Ted Widmer

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A caricature of Woodrow Wilson in Punch magazine, May 1919. Credit Getty Images

As 1919 came to a close, people around the world were celebrating the holidays, grateful for the return of peace on earth after the convulsions of the Great War. “Peace on earth” was a relative concept; there was still fighting in Russia. But for the most part, the soldiers were home, and their families were looking forward to a new decade, free of conflict.

In Paris, there were long lines outside of restaurants, as the French celebrated the holiday with gastronomic exuberance. In Berlin, Vienna and Budapest there was less Christmas cheer, thanks to food shortages and inflation, but the people flocked to cafes and did their best to revive the old holiday traditions.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Woodrow Wilson, in Paris for the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. Credit Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 28, 1919, dawned as a beautiful day; fair, with moderate winds, according to The New York Times. It was a perfect day to see a baseball game, and 28,000 did, going to the Polo Grounds to watch the Yankees and Red Sox split a doubleheader. New Yorkers could only envy the Red Sox, who had won the last World Series, and seemed poised to win many more, since they boasted “the mighty Babe Ruth, Boston’s swatting all-around player.”

It was hard to believe on this sunny day, but it had been precisely five years since World War I began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soldiers of the Army's 369th Infantry Regiment, called the Harlem Hellfighters, who received the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action in World War I. From left, front row: Pvt. Ed Williams, Pvt. Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back row: Sgt. H.D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Storms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, Cpl. T.W. Taylor. Credit Photo12/UIG, via Getty Images

In his essay “The Crack-Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

On New Year’s Day 1919, the headlines in The New York Times gave a hint of how difficult that would be for Americans, struggling to live up to the shimmering promises they had made to the world during the Great War, which had ended just over a month before.

Poles, newly independent but already threatened by their neighbors, were calling on Americans to protect them.…  Seguir leyendo »

The first color image of the earth, taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968. Credit NASA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled,” Frank Borman said, joking to his fellow Apollo 8 astronauts, Bill Anders and James Lovell, on Dec. 24, 1968. They were orbiting the moon, farther from Earth than any humans had ever been. On the fourth pass, they were confronted by an extraordinary sight that jolted them out of their regimented procedures. There, seen through a small window, was Earth itself, rising out of the void.

For a split second, the astronauts were dazzled by the luminescent blue sphere, whorled by a white cloud cover. Then, as they were trained to do, they went back to work.…  Seguir leyendo »

Celebrating the end of World War I in London. Credit Universal History Archive/UIG, via Getty Images

On Nov. 11, 1918, a delegation of German representatives, not entirely sure that they represented their crumbling government, made their way through the forest of Compiègne toward a group of Allied officers. There, inside railroad car 2419D, they signed the armistice that brought World War I to a close.

It was the moment the entire world had longed for ever since lurching into war four years earlier. Both sides promised a quick victory before settling into a ghastly stalemate. Political leaders gave grandiloquent speeches about the purpose of the war. The young men in the trenches grew numb to their bombast.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tommie Smith, al centro, y John Carlos, a la derecha, después de ganar el oro y el bronce en la carrera de 200 metros en las Olimpiadas de 1968 en Ciudad de México CreditAssociated Press

Unas horas antes, no había certeza alguna de que Tommie Smith y John Carlos fueran a aparecer en el podio de las medallas. Smith, el favorito para ganar el oro en los 200 metros en los Juegos Olímpicos de 1968 en Ciudad de México, se esguinzó el músculo abductor en su eliminatoria y no estaba seguro de poder correr a toda velocidad. Carlos, su amigo y compatriota estadounidense, estuvo cerca de ser descalificado por abandonar su carril en la eliminatoria. Sin embargo, el juez no se dio cuenta y logró pasar a la final. Cuando llegó la final, fue la carrera de sus vidas.…  Seguir leyendo »

On June 12, 1987, the cold war entered a terminal phase, in ways that few could have anticipated, and in fact, almost no one did — with the exception of a president down on his legendary luck.

If in 1984 Ronald Reagan had proclaimed that it was “morning again in America,” three years later the evening was coming fast for a presidency that had spent most of its energy. The Iran-contra scandal had damaged him, and in March 1987 only 42 percent of Americans approved of the job he was doing. Reagan’s diary reveals a president losing focus, with entries registering more enthusiasm for old videos than the crushing business of state.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dominique Moïsi argued on these pages on Sept. 8 (An infamy in history) that the significance of 9/11 lies not in what many observers see as an opening salvo in a “clash of civilizations,” but rather in the fact that the attacks accelerated the end of the American Century. Ted Widmer, a historian who directs the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, joins the debate.

It was irresistible, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, to draw large historical conclusions about the demise of the United States, and to express regrets over paths not taken. And so a mighty wind blew across the media landscape, lamenting “the lost decade,” as Dominique Moïsi called it in his column.…  Seguir leyendo »

According to the film “National Treasure,” the Declaration of Independence is a document of such far-seeing sagacity that it has secret codes and treasure maps hidden in the parchment. You just have to know how to look for them. But that poses the question: which document, precisely, is the Declaration of Independence?

Most of us would answer that it’s the manuscript written on vellum, dated July 4, 1776, now displayed in a baroque case at the National Archives, where it is protected by bulletproof glass, argon gas and the 55-ton underground vault it is lowered into every night. But like everything connected to the Declaration, the situation is complicated, for that document was not written on July 4; it was a handwritten copy that Congress ordered later that summer and post-dated.…  Seguir leyendo »