a brief history lesson
November 9, 2019

Leaders from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic attended a Saturday ceremony in Berlin honoring the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is viewed as one of the pivotal moments in the final stages of the Cold War. The leaders placed roses along the remnants of the barrier that once divided the city between the communist east and capitalist west.

"The Berlin Wall, ladies and gentleman, is history," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "It teaches us: No wall that keeps people out and restricts freedom is so high or so wide that it can't be broken down."

President Trump congratulated Germany on the anniversary, saluting the "courageous men and women from both East and West Germany" who united to "tear down a wall that stood as a symbol of oppression."

But Nov. 9 is not a gleaming day in German history, despite the fall of the wall. It is also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass, in which Nazi paramilitaries carried out a pogrom against Jewish citizens in 1938. And in 1923, Adolf Hitler led the "Beer Hall Putsch," a failed coup attempt against the Weimar Republic. Those anniversaries, coupled with the rise of far right parties in the country, have some German citizens feeling reflective, rather than celebratory this year, The Guardian reports. Read more at The Associated Press and The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

February 11, 2019

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) launched her 2020 presidential bid Sunday, joining fellow Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) as well as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) in seeking the Democratic nod. Unfortunately for all six, congressional office is historically not a great stepping stone to the presidency.

As a FiveThirtyEight analysis details Monday, only about one in three senators and representatives who have secured their party's presidential nomination have won the White House. By contrast, half of nominees who previously served as vice president, governor, or in a Cabinet-level role — particularly secretary of state — won their general elections.

Before former Vice President Joe Biden gets his hopes up, however, FiveThirtyEight offers a word of caution. In the last six decades, "three of the seven most recent vice presidents later won their party’s nomination for president," but "only one (George H.W. Bush) made it to the Oval Office." Experience as veep may not provide the level of campaign viability it once did.

There's also the question of viability in the primary race. On this point, former vice presidents and governors are most likely to prevail. Hillary Clinton's nomination in 2016 was the first such victory by a Cabinet-level official in nearly a century.

Members of Congress may have a more difficult time in both the primaries and the general election, FiveThirtyEight suggests, because Congress is generally unpopular and their voting records offer ample opportunities for attack. Bonnie Kristian

August 18, 2017

With the effort to remove Confederate monuments back on the national stage after violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, historian Erin Blakemore took to Twitter to discuss the Jefferson Davis Highway, an effort by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to "memorialize their version of history" in the 1910s and 1920s. While the grand vision of a cross-country superhighway was never realized, the highway was constructed in bits and pieces, leading to many so-called Jefferson Davis Highways that have lasted into the 21st century.

(University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee/Library of Congress)

"Since there was no federal highway system [in the early 1900s], states often relied on public support — sometimes from interest groups — for road [funding]," Blakemore explains. "And the Lincoln Highway — named after the great emancipator — infuriated members of the UDC. They decided to build a Southern analog. Their vision was just as grand. It would stretch from Arlington, Virginia, to San Diego, California, and spread the Lost Cause vision of the South."

Blakemore added: "Imagine how tempting it would have been for a county, city, or state to be presented with ample funding for a highway with the only caveat being that it was named after the man who symbolized the Confederacy and the UDC's vision of heroic white supremacy."

By the 1920s, the government had started numbering highways and it "was not enthused" by the idea of naming one after Jefferson Davis. "But states could do whatever they wanted!" Blakemore writes. "So highways named after Jefferson Davis — and the markers that went along with them — remained. This is how you got memorials to the Confederacy in surprising places like San Diego."

Markers that remain today have become targets after Charlottesville: One monument in Arizona was covered in what was likely tar Thursday. Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-Ariz.) said that while he is working to change the highway's name, "vandalizing these monuments is not productive," 12 News reports.

Read Blakemore's full thread below. Jeva Lange

July 28, 2017

Either President Trump knows something we don't, or he overlooked the slave trade during his speech Friday in New York about the MS-13 gang. While addressing service members on Long Island, Trump claimed that human trafficking "is worse now maybe than it's ever been in the history of the world," even when slavery was legal.

"You go back a thousand years, when you think of human trafficking, you go back 500 years, 200 years, a hundred years," Trump said, discussing human traffickers, which he referred to as "new words" that "we haven't heard too much of."

Human trafficking undoubtedly remains a serious problem in this day and age, but Trump's comparison misses the mark: Last year in the U.S., 7,500 cases of human trafficking were reported. An estimated 12.5 million were displaced during the transatlantic slave trade. Becca Stanek

Editor's note: As some readers have pointed out, Trump was not wrong. Many experts estimate that worldwide, more people are enslaved today than ever before.

March 15, 2017

The year 1291 A.D. was a dark year for Christian Crusaders in the Holy Land. When the Crusader capital of Jerusalem was lost to Saladin in 1187, the Haifa Bay port of Acre became the new landing site for European soldiers, knights, and horses as well as an international trading hub for the export of sugar, spices, glass, and textiles back to Europe. But by the spring of 1291, an Egyptian sultan, Al-Ashraf Khalil, had moved in with 100,000 cavalry and foot soldiers to banish the Crusaders from the Holy Land once and for all.

Marine archeologists have now discovered the remains of a treasure-laden Crusader ship that they have reason to believe was one of many vessels that tried to flee Acre when the sultan stormed the city, Haaretz reports. The wood on the ship dates back to between 1062 and 1250 A.D. but among the keel and planks that remain the archaeologists also discovered 30 gold coins.

These coins are the key to linking the wreck to the fleeing Crusaders. Robert Kool of Israel Antiquities Authority identified the coins as "florins," which were minted in Florence beginning in 1252. Historical eyewitnesses from the Siege of Acre recorded that nobles and merchants would use such valuables to bribe boats owners in the hope of buying their escape. Among the wreckage, archaeologists also found ceramic bowls and jugs from places like southern Italy, Syria, and Cyprus.

In the end, Acre fell to the sultan after 100 years of Frankish rule, with the final defenders, a group of Knights Templar, ultimately crushed beneath the fortress after refusing to abandon it. At the siege's end, the Catholic Church abandoned the Jerusalem Crusades. Jeva Lange

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