RealClearHistory Articles

Exclusive Excerpt: Drawn Swords in a Distant Battle: South Vietnam's Shattered Dreams

George Jay Veith - March 31, 2021

Following is an adapted excerpt from leading Vietnam War historian and former Army Captain George Jay Veith's compelling new history Drawn Swords in a Distant Land: South Vietnam's Shattered Dreams. Traditionally, the Vietnam War has been viewed through an American -- or more recently -- North Korean -- prism. But Veith looks at the war from the South Vietnamese political and social project lens of its leaders and allies. The following excerpt focuses on the "Anna Chennault Affair." In 1968, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu’s refusal to join the opening of the 1968...

Great Britain Had a Thing for Drama During WW II

Steve Feinstein - March 30, 2021

The British air forces in World War II — the RAF (Royal Air Force) and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm — fought brilliantly and heroically on all fronts for the entire six-year duration (1939-45) of the war. Indeed, Britain’s very survival was a result of the RAF’s superhuman efforts during the five-month span from May-October 1940. The RAF fought off the German air force (the Luftwaffe) during the evacuation from Dunkirk, France following France’s collapse, allowing more than 330,000 allied soldiers to escape annihilation and live to fight another...

Mahan and the Craft of Writing History

Francis P. Sempa - March 9, 2021

In March 1903, the Atlantic Monthly published Alfred Thayer Mahan’s address to the American Historical Association, which he had delivered a few months earlier in Philadelphia. Mahan, as the association’s new president, spoke on “The Writing of History.” By that time, Mahan had been writing historical works for 20 years, and he would continue to do so until his death in December 1914.  He was born in 1840 at West Point, where his father, Dennis Hart Mahan, taught the future officers of the U.S. (and Confederate) Army. In 1859, Mahan graduated from the U.S. Naval...

Yalta, Whittaker Chambers, and Time Magazine

Francis P. Sempa - February 28, 2021

Between Feb. 4-11, 1945, the “Big Three” leaders of the Allied powers met at the Livadia Palace at Yalta in the Crimea to plot end-of-the-war strategy and to plan for the postwar world. Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin sensed victory. The Battle of the Bulge had ended in a German defeat. British and American forces were poised to breach the Siegfried Line. The Soviet army had launched a great offensive in the east. And American forces were advancing pincer-like against Japanese forces in The Philippines and in the islands of the central Pacific. The...


Mackinder and Sea Power

Francis P. Sempa - February 20, 2021

In 1901, Great Britain still ruled the seas, though she would soon be challenged by Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany. There had been no European general war since 1815, when allied powers combined to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte’s brief revival at Waterloo — and even then, as Wellington said, victory was a close-run thing. In 1830 and 1848, revolution had reared its ugly head, and smaller wars had been fought in the 1850s in the Crimea, and during the 1860s and early 1870s to bring about Italian and German unification, but the Concert of Europe, supplemented by the Congress of...

From Drugs to Gambling, Mesoamericans Were Ahead of Their Time

Iain Fenton - February 18, 2021

The Mayans and the Aztecs remain two of the most well-known and hotly debated of the Mesoamerican civilisations. Despite the bloody history of the Aztecs, and to a lesser extent the Mayans, both civilisations discovered, invented and cultivated a mixture of food, items, and medicines which are commonly used today in the 21st century. Medicine and drugs The Aztecs discovered and used an extensive inventory of medicine consisting of a variety of different medicinal herbs and plants. Indigenous works recording the Aztec practices of medicine survived the Spanish conquest and are still used in...

James Burnham: Unheralded Prophet of the Cold War

Francis P. Sempa - February 8, 2021

In Washington, D.C., there are no statues of James Burnham. Most Americans know little or nothing about him. He was not a high-level U.S. government official. He was a writer, a political philosopher, and a geopolitician. He started his intellectual journey on the Left as a member of the Trotskyite faction of the international communist movement in the 1930s. He ended up writing for William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Burnham was an empiricist, not an ideologue. His intellectual heroes were Machiavelli, Mosca, Pareto and Michels—writers who studied history and the way ruling...

History and a Triangle of Farms

Francis P. Sempa - January 25, 2021

Travel to south-central Pennsylvania and across the border into Maryland and discover a triangle of historic farms where three men who made history during the Cold War lived. One was a brilliant diplomat who understood the cold, harsh realities of international politics, and articulated a strategic doctrine that guided U.S. foreign policy throughout much of the Cold War. Another was a troubled intellectual who escaped communism, courageously exposed hidden enemies within our country, and explained more clearly than any other writer what was at stake in the struggle against communism. The...


How Hindsight Can Change View of a Presidency

John Rossi - January 18, 2021

The recent unpleasant presidential election and the ugly aftermath of rioting in Washington got me thinking about the concept of presidential reputation. How will Donald Trump be evaluated by future scholars of the presidency? The presidential ratings game is not all that simple. For instance, other than the three presidents uniformly ranked as ‘great:’ Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, the labeling of "great" or "near great" presidents really is little more than an interesting commentary on the fickleness of fame and a commentary on the way ideas move in a modern society. During my...

Opinion: Police Force Part of the Culture -- for Blacks and Whites

John Rooney - January 14, 2021

Accusations of police hostility and abuse towards African Americans has been a pressing issue fueling mass demonstrations demanding reform. Amnesty International has joined in, censuring the U.S. for the nearly 1,000 police killings per year with a disproportionate number of Black and Latino victims. The problem of police abuse, however, is not confined to the Black community. It is a problem for all of us. Consider this: The record shows that more Whites than Blacks are killed by police each year. Something similar holds true for other kinds of police abuse: It is part of police culture...

Skeptics of Democracy and Defenders of Freedom

Francis P. Sempa - January 12, 2021

In the United States, it is often said, “the people rule.” This is one of the myths or “political formulas” that legitimize those who exercise political power in this country. The American government at the federal, state, and local level is nowhere a pure democracy where the people rule themselves. We are instead a constitutional republic where, as in all other forms of government, political power is held and exercised by a “ruling class,” a group of elites who make, interpret, and execute laws and rules that govern the citizenry. The great socio-political...

100 Years Ago, Churchill Began 'The World Crisis'

Francis P. Sempa - January 4, 2021

Reflecting on Winston Churchill as an historian, J.H. Plumb wrote that, “History was the heart of his faith; it permeated everything which he touched, and it was the mainspring of his politics and the secret of his immense mastery.” John Lukacs noted that although Churchill was never trained as an historian, his “mind was steeped in history.” One hundred years ago, Churchill began writing his massive six-volume history of the First World War entitled "The World Crisis." Churchill was a writer before he was a statesman. His early books, written before he reached age 26,...


Best History Books of the Last Decade

Brandon Christensen - December 30, 2020

This time of year produces a ton of "Best of..." or "Top ____ of the Year" lists, and they're usually pretty good. However, I always come away from such reads wishing they would have been deeper, or covered more ground, or had a bit more history to them. So, I thought I'd come up with a list of the best 10 history books over the last 10 years. This list isn't about my favorites, or about the public's favorites, but is rather, simply, about the best of the best. Ten great books published over the last 10 years. Here we go: 10. The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth...

End of the Bonaparte Dynasty

John Rossi - December 28, 2020

In the Communist Manifesto Marx wrote that all Europe was haunted by the idea of revolution. Actually, what haunted Europe in the middle years of the 19th century wasn’t the threat of revolution so much as a fear of Bonapartism. Representing little more than their own ambition, twice in two generations Bonapartism threatened the very basis of European peace, order and stability. In 1871 when Napoleon III fell from power on the battlefield of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian war, Europeans breathed a sign of relief. Bonapartism was finally dead. But another Bonaparte pretender soon rose to...

James Burnham and the Geopolitics of 1940

Francis P. Sempa - December 21, 2020

Eighty years ago James Burnham wrote The Managerial Revolution, a book that was widely read and discussed when it appeared in 1941 during the early years of the Second World War. The book’s principal theme was that most of the major powers in the world, including Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States, were moving toward some form of rule by a “managerial elite,” what some observers later termed a “new class.” Burnham completed the book in 1940, less than a year after he broke with the international Trotskyite movement and before the United States was a...

The First Anti-Communist: Halford Mackinder in South Russia 1920

Francis P. Sempa - December 13, 2020

Halford Mackinder, though best known as one of the founders of geopolitics as a method of analyzing and understanding international relations, was the first active Western anti-communist. In 1904, he delivered an address to London’s Royal Geographical Society entitled “The Geographical Pivot of History,” which he expanded on in 1919 in Democratic Ideals and Reality, and further revised in 1943 in “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace” in Foreign Affairs. In those writings, Mackinder explained his famous “Heartland” theory which identified the...


10 Best Non-War History Books of 2020

Brandon Christensen - December 9, 2020

Ho hum. There are too many books about World War II on everybody’s 2020 history book lists. The war was obviously important, as it set up the United States for its current role as a global, benevolent, and ostensibly liberal hegemon, but it ended in 1945, which was 75 years ago. Instead, here is a list of 10 history books from 2020 that will help you to not only better understand the world you live in, but also get a better feel for where the world is headed: - 10. The False Promise of Liberal Order: Nostalgia, Delusion, and the Rise of Trump by Patrick Porter. The postwar American-led...

History That Needs Revising

Francis P. Sempa - December 8, 2020

Historical revisionism challenges conventional views about events and personalities. It encourages debate. It encourages thinking. And it forces those who write or teach conventional history to defend their views with facts rather than ideology. Sadly, the American professoriate clings to conventional views — most, if not all, of which are liberal or leftist. The media, meanwhile, reinforces the conventional view with largely superficial observations of historical events and figures. This leads, unfortunately, to a one-size-fits-all history where the heroes are all liberals, the...

The Marx Brothers' Big Breakthrough

John Rossi - December 7, 2020

In June 1923, an unheralded show opened at the Walnut Theater in Philadelphia and played to capacity houses for 14 weeks, despite the city’s legendary heat and humidity. That play, if it can be dignified with that title, was "I’ll Say She Is"; the stars, the Marx Brothers. Often considered a theatrical graveyard, Philadelphia launched the career of the Marx Brothers to new heights. "I’ll Say She Is" made them stars on Broadway, eventually took them to Hollywood and ultimately to international fame as one of America’s greatest comedy teams. The Marx Brothers had been a...

Neglected Classic Envisioned End of Cold War

Francis P. Sempa - December 3, 2020

Seventy years ago, the political philosopher and geopolitical strategist James Burnham (1905-1987) wrote "The Coming Defeat of Communism,' the second book in his brilliant Cold War trilogy (the others being "The Struggle for the World" and 'Containment or Liberation?'). When the book appeared in early 1950, the Sino-Soviet bloc had formed, geographically adding China’s long eastern seacoast to Soviet control of the Eurasian Heartland. The Korean War—the first kinetic war of the Cold War—would break out several months later. Burnham in "The Struggle for the World" (1947)...