RealClearHistory Articles

The Conundrum of Relating History

Michael DiMatteo - September 25, 2021

It’s a curious thing. As decades and centuries pass by, what was once considered grand, wonderful, stupendous, or any other superlative we wish to attach becomes terrible, horrible, suspect, or simply wrong. Much of the time that “wrongness” is reflected in morality, that most chameleon of human reason chock full of emotion. The case of Edward III of England is great example. Shortly after his life ended and historians wrote about him, his deeds were seen as the pantheon of kingly behavior, and his prowess in battle the stuff of legend. Historians forgave his treatment of...

Why Jihadists Picked Sept. 11 to Attack U.S.

Joseph Micallef - September 19, 2021

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the commandeering of four commercial airliners by a group of Islamic jihadists. The planes were subsequently used to attack the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth plane, its intended target being either the Capitol Building or the White House, was brought down when its passengers attacked the jihadist hijackers. The details of those tragedies are well known, so I won’t repeat them here. What is less known is why the hijackers chose the date of Sept. 11 on which to stage their attacks. That answer requires a deep...

Harpers Ferry: Largest Union Surrender of Civil War

Francis P. Sempa - September 13, 2021

Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, is most remembered as the site where the abolitionist zealot John Brown was captured by U.S. forces commanded by Col. Robert E. Lee after Brown and his armed men raided the arsenal there in what was supposed to be the first step in an armed struggle to free all of the slaves in the United States. But Harper’s Ferry was also the scene of the largest surrender of Union troops in the Civil War, after a three-day battle was fought there on Bolivar Heights in September 1862. The town of Harper’s Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and...

The Other 9/11 ... at 225: Twin Towers? A Pair of “9/11s” That Shook the World

John Rodden - September 10, 2021

Twenty years ago tomorrow, the 21st century opened with a day of convulsive events whose consequences are still being felt in our thinking about global travel, national security, and international relations.  The unforgettable images of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York City will doubtless remain haunting, iconic, and traumatic for tens of millions of Americans and for decades to come. And not just for Americans: “9/11” is so universally famous — or notorious — throughout the globe that those numerals can be stated without mentioning the year....


MacArthur and VJ Day

Francis P. Sempa - September 1, 2021

Sept. 2 is the anniversary of V-J Day--Victory in Japan. The Pacific War was formally brought to an end, and with that the Second World War was over. The destruction in lives and property was unprecedented. The war in Europe, which had started with the Nazi invasion of Poland, ended with Soviet domination of Poland and most of Eastern Europe. The War in the Pacific ended with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and set the stage for a nuclear arms race that for the most part kept the next world war “cold” instead of “hot.”         ...

Next World Battleground: Deep-Sea Floor

Joseph Micallef - August 16, 2021

The deep seabed has been considered a treasure trove of valuable minerals for more than a century and a half.  The discovery of iron-manganese deposits on the deep ocean floor occurred in the Kara Sea in 1868.  Between 1873-76, the Royal Navy Frigate HMS Challenger, during a trip around the world, recovered small blackish-brown balls, rich in manganese and iron among other metals. They were later named “manganese nodules.” Until recently, however, the mineral wealth of the deep seabed was largely theoretical. Mining companies, typically sponsored by their national...

America's 10 Most Important Small Wars

Brandon Christensen - August 9, 2021

I’m a libertarian. I don’t like wars. They lead to bigger government. They lead to more bureaucracy. They excuse bad things in the name of patriotism. War is the health of the state. And yet, I find myself newly intrigued by an old argument from the neo-conservative (and former Republican) scholar Max Boot. Boot’s argument is that small and very savage “wars of peace” helped pave the way for the republic to grow and flourish into the leader of the free world. The boldness of such a claim is worth more time than most people -- including me when I was younger --...

Why Rudolph Hess Was the Last Casualty of WW II

David Pyne - August 1, 2021

Many do not realize that World War II technically lasted more than half a century as no peace treaty was ever signed ending the state of war between Germany and the western Allies. The war only formally came to an end when the “Two Plus Four” Treaty which permitted the reunification of Germany, came into effect in March 1991. The Western Allies occupied West Berlin & governed it as a jointly administered de-facto puppet state for 45 years as no West Berlin law could be enacted without the express approval of all three of their American, British and French military overseers....


Was Andrew Johnson a 'Defender of the Constitution?'

Fred Lucas - July 27, 2021

The House impeachment was cast as the culmination of a partisan witch hunt (though not using that phrase) and the Senate acquittal was characterized as safeguarding democracy and constitutional government.   The former home of Andrew Johnson in Greenville, Tenn. heralds the 17th president -- primarily known for being the first impeached president -- as a “defender of the Constitution.” While it’s not an entirely fawning depiction, it’s assuredly far more positive than most.   Perhaps that’s what you would anticipate from presidential museums...

C-SPAN Left Out Key Metric in '21 Presidential Leadership Survey

Francis P. Sempa - July 13, 2021

The C-SPAN 2021 Survey of Presidential Leadership was recently released and, given the makeup of the panel of historians/authors/biographers who ranked the presidents, contained very few surprises. Liberals and progressives generally rank higher than conservatives. Ideology and political philosophy mostly rule the day.   The 2021 advisory team for the survey included three liberals (Douglas Brinkley, Edna Greene Medford, and Richard Norton Smith) and one conservative (Amity Shlaes).  The advisory team chose the categories within which the presidents were ranked — public...

China's Really Celebrating a Century of Murder

Francis P. Sempa - July 4, 2021

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated its centenary anniversary on July 1, 2021. In fact, the Party was founded on July 23, 1921, in Shanghai, with the help of the Soviet-controlled Communist International (Comintern). Between 1918 -21, the new Bolshevik regime in Russia was determined to spread communism throughout the world, including in China. To that end, the Bolsheviks sent agents to Chinese cities to find local recruits and spread communist propaganda. Two of those early recruits became the founders of the CCP: Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu, both leftist intellectuals.  One...

How Jacob Riis Brought Urban Reform to New York City

Hal Rogers - June 30, 2021

New York is known as America’s most diverse and densely populated city. It is the original melting pot, a place in which people from all over the world have convened to pursue a better life. For generations, the Lower East Side of Manhattan functioned as the epicenter of this uniquely American experience. During the late 19th century, the United States experienced a period of frenetic economic and industrial development. This change gave rise to massive fortunes and a new standard of living for many. These economic trends accelerated immigration to the United States, with many...


Decisions That Would Cause U.S. to Lose World War III

David Pyne - June 28, 2021

This month marked the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union which took place on June 22, 1941. Hitler’s witting or unwitting pre-emptive attack against the Red Army, which were massed on the borders of eastern Germany, western Poland, Hungary, and Romania poised for their own invasion, enabled the Germans to capture or destroy tens of thousands of Soviet tanks and aircraft. Some authors who have examined Soviet archives have suggested the offensive was scheduled to take place a mere two and a half weeks after Hitler’s attack. Despite the fact that...

Churchill's WW II Address to Allied Delegates

Francis P. Sempa - June 12, 2021

A little over a year after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain, he spoke at a meeting of the Dominion High Commissioners and Allied Countries’ Ministers at St. James Palace on June 12, 1941. Britain was still “alone” as a great power belligerent against Nazi Germany. Britain had survived the “Blitz,” won the Battle of Britain in the skies over the English Channel, was waging war against Germany in the Battle of the Atlantic, and was preparing for a possible German invasion of the British Isles. The United States Congress had passed the...

Going the Distance

Steve Feinstein - June 2, 2021

The phrase “Going the distance” has many positive meanings and connotations.  Whether it’s in sports or business or in a social setting, the phrase is both commonly used and well understood. In baseball, it refers to a game in which the starting pitcher throws a complete game, all nine innings. “Verlander was strong, needing only 104 pitches to dominate the other team, as he went the distance for his fourth complete game of the season.”  In boxing, it means when a fighter survives the entire agreed-upon number of rounds, especially when the other...

Gen. Grant's Cold Harbor Regret

Francis P. Sempa - May 31, 2021

“I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made,” wrote Ulysses S. Grant in his memoirs. Grant was referring to a Union assault launched on June 3, 1864, against entrenched Confederate positions. In less than an hour, about 7,000 Union soldiers were dead, wounded, or missing.  The Battle of Cold Harbor was part of the Overland campaign that had already resulted in massive casualties on both sides at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the North Anna River. Grant, with President Lincoln’s blessing, was determined to fight a battle of...


Neglect, Nature and Horror of Johnstown Flood

Francis P. Sempa - May 27, 2021

“The lake seemed to leap into the valley like a living thing,” wrote historian David McCullough in describing the immediate effect of the failure of the South Fork Dam on May 31, 1889. It was 3 p.m. when the dam gave way and in the next 35-40 minutes Lake Conemaugh emptied into the valley of the Little Conemaugh River on its way to Johnstown, Penn.  The lake traveled 14 miles, wiping out the small towns of Mineral Point, East Conemaugh and Woodvale that lay directly in its path. Before it reached Johnstown, the huge wave of water and debris momentarily reenergized against a...

Did Biden Reopen Wounds for Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan?

Mustafa Tuncer - May 10, 2021

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden opposed then President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico. Indeed, time and time again, Biden has pledged to unite people rather than divide them. Yet, in using the term “genocide” to describe the events of 1915 late last month, President Biden made a foreign policy faux pas. The President’s words mean that Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan may be back to Square One precisely when the rebuilding of ties seems possible. The U.S. is known around the world as a melting pot that respects personal...

Churchill's Walk With Destiny

Francis P. Sempa - May 9, 2021

In 1890, when Winston Churchill was 16-years-old, he told a schoolmate that someday it would fall to him to defend England against invasion and “save the empire.” In 1932, in the midst of Churchill’s “wilderness years,” Lady Astor told Soviet dictator Josef Stalin that Churchill’s political career was finished. Eight years later, Churchill was summoned by the King to form a War Cabinet to lead the nation at the time of its greatest peril. When Churchill became Prime Minister on May 10, 1940, the odds against him succeeding in saving Britain were enormous....

Homage to Catalonia: The Book Orwell Had to Write

John Rossi - May 3, 2021

George Orwell wrote two of the most influential books of the 20th century, Animal Farm and 1984. He had different opinions of them. He was proud of Animal Farm because he believed that for the first time he succeeded in fusing “political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” 1984 he pretended to believe was “a ghastly mess … a good idea ruined.” He knew better. This book was tranformed Orwell As significant as these masterpieces were, the book that transformed him politically and intellectually was the portrayal of his experiences during the Spanish...