Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lockerbie Bomber Released: Remembering a Hampshire College Student Among the Victims

The release of the Lockerbie bomber has occasioned a good deal of controversy. Many of the discussions have featured interviews with friends and relatives of the victims, and so we are reminded that a Hampshire student, Denice O'Neill, was among the passengers who perished in that tragedy. The community mourns her absence and tries to foster the spirit that she brought to her studies and life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

13 August 1961: Creation of the Berlin Wall

We have become so fixated on the "Fall of the Wall"—whose twentieth anniversary we mark in a few months— that most of us downplay or forget altogether its creation, whose anniversary is today. Not only do most of us have little knowledge of the Wall: I would bet that most Americans think it ran down the middle of a city on a border, as did the pre-1967 "Green Line" in Jerusalem, rather than surrounding an enclave well inside the boundaries of a sovereign state. The geography helps to account for a reaction at the time by Der Spiegel that would nowadays qualify as one of our "nasty Nazi analogies." The liberal magazine said of the erection of the barrier, "the Soviet zone was transformed into a concentration camp."

This week's Spiegel cites that line and reminds us of other forgotten facts: e.g. that Berliners gathered to protest—but mainly against the Western powers, whom they accused of timidity and betrayal. Although no one anticipated that the Wall would become the permanent and symbolic structure that we all know, and rather, saw it is part of a chain of acts of repression and harassment of the Western zone by Soviet and GDR forces, there was some sense that this episode might nonetheless be different, as the aforementioned quote suggests.

See Andrew Curry, "The Day the Wall Was Born"
The article included links to photos and related stories.

Local Historic District Study Committee Moves Forward

The Amherst Local Historic District Study Committee is now beginning its work in earnest. Below is the backgrounder from the Springfield Republican. Here, first, an update on our third meeting, which took place last week, on 4 August.

We elected as officers:
  1. Chair, Jerry Guidera (Mr. Guidera is a property owner in the Dickinson District: Director, Center for Cross-Cultural Study; co-owner, Hills House LLC)
  2. Vice Chair, Jim Wald
  3. Clerk/Secretary, Wendy Kohler
After reviewing the nine existing National Historic Register Districts (NHRs) and the general array of historic resources described in the Amherst Preservation Plan, we concluded that the Dickinson NHR, as a well-defined, central area containing the town's best-known historic sites, should indeed be the focus of our efforts. This does not mean that the LHR and NHR would be identical, and rather, only that the latter would serve as our point of departure. The two categories have different functions, and that of the LHD is to protect as well as to designate, so the issue comes down to what resources would most benefit from regulation.

As it happens, Town Meeting this spring approved Community Preservation Act funding for expansion of the Dickinson District and creation of a new nearby Depot district (the Dickinsons were instrumental in bringing the railroad to Amherst). That work will generate the inventories and other information that will help us to determine which resources exist and where the boundaries of an LHR should lie.

As we begin the work to determine the boundaries of the district, we will also consult with other communities regarding their experience and procedures.

* * *

Here, Diane Lederman's report from the Republican, with a reader comment and my response appended:

Amherst weighs creating its first historic district

Posted by lrivais August 03, 2009 14:03PM


AMHERST - A nascent group investigating the creation of a local historic district or districts is holding its third meeting Tuesday.

The meeting of the Local Historic District Study Committee is at 5 p.m. in Town Hall.

Members are trying to "educate themselves about the nature of historic districts .¤.¤. the successes, the pitfalls," said James J. Wald, a member of the group and chairman of the town's Historical Commission.

Wald first brought the proposal to create such a district to the Select Board last fall. Creating a district, which protects the town's historic buildings and landscapes, has been on the commission's priority list for some time.

He said Thursday he had hoped the committee would have been further along and have something in place this year for the town's 250th Anniversary Celebration. But it took longer than expected for a committee to be appointed and work to begin.

In its early meetings, the committee has talked about perhaps creating the area around the Emily Dickinson Homestead as a historic district.

A town can have as few as one or as many districts as it wants. He said the whole island of Nantucket is such a district. Northampton, Belchertown and Granby have local historic districts, he said.

The "desire is to protect our resources better," Wald said, adding that creating a district "gives us the tools to do that."

People "get scared (of regulations) .¤.¤. every community decides what it wants and how to protect it," he added.

There are many procedures the committee has to follow, including holding public hearings.

"The measure and the process are intended to reflect community desires rather than to impose something on them from outside or above," Wald said. He said communities decide exactly "how much or little they wish to protect and how."

The committee is comprised of a real estate agent and an architect, as well as residents and town officials. Ultimately, Town Meeting decides in a two-thirds vote to create such a district, he said.

Categories: Amherst

youareresp says...

Historic homes are beautiful, if the homeowner likes having to paint it constantly, have windows that are a pain to clean because the new tilt in windows are not allowed. Hopefully you already have regular storms, some don't, they have those big windows that are hooked on for storms. I just love the fireplaces, you'll need it because they are the biggest culprits for inefficient heating.

Wouldn't it be nice to have sliders and a deck, too bad you can't in historic homes. You could probably have awnings, you'll need it to block the sun, most historic houses don't have attic fans. Air conditioners are a great money pit with these homes. Don't forget, no siding, no larger garage than what you have, no nice tilt in windows etc.

Posted on 08/03/09 at 4:32PM
CitizenWald says...

I am grateful to youareresp for posting these statements or concerns because they epitomize the most common misconceptions and needless fears regarding historic preservation in general and local historic districts in particular.

1) Local historic districts can protect modern architecture, historic ethnic neighborhoods, and other aspects of community character--not just, say, Colonial structures or Victorian mansions. Each town decides for itself.

2) Local historic districts do not prevent improvements or additions to homes. Rather, they simply require review of proposed major changes to architectural features visible from the public way.

3) Local historic district regulations do not pertain to interior features. So, do what you wish with that fireplace, and feel free to put in that attic fan if you need it.

4) Almost all local historic district regulations specifically exempt from review the features mentioned in the preceding comment: paint colors, air conditioning units, storm doors, storm windows.

So, if you don't want to live in a historic house, don't buy one. But regardless of where you live, relax and don't worry: local historic districts exist simply in order to help towns and neighborhoods preserve the character that they already have and value.

Jim Wald
Chair, Amherst Historical Commission

Monday, August 10, 2009

10 August 1792: The Storming of the Tuileries: "Second French Revolution"

Medal by Duvivier, issued by the Commune of Paris:
Obverse: Liberty, bearing pike with Phrygian cap, and armed with thunderbolts, tramples the emblems of monarchy
Motto: "Example to the Peoples 10 August 1792"
Reverse: "To the Memory of the Glorious Battle of the French People Against Tyranny at the Tuileries"

The summer of 1792 was the culmination of months of crisis: domestic rebellion, military setbacks in the wake of the ill-advised declaration of war against Austria in April, and the threat by the Allied Commander, the Duke of Brunswick, to punish the people of Paris with "exemplary and forever memorable vengeance" if they harmed the King, who had been in effect a prisoner since his attempted flight from the country just over a year earlier. Calls for the deposition of the monarch increased, but when the National Assembly declined to indict the Marquis de Lafayette on the charge of leaving the front to pursue his political campaign against the radicals, it became clear that no action against the crown could be expected either.

On 10 August, the Sections (local political units) of Paris, armed in the wake of the Brunswick Manifesto, declared themselves to be in insurrection and marched on the Tuileries Palace. Although the Royal family had fled to the nearby Assembly and remained unharmed, the Swiss Guard in the Palace fired on the crowd, which prevailed and killed some 600 of the soldiers, some after their surrender. The crowd took spontaneous action against symbols of royalism throughout the city. The Assembly declared the monarchy suspended until a new legislative body could take up the issue, and in the meantime, the king became a prisoner in the old fortress, The Temple.

The Deputy Michel Azéma wrote:
August 10, midnight, in session
the 4th year of liberty, 1792

My prophecies are proving only too true; abuses can't last . . . The people are the same today as on July 14, 1789; the second Bastille, the Tuileries palace, was forced open and taken as promptly as the famous Bastille at Saint-Antoine. The Revolution's worst enemy . . . —the veto, using the Constitution as a pretext to destroy the Constitution—had long been a grievance; the evil was tolerated patiently as long as the majority of the National Assembly showed itself; but it was intolerable as soon as, in the La Fayette business, fear, etc., gave the black or vetoizing side a majority . . . .

The indignation was so general that it was breaking out with no fear or restraint; everyone was expecting a terrible explosion; day and night, the palace was filled with brave and valorous knights, was bristling with bayonets and cannon, etc. Yesterday the fears intensified; still, no reason for it appeared in actuality, so just after midnight we went to bed
. . . . . . . . . .
Someone came to announce to us that the cannon filling the Place du Carrousel were aimed against the Tuileries palace, which the people wanted to break down like the Bastille. After a short discussion, because time was pressing, it was decreed to send a deputation of twenty members of the Assembly to the people, to speak to them in the name of the law and to appease them by persuasion. . . . I had the honor, which at the same time almost a misfortune, to be in it; we had barely arrived at the door of the palace toward the Tuileries [gardens] when our eyes were dazzled by furious musket fire at the bottom of the stairway; at once, a second round; then a cannonade knocked down part of the façade. My word! Death was right before us. . . . a mass of sabers, pikes, and bayonets rushed from all sides, with indescribable rage, on our brave guards, who, angered by our obstinacy in advancing into the fire instead of retreating, finally grabbed us and swooped back with us into the National Assembly. . . .

Brave sans-culottes fortunately appeared at the rail; they got a very prompt hearing. They notified us that the sovereign people was using its sovereignty and had charged them to assure us of its respect, to affirm obedience to our decrees . . . and that we were the only constituted authority and there was no other in existence. They concluded, "Swear in the Nation's name to maintain liberty and equality with all your power or to die at your post."
. . . . . . . . . .
Meanwhile, a great brawl was going on in the palace, in the Tuileries [gardens], and on the Champs Élysées, and the Swiss [Guards] who had been deceived by the aristocratic instigators in the palace and had fired on the people, especially on the brave Marseillais running to embrace them after false assurances of friendship and brotherhood, were being hotly pursued and were defending themselves in the same way, everywhere in the Tuileries gardens, in the palace, and around it; the ground is still to be seen covered with corpses. . . .
[from Philip Dawson, ed., The French Revolution (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1967), 103-8]
The events are generally taken as signifying a "Second" Revolution because they not only sealed the fate of the monarchy but also marked a shift of de facto power from the legislative body to the people and commune of Paris, a dynamic that would drive the Revolution in an ever more radical direction for nearly two more years. The so-called "September Massacres," in which radicals, with the acquiescence or encouragement of the Commune, massacred some 1,100-1,400 "counter-revolutionary" political prisoners at the start of that month, were one stark sign of the change.

Monday, August 3, 2009

27-28 July 1794/9-10 Thermidor Year 2: Overthrow of Robespierre and the Radical Revolutionaries

On the night of 9 Thermidor of the Year II of the French Republic, a sordid alliance of convenience between conservatives and bloodthirsty ultraradicals arrested Maximilien Robespierre and his allies on the Committee of Public Safety. The next day the plotters had their victims summarily executed.

Introducing his fundamentally dishonest edition of Robespierre's papers, which deliberately falsified the record through selectivity and distortion, Edme-Bonaventure Courtois painted Robespierre as at once weak, vain, and sinister, willing to do anything to achieve his selfish ends:
Jeter dans les fers les talens, l'esprit, la vertu, la science et les richesses; imprimer la terreur à tous, au point que ceux qui n'étaient point incarcérés, n'osassent parler, de peur de l'être: et pour imprimer cette terreur, faire sortir de terre des guillotines, semer par-tout des tribunaux à la Fouquier, à la Dumas; enchaîner la plume des journalistes contraire à ses vues . . .
(Rapport fait au nom de la Commission chargée de l'examen des papiers trouvés chez Robespierre et ses complices . . . {Paris: Conventional Nationale, An 3}, 31)
For his opponents, it was the end of tyranny.

Seen from a more modern and sober perspective, it was the end of the socially most progressive phase of the French Revolution.

Robespierre, whose reputation has suffered for some two centuries from the blind hostility and tendentious distortions of his enemies, was in fact a far more complex and tragic figure than either they or most of us even today realize. Far from being a bloodthirsty monster, the man who had in his early career opposed the death penalty and later argued against attempting to promulgate political principles (we might call it regime change today) by military conquest, wrestled throughout his career with the problem of reconciling political reform and democracy when both concepts were new and untested, under crisis conditions:
It is the function of government to guide the moral and physical energies of the nation toward the purposes for which it was established.

The object of constitutional government is to preserve the Republic; the object of revolutionary government is to establish it.

Revolution is the war waged by liberty against its enemies; a constitution is that which crowns the edifice of freedom once victory has been won and the nation is at peace.

The revolutionary government has to summon extraordinary activity to its aid precisely because it is at war. It is subjected to less binding and less uniform regulations, because the circumstances in which it finds itself are tempestuous and shifting, above all because it is compelled to deploy, swiftly and incessantly, new resources to meet new and pressing dangers.

The principal concern of constitutional government is civil liberty; that of revolutionary government, public liberty. Under a constitutional government little more is required than to protect the individual against abuses by the state, whereas revolutionary government is obliged to defend the state itself against the factions that assail it from every quarter.

—"On Revolutionary Government," 25 December 1793

Other Events Associated With July 20: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous (of Moons and Cheese)

On these pages, we mark 20 July above all as the anniversary of the failed assassination attempt against Hitler. However, it is also the anniversary of the first manned moon landing—this year, the fortieth. The anniversary brought forth a host of resources and documentation.

The New York Times, for example, devoted a special section of the "Science Times" section to the topic.
Most interesting, perhaps, the Kennedy Library created the project, "We Choose the Moon," which allowed individuals to relive the entire moon mission in real time, from launch to splashdown.

The anniversary of the moon landing has been occasion for much reflection on the fate and future of the space program, a good deal of it fanciful, much of it wrongheaded.

The prevalent tone in the US has been, understandably, justified celebration and less justified boosterism. In Europe, meanwhile, Louis Gallois, CEO of Europe's aerospace firm, EADS, writes in the Spiegel that Europeans need a new vision for their space program (no special pleading there, I'm sure). He's quite right, but the problem is that his vision is old rather than new: although he talks about the Galileo project, new Ariane boosters, and capsules that could undertake and return from interplanetary trips, he ends with "manned spaceflight." As so often, Europe seeks simultaneously to challenge and to imitate the US—and in the process gets things wrong both ways.

The most obvious truth is that we have by and large failed to capitalize on both the spirit and the practical gains of the space program. Where the opinions divide—or should—is over the course that we should have taken. To be sure, it is an embarrassment that we no longer have large booster rockets capable of carrying a heavy payload far into space (indeed, even the blueprints—though not all design records—for the Saturn V rockets went missing a good many years ago). But the real question is: What would we use those boosters for? We haven't established a permanent moon base in part because (aside from the practical challenges) no one could come up with a compelling intellectual and cost-effective reason to do so. The fixation on manned versus robotic space exploration has arguably been one of the biggest obstacles to learning more about our cosmic environment. As thrilling as the spectacle of early human space voyages was, the fact remains that a good deal of the program was driven by political and other motives that had little to do with the needs of hard science. This is not to say that we should not strive for a Mars mission at some point. In science as in warfare, there are times when there is a need for boots on the ground. But as we have seen all too recently in the military-political realm (does anyone really need to be reminded of this?), one needs to have clear goals and rationales. Ironically, the frustrated desires for manned exploration have prevented us from making full use of the tools that we already have at our disposal or could obtain at far less financial and other cost.

Science gadfly Bob Park makes the case more forcefully (some would say: fanatically) and humorously than almost anyone. Among his classic lines here: In response to a question about the "romance" of manned space flight: "There's romance there today. The toilets are backing up. And until you've seen a toilet back up in zero gravity, you don't know what ugly is." Q: "Why don't you think we should put men up there?" A: "Well, what are they going to do?!"
[Blogger system problem; replaced link]

When one thinks of the moon, a joke about cheese is probably obligatory (or used to be; is that still a cultural reference?). And so, I cannot help think about the Wallace and Gromit animations of Nick Park.

Fortunately, the 20th has many connotations, and, via the miraculous topic of cheese, we can actually link back to New England history. The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities' "Mass Moments" program tells us that, on this date\
in 1801, the Berkshire County town of Cheshire made a 1235-pound ball of cheese and shipped it to Washington, D.C. as a gift for the newly-elected President, Thomas Jefferson, who was a popular figure in western Massachusetts. When news of the "mammoth cheese" reached the eastern part of the state, it caused consternation.
The "consternation" arose not from the massive size of the cheese-an-sich, but instead, what it symbolized:
Jefferson had won the presidency by defeating John Adams, Massachusetts' native son. Westerners were more in sympathy with Jefferson's vision of a nation of independent yeoman farmers than they were with the strong central government advocated by Adams and his supporters in the Federalist Party. Cheshire's cheese was a sign of the tensions over ideology, economics, and politics that long divided the state's eastern and western regions.
(read the rest)
Voilà: all connected. This is what historians do. (Do not attempt at home.)

20 July 1944: Failed Assassination Attempt Against Hitler

The bomb plot against Hitler is well known, and thanks to the popular media, even the details are becoming more familiar among the general public. The difference between success and failure was so slight as to be maddening. As distinguished historian István Déak recently summarized some of the points of the memoir by Philip von Boeselager, on which the recent film, "Valkyrie," was based:
Stauffenberg's plot, Operation Valkyrie, failed because he was half-blind and had only three fingers, which did not allow him to activate the detonators on both of his bombs. Also, the officers met with Hitler not in the Fuhrer's bunker but in a wooden building that easily flew apart at the explosion. Moreover, an adjutant inadvertently pushed the briefcase containing the bombs behind a heavy table leg: again, Hitler's luck. No less importantly, the conspirators in Berlin did not dare act without Stauffenberg's presence, and he brought the mistaken information that Hitler was dead. When the opposite turned out to be the case, the Fuhrer's legendary charisma triumphed even in his absence: those waiting to hear of Hitler's death before daring to act now quickly defected.
The film, whatever its historical and aesthetic failings, effectively conveyed something of the chaos in the wake of the event as plotters and regime supporters attempted to outmaneuver or overawe one another, and those caught in the middle kept their heads down and hedged their bets.

Historians find evidence of the same atmosphere even in the forgotten documents of daily life. Just one day after the event, a loyal German soldier, explaining that he had neither newspapers nor first-hand information, dashed off a Field Post note to his father, asking anxiously for details, e.g.:
  • Who was involved in the plot?
  • Who was wounded or killed?
  • What positions at HQ did the plotters occupy?
  • What were their plans in the event of a successful Putsch?
  • Who stood behind them?
  • What became of them?
The net that caught the plotters eventually swept up thousands of others, most not even remotely connected with the assassination attempt. A military truck driver in Kaiserslautern was arrested for sabotaging morale after he was denounced for having said, first in mid-July and then a few days after the coup: The war would soon be over (perhaps even in the coming week). The little people would then avenge themselves on those who had caused the war, and uniforms would no longer be permitted in Germany.

Ultimately, what continues to fascinate us most is not the drama and uncertainty of the course of events, but the moral certainty of the leading resisters. In the farewell letter to his mother, Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg wrote, "Perhaps the time will come one day when people gain a different appreciation of our attitude, when I will not be considered a scoundrel but an admonisher and a patriot."