Current Events in Historical Context

Writing the Cold War Back In: How History Influences Chinese Foreign Policy

By Gregg A. Brazinsky

As Sino-American relations have emerged as a critical foreign policy issue in the Trump administration, public discourse has been awash with many all too familiar and ill-informed narratives about China and its global objectives. Often, these narratives are derived from overly simplistic views of how China’s past affects the present. Policymakers and journalists have been obsessed with the idea that the People’s Republic of China is trying to reconstruct the “tributary system” or “Sinocentric order” that governed its relations with its neighbors before the 19th century.

Mexican Migration History in the Era of Border Walls

By Julia G. Young

In March 2015, I submitted the final page proofs for my book on Mexican migration to the United States. In June of that same year, Donald Trump gave his now-infamous speech in which he called Mexican immigrants drug dealers, rapists, and criminals. We all know what has happened since then: a nativist presidential campaign, a rhetorical battle with Mexico over the border wall, an upset election, and a growing number of deportations. 

#SayHerName: The LA Uprising, 25 Years Later

By Brenda E. Stevenson

“No justice, no peace!” was the anthem of the day in late April 1992 in Los Angeles as local blacks, Latinos/as, and even a sprinkling of Asian Americans and whites joined in the five day “rebellion” that purportedly underscored the injustice of the verdict in the Rodney King police brutality trial. It ended with a devastating toll of losses—54 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries, 3,600 fires, 1,100 buildings destroyed, 4,500 businesses looted, more than 12,000 arrested, and $1 billion in damage.

US-China Diplomacy: Historical Perspectives on Challenges Confronting the People’s Republic

As Donald Trump and Xi Jinping prepared for what Trump has warned will be a “very difficult” meeting at his Florida resort, several leading historians of modern China gave a richly informative briefing on March 27 at the Capitol about the underlying issues that shape the Chinese government’s engagement with the United States and the world. Sponsored by the National History Center, the purpose of the briefing was to give historical context to current tensions between the United States and China, with a particular focus on Chinese aims and anxieties. 

Memory and Peace in Colombia

By Joshua M. Rosenthal

Colombia has maintained a reputation as a country of forgetting since the world fell in love with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Since then, others have added to the tradition. In the recently translated Reputations, the novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez updates the idea, “Forgetfulness was the only democratic thing in Colombia: It covered them all, the good and the bad, the murderers and the heroes, like the snow in the James Joyce story, falling upon all of them alike.” Nor are such assertions confined to literature.

“Boots on the Ground”: US Soldiers and the Strains of Overseas Deployment

By Susan L. Carruthers

On January 16, 2017, the New York Times printed an arresting image of US Marines arriving in Norway, the first foreign troops to be deployed on Norwegian soil since 1945. The accompanying text focused on Norwegians’ anxieties about what this deployment, announced as an opportunity for the Marines to “hone their abilities to fight in tough winter conditions,” might portend in geopolitical terms. Like any display of “alertness,” this show of preparedness risks aggravating tensions rather than alleviating them.

The Paradoxes of Presidential Power: A Brief History of Executive Orders

We’ve all seen the photo ops over the past few weeks: President Donald J. Trump sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, signing executive orders with a flourish, then proudly displaying his handiwork to the cameras. This flurry of controversial orders has given new attention to an old presidential practice. Earlier this month, the National History Center sponsored a briefing on Capitol Hill that examined the history of executive orders (EOs). Three leading authorities on the subject traced the evolution and exercise of this presidential power, placing the present moment in a context that offered both reassurance and concern.

February 27, 2017

Reliving Injustice 75 Years Later: Executive Order 9066 Then and Now

By Karen Inouye

In February 1942, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which directed state and local authorities to locate and detain Japanese American citizens and their family members in the western United States at a number of prison sites. In addition to being given only days to prepare for their imprisonment, Japanese Americans received little information about their destinations, the proposed length of their stay, or the conditions they would endure.

February 17, 2017