A Student of History

December 7, 2007

Hitchens on Mormonism

Filed under: Early America,The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 5:43 pm


At Slate, Christopher Hitchens, an avowed atheist to be sure, provides a narrative of what Mitt Romney holds to be true.   The tone of the piece is, to be sure, not what one would call “pro-Mormon,” as this excerpt demonstrates:

In March 1826 a court in Bainbridge, New York, convicted a twenty-one-year-old man of being “a disorderly person and an impostor.” That ought to have been all we ever heard of Joseph Smith, who at trial admitted to defrauding citizens by organizing mad gold-digging expeditions and also to claiming to possess dark or “necromantic” powers. However, within four years he was back in the local newspapers (all of which one may still read) as the discoverer of the “Book of Mormon.” He had two huge local advantages which most mountebanks and charlatans do not possess. First, he was operating in the same hectically pious district that gave us the Shakers and several other self-proclaimed American prophets. So notorious did this local tendency become that the region became known as the “Burned-Over District,” in honor of the way in which it had surrendered to one religious craze after another. Second, he was operating in an area which, unlike large tracts of the newly opening North America, did possess the signs of an ancient history.

One of the interesting comments made by Hitchens is that for historians, the actual story of Joseph Smith’s shenanagins “is almost embarrassing to read, and almost embarrassingly easy to uncover.”  The records for the most part are all there, in court documents and newspaper reports.  

November 27, 2007

“This has nothing to do with free speech”??

Filed under: The Academy,The past that is still with us,The world today — John Maass @ 12:41 pm

As I noted here, two contoversial speakers were to speak at the Oxford Union yesterday, one of whom is David Irving, noted (and previously jailed) Holocaust denier.  The BBC tells us that “hundreds of protesters besieged the Union Society, furious at the decision to invite the leader of the far-right British National Party to speak there, along with a historian who has denied that the holocaust ever happened.”   Ultra right winger Nick Griffin was the other scheduled speaker, and he was “bustled in surrounded by a group of skinheads to protect him.”  As if that isn’t going to get folks ticked off, eh?

Still, where do we draw the line between unpopular opinions and preventing controversial people from speaking?  “This has nothing to do with free speech,” argued one protester, “it’s about giving credibility to fascists, making them appear to be part of the mainstream.”  Who decides that?  Its got everything to do with free speech, contrary to what this naive student shouted, but that does not mean everyone gets 30 minutes and a mike.  Leftists on American campuses routinely shout down conservatives such as David Horowitz, Jean Kirkpatrick, etc., and steal copies of right-wing student newspapers.  (Click here for example) That is surely wrong, although most of the time university officials do nothing in response.

The BBC goes on to report that “banners were draped over the walls surrounding the Union Society, bearing anti-racist slogans,” while chants reverberated through the narrow streets outside: “BNP – off the streets” and “Nazi scum – go home.”  Others, however, took a different tack:  One group supporting the event held a banner aloft bearing Voltaire’s famous dictum: “I disapprove of your views, but would fight to the death for your right to express them.”

Even then, the organisers decided to break it into two groups “for safety reasons.”  So the BNP’s Nick Griffin spoke in one room, while David Irving addressed students in another. Nonetheless, the Oxford Union Society is insisting the event was a success, albeit a qualified one.   President Luke Tryl said: “I think fascism is awful and abhorrent, but the way to take on fascism is through debate.

November 26, 2007

Protests over Holocaust Denier

Filed under: The Academy,The past that is still with us,Wars — John Maass @ 10:49 pm

Is it right or appropriate for a major university to invite a convicted Holocaust denier to debate on its campus?  Many say no at Oxford.

In the face of angry protests, the Oxford Union debating society went ahead on Monday with plans for an evening debate featuring David Irving, a British author jailed in Austria in 2005 for denying the Holocaust, and Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party, acquitted by a British court last year of stirring racial hatred.

The invitation to the two rightist speakers plunged the Oxford debating society into one of the fiercest controversies in its 184-year history. In 1933, it stirred anger in Britain with its notorious “king and country” debate, in which members voted they would in no circumstances fight a war against Nazism.  Although an independent body with no formal links to the University of Oxford, many of the union’s members are Oxford students, and many of the union’s leaders have gone on to prominent roles in British politics.

D. Irving

See also this follow article from the BBC.

November 23, 2007

New War Video Game Controversial

Filed under: The past that is still with us,Wars — John Maass @ 1:09 pm


From the IHT:

A new video game that invites players to rewrite the course of Spain’s devastating civil war has touched a nerve in a country that is often reluctant to revisit its past, let alone play with it.

Shadows of War” bills itself as the first video game based on the 1936-39 war, which erupted after right-wing forces loyal to Francisco Franco staged a coup against the elected Republican government. It went on sale in Spain on Thursday in the midst of a bitter debate about how to deal with the country’s past, prompted by a new law that would authorize reparations to civil war victims and ban monuments to Franco.

Even before it hit the stores, the game drew criticism from both sides of the political spectrum as a divisive trivialization of a war whose wounds, for many Spaniards, have yet to heal.

More here…..

The game description per a gaming review on-line is:

Europe, 1936. The Old Continent is still recovering from the wounds inflicted on its territories by the worst armed conflict Humanity has ever witnessed. In the meantime, a new shadow is rising to threaten the newly-established balance of power. Should nobody stop it, the consequences could change the path of history for ever…

Rely on five heroes of different nationalities, each of them with their own background and agenda, and with a future which depends upon your abilities as strategist. Thanks to the unique skills of your commanders, you will be able to decide the fate of the German and Italian armies or the vast Russian troops, among others.

You are Europe’s only shadow of hope. Don’t let the World be engulfed by the Shadows of War!

October 24, 2007

“All the white kids come to the front…”

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 6:59 am

“All the white kids come to the front, mixed race in the middle, and dark-skinned at the back.”  Is that any way to line up school kids for a class picture?  One teacher in London thought so.  Story here.

October 17, 2007

Religion & the Founders

Filed under: Early America,The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 8:03 am


[GW Praying at Valley Forge-True?]

A few weeks ago, I posted on Christianity and the Founders, a subject that has been receiving lots of attention in the form of many books, articles, etc.  Now John McCain has weighed in, and says that the U.S. was founded on Christian principles and that these should be emphasized today.  Bold words from a presidential contender.  Related to this theme is an opinion piece in the Boston Globe, by James Carroll, which is here.  I include a snip of it below.

One of my proudest boasts as a schoolboy was an ability to both identify and spell what my teacher insisted was the English language’s longest word: antidisestablishmentarianism.

I had, of course, no idea what it meant. Now I know that it defines America’s political third rail onto which John McCain threw himself when he recently said that the United States was established as a “Christian nation.”

No, it wasn’t! Or so answered a chorus of critics, heading off an inevitable denigration of minority religions – and no religion. The disestablishmentarians always point out that the U.S. Constitution nowhere mentions God, and that the founders were Deist gentlemen whose God was so impersonally detached from history as to be not recognizably Christian at all. The framers of the American political system, appalled by what “establishment” had led to in Europe, took pains to set their government on a religiously neutral path.

But government is not nation. Just because McCain’s assertion is dangerous – as I believe it to be – does not mean it is untrue. For one thing, what the founders intended may weigh less than how the nation developed over the next two centuries. The Constitution created “an open national space,” in the scholar Mark Noll’s phrase, but, Noll says, instead of it being filled with Alexander Hamilton’s economic planning, Thomas Jefferson’s yeomanry or John Adams’s communalism, that space was seized by unexpected 19th-century “awakenings” of evangelical fervor.

[Another, cheesier version]

October 12, 2007

“Nazi Chess set”

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 6:35 am

Just when you think the world has seen it all….

From a website called totallyjewish.com, here is a report of a “Nazi Chess set” in which Hitler is one of the kings.  Holocaust Education Trust Chairman Lord Greville Janner stated ““These chess sets are revolting. They trivialise the Nazi murderers and show a total lack of sensitivity to the memories of their victims. I am contacting colleagues in Turkey and hope that pressure can be brought so that these so-called games will be taken off sale as soon as possible.”

October 11, 2007

Which are the world’s most sacred sites?

Filed under: Historic Places,The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 6:45 am

Which are the world’s most sacred sites?

Cool photo essay here.

The Men-An-Tol Stones in Penzance, Top ten sacred sights

October 5, 2007

Templar Mysteries to be Revealed?

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 6:22 am

From The Telegraph:

The mysteries of the Order of the Knights Templar could soon be laid bare after the Vatican announced the release of a crucial document which has not been seen for almost 700 years.  A new book, Processus contra Templarios, will be published by the Vatican’s Secret Archive on Oct 25, and promises to restore the reputation of the Templars, whose leaders were burned as heretics when the order was dissolved in 1314.

The Knights Templars were the earliest founders of the military orders, and are the type on which the others are modelled.  The Templar Order was founded by nine knights in 1118 A.D. who created an order of ‘warrior monks.’ The Templars were begun in the aftermath of the First Crusade of 1096 A.D. to help the new Kingdom of Jerusalem defend itself against its hostile Muslim neighbors and to ensure the safety of the large numbers of European pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem. The Medieval Templar Order was officially ended in 1314 A.D. with the burning at the stake of the last official Grand Master, Jacques de Molay.

October 4, 2007

Most likely to secede

Looks like a new secession crisis brewing, but this time on both sides of the M-D line.  From Fox News:

Tired of foreign wars and what they consider right-wing courts, the Middlebury Institute wants liberal states like Vermont to be able to secede peacefully.

That sounds just fine to the League of the South, a conservative group that refuses to give up on Southern independence.

“We believe that an independent South, or Hawaii, Alaska, or Vermont would be better able to serve the interest of everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Michael Hill of Killen, Ala., president of the League of the South.

Separated by hundreds of miles and divergent political philosophies, the Middlebury Institute and the League of the South are hosting a two-day Secessionist Convention starting Wednesday in Chattanooga.

You know the Vermonters are crazy and self-delusional when they consider the courts to be “right wing.” 

I love this quote from the article’s author, presented as background fact:

The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly prohibit secession, but few people think it is politically viable.

The Constitution doesn’t allow it either!  In fact, wasn’t there a war over this issue in the 1860s?

September 26, 2007

Does this look strange to you?

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 7:17 pm

Related story here.

September 20, 2007

New Jersey: The Hitler State

Filed under: The past that is still with us,The world today — John Maass @ 6:40 pm

This is ridiculous:

U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. sided with the parents of students who want to wear Hitler Youth buttons to school to protest the school’s uniform policy.  They had been threatened with suspension by the Bayonne school district last fall for wearing the buttons. However, the judge added in his ruling that the boys will not be allowed to distribute the buttons at school.

“I’m very pleased,” said Laura DePinto, mother of one of the students. “I think it upholds the most basic of our American rights, which is to protest peacefully.”

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