Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pope Pius XII Beatification

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - – Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday moved controversial wartime pontiff Pius XII closer to sainthood by declaring him "venerable", bestowing the same honour on beloved predecessor John Paul II.

The beatification process of Pius XII has been a source of tension with Jewish groups due to the view among many historians that he remained passive while Nazi Germany killed millions of Jews.

The decree was unexpected on a day when Benedict also paved the way for the beatification of John Paul II's Polish compatriot Jerzy Popieluszko, the "Solidarity chaplain" who was murdered by Poland's secret service in 1984.

Announcing the three milestones simultaneously reflects a damage control strategy by the Vatican since Pius XII's progress towards sainthood is "sure to create problems with Jews," said Vatican expert John Allen.

"There is a kind of strategy of taking the sting out of it by bundling it with a pope who is very popular like John Paul II," he told AFP.

The move came as no surprise, since Benedict -- who was himself at the centre of a controversy over his past membership of the Hitler Youth -- "has publicly defended Pius XII at least three times," Allen added.

The Vatican has argued that Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, saved many Jews by having them hidden in religious institutions in Rome and abroad and that his silence was born out of a wish to avoid aggravating their situation.

Meanwhile, John Paul II's sainthood dossier has been criticised as a "fast-track" campaign to answer the prayers of millions who adored the Polish pope, who headed the Roman Catholic Church for nearly three decades.

Benedict launched the lengthy process -- which can take decades if not centuries -- just two months after the death in 2005 of John Paul II, whose funeral was marked by calls of "Santo Subito" (Saint Now).

The final stage for beatification is providing evidence of a miracle, usually a medical cure with no scientific explanation which is reviewed by several commissions.

In John Paul II's case, the miracle under consideration -- and subject to another papal decree -- involves a French nun who was cured of Parkinson's disease in 2005.

Vatican watchers expect Benedict to approve the beatification, which could be celebrated next year, either on the April 2 anniversary of John Paul II's death or in October on the anniversary of the start of his papacy in 1978.

Popieluszko's beatification dossier does not require evidence of a miracle because he is considered a martyr.

Thieves steal infamous Auschwitz death camp sign

Thieves steal infamous Auschwitz death camp sign

WARSAW (AFP) - – Thieves on Friday stole the infamous Nazi German "Arbeit macht frei" sign from the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, police said, an act that sparked widespread outrage.

The sign, which means "Work Will Set You Free" in German, has become a symbol of the horror of the camp where about 1.1 million mainly Jewish prisoners died during World War II, most in the notorious gas chambers.

Police said the theft may have been ordered by a private collector or a group of individuals.

"A worldwide symbol of the cynicism of Hitler's executioners and the martyrdom of their victims has been stolen. This act deserves the strongest possible condemnation," Polish President Lech Kaczynski said in a statement.

His Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres expressed "the deepest shock of Israel's citizens and the Jewish community across the world".

"The sign holds deep historical meaning for both Jews and non-Jews alike as a symbol of the more than one million lives that perished at Auschwitz," Peres was quoted as saying by his office.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt told AFP that thieves carried out an expert operation to take the metal sign just before dawn on Friday.

"It's a profanation of the place where more than a million people were murdered. It's shameful," he said.

Camp survivors also decried the theft.

"In taking this historic symbol, the perpetrators wanted to destroy history and committed this perverse act in order to revive Nazism," said Raphael Esrail, 84, president of the Union of Auschwitz Deportees in France.

The five-metre (16-foot) long sign was forged by prisoners on the orders of the Nazis, who set up the camp after invading Poland in 1939. It was not hard to unhook from above the entrance gate "but you needed to know how," Mensfelt said.

A police dog team was tracking the thieves while detectives combed through video surveillance footage from the site and neighbouring areas, and other officers set up roadblocks.

Mensfelt said it was the first serious case of theft at Auschwitz, located on the outskirts of the southern town of Oswiecim, which was annexed and renamed by Germany during World War II. The site has been a Polish state-run museum and memorial since the war ended in 1945.

"All leads are being considered, but we are focusing on a theft ordered by a private collector or a group of individuals," Oswiecim police spokeswoman Malgorzata Jurecka told AFP.

Police offered a 5,000-zloty (1,200-euro/1,700-dollar) reward for information leading to the recovery of the sign or the arrest of the thieves.

Kaczynski urged the public to help. "It's our collective duty to return it to its rightful place from which it has been ripped by force," he said.

Meanwhile, museum staff placed a replica sign above the gate.

Nazi Germany initially created the camp for Polish resistance fighters in an army barracks in 1940.

Auschwitz was later expanded into a vast complex, after the Nazis razed the nearby village of Brzezinka -- Birkenau in German.

About 1.1 million people perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau -- one million of them Jews from Poland and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe -- some from overwork, starvation and disease, but mostly in the gas chambers.

It was one of six death camps set up in Poland by the Germans, who murdered six million Jews during the war.

Some of the other death camps had the same sign, erected in a cynical ploy to maintain the illusion that they were labour camps.

Auschwitz-Birkenau's other victims included non-Jewish Poles, Soviet and other Allied prisoners of war, Roma and anti-Nazi resistance members from across Europe.

It was liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945.

The theft came a day after Germany donated 60 million euros (88 million dollars) to a global fund to preserve the site.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum said the money represented half the total it needs to ensure the site's future as a permanent memorial to Nazi victims. About 4-5 million euros are needed each year to maintain it.

Father Jerzy Popieluszko - Solidarity Chaplain

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - – Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday approved the beatification of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the "Solidarity chaplain" who was murdered by the Polish secret service in 1984.

The decree placed the charismatic priest, a staunch anti-communist who laced his sermons with political messages backing the Solidarity trade union movement of future president Lech Walesa, a step away from sainthood.

Three Polish secret service officers abducted Father Popieluszko in October 1984 after he celebrated his last mass in Bydgoszcz, central Poland.

They tortured him to death and then threw his body into the River Vistula, some 120 kilometres (70 miles) north of Warsaw.

Identified thanks to the priest's chauffeur, the three were jailed for between 14 and 25 years.

In October, Popieluszko's mother accepted Poland's highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle, for her son.

His beatification process began in May 2001, and last year Benedict authorised a speedier procedure.

Because the murdered priest is considered a martyr, Popieluszko's beatification dossier did not require evidence of a miracle.

"Solidarity was alive because Father Popieluszko gave his life," Walesa said at a Rome screening of a documentary on Popieluszko.

"When the state cannot speak, the (Catholic) Church does. Without the symbiosis with the Church, Poland would have been wiped off the face of the earth," Walesa said.

The Nobel Peace laureate also said that he and Popieluszko felt the fact the pope at the time was Polish presented "an opportunity for Poland and other countries to make a break with communism."

Another film on Popieluszko, "To Kill a Priest," was made in 1988 by Polish director Agnieszka Holland starring Christopher Lambert.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

German unification: Thatcher was wrong

German unification: Thatcher was wrong
By Timothy Garton Ash, For The Straits Times

HISTORY has come back to haunt Britain. Just over 20 years ago, the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher told the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: 'Britain and Western Europe are not interested in the unification of Germany. The words written in the Nato communique may sound different, but disregard them. We do not want the unification of Germany.'

She went on to say, inaccurately: 'I can tell you that this is also the position of the US president.'

That's according to the Russian record, made by one of Mr Gorbachev's closest aides. A British note of the conversation, just published in a volume prepared by Foreign Office historians, conveys the same ideas in more elusive Whitehall wording.

This was an act of spectacular disloyalty to a faithful and important Nato ally. It showed a lack of respect for the aspirations of the East Germans, who would soon say clearly that their hopes of freedom - the political value Mrs Thatcher was most closely identified with - would best be realised by unification with an already free German state. And it was very short-sighted.

She was not just expressing her worries in private to a Western ally; she was putting them before the man who had the power to stop German unification. The British note goes on: 'Mr Gorbachev said that he could see what the Prime Minister was driving at. The Soviet Union understood the problem very well and she could be reassured. They did not want German reunification any more than Britain did.'

Things are made no better by the fact that then French president Francois Mitterrand was conveying much the same message to Moscow. Mr Gorbachev's close adviser Anatoly Chernyaev, who made the record of the Thatcher conversation, notes in his diary on Oct 9, 1989, that president Mitterrand's aide Jacques Attali 'talked with us about a revival of a solid Franco-Soviet alliance, including military integration - camouflaged as the use of armies in the struggle against natural disasters'.

At a witness seminar in London last week, organised by the Foreign Office historians, Mr Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister at that time, reacted with magnificent condescension. He was aware of Mrs Thatcher's opposition, he said, but he didn't worry too much about it. He knew that so long as the Germans had the Americans behind them, the Brits would always come round in the end. Which, of course, they did - but not without squandering a heap of goodwill in Germany.

The now published records show that the Foreign Office, from the then Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd down, did repeatedly warn (although not without some mandarin trimming along the way) that Mrs Thatcher's vocal opposition was impolitic, misguided and short-sighted. That is doubtless one reason why the Foreign Office is hurrying to publish the documents now, after just 20 years.

It is particularly interesting for me to read the internal pre-history of what became known as 'the Chequers seminar' in March 1990, attended by six historians of Germany, of whom I was one. Since that famous or infamous event is represented only by a vivid but misleading summary by Mrs Thatcher's then private secretary Charles Powell, it is worth saying again what several other participants have already put on record: the overwhelming message of all the historians present was that the Federal Republic must be trusted and supported in carrying through German unification.

I remember one electrifying moment when the veteran, conservative historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who had been in Germany immediately after the end of World War II, interrogating senior Nazis for his classic account of the Last Days Of Hitler, said to the effect: Prime Minister, if anyone had told us in 1945 that there was a chance of a Germany united in freedom, as a solid member of the West, we could not have believed our luck. And so we should welcome it, not resist it.

Twenty years on, we can see clearly how Trevor-Roper was right and Mrs Thatcher, wrong. None of her nightmares has been realised. United Germany is not lording it over Europe. Even a severe economic recession has not driven German voters to the far right. When Mrs Angela Merkel announces her new government, it will be a moderate liberal-conservative coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats: the very model of a modern centrist democracy. And German unification opened the door to European unification, through the eastward enlargement of the European Union.

Yes, even in this success story of united Germany, there are some causes for concern. A political system originally designed to prevent a reversion to dictatorship has developed almost too many checks and balances, so that necessary reform is difficult. Germany's special relationship with an authoritarian Russia is a European problem.

But there are justified concerns about every major European state - not least, about Britain. Europe used to have sleepless nights over something called 'the German question'. Twenty years on, a bigger worry should be the British question.

It's in Britain that the leader of a far-right, nationalist, xenophobic party, the British National Party, controversially appears on the BBC's Question Time, a mainstream television show. It's Britain that has a discredited parliament, a constitutional mess, the erosion of civil liberties and a chronic identity problem. It's Britain that still can't work out where it belongs in the world, and what kind of country it wants to be.

The writer is professor of European Studies at Oxford University and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.


Twenty years on, we can see clearly how Trevor-Roper was right and Mrs Thatcher wrong. None of her nightmares has been realised. United Germany is not lording it over Europe. Even a severe economic recession has not driven German voters to the far right. When Mrs Angela Merkel announces her new government, it will be a moderate liberal-conservative coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats: the very model of a modern centrist democracy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bactrian Gold

Archaeologist Victor Sarianidi receives highest award of Afghanistan

The prominent Russian archaeologist, Viktor Sarianidi, was honored with the medal of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Ambassador of Afghanistan to Russia, Zalmay Aziz, handed the highest award to the scientist during the celebration of the Independence Day of Afghanistan in Moscow on August 19.

According to information portal "", Zalmay Aziz thanked the legendary archaeologist for the help in exploring the history of Afghanistan and wished him successes in his work to the benefit of the Russian-Afghan relations.

"I am grateful to the great country for high appreciation of my humble work," Victor Sarianidi said in turn.

It should be recalled that in 1978 the Soviet-Afghan expedition under the leadership of Victor Sarianidi found in northern Afghanistan the so-called "gold of Bactria" - about twenty thousand pieces of gold jewelry dated back to 1000 A.C. It is for this discovery that Sarianidi was once named "Shliman of the East". Gold of Afghanistan was exhibited in major museums around the world, and in 2011 the exhibition will come to Russia.

Professor, Doctor of History Victor Sarianidi is heading for over half a century the Turkmen-Russian archeological expedition in Mary province of Turkmenistan where it unearthed a large settlement of Gonur-Depe from the Bronze Age (III-II centuries B.C.), which is presumably an ancient capital of Margush country that scientists believe to be the birthplace of Zoroastrianism and the fifth center of world civilization, along with civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China.

Victor Sarianidi is an honorary citizen of Turkmenistan, Honorary Ambassador of Hellenism, winner of the International Prize of Turkmenistan named after Makhtumkuli and the medal of "Civilian Valor" of Greece, as well as numerous awards and commemorative medals of various universities of the world
Tillya tepe, Tillia tepe or Tillā tapa ( Pashto and Persian: طلا تپه) or (literally "Golden Hill" or "Golden Mound") is an archaeological site in northern Afghanistan near Sheberghan, surveyed in 1979 by a Soviet-Afghan mission of archaeologists led by Victor Sarianidi, a year before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The heavily fortified town of Yemshi-tepe, just five kilometres to the northeast of modern Sheberghan on the road to Akcha, is only half a kilometre from the now-famous necropolis of Tillia-tepe.

The hoard is a collection of about 20,000 gold ornaments that was found in six graves (five women and one man) with extremely rich jewelry, dated to around the 1st century BCE. Altogether several thousand pieces of fine jewelry were recovered, usually made of gold, turquoise and/or lapis-lazuli. The ornaments include coins, necklaces set with gems, belts, medallions and crowns. A new museum in Kabul is being planned where the Bactrian gold will eventually be kept.

Some of the most spectacular finds are presently on display until Sept. 7th, 2008 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. From Oct. 24th, 2008 to Jan. 25th, 2009 the collection will be at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. From there they are due to be displayed from February 22 to May 17, 2009 at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York from June 23 to Sept. 20th, 2009.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize that offer little peace and quiet

At war over Obama's peace prize - ST Oct 11 2009

The gold medallion given to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize does not come with a ribbon, but the award could still end up being a weight around US President Barack Obama's neck.

In much of the avalanche of reactions during the weekend, a key message came through: The award was given too soon, and it now places a greater burden on the 48-year-old President to live up to the high expectations.

Over the weekend, the announcement of Mr Obama's win drew starkly contrasting reactions within the United States and the rest of the world.

It was met with joy in Kenya, which has a special regard for Mr Obama, as he is the son of a Kenyan economist.

Scathing criticism lay at the other extreme. Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters that it was absurd to give a peace award to a man who had sent 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan.

Mr Obama 'should have won the 'Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians',' he said.

Such reactions were likely expected by the five-member Norwegian Nobel committee, which spent seven months winnowing the dossiers on dissident monks, human rights advocates, field surgeons and other nominees - 205 names in all, most of them obscure - before deciding on Mr Obama.

While in recent decades the selection process has produced many winners better known for their suffering or their environmental zeal than for peacemaking, the panel's new chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said the members this year took a more practical approach in their unanimous vote for Mr Obama.

'It's important for the committee to recognise people who are struggling and idealistic,' Mr Jagland said in an interview after the prize was announced, 'but we cannot do that every year. We must from time to time go into the realm of realpolitik.

'It is always a mix of idealism and realpolitik that can change the world.'

The committee is overtly political, as the Swedish dynamite tycoon Alfred Nobel must have intended when, in his will, he instructed the Norwegian Parliament to appoint the selection committee.

Mr Geir Lundestad, who as executive director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute has handled the committee's administrative affairs since 1990, said the panel met six or seven times this year, starting several weeks after the nomination deadline, Feb 1.

Any member of a national legislature, any professor of the social sciences and several other categories of people are free to submit nominations, and someone usually puts forward the name of the American president.

This year the panel did not settle on a winner until Monday, Mr Lundestad said.

The committee took a chance in choosing Mr Obama, who not only is in his freshman year as president, but also is directing two wars. Should his presidency descend into a military quagmire, as former president Lyndon B. Johnson's did during the Vietnam War, the decision could prove an embarrassment.

Some in Oslo said the Nobel committee had put the integrity of the award at stake. But Mr Jagland seemed to savour the risk. He said no one could deny that 'the international climate' had suddenly improved, and that Mr Obama was the main reason.

Of the President's future, he said: 'There is great potential. But it depends on how the other political leaders respond. If they respond negatively, one might have to say he failed. But at least we want to embrace the message that he stands for.'

AP, Reuters, AFP

Controversial Nobel Peace Prize Winners

10. Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter’s 2002 Nobel Peace Prize—awarded for the “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development”—had from the start wrought controversy that was exacerbated further by politically-tinted statements offered by the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee (seconded and affirmed by Gunnar Staalsett, another member of the 5-member, secretive Nobel Committee).

9. Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai, 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, created controversy by appearing to lend credibility to the theory that HIV was invented by white scientists to destroy black people but later apologized for giving the illusion of being a conspiracy theorist.

8. Al Gore

Al Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on raising public awareness of Global Warming. There has been some contention on whether the work was related to the stated purpose of the prize or not. In addition, there is much controversy surrounding his work in the area of Global Warming and, in fact, even controversy over whether Global Warming poses a real threat to mankind. Recently a UK High Court judge decreed that the government could only send a copy of “An Inconvenient Truth” to every school if it was accompanied by guidelines to point out “nine scientific errors” and to counter his “one-sided views”. In his film, Al Gore called on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home. In August 2006, Gore’s electricity bills revealed that in one month he burned through 22,619 kilowatts – more than twice what the average family uses in an entire year.

7. Rigoberta Menchú

Rigoberta Menchú won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. There has been some evidence pointing to her as a fraud in her purported autobiography of her life in Guatemala in the late 1950s, portrayed in her 1987 book I, Rigoberta Menchu—where some facts regarding her family history and circumstances were specifically altered by her to supposedly better propagandize her leftist-leanings (brought to light through exposé by anthropologist David Stoll’s researches).

6. Henry Kissinger

Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his work on the Vietnam Peace Accords, despite having instituted the secret 1969–1975 campaign of bombing against infiltraiting NVA in Cambodia, the alleged U.S. involvement in Operation Condor—a mid-1970s campaign of kidnapping and murder coordinated among the intelligence and security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay—as well as the death of French nationals under the Chilean junta. He also supported the invasion of Cyprus resulting in approximately 1/3 of the island being occupied by foreign troops for 33 years. Some peace activists go so far as to suggest that the Nobel Peace Prize has become irrelevant due to Kissinger being a laureate.

Just paying the bills...

5. Yitzhak Rabin

Rabin won the prize jointly with Shimon Peres and Yasser Araft in 1994. Rabin, while in the Israeli military, had ordered the expulsion of Arabs, from areas captured by Israel during the 1948 War. He had also been responsible for the aggressive Israeli crackdown of the First Intifada while Defense Minister. Rabin also continued to authorise the construction of settlements in the occupied territories despite the peace agreement.

4. Shimon Peres

Awarded the prize jointly with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Peres was responsible for developing Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, and was later blamed for the Qana Massacre. The Qana Massacre occurred in 1996 when the Israeli military shelled a villiage of 800 Lebanese civilians who had gone there to escape the fighting. 106 were killed and around 116 others injured. Four Fijian United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon soldiers were also seriously injured.

3. Yasser Arafat

Arafat won the 1994 prize along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. Arafat was regarded by critics as a terrorist leader for many years. Kåre Kristiansen, a Norwegian member of the Nobel Committee, resigned in 1994 in protest at the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to Yasser Arafat, whom he labeled a “terrorist”.

2. Cordell Hull

Cordell Hull was awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1945 in recognition of his efforts for peace and understanding in the Western Hemisphere, his trade agreements, and his work to establish the United Nations. In 1939, the ship SS St Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean carrying over 950 Jewish refugees, mostly wealthy, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution just before World War II. Roosevelt showed modest willingness to allow the ship in, but Hull, his Secretary of State threaten to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election if this occurred. Roosevelt denied entry to the ship. The ship was forced to return to Germany and many of the passengers ultimately ended up dying in Concentration Camps.

1. Menachem Begin

Menachem Begin (6th Prime Minister of Israel) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 for his contributions to the successful closure to the Camp David Accords in the same year (the award was jointly given to Begin and Anwar Sadat). Unfortunately, Begin had also previously been head of the militant Zionist group Irgun, which is often regarded as a terrorist organization and had been responsible for the King David Hotel bombing in 1946.

And the list goes on....

President Theodore Roosevelt—the 26th President of the United States—received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 for helping negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War. However, he played a role in the suppression of a revolt in the Philippines.

Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt during a war against Israel in 1973, the Yom Kippur War, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Menachem Begin, in 1978 for their contributions to the successful closure to the Camp David Accords in the same year.

Kim De Jung 2002 - Former S Korean President won it for promoting peace and eonciliation with the NOrth but was later accused of secretly snding bribe money to N Korean leader Kim Jong Il

1912 Elihu Root - Former US Secretary of State and War received the priaze for brokering international negotiations but was responsible for the US brul policy in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War

Final Thoughts

While the controversial people listed above enjoy (or enjoyed) their Nobel Peace prizes, Mahatma Gandhi was never awarded one (though he was nominated five times). In addition, in the fields of science, great men such as Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison were not awarded prizes because of their animosity towards each other. If Tesla had won, the money would probably have prevented him from filing for bankruptcy in 1916, and the face of modern society may have been very different.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Wahabi Movement & Muhammad Abdul Al-Wahab

Muhammad ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab ibn Sulaiman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rashid Al-Tamimi[1] (1703–1792) (Arabic: محمد بن عبد الوهاب التميمي‎) was an Islamic scholar born in Najd, in present-day Saudi Arabia. Despite never specifically calling for a separate school of Islamic thought, it is from ibn Abd-al Wahhab that the term Wahhabism derives.

[edit] Childhood and Early Life
Some details have been pieced together via the work of numerous historians. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab is generally acknowledged to have been born in 'Uyayna[7][8][9][10] in 1703[11][12] and to have been a member of the Arab tribe of Banu Tamim. He was thought to have started studying Islam at an early age, primarily with his father ('Abd al-Wahhab) early on[13][14][15],[16][17] as he was from a line of scholars of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence.[18] While there is some consensus over these details, there is not a unanimous agreement over the specifics and some minority opinions do exist in regard to his place and date of birth.

[edit] Reforms
Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab spent some time studying with Muslim scholars in Basra (in southern Iraq),[19][20] and it is reported that he traveled to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina to perform Hajj and study with the scholars there,[21][22] before returning to his home town of Uyayna in 1740. Official sources on ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's life put his visits to these cities in different chronological order, and the full extent of such travels remains disputed among historians.

Almost all sources agree that his reformist ideas were formulated while living in Basra, where he became somewhat famous for his debates with the Islamic scholars there. Dates are missing in a great many cases, thus it is difficult to reconstruct a chronology of his life up until his return to 'Uyayna.

Like most scholars in Najd at the time, Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab was a follower of Ibn Hanbal's school of jurisprudence but "was opposed to any of the schools (Madh'hab) being taken as an absolute and unquestioned authority," and condemned taqlid.[23]

After his return to 'Uyayna, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab began to attract followers there, including the ruler of the town, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar. With Ibn Mu'ammar's support, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab began to implement some of his ideas for reform. First, he persuaded ibn Mu'ammar to level the grave of Zayd ibn al-Khattab, a companion of the Muslim prophet Muhammad whose grave was revered by locals, citing Islamic teachings that forbid grave worship. Secondly, he ordered that an adulteress be stoned to death, a practice that had become uncommon in the area despite having Islamic textual basis. These actions gained the attention of Sulaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Ghurayr of the tribe of Bani Khalid, the chief of Al-Hasa and Qatif, who held substantial influence in Najd. Ibn Ghurayr threatened Ibn Mu'ammar that he would not allow him to collect a land tax for some properties that he owned in al-Hasa if he did not kill ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab. Ibn Mu'ammar declined to do this, but ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab was forced to leave.[24]

[edit] Alliance with the House of Saud
Upon his expulsion from 'Uyayna, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was invited to settle in neighboring Dir'iyya by its ruler Muhammad ibn Saud in 1740 (1157 AH). Two of Ibn Saud's brothers had been students of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in Uyayna, and are said to have played a role in convincing Ibn Saud to take him in. Ibn Saud's wife is also reported to have been a convert to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's cause. Upon arriving in Diriyya, a pact was made between Ibn Saud and Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, by which Ibn Saud pledged to implement Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's teachings and enforce them on neighboring towns. Beginning in the last years of the 18th century Ibn Saud and his heirs would spend the next 140 years mounting various military campaigns to seize control of Arabia and its outlying regions, finally taking control of the whole of modern day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1922. This provided the movement with a state. Vast wealth from oil discovered in the following decades, coupled with Saudi control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have since provided a base and funding for Salafi missionary activity.

[edit] Criticisms
Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s brother Sulaiman and his father, 'Abd al-Wahhab, had initially repudiated him for his ideas. Later in life, however, the views of both his brother and father changed significantly, with both of them eventually accepting and agreeing with those of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's.[25]

Amongst his modern supporters were the late Shaikh bin Baz and Shaikh Uthaymeen of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Muqbil of Yemen, and Shaikh Albani of Albania.

[edit] Legacy
Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab considered his movement an effort to purify Islam by returning Muslims to what he believed were the original principles of Islam, as typified by the Salaf and rejecting what he regarded as corruptions introduced by Bid'ah and Shirk.

Although all Muslims pray to one God, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab was keen on emphasizing that no intercession with God was possible without His permission, which He only grants to whom He wills and only to benefit those whom He wills, certainly not the ones who invoke anything or anyone except Him, as these would never be forgiven,[26]. Specific practices, such as celebrating the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, were also deemed as innovations. He is hence considered by his followers to be a great revivalist of Islam, and by his opponents as an innovator and heretic. In either case, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's impact on Islam has been considerable and significant.

Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab also revived interest in the works of the Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiya.

The followers of this revival (see Salafism) are often called Wahhabis, though most reject the usage of this term on the grounds that ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's teachings were the teachings of The Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Up on Him), not his own. Thus, most generally refer to themselves as Salafis, while during his lifetime they often referred to themselves muwahhidin ("monotheists").

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's descendents are known today as "Al al-Shaykh" ("House of the Shaykh"). The family of Al al-Shaykh has included several religious scholars, including the former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad ibn Ibrahm Al al-Shaykh, who issued the fatwa calling for the abdication of King Saud in 1964. Both the current Saudi minister of justice and the current grand mufti of Saudi Arabia are also descendents of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

[edit] Commentary
Perceptions of ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab are varied. To many Muslims of the Salafi persuasion, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab is a significant luminary in the proud tradition of Islamic scholarship. A great number of lay Sunni Muslims regard him as a pious scholar whose interpretations of the Qur'an and Hadith were nevertheless out of step with the mainstream of Islamic thought, and thus discredited.[27] Some scholars regard him as a pious scholar who called people back to worship of Allah according to the Qur'an and Sunnah. Others, often Sufis, regard him as a one who stopped at nothing to gain power and manipulate others. Natana DeLong-Bas, meanwhile, has recently published a self-described "controversial" book that complicates the idea that ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab contributed to the "militant stance of contemporary jihadism."[28]

Syed Qutb - Muslim Brotherhood origins

Life and public career

Qutb was raised in the Egyptian village of Musha and studied the Qur'an from a young age. He moved to Cairo, where he could receive an education based on the British style of schooling, between 1929 and 1933, before starting his career as a teacher in the Ministry of Public Instruction. During his early career, Qutb devoted himself to literature as an author and critic, writing such novels as Ashwak (Thorns) and even helped to elevate Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz from obscurity. In 1939, he became a functionary in Egypt's Ministry of Education (wizarat al-ma'arif ). From 1948 to 1950, he went to the United States on a scholarship to study its educational system, studying for several months at Colorado State College of Education (now the University of Northern Colorado) in Greeley, Colorado. Qutb's first major theoretical work of religious social criticism, Al-'adala al-Ijtima'iyya fi-l-Islam (Social Justice in Islam), was published in 1949, during his time in the West.

Though Islam gave him much peace and contentment,[13] he suffered from respiratory and other health problems throughout his life and was known for "his introvertedness, isolation, depression and concern." In appearance, he was "pale with sleepy eyes."[14] Qutb never married, in part because of his steadfast religious convictions. While the urban Egyptian society he lived in was becoming more Westernized, Qutb believed the Quran taught women that `Men are the managers of women's affairs ...' [15] Qutb lamented to his readers that he was never able to find a woman of sufficient "moral purity and discretion" and had to reconcile himself to bachelorhood.[16]

Visit to America

This turning point resulted from Qutb's visit to the United States for higher studies in educational administration. Over a two year period he worked in several different institutions including what was then Wilson Teachers' College in Washington, D.C. and Colorado State College for Education in Greeley, as well as Stanford University[17]. He also travelled extensively visiting the major cities of the United States and spent time in Europe on the return journey to Egypt.

Qutb was extremely critical of many things in the United States: its materialism, individual freedoms, economic system, racism, brutal boxing matches, "poor" haircuts,[4] triviality, restrictions on divorce, enthusiasm for sports, "animal-like" mixing of the sexes (which went on even in churches),[18] and lack of support for the Palestinian struggle.[19] In an article published in Egypt after his travels, he noted with disapproval the sexuality of American women:

the American girl is well acquainted with her body's seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs — and she shows all this and does not hide it. [David Von Drehle, A Lesson In Hate][4]

And what he saw as their taste in music:

Jazz is his preferred music, and it is created by Negroes to satisfy their love of noise and to whet their sexual desires...[20]

One of the most popular of his books, Social Justice in Islam (1948), reflects his critical attitude to the West.

Return to Egypt

Qutb concluded that major aspects of American life were primitive and "shocking", a people who were "numb to faith in religion, faith in art, and faith in spiritual values altogether". His experience in the U.S. is believed to have formed in part the impetus for his rejection of Western values and his move towards radicalism upon returning to Egypt. Resigning from the civil service, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1950s[21] and became editor-in-chief of the Brothers' weekly Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, and later head of its propaganda section, as well as an appointed member of the working committee and of its guidance council, the highest branch in the organization.[22]

In June 1952, Egypt's pro-Western government was overthrown by the nationalist Free Officers Movement headed by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Both Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood welcomed the coup against the monarchist government — which they saw as un-Islamic and subservient to British imperialism — and enjoyed a close relationship with the movement prior to and immediately following the coup. Many members of the Brotherhood expected Nasser to establish an Islamic government. However, the cooperation between the Brotherhood and Free Officers which marked the revolution's success soon soured as it became clear the secular nationalist ideology of Nasserism was incompatible with the Islamism of the Brotherhood. Nasser's regime refused to ban alcohol, or to implement other aspects of Islamic law.

After the attempted assassination of Nasser in 1954, the Egyptian government used the incident to justify a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, imprisoning Qutb and many others for their vocal opposition to various government policies. During his first three years in prison, conditions were bad and Qutb was tortured. In later years he was allowed more mobility, including the opportunity to write.[23]

This period saw the composition of his two most important works: a commentary of the Qur'an Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Qur'an), and a manifesto of political Islam called Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones). These works represent the final form of Qutb's thought, encompassing his radically anti-secular and anti-Western claims based on his interpretations of; the Qur'an, Islamic history, and the social and political problems of Egypt. The school of thought he inspired has become known as Qutbism.

Qutb was let out of prison at the end of 1964 at the behest of the then Prime Minister of Iraq, Abdul Salam Arif, for only 8 months before being rearrested in August 1965. He was accused of plotting to overthrow the state and subjected to what some consider a show trial.[24] Many of the charges placed against Qutb in court were taken directly from Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq and he adamantly supported his written statements. The trial culminated in a death sentence for Qutb and six other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was sentenced to death as the leader of a group planning to assassinate the President and other Egyptian officials and personalities, though he was not the instigator or leader of the actual plot.[25] On 29 August 1966, he was executed by hanging.

Evolution of thought

Different theories have been advanced as to why Qutb, turned from secular reformism in the 1930s to Islamic extremist in the 1950s and 1960s. One common explanation is that the conditions he witnessed in prison from 1954-1964, including the torture and murder of Muslim Brothers, convinced him that only a government bound by Islamic law could prevent such abuses. Another is that Qutb's experiences in America as a darker skinned person and the insufficiently anti-Western policies of Nasser demonstrated to him the powerful and dangerous allure of jahiliyyah — a threat unimaginable, in Qutb's estimation, to the secular mind. However there are indications his feelings about the West had developed before he ever set foot in America. On his boat trip to America in 1948 he wrote:

Should I travel to America, and become flimsy, and ordinary, ... Is there other than Islam that I should be steadfast to in its character and hold on to its instructions, in this life amidst deviant chaos, and the endless means of satisfying animalistic desires, pleasures, and awful sins? [26]

Finally, Qutb offered his own explanation in Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq, arguing that anything non-Islamic was evil and corrupt, while following Sharia as a complete system extending into all aspects of life, would bring every kind of benefit to humanity, from personal and social peace, to the "treasures" of the universe.[27]

In general, Qutb's experiences as an Egyptian Muslim — his village childhood, professional career, and activism in the Muslim Brotherhood — left an unmistakable mark on his theoretical and religious works. Even Qutb's early, secular writing shows evidence of his later themes. For example, Qutb's autobiography of his childhood Tifl min al-Qarya (A Child From the Village) makes little mention of Islam or political theory and is typically classified as a secular, literary work. However, it is replete with references to village mysticism, superstition, the Qur'an, and incidences of injustice. Qutb's later work developed along similar themes, dealing with Qur'anic exegesis, social justice, and political Islam.

Qutb's career as a writer also heavily influenced his philosophy. In al-Taswiir al-Fanni fil-Quran (Artistic Representation in the Qur'an), Qutb developed a literary appreciation of the Qur'an and a complementary methodology for interpreting the text. His hermaneutics were applied in his extensive commentary on the Qur'an, Fi zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Quran), which served as the foundation for the declarations of Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq.

Late in his life, Qutb synthesized his personal experiences and intellectual development in the famous Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq, a religious and political manifesto for what he believed was a true Islamic system. It was also in this text that Qutb condemned Muslim governments, such as Abdul Nasser's regime in Egypt, as secular with their legitimacy based on human (and thus corrupt), rather than divine authority. This work, more than any other, established Qutb as one of, if not the premier Islamists of the 20th century.

Political philosophy

Sayyid Qutb's mature political views always centered on Islam — Islam as a complete system of morality, justice and governance, whose Sharia laws and principles should be the sole basis of governance and everything else in life. His was clearly however, against any type of theocracy, as in his book "Milestones", he writes:

The way to establish God's rule on earth is not that some consecrated people - the priests - be given the authority to rule, as was the case with the rule of the Church, nor that some spokesmen of God become rulers, as is the case in a 'theocracy'.

In an earlier work,[28] Qutb described military jihad as defensive, Islam's campaign to protect itself.[29] On the issue of Islamic governance, Qutb differed with many modernist and reformist Muslims who claimed democracy was Islamic because the Quranic institution of Shura supported elections and democracy. Qutb pointed out that the Shura chapter of the Qur'an was revealed during the Mekkan period, and therefore, it does not deal with the problem of government. It makes no reference to elections and calls only for the ruler to consult some of the ruled, as a particular case of the general rule of Shura.[30] Qutb also opposed the then popular ideology of Arab nationalism, having become disillusioned with the 1952 Nasser Revolution and having been exposed to the regime's practices of arbitrary arrest, torture, and deadly violence during his imprisonment.

Jahiliyyah vs. freedom

This exposure to abuse of power undoubtedly contributed to the ideas in his famous prison-written Islamic manifesto Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones), where he advocated a political system the opposite of dictatorship — i.e. one with no government. There Qutb argued:

Jahiliyyah is the worship of some people by others; that is to say, some people become dominant and make laws for others, regardless of whether these laws are against God's injunctions and without caring for the use or misuse of their authority.

The Muslim world had ceased to be and reverted to pre-Islamic ignorance known as jahiliyyah, because of the lack of sharia law. Consequently all states of the Muslim world are not Islamic and thus illegitimate, including that of his native land Egypt.

Rather than support rule by a pious Muslim(s), (either a dictator(s) or democratically elected[31]), Muslims should resist any system where men are in "servitude to other men" — i.e. obey other men — as un-Islamic and a violation of God's sovereignty (Hakamiyya) over all of creation. A truly Islamic polity would have no rulers — not even have theocratic ones — since Muslims would need neither judges nor police to obey divine law. [32][33] It was what one observer has called "a kind of anarcho-Islam."[8]

The way to bring about this freedom was for a revolutionary vanguard [34] to fight jahiliyyah with a twofold approach: preaching, and abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili system by "physical power and Jihad."

The vanguard movement would grow with preaching and jihad until it formed a truly Islamic community, then spread throughout the Islamic homeland and finally throughout the entire world, attaining leadership of humanity. While those who had been "defeated by the attacks of the treacherous Orientalists!" might define jihad "narrowly" as defensive, Islamically-correct Jihad (according to Qutb) was in fact offensive. [35]

Qutb emphasized this struggle would be anything but easy. True Islam would transform every aspect of society, eliminating everything non-Muslim.[36] True Muslims could look forward to lives of "poverty, difficulty, frustration, torment and sacrifice." Jahili ersatz-Muslims, Jews and Westerners would all fight and conspire against Islam and the elimination of jahiliyyah.

Among these enemies Qutb was particularly enraged by Jews, whom he saw as a great menace to Islam despite their small numbers. Qutb repeatedly talked of "the wicked opposition of the Jews to Islam," their "conspiracies" and "scheming against Islam" over the centuries.[1] [2]


Qutb, greatly admired by many,[37][38] also has several critics. Following the publication of Milestones and the aborted plot against the Nasser government, mainstream Muslims took issue with Qutb's contention that "physical power" and jihad had to be used to overthrow governments, and attack societies, "institutions and traditions" of the Muslim — but according to Qutb jahili — world.[39] The ulema of Al-Azhar University school took the unusual step following his death of putting Sayyid Qutb on their index of heresy, declaring him a "deviant" (munharif). [40] Reformist Muslims, on the other hand, questioned his understanding of sharia, i.e. that it is not only perfect and complete, but completely accessible to mortals and thus the solution to any of their problems.[41][42] Also criticized is his dismissal of not only all non-Muslim culture, but many centuries of Muslim learning, culture and beauty following the first four caliphs as un-Islamic and thus worthless.[43] Conservative/puritan criticism went further, condemning Qutb's Islamist/reformist ideas — such as social justice and redistributive economics,[44][45][46] banning of slavery, — as "western" and bid'ah or innovative (innovations to Islam being forbidden ipso facto). They have accused Qutb of amateur scholarship, overuse of ijtihad, innovation in Ijma (which Qutb felt should not be limited to scholars, but should be conducted by all Muslims[47]), declaring unlawful what Allah has made lawful,[48][49] assorted mistakes in aqeedah (belief) and manhaj (methodology)[50], and of lack of respect for Islamic traditions, for prophets and for early Muslims. Supporters have also defended him from at least some of these and other charges.[51][52] And finally, following the 9/11 attacks, Westerners looking for who and what may have inspired Al-Qaeda discovered Qutb and found many of his ideas not too Western, but too anti-Western.[53] Complaints here include that contrary to what Qutb preaches, neither the Jews nor the West are conspiring against Islam; that the West is neither "evil and corrupt" nor a "rubbish heap;" that an offensive jihad to establish Islamic rule (or "the sovereignty of God and His Lordship") "throughout the world," would be aggression, not liberation; and finally that Qutb's call for the destruction of jahili Muslim governments may have roused terrorist jihadis to attack Western countries, thinking that Western support for these "jahili" governments stands in the way of their elimination.[54][55][56]


Alongside notable Islamists like Maulana Mawdudi, Hasan al-Banna, and Ruhollah Khomeini, Qutb is considered one of the most influential Muslim thinkers or activists of the modern era, not only for his ideas but for what many consider his heroic martyr's death.[24][57]

His written works are still widely available and have been translated into many Western languages. Qutb's best known work is Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones), but the majority of Qutb's theory can be found in his Qur'anic commentary Fi zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Quran). This 30-volume work is noteworthy for its innovative method of interpretation, borrowing heavily from the literary analysis of Amin al-Khuli, while retaining some structural features of classical commentaries (for example, the practice of progressing from the first sura to the last).[citation needed]

The influence of his work extends to issues such as Westernization, modernization, and political reform and the theory of inevitable ideological conflict between "Islam and the West" (see Clash of civilizations), the notion of a transnational umma, and the comprehensive application of jihad.[citation needed]

Qutb's theoretical work on Islamic advocacy, social justice and education, has left a significant mark on the Muslim Brotherhood (at least outside of Egypt).

Al Qaeda and Islamic Jihad

Qutb had influence on Islamic insurgent/terror groups in Egypt [39] and elsewhere. His influence on Al Qaeda was felt through his writing, his followers and especially through his brother, Muhammad Qutb, who moved to Saudi Arabia following his release from prison in Egypt and became a professor of Islamic Studies and edited, published and promoted his brother Sayyid's work.[58][59]

One of Muhammad Qutb's students and later an ardent follower was Ayman Zawahiri, who went on to become a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad [60] and later a mentor of Osama bin Laden and a leading member of al-Qaeda.[61] Zawahiri was first introduced to Qutb by his uncle and maternal family patriarch, Mafouz Azzam, who was very close to Qutb throughout his life. Azzam was Qutb's student, then protégé, then personal lawyer and executor of his estate — one of the last people to see Qutb before his execution. According to Lawrence Wright, who interviewed Azzam, "young Ayman al-Zawahiri heard again and again from his beloved uncle Mahfouz about the purity of Qutb's character and the torment he had endured in prison."[62] Zawahiri paid homage to Qutb in his work Knights under the Prophet's Banner.[63]

Osama Bin Laden was also acquainted with Sayyid's brother, Muhammad Qutb. A close college friend of bin Laden's, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, told Wright, that bin Laden regularly attended weekly public lectures by Muhammad Qutb, at King Abdulaziz University, and that he and bin Laden both "read Sayyid Qutb. He was the one who most affected our generation."[64]

Friday, September 25, 2009

Anglo Saxon Gold

Huge hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure uncovered in UK By RAPHAEL G. SATTER,Associated Press Writer - Friday, September 25Send IM Story Print

LONDON – It's an unprecedented find that could revolutionize ideas about medieval England's Germanic rulers: An amateur treasure-hunter searching a farmer's field with a metal detector unearthed a huge collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver artifacts.

The discovery sent a thrill through Britain's archaeological community, which said Thursday that it offers new insight into the world of the Anglo-Saxons, who ruled England from the fifth century until the 1066 Norman invasion and whose cultural influence is still felt throughout the English-speaking world.

"This is just a fantastic find completely out of the blue," Roger Bland, who managed the cache's excavation, told The Associated Press. "It will make us rethink the Dark Ages."

The treasure trove includes intricately designed helmet crests embossed with a frieze of running animals, enamel-studded sword fittings and a checkerboard piece inlaid with garnets and gold. One gold band bore a biblical inscription in Latin calling on God to drive away the bearer's enemies.

The Anglo-Saxons were a group of Germanic tribes who invaded England starting in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Their artisans made striking objects out of gold and enamel, and their language, Old English, is a precursor of modern English.

The cache of gold and silver pieces was discovered in what was once Mercia, one of five main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and is thought to date to between 675 and 725.

For Terry Herbert, the unemployed metal-detecting enthusiast who made the discovery on July 5 while scouring a friend's farm in the western region of Staffordshire, it was "more fun than winning the lottery."

The 55-year-old spent five days searching the field alone before he realized he needed help and notified authorities. Professional archaeologists then took over the find.

"I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items," Herbert said of the experience.

The gold alone in the collection weighs 11 pounds and suggests that early medieval England was a far wealthier place than previously believed, according to Leslie Webster, the former curator of Anglo-Saxon archaeology at the British Museum.

She said the crosses and other religious artifacts mixed in with the military items might shed new light on the relationship between Christianity and warfare among the Anglo-Saxons _ in particular a large cross she said may have been carried into battle.

The hoard was officially declared treasure by a coroner on Thursday, which means it will be valued by experts and offered up for sale to a museum in Britain. Proceeds will be split 50-50 between Herbert and his farmer friend, who has not been identified. The find's exact location is being kept secret to deter looters.

Bland said he could not give a precise figure for the value of the collection, but said the two could each be in line for a "seven-figure sum."

Kevin Leahy, the archaeologist who catalogued the find, said the stash includes dozens of pommel caps _ decorative elements attached to the knobs of swords _ and appeared to be war loot. He noted that "Beowulf," the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, contains a reference to warriors stripping the pommels of their enemies' weapons as mementoes.

"It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career," he said.

"We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when? It will be debated for decades."

Experts said they've so far examined a total of 1,345 items. But they've also recovered 56 pieces of earth that X-ray analysis suggests contain more artifacts _ meaning the total could rise to about 1,500.

The craftsmanship was some of the highest-quality ever seen in finds of this kind, Leahy said, and many British archaeologists clearly shared his enthusiasm.

Bland, who has documented discoveries across Britain, called it "completely unique." Martin Welch, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon archaeology at University College London, said no one had found "anything like this in this country before."

Herbert said one expert likened his discovery to finding Egyptian Pharoah Tutankhamen's tomb, adding: "I just flushed all over when he said that. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up."

The collection is in storage at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where some of the items are to go on display starting Friday.

It's unclear how the gold ended up in the field, although archaeologists suggested it may have been buried to hide the loot from roving enemies, a common practice at the time. The site's location is unusual as well _ Anglo-Saxon remains have tended to cluster in the country's south and east, while the so-called "Staffordshire hoard" was found in the west.

In the meantime, archaeologists say they're likely to be busy for years puzzling out the meaning of some of the collection's more unusual pieces _ like five enigmatic gold snakes or a strip of gold bearing a crudely written and misspelled Biblical inscription in Latin.

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face," reads the inscription, believed to be from the Book of Numbers.

Also of interest is the largest of the crosses, which experts say may have been an altar or processional piece. It had been folded, possibly to make it fit into a small space prior to burial, and the apparent lack of respect shown to such a Christian symbol may point to the hoard being buried by pagans.

"The things that we can't identify are the ones that are going to teach us something new," Leahy said.

For England, a country at the edge of Europe whose history owes an enormous debt to the Anglo-Saxons, the find has the potential to become one of its top national treasures, according to Webster.

Caroline Barton, assistant treasure registrar at the British Museum, said objects over 300 years old and made up of more that 10 percent precious metal are only offered for sale to accredited museums in Britain, so the collection will not be leaving the country.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Memories of WWII: Oh, how they differ - ST

Memories of WWII: Oh, how they differ
Selective amnesia rules as Europe marks the 70th year of start of war
By Jonathan Eyal, Straits Times Europe Bureau

EUROPEANS mark this week the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II, which took more than 60million lives and ushered in the worst barbarities in human history.

The main commemoration was held in Poland, the first nation to be attacked by Nazi Germany. It was a moving affair which ended on a high note when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, representing the country which started it all, spoke of a 'Europe which transformed itself from a continent of horror and violence into a continent of freedom and peace'.

Yet almost everyone who attended the commemoration still holds a different impression of that war and its implications. The battle for historic memory continues, and is unlikely to be settled for decades to come.

Russia represents the most extreme example of how the same set of historic events can be interpreted in diametrically opposed ways.

As heirs to the Soviet Union, the Russians feel proud of their World WarII achievement. Bedraggled and often barefoot, Red Army soldiers pushed all the way to Berlin, an epic march soaked at every step in Russian blood.

Unfortunately, that's only part of the story. For on the eve of the war, Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader, signed a deal with Adolf Hitler. The Soviets claimed at that time that this was merely a 'non-aggression pact' designed to prevent a European war.

In fact, under secret clauses to the deal, Stalin carved up the continent with Germany. So, as German troops marched into Poland in 1939, the Soviets took their share of Poland, and swallowed up the Baltic states and a chunk of Romania as well. The Soviets entered the war only in 1941, when they were themselves attacked by Nazi Germany.

For a brief period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, some Russians were prepared to accept that their country's conduct during the war had been less than honourable. But those days are gone.

For, just as the commemorations got under way in Poland this week, the Russian security services released a batch of documents which, they claim, justify the Soviet Union's behaviour.

Under the new Russian interpretation, the USSR signed the pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 because it knew that the Poles were, supposedly, plotting with the Nazis to invade the Soviet Union.

The Poles - who could be accused of many things, but never of being Germany's allies - are outraged.

'Absolute rubbish,' says historian Mariusz Wolos of Poland's Academy of Sciences, who points out that the Russian evidence does not stack up.

However, facts are unimportant in this game, for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to instil a new sense of pride among his people, and this means a refusal to admit that Russia was ever wrong. Under a new Russian law, anyone who challenges official history is committing a criminal offence.

Although Russia's behaviour stands out in this regard, almost every other European nation suffers from its own selective amnesia about some inconvenient historic episodes.

The Poles, for example, still find it difficult to admit that though they were the war's biggest victims, they were also sometimes complicit in the destruction of Europe's Jews. Few Polish children know that the last anti-Jewish pogrom in their country took place a year after Poland was liberated from Nazi Germany.

For decades, the French lapped up every story about their heroic resistance to Nazi occupation. It was only much later that stories about collaboration with the German occupiers began to emerge. Even Mr Francois Mitterrand, France's president during the 1980s, turned out to have been a former collaborator.

And the British have their own myths. Their failure to defend France during the war is often portrayed as a victory. And the carpet-bombing of German towns, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of ordinary German civilians, is frequently brushed aside as mere detail.

More interestingly, however, the Germans are moving in the opposite direction, by challenging taboos that they themselves created. For over half a century, Germans did not speak about themselves, but about the crimes they committed against others. As Chancellor Merkel put it this week, her nation 'bears eternal responsibility' for what happened.

Nevertheless, the Germans now want their own suffering to be remembered. In particular, they ask Europe to acknowledge another crime committed at the end of the war: the wholesale expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe, for no other reason than pure revenge.

One historic 'mental block', however, is shared by all Europeans: a refusal to accept any responsibility for spreading their conflict to other continents. The horrors of the war in Asia are remembered only in so far as they affected European citizens and soldiers. What happened to the Chinese or Koreans - to name but two afflicted Asian nations - is no longer Europe's affair.

The fact that Europeans have a guilty conscience about their past does not suggest that responsibility for the war should be shared in equal measures among the combatants. The ultimate culprit of the war remains Nazi Germany and its manic leadership.

But the arguments are a reminder that, regardless of globalisation and decades of collaboration, historic memories still remain a strictly national affair.

One day, a common narrative of Europe's biggest tragedy may emerge. Until that happens, the continent will not be truly united. For no country that hides its past will be able to tell the truth about its future.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How Hungary let East Germans go - BBC

How Hungary let East Germans go
By Oana Lungescu
BBC European affairs correspondent, Sopron

"It was in Hungary that the first stone was removed from the Berlin Wall," said the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

His successor Angela Merkel went to the Hungarian town of Sopron on Wednesday, to thank the country for opening its border 20 years ago. That decision led to the fall of the Wall three months later.

But curiously enough, it was a picnic in a field outside Sopron that would change the face of Europe.

In the summer of 1989, thousands of East German "tourists" had been making their way to Hungary, looking for a way to cross into Austria. What drew them was a bold decision taken earlier that year by the reformist prime minister Miklos Nemeth to start dismantling the security system along the border.

"I thought it was obsolete in the 20th Century," Mr Nemeth told the BBC. Another reason was that Hungary, heavily in debt, simply could not afford to pay $1m to maintain it.

As he returned from holiday in his official car, Mr Nemeth was shocked to see hundreds of young people and families camping outside the West German consulate in Budapest. Others had found refuge in the imposing Holy Family Church in a leafy district of the Hungarian capital.

Among them was Robert Breitner, who was 19. He arrived with just the clothes on his back, after losing his backpack in a failed escape attempt.

"The street was full of East German cars," he recalls.

Robert Breitner in the church garden where he camped 20 years ago
"There were families who came with two or three cars and did a lot of escapes. They lost one car so they took the next one!"

Mr Breitner's story was fairly typical. Because of his family's Christian beliefs, he was not allowed to do his high-school degree in the GDR. He could not travel to the Soviet Union, let alone to West Germany, where most of his family lived.

From the age of 14, he had decided to flee. "I grew up just 300 metres behind the Berlin Wall but for me it was too dangerous to try it there," he said. He thought in Hungary "the chance to die was not as high".

East German agents

The man who opened the gate to the church was Father Imre Kozma, who led the Order of Malta charity service. The charity erected tents and distributed food - all under the watchful eye of the Stasi, the East German secret service, whose agents were posted just across the street.

They were afraid we would ... hand them over to the East German authorities

Father Kozma about the refugees
Father Kozma said the refugees feared each other and even the Hungarian volunteers. "They were afraid we would gather them in one place and hand them over to the East German authorities."

Then in August, the place was awash with rumours and leaflets about the Pan-European Picnic.

Opposition groups had decided to organise the event as a celebration of good-neighbourly relations, with beer and gammon roasted over a bonfire right on the border with Austria. But the refugees wanted more than a picnic.

Today, you can simply drive or walk into Austria with no questions asked. The Iron Curtain has become a bike trail.

But in August 1989, much of the barbed wire fence was still there. Just before 3 o'clock that afternoon, Lt-Col Arpad Bella, who was in charge of the Hungarian border post, saw a crowd of men, women, even children rushing towards him.

Before his eyes, the first wave of East German refugees pushed through a barbed wire-topped wooden gate into the West. Some cried, laughed, embraced each other. Others kept running because they could not believe they were in Austria.

Guards' dilemma

Without clear instructions from his superiors, Lt-Col Bella decided not to shoot ."It was terrible for me!" he said. "Those two hundred people were just ten metres away from freedom. So I took the decision that I thought was best for Hungary and for my own conscience."

On the other side of the border, Austrian chief inspector Johann Goeltl faced another dilemma. In their headlong rush to freedom, an East German family had left their eight-year-old son on the other side of the gate, which had now been closed.

"Please, please, let him through," they pleaded, "otherwise we'll have to go back to that terrible regime". Somehow, chief inspector Goeltl managed to sneak the boy in.

By the end of that day, more than 600 East Germans had crossed over to the West. Three weeks later, when Hungary fully opened its borders, 60,000 flooded out. Among the first to leave was Robert Breitner, who arrived in Berlin in time to see the Wall collapse.

But 20 years on, Lt-Col Bella feels he was only an actor in a complex play whose director remains unknown. Some of those who organised the Pan-European Picnic, like engineer Laszlo Nagy, also feel politicians used it to test how far they could go.

"If you are taking part in a test of which you are not informed, you feel yourself as a worm that they use in fishing," Mr Nagy said. "They threw us in deep water and they were watching whether the sharks are coming or not."

The shark of course was the Soviet Union, which still had 100,000 troops in Hungary. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, its appetite seemed to be for reforms rather than military intervention.

Laszlo Nagy was one of the organisers of the Pan-European Picnic
In March 1989, Miklos Nemeth told the Soviet leader he planned to dismantle the barbed wire along the border. Mr Gorbachev reacted calmly and said border security was Mr Nemeth's problem, not his. The Hungarian prime minister took it as a green light. But could things have gone differently?

"Absolutely, we had worked out a lot of scenarios," Mr Nemeth told me.

"For me, the most important thing in those days was how I judged the position of Gorbachev in power. If he's being toppled, kicked out of power, that would have been a different story, I can tell you."

Like Mr Gorbachev, Mr Nemeth has retired from politics. He is disappointed that crisis-ridden Hungary is no longer a leader in Central Europe.

Lt-Col Bella and chief inspector Goeltl are friends and often meet to talk about the past.

Robert Breitner went on to study politics and now works in St Petersburg, happy that East and West can do business together.

For Father Kozma, little has changed. Except that now he drives one of the Trabants left behind by the refugees he helped 20 years ago.

Viewpoint: The Nazi-Soviet Pact BBC

Viewpoint: The Nazi-Soviet Pact

In the second of a series of articles marking the outbreak of World War II 70 years ago, historian Orlando Figes analyses what the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact meant for Europeans in 1939 - and what it means today.

Seventy years on, the pact between Hitler and Stalin still casts a shadow over Europe. Its memory continues to divide.

For the Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Bessarabians, the pact began the reign of terror, mass deportations, slavery and murder which both the Nazi and the Soviet armies brought along with them when they co-ordinated their invasions of these countries in line with the pact's notorious secret protocols - by which Stalin and Hitler had agreed to divide Eastern Europe between their regimes.

For the Jews of all these lands, the pact was the licence for the Holocaust. For the European Left, the idea that the leader of the USSR could sign a pact with Hitler symbolised the moral bankruptcy of the Soviet regime.

We are not opposed to war [between Germany and the Western states] if they have a good fight and weaken each other

Josef Stalin, speaking in 1939

Pact that set the scene for war
For a long time, apologists for Stalin tried to rationalise his ideological turn-around as a pragmatic necessity to "buy time" for the Soviet Union to arm itself against the threat of Germany.

Certainly, by the summer of 1939, Stalin had good reason to be sceptical that France and Britain were serious about a military alliance with the Soviet Union. The Poles' understandable refusal to allow Soviet troops on to Polish soil was the major stumbling block. This drew the Soviet leader towards Hitler's offer of security.

But Stalin did not see this as buying time for the war with Germany that finally occurred in 1941.

He made no distinction between the liberal capitalist states and the fascist dictatorships - both were enemies.

Through the pact he thought to play them off against each other by giving Hitler a free hand to invade Poland and go to war against its Western allies without intervention by the Soviet Union.

"We are not opposed to war [between Germany and the Western states] if they have a good fight and weaken each other," Stalin said in 1939.

Still an embarrassment

Alongside the pact itself - signed by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and his Russian counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov - were the secret protocols. For many years afterwards, the Soviet Union denied their existence.

For many, the pact began a reign of terror, deportations and murder
It was only in 1989, after mass demonstrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the pact, that a Soviet commission finally acknowledged their existence - though the document itself was not published in Russia until 1992.

The pact remains an embarrassment for those in Putin's Russia who take pride from the Soviet achievement in the war.

Its commemoration is a constant thorn in Russia's relations with its neighbouring European states, which, not surprisingly, recall the pact from the perspective of Soviet oppression after 1945.

The European Parliament has called for 23 August to become a day of remembrance for all the victims of the totalitarian regimes - Hitler's and Stalin's. It is not a bad idea.

Perhaps it would help to ease the tensions that are still created by the memory of the pact.

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of many books on Russian history, the latest of which is The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (2007). His books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Last WW1 British Veteran Dies 2009

LONDON (AFP) - - Harry Patch, the last soldier to fight in the trenches of Europe during World War I, died Saturday at the age of 111, drawing poignant tributes led by Queen Elizabeth II.


Patch fought at the notorious Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 -- where an estimated half a million troops perished.

He is listed by the website, regarded as an authoritative chronicle of veterans of the conflict, as the last World War I veteran to have served in the trenches.

"I was saddened to hear of the death this morning of Harry Patch," said Queen Elizabeth II.

"We will never forget the bravery and enormous sacrifice of his generation, which will continue to serve as an example to us all."

Nicknamed "The Last Tommy" by Britain's media, Patch was also Britain's oldest man following the death of fellow veteran Henry Allingham, at the time the oldest man in the world, one week ago.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown added: "The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten.

"We say today with still greater force, we will remember them."

Brown said the sacrifices of the World War I generation would be commemorated in a special national service, likely to be held at Westminster Abbey in London.

"It's right that we as a nation have a national memorial service to remember the sacrifice and all the work that was done by those people who served our country during World War One and to remember what we owe to that generation -- our freedom, our liberties, the fact that we are a democracy," he said.

Claude Choules, 108, who lives in Perth, Australia and served with the Royal Navy, now becomes the last surviving veteran of the 1914-18 conflict from the British side.

Patch did not speak about his wartime experiences until he was aged 100 and was strongly opposed to violent conflict, calling war "organised murder".

"It was not worth it, it was not worth one let alone all the millions," he said of those who died.

"It's important that we remember the war dead on both sides of the line -- the Germans suffered the same as we did."

Last year, he travelled to Belgium to remember his fallen comrades and unveil a memorial.

Patch was conscripted into the British army at the age of 18 and served as a machine gunner with the 7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.

He was 19 when he fought in the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres.

That battle was one of the bloodiest in the conflict. One of the opposing German soldiers was an Austrian named Adolf Hitler.

After four months in the trenches, Patch was wounded by shrapnel and sent home to Britain, his war over.

General Richard Dannatt, the head of the British army, said: "We give thanks for his life -- as well as those of his comrades -- for upholding the same values and freedom that we continue to cherish and fight for today".

Following the war, Patch worked as a plumber until his retirement in 1961. During World War II, he worked as a fireman.

Patch married Ada Billington in 1919 and the couple were married for 58 years until her death. They had two sons, both of whom Patch outlived.

He married his second wife Jean in 1980 but she died in 1984.

Patch's care home, Fletcher House in Wells, southwest England, said he had died early Saturday. His friend Jim Ross added he was "surrounded by his many friends" when he passed away.

The funeral in Wells will focus on prayers for peace and reconciliation, the Ministry of Defence said.

Patch's biographer Richard Van Emden told BBC television that "he was just a lovely man, he had a sparkle and a twinkle about him.

"He was the last of that generation and the poignancy of that is almost overwhelming."

The website says there are now just three Great War veterans left alive -- Choules plus Frank Buckles, 108, of the United States and Canadian John Babcock, 109, who also lives in the US.

Neither Buckles nor Babcock saw active combat, it adds.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Imperial Angkor

NAT GEO July 2009 did a fantastic article about the fall of the Angkor Dynasty and here's just an abstract.

Imperial Angkor

Its vast water system awas a marvel of engineering - and a cautionary tale of technoloical overreach. At its height in the 13th century, the capital of the Khmer Empire was the most extensive urban coplex in the world. USing imaging radar and other tools, reseachers have learnt that Greater Angkor covered almost 400 square miles, roughly the area of the 5 boroughs of NY City, with as many as 750,000 inhabitants. Most were rice farmers and laborers who worked the giant jigsaw of fields. In the city center, perhaps 40,000 people - elites and farmers alike - lived within the walls of Angkor Thom, a 3.5 square mile enclosure with temples and a royal palace. Though the rainy season usually brought ample water, the ability to store water in great reservoirs called barays and conrol its flow gave Angkor an edge in times of drought or flood. BUt this engineered landscape required constant maintenance. When the water system faltered, so did Angkor's power

Angkor's Complex Plumbing

In Southeast Asia, months of monsoon rains are followed by months of near drought. To ensure a steady water supply, stabilize rice production, and control flooding, Khmer engineers built a newtork of canals, moats, ponds and reservoirs. Massive earthworks slowed the wet-season deluge flowing from the Kulen hills, directing it into canals that fed the barays and temple moats. Spreading across the gently sloping land, the water drained finally into Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia

Sacred Source

The Kulen Hills sheltered the headwaters of the Siem Reap River and were quarried for rock to build Angkor's temples. The hills were logge for timber and firewood o clear land for farming: Deforesation may have caused floods that choked some of ANgkor's canals with sand and silt.

Kulen Hills

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite Dies at 92

By Gary Strauss and Peter Johnson, USA TODAY

From Baby Boomers to the Greatest Generation, journalist Walter Cronkite will be remembered as a voice of calm and reason whenever the nation was shocked by disaster and instability.

The deep-baritone Cronkite died Friday at his New York home at 92. CBS vice president Linda Mason says Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. after a long illness with his family by his side. They had previously said he was ill with cerebrovascular disease.

In the anchor seat at CBS News With Walter Cronkite from 1962 to 1981, "Uncle Walter," as he was affectionately known by his millions of viewers, came into the USA's living room each weeknight, offering a measured presentation of the news of the day.

That coverage included many of the signature events of modern times: the Cuban missile crisis; the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.; the Vietnam War; the Apollo moon landing; and Watergate.

Throughout, Cronkite's comforting, authoritative style earned him iconic status as the "most trusted man in America."

"I had a pretty good seat at the parade," Cronkite once said, reflecting on the 20th century. "I was lucky enough to have been born at the right time to see most of this remarkable century."

Portly and mustachioed, Cronkite would be considered an anachronism in TV news today, a 24/7 environment marked mostly by style over substance. But journalism was in the University of Texas dropout's blood as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Times, later as a radio announcer and then for 11 years at United Press, the wire service where he eventually became a World War II correspondent covering North Africa and Europe and the post-war Nuremberg trials.

He began working for CBS' nascent TV news division in 1950, eventually anchoring the first nationally televised Democratic and Republican national conventions, and later hosting the You Are There documentary series.

"He was the personification of an era," says media critic Andrew Tyndall of "At a time when the entire nation could only get information from a few sources, he's indelibly linked to telling us about iconic events."

Cronkite was on air for a staggering 27 of the 30 hours it took NASA to land men on the moon during the Apollo IX mission in 1969, dubbed "Walter to Walter" coverage by his peers. When astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon's surfaced, Cronkite was almost speechless for the first time in his storied career.

Cronkite earned viewers' respect for his just-the-facts style, rarely displaying much emotion on air. But there was a memorable moment in 1963, when he briefly lost his composure while announcing on live TV that President Kennedy has been shot and killed in Dallas "I choked up, I really had a little eyes got a little wet," he said in a 2003 interview. "Fortunately, I grabbed hold before I was actually (crying)."

Cronkite's influence was such that after he ended a 1968 broadcast following a trip to South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive telling viewers that the war could not be won, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly told his aides, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

It was Cronkite's lifelong fascination with flight — and his unabashed enthusiasm for the U.S. space program— that may be his enduring legacy: his power as a broadcaster was such that he helped stir the public's support for space exploration. "In that age of TV," 60 Minutescreator Don Hewitt said, "Walter Cronkite was as well known as John Glenn."

He was on NASA's list to be the first journalist in space, a project scrubbed after the Challenger explosion.

"I can't imagine any red-blooded person not wanting to get into space," Cronkite told USA TODAY in 1998 before he co-anchored CNN's coverage of John Glenn's return to space at age 77. "Shaking off that idea lacks a certain imagination, a spirit of adventure. I can't think of anything better out there."

Cronkite retired in 1981, replaced by Dan Rather. Cronkite was supposed to have a continuing relationship with the network, but it didn't work out that way, and in ensuing years he smarted at the way CBS rarely invited him back on its air.

"CBS did not live up to the arrangement we had," Cronkite said. "I thought I was only stepping down from the Evening News, but I'd continue to do special events coverage and in-depth reporting. They chose not to use me. I was very unhappy the way it worked out. I kept saying, 'Maybe I could do this,' but it never quite worked out."

Yet in the next breath, Cronkite acknowledged that CBS didn't boot him out on the street, either. He maintained a large office and acknowledged that the network paid him "a magnificent amount of money" over the years, reportedly $1 million a year to do virtually nothing, which made him rich and enabled him to write, travel and found his own TV production company.

Cronkite was married for nearly sixty-five years to Betsy Maxwell, who died in March 2005. In recent years Cronkite wrote a syndicated column, contributed to The Huffington Post blog, received NASA's Ambassador of Exploration award and was the subject of a PBS documentary in 2006 and a 90th birthday party on CBS in 2007.

How did he become "the most trusted man in America?" It was a Roper survey for U.S. News & World Report, Cronkite once said, and he won "because they didn't poll my wife."

And about all this Uncle Walter stuff? "I like to think it started when I got my third chin," he said. Actually, TV was still new in the kinder, gentler '50s and '60s. Tuning into Cronkite and letting him into your home involved a certain intimacy, especially if you were sitting there in your shorts or PJs. So he became Uncle Walter, the most trusted man in America. "I felt it was a characterization of some appreciation," he said. "I couldn't object to it at all."

The man who just once gave his opinion on CBS Evening News was, in fact, very opinionated and in August 2003 began writing a syndicated column for King Features called And That's the Way I See It — a play on his CBS News signoff.

In his later years Cronkite decried the large salaries of TV news broadcasters, which he said created a journalism elite. "When you're making six- and seven-figure incomes, it's hard to understand the concerns of most Americans, no matter how good a reporter you are, Cronkite said. That included himself. "I don't do personal shopping. I don't have to stand in line. They're not, I'm not, living the frustrations of the average man."

He kept homes in Manhattan— he feuded with developer Donald Trump who successfully built a high rise next to Cronkite's apartment complex — and Edgartown, Mass., where he kept a 48-foot ketch, Wyntje, equipped with a bathtub.

But if you sat down in person with Cronkite in recent years, the anchor faded away. He was an old newspaperman at heart, who hung out in police precincts, bars and strip joints in his day, told his share of dirty jokes and still talked fondly of his 11 years at the old "UP."

Unlike today's broadcasters, who work local TV eyeing the network big leagues, Cronkite joined CBS News in 1950 because the money was better, he had a family to support and CBS' legendary Edward R. Murrow wanted him.

But he didn't stay an ordinary Joe, especially after fame and fortune attached themselves to him. Presidents and generals had chiefs of staff, and so did Walter Cronkite. Marlene Adler guarded him and his schedule for years. In recent years he had a knee replaced and wore two hearing aids.

When President Bill Clinton admitted that he had had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky— and then went on his annual summer vacation to Martha's Vineyard with wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea— it was Cronkite who brokered a peace between the couple and took them for an afternoon sail aboard the Wyntje.

Historian Don Carleton, who spent four years as a researcher and historical adviser helping Cronkite with his 1996 memoir A Reporter's Life, says he visited with Cronkite several times a year in New York. He last saw Cronkite at his apartment in March. "He always like to talk about what was going on now. He paid very much attention to the news until the last few months," Carleton said.

When Carleton arrived in New York Tuesday, "I tried to see him (and) was told he was not doing well." He said Cronkite had been in frail condition for about a year.

Carleton is executive director of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at University of Texas-Austin, home of personal papers and documents donated by Cronkite and CBS. (Cronkite had attended UT and worked on the college paper.) A major exhibit of Walter Cronkite's artifacts is planned for May 2010.

To honor him, CBS News is airing That's The Way It Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

Contributing: Sharon Jayson

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's 20 years since reunification but is Germany still divided?

It's 20 years since reunification but is Germany still divided?

The fall of the Berlin Wall was a seismic event in European history. But as Germany prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of its reunification, many are asking: Is there really much to celebrate?

By Tony Paterson

Sat 27 Jun 2009

Most visitors to Germany's reunited capital wouldn't recognise it as such, but there is still a bit of original Berlin Wall left standing in the city's Bernauerstrasse – a street once famous for daring escapes from the former Communist East to the West. The section stands on a piece of litter-strewn wasteland and is little more than 50 yards long. The concrete pipe that used to run along the top of it – to thwart any attempt at climbing into capitalism – has turned black and is falling off. The Wall's once comparatively smooth, graffiti-smeared surface has been picked to the bone: souvenir hunters have hacked away at it so completely that there is not much left beyond the rusting steel-reinforcement rods that somehow hold it together still.

So much for conserving it as a chilling memorial to the Cold War: 20 years after its historic fall on 9 November 1989 and the collapse of nearly all of the Eastern Bloc's Communist regimes, Berlin has for the most part dumped what is left of its infamous Wall into history's dustbin. The only section that has been kept for posterity is a 1,000-yard stretch called the East Side Gallery, which is covered with murals painted by artists from throughout Europe in early 1990. But this part of the Wall has fallen into such serious decay that most of it has had to be completely rebuilt for this year's 20th anniversary of its demise. The artists have been recalled and paid 3,000 euros a head to repaint their pictures.

A few sections of Wall were bought at the time by wealthy Americans and millions of hacked-out bits have been turned into post-Communist paperweights that now sit on desks across the globe. The rest has been ground up and used as underlay for the new autobahns that stretch across the unemployment-plagued former Communist East – nowadays more optimistically referred to as the "New Federal States".

In an attempt to recreate the eerie and menacing atmosphere once exuded by the Wall's watchtowers, floodlights and Kalashnikov-toting guards, a private entrepreneur has built an ersatz, Disneyland-style mock-up of the original in the Bernauerstrasse. It's now a favourite tourist attraction. But just a few yards away in what used to be Communist East Berlin, in the city's once-blighted district of Prenzlauer Berg, the full impact of the monumental changes that have taken place since the Wall fell will come as a shock to anyone who saw the place during the city's division.

The haunting German film The Lives of Others, which tells the story of how an East Berlin writer and his girlfriend are kept under round-the-clock surveillance by the infamous Stasi secret police, provides an inkling of what Prenzlauer Berg was like 20 years ago. The district, which used to sit close against the Wall, was not massively damaged by Allied bombing during the Second World War, but it still looked as if the war had ended yesterday. The borough, which incidentally used to be twinned with London's Hackney during the latter's socialist heyday, contains street after street of late-19th-century apartment blocks. Two decades ago, the facades of all of them were either falling off or pockmarked with the holes of millions of bullets sprayed on them by the invading Red Army (the tactic was designed to deter snipers) as they took the city in May 1945. The district stank of a soft brown coal called lignite, which was used to heat people's homes, and two-stroke-engine car exhaust fumes. It was home to academics, dissidents and intellectuals but also to Communism's failures and rejects, those without enough friends in the ruling Socialist Unity Party to warrant a decent apartment.

Prenzlauer Berg is no longer twinned with Hackney. Perhaps that is just as well: in the interim it has transformed itself into the Berlin equivalent of Islington – a yuppie enclave in a city which has been affectionately dubbed "poor but sexy" by Klaus Wowereit, its gay Social Democrat mayor. There is not much poor about Prenzlauer Berg, however: once the city's punk borough, it has come of age and is now home to a baby-boomer population of trendy, young, middle-class and educated Germans. Its streets, which once had the odd Trabant or Russian Lada parked in them, are now full of Audis and BMWs. Children cavort in the well-organised playgrounds that have been set up on what seems like every inch of green space. They, like their parents, are dressed in designer clothes, while babies are wheeled about in pristine prams costing 1,000 euros apiece.

East Berlin's most radically altered district could be considered a glowing (if slightly irritating) advertisement for the new Germany of Angela Merkel, its first woman Chancellor, who happens to live just outside its borders. It is an area in which the promise – made back in 1990 by Helmut Kohl, Germany's unification Chancellor – that East Germany would "blossom" seems to have come true at last. Yet it is also a stark reminder that the fall of the Berlin Wall has resulted not so much in Germany's reunification as the West's wholesale annexation of the former Communist East.

Gentrification has hit Prenzlauer Berg at a speed unmatched even by the most tarted-up quarters of other European capitals. Ninety per cent of the district's apartments have been vacated by their original East German inhabitants since the Wall's fall. They have been replaced by a generation of young Germans who have arrived as rich invaders from the West. The standing joke in Prenzlauer Berg is that the borough is populated exclusively by Swabians from wealthy south-western Germany. Like most jokes, it contains an element of truth.

The first building to confront visitors as they emerge from the district's Senefelder Platz metro station is a mammoth, yellow-painted, organic food supermarket. It is the biggest of its kind in Europe and run by a chain called LPG – an ironic dig at the former East because the initials were once Communist-party jargon for a state collective farm. LPG does a roaring trade with its environmentally minded customers, who live in the immaculate turn-of-the-century apartment blocks – now restored to their former Imperial German glory – that surround the district's fashionable Kollwitzplatz square. During the recent European elections, the Greens won between 48 and 60 per cent of the vote in Prenzlauer Berg constituencies. Oysters and Prosecco are standard fare at the quarter's Saturday market, which is flanked by a wide selection of French resturants and Italian-run cafés selling expensive Latte Macchiato to drink on the premises or "To Go". The nearby Kastanienallee avenue boasts more organic foods stores and an array of funky shops selling retro furniture and clothes.

One of the main concerns exercising the minds of the quarter's Green politicians nowadays is whether to retain its quaint Communist-era street lamps. Most of the new residents agree they are a wonderful piece of retro chic, but unfortunately they also waste a lot of energy.

Annette Friedrichs and her husband Theo, both in their early thirties, came to Prenzlauer Berg from Hamburg and Munich in the mid-1990s. They both enrolled at Berlin University. "It was the place to be, the rents were dirt cheap and the parties were wild," Annette recalled as she bounced her baby son on her knee in Kollwitzplatz square last week. However, she admitted that since her arrival more than a decade ago, the rent for her 100sqm apartment has quadrupled. Theo, who now works as a meteorologist in Berlin, insisted that neither of them would ever dream of leaving. "There is a good sense of community. With so many children about, everyone is the next man's babysitter," he said. For the other factor that makes Prenzlauer Berg special is that it has the highest birth-rate in Germany. At times, when strolling along its admittedly wide pavements, it is not unknown for pedestrians to run into a pushchair traffic jam.

Prenzlauer Berg owes its near-instant gentrification to developments in the property market immediately after the fall of the Wall. Many of the original, pre-war owners bought back properties which had been confiscated under Communism or expropriated by the Nazis before the Second World War. Most apartment blocks were then sold to property developers who gentrified the buildings with the help of state-funded grants. Many East Berliners have thus found themselves forced out by the Western invaders – and for all its prosperity, the effect is unsettling: walking around the district or sitting in one of its numerous cafés, means being surrounded by what seems like a cloned generation of white-middle-class Teutons. There is hardly a non-European face or anyone over 40 to be seen. "We are stuck with a monoculture," admits Dr Michael Nelken, a 57-year-old Berlin city councillor who lives in Prenzlauer Berg. "We are trying to attract people from other sections of society, but it is not easy. This is what gentrification does."

Baerbel Bohley is a longstanding Prenzlauer Berg resident. A painter, she was also one of the East Germans who led the protest movement against the Communist regime back in 1989. Her flat in Fehrbelliner Strasse was once a meeting place for dissidents, and she was arrested and imprisoned twice for her activities. Now 64, she is planning to leave Prenzlauer Berg for good. Having just returned from several years in Bosnia, she is shocked by the changes in her old neighbourhood. "It's too much for me nowadays," she says.

Even in a slight breeze, 60-year-old Steffi Schultz has to clamp shut all the windows in her Seventies-built tower-block home in the town of Eisenhüttenstadt, close to Germany's border with Poland. Opposite her kitchen window, a giant articulated hammer-drill controlled by faceless men in masks, goggles and helmets, bites its way into yet another of the 7,000 Communist-era flats that were completed in the year the Wall fell. They are all now being demolished, and despite the water jets that play constantly on the smashed living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms from the bulldozers, the dust is everywhere.

Eisenhüttenstadt is the opposite of Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg, but its predicament is shared by hundreds of similar towns and communities in the former Communist East. The town is literally dying on its feet. Before the fall of the Wall, Eisenhüttenstadt was home to a population of close on 60,000. Today, the number has fallen to nearly half that figure and is still falling year by year. An unemployment rate of around 20 per cent has meant that the town's young people have simply upped sticks and gone west in search of work.

Steffi Schultz now survives on a state pension. Under Communism she had a job in a waste-recycling factory which she says she enjoyed, but she was made redundant not long after unification. Fields of flattened weed-choked rubble have taken the place of the Communist-era flats that surrounded her tower block a few years ago. A few concrete table-tennis tables stand in a deserted playground – but the children that used to play on them have long since disappeared. Like many of the other remaining residents in her street, Steffi Schulz is not convinced that Germany's reunification has amounted to much. "In the old days there was a real community round here," she said. "But if it goes on like this there will be nothing but pensioners left in the east," she added.

Eisenhüttenstadt's fall from grace could hardly have been steeper. It was dubbed "East Germany's First Socialist City" in 1950, when it was built from nothing by Communist "Heroes of Labour" to house the workforce and families of a giant steelworks. "Stalin City" was the name bestowed on the town in honour of the Soviet leader. Some 13,000 people worked at the steelworks during its peak years, when it supplied much of the Eastern Bloc. Today, a mere 2,700 are still employed by the works, which is now owned by the ArcelorMittal group. However, the economic crisis means that most of those have been on short-time since last year. The management is due to decide later this summer whether the steelwork's main oven should be shut down – a decision which could seal the foundry's fate for good.

Vast swathes of the former East Germany have turned into a Teutonic Mezzogiorno – the term used to describe Italy's impoverished south – and it has suffered from chronic unemployment almost since the day the Berlin Wall fell. Hundreds of factories and state-run collective farms were simply shut down after German reunification in 1990. The unemployed either went west or were given low-paid token employment under state-funded job-creation schemes which managed to hide a real jobless figure of around 60 per cent. One of the chief reasons cited for the economic failure that still blights much of Germany's east was Helmut Kohl's decision to bow to massive popular pressure and give the east Germans the Deutschmark at a one-to-one conversion rate. The move made east-German exports 400 per cent more expensive, destroying the region's economic base at a stroke. The dilemma was exacerbated by the government's Treuhand agency, which was given the job of privatising all of east Germany's state-owned industry. The upshot was a mass sell-off of east-German business to the west, which in many cases simply meant mass closures. West Germany's powerful trade unions, which took over in the east after the Wall fell, compounded the problem by insisting that their fellow workers in the east obtain equal pay.

Of course, east Germany is not without its success stories. In the south of the country, Leipzig and Dresden have emerged like phoenixes since the fall of the Wall. They have become thriving regional centres in their own right. The same can be said of many of the towns and former Hanseatic cities on east-Germany's Baltic coast. Many have been carefully restored after the years of neglect they suffered under Communism and now benefit from an expanding tourist trade. For the east too, the economic crisis has been less severe than in the west of Germany because its industry is not so dependent on exports. But a drive through the east-German countryside on back roads soon reveals the scale of the problem: in village after village, where the streets are cobbled or sometimes made of sand as they were before the Great War, there is often no one to be seen. Their inhabitants have either gone west, or are jobless, poor and glued to the television. Nearly two million have fled the region in search of jobs since the fall of the Wall and current projections show that at least the same amount again will leave over the next 20 years. It comes as little surprise that voters in the east opt increasingly for Germany's far-right, neo-Nazi, National Democratic Party or the successor to the former Communists' Socialist Unity Party, Die Linke or left party. The neo-Nazis have seats in two eastern states and recently gained a host of new seats on eastern borough councils.

Many east Germans appear to derive some comfort from the fact that their Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is an "Ossi", or an easterner. However, in the view of several leading experts on the east, the country's main political parties have largely failed the region. "The politicians appear to be as clueless as they were on the day the Wall fell," says Klaus-Peter Schmidt, an economic analyst. "It is as if they have learnt nothing from the errors that were made after reunification," he adds. Even Wolfgang Tiefensee, the government minister responsible for eastern Germany admits that although the gap between east and west is slowly closing, it is still much too wide.

The wall may have almost completely disappeared from Berlin, but it is in better shape than ever in Mödlareuth. The village is nicknamed "Little Berlin" and for most of the Cold War it was split in two by the heavily fortified border that ran between the two Germanys. From 1952 onwards, its 50 inhabitants could only make contact by waving at each other over a wooden fence and (subsequently) the walls, watchtowers, barbed wire and armed border guards that separated them. If the Westerners wanted to visit their Eastern neighbours on the other side of the street, they had to apply months in advance and make a detour of some 30 miles to get there.

Mödlareuth has retained all of its border fortifications and serves as a permanent reminder of what the Cold War was about. It also serves as a sort of Iron Curtain theme park, one of Germany's few museums dedicated to explaining the history of the country's division. Its chief guide is a former East German border guard.

When the Berlin Wall fell, Ingolf Hermann was an officer in a crack East German army unit that used to patrol up and down the Iron Curtain. His men had orders to shoot would-be escapers on sight and were expected to uphold the regimental maxim "Nobody shall pass", a perverse adaptation of the famous left-wing Spanish Civil War slogan "No Pasaran". He realised that something was wrong with his Kremlin-controlled world while on a Communist-sponsored trip to Moscow in the months preceding the fall of the Wall. The shock came when he asked for a beer in his hotel. "When the woman behind the bar asked me to pay in US dollars, I was stunned – this is not what I expected from the country we were supposed to think of a our model big brother," he says.

Unlike most east Germans, Ingolf did not rush to visit the west after the Wall fell. He waited a week or so because he was worried that he might be arrested by the west Germans. He then visited covertly, in his relatives' car, making sure he left his uniform at home. In the years that followed German reunification, he tried his hand at business, but had little success. Then he was given his job as chief guide at the Mödlareuth museum, because the west German official in charge thought an easterner should be involved. Now, Ingolf Hermann's working life is spent explaining the intricate history of the division he helped to sustain, to tourists and groups of schoolchildren. He does it with a degree of impartiality that perhaps only a former border guard from a system conquered by westerners is capable of. His other task is sorting out the piles of Communist-era uniforms, garages full of discarded East German military vehicles, and documents and guns that have been bequeathed to the museum for posterity. In more than one sense he is chief refuse-disposal officer for what was once acclaimed as the "First Worker and Peasant State on German soil".

Like many east Germans, who consider themselves to have been more than adequately punished for their country's 20th-century history, Ingolf is ambivalent about the Berlin Wall and Germany's division. "I often ask myself what would have happened if the West had agreed to accept Stalin's demands to keep Germany demilitarised. There would have been no Iron Curtain and we might have ended up like Austria," he says.