabilization and Association Agreement it signed with Serbia until the Serbs turned over Mladić to be tried at The Hague for war crimes.  Mladić’s arrest, therefore, is not only a means of bringing justice and closure to those who suffered through the Yugoslav Wars but also the removal of a stumbling block that had prevented Serbia from advancing toward full membership in the EU.  At 69 years old and appearing to be in ill health, the Serbian authorities had some difficulties interrogating  Mladić prior to approving his extradition to The Hague.

The NPR article on Mladić’s arrest is available at:
The report of the independent Serbian radio station B92 on Mladić’s arrest and health is at:
Information from B92 on further steps to extradite Mladić to The Hague are at:

What Is a History Major Worth?    24 May 2011

A significant study has emerged from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce titled What’s It Worth: The Value of College Majors that contains crucial information for those majoring in history.

Engineers as a category are the highest paid professionals, receiving an average salary of $75,000 per year with bachelor’s degrees and $99,000 with graduate degrees.  Petroleum engineers are the highest paid, with a salary of $120,000.  Those who finish their undergraduate degrees as historians make $57,000 if they are American historians and $50,000 if they have other specialties.  There are no statistics for historians with graduate degrees, although the study reports that 46 percent of those who study history go on to obtain a post-baccalaureate degree.  The study placed historians in the broad category of liberal arts and humanities, and historians with bachelor’s degrees do better than the average for that category, which is $47,000.  Those who receive graduate degrees in the liberal arts and humanities can expect an average salary of $65,000.

The study provides evidence about what historians do with their majors, information that will cause students in history classes as well as the professors who teach them to give serious consideration to the particular mix of skills historians develop.  While most assume that history majors end up in education, that is true for a mere 15 percent of graduates.  The other top four fields are finance (14 percent), retail (10 percent), public administration (10 percent), and professional services (9 percent).  There is no information about the professions of the remaining roughly 42 percent of the graduates or whether they use their degrees in history as a basis for entering graduate and professional programs in other fields.  As far as occupations are concerned, 18 percent are in management, 16 percent are in sales, 15 percent are in office work, 11 percent are in education, and 6 percent are in business.

The hard numbers of the study are encouraging to history majors who are at a loss to say what they will do with their degree, although it is disappointing to see the premium society places on technology and those careers that produce tangible profits.  History majors also can be relieved that their salary is not at the bottom of the heap, where one finds community services and counseling as well as early childhood education.  Ironically, those professions with the lowest pay are areas which, given higher salaries that would attract an even greater number of talented individuals, could do the most for society.  The study also does not measure job satisfaction and does not ask such questions as how many engineers would have preferred to study history or music but felt compelled to select a major that would provide them with lucrative employment.

Information about the study, along with links to the report and a summary are at:
The complete report is at:
The summary is at:

Commemorating Nakba Day, 15 May 2011    20 May 2011

Juan Cole at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has posted his analysis of events on Nakba Day, 15 May 2011, when Palestinians commemorated the loss of territory in 1948 to Israel.  His blog also provides a glimpse into the historic events surrounding the creation of Israel, beginning with the treaties that ended the First World War.  The original version (he may update the blog) stated that League of Nation Mandate A territories included those formerly a part of the Habsburg Monarchy, which is incorrect.  Mandate A territories were strictly former Ottoman areas, while Mandate B and C territories were once under Germany.  The Habsburg Monarchy had no colonies and had no connection with League of Nation mandates.  This is but a minor glitch in what otherwise thought-provoking blog, especially informative in light of President Obama’s recent comments regarding Israel’s borders.   For Juan Cole’s full text, click on http://www.juancole.com/2011/05/the-arab-spring-comes-to-israel.html.

Hitler’s Body Guard Gives Last Interview    17 May 2011

Former SS officer and former body guard of Adolf Hitler, Rochus Misch, now 93 and in ill health, has given what he termed his last interview.  It is available at http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/246754/The-last-survivor-of-Hitler-s-downfall-in-the-bunker.

Post-Secondary Education: America’s Strength and Weakness    17 May 2011

Despite the difficulties with the educational system in America, one of its strengths is that it provides opportunities for individuals from all walks of life to attain a college degree.  It does not peg children at early ages as being unworthy of receiving a higher education and allows children with a variety of difficulties, including some with learning disabilities, to improve their performance over time and to gain admission to colleges and universities.

Among its weaknesses, however, is the lack of rigor in the schools that not only fails to challenge students but also rewards mediocrity through promotion to higher grades.  In post-secondary education, crowded classes and administrative pressures to maintain high enrollments, products of the recent capitalization of education and the market-based competition among institutions for students, result in grade inflation and passing undeserving students, albeit with lower grades.  The result devalues the degrees of even the best college graduates, although this is less true for colleges and universities with highly selective admission standards.

Another problem is that American students, unlike their counterparts in many countries that offer free or low-cost post-secondary education, historically have had difficulties paying for their college education, even at state institutions.  Long before the current economic crisis, the cost of higher education began to become prohibitive for many.  Now, many of those who manage to stay in school sacrifice time for studying and subsequently good grades because they need to work in order to pay for tuition, housing, transportation, and food.  Some rely on student loans, but American graduates now are faced with skyrocketing debt.

A new report from the Pell Institute confirms what many already know: individuals from lower-income families are less likely to attain a college degree.  The study indicates that not only do those from families with meager incomes suffer but those from the entire lower half of the income scale.  The situation is worsening as Congress and various states restrict funding to programs that aid lower-income students.

Since intelligence is not dependent on income, America is squandering a valuable resource, thus further ensuring its competitive decline.

Information on the report is available at http://chronicle.com/article/To-Raise-Educational-Levels/127569/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.  The web site for the Pell Institute is http://www.pellinstitute.org/.  The Pell Institute report “Developing 20/20 Vision on the 2020 Degree Attainment Goal” is at http://www.pellinstitute.org/files/publications-Developing_2020_Vision_May_2011.pdf.

What Is Foreign to Our Legal System?    17 May 2011

Several states are considering laws to prohibit judges from taking into consideration legal arguments involving references to foreign laws.  Many say it is a specific attack on Islam, but such laws may well create internal contradictions in the American legal system.  Consider the last line of the news story from Democracy Now! on 16 May 2011:

Supreme Court Increases Police Power to Conduct Warrantless Searches
The Supreme Court has granted police officers increased power to enter the homes of citizens without a warrant. In an eight-to-one ruling on Monday, the Court upheld the warrantless search of a Kentucky man’s apartment after police smelled marijuana and feared those inside were destroying evidence. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that citizens are not required to grant police officers permission to enter their homes after hearing a knock, but if there is no response and the officers hear noise that suggests evidence is being destroyed, they are justified in breaking in. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asserted that the ruling "arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases." In other legal news, Indiana’s Supreme Court has stripped citizens of the right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes. Critics of the ruling say it eliminates a common law right dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215.

This and other news from Democracy Now! for 17 May 2011 are available at http://www.democracynow.org/2011/5/17/headlines.

Commemorating the Second World War in Germany    13 May 2011

Deutsche Welle, the German foreign broadcaster, reported on how the Germans celebrated the sixty-sixth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in an article posted at http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15059962,00.html.  Berlin heard a performance of the “War Requiem” by the English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), who scored the work for British, German, and Russian soloists.  The article notes that 1250 singers participated in the concert, but it does not mention that the performance was part of the Berlin Rundfunkchor series and was under the direction of the English choral conductor Simon Hasley.  In Bremen, officials opened the Submarine Bunker Valentin Commemorative Site, a bomb-proof submarine yard still under construction when in 1945 the British bombed it.  Further information on the site is available at http://www.denkort-bunker-valentin.de/index.php?id=2, which offers an English translation of its pages.

Students! Awaken from Your Comma Coma!    13 May 2011

An author and English professor, Kim Brooks, considers the need for teaching grammar in the high schools and the deplorable state of college students’ writing skills in an article in Salon.  One educator she interviewed for the article stated:
No one asks this question about calculus, but who uses calculus besides math majors? If the question's going to be asked about writing it should be asked about every subject. Even students who aren't going to stay in college need to know how to write. We've all gotten emails or cover letters where we've judged people based on the writing. It's not an essay but it's still communication and people fail at it all the time in profound and meaningful ways.
For the complete article, see http://www.salon.com/life/education/index.html?story=/mwt/feature/2011/05/10/death_to_high_school_english.

One Life Every Thirty Minutes    12 May 2011

There is a crisis worthy of note, although it is not in Central Europe: farmers in India, particularly those growing cotton, are taking their lives at the rate of one every 30 minutes because of mounting debt.  The reasons behind the farming crisis are end of farm subsidies, exposure to international markets, and the difficulties and expense of growing genetically-modified cotton that the dominant seed suppliers provide.  According to Smita Narula of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University, the government is doing little to address the issue and is not advancing its own debt relief program.  The entire article is at http://www.democracynow.org/2011/5/11/every_30_minutes_crushed_by_debt.

The Second World War Sixty-Six Years Later    11 May 2011

Europeans celebrate 9 May as Europe Day, when in 1950 that Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister,  issued his plan to link France, Germany, and other European countries to coordinate the rebuilding of Europe’s economy and increasing European economic competitiveness throughout the world.  Jean Monet, a French economic planner and diplomat, was the inspiration behind the idea.  The date of the announcement was no coincidence.  On the same day in 1945, British and Soviet generals, representing the Allied powers, accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany.  Each spring, while celebrating Europe’s rebirth from the ashes of the Second World War, Europeans find headlines about the establishment of the European Union and the war itself.  Two items this year are worthy of note: the refusal of the German government to open the files on Rudolf Eichmann, a high Nazi official, and a data base on art the Nazis stole during the war.

Germany Keeps Eichmann Files Secret

An article in the New York Times notes that the German government has refused to open the files on Adolf Eichmann, the notorious perpetrator of the Holocaust.  They contain evidence demonstrating that throughout the 1950s the German government know the whereabouts of Eichmann, who then was living in Argentina.  The government feared that Eichmann might reveal damaging information about former Nazis working for the Federal Republic of Germany.  The 8 May 2011 article is at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/arts/anniversary-of-adolf-eichmanns-trial-sheds-light-on-postwar-germany.html?_r=1&hp.  See also the post on this page of 25 April 2011, “The Limits of Denazification.”

Database on Art the Nazis Stole

Several databases exist to help identify lost art that the Nazis stole during the Second World War, and a comprehensive list of stolen art, based partly on Nazi records, is now on line at http://www.errproject.org/jeudepaume/.  The National Archive of the United States also has constructed a portal that brings together the records of eleven archival institutions.  It is available at http://www.archives.gov/research/holocaust/international-resources/.  A brief introduction to the Nazis’ systematic plunder of public and private art holdings during the Second World War appears at http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/36074/jewish-groups-launch-new-online-nazi-looted-art-database/.

The First Bomber    11 May 2011

In this year when the US Navy is celebrating the birth of naval aviation, an article in the BBC notes that an Italian, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti (1882-1939), dropped the first bomb by hand from a plane in 1911 when the Italians were fighting the Arabs and Turks to take Libya as a colony.  Gavotti also flew the first night flight during the same conflict.  Pioneering the use of aircraft as bombers, however, were the Americans, who experimented with dropping bombs, but the flights were not a part of warfare.  There were other advances in air warfare before the First World War.  In the First Balkan War of 1912-1913, the Greeks and the Bulgarians, used aircraft and dropped bombs in their struggle against the Turks over Macedonia.  During that war, the Greeks conducted the first coordinated naval-air attack, and the Bulgarians dropped the first bomb on a city when they struck Adrianople (Turkish: Edirne).  For the complete 9 May 2011 article, “Libya 1911: How an Italian Pilot Began the Air War Era,” by Alan Johnston, click on the link to the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13294524.
The Euro Will Not Fall after Slipping on Greece    9 May 2011

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the euro is increasing in value with news that Greece will not abandon the European Union’s currency.  The full article that places the news in a global perspective is available at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dollar-slips-vs-euro-in-asian-trading-2011-05-08?siteid=YAHOOB.  The news may be of short-term interest to investors, but to social scientists, it is an important indicator of the appeal to European unification and the commitment of all states to deepening European integration.  The euro is used in 17 EU countries, including Estonia, which on 1 January 2011 began using the euro.  Other EU countries are working toward using the euro, and there is strong sentiment in the UK to abandon the British pound.  Six European countries outside of the European Union also use the euro: Andorra, Kosovo, Montenegro, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City.

Missed Opportunities?    9 May 2011

Steven I. Levine at the University of Montana considers whether we should have brought Osama bin Laden to justice and how we could have done so in an article on the History News Network dated 5 May 2011 that readers can access at http://hnn.us/articles/139040.html.  In an article dated 7 May 2011 on HNN, Alexander Boulton, a professor of history at Stevenson University, considers the usefulness of torture and how misinformation obtained from it actually has been detrimental to US national interests.  The article is at http://hnn.us/articles/139072.html.

In the EU, Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder    7 May 2011

Few Americans know about absinthe, aside from historians of the late nineteenth century, residents of New Orleans, and some tourists to the Crescent City who have visited the Absinthe House.  The drink is high in alcohol with the taste of anise and flavoring from herbs, including wormwood, which contains the poisonous chemical thujone.  Distilled since the early nineteenth century, absinthe became popular because of the French army’s practice of issuing soldiers absinthe in the 1840s to prevent malaria.  Throughout Europe, it became common to dilute absinthe by resting a slotted spoon on the rim of a glass with absinthe, placing a sugar cube on the spoon, and trickling water over the sugar cube until it dissolved.  The absinthe magically turned from clear green to milky green.  Diluting absinthe made sense, even though absinthe was inexpensive, because it was so high in alcohol.  Involving a sugar cube in the ritual was no coincidence since cubed sugar was all the rage after it was invented in what is now the Czech Republic in 1841, just as absinthe became popular.  La fée verte [the green fairy], as absinthe was known, was the muse of artists and writers, including Vincent van Gogh and Oscar Wilde.  Many mistakenly thought the level of thujone in absinthe made the drink poisonous, and the United States along with various countries in Europe banned it around the time of the First World War.  In fact, the major difficulty was not the thujone, which the beverage has in extremely low levels, but that individuals drank too much absinthe and became alcoholics.

Absinthe made a comeback after the European Union made it legal in 1988, with stipulations on the limits for thujone.  France, where absinthe once had been so popular, does not permit the drink to be sold under its actual name, but it is about to modify its position.  The sudden change of heart is to thwart the attempts of the Val-de-Travers region of Switzerland, where absinthe first was distilled, to claim rights to the name.  The French hope that exclusivity will not apply to absinthe, just as in the case of cheddar and other products with universal consumption in high quantity.  Ah, the irony!  The French, who benefit from legal protection for some of their products, do not want to the Swiss to gain an advantage in the absinthe market, and absinthe producers throughout Europe are hoping the French succeed.

The basis for the debate is European Union legislation ensuring that only food products produced in a specific region can bear the name of that region or a name historically associated with that region.  The EU also has agreements with non-member countries to recognize their claims to certain names.  In the EU, products can receive one of three designations: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), indicating that the product is produced entirely in a region; Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), used when a product is produced partly in a given region; and Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG), informing consumers that a product has a particular uniqueness.  Thus champagne only can come from the region of Champagne.  Distillers and food producers outside the so-called protected geographical status regions still can produce a generic form of the product, but they can not use the protected name.  Irish cream by any other name is still Irish cream, but if it is not produced in Ireland, it must have another name.

If this short article has whetted your appetite for more information about the controversy, indulge yourself by reading http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13159863.  For more about absinthe, read the book by Jad Adams, Hideous Absinthe: A History of the Devil in a Bottle (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004).  Careful!  It’s quite addicting.

America Found Its Substitute for the Soviet Union in Osama bin Laden     May 2011

Many social scientists and journalists long have observed that Americans took on the task of fighting terrorism after the 9/11 attacks as they had done when combating communism during the cold war.  The BBC documentary film maker Adam Curtis examines the parallels after the death of bin Laden in an article for The Guardian that is available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/03/osama-bin-laden-soviet-union-baddie.

Juan Cole’s Analysis of Al-Qaeda and bin Laden    5 May 2011

Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan at Ann-Arbor and a well-respected expert on Middle East affairs, has written a blog that explains the origins and development of al-Qaeda and the role of Osama bin Laden on the fringe of politics in the Middle East. Early in the piece, Cole explains how, contrary to the official stance of the Pakistani government, the Pakistanis aided the operation that killed bin Laden. As usual, Cole’s analysis is engaging, as is the discussion that follows. To read “Obama and the End of Al-Qaeda,” click on http://www.juancole.com/2011/05/obama-and-the-end-of-al-qaeda.html.

Holy Wars, Cold War, and Star Wars    5 May 2011

On 1 May 2011, Pope Benedict XVI beatified his predecessor, John Paul II (1920-2005).  Since John Paul’s death, many Catholics attribute various miraculous events to his intervention, and for some, his beatification and eventual canonization merely verify what they believe: John Paul already is a saint.

In addition to his religious significance, John Paul II has important links to politics.  He was a critic of war and openly condemned the war in Iraq.  He also was an actor in the end of the cold war.  Lech Wałęsa, the former head of the Solidarność non-Communist trade union in the 1980s and Poland’s president from 1990 to 1995, regularly credits John Paul for bringing about the fall of Communism in 1989 in Central Europe and the Balkans because the pope gave people the courage to challenge the regime.  Historians balk at such an analysis that credits one individual with changing history, and they attribute the end of Communism to a combination of several factors.  The resoluteness of Solidarność in the light of Poland’s severe economic problems helped bring about the roundtable talks in early 1989 that led to immediate partially-free elections.  Reform-minded Communists in Hungary sought to liberalize the political system there, and in September 1989 they open the Hungarian border with Austria.  In October 1989, Hungary scheduled free parliamentary elections for the coming spring.  The flight of East Germans across the Hungarian-Austrian border on their way to West Germany sparked protests among East Germans who did not want to leave the German Democratic Republic but who wanted meaningful reform.  Those protests led on 9 November 1989 to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  When the Czechoslovak Communist regime agreed to provide trains headed to West Germany for the East Germans camping in the gardens of the West German embassy in Prague, the Czechs and Slovaks comprehended the vulnerability of their own Communist party and began protests that led to roundtable talks in that country and the end of Communist rule.  Other events led to the downfall of Communist regimes in other states: Bulgaria and Romania in 1989, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union in 1991, and in 1992 Albania.

Factors outside of Eastern Europe were every bit as important if not more so than John Paul’s visits to Poland, the first being in 1979, and his political stance.  The spring protests in Beijing, China, at Tiananmen Square inspired even average East European citizens citizens who admired the courage of the Chinese protestors and berated their own complacency.  Many Americans claim that President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars, was the final escalation in the cold war that enabled the United States to outspend the “evil empire,” as Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union.  To those Americans, victory in the cold war was the work of the United States and specifically Reagan.  The Chinese protests and Reagan’s heightening of cold war tensions may have contributed to the end of Communism, but historians also give credit to Mikhail S. Gorbachev, general secretary of the Communist party from 1985 to 1991 and from 1988 to 1991 president of the Soviet Union.  It was his economic reforms, known as perestroika, and his political and social reforms, known as glasnost, that initiated major changes in the Soviet Union, and Gorbachev’s support for reform in Eastern Europe as well as his refusal to interfere in the affairs of East European states fortified reformers and dissidents alike in those countries.

As miraculous as the fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to be for so many in the heady days of 1989, John Paul’s role must be put into perspective.  One wonders, then, what to make of the comments of  Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the president of Poland from 1995 to 2005, who in a recent English-language interview with Radio Poland credited John Paul II with helping to move Poland into the European Union.  In October 2003, just before the Polish referendum on membership in the European Union, opposition to joining the EU was strong in Poland, and it included some important members of the Roman Catholic Church.  At the Vatican, John Paul II uttered one sentence: “Europe needs Poland; Poland needs Europe.”  With that, Kwaśniewski explained, Polish opinion shifted, and Poles voted to enter the EU.

Historians view the direct or indirect impact of one individual in history as part of a broader consideration of cause and effect.  Examples from the career of John Paul II illustrate both the implausible and the plausible.  Fuel for the debate is abundant, and it will provide historians in the future with reasons for investigating John Paul’s contribution to the internal affairs of Poland and to the events in the 1980s that changed Europe.

Several reports on John Paul II are available at Polish Radio's web site:

To read Polish Radio’s coverage of John Paul’s beatification, see: http://www.thenews.pl/international/?id=154509

For Kwaśniewski’s comments see: http://www.thenews.pl/national/?id=154417

On the reaction of the Poles to the beatification of John Paul on 1 May, a day Europeans traditionally celebrate labor, see: http://www.thenews.pl/national/artykul154547_beatification-overshadows-labour-day-parades.html.

The Secret Life of the American Politician    27 April 2011

In an unlikely paring of publicist and professor, Larry Flint of Hustler and David Eisenbach, a lecturer in the Department of History at Columbia University, have coauthored One Nation under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History.  One of the early examples in the book, which is no surprise to historians, is the womanizing of Benjamin Franklin when he was America’s envoy to France.  Far more than simply revisiting well-known claims, such as Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with one of his slaves, Flint and Eisenbach weigh in on a number of lesser-known scandals and accusations.

In an interview with Salon on 26 April 2011, Flint expressed his view that even presidents (and their wives) are human and may stray from the straight and narrow path.  He concluded that “I would like us to become less uptight about sex and more like the Europeans. Over there it's commonly accepted that if you're a politician, you have a mistress. It's gonna happen; it's just human nature. I'm not opposed to it. I'm opposed to the lack of discretion.”  The complete interview with Salon is available at http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/pornography/index.html?story=/mwt/feature/2011/04/26/flynt.

Eisenbach is noted for his examination of politicians’ sexual exploits.  He was the co-author and host of the 2009 History Channel program “The Beltway Unbuckled” and is the author of Gay Power: An American Revolution (Da Capo Press, 2007).  With Senator Mike Gravel, he authored The Kingmakers: How the Media Threatens Our Security and Our Democracy (Phoenix Books, 2008).

The Pendulum Swings against Big Government    26 April 2011

The Progressive Era in the United States marked the beginning of big government tackling big business and business condemning government interference.  Reducing and even eliminating government’s role in controlling business sometimes appears attractive.  Nevertheless, even the most zealous free-market advocates among us would hesitate returning to the days before the passage of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, when Americans had no guarantee of the safety of meat, let alone the content of processed meat.

In a very brief article for the History News Network dated 21 April 2011, Janet Golden, a professor of history at Rutgers University, considers the fate of children before the federal government began passing child labor laws in the light of efforts in Maine to weaken child labor laws.  Her article is at once informative, humorous, and chilling.  It also contains references to the Gulf South.  Readers may view “A Modest Proposal to Rescind Child Labor Laws” at http://hnn.us/articles/138623.html.

The Limits of Denazification    25 April 2011

News of the West German government attempting to influence Israeli authorities during the trial of Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) fifty years ago provides additional evidence about the limits of denazification in the postwar Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).  The German news magazine Der Spiegel uncovered documentation that the FRG had dispatched agents to Israel during the trial of Eichmann to influence Israeli prosecutors so that they would avoid mentioning the names of certain individuals during the trial who held important positions in the FRG.  Among them was Hans Globke (1898-1973), the head of the Chancellery and the closest advisor to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967).  Both Globke and Adenauer were members of the Catholic Centre party between the world wars.  Although never a member of the National Socialist party, Globke worked in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, where he helped draft the Enabling Law, allowing Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) to bypass the Weimar constitution, and wrote certain pieces of anti-Jewish legislation.  He also was associated with Eichmann’s Office for Jewish Affairs.  Der Spiegel targeted Globke on several occasions in the 1950s and 1960s because of his tainted past, and he maintained his innocence from any criminal activity in an interview with Der Spiegel in 1961 (the German text is available at http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-43161087.html).  Recently, Der Spiegel obtained additional documents outlining Adenauer’s efforts to protect Globke as well as the reputation of the FRG in general.  English translations of the three installments of this engaging article in Der Spiegel by Klaus Wiegrefe about the capture and trial of Eichmann are available at:

The new evidence about Globke and Adenauer is not particularly surprising, given what historians already know about the efforts in the FRG to protect former Nazi administrators.  Similarly, historians are aware of the ex-Nazis who, willingly or not, aided the United States and the Soviet Union after the war.  What might be of interest is a study comparing the resilience of former Nazis in the employ of West Germany and the two superpowers after 1945 with that of specialists from other discredited regimes in history who emerged in succeeding governments, both democratic and authoritarian.  In addition to the FRG, where former Nazis truly abandoned their fascist ideology (or at least it appears that way), two more cases from modern European history come to mind: Weimar Germany, where many bureaucrats from the Second Reich helped usher in the Third, and the Soviet Union, where the Bolsheviks relied on experts from the tsarist days, at least until the days of Stalinism.

More Than 200 Pieces of Medieval Jewelery Found in Austria    24 April 2011

A man digging in his back yard discovered more than 200 pieces of jewelery that are approximately 650 years old. Although he made the discovery four years ago, he did not immediately report it to the Austrian Federal Office for Memorials (Bundesdenkmalamt Österreich). A brief article on the treasure along with two photographs is at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=135635016.

How the EU Got a President    14 April 2011

A new European television documentary, "The President," examines how the EU got its president.  An article on the documentary by Ilsbeth Kirk at Eurobserver provides a glimpse into the complicated negotiation process that resulted in the significant organizational step for the EU.  The former European Commission president, Romano Prodi, remarked that he was surprised at the importance of personal relations among EU member coununtries' leaders and that they could be more significant than national concerns.  The article is available at http://euobserver.com/9/32147.

American Internal Conflicts, Past and Present    13 April 2011

Although it has nothing to do with Central Europe, an article by John Blake at CNN presents a quite compelling view of the similarities between politics in America today and the time before the Civil War.  Blake based "Four Ways We're Sill Fighting the Civil War" on the opinions of several American historians, which makes the article particularly attractive for students of history.  It is available at http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/04/08/civil.war.today/index.html?hpt=C2.

As the US budget war intensifies, an interesting alternative to the main party lines is the so-called "People's Budget."  An article by the noted Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-sachs/the-peoples-budget_b_846573.html outlines the plan.  Readers should note that Sachs is no enemy of free enterprise.  He was the author of the economic shock therapy approach to transforming former Communist planned economies to capitalism.  The country that closely followed his approach was Poland.

Should Anyone Be Surprised?: Belgium without a Government for 300 Days    10 April 2011

News organizations, including NPR (see http://www.npr.org/2011/04/09/135266035/-300-days-without-government-no-worry-for-belgium?ft=3&f=1001,1003,1004,1031), are marking Belgium's 300th day without a government.  There is little lamentation over this fact in Belgium, where life goes on normally.  Without violence accompanying the story, news desks have little incentive to cover the story, and news analysts easily can dismiss the remarkable milestone by noting that Belgium, with its ethnic, religious, and linguistic divides, is an exception in Europe.

Those who have some knowledge of the consociational democratic model of Arend Lijphart will recognize that government impasse in Belgium and in other consociational democracies is not unusual and reinforces the need for the segments of the society to cooperate in order to preserve democracy and advance the state.  Consociationalism also explains why the Belgians take the lack of a government in stride.  Constitutional provisions enable the current government to remain in office to administer the state, even without a legislative majority, so there is no threat that there will be a disruption of government services.  Furthermore, given the strong pillarization in the society, the political elites will negotiate a compromise and avoid civil unrest.  My research using the consociational model also suggests that the negotiations likely will remain behind the scenes, rather than under full media and public scrutiny.  This is one way the politicians can build a compromise in which they may have to offer concessions while they avoid inciting their constituents.

Not long ago, some political scientists speculated that consociationalism in Belgium was on the decline, its features unnecessary for the maintenance of democracy.  The current crisis challenges that notion.  It also suggests that analysts and social scientists need to enhance their understanding of consociationalism and its application not only in Belgium but also in Central Europe and other parts of the world.

Copper Age Transsexual Found in Prague    7 April 2011

Radio Prague on 5 April 2011 posted a news item that is of interest to a broad range of specialists:

Archaeologists Find Grave of Copper Age Transsexual

Archaeologists working in the Prague district of Bubeneč have announced the discovery of a Copper Age man who was buried in the custom of a woman, leading them to believe he may have been a homosexual or transsexual. The grave apparently belongs to the Corded Ware culture of 2800 to 2500 BCE, and the man’s skeleton was found with its head toward the east, as was the custom for women. Ovate jugs typical of women’s burials were found, as were other items uncommon to either gender, however, none of the items ritually buried by the Corded Ware culture with men were found.

The article is at http://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/news-2011-04-05#9.  One article at Novinky.cz, which is in Czech, includes excellent photographs and a news clip showing the site.  Readers may view it at http://www.novinky.cz/domaci/229869-archeologove-objevili-hrob-s-eneolitickym-clovekem-tretiho-pohlavi.html?ref=ostatni-clanky.  Archaeologists speculate that certain prehistoric societies in Europe may have honored individuals identifying themselves as transgendered.  In some areas, such men and women had the status of shamans, but the grave found in Prague has no indication that the individual had any special role in society because, unlike the burial sites of other shamans, this person was not wealthy.  If early humans accepted and respected transgendered individuals, what impact might a more complete understanding of the image of gender in prehistoric societies have on our current perceptions of sexuality?