Opinion | We Owe Haiti a Debt We Can’t Repay – The New York Times

” . . . . President Jefferson, mindful of the desires of his Southern political base, adopted a hostile stance toward St. Domingue. The stage was set for isolation of the tiny island nation, a choice that had enormous consequences for its development.Napoleon brought a new challenge to St. Domingue when he decided in 1802 to reassert control over French colonies in the Americas. He sent a fleet to the island to accomplish the task. The residents fought back and, with the help of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries yellow fever, repelled the invaders. This victory was fateful not only for the residents of St. Domingue, who went on to form an independent republic that they renamed Haiti, but also for the course of American history.Napoleon, as part of his plan to re-establish the French empire in the Caribbean, was hoping to use the territory of Louisiana as a supply station for the island colonies. Once the Haitians had shattered his dream, Napoleon saw no reason to hold on to the territory. He was eager to sell it, and President Jefferson was equally eager to buy.The purchase doubled the size of the United States, which obtained 530 million acres for $15 million. If not for the French defeat at the hands of the Haitians, the sale may not have come off, leaving the United States possibly forever divided by a huge swath of French-controlled land or forced into armed conflict with the French over it. Of course, what the United States really bought from France was the right to contend with the various Indigenous people who had their own claims to the land.” . . .

Ross Douthat | The French and Indian War and U.S. History’s Complexities – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Two hundred and sixty-six years ago this month, a column of British regulars commanded by Gen. Edward Braddock was cut to pieces by French soldiers and their Native American allies in the woods just outside today’s Pittsburgh. The defeat turned into a rout when Braddock was shot off his horse, leaving the retreat to be managed by a young colonial officer named George Washington, whose own previous foray into the region had lit the tinder for the war.

This was the beginning of the French and Indian War (also known, much less poetically, as the Seven Years’ War), which as a boy I thought was the most interesting war in all of history.

I had encountered it originally through a public television version of “The Last of the Mohicans,” but I soon found that the real conflict exceeded even James Fenimore Cooper’s romantic imagination: The complexity of forest warfare and the diversity of the combatants on both sides, colonial, European and native; the majesty of the geographic setting, especially the lakes, mountains and defiles of upstate New York; the ridiculous melodrama of the culminating battle at Quebec, with a wee-hours cliff-scaling that led to a decisive showdown in which both commanders were mortally wounded, James Wolfe in victory and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm in defeat.”

David Lindsay Jr.

David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:

Ross, thank you for an amazing essay. The top critics all make good criticisms, but they ignore the best parts of your piece. I posted your piece to my blog, just to capture your excellent list of histories on the seven years war, which I have never studied. I liked your suggestion of alternate outcomes, and novels about other forms of the present based on different outcomes of the past. I would especially like to see a novel based on the premise, that the Indians defeated the Europeans, and had to grow the continent with Indians in charge. Without the United States, the Germans and the Japanese would probably have prevailed in WW II, and that would be a great sequel novel.

I hope you find the time to read my historical ficiton on 18th century Vietnam, which was inspired in part by a biography in French of the extraordinary Bishop Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, who Nuguyen Anh, after becoming the new emperor of Vietnam, described as the greatest foreign friend in the history, of Vietnam and specifically, of Prince Anh’s success in seizing power in a long civil war, 1770-1802.

‘News of the World’ review: Tom Hanks, tween in a Western big enough for the both of them – Chicago Sun-Times

A Civil War vet (Tom Hanks) agreed to deliver an orphan (Helena Zengel) to her relatives in “News of the World.”
 Universal Pictures

“There was an era — and that era was the 1970s — when a Time magazine poll named news anchor Walter Cronkite as “the most trusted man in America,” and Watergate investigative heroes Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were largely responsible for the occupation of journalist regularly charting near the top of the rankings of most admired professions in the USA. (Even today, 99% of mainstream American journalists remain committed to delivering the truth, despite the delusional cries of “Fake News!” popularized by certain public figures.)

If we were to conduct a poll of the most trusted actors in America, I’d argue Tom Hanks would be near the top of that list — and Hanks is perfectly cast as an 1870 news anchor of sorts in Paul Greengrass’ gritty and visceral and deeply resonant “News of the World,” a rough-and-tumble Texas road-trip movie that plays like a hybrid of the John Wayne movies “The Searchers” and “True Grit” and even reminded me a little of George Clooney’s recent epic “The Midnight Sky.”

Hanks re-teams with his “Captain Phillips” director to play a very different kind of captain — one Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who fought for the Confederate Infantry and sustained injuries both external and internal, and has now carved out a unique way of making a living, i.e., he rides from town to town in the raw and rough state of Texas (where many haven’t fully accepted losing the war and racially motivated violence is lurking around every corner) and literally reads the news of the world to the townsfolk for 10 cents a head, bringing them the latest developments from near and afar, whether it be an outbreak of meningitis, a coal mine tragedy or a deadly ferry accident. (Hanks is such an all-American actor — and yet this is his first Western.)

Jefferson is a stoic man, a widower who keeps to himself, but his solitary, nomad life is upended when he happens across a 10-year-old girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel), who has spent much of her life as a captive of the Kiowa tribe and has been left with the authorities after her captors were killed. Jefferson takes on the responsibility of transporting the girl to her only surviving relatives in the far-off hill country of Castroville, and thus begins a long and arduous journey, made all the more difficult because Johanna is deeply resentful of this strange man, speaks not a word of English and doesn’t even understand the concept of a knife and fork. There’s a lot of learning to be had along the way.  . . . “

Source: ‘News of the World’ review: Tom Hanks, tween in a Western big enough for the both of them – Chicago Sun-Times

David Lindsay: Kathleen and I both enjoyed and were thrilled so by this new western, ‘News of the World’, nominated for best picture in the 2020 Academy awards, that we then watched the outtakes, and interviews, and then the next night, we watched the whole move and outtakes and interviews over again. There were plenty of precious moments in a very beautiful but ugly world in Texas in 1870.

Inherit the Wind movie review (1960) | Roger Ebert

“History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

This statement by Karl Marx admirably serves two functions: (1) It describes the difference between the two times the teaching of Darwin’s theories were put on trial in this country, in Tennessee in 1925 and in Pennsylvania in 2005; (2) Because it is from Karl Marx, it will automatically be rejected, along with the words to follow, by those who judge a statement not by its content but by its source. That is precisely the argument between Darwinism and creationism. Stanley Kramer‘s “Inherit the Wind” (1960) is a movie about a courtroom battle between those who believe the Bible is literally true and those who believe, as the Spencer Tracy character puts it, that “an idea is a greater monument than a cathedral.”

The so-called Monkey Trial of 1925 put a young high school teacher named John T. Scopes on trial for violating a state law, passed the same year, prohibiting the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical account of divine creation. Darwin’s theory of evolution was also therefore on trial. Two of the most famous lawyers and orators in the land contested the case. Scopes was defended by the legendary Clarence Darrow, and the prosecution was led by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Darrow’s expenses were paid by the Baltimore Sun papers, home of the famed journalist H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial with many snorts and guffaws.

In Kramer’s film, Darrow becomes Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy), Bryan is Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March), Mencken is E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly), and Scopes is Bertram T. Cates (Dick York). Another major player is the gravel-voiced Harry Morgan, as the judge. So obviously were the characters based on their historical sources that the back of the DVD simply refers to them as “Bryan” and “Darrow,” as if their names had not been changed.  . . . “

Source: Inherit the Wind movie review (1960) | Roger Ebert

Kathleen and I saw the 1960 movie Inherit the Wind on Saturday night, and were enthralled and moved. I was sure that some of the vital exchanges in the courtroom probably happened, but did the good, god-fearing people of Hillsboro really march while singing about lynching Clarence Darrow and the local school teacher Scopes. Apparently, that was all made up by the propagandist, Stanley Kramer. I’m sorry he made those lies, because he didn’t need them. His inaccuracies diminish the underlying truth of his brilliant work.

From Wikipedia:

“Historical inaccuracies[edit]

Being mostly faithful to the play, the film engages in literary license with the facts and should not be relied upon as a historical document. For example, Scopes (Bertram Cates) is shown being arrested in class, thrown in jail, burned in effigy, and taunted by a fire-snorting preacher. William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady) is portrayed as an almost comical fanatic who dramatically dies of a “busted belly” while attempting to deliver his summation in a chaotic courtroom. The townspeople are shown as frenzied, mean-spirited, and ignorant. None of that happened in Dayton during the actual trial. This is because the story is an allegory for McCarthyism.[12]

Because the judge ruled that scientific evidence was inadmissible, a ruling which the movie depicted, Darrow called Bryan as his only witness and attempted to humiliate him by asking Bryan to interpret Scripture. When Darrow, in his closing remarks, called upon the jury to find Scopes guilty so that he could appeal the verdict, Bryan was kept from delivering his own summation. The guilty verdict was overturned two years later.[13] Bryan suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep five days after the trial ended.[14]

Jonathan Alter | Can Biden Be Our F.D.R.? – The New York Times

Mr. Alter is a journalist and the author of “The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope.”

Credit…Left, Popperfoto, via Getty Images; right, Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

” “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes,” Mark Twain (supposedly) said. If so, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. could be a couplet. With a few breaks and the skillful execution of what seems to be a smart legislative strategy, President Biden is poised to match F.D.R.’s stunning debut in office.

That doesn’t require Mr. Biden to transform the country before May 1, the end of his first 100 days, the handy if arbitrary marker that Mr. Roosevelt (to the irritation of his successors) laid down in 1933. But for America to “own the future,” as the president promised last month, he needs to do amid the pandemic what Mr. Roosevelt did amid the Depression: restore faith that the long-distrusted federal government can deliver rapid, tangible achievements.

With one of the biggest and fastest vaccination campaigns in the world and the signing of a $1.9 trillion dollar Covid relief package, the president has made a good start at that. His larger aim is to change the country by changing the terms of the debate.

Just as Mr. Roosevelt understood that the laissez-faire philosophy of the 1920s wasn’t working anymore to build the nation, Mr. Biden sees that Reagan-era market capitalism cannot alone rebuild it.” . . .

A Presidential Historian Makes a Rare Appearance in Today’s Political Arena – By Alexandra Alter – The New York Times

“Last month, the historian and biographer Jon Meacham got an unusual request from Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign. The campaign wanted him to speak at the Democratic National Convention — not to endorse Mr. Biden, but to put the stakes of this election in historical context.

“The request was, define the soul of America, and do it quick,” Mr. Meacham said.

Mr. Meacham is not a Democrat. He has voted for candidates of both parties, and his work has focused his attention on studying past presidents rather than endorsing modern-day ones. When he gave his four-minute address Thursday evening from his home in Nashville, he sat in his library with two portraits mounted behind him: one of Representative John Lewis and one of former President George Bush, painted by his son former President George W. Bush.

It was a rare, high-profile appearance in the political arena for a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Mr. Meacham has spent much of his career steeped in the country’s past, studying the lives of presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

His speech also marked a public moment in a long-running friendship with Mr. Biden, with whom he has had periodic, spirited conversations about American history and how the country’s sometimes-troubled past shapes the present and future.”

Harriet movie historical accuracy: What’s fact and what’s fiction in the Harriet Tubman biopic.

What caused Harriet Tubman’s “spells”? Were there really black slave-catchers? We break down the new biopic.

Diptych of Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, in a still from the movie, and Harriet Tubman in a historical photo.
Cynthia Erivo and Harriet Tubman.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Focus Features and Horatio Seymour Squyer/Wikipedia.

“The fact that Harriet is the first feature-length film to tell the story of one of the most famous women in American history may sound improbable, but it’s no less improbable than many of the facts of her life. The new biopic is mostly true to what we know of the real Harriet Tubman, though writer-director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) and co-writer Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the TitansAli) take some considerable liberties with both the timeline of events and the creation of several characters. We consulted biographies, articles, primary sources, and a few contemporary historians so we could break down what’s historical record and what’s artistic license.

Tubman’s Early Life as Araminta “Minty” Ross

Just as in the movie, Tubman (played here by Cynthia Erivo) grew up on a farm in Dorchester County, Maryland, where she was born Araminta “Minty” Ross. Though the movie may leave the impression that she only took on the name Harriet Tubman when she reached freedom, she seems to have taken it when she was married, taking Harriet from her mother, Harriet Ross, and Tubman from her husband, a free black man named John Tubman. Despite that, her owners still called her by the name they gave her, as evidenced by the Oct. 3, 1849, advertisement for the return of “Minty” taken out by Tubman’s mistress Eliza Brodess when she eventually escaped.”

Source: Harriet movie historical accuracy: What’s fact and what’s fiction in the Harriet Tubman biopic.

Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy – Vincent Bugliosi – Books – The New York Times

“LOS ANGELES, May 13 — The prosecutor who put Charles Manson behind bars now wants to solve another crime — a really simple one, he insists. So simple that it takes only 1,612 pages to prove his case.

Vincent Bugliosi, whose prosecution of Charles Manson in 1970 led him to write one of the best-selling true-crime books of all time, “Helter Skelter,” has now turned his attention to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

And that is his full attention: 20 years of research, more than one million words, hundreds of interviews, thousands of documents and more than 10,000 citations. The result, “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy” (W. W. Norton), is due out tomorrow. His conclusion: Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy, and acted alone.

Why would such a simple conclusion require so much argument?

“Because of the unceasing and fanatical obsession of thousands of researchers over the last 43 years, from around the world but mostly in the United States,” Mr. Bugliosi said in an interview at the cafe of the Sportsmen’s Lodge Hotel in Studio City, Calif. “Examining under a high-powered microscope every comma, every period, every detail on every conceivable issue, and making hundreds and hundreds of allegations, they have transformed this simple case into its present form.”

Mr. Bugliosi likes to tell a story illustrating why he believes this book is necessary. In 1992, less than a year after the debut of Oliver Stone’s conspiracy-minded film “J.F.K.,” Mr. Bugliosi was addressing a group of trial lawyers when a member of the audience asked him about the assassination.”

David Lindsay:  Today, I attended the Yale SEA brown bag lecture by Michele Thompson on Tue Tinh of 14th century Vietnam. At the lunch after, I talked with two of her graduate students from Southern CT State U., one of whom named Matt, mentioned this book above, which he used in his master’s paper on Richard Nixon and the history of the Republican Party through Nixon’s presidency. Matt insisted that it was impossible to read this book and not agree that Oswald did, in fact, like the Warren Commission found, acted alone. I should not be surprised that the Warren Commission did a good job, since  my uncle, John Lindsay, the mayor of NYC, and my father, David Lindsay, thought highly of it. From Wikipedia I found:

Committee

Fourth of July Quiz: Can You Answer the Hardest Citizenship Test Questions? – The New York Times

A naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles last year. Mario Tama/Getty Images

With your American citizenship on the line, could you answer the following question? Take a moment. Because, according to a 2011 study, this is the hardest of the 100 possible questions asked on the United States citizenship test.”

You need to get 6 out of 10 questions to become an American citizen. Here are some of the very hardest. I got 7, Kathleen got a 8. Warning, It is hard. Take away, researchers find that testers can make any random set of questions ridiculously hard for an immigrant.