“The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine’s Past “| Foreign Policy

This is indicative of another troubling trend across the globe: “When it comes to politics and history, an accurate memory can be a dangerous thing. In Ukraine, as the country struggles with its identity, that’s doubly true. While Ukrainian political parties try to push the country toward Europe or Russia, a young, rising Ukrainian historian named Volodymyr Viatrovych has placed himself at the center of that fight. Advocating a nationalist, revisionist history that glorifies the country’s move to independence — and purges bloody and opportunistic chapters — Viatrovych has attempted to redraft the country’s modern history to whitewash Ukrainian nationalist groups’ involvement in the Holocaust and mass ethnic cleansing of Poles during World War II. And right now, he’s winning.”

Read the entire article here: The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine’s Past | Foreign Policy

” Polish leaders threaten fate of nearly finished WWII museum” – Daily Reflector

The Museum of the Second World War may be a casualty of Poland’s rightward turn. Only a Polish-centered museum will do for this nationalist government. This would be unfortunate. As the historian Timothy Snyder points out, “the government’s concept of a museum focusing solely on Westerplatte and Poland’s military struggle in 1939 would result in a narrowly focused exhibit that would not appeal to a wider international audience.”

Read the entire story here: – Daily Reflector

“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

“A New Look at Japan’s Wartime Atrocities and a U.S. Cover-Up” – The New York Times

“After the war, the United States covered up Japan’s biological warfare research on humans, allowing the perpetrators to escape punishment and to prosper.” Why? It “enabled the United States to gather information that was of great use for its own biological warfare program, early in the Cold War.” I don’t think that any potential benefit from these horrific experiments can justify covering up these crimes. And in the long run, it is against our own interests by undermining our moral standing in the world.  How we conduct ourselves around the world does have implications for our national security.

Read the entire article here: A New Look at Japan’s Wartime Atrocities and a U.S. Cover-Up – The New York Times

An exhibit at the Unit 731 museum depicts a frostbite experiment on prisoners.Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

“Honor the Past, Not the Racism” – Bloomberg View

“How far is too far in relabeling things named for great but flawed Americans?”

Stephen L. Carter argues that we’re making a mistake when we seek to rename events, buildings, etc. because they were named after some less than perfect Americans (i.e. they owned slaves, were racist, etc.).

He concludes, “Jefferson or Jackson, Truman or Wilson, Sanger or Faulkner — all held unworthy attitudes shaped by the values of particular eras. We should accept and explore our history, with all of its complexity and horror, including the possibility that we can admire some aspects of the greats of the past without endorsing everything for which they stood. If instead we’d rather spend time on erasure, there’s a nice domed memorial on the National Mall that needs a new honoree — in a capital city itself named for a man who owned 318 human beings.”

I have to agree with Carter. Let’s recognize (and abhor) their flaws, but we shouldn’t scrub all traces of them in the public square.

Source: Honor the Past, Not the Racism – Bloomberg View

Christian Appy: “Our ‘Merciful’ Ending to the ‘Good War'” |History News Network

Seventy years ago today, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Just three days earlier Hiroshima had suffered the same fate. The debate over the necessity of dropping these bombs on continues to be highly contentious and divisive. Despite the fact that there has been a growing body of evidence that challenges the standard narrative (see below) of these events, this comforting narrative shows no sign of abating in public memory. Since I’ve already addressed this topic in a previous post, I’d like to address a related, but very important issue brought up by Christian Appy.

He challenges to consider these questions:

“Will an American president ever offer a formal apology? Will our country ever regret the dropping of ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man,’ those two bombs that burned hotter than the sun? Will it absorb the way they instantly vaporized thousands of victims, incinerated tens of thousands more, and created unimaginably powerful shockwaves and firestorms that ravaged everything for miles beyond ground zero? Will it finally come to grips with the ‘black rain’ that spread radiation and killed even more people — slowly and painfully — leading in the end to a death toll for the two cities conservatively estimated at more than 250,000?”

Appy concedes, and I agree, that any kind of apology is unlikely in the foreseeable future given current politics. But the issue is too important not to discuss.

Even if there was some agreement on the morality of the bombings, there is another hurdle to overcome before we can ever get to an apology. There is a widespread belief that apologies are for the weak. This is unfortunate. In reality, apologies show a strength of character that is hard to find among leaders today. An exception is Pope Francis, who has improved the standing of the Catholic Church by apologizing for the “past sins” of the church. (e.g. Bolivia)

In 1995, the Japanese Prime Minister apologized for their war crimes, as he should have. But the current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has done much to undermine the good will that was achieved by these apologies, to the detriment of Japan’s relationships with South Korea and China.

Apologies go a long way towards healing relationships between victim(s) and the wrongdoer. It is not only the right thing to do; it goes a long way towards creating amicable relationships. Therefore, it would be in our interest to apologize. An apology would also go a long way in improving our image in the world.

Read Appy’s informative and thoughtful essay on this topic here: History News Network | Our ‘Merciful’ Ending to the ‘Good War’.

Standard narrative: The U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war quickly and save American lives. Part of this narrative is the claim that the Japanese were warned and that the cities were military targets.

Nagasaki bomb

The Revenge of History: Dealing with Historical Memory

In today’s The New York Times Roger Cohen wrote a thoughtful piece on memory and forgetting (“The Presence of the Past”). Given the role that the manipulation of historical memory has played in past and present violence this article brings up a topic that deserves more attention, especially as nationalism is on the rise. Despite the importance of this topic, it is rarely publicly discussed. Part of the problem is the complexity of the subject, not to mention that it calls into question the cherished identities of many. But if we’re going to stave off the violence that is the product of certain kinds of historical memory we must discuss it.

History is a double-edged sword, as Cohen points out: “History illuminates. It can also blind.” History is illuminating when it is confronted honestly and in all its complexity. It is blinding when it is used to serve ideological or political ends.  This is where historical memory comes in. “History” is often abused in the service of ideology or political power.

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The Cost of Turkey’s Genocide Denial – NYTimes.com

The historian Ronald Grigor Suny offered a potent lesson, not just for Turkey, but for all peoples in The New York Times this past week. Assaulting historical truth in the service of political ends is nothing new. However, a recent rise in nationalism in places like Russia and Japan has brought this issue to the forefront as a potential destabilizing force. Suny persuasively explains why this is a concern and why Turkey should admit to the genocide. “It is well known that each nation feels its own pain and has difficulty feeling that of others. Yet reconciliation of Armenians, Kurds and Turks — who are fated to live next to each other — will require both an acceptance of their shared history and mutual suffering and a hard look backward in order to move forward. Acknowledging who set the fire and directed it against the most vulnerable population must be part of the healing.” Read the entire article here:

The Cost of Turkey’s Genocide Denial – NYTimes.com.

armenian_genocide protest