Saturday, August 16, 2008
The Fall 2007 issue featured several articles on the accomplishments of alumni in the fields of historic architecture, restoration, preservation, and adaptive re-use of historic structures. This issue also carried a notice that UMass Amherst has become the first public institution in New England to offer an accredited professional graduate degree in architecture. But concurrent with the publication of this issue, on November 14, 2007, the UMass Amherst campus was placed, by Preservation Massachusetts, on its list of Massachusetts’ 10 Most Endangered Historic Resources.
I submit that it is time for the campus administration to develop an approach to historic preservation that complies with state law and actively engages the expertise of faculty and alumni.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Mexicans, when the trumpet is calling,
Grasp your sword and your harness assemble.
Let the guns with their thunder appalling,
Make the earth's deep foundations to tremble. . . .
King Christian stood by the lofty mast
In mist and smoke;
His sword was hammering so fast,
Through Gothic helm and brain it passed.
Other anthems appear to lose something in cross-cultural transmission:
Syria's plains are
Towers in the heights,
Resembling the sky
Above the clouds.
A land resplendent
With brilliant suns,
Becoming another sky
Or almost a sky.
But other countries make it all too clear where they stand -- Libya among them:
O World, look up and listen!
The enemy's army is coming,
Rising to destroy me.
With truth and with my gun I shall repulse him.
And should I be killed,
I would kill him with me.
Sing with me --
Woe to the Imperialists!
And God is above the treacherous tyrant.
God is Greatest!
Therefore glorify him, O my country,
And seize the forehead of the tyrant
And destroy him!
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
While common acts of desecration have in the past included vandalism and graffiti, indecent photographs and videos are increasingly being shot around the magnificent structures built during the post-war years to remember the fallen.
The latest incident saw a French couple given a four-month suspended prison sentence for making a pornographic video at the Vimy Ridge memorial near Arras.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Do you want to do an exhibit to make veterans feel good, or do you want an exhibition that will lead our visitors to think about the consequences of the atomic bombing of Japan? Frankly, I don't think we can do both.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
My calendar begins on August 4, 1914.From that day the barometer rose:13 million dead.11 million maimed.50 million soldiers on the march.6 billion guns.50 billion cubic meters of gas.What room does that leave for 'personal development'? Nobody can develop 'personally' under these conditions. Something else develops him. The twenty-year-old was confronted by War. Destiny. It made every other teacher superfluous.--The Political Theatre (1929)
Monday, August 4, 2008
It is always good (and sobering) to be reminded that historic preservation is not only about preserving the beautiful or the architecturally noteworthy, or what we are proud of.
Some of the most striking memories of my childhood encounters with history are of the conversations in which my parents talked about their experiences of Europe during or after World War II with Japanese-American friends, who shared their recollections of the internment camps to which the United States had so shamefully relegated them. In the intervening years, the latter subject has, thankfully, attained an ever greater place in our educational curriculum and collective consciousness (though still not as great as it deserves). Even though we are now more aware of the experience of the evacuees, few if any of us pause to think about the physical environment and its fate.
A recent piece from the Associated Press describes the challenge of preserving the remains of those camps in the American west. The first practical difficulty entails locating and identifying the surviving structures, many of which have been moved or reused.
The park service has proposed restoring a block of the barracks to recreate the living conditions that roughly 13,000 Japanese Americans experienced at the camp. The initiative is part of an overall plan to preserve sections of Minidoka, which became a national historic site seven years ago and now sits mostly deserted(Jessie L. Bonner, "World War II camp preservation proves difficult")
But most of the barracks found so far are ghosts of their former selves, long since converted into homes, farming sheds, chicken and pig pens, and in one instance, a Twin Falls apartment complex.
"We have no idea how many still exist," said Patrick Taylor, who was hired in March to find the barracks.
Preservation plans at Minidoka fit into a larger, more complicated endeavor as the National Park Service and grass-roots organizations nationwide try to resurrect history that was largely buried for decades.
The camps held memories many Japanese Americans wanted to forget and actions the U.S. government worked quickly to erase.
"Most of these sites have been abandoned since they were closed," said National Park Service historian Kara Miyagishima. "No one has had the finances to preserve them."
President George W. Bush signed a bill in 2006 authorizing up to $38 million for a park service grant program aimed at preserving the sites, but two years later, the money still hasn't been appropriated.
Only two of the sites _ Minidoka in Idaho and the Manzanar camp in California _ have been designated as national historic sites.
[. . . . ]
"At first we were worried we weren't going to be able to find them," Taylor said. "That has turned out not to be the problem, it's what to do once we find them."
But the federal channels, although time-consuming, seem necessary in the long run, Taylor said.
History can be misleading as officials at the Manzanar National Historic Site in California discovered after spending an estimated $40,000 to relocate a mess hall, only to discover later that it was a World War II air base.
"By the time we found this out we had already spent the money," said Alisa Lynch, a park service employee at the Manzanar National Historic Site. "It's costing several hundred thousand dollars to restore it."
The topic also poses profound questions regarding the goals of preservation versus restoration, and thus, history and memory.
Last month, I visited Auschwitz (a separate report on that later, perhaps) where these issues are highlighted as perhaps nowhere else. Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps were not just places of internment, but also extermination--and, as such, de facto graveyards for those who have no graves.
Though still present on-site, many of these facilities, like those of Manzanar and Minidoka, were built quickly, with impermanent materials. Without conservation efforts, they will disappear. The greater the intervention required, however, the greater the loss of authenticity--and thus the risk of inadvertently calling into question the very historical phenomena whose reality one seeks to document.
As a 2007 press report noted:
"The biggest dilemma of this place is preserving what is authentic while also keeping it possible for people to see and to touch," said Piotr Cywinski, a 34-year-old historian who took over in September.The most sensitive issue involves the ruins of the killing facilities at Auschwitz II (Birkenau):
"This wasn't built as a medieval castle with strong materials to last for all time," Cywinski told The Associated Press in an interview in his office in one of the Auschwitz barracks. "It was a Nazi camp built to last a short time."
The Nazis themselves blew up the gas chambers and crematoria toward the end of World War II as the Soviet army approached. Today, they are mostly in ruins as the Nazis left them, evidence of both the original crimes and the German attempt to cover them up.(Read the rest: Associated Press: "Auschwitz curator has new challenges," January 2007)
Any decay at all poses a problem given the camp's role today as evidence of the atrocities. . . .
For all that to crumble would deprive future generations of priceless historical evidence of Nazi atrocities, a further concern in light of Holocaust denial.
[. . . . ]
Cywinski is calling for retainer walls to be built around gas chambers to prevent them from sinking further.
"We are at a moment where we have to act," Cywinski said. "If we don't, there's the risk that in 10 or 15 years, it will no longer be possible to understand their construction."
But any tampering with the gas chambers is problematic because Holocaust deniers could seize on that, and photographs of repair work, to try to argue that the whole thing was fabricated, according to Jonathan Webber, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Birmingham and a member of the International Auschwitz Council, a board that advises Auschwitz administrators.
Webber noted that the barbed wire at Auschwitz has already been replaced more than once since the war, because the original was so rusted. But "fiddling with the gas chambers" is different.
"Anyone tampering with gas chambers is tampering with the heart and soul of what Auschwitz represents," said Webber, who has urged the council to seek the advice of engineering experts before starting any work.
It is a macabre dilemma. Should one give new life to a Nazi camp that has become synonymous with evil? Or should one let the camp crumble gently? Should Auschwitz become an overgrown site for mourners or a tourist destination? The International Auschwitz Council meeting this week decided that it was possible to strike a balance. Auschwitz remains a museum as well as a crime scene and, as such, should be more accessible to those wanting to learn about the Holocaust.Restoration efforts were to focus on stabilizing the remains of the Birkenau killing facilities and on the principal Auschwitz I camp, whose mainly brick structures derive from old Polish military barracks. These include modernizing the exhibits housed there (they dated from 1955). And then there is the problem of preserving the mundane yet chilling artifacts--from mounds of human hair and personal possessions such as toothbrushes, shoes, and luggage, to rusting metal cans that once held Zyklon B gas. No less sensitive are the issues involving the larger ambience as the site adapts to address the practical needs of increasing numbers of tourists in more up-to-date fashion.
the Auschwitz restoration team has to be careful to avoid the impression that it is building replicas. “The camp has to be propped up without sacrificing any of its authenticity,” a source close to the council said.
The other fear, voiced by Jewish scholars, is that Auschwitz will lose the smell of death and become more of a museum than a graveyard. Noach Flug, the president of the Centre of Organisations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, said: “Auschwitz is the original place where it happened. You must have the feeling as it was then — the smell and the look. It is important not to change.”
The most damning comment has come from the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims: “Changing the memorial and making it less horrifying and more friendly, having more flowers, trees, parks and grass, is good maybe for an amusement park but not for a place that is important to teach us what happened.”
“This is not about beauty,” Mr Cywinksi said. “We have to think about the next generation and different ways of speaking to them.”
• Sharon Yamato, Moving Walls: Preserving the Barracks of America's Concentration Camps.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
It can also be instructive to turn to European examples. As I constantly remind my students, our notion that the political leader of a great power is someone of mature years does not necessarily fit the historical pattern.
The youth factor is even more apparent if one turns to the French Revolution, which, as the successor to a closed social and political system, necessarily brought men of new social origins to power. Many of them were also young. Even the Old Régime, however, could claim that youth was on its side: Louis XVI was but 34 when the Bastille fell. Robespierre and Saint-Just were 35 and 26 years old, respectively, when executed on the 10th of Thermidor. Barère and Tallien, who overthrew them, were just 38 and 27. Napoleon Bonaparte was 30 years old when he seized power. Wellington and Napoleon both turned 46 in the year of Waterloo--the same age as Barack Obama today.
Friday, August 1, 2008
When I learned that he had been living in Belgrade, though under an assumed name, and as a practitioner of "alternative medicine," I was sorely tempted to make some comment about the implicit connections between the facts of Karadzic's "political" career and subsequent existence, but I refrained.
I am therefore delighted that the admirable and irrepressible physicist Bob Park (one of my favorite scientists and internet commentators) took the words from my mouth:
Friday, August 1, 2008Thanks, Bob! You always come through.
5. METAMORPHOSIS: INFAMOUS SERBIAN FUGITIVE ARRESTED. Thirteen years
after his indictment in connection with the Srebrenica massacre and the deadly siege of Sarajevo, Radovan Karadzic was found with a beard and a new identity living openly in Belgrade. How could a mass murderer support himself for 13 years without drawing on his past? No problem. He practiced alternative medicine, which requires little more than a lack of scruples. He was fully qualified.
By now, most of us have seen the McCain attack ad that juxtaposes shots of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears with footage of Obama in Berlin in a savage assault on his—energy policy. (Huh?)
I thought it was silly, confused, and of course wrongheaded in more ways than one. Others claim to see more.
There seem to be two main currents of interpretation. The first charges McCain and his strategists with playing on racial fears:
This vicious, nasty, disgusting ad is about the black mens and the white womens. And how the former ain't supposed to touch the latter. It's about a threat to the white womens! Rape!.Logical flaw: One does not simultaneously compare the object of fear to both the negative analogue and the positive, endangered object. The ad criticizes Obama by likening him to the ditzy Paris and Britney. They cannot therefore be both slutty airheads and virginal everygirls (“I’m really scared he will rape my chaste honor student, who, by the way, is a notorious skank with an IQ the same as the room temperature”).
Even assuming that playing the racial-sexual card were the nefarious strategy here, it would not appeal to any sizeable portion of the electorate, no matter how little respect either the campaign strategist or the critic has for the American voter. In any case, let’s keep things in perspective. It’s hardly Willie Horton. (It took George H. W. Bush, the patrician gentleman, to bring us that unparalleled piece of vileness.)
The second interpretation is the more interesting and sinister. Writing for the New Republic (TNR), Eve Fairbanks muses, darkly:
McCain's newest TV ad, "Celeb," reminded Jon of the Simpsons' "Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?" episode, but was I the only one who thought it mimicked the end of "Triumph of the Will"?Sadly, no. Others, too, succumbed to temptation, most notably Rick Perlstein. Having praised the aforementioned psycho-sexual interpretation in pseudo-dialect (nuff said), he proceeds to attack the ad from a different angle, under the title, “Liberal Fascism”:
“Of course.” Even aside from the misspelling of Hitler’s given name (we won’t be pedants here), or the more serious initial confusion of films, or the highly dubious assertion that the embedded stills of the speeches inside the meeting hall are more “iconic” than the outdoor scenes at the Mars Field and Luitpold Arena, there are grounds for doubt.
Recall that John McCain's new adviser Karl Rove has said he creates campaigns for people who watch TV with the sound off. I watched John McCain's new TV commercial with the sound off—the one, it's already been well-explicated, with the Barack Obama will rape yo daughta overtones:I compared it to another famous piece of political film, also with the sound off:
That one, of course, is Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will, its most iconic scene, in fact: Adolph Hitler addressing the
closing ceremonies at the 1936 Olympicsthe Nazi Party Congress of 1934 in Nuremberg. I actually wonder if the Republicans had a crew on the scene to capture just the right angles; for instance, the identical camera placement shooting the speaker over the shoulder at stage right.
Perlstein apparently sees the ad as of a piece with the notion of “liberal fascism” advanced by right-wing journalist Jonah Goldberg in his eponymous and preposterous book. It seems a bit of a stretch, and it’s not really articulated: The attack ad is kind of like a bad book and uses the techniques of an evil film to associate the target with the evil subject of that film . . . so, uh . . the guys who made the ad are really more like the evil ones who made or appear in the first film (got that?).
To the extent that visual similarities exist, they are largely inconsequential—by now, part of mainstream cinematic language. To the extent that they might represent a deliberate smear, they are ineffectual.
Logical flaw: There is no real attempt, in either substance or tone, to link Obama to anything fascistic. Indeed, there cannot be a tight connection, because the main point of the ad (to the extent it has one) is contained in the question, “But is he ready to lead?” No one doubts that Hitler had the ability to lead—specifically, to mobilize the masses in support of evil. This ad, by contrast, likens Obama to two celebrities notorious for their sex lives and substance abuse. Silly? Yes. Sinister? Hardly, especially given that his most nefarious policy would appear to be opposition to offshore oil drilling. Folks, we aren’t exactly on a train to Auschwitz here. The only people astute enough to get the presumed message would also be astute enough to reject it. Conclusion: Really bad strategy.
Noam Scheiber of TNR, citing both Fairbanks and Perlstein, nonetheless goes on to worry about the effect of the Nazi analogy on the elderly South Florida Jewish electorate. A lot of the resultant commentary then digresses into extended, mostly neurotic, though occasionally humorous, musings on that demographic, e.g. this sensible one by mpatrickhendri:
Yep, I can see it now, a elderly couple in Tarpon Springs nervously watches a commercial starring the newest installment of Hitler standing in front of a monument celebrating Prussia's victory over Denmark, and the inevitable question comes to mind: 'Is it dinner time?"Indeed. How many ways can one misread and exaggerate the importance of a 32-second ad?
For God sakes, indeed. You guys even seen Leno ask people on the street what continent South America is on? Sure, they get the subtle point: crowds equal genocide. Fellas, BO has higher popularity among jewish voters than Joe Lieberman. Get over it, the jewish vote isn't going anywhere.
When the always provocative conservative blog, Little Green Footballs (LGF), first looked at the video, it said, simply and sensibly: "The point that Obama is treated as a celebrity is a good one, but the comparison with Spears and Hilton is a little weird."
I could have lived with that analysis. Historians, no less than scientists, cherish the principle of parsimony.
Most recently, after surveying the commentaries cited above, LGF spoke of TNR playing the “Godwin Card.” For those unfamiliar with the term (I have not hitherto mentioned it, though it is very pertinent to much of what appears on this blog), the principle, enunciated by Mike Godwin in 1990, is that:
"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."It is thus related to Leo Stauss’s reductio ad Hitlerum, though without any necessary judgment as to validity of the analogy.
The press and the electorate really deserve better. If it is ridiculous for right-wingers to accuse left-wingers of fascism, it is only slightly less ridiculous for left-wingers to see right-wingers everywhere accusing left-wingers of fascism, and in the process, further muddy the debate by implying that right-wingers are all fascists.
If you are serious in believing that neo-fascist ideologies are a global threat, then there are some serious debates out there that are worth taking seriously (1, 2, 3, 4). Otherwise, give the Nazi stuff a rest. Please. There are bigger issues and better ways to discuss them.
What was objectively bizarre about the ad was not just the introduction of silly celebrities into the electoral equation, but the disjuncture between the substance of the attack and the film footage. Linking Britney to higher electricity taxes? Excuse me? If McCain, whose supposed forte is his expertise in foreign and military affairs, wanted to take his best shot and criticize Obama’s presumed or “presumptuous” victory tour, he would have played to that strength and addressed the substance of the policy speech that the latter actually gave in Berlin. Others—conservative (1 , 2) or merely possessed of a healthy skepticism (1, 2, 3, 4)—have done just that.
It’s not an attempt to propagate a theory of liberal fascism. It’s not penis envy. It’s publicity and popularity envy. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and an incoherent ad is just an incoherent ad.
To me, the video is just a sign of a wavering campaign knocked off its footing by the success of a foreign tour that it dared Obama to make.
If this is the best the McCain people can come up with, then the Obama camp can breathe a sigh of relief. If the McCain campaign really was trying to associate Obama with Hitler, then the attempt was as incompetent as it was dishonorable. To cite the inimitable Talleyrand: worse than a crime—a mistake.