Book Review Essay
by John Cornwell, Times Literary Supplement (TLS), June 12, 2013
Robert A. Ventresca, Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII (Harvard)
Frank J. Coppa, The Life and Pontificate of Pope Pius XII: Between History and Controversy (Catholic University of America Press)
Eugenio Pacelli, who took the name Pius XII, was elected Pope in 1939 and died in 1958, having steered the Catholic Church through the Second World War and the early deep freeze of the Cold War. The reasons for his failure to condemn the Nazi regime forthrightly have been debated for half a century. Was he afraid that more people would suffer if he spoke out? Or was he indifferent to the fate of the victims of Nazi atrocities, including the Holocaust itself? The motives, or excuses, for his anodyne statements (he avoided direct public mention of Jews, Nazis and Hitler) can only be surmised. Official papers relating to his pontificate are still under lock and key – though Pope Francis may allow them to be scrutinized soon. As far as we know, Pius left no private journal. He neither sought nor took advice. There was no intimate friend. He ate alone throughout his pontificate, and his daily walk in the Vatican gardens was ever solitary. After the war, he neither explained his omissions publicly, nor apologized.
Studies of Pius XII tend to focus on the war years, as if he had no life before the start of his reign. But now come two new biographies by North American ecclesiastical historians – Robert A. Ventresca and Frank J. Coppa – who have broadened their account of his story to include the pre-papal period in the 1920s and 30s. Benefiting from the recent release of diplomatic papers covering the pontificate of Pius XI (1922–39), their studies reveal Pacelli to be no Nazi sympathizer, and yet the consequences of his policies, endorsed by the Holy See, arguably expedited Hitler’s plans at an early stage. According to both Coppa and Ventresca, the key to understanding Pacelli was his legal mindset and the diplomatic course established by the Holy See through the first third of the century.
By Hubert Prolongeau, Télérama, January 26, 2012
Every year more than a million people visit Auschwitz. In the run-up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the liberation of the camp on 27 January, Télérama wonders: Is this mass tourism not to some extent a profanation of memory?
“Maybe a package tour would be more convenient . . ."
"You’re right, it would take less time.” They are a couple in their fifties with an attentive way of speaking to each other. Stopping over in Cracow in the course of their holiday, they do not want to miss out on the one item that is at the top of the region’s to do list: a visit to Auschwitz, which is 60 kilometres from the city.
The employee at the tourist office politely provides the required information. Every year he sees thousands of couples like this: people with only three days to visit the region who want to see “the camp.” Today Auschwitz has more visitors than the splendid city of Cracow, for which it has almost become the leading attraction.
Tourists travelling to the city face a constant hail of solicitations: even at the airport, the taxi drivers offer to take you directly to the camp. Tour operators propose day trips: a total of three hours on the bus, and two hours at the site for an all-in fee of 100 zlotys, the equivalent of 20 euros. “Auschwitz is the tour that is most in demand, especially from foreigners,” says Tomas Stanek, the manager of Cracow City Tours. Last year, 1.3 million people visited the camp.
It is a well-oiled machine: one of the agency’s staff picks you up from your hotel and drives you to Szczepanski Square, where the mini-buses leave for the site. Before you get to Oswiecim, you start seeing signs for “Muzeum Auschwitz,” a term that is as carefully neutral as possible. The buses park in a pay-in carpark, where there are toilets, also pay-in, and money changing machines. The pictograms tell you that dogs, swimwear, smoking, eating, and pushchairs – a rule that a lot of young parents choose to ignore – are banned at the site.
“There are too many people for us to feel anything”
By Juliette Cerf, Télérama, December 30, 2011
Literature, philosophy, science: today, our tools for understanding the world are developing separately, regrets the renowned intellectual and humanist. However, culture remains a saving grace, particularly in Europe.
Nietzsche, Heraclitus and Dante are the heroes of his new book, The Poetry of Thought, but for the moment they can wait. George Steiner welcomes us into his house in Cambridge with a whimsical anecdote delivered over coffee and panettone: when the Eurostar was launched, he offered a shilling to the first child to see a fish in the Channel Tunnel.
“The parents were appalled,” remarks the professor of comparative literature. This mixture of facetiousness and erudition, intelligence and kindness is typical of George Steiner. Born in Paris in 1929 to Viennese and Czech parents, who foresaw the horrors of Nazism, at an early age the future polymath and polyglot was encouraged to decipher Homer and Cicero by his father, a Jewish intellectual with a passion for art and music, who wanted to awaken his son’s interior professor.
In 1940, the family sailed for New York on the last boat to leave Genoa. After studies in Chicago and later at Oxford, Steiner moved to London to join the editorial staff of The Economist. He once again traversed the Atlantic to interview the inventor of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer, who urged him to come and work at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.
By Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post, June 5, 2013
In February 1972, Richard Nixon went to China and restored Sino-U.S. relations that had been broken for 23 years. During that visit, Nixon held a series of critical meetings with China’s premier, Zhou Enlai, and they discussed the broad strategic framework that would guide bilateral relations. President Obama’s meetings with President Xi Jinping this weekend have the potential to be a similarly historic summit — but with an important caveat.
China has always played a weak hand brilliantly. When Mao Zedong and Zhou met with Nixon and Henry Kissinger, China was in the midst of economic, political and cultural chaos. Its per capita gross domestic product had fallen below that of Uganda and Sierra Leone. Yet Beijing negotiated as if from commanding heights. Today, it has tremendous assets — but it is not the world’s other superpower, and we should not treat it as such.
By Jay Winter, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 3, 2013
Raphael Lemkin’s single-minded dedication led to the adoption of the Genocide Convention in 1948. Most of his family had been killed in the Holocaust.
Raphael Lemkin helped make genocide illegal. So why haven't you heard of him?
When did the Second World War end? In the absence of a formal peace treaty in 1945, we celebrate on the dates of military surrender—V-E Day (May 8), or V-J Day (August 15). But in a sense, it would be better to see December 9-10, 1948, as when the war came to an end. It was then that the United Nations, sitting in plenary session in Paris, voted for two major advances in international law, which together said to the world: "Never again." The last joint operation of the war against the Axis powers was to establish a human-rights regime to affirm everything the Nazis tried to destroy.
A BBC Interview with Paul Lukacs about his new book Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures.
By Eric Asimov, New York Times, January 31, 2013
Wine is old, ancient, neolithic. It has been consumed throughout recorded history. Yet wine as we know it today is relatively new. Where it originated, what it tasted like and represented, and how it was transformed over time are explored in Paul Lukacs’s fascinating new book, “Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures,” published in December by W. W. Norton & Company.
One thing is clear from Mr. Lukacs’s work: most wine for much of history was vile, nasty stuff. If an ancient critic had etched a tasting note to describe the wine that most people drank, it might have read, “Wretched, horrible, vinegary, foul.” Yet people drank it anyway, because they had no choice. Other beverages like water and milk were disease ridden. Wine might have tasted awful, but alcohol was a built-in disinfectant.
France 24, April 23, 2013
Since the spring of 2011 and the wave of Arab revolutions, scholar Gilles Kepel has made several trips to the Middle East. He witnessed disappointment among young people and met members of civil society and Islamists. His travel diary has just been published in France. In this (English) interview on French television he discusses the current challenges facing Arab countries.
Professor Kepel teaches Political Science at the Institut d'études politiques de Paris (Paris Institute of Political Studies) and is a leading authority on the Arab and Islamic worlds.
By Donald Kagan, The New Criterion, June 2013
Upon his retirement from Yale, Donald Kagan considers the future of liberal education in this farewell speech.
Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University and recipient of the National Humanities Medal (2002), retired in May. In forty-four years at the University, Professor Kagan has served in such varied capacities as Dean of Yale College, Master of Timothy Dwight College, and Director of Athletics. He has been a prolific author as well as a celebrated teacher; his four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War is widely considered to be among the twentieth century’s greatest works of classical scholarship. The following essay on liberal education is a revised version of the valedictory lecture he delivered on April 25 to a capacity audience in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, New Haven, Connecticut.
My subject is liberal education, and today more than ever the term requires definition, especially as to the questions: What is a liberal education and what it is for? From Cicero’s artes liberales, to the attempts at common curricula in more recent times, to the chaotic cafeteria that passes for a curriculum in most American universities today, the concept has suffered from vagueness, confusion, and contradiction. From the beginning, the champions of a liberal education have thought of it as seeking at least four kinds of goals. One was as an end in itself, or at least as a way of achieving that contemplative life that Aristotle thought was the greatest happiness. Knowledge and the acts of acquiring and considering it were the ends of this education and good in themselves. A second was as a means of shaping the character, the style, the taste of a person—to make him good and better able to fit in well with and take his place in the society of others like him. A third was to prepare him for a useful career in the world, one appropriate to his status as a free man. For Cicero and Quintilian, this meant a career as an orator that would allow a man to protect the private interests of himself and his friends in the law courts and to advance the public interest in the assemblies, senate, and magistracies. The fourth was to contribute to the individual citizen’s freedom in ancient society. Servants were ignorant and parochial, so free men must be learned and cosmopolitan; servants were ruled by others, so free men must take part in their own government; servants specialized to become competent at some specific and limited task, so free men must know something of everything and understand general principles without yielding to the narrowness of expertise. The Romans’ recommended course of study was literature, history, philosophy, and rhetoric.
It was once common to think of the medieval university as very different, as a place that focused on learning for its own sake. But the medieval universities, whatever their commitment to learning for its own sake, were institutions that trained their students for professional careers. Graduates in the liberal arts were awarded a certificate that was a license to teach others what they had learned and to make a living that way. For some, the study of liberal arts was preliminary to professional study in medicine, theology, or law and was part of the road to important positions in church and state.
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