“World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle” – The New York Times

“It’s the centennial of Verdun. But what exactly are we commemorating?”

Paul Jankowski ‘s answer: “To a historian 100 years later, Verdun does yield a meaning, in a way a darkly ironic one. Neither Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the German General Staff, nor his French counterpart, Joseph Joffre, had ever envisaged a climactic, decisive battle at Verdun. They had attacked and defended with their eyes elsewhere on the front, and had thought of the fight initially as secondary, as ancillary to their wider strategic goals. And then it became a primary affair, self-sustaining and endless. They had aspired to control it. Instead it had controlled them. In that sense Verdun truly was iconic, the symbolic battle of the Great War of 1914-18.”

I don’t disagree with that, but I think the commemoration of Verdun offers an opportunity for all of us (not just historians) to contemplate war itself. Too often war is glorified, Verdun should be a reminder of the horrors of war. It should make us think deeply about how, when, and why we fight wars.

To read Jankowski’s entire article go here: World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle – The New York Times

“Thomas Jefferson is next target of students who question honors for figures who were racists” | Inside Higher Ed

“At University of Missouri and William & Mary, some place notes on statues honoring the author of Declaration of Independence, calling him a rapist and a racist.”

This is unfortunate. There is no comparison between Jefferson and the leaders of the Confederacy, who fought to preserve the institution of slavery.

To some, the fact that Jefferson was a slave holder is enough to condemn him. But we must look at the broader context of the world in which Jefferson lived. Yes, Jefferson was born into a world of privilege, largely built on the backs of slaves. But in this he had no choice. The institution of slavery was rarely questioned at this time. Jefferson will be part of a generation that will begin to challenge the assumptions and traditions of his native Virginia.

As a product of the Enlightenment, Jefferson embraced values that were antithetical to slavery (equality and freedom). It is clear from his writings that he was aware of the contradictions between his values and his ownership of slaves. It is a blot on his character, but we must remember that Jefferson’s social standing and income rested on this wretched institution. While not completely exculpatory, we must give Jefferson credit for being one of the first among his peers to question the practice. In his day, Jefferson was a radical, even if he was not as radical as we would have liked him to be. In the 18th century it was radical to question the institution of slavery.

In Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, he included a clause that accused King George III of “wag[ing] a cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incure miserable death in their transportation thither….he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce…”  [full draft] Obviously, this did not sit well with his fellow Southerners (as well as some Northerners) and it was therefore deleted from the final draft.

Jefferson also wrote against the institution of slavery in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1782): “There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.”

Was Jefferson a racist? Yes, guilty as charged, but so was everyone else at the time. And even here, Jefferson was ahead of his time. While he saw them as inferior, he wondered if this was due to “the difference of condition, of education, of conversation, of the sphere in which they move.” (Notes on the State of Virginia) This is in sharp contrast to many of his fellow Americans who saw their inferiority as an intrinsic feature of their race.

There is another important difference between Jefferson and the Confederates. Jefferson articulated the very values that ultimately undermined the slavery. The language of the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) provided the language and values to with which to attack slavery, and later all other forms of injustice.

The pursuit of liberty and equality was Jefferson’s raison d’ etre, even if he was unable to fully live up to those values. We should honor Jefferson for his noble contributions, as embodied most poignantly in the Declaration of Independence and the Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. It is these values that we should think of when we see a statue of Jefferson.

“I trust that the whole course of my life has proved me a sincere friend to religious as well as civil liberty” (Jefferson, Letter to the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1809)

Source: Thomas Jefferson is next target of students who question honors for figures who were racists | Inside Higher Ed

“Alas, Eleanor Roosevelt Remains All-Too Relevant to Our Politics” | History News Network

Brigid O’Farrell makes a great case for putting Eleanor Roosevelt’s picture on the ten-dollar bill. I think she’s a great choice! She did so much to bend the arc of history towards justice. And as O’Farrell points out she remains very relevant today. But I think there are equally good reasons for putting Susan B. Anthony or Rosa Parks, as some have proposed, on the ten-dollar bill. I would be happy with any of them!

Read O’Farrell’s entire proposal here: History News Network | Alas, Eleanor Roosevelt Remains All-Too Relevant to Our Politics

“Japan May Cut Unesco Funds Following Nanjing Massacre Listing” – Japan Real Time – WSJ

“Japan said it may cut its financial contribution to an agency of the United Nations after the organization added documents on the Nanjing Massacre to its International Memory of the World Register last week.” The nationalist government in Japan proclaims that it wants to restore honor to the Japanese people, but its actions (denial of WWII war crimes, etc.) have served only to bring dishonor to the Japanese people. The honorable thing to do would be to own up to their past crimes and work to ensure that their nation never goes down that path again.

Source: Japan May Cut Unesco Funds Following Nanjing Massacre Listing – Japan Real Time – WSJ

Chinese honor guard members march at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in Jiangsu in December 2014. Associated Press

“Why It’s Time to Remember Waterloo for a Different Reason” | History News Network

Christine Haynes suggests that we remember the Battle of Waterloo for the peace building process that followed it. “This battle deserves to be celebrated not as the end of the first “total war,” but as the beginning of a “total peace,” which following two more world-wide conflicts, came to fruition after 1945 but is facing new challenges today.” Read his argument here:

History News Network | Why It’s Time to Remember Waterloo for a Different Reason.


“Battle of Waterloo” by William Holmes Sullivan

“Just What Exactly Are People Commemorating on the 200th Anniversary of Waterloo?” | History News Network

The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most famous battles in history since it marks Napoleon’s ultimate and final defeat. Escaping from the island of Elba, where he had been exiled after his first defeat, Napoleon took power once again of the French empire only to be defeated by the British and Prussians a few months later at Waterloo.
But as the 200th Anniversary of this battle approaches, its commemoration poses a dilemma for those countries involved in the conflict, France in particular. Alan Forrest, author of Great Battles: Waterloo, examines the difficulties presented by this commemoration. He asks, “Is it appropriate, in the twenty-first century, to celebrate, joyously, an engagement that resulted in the deaths of so many soldiers in a single day? Should we not remember Waterloo more for the scale of the sacrifice it demanded of the men who fought and the families they left behind, or for the fact that it ushered in a century of relative peace following the Congress of Vienna? Or is it more about the colour of the military spectacle – as will doubtless be exemplified in the re-enactments of the battle that will take place on 18 June and the days following?”
Read his thoughtful examination of the commemoration here:

History News Network | Just What Exactly Are People Commemorating on the 200th Anniversary of Waterloo?

Painting of the Scots famous cavalry charge at the Battle of Waterloo by Elizabeth Butler: Scotland for Ever!, 1881

Painting of the Scots famous cavalry charge at the Battle of Waterloo by Elizabeth Butler: Scotland for Ever!, 1881