Monthly Archives: September 2010

Germany Finishes Repaying WWI Reparations Ninety-Two Years Later

Story by Allan Hall, “First World War Officially Ends,” Telegraph, 29 September 2010.  For more about the First World War, see Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee and Frans Coetzee, World War I: A History in Documents (2nd edition, Oxford University Press, August 2010):

The final payment of £59.5 million, writes off the crippling debt that was the price for one world war and laid the foundations for another.

Germany was forced to pay the reparations at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as compensation to the war-ravaged nations of Belgium and France and to pay the Allies some of the costs of waging what was then the bloodiest conflict in history, leaving nearly ten million soldiers dead.

The initial sum agreed upon for war damages in 1919 was 226 billion Reichsmarks, a sum later reduced to 132 billion, £22 billion at the time.

The bill would have been settled much earlier had Adolf Hitler not reneged on reparations during his reign.

Hatred of the settlement agreed at Versailles, which crippled Germany as it tried to shape itself into a democracy following armistice, was of significant importance in propelling the Nazis to power.

“On Sunday the last bill is due and the First World War finally, financially at least, terminates for Germany,” said Bild, the country’s biggest selling newspaper.

Most of the money goes to private individuals, pension funds and corporations holding debenture bonds as agreed under the Treaty of Versailles, where Germany was made to sign the ‘war guilt’ clause, accepting blame for the war.

France, which had been ravaged by the war, pushed hardest for the steepest possible fiscal punishment for Germany.

The principal representative of the British Treasury at the Paris Peace Conference, John Maynard Keynes, resigned in June 1919 in protest at the scale of the demands.

“Germany will not be able to formulate correct policy if it cannot finance itself,’ he warned.

When the Wall Street Crash came in 1929, the Weimar Republic spiralled into debt. Four years later, Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.


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World War II Books — Primary Sources and Diaries

1.  Konrad H. Jarausch ed., Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier’s Letters from the Eastern Front (Princeton University Press)–January 4, 2011 [letters written by father of well-known German historian, Konrad Jarausch, during World War II; highly recommended]

2.  Frans Coetzee & Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee eds., The World in Flames:  A World War  II Sourcebook (Oxford University Press, 2010) — a well-crafted and comprehensive collection of wide-ranging primary sources covering military and civilian aspects coupled with narrative and analysis; most up-to-date compilation of sources available on the market for both students and general readers [highly recommended] 

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Texas Board of Education vs. Islam

Here’s the continuing saga of the Texas Board of Education and its definition of history for Texans (and possibly, the nation).  Story by Terrence Stutz for the Dallas Morning News, September 15, 2010:

Just when it appeared the State Board of Education was done with the culture wars, the panel is about to wade into the issue of what students should learn about Islam.

The board will consider a resolution next week that would warn publishers not to push a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian viewpoint in world history textbooks.

Members of the board’s social conservative bloc asked for the resolution after an unsuccessful candidate for a board seat called on the panel to head off any bias against Christians in new social studies books. Some contend that “Middle Easterners” are increasingly buying into companies that publish textbooks.

A preliminary draft of the resolution states that “diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts” across the U.S. and that past social studies textbooks in Texas also have been “tainted” with pro-Islamic, anti-Christian views.

The resolution cites examples in past world history books – no longer used in Texas schools – that devoted far more lines of text to Islamic beliefs and practices than to Christian beliefs and practices.

The resolution cites examples in past world history books – no longer used in Texas schools – that devoted far more lines of text to Islamic beliefs and practices than to Christian beliefs and practices.

In addition, the measure cites some books that dwelled on the Christian Crusaders massacre of Muslims in Jerusalem in 1099, while censoring Muslim massacres of Christians there in 1244 and at Antioch in 1268 – “implying that Christian brutality and Muslim loss of life are significant, but Islamic cruelty and Christian deaths are not.”

A religious freedom group that has battled with social conservatives said that none of the textbooks cited by sponsors of the resolution are being used in Texas schools and that the claims are superficial and misleading.

“This is another example of board members putting politics ahead of just educating our kids,” said Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network. “Once again, without consulting any real experts, the board’s politicians are manufacturing a bogus controversy.”

She argued that current books offer a balanced treatment of the world’s religions.

The resolution states that pro-Islamic, anti-Christian half-truths, selective disinformation and false editorial stereotypes “still roil” some social studies textbooks nationwide, including “sanitized definitions of ‘jihad’ that exclude religious intolerance or military aggression against non-Muslims … which undergirds worldwide Muslim terrorism.”

Sponsors of the resolution cautioned that “more such discriminatory treatment of religion may occur as Middle Easterners buy into the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly, as they are doing now.” They offered no specific evidence of such investments.

The resolution concludes with the warning to publishers that the “State Board of Education will look to reject future prejudicial social studies submissions that continue to offend Texas law with respect to treatment of the world’s major religious groups by significant inequalities of coverage space-wise and by demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others.”

Even if the resolution is adopted by the board, it would not bind future boards, which will choose the next generation of social studies textbooks within a few years. The seven-member social conservative bloc lost two seats in the Republican primary in March and will be diminished when new members are seated next year.

The original proposal for the resolution was brought to the board by businessman Randy Rives of Odessa, who was defeated by board member Bob Craig of Lubbock in the GOP primary for a seat in the Panhandle and West Texas.

Several members of the board’s social conservative faction quickly backed Rives’ call for the resolution at a board meeting in July, and two asked that the resolution be placed on the agenda of the board’s September meeting. Board members will meet Sept. 23-24 in Austin.

“The State Board of Education must enforce basic democratic values of our state and nation,” he said, explaining that he came forward because the state’s curriculum standards specify only what must be covered in textbooks and classes – but do not address what should not be covered because it is inappropriate for students.

“What concerns me is that some of these books are still available,” he said. “The board needs to make a bold statement to publishers that pushing this agenda will not be tolerated in Texas.”

Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, said the board has clear authority to reject inappropriate textbooks even though a 1995 state law sharply limited their textbook review powers.

And board member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said he asked for changes in the most recent world history books, adopted in 2003, because they were loaded with text on Muslims but contained far less coverage of Christians.

In the end, he said, “the books were modified, and they agreed to make them more balanced.” But he said he still sees a “serious problem” with bias in history books – most recently evidenced in the board’s debate over U.S. history books for Texas schools.

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, suggested that the issue may be moot because none of the world history books cited by Rives are still in use in Texas, having been replaced in 2003.

Hardy said that Rives “might want to go back and get newer copies of the books,” although she said she could not say for certain that the current versions don’t have similar problems.

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Japanese-Chinese Relations Sour

Old rivalries and new incidents once again have made for bitter relations between the two Asian rivals — Japan and China.  The following story is from Time, written by Austin Ramzy, September 22, 2010:

As tensions between China and Japan continue to escalate, both sides can take solace knowing that things could be much worse. And not long ago, they were. In 2005, large demonstrations broke out in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and other Chinese cities in response to Japanese efforts to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and a Japanese history textbook that downplayed its wartime aggression. Protesters smashed windows of Japanese restaurants and other businesses, and police struggled to control thousands of demonstrators who surrounded the country’s embassy in Beijing, some hurling rocks and bottles over the compound’s gates.

On Saturday Chinese demonstrators gathered at the Japanese Embassy once again. The date was the 79th anniversary of the Mukden incident, a plot by Japanese Imperial Army officers that helped provoke the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. This time the antagonism was over unoccupied islets in the East China Sea known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese. Japan has administered them since the early 1970s, when the U.S. ended its post – World War II control. But China and Taiwan also lay claim to them, and the likelihood of oil and gas reserves in the surrounding seabed has raised the stakes of the dispute. On Sept. 7, Japan detained a Chinese skipper after a collision between his fishing boat and two Japanese coast guard vessels happened near the islands. While Japanese authorities released the boat’s 14 Chinese crew members, captain Zhan Qixiong is still being held while he is investigated for “obstructing officers on duty.” Zhan, 41, could face three years in prison.

The Sept. 18 protest in Beijing was small and tightly managed by police, who outnumbered the 100 or so demonstrators by several times. The authorities allowed small groups of five or six to pass through police lines surrounding the Japanese Embassy and march to the front gate, where they chanted demands that Zhan be released. “Japanese invaders roll out of the Diaoyu,” read one sign. “Wake up the Chinese people,” said another, written on a rubber bath mat. “Our territory has been taken by the Japanese and our ship has been rammed. They’ve arrested the captain and want him to say the Diaoyu are part of Japan,” said one demonstrator, a 25-year-old student who declined to give his name. “We shouldn’t come here? Every Chinese should come.”

The authorities had, indeed, made efforts to limit the turnout. Many posts on domestic blogs and message boards that discussed the demonstration were taken down. Since the Sept. 7 incident there has been a heavy police presence outside the embassy. And during the weekend’s demonstration, officers would tell people to move along any time more than a couple dozen people gathered in one spot. Their fear was not just that the protesters could get out of hand, as they did in 2005, but that they could find other targets for their anger. Anti-Japanese protests in China have a long history of turning against the government, going back to the start of the May 4th Movement in 1919, when student demonstrations against handing over German concessions to

Japan in Shandong province also focused on China’s weak response to imperial powers. On Saturday, the numbers of police outside the Japanese Embassy were matched by those protecting the Chinese Foreign Ministry building one mile to the north. A group of protesters broke away and began to march toward the Foreign Ministry, but were met by police who took their signs and forced them to disperse. “Forget about it!” several officers shouted at the demonstrators.

In reality, it’s been the Chinese government that has largely monopolized the expressions of anger at the latest Diaoyu incident. Uichiro Niwa, the Japanese ambassador to China, has been summoned five times by Chinese officials demanding the captain’s release. On Tuesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told a group of overseas Chinese in New York City that the Diaoyu are China’s “sacred territory” and Zhan’s detention is “illegal, unreasonable and has caused grave harm to the captain and his family,” according to a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website. “If the Japanese side continues to cling to its stubborn course, the Chinese side will take action, and the serious consequences will be borne by the Japanese side,” Wen said.

China has suspended high-level contacts with the Japanese government, and talks on resolving competing claims to gas deposits in the East China Sea were also postponed. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku called for calm on both sides Tuesday. “We should be careful not to stir up narrow-minded, extreme nationalism,” he said. The next day, he suggested high-level talks between the two sides to resolve the dispute.

While the public anger directed at Japan is more restrained than in 2005, patching up diplomatic relations yet again might not be as easy as before. Japan and China have enjoyed relatively stable ties in recent years. In 2006, Junichiro Koizumi was the last Japanese prime minister to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, controversial in China because some war criminals are among the soldiers enshrined there. But this year, China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy, and Japanese leaders are concerned that China’s policy of maintaining a weak currency is hurting Japanese exports. The growing tension over economic issues may make compromise in other areas difficult.

And the nature of the current dispute is different from the 2005 discord, says Andrew L. Oros, associate professor of political science and international studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. “This crisis is about territory, something China is very sensitive about, and Japan is holding a Chinese citizen. The latter issue could, in principle, be resolved if the captain were released… But the former issue cannot easily be resolved since both countries have firm positions on their sovereignty,” Oros says. “I think this issue is more serious and more difficult.”

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French Gypsies recall WWII internment

Story by Angela Doland of the Associated Press in Washington Times, September 22, 2010:

It’s a thistle-tangled field behind a hedge of blackberries, with little to catch the eye but three surreal staircases that rise out of the parched grass and lead to nowhere.

Not much is left of the camp where thousands of French Gypsies were interned in this village in the Saumur wine region during World War II. Here, hungry children once crowded behind barbed wire, hoping Sunday strollers might toss them leftover food. Anyone caught trying to escape was locked in a filthy hole underground, a prison within a prison.

As today’s France expels a wave of Romanian Gypsies seeking an escape from hardship back home, children of the camp’s survivors have been drawing up plans for a memorial to the site’s chilling past. They have been caught up in a battle against what they say is state-sponsored discrimination today against some of Europe’s most marginalized, misunderstood minorities.

This shameful episode of French history is little known and isn’t in the school textbooks: Under the Nazi occupation, thousands of Gypsies, mostly citizens of France, were rounded up and put in 31 internment camps administered and guarded by their fellow Frenchmen.

Perhaps most shocking in this country that considers itself the cradle of human rights is that France kept some Gypsies locked up until 1946, after the end of the Nazi occupation. Hitler‘s troops were gone, Gen. Charles de Gaulle‘s provisional government was in charge, and the French had only themselves to blame.

Mr. Sarkozy’s meeting was a response to riots that had broken out in central France in July after a policeman fatally shot a fleeing French Gypsy youth in circumstances still under investigation. Gypsies in the town of Saint-Aignan are said to have cut down trees, broke windows and burned cars.

Mr. Sarkozy‘s meeting left many Gypsies feeling stigmatized, as if the government viewed them all as troublemakers. Then Mr. Sarkozylaunched his widely criticized crackdown on the Roma, blaming them for rising crime and putting hundreds on planes home, mostly to Romania. He said their illegal camps were sources of “illicit trafficking, deeply disgraceful living conditions and the exploitation of children through begging, prostitution and delinquency.”

Such a targeted crackdown by the French president on any other minority would have been unthinkable. Officially, the French governmentis blind to color, ethnicity and religion and does not keep tabs on minorities.

Mr. Delage‘s grandparents, father and three uncles were held for 18 months at Montreuil-Bellay during World War II. The betrayal was perhaps sharpest for his grandfather: He was a decorated veteran who had fought for France in the previous world war, losing a leg in battle.

In 1940, soon before the Nazi occupation, France‘s then-President Albert Lebrun ordered Gypsies to stop traveling, saying their itinerant lifestyle made them a spying risk. Later that year, the Germans ordered French Gypsies into local internment camps.

The fate of French Gypsies was unusual – and by the horrific standards of the time, less devastating than elsewhere in Europe.

Gypsies from other Nazi-occupied countries were sent en masse to death camps: According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, between 196,000 and 220,000 Gypsies were killed in the Holocaust.

France kept Gypsies in its own camps. The Nazis did not ask for them to be handed over, and only several hundred French Gypsies ended up in death camps. By contrast, about 75,000 Jews were deported fromFrance, of whom only 2,500 survived.

Marie-Christine Hubert, a historian who co-authored a book about the Gypsies’ wartime fate, said the French rounded up 6,500 Gypsies and other wanderers for internment but were not “zealous” about tracking down the rest.

The French internment camps were not death camps, but food was scarce, disease was rampant, and many died untimely deaths. The last Gypsies were released in late May 1946, even after Nazi collaborators were freed, Ms. Hubert says.

For years, the camps were largely forgotten. Many Gypsies were afraid to discuss the ordeal, and because they had a mostly oral tradition, they didn’t put their stories to paper. Many of those still alive are reluctant to discuss the war.

France has had a difficult time coming to terms with its crimes under Vichy. It wasn’t until 1995 that then-President Jacques Chirac made history by acknowledging that France bore responsibility for deporting Jews, breaking with the official position that Vichy was not the French state.

Gypsy activists have promoted this year as one of remembrance about the internment. Awareness has grown, too, thanks to a recent documentary and a feature film addressing the Gypsies’ wartime fate.

France’s veterans minister acknowledged in July that the Gypsies had been victims of “racist crimes by the French state.” It was a long-awaited speech – so Gypsies felt even more betrayed when Mr. Sarkozylaunched his Gypsy crackdown just days later.

Officially, the French government refers to French Gypsies who still lead an itinerant lifestyle as “gens du voyage” – traveling people – a status that applies, in theory, to many people with no fixed address. Several hundred thousand people are thought to fall into the category.

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British Govt. Guilty of Obstructing Jewish Holocaust Survivors Re-settlement in Palestine

A recently published book by historian Keith Jeffery (The Secret story of  MI6) has revealed that after the Second World War the British government purposely sought to impede Jewish Holocaust survivors from settling in what was then called Palestine in order to curry favor with oil-rich Arab states. Interestingly, twelve years ago American University historian Richard Breitman wrote a book (Official Secrets–What the Nazis Planned; What the British and Americans Knew) in which he argued that British intelligence knew much earlier than previously thought about Nazi intentions to eliminate the Jews,

The complete story on this bombshell is by Brett Michael Dykes,”Britain bombed ships that were to transport Jews after Holocaust,” Yahoo news, September 20, 2010 :

The British government used bombs and covert tactics to try to thwart the settlement of Palestine by post-World War II Jewish refugees, according to a new book by Keith Jeffery, titled “MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949.” The British government has independently verified Jeffery’s revelation. Jeffery, a historian from Northern Ireland, notes that his book was “published with the permission of the Secret Intelligence Service and the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.”

According to Jeffery, the British undertook the effort — dubbed, oddly enough, Operation Embarrass — in order to curry favor with oil-rich Arab states upset over the Jewish migration to the Middle East. The Daily Beast’s Andrew Roberts broke the news of the book’s disclosures.

MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service, planted explosives to disable ships before they could transport Jewish men, women and children from Europe to Palestine. Britain controlled Palestine at the time and, partly due to pressure from wartime Arab allies, adopted a policy of strictly limiting Jewish migration to British-controlled lands in the region. In May 1948, the British left and Israel declared independence.

In addition to the direct physical sabotage, Roberts notes, the British launched a disinformation andpropaganda campaign to impede the settlement.

Launched on Feb. 14, 1947, Operation Embarrass operated with a budget equivalent to $47,000 — not an insignificant amount at the time. It began by dispatching a team of agents to France. The spies — traveling under the guise of yachtsmen — planted bombs on five ships docked in Italian ports in the summer of 1947 and early 1948. One ship was destroyed, two damaged; the explosives were discovered on the other two ships before they were detonated. British authorities were able to escape responsibility because the Italian investigators ruled out the idea of British-sponsored attacks on the ships. Instead, the Italians believed the likely culprits were Arabs using British-made explosives.

According to Jeffery, “the primary consideration” of the mission was “that no proof could ever be established between positive action against this traffic and His Majesty’s Government.” In the event they were caught, British agents were under orders to claim that they’d been recruited in New York by anti-communist businessmen working “mainly in the oil and aircraft industries.” Or as the Daily Beast’s Roberts puts it, they were to “lay the blame on rich, right-wing, unnamed Americans.”

At the time, the British controlled much of the land in Palestine, and the British government technically viewed the Jewish settlers to the region as illegal immigrants. Still, before these latest revelations, no one would have suspected that the British launched deliberate attacks on Jewish settlers.

All of which compounds the irony of the MI6 putting forward an attempt to undermine large-scale Jewish settlement in the region under the name Operation Embarrass. As the Daily Beast’s Roberts writes, “The country that ought to be embarrassed by Operation Embarrass — indeed shamed — is Great Britain, which used explosives to try to stop truly humanitarian flotillas after the Holocaust, but now condemns embattledIsrael for halting entirely politically inspired flotillas to Gaza despite her rights of legitimate self-defense.”

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Civil Rights Photographer a FBI Mole?

Story from FoxNews, September 14, 2010:

A famous civil rights photographer who covered everything from the Emmett Till murder to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. reportedly was also an informant who spied on the civil rights movement for the FBI.

Numerous FBI reports portray Ernest Withers — a veteran freelancer for America’s black press known as “the original civil rights photographer” — as a prolific informant who, from at least 1968 until 1970, used his access to civil rights events and meetings to pass on tips, photographs and other information to the FBI on the civil rights and anti-war movements in Memphis, the Commercial Appeal reported.

The reports show Withers often tipped off the FBI to strike plans, handed over license plate numbers and photos of movement supporters, and monitoring political candidates, the Memphis paper reported.

Withers died in 2007 at the age of 85. It’s unclear what impact the information will have on his legacy.

His son, Rome Withers, told the Commercial Appeal he’d never heard anything about their late father being an informant, but said even if it is true it didn’t detract from the merits of his work and the sacrifices he made for the civil rights movement.

“I always liked him because he was a good photographer. And he was always (around),” he told the newspaper. The movement was transparent and didn’t have anything to hide anyway, he added.

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