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Monday, 14 April 2014

Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy.

I have been a historian for over forty years. I have always been interested in subjects where there is a shortage of evidence. That there is a certain amount of mystery involved. Probably the first research I ever did was into the lives of working people in Britain at the end of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century. I was drawn to this subject because we knew very little about the way this group saw the world. Most of them were unable to read and write and have left only a small amount of documentary evidence.

During my research I read a book that I found disturbing. The book was by the historian, E. H. Carr. In What Is History? (1961) Carr addresses the problem of the politically motivated historian. He points out that the historian is likely to only write about subjects he/she cares about. In the words of another historian, W. H. B. Court: "History free of all values cannot be written. Indeed, it is a concept almost impossible to understand, for men will scarcely take the trouble to inquire laboriously into something which they set no value upon."

Carr argues that the historian starts off with a theory that needs to be tested by the evidence. The theory will reflect the political views of the historian. Carr makes the important point about the nature of the facts that the historian uses: "The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger's slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation." 

For the rest of the article see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/spartacus-blogURL26.html

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States.

In 1932 Theodore Maly, a NKVD agent, arrived in London. Two years later he was joined by Arnold Deutsch. Senior MI5 agent, Peter Wright, pointed out that Maly and Deutsch were part of a team of agents based in Europe that included Alexander Orlov, Ignaz Reiss, Richard Sorge, Walter Krivitsky and Leopard Trepper, who were committed to the idea of world revolution: "They were often not Russians at all, although they held Russian citizenship. They were Trotskyist Communists who believed in international Communism and the Comintern. They worked undercover, often at great personal risk, and traveled throughout the world in search of potential recruits. They were the best recruiters and controllers the Russian Intelligence Service ever had. They all knew each other, and between them they recruited and built high-grade spy rings."

The first spy recruited was Kim Philby. Deutsch reported back to his superiors in Moscow that Philby was an excellent agent. "His father... is an ambitious tyrant and wanted to make a great man out of his son. He repressed all his son's desires. That is why he is a very timid and irresolute person. He has a bit of a stammer and this increases his diffidence... However, he handles our money very carefully. He enjoys great love and respect for his seriousness and honesty. He was ready, without questioning, to do anything for us and has shown all his seriousness and diligence working for us."

The main objective of this conspiracy was to recruit people who had the potential to reach positions of power in politics or the intelligence services. Arnold Deutsch asked Philby to recommended some of his Cambridge University contemporaries as potential agents. Philby suggested Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess. By the end of 1934, with Philby's help, Deutsch had recruited both of them, telling them, like he had with Philby, to distance themselves from communist friends. Philby and Burgess actually joined right-wing political organizations such Anglo-German Fellowship. Deutsch and Maly knew that is was in these organizations where British intelligence recruited agents. Deutsch later recruited Anthony Blunt.

The rest of the article can be read here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/spartacus-blogURL25.html

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin

A lot of energy is used by researchers to persuade the authorities to release classified documents concerning the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Is it possible that the CIA and the FBI hold documents that will provide evidence that will reveal the real killers of Kennedy? If they had existed, which I think is unlikely, would they not have been destroyed? 

I have recently been investigating a case where the British, French and American intelligence agencies joined together in a conspiracy to assassinate Lenin in August 1918. It is nearly 100 years ago that this event took place and although we know virtually the whole story now, it is not because of the release of official documents. 

In 1993 Gordon Brook-Shepherd decided that he would investigate the case. The former intelligence officer worked as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph and was in a good position to discover what had happened as he was trusted by the British establishment. After all, all the people concerned were long dead and the basic outline of the conspiracy had been revealed in 1931 when the wife of one of the agents involved in the conspiracy published an account based on the diaries of her husband, Sidney Reilly, who had been executed in 1925 by the Russian Secret Police (Cheka) for his part in the assassination attempt. In the next couple of years, two other British agents involved in the plot, Robert Bruce Lockhart and George Alexander Hill, published their accounts of the conspiracy. However, the British government refused to release MI6 files that would have confirmed the story. 

Brook-Shepherd had a meeting with an unnamed government minister, who had been a close friend for many years. He later recalled that "over several lengthy sessions, I was briefed on everything that had survived in our closed archives on the subject I was dealing with". Eventually he was allowed to see the official documents held by the British intelligence services. He became suspicious when he could not find one reference to Ernest Boyce, the MI6 station chief in Moscow in the summer of 1918 when the conspiracy took place. Brook-Shepherd writes about finding a file headed "Anti-Bolshevik Activities in Russia" but when opened he found it to be completely empty. He eventually reached the conclusion that every document relating to the assassination plot had been destroyed.

For the rest of this post see: 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Winston Churchill and Chemical Warfare

In April 1915 the German Army used chlorine gas cylinders against the French Army at Ypres. Chlorine gas destroyed the respiratory organs of its victims and this led to a slow death by asphyxiation. General William Robertson recommended Brigadier General Charles Howard Foulkes to General John French as the best man to organise the retaliation. Foulkes accepted the post and on 25th September, 1915, the British Army launched its first gas attack.

Brigadier General Foulkes eventually received the title of General Officer Commanding the Special Brigade responsible for Chemical Warfare and Director of Gas Services. He worked closely with scientists working at the governmental laboratories at Porton Down near Salisbury. His biographer, John Bourne, has argued: "Despite Foulkes' energy, the ingenuity of his men and the consumption of expensive resources, gas was ultimately disappointing as a weapon, despite its terrifying reputation." 

In July 1917, David Lloyd George appointed Winston Churchill as Minister of Munitions and for the rest of the war, he was in charge of the production of tanks, aeroplanes, guns and shells. Clive Ponting, the author of Churchill (1994) has argued: "The technology in which Churchill placed greatest faith though was chemical warfare, which had first been used by the Germans in 1915. It was at this time that Churchill developed what was to prove a life-long enthusiasm for the widespread use of this form of warfare."

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRchurchill.htm 

For the rest of the posting see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/spartacus-blog.html

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Pete Seeger and the Media

Pete Seeger received some very complimentary obituaries in the American press this week. They only briefly mentioned his blacklisting and definitely did not say anything about their role in the destruction of his career in the early 1950s. 

Seeger's parents encouraged him to question authority at an early age. His father, Charles Louis Seeger, was a musicologist who taught at Berkeley University, lost his job when he opposed United States involvement in the First World War. Seeger told his dean that Germany and England were both imperialist powers, and as far as he was concerned, they could fight each other to a stalemate. 

Seeger's first concert performance was on 3rd March 1940. It was a benefit for California migrant workers. Other singers on the show included Josh White, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, Molly Jackson and Huddie Leadbelly. Six moths later joined together with Guthrie, Lee Hayes, Pete Hawes and Millard Lampell to form the Almanac Singers. They specialized in songs advocating an anti-war, anti-racism and pro-union philosophy. Not the sort of material that was liked by the mainstream press. 

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAseeger.htm 


For the rest of the article see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/spartacus-blog.html


Friday, 17 January 2014

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom?

In an article on the teaching of the First World War in The Daily Mail on 2nd January, 2014, Michael Gove wrote: “Our understanding of the war has been overlaid by misunderstandings, and misrepresentations which reflect an, at best, ambiguous attitude to this country and, at worst, an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage. The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.”


Gove then goes on to argue: "The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was also plainly a just war. The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.”

The Education Secretary says it is time to listen to historians such as Margaret Macmillan who has “demonstrated how those who fought were not dupes but conscious believers in king and country, committed to defending the western liberal order”.

Gove then goes on to attack Professor Sir Richard Evans, the Cambridge historian by claiming that he has argued that “the men who enlisted in 1914 may have thought they were fighting for civilisation, for a better world, a war to end all wars, a war to defend freedom: they were wrong”. Just to make sure that The Daily Mail readers will support his argument about Evans, he points out that he also writes for The Guardian

For the rest of the article see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/spartacus-blog.html

Monday, 6 January 2014

Solomon Northup, Wikipedia and the 12 Years a Slave film.

In an article in yesterday's Guardian, the British director, Steve McQueen, of Oscar-tipped drama 12 Years a Slave, criticised Hollywood for a historical paucity of movies on slavery. The film is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup. McQueen argues the industry has largely ignored the subject of slavery. The article quotes an interview given by McQueen to Sky News: "The second world war lasted five years and there are hundreds and hundreds of films about the second world war and the Holocaust. Slavery lasted 400 years and there are less than 20 films. We have to redress that balance and look at that time in history."

The same is true of websites in the USA. Do a search at Google for "Solomon Northup" and see what you get. At the top you will get his Wikipedia entry. In its early days Google attempted to give you the best page at the top of its searches. With its reliance of "domain authority"the situation has changed. If Wikipedia has produced a page on a subject, it will appear at the top of any search. Google has a domain authority of 100. Whereas the Guardian has a score of only 96 (American newspapers are rated higher as this is Google's plan to allow its country to dominate mass communications). Even our top universities like Cambridge and Oxford only have domain authority ratings of 94. 

The Wikipedia entry is fairly detailed account of his life (this has been increased dramatically since the release of 12 Years a Slave). My problem with the entry for Solomon Northup is that it makes no attempt to capture what it was like to a slave in the United States. There is no excuse for this as Northup produced a magnificent memoir of his experiences.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASnorthup.htm

For the rest of the article see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/spartacus-blog.html