History’s Largest Lessons

A historian of the ancient world believes that in every era humankind has reacted to the demands of waging war in surprisingly similar ways, and that to protect our national interests today Americans must understand the choices soldiers and statesmen made hundreds and even thousands of years ago

In a time when the usefulness of the past as a means to comprehend the present remains the object of skepticism, if not outright attack, inside the academy, Donald Kagan, the former dean of Yale College and a professor of ancient history, has published a book about the necessity of historical analogy for understanding a nation’s security interests. Read more »

The Last Powder Monkey

A TALE OF PERIL, COURAGE, and gross ingratitude on the old China station

 

In the age of sail every fighting ship had its complement of powder monkeys, boys in their early teens or even younger whose duty was to carry bags of gunpowder from the ship’s magazines to her cannon in time of battle. The Navy used powder monkeys for decades, but they disappeared long before the war with Spain, displaced by advances in ordnance and humanitarian objections to exposing children to combat. Read more »

Homer Lea & The Decline Of The West

Early in the century a young American accurately predicted Japan’s imperialism and China’s and Russia’s rise. Then he set out to become China’s soldier leader.

In October 1941 Clare Boothe Luce, the playwright, journalist, politician, and wife of the magazine tycoon Henry Luce, had dinner with half a dozen army officers in their quarters on top of an ancient Spanish fort beside the harbor of Manila. The main topic of conversation was the threat of war with Japan. Everyone assumed that if hostilities began, the Philippines would be target No. 1 of the Japanese war machine. Read more »

Lets Eat Chinese Tonight

Americans have been doing just that since the days of the California gold rush—and we’re still not full

A photograph taken in New York’s Chinatown in 1933 seems to sum up the special place of Chinese restaurants in American culture. The windows of a storefront are hung with Chinese characters, but there is also a large vertical sign, edged in neon, that proudly proclaims CHOP SUEY. REAL CHINESE CUISINE. Although chop suey is no more Chinese than succotash, it is this mix of the exotic and the familiar that has made the Chinese restaurant a ubiquitous national fixture. Read more »

The Toughest Flying In The World

These World War II airmen had one of the most dangerous missions of all, piloting unarmed cargo planes over the Hump—the high and treacherous Himalayas

Cookie Byrd is punching my card. We’ve just met in the convention center at Harrah’s, in Reno. Cookie is the official chaplain of the Hump Pilots Association, and he hands out plastic “chaplain’s cards” at all the association’s reunions, to remind the guys of World War Il days, flew the Hump. “Hump” is GI understatement: the Hump was the Himalayas, and they flew over them to supply Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist Army by air from India after the Japanese occupied eastern China and southeast Asia early in the war.Read more »

“A Fair, Honorable, And Legitimate Trade”

The opium trade is remembered as a British outrage: English merchants, protected by English bayonets, turning China into a nation of addicts. But Americans got rich from this traffic—among them, a young man named Warren Delano. He didn’t talk about it afterward, of course. And neither did his grandson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Edward Delano arrived at Macao off the South China coast aboard the American vessel Oneida on December 7, 1840. His initial impression of the tiny Portuguese colony was reassuring. A crescent of handsome whitewashed houses with a half-dozen church spires scattered among them, clinging to a green hillside, it reminded Massachusetts boys like Ned of the fishing village of Nahant. Read more »

Getting To Know Us

After a year at the University of Missouri boning up on American history, a Chinese professor tells what she discovered about us and how she imparts her new knowledge to the folks back home in the People’s Republic.

In my mind, my life has been very uneventful. But to other people, it seems that I should have nothing more to wish for: my husband and I both work at Lanzhou University in northcentral China, where my husband is a professor of Russian history and I teach the history of the world’s Middle Ages as well as ancient Chinese history. At the university, we are considered to have a good future. Besides this, I have two adorable children. It seemed that I should be content because life had blessed me with so much.Read more »

Opening China

Once again, Americans are learning the delicate art of trading with the biggest market on earth. Here’s how they did it the first time.

As American merchant ships call again at the China coast, they are following in the ghostly wake of a sailing ship of 360 tons burden which arrived at Whampoa Reach, the anchorage for Canton, on August 28, 1784—188 days out of New York. She proudly fired a “federal salute” of thirteen guns and was saluted in return by the other foreign vessels already anchored there.Read more »

Winter Of The Yalu

A soldier remembers the freezing, fearful retreat down the Korean Peninsula after the Chinese armies smashed across the border

THERE ARE places on this globe to which history can point and say of a people, a nation, or an empire: “This was their high-water mark. Thus far they went and no farther.” The three legions that reached the Elbe in A.D. 9 only to be destroyed in the Teutoburg Forest were at such a point, for no Roman in arms ever saw the Elbe again. Both the Mongols and the Turks saw the walls of Vienna but never passed them. The British took Kabul more than once, but that was their outermost limit.Read more »

A Cycle Of Cathay

President Nixon’s visit to Peking starts one more surprising turn in an American-Chinese “affair” nearly two centuries old

Richard Nixon’s twenty-thousand-mile pilgrimage to the center of Chinese civilization—“the week that changed the world,” as he put it—may not actually have changed the world, though it quite probably did turn a new page in world history by making it unlikely that the international politics of East Asia, at least, will ever be the same again. Read more »