History

History: In Living Color

Lincoln-reddit.jpg

Every once in a while I come across a website that piques my interest. Some are cool, some are strange, and some are just down right fascinating. This one was both fascinating and frustrating, so I thought I would share and see what your thoughts are on it.

The website is for Marina Amaral, an artist who uses Photoshop to painstakingly add color to historical photos that were taken in black and white. To see her work, click on the link and then either click into the “Portfolio” or “Blog” pages. She does a fantastic job on the transformations through research to try and match the reality of the time the picture was taken.

It is cool to see photos that I have only seen in black and white come to “life.” It is fascinating to see the life flow through the people and places in the image. That part is cool and adds a sort of unknown depth to the photo.

HOWEVER, that is also the frustrating part as well!  One thing we have to be careful of is not letting these photos stand alone to become part of the historical record. I believe they are best viewed with the original photo, side by side. The reason is that we, in our search to “know” everything, tend to let changes to history go without challenging them. When we stop challenging them, they actually become the history we wanted to view through a different lens. Whether it is intentional or not, there has to be caution in such recreations of history. We can’t let the historical record change so that the only pictures we view in the future of these subjects are the ones that have had the color added.

Let me offer an example from personal experience. In the past, I have shown historically based films in my classroom. The first caution I have always gave before showing the film was that it was someone’s interpretation of the history, not the actual history – regardless of how well the movie was done and tried to follow the historical record closely. I always encouraged the students to study the subject further to find out if what they saw was accurately portrayed or not. The students used to complain, complain that the film was in black and white. “Why is it in black and white…”, “Isn’t there a film about this in color…”, etc etc. Their first inclination was that it was boring if there was no color, even if the film was a modern film but done in black and white for theatrical purposes (such as Schindler’s List).

Our students (and maybe our society as a whole) has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction, so studies show that Americans (and probably others) tend to think that what they saw in a historically based film is true. They accept it as fact. Thus, when we look at photos that have been colored in such a realistic and beautiful way, I am afraid the original photos will lose relevance in a world where “reality” and “facts” mean so little.

Does that make sense? Do you worry about the same thing? Or, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? What do you think?

The Day Independence Didn’t Begin

While many in the United States celebrate Independence Day today, one thing we need to remember is that July 4, 1776, was only one day in the long struggle for freedom. In fact, it was closer to the end of the struggle instead of the beginning, as most people think.

Americans (known as British subjects back then) began the struggle for independence while they were fighting next to British troops in the countryside against the French (we know this conflict as the “French & Indian War”, the Brits know it as the “Seven Years War”: 1754-1763) It was during this conflict that many of our future nation’s leaders were born. For they saw the policies and practices of the British and realized then that they were going to be treated unfairly, even if they won the war. George Washington became our nation’s first leader because of the failures, which in some cases were horrendous, and successes. This conflict was his training ground! After the war was over, it was the actions of the British parliament that led to the American leaders protesting the unfair taxes placed/forced on them to pay for the war. It was through these protests that our pursuit of freedom really began.

July 4, 1776, was the culmination of our frustrations with the British. What most American forget is that we almost “kissed and made up” with the British in 1775. Had the British government accepted the “Olive Branch Petition” from the colonies, we could very likely still be subjects of the crown. Oh how different our lives would be, right?

The Revolutionary War ended in 1783, almost 10 years after it began. So, let’s not take our freedom for granted on this day. The battle wasn’t won during a short fight, it was won over a long period of time. Many sacrificed all – both then and now. There are many who are sacrificing even now so that we might remain free. Don’t let us take it for granted!

I want to end with a smattering of quotes. I end this post this way because I feel we, as a nation, are headed into dark times if we continue to dishonor our heritage and the sacrifices of those who came before us. We are giving up on the ideals and principles that our country was founded on. Maybe we aren’t giving up on them, maybe we are just ignoring them. Or maybe we just don’t care because we have become too selfish and too apathetic, I don’t know for sure. But what I fear is that the road we are on will not perpetuate the greatness we have known in the past. Ben Franklin is famous for saying after the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, in response to a question about the kind of government we would have, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Today, I think he may be right. The challenge is to maintain it and those WE have elected over the years are eroding the foundations of our house. Let me be clear, WE the people are the problem, not our politicians. WE put them in office and, unfortunately, they do what WE want them to (even if is seems dysfunctional).

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
–Ronald Reagan

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
–George Washington

“Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”
–Woodrow Wilson

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
–Benjamin Franklin

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
–James Madison

“I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
–Malcolm X

If we don’t hold onto the freedoms and traditions we have been given, they will slowly be taken away. Like cooking a frog in a pot, it won’t jump out of the pot if the water warms slowly. Our environment in the US these days is a lot like the pot…

ISIS: Who Is Responsible?

Want to know where ISIS (IS, ISIL) came from? Want to get a better picture, the whole picture, of their history? Want to know more than the 30 seconds to three minute blurb you get on the evening news?

I would advise you to watch the FRONTLINE episode, “The Rise of ISIS.” (see link below) Published back in October of 2014, this program brings the issue into focus, gives you an excellent idea of where we are at the moment, and where it is going in the future if something isn’t done soon. **Warning: There is very graphic violence in the report**

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rise-of-isis/

The conflict is much larger than the evening news (or government) would have you believe. There is lots of good, relevant history in this reporting. Definitely an eye opening report. Beyond that, there are other very informative reports regarding this topic as well.

Most of all, what needs to be done to resolve it?

Social Media Faux Pas

I admitted it.

I apologized for it.

I promptly deleted it.

It’s slightly embarrassing since I have been known to rail against it in the past.

The other day I made a mistake by falling for a news story from a satirical “news” website. The article was titled, Newly-Found Document Holds Eyewitness Account of Jesus Performing Miracle. Man, oh man, did I blow it on this one!

Being a history teacher, and a Christian, I was excited to see a story like this. What could be better than historians proving what I already believe to be true? However, I was skeptical so I went to the website’s home page and looked at other stories they had posted. Seemed fine (granted this wasn’t extensive). I even went to the “About” tab, seemed legit. What I failed to notice was the tab labeled “Disclaimer” to the right of all the others. Yeah, there was proof. How did I miss it? I really don’t know.

I normally don’t like to “share” stuff on my social media site because I am often bombarded by massive amounts of stuff my friends have shared, much of it not worth looking at. For that reason, when I do share stuff I tend to make sure that it is accurate, worth reading/viewing, and has a purpose. This particular post managed to make it past my own filters.

Time to recalibrate.

Have you ever fallen for a FAKE news story and what made you believe it? What was the story about?

Happy 238th America!

Happy Independence Day folks! Yes, today, July 4 is America’s 238th birthday. What a 238 years it has been, right? I mean we have come a long way from those days of white wigs and scraping a living out of the “wild and unsettled” lands. It hasn’t been all fun and games though. There has been some yelling, throwing of things, fighting, trials and disagreements and yet we endure. That is something to celebrate!

Today we pause to blow stuff up, eat pounds of dead meat all while throwing back some hop infused  beverages. We love a good party and today we are gonna do it up right! But before you head out to the backyard, the lake, the camp ground, or the big city for a show of bright flashes and big bangs maybe you should take some time to REALLY remember why we celebrate today. It isn’t just another day off from work, some guys way back at the beginning put their “lives, fortunes, and honor” on the table and at risk for all to enjoy. We owe it to them to at least pause for a few and reconnect to the true holiday we celebrate.

For your reading pleasure, the Declaration of Independence. (You know, there are some who might argue that this document still might apply today.)

If you are interested, here is some reading that could remind you of those days back when you were in school and were learning about the reasons we have a nation today and decided to cut ties with that tyrannical British king, George III.  History lesson and quiz.

Regardless of where you think we stand as a nation today, whether you agree with the direction we are headed (or not headed) or whether you are red or blue or purple(?), we are still the place that others look to for hope, freedom, and help when there is trouble in their neighborhood. Let’s not forget this is still the best place to live in the world because we have many of the freedoms that others do not.

America. Happy birthday!

 

 

Duck, Duck, Genocide

 

South Sudan

“If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it must be a duck.”

My senior Contemporary Issues (college prep) class has been doing a unit on genocide. I must admit, I lost it in class a little over a week ago. Not in the sense that you are probably thinking, no I didn’t lose me temper with them because they weren’t paying attention or being disrespectful. The fact is, I lost it emotionally. I quite literally and very visibly choked back my emotions as I read to them an article about the latest events happening in South Sudan. We had been, at the time, covering the 1994 Rwandan genocide and watching the film, Sometimes in April, so they were becoming familiar with the events of Rwanda. As I struggled to read the article about South Sudan, it was clear that I was not the only one in the room that was having a hard time with the topic. There was lots of sniffling and the wiping of eyes as they left the room at the end of the period.

It is interesting to watch them struggle with the realities that they face going into the larger world, and the realities of foreign policy. They are now starting to see that those easy and trite solutions they think they have for social or political problems in our country (and maybe around the world) aren’t as easy as they believed. This unit, with help from the Choices curriculum, has been designed to leave as many questions (by my design) as it answers. It gives them a chance to know the history and recognize the significant international challenges facing our nation and others when it comes to difficult issues (genocide, among others). To this point, we have covered Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and now Sudan (specifically the first event – Darfur). We have now dealt with the recent events in South Sudan and, after looking at the patterns from the other events, there is only one determination to make about what is happening there.

Genocide

I’m not going to beat around the bush here when it comes to what is going on in South Sudan. There may be a civil war, but it has all the markings of genocide, so let’s call it that instead of dancing around the issue and playing with nuances or word games. Then let’s do something about it instead of sitting back and letting it happen again because that phrase, “Never again,” has been uttered one too many times.

How do we know it is genocide? The first place to start is with the United Nations’ 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This document outlines the international effort to prevent and punish genocide after the Holocaust of World War II. The most important sections of the document are Articles 2 & 3. These articles define and outline the conditions for which genocide can be determined. Genocide is

Article II
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts
committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical,
racial or religious group, as such :
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to
bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Article III
The following acts shall be punishable:
(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide ;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide ;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

Admittedly, genocide can be difficult to define since the definition is a bit vague. My students have realized this as they have pondered the different episodes over time. However, what does seem pretty clear is that human rights should take precedent. No, there are no hard and fast numbers or “check points” for making a definitive determination. There are no “If the number of killings reaches 100, or a 1000,… .” Yet, on the other hand, can the killing of one person (surely the death of any number of people should be reprehensible) be enough for a genocide classification? This creates a rather convenient ambiguity that allows for the international community, or individual countries, to wiggle around events that are genocide. The convention requires that if a country recognizes an event as genocide, they have to do something about it. So, most countries just don’t use “the word.” Even international organizations that are supposed to protect human rights won’t use the word for fear of being held accountable for not doing something about it (see Amnesty International article). It is easier to condemn the events as “ethnic cleansing,” “war crimes,” or “crimes against humanity” so that no real commitment has to be made. NOT doing something falls under Article III, Section E, doesn’t it? Complicity?

Many of the people in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, were hopeful that they had put the violence of the past behind them when they voted for independence from Sudan. However, it didn’t take long for the violence to return. In the very recent past they have descended into ethnic conflicts between the Dinka and Nuer people, which has stemmed from a civil war between the president (a Dinka) and a fired deputy (a Nuer). The atrocities have now become well documented, but the international community continues to call the violence what it really is. On May 8, 2014, the UN released its report, Conflict in South Sudan: A Human Rights Reportwhere it again fails to call the events in South Sudan a genocide. The report does, however, indicate that the atrocities have gone both ways and that no one group is the sole perpetrator in the conflict.

Rwanda

Echoes of Rwanda

In 1994, Rwanda descended into chaos as the Hutus began a systematic and brutal program of extermination of the Tutsis. It took only 100 days for the Hutus to kill over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers. This was aided, of course by the world not really paying attention to what was going on and dancing around this issue. The information about how and where to do the killings was transmitted over the radio and as a result the radio was used to fan the flames of hatred and incite more violence on the Tutsis. The United States government, supposedly the only country in the world with the technology to block the radio transmissions, debated about the legality of blocking the radio signals and the right to free speech instead of human rights and protecting innocent life.

President Clinton visited Rwanda in 1998 and apologized for our failure to act. After the fact, he acknowledged the genocide.

…I thank especially the survivors of the genocide and those who are working to rebuild your country for spending a little time with us before we came in here…I have come today to pay the respects of my Nation to all who suffered and all who perished in the Rwandan genocide…Rwanda experienced the most extensive slaughter in this blood-filled century we are about to leave—families murdered in their homes, people hunted down as they fled by soldiers and militia, through farmland and woods as if they were animals.

From Kibuye in the west to Kibungo in the east, people gathered seeking refuge in churches by the thousands, in hospitals, in schools. And when they were found, the old and the sick, the women and children alike, they were killed—killed because their identity card [identified them as the targeted group]…It is important that the world know that these killings were not spontaneous or accidental…These events grew from a policy aimed at the systematic destruction of a people. The ground for violence was carefully prepared, the airwaves poisoned with hate…All of this was done, clearly, to make it easy for otherwise reluctant people to participate in wholesale slaughter…

…In their fate, we are reminded of the capacity for people everywhere, not just in Rwanda, and certainly not just in Africa but the capacity for people everywhere, to slip into pure evil. We cannot abolish that capacity, but we must never accept it. And we know it can be overcome…The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy, as well. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began…we owe to all the people in the world our best efforts to organize ourselves so that we can maximize the chances of preventing these events. And where they cannot be prevented, we can move more quickly to minimize the horror.

So let us challenge ourselves to build a world in which no branch of humanity, because of national, racial, ethnic, or religious origin, is again threatened with destruction because of those characteristics of which people should rightly be proud. Let us work together as a community of civilized nations to strengthen our ability to prevent and, if necessary, to stop genocide….We have seen, too—and I want to say again—that genocide can occur anywhere. It is not an African phenomenon and must never be viewed as such. We have seen it in industrialized Europe; we have seen it in Asia. We must have global vigilance. And never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence. (emphasis added)

Recently it was reported out of South Sudan that the radio was once again being used to incite hatred and further propagate violence against the Nuer people. This can only serve as a stark reminder and prove that the lessons of Rwanda have not been learned. This use of the radio is an explicit mirroring of Rwanda and can’t be denied as anything different. There are reports of young girls, as young as 10 (see UN report mentioned previously) being gang raped by as many as 10 men. There are reports of other women who won’t submit to gang rape being sexually tortured with large sticks, leading to their deaths. Again, like Rwanda, places that should be safe – schools, hospitals, churches, UN compounds – are being attacked and large numbers of people being killed. (Another report) Estimates continue to grow for refugees, now at a million or so, and there is real fear of famine by the end of the year because the conflict has kept them from planting the necessary crops for the food supply.

 The United States and United Nations Response

The United States has done very little when it comes to responding to this genocide, so why would this occasion be any different?. We didn’t do anything in Rwanda, we waited too long to act when it came to Darfur, Sudan, and now we are going to do the same thing when it comes to South Sudan. When the latest atrocities were exposed as “Piles and piles of bodies…” (article) the world seemed to take notice finally. It got lots of coverage across the world. That very same day, the White House released a press statement that summed up the known facts of the killings and called them an “abomination,” but their condemnation stopped there. Essentially the message was, “We’re monitoring the situation, but we aren’t going to do anything.” On May 1st, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry actually mentioned the word genocide as a possibility (if the acts continue) but has yet to identify the events in South Sudan as genocide.

There are very disturbing leading indicators of the kind of ethnic, tribal, targeted, nationalistic killings taking place that raise serious questions, and were they to continue in the way that they have been going could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide. (article)

So, if I understand him right, these events could lead to genocide. Has he read the Genocide Convention? If the events are similar to Rwanda and we called it genocide after the fact, then why not step up and call it that now?

It seems that one guy in Congress, Frank Wolf, has the right idea. He has called on the President to do more for and in South Sudan. He has used President Clinton’s failure in Rwanda as his basis as well. He says that since we were a major player in helping South Sudan become an independent nation that we have a “moral obligation” to intervene.

This week the Obama administration has given lip service to the issue, but has largely only postured politically by issuing economic sanctions on the military commanders (mind you this is just two people) from both sides while not including the key leaders of both sides. The effect of these sanctions will be minimal, if anything at all, as the targeted individuals may or may not do business or have assets in the U.S. The U.S. has spoken to the neighboring countries and they have agreed “in principle” to take similar actions, but this will likely be ineffectual as well.

The United Nations has approximately 26,000 peacekeepers in the country (more than Rwanda at the beginning of that genocide) and there are several areas that refugees have gone for protection. But when those compounds are being attacked and people killed or chased off into the surrounding landscape, it is rather ineffectual. The UN mission hasn’t yet been expanded to “protect the population,” although there have been requests to do so. The UN Security Council has met and supposedly is doing an investigation, but those take time (too much time) and how many more lives will be lost as a result of wasted time?

It only took Rwanda 100 days to blow up into a major humanitarian disaster. “Never again” has been used too many times and it always come back to “again.” Again we are dealing with evidence of genocide, even if it is being committed by both sides. Again the world debates about what to do. Again international organizations remain impotent to deal with a humanitarian crisis involving the deliberate destruction of human life. Again the U.S. sits back and watches while human suffering is evident. Again innocent people are looking for help from the rest of the world and get none.

Again.

 

MH370 and Some Confounding Questions

Why has it taken so long to find this plane? This truly is a tragedy for the families involved and there has been, obviously, a massive effort to find the plane. I am not sure what the cost is at this point, but I am sure we will all look back on it and say to ourselves, “Why did it cost so much and why did we even have to look for it in the first place.” Aside from the fact that Malaysia has fumbled the search from the very beginning, the international community has put out a massive effort in both time and expense to locate the missing jet.

There in lies the problem as I see it. Why is the search even necessary in the first place? I am not talking about the fact that we need to find planes that crash in remote or hard to reach places. That isn’t the issue I have with this whole thing. The questions that keep running through my mind is that I don’t understand is this…

When would an airplane ever need to turn off it’s transponder?

I am not in the aviation industry and I will never claim to know lots about it (though I have ridden on them and maybe slept in a Holiday Inn Express on occasion). However, this seems like a rather obvious question. A question that, as yet, I have not yet heard an answer to in the endless news cycle, commentator blather filling the airwaves.

So, how about it? Anyone in the aviation industry that can tell me why it would be necessary for a plane to stop broadcasting it’s location? Any reason why turning the transponder off is even possible? I can’t think of a single reason why a plane would need to go “stealth,” especially when it is full of passengers.

Based on my, admittedly, limited knowledge of how these things work it seems that THIS would be one of the first areas for consideration, adjustment, and redesign. In a transportation industry that relies on locating it’s moving parts at all times, this seems like a no brainer. It can’t possibly be that expensive to design new planes this way. Yes, it might be a significant cost to retrofit already produced planes but it seems worth the cost if a situation can avoid the cost of having to locate a plane after an unexplained air disaster.

Additionally, how about putting more than one on the plane? These big jets are designed to have redundant systems to keep the plane in the air. I think I heard one former pilot say that a plane such as the one missing has 10 generators on it. There is bound to be some redundancy there, right? So, why not have a backup transponder in case it gets turned off…accidentally or on purpose…or that generator goes out…or the fuse for that one is pulled…?

Here’s an article I found on this issue and it answers some questions. The explanation of “safety” makes sense, but that should be something an air traffic controller should have control over, not people in the plane.

Why are “black boxes” still on airplanes?

Those “black boxes” aren’t really black, as we all know, they are orange. So why are they called black in the first place? Well, that really isn’t important at this point. More importantly, why are we still relying on outdated technology? The black boxes collects and stores all the data the airplane systems produce and they collect the conversations in the cockpit, between air control and the cockpit, and extraneous background noise in the cockpit. This makes sense because this could all be important information while determining what went wrong on the plane or what the pilot(s) did/didn’t do. Great. These boxes have obviously proven very helpful when solving past airline incidents.

My question stems from that fact that the black boxes are still ON the airplane in the first place. Why are they even necessary at this point? With the ability to communicate with a plane nearly anywhere on the planet, you would think that it would be possible to also send data. Satellites circle the globe so there seems to be no shortage of ways the plane (or the people inside) could communicate with people on the ground. Why isn’t the data that is stored in the black boxes transmitted in real-time to a storage unit on solid ground? If computers can collect data from the Hubble Space Telescope or rovers on Mars then computers should be able to collect data from a plane that spends no more than 12 hours in the air at any one time. In the event of something catastrophic, data would be instantly available, including where the plane was at the time of the event. No hunting necessary.

The confounding part of this question goes back, at least, to the Air France Flight 447 in 2009. This plane also crashed and took time to locate the debris, though not like the current missing flight. However, there was still the mystery of WHY it crashed and that couldn’t be solved until the black boxes were found, which took two years and lots of money. Shouldn’t this crash have triggered an industry wide change in how the data was collected? You would think when mysteries such as these occur that people would want to do something to keep them from happening in the future. Of course, that costs money (and perhaps the info, or safety, isn’t as important as the bottom line).

There was an article that answers some of these questions as well. Cost for such technology shouldn’t be holding change back.

So what now?

Like I said, I can’t offer a whole lot in the way of solutions and I am probably not bringing up anything that hasn’t been brought up before. But, maybe that is the problem! I don’t work in the industry and I only have nominal experience as a passenger, but as a casual observer and information consumer it appears as though the solutions to these particular problems are fairly simple. Why they haven’t been done already is the puzzling thing to me.  These technologies should have already been incorporated into the missing plane.

These airline passengers are victims of a crime. That fact may well have been established when the transponder was turned off and the plane continued to fly. Unfortunately, now their grieving family members are victims as well. Victims of an aviation system that should work better than it does because they have failed to use technology that already exists.