George Bush

(I refer to him as he was referred to at the time of his presidency. Having to insert “H.W.” as his middle initials is proleptic.)

In our culture, one does not speak ill of the dead, but public figures usually merit some sort of even-handed evaluation. However, most of the obituaries I have read about George Bush, 41st President of the United States (1989-1993), have been rather hagiographic in tone, praising Bush’s class, civility, and devotion to public service. This is, of course, a deliberate and pointed jab at the current administration, whose leader is the cultural antithesis of the patrician Bush, and who has made a lot of enemies through his abrasive boorishness. But by no means was Bush praised for his class when he was in office! Back then, he was the Skull and Bones son of privilege, out of touch with how ordinary Americans actually lived. I thought of this as recently as July, when during one of his rallies President Trump said:

You know all the rhetoric you see here, the “thousand points of light” – what the hell was that, by the way? The “thousand points of light.” What did that mean? Does anyone know? I know one thing: “Make America Great Again” we understand. “Thousand points of light” – I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? Ay. And it was put out by a Republican.

Some earnest CNN talking heads took issue with that, saying that it was about volunteerism and civic mindedness, obviously, and who could have a problem with these most American of values? They were shocked that Trump would run down a fellow Republican and war hero. And I was reminded how, when in power, Republicans are evil incarnate, but when they’re no longer in power, they become respected elder statesmen. For I remember the “Thousand Points of Light,” and how, to Doonesbury at least, it was a disturbing abdication of responsibility. Since Republicans hate poor people, you see, they gut social programs and then offload the function to private charity, which is a weak substitute with no guarantee that anything will be delivered. But the CNN folks apparently forgot that critique.

(It’s obvious to me what Trump was doing: signaling that it’s not the Bushes’ party anymore! In addition to pointing out that his slogan is more straightforward, and thus more inspiring, than Bush’s “poetic” one, Trump was simply playing to the base that elected him, and that had been disaffected by establishment Republicanism, most notably over the issue of illegal immigration.)

So I must say that I appreciated this article on The Intercept, shared by a couple of Facebook friends, about Bush’s legacy, even if I disagree with some of it. For instance, I fail to comprehend what was so bad about the Willie Horton ad. But his actual role in the Iran-Contra scandal, his pardoning of some of the perpetrators, and the dishonest case his administration made for the war against Iraq, all deserved to be remembered. (Along with the ADA and NAFTA of course.)

I do like revisiting the time when he overcame the “wimp factor” with Dan Rather in 1988:

I want to talk about why I want to be president, why those 41% of the people are supporting me. And I don’t think it’s fair to judge a whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York. Would you like that? I have respect for you but I don’t have respect for what you’re doing here tonight.

But he wasn’t always so deadly with his words. Everyone knows about George W. Bush’s “they misunderestimated me” or “Is our children learning?”; people tend to forget that Bush himself committed a few verbal infelicities, e.g.:

“For seven and a half years I’ve worked alongside President Reagan. We’ve had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We’ve had some sex – uh – setbacks.” —in 1988

“We’re enjoying sluggish times, and not enjoying them very much.” —in 1992

“I just am not one who – who flamboyantly believes in throwing a lot of words around.” —in 1990

“Please don’t ask me to do that which I’ve just said I’m not going to do, because you’re burning up time. The meter is running through the sand on you, and I am now filibustering.” —in 1989

“I put confidence in the American people, in their ability to sort through what is fair and what is unfair, what is ugly and what is unugly.” –in 1989

“You cannot be President of the United States if you don’t have faith. Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial and the Civil War and all that stuff. You can’t be. And we are blessed. So don’t feel sorry for – don’t cry for me, Argentina. Message: I care.” —speaking to employees of an insurance company during the 1992 New Hampshire primary

“I’m not the most articulate emotionalist.” –in 1989

“It has been said by some cynic, maybe it was a former president, ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.’ Well, we took them literally—that advice—as you know. But I didn’t need that because I have Barbara Bush.” —in 1989

“Please just don’t look at the part of the glass, the part that is only less than half full.” –in 1991

Joachim Ronneberg, 1919-2018

From the New York Times:

Joachim Ronneberg, Leader of Raid That Thwarted a Nazi Atomic Bomb, Dies at 99

The Norwegian saboteurs skied across the Telemark pine forest in winter whites, phantom apparitions gliding over moonlit snow. They halted at a steep river gorge and gazed down at a humming hydroelectric power plant where Nazi scientists had developed a mysterious, top-secret project.

Lt. Joachim Ronneberg, the 23-year-old resistance fighter in command, and his eight comrades — all carrying cyanide capsules to swallow if captured — had been told by British intelligence only that the plant was distilling something called heavy water, and that it was vital to Hitler’s war effort.

Hours later, in one of the most celebrated commando raids of World War II, Lieutenant Ronneberg and his demolition team sneaked past guards and a barracks full of German troops, stole into the plant, set explosive charges and blew up Hitler’s hopes for a critical ingredient to create the first atomic bomb.

Mr. Ronneberg, the last surviving member of the 1943 raid and one of the most decorated war heroes of a nation renowned for valorous resistance to the 1940-45 German Occupation, died on Sunday in Alesund, Norway, his daughter, Birte Ronneberg, said. He was 99.

Read the whole thing.

Peter Sawyer, 1928-2018

From the Guardian:

Peter Sawyer, who has died aged 90, was perhaps the most influential scholar of the Vikings and their activities in the last 70 years. His book The Age of the Vikings (1962) radically challenged the current orthodoxy, presenting the Vikings as “traders not raiders”. Peter did not deny their destructiveness, but he challenged its scale by looking hard at the question of Viking numbers, and at their ships, and by pointing to the destruction carried out by their contemporaries.

The debates opened up by the book have lasted through to the present, and while the position set out by Peter in 1962 has been modified, there has been no going back to the earlier image of destruction. As the runologist Ray Pagenoted in his review: “The Vikings will never be the same again.” Peter himself made further major interventions in his Kings and Vikings (1982), which looked more closely at the political structures of the Viking age, and in work published jointly with his second wife, Birgit (Bibi), notably Die Welt der Wikinger (The World of the Vikings, 2002).

More at the link.

Bernard Lewis, 1916-2018

From the Jerusalem Post (via Tim Furnish):

Bernard Lewis, scholar and the “West’s leading interpreter of the Middle East,” died Sunday at the age of 101.

Lewis was a leading scholar on Oriental and Middle Eastern studies. His study of antisemitism, Semites and Anti-Semites, was a cry against Soviet and Arab attempts to delegitimize Israel. In other works, he argued Arab rage against Israel was disproportionate to other tragedies or injustices in the Muslim world.

Though a champion for Israel, Lewis was an often controversial figure, on this subject and others. He was accused of being a “genocide denier” for his views on the Armenian genocide. His support of the Iraq War has also brought criticism.

Born to Jewish parents in London, UK, Lewis was educated in the University of London, primarily at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), as well as studying at the University of Paris. Lewis’s Ph.D. was in the History of Islam.

In a teaching career spanning nearly 50 years, Lewis was first appointed as an assistant lecturer in Islamic History at SOAS in 1938. During the Second World War, from 1940-1941, he served in the British Army’s Royal Armored Corps and Intelligence Corps. He returned to SOAS in 1949.

After a long career in academia, Lewis retired from Princeton in 1986 after 12 years as a teacher, and taught at Cornell University until 1990.

Alfred W. Crosby, 1931-2018

From H-LatAm:

Alfred W. Crosby died peacefully at Nantucket Cottage Hospital among friends and family on March 14, 2018, after residing for two and a half years at Our Island Home. He was 87 and had lived with Parkinson’s Disease for two decades.

Born in Boston in 1931, he graduated from Harvard College in 1952 and served in the U.S. Army 1952-1955. He then earned an M.A.T. from the Harvard School of Education and a Ph.D. in history from Boston University in 1961. His first book, America, Russia, Hemp, and Napoleon, is about relations between Russia and the U.S.A. from the American Revolution through the War of 1812. He taught at Albion College, the Ohio State University, Washington State University, and the University of Texas at Austin, retiring in 1999 as Professor Emeritus of Geography, History, and American Studies. He was the recipient of many awards including three Fulbright Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academy of Finland and was a fellow of the John  Carter Brown Library.

His interest in demography and the role of infectious disease in human history led him to write The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492America’s Forgotten Pandemic (originally Epidemic and Peace 1918); and Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. His fascination with intellectual and technological history produced The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History; and Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity’s Unappeasable Appetite for Energy. His books have been published in Chinese, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Slovene, Swedish, and Turkish translations.  His work as a historian, he said, turned him from facing the past to facing the future. He lived by the maxim: What can I do today to make tomorrow better?

Hayden White, 1928-2018

From the New York Times (excerpts):

Hayden V. White, an influential scholar whose ideas on history and how it is shaped have fueled discussions in academic circles for half a century, died on Monday at his home in Santa Cruz, Calif. He was 89.

Dr. White began garnering attention in 1966 with his essay “The Burden of History,” which suggested that history was being relegated to a sort of second-class citizenship by advances in other disciplines.

“Both science and art have transcended the older, stable conceptions of the world which required that they render a literal copy of a presumably static reality,” he wrote. He urged historical scholarship to do the same.

“The historian serves no one well by constructing a specious continuity between the present world and that which preceded it,” he wrote. “On the contrary, we require a history that will educate us to discontinuity more than ever before; for discontinuity, disruption and chaos is our lot.”

He expanded on his ideas in 1973 with his best-known work, “Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” which proposed a classification system for assessing the ideologies, storytelling techniques and other attributes that went into the creation of history.

Dr. White’s other scholarly works included, most recently, “The Practical Past” (2014). A collection, “The Fiction of Narrative: Essays on History, Literature and Theory 1957-2007,” was published in 2010.

“Perhaps White’s most controversial idea, and one for which he was so often shunned by his fellow historians, is that ‘all stories are fictions,’ ” Robert Doran, a professor at the University of Rochester who edited that volume, said by email. “White held that while historical facts are scientifically verifiable, stories are not. Stories are made, not found in the historical data; historical meaning is imposed on historical facts by means of the choice of plot-type, and this choice is inevitably ethical and political at bottom.

“This is what White called ‘emplotment,’ a term he coined,” Dr. Doran continued. “Even the most basic beginning-middle-end structure of a story represents an imposition: The historian chooses where to begin, where to end, and what points are important in the middle. There is no scientific test for ‘historical significance.’”

Lindy Smith, 1993-2017

Sad news: I have been informed that Lindy Smith, a former Reinhardt student, died last November at the age of 24. I had the pleasure of teaching Lindy in one of my classes, and she came with the history club to hear Ken Wheeler speak at the Rock Barn back in 2014. She also worked at Cabela’s, and was very helpful to me when I made a major purchase there in 2015. She will be missed. Requiescat in pace.

Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens

From the New York Times:

Jeannie de Clarens, an amateur spy who passed a wealth of information to the British about the development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets during World War II and survived stays in three concentration camps for her activities, died on Aug. 23 in Montaigu, southeast of Nantes, France. She was 98.

The death was confirmed by her son, Pascal.

In 1943 Jeannie Rousseau, as she was then known, was an interpreter in Paris for an association of French businessmen, representing their interests and helping them negotiate contracts with the German occupiers. She was young and attractive. She spoke flawless German. She was a favorite with the German officers, who were completely unaware that the woman they knew as Madeleine Chauffour had been reporting to a French intelligence network, the Druids, organized by the Resistance.

Getting wind of a secret weapons project, she made it her mission to be on hand when the topic was discussed by the Germans, coaxing information through charm and guile.

“I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane,” she told The Washington Post in 1998. “I kept saying, ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.”

One officer, eager to convince her, let her look at drawings of the rockets.

Most of what she heard was incomprehensible. But, blessed with a near-photographic memory, she repeated it in detail to her recruiter, Georges Lamarque, at a safe house on the Left Bank.

In London, intelligence analysts, led by Reginald V. Jones, marveled at the quality of the information they were receiving from Paris, notably a startling document called the Wachtel Report. Delivered in September 1943, it identified the German officer in charge of the rocket program, Col. Max Wachtel; gave precise details about operations at the testing plant in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast in Pomerania; and showed planned launch locations along the coast from Brittany to the Netherlands.

Relying on this information, the British organized several bombing raids against the plant, which delayed development of the V-2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London.

In “1940-1944: The Secret History of the Atlantic Wall” (2003), the historian Rémy Desquesnes called the Wachtel Report a “masterpiece in the history of intelligence gathering.” When Mr. Jones asked who had sent the report, he was told that the source was known only by the code name Amniarix, and that “she was one of the most remarkable young women of her generation.”

Read the whole thing.

Martin McGuinness

I have just discovered that the other chuckle brother died this week:

Martin McGuinness, IRA chief of staff turned Sinn Féin politician

Martin McGuinness, who has died from a rare heart condition aged 66, was with Gerry Adams the dominant figure in Irish Republicanism through four decades of armed struggle and subsequent political manoeuvrings.

He was in turn the IRA’s chief of staff, Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, Minister of Education in David Trimble’s short-lived Executive, and Deputy First Minister, initially to Sinn Fein’s arch-enemy Ian Paisley. And on June 27 2012 he shook hands with the Queen.

While Adams could portray himself as a politician, McGuinness had his finger on the pulse – and trigger – of terrorism. Yet Sinn Fein selected him, not Adams, as its senior ministerial nominee when the Good Friday Agreement was implemented. And Unionists found McGuinness less difficult to deal with than the prickly Adams, and even magnanimous.