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History As It Happens

This is a podcast for people who want to think historically about current events. Everything happening today comes from something, somewhere. The past shapes the present. History As It Happens, hosted by award-winning broadcaster Martin Di Caro, features interviews with today's top scholars and thinkers, interwoven with audio from history's archive. New episodes every Tuesday and Thursday.


Defeating Democracy, Searching For Fascism
In the United States and in capitals across the world, liberal democracy is under pressure. We are told that fascism is on the rise. Commentators rummage through the past on the hunt for analogies to explain our current predicament. How does democracy die? What does creeping fascism really look like? Maybe there are solid analogies to examine, if only to confirm that rising fascism is not a real problem today -- or is it? In this episode, political scientist Andreas Umland discusses the crushing of democratic experiments in Weimar Germany and post-Soviet Russia, and the triumph of fascism in the former. 
41:47 5/23/24
The British Mandate
In an essay for Foreign Affairs, the Israeli historian Tom Segev argues that a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is impossible. As early as 1919, the future prime minister David Ben-Gurion observed that both nations' competing claims to the land created an unbridgeable abyss. In this episode, Segev traces the origins of today's war to the era of the British mandate. By facilitating the creation of a Jewish homeland in what was then an Arab-majority country, the British laid the groundwork for decades of bloodshed and grievances. (Foreign Affairs is the official publication of the Council on Foreign Relations).
43:52 5/21/24
Special Relationship: Why the U.S. Chose Israel
President Joseph Biden's decision to pause bomb shipments to Israel over its planned invasion of Rafah provoked a curious charge from Republican legislators. They accused Biden of "abandoning" Israel despite his steadfast support of the Jewish state not only for much of the past seven months (since the 10/7 Hamas attack) but also for most of his decades-long career in Washington. The truth is that every U.S. administration since 1948 has supported Israel, but rarely has the support come without any conditions or criticisms. In this episode, historian Jeremi Suri discusses the deep historical roots of the "special relationship" between the two countries. In the context of the past 75 years, President Biden's move to withhold certain weapons because they may be used to kill Palestinian civilians is the kind of politics that has often tested, but not severed, the bilateral bond.
61:59 5/16/24
Recovering Kennan
The American diplomat George Kennan was the architect of the Cold War "containment" policy toward the Soviet Union. Writing in the late 1940s, Kennan viewed the USSR as a hostile expansionist enemy, but one that would be willing to compromise if checked by the United States. Containment did not mean the U.S. could or should militarily crush the Soviets. Can Kennan's ideas be applied to Vladimir Putin's Russia? In this episode, historians Michael Kimmage and Frank Costigliola discuss the enduring influence of Kennan's ideas on American policy-makers.
61:23 5/14/24
What Is Intifada?
Campus antiwar protests are disturbing some Jewish students, administrators, and politicians by chanting an Arabic word meaning uprising, intifada. Since Israel began its military occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, Palestinians have waged two uprisings: in 1987 and 2000. Both were crushed by the IDF. In this episode, Khaled Elgindy of the Middle East Institute delves into the history and meanings of intifada, as some Israel supporters say the word is antisemitic and threatening.   
62:18 5/9/24
The Elections of 1860 and 1864
This is the third episode in an occasional series examining influential elections in U.S. history. The most recent episode, The Election of 1992, was published on April 4. Audio excerpts of "Civil War" are courtesy A24 Films. Democracy and the Constitution are on the ballot. The fate of the republican is at stake. The potential for violence festers as Americans view their political foes as existential enemies. This was the United States in 1860. Abraham Lincoln's victory as the first antislavery president was met with Southern secession and war. In 1864, Lincoln expected to lose before major Union victories propelled him to a landslide victory, thereby keeping alive the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery forever. In this episode, two of the premier historians of nineteenth century American politics, Sean Wilentz and James Oakes, delve into the enduring consequences of these two "revolutionary" elections.
65:32 5/7/24
The Fascism Distraction
Is fascism what's ailing the American body politic today? Are Donald Trump and the Republican Party fascists or has fascism been around much longer, going back to the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow? In this episode, historian Daniel Bessner, the co-host of American Prestige, discusses what has been a preoccupation among public intellectuals and commentators since Trump entered presidential politics in 2015. Bessner co-authored an essay published in a new anthology edited by the historian Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, "Did It Happen Here? Perspectives on Fascism and America."
40:22 5/2/24
What Is Zionism?
Zionism was a national liberation movement developed by European Jews in the late nineteenth century. Their early vision of a national homeland was fulfilled about half a century later with the creation of the independent state of Israel, which turned a majority Arab land into a Jewish state. Today, pro-Palestinian protesters on college campuses routinely denounce Zionism as a violent colonial project. In this episode, political scientist Ian Lustick recovers Zionism's historical origins and discusses its future, as roughly 7 million Jewish Israelis face as many Arab residents on territory controlled by Israel.
62:34 4/30/24
An Ally in the South China Sea
The Philippines' oldest ally is the United States. Bound by a mutual defense treaty more than 70 years old, the two nations are aligning against China's aggressive behavior in the vitally important South China Sea. If the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte marked a low point in relations, new president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is renewing the alliance with the U.S. while also courting other nations in the Indo-Pacific and Europe in an anti-China coalition. In this episode, The Washington Times Asia bureau chief Andrew Salmon and U.S. Institute of Peace senior expert Brian Harding discuss the up and down history of the alliance and the importance of keeping the South China Sea from becoming a Chinese lake.
48:51 4/25/24
When Reagan Pressured Israel
After Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982, President Ronald Reagan grew infuriated by Israel's siege of Beirut because of thousands of civilian casualties. His administration cut off some arms shipments to Israel, and Reagan himself tore into Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to convince him to withdraw. Today, President Joseph Biden is being criticized for failing to effectively exert U.S. pressure on Israel to curb its campaign in Gaza to protect Palestinian civilians and avoid provoking a wider Middle Eastern war. In this episode, historian Salim Yaqub, an expert on U.S. foreign relations and the Middle East, delves into the analogy between Reagan in 1982 and Biden in 2024.
64:23 4/23/24
Trump Against the Founders
Former President Donald Trump claims he is absolutely immune from criminal charges as he tries to stop Special Counsel Jack Smith from prosecuting him. Trump is to stand trial for attempting to overturn the 2020 election, an effort that culminated in the Jan. 6 riot attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Trump's immunity claim on April 25. In an amicus brief filed with the court, fifteen founding-era scholars contend there is no historical basis for Trump's claim. In this episode, historians Jack Rakove and Joseph Ellis discuss the founders' fears of unaccountable monarchs and the possible consequences for American democracy should the Supreme Court validate Trump's claim.
69:54 4/18/24
Origins of Our Border Crisis
By focusing our attention on only what's happening at the U.S.-Mexico border, we cannot hope to understand the causes of migration or its full consequences. U.S. authorities are encountering record-shattering numbers of migrants crossing into the United States because their home countries continue to lack political and economic stability. The origins of the crisis can be found in decades of political persecution, violence, crime, the rise of gangs, and climate-related crop catastrophes and natural disasters. Meanwhile, the U.S. political system failed to pass comprehensive reform, instead pouring billions into deportation and detention. In this episode, Catholic University historian Julia Young discusses the roots of migration to America.
70:22 4/16/24
Who's ISIS-K?
The Islamic State-Khorasan is forging a reputation for ferocious terrorist violence. Its gunmen massacred 137 people at a Moscow concert hall in March. In January, the group's jihadists slaughtered dozens at a memorial service in Iran. In August 2021, ISIS-K was behind the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. soldiers and 170 Afghan civilians. Who are these guys? Who is their leader? And what does ISIS-K aim to accomplish by committing spectacular acts of terrorism far from its home base in Afghanistan. In this episode, New America vice president and CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen discuss the group's origins, motives, ideas, and goals. 
36:34 4/11/24
Still Bombing Baghdad
The U.S. invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein more than 21 years ago, yet the U.S. is still at war there. Why? Against whom? Will American forces ever leave the country U.S. leaders claimed was liberated way back in mid-2003? In this episode, Chatham House analyst Renad Mansour talks about the armed groups that have attacked U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, triggering tit-for-tat retaliatory airstrikes that damaged the militias' military infrastructure but failed to advance the political and governmental reforms necessary to turn Iraq into a stable nation-state. A generation after invading and causing a catastrophe, the U.S. cannot extricate itself from Iraq. Also, read Renad Mansour's essay about the Iraqi armed groups in Foreign Affairs, the official publication of the Council on Foreign Relations.
41:17 4/9/24
The Election of 1992
This is the second episode in an occasional series examining influential elections in U.S. history. The first installment, The Election of 1980, was published on March 4. A Republican incumbent faced a Democratic challenger trying to end 12 years of GOP control of the White House. A right-wing insurgent and a Texas businessman tried to upend the status quo by appealing to populist grievances against "the establishment." The election of 1992 was the first of the post-Cold War period, making it the first presidential contest of the era we live in today. In this episode, historians Jeffrey Engel and Jeremi Suri discuss and debate its enduring significance.
70:54 4/4/24
After Arafat
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died 20 years ago. A generation later, his people appear no closer to achieving their national aspirations than they did during his lifetime. Arafat was reviled by some for PLO terrorism; others celebrated him as a freedom fighter. For years he tried violent resistance; in the 1990s he signed the Oslo Accords. Neither produced Palestinian statehood. His legacy also raises the question, still relevant today, of whether violence is legitimate or even effective at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this episode, Omar Rahman of the Middle East Council on Global Affairs discusses Arafat and the Palestinian cause some 60 years after the founding of the PLO.
67:34 4/2/24
Too Old (Or Young) To Be President
How old is too old to run the country? Donald Trump will turn 78 in June. The incumbent Joseph Biden will turn 82 shortly after the November election. Biden is already the oldest president in U.S. history, succeeding Trump who had been the oldest (70) at inauguration in 2017. Rarely have age and mental fitness been such prominent issues in a presidential campaign. But past candidates for the White House successfully dealt with questions about their health and wits. Dwight Eisenhower, then in his mid-60s, suffered a major heart attack the year before he won re-election in 1956. Ronald Reagan faced questions about his age as early as the mid-1970s. Getting old can be either an asset or liability depending on the candidate, as can youth. JFK, Clinton, and Obama all parried accusations they lacked the experience to handle the job. In this episode, presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky tells us which politicians handled the age question the best -- and how they did it.
44:17 3/28/24
Securing Ukraine / Negotiating With Putin?
As military aid remains stalled in Congress, Ukraine is facing shortages of weapons and ammo as its military forces fight a war of attrition against the Russian invaders. Moscow now has more than 400,000 troops in Ukraine which also faces a manpower shortage. In this episode, Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft argues time is not on Ukraine's side, so Kyiv and its Western backers, namely the U.S., should seek a diplomatic resolution to the war. Are negotiations with Putin possible? Can Ukraine be secure while ceding territory to an aggressor?
43:07 3/26/24
Debs (Running For President From Prison)
At a campaign rally in Ohio, Donald Trump said some things that, depending on your perspective, were either appalling or patriotic. He defended the Jan. 6 rioters as "hostages," called some migrants crossing the southern border "animals," and warned there would be a "bloodbath" if he isn't elected in November -- although his defenders pointed out he was referring to the U.S. auto industry which, according to Trump, needs tariff protection from Chinese imports. Whatever one thinks of Trump's latest demagoguery, it wasn't illegal. One-hundred-six years ago in Ohio, an antiwar speech delivered by Eugene V. Debs did break the law -- by violating the Espionage Act. Debs was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Yet Debs still ran for president as the Socialist Party candidate in 1920. If Trump were to find himself in a similar situation come November (if any of his pending criminal trials are held by then), he too could campaign from behind bars. But this is where the similarities between Trump and Debs end. In this episode, Michael Kazin, a distinguished historian of political and social movements at Georgetown University, discusses the other reasons Eugene V. Debs is an American worth remembering. 
41:57 3/21/24
Anarchy in Haiti
Haiti is collapsing under gang-fueled lawlessness. The central government has lost control of most of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The de facto prime minister Ariel Henry has agreed to resign under pressure. Ordinary citizens are being kidnapped by gangs and held for ransom. They have been gunned down in wild shootouts, and are desperate for basic necessities. Caribbean neighbors have agreed to create a transitional council to fill the power vacuum, but it faces internal opposition from rival factions within Haiti. In this episode, Keith Mines of the U.S. Institute of Peace discusses the sources of anarchy in a country that once appeared headed for a brighter future after the Duvalier dictatorship more than 30 years ago.  
48:16 3/19/24
Netanyahu's War
Throughout his long political career -- as a diplomat, Likud party leader, or Israeli prime minister -- Benjamin Netanyahu has obsessed over his country's security while vehemently opposing Palestinian statehood and U.S.-Iran rapprochement. He promised his people they could be safe, have settlements, and co-exist with Palestinians marooned in permanent statelessness. Now 74 years old and fighting for his political survival, Netanyahu is prosecuting a war of immense destruction after Israel's "mowing the grass" strategy in Gaza was destroyed by the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7.  In this episode, the Middle East Institute's Nimrod Goren looks back on Netanyahu's time as soldier, statesman, and political survivor.
58:25 3/14/24
Historians vs. Trump, Revisited
This is the follow-up episode to the one published on Feb. 6 previewing the oral arguments in the Colorado ballot case, Trump v. Anderson. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state may not disqualify a candidate for federal office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, whose Reconstruction-era framers sought to bar anyone from holding office who had violated their oath by engaging in insurrection. In doing so, the Supreme Court restored Donald J. Trump to the Colorado ballot. But the conservative majority also invented a rule that only Congress has the power to disqualify by passing legislation, something that has no constitutional basis. In this episode, University of Maryland constitutional scholar Mark Graber explains where the Supreme Court mangled U.S. history. Graber also provides a definition of insurrection based on his exhaustive research of centuries of relevant cases.
50:56 3/12/24
After Putin
In power for nearly a quarter century, Vladimir Putin, 71, is a modern-day tsar -- an autocrat largely unaccountable to his people -- except he has no known successor. Whether the Russian president rules for another week or another decade, there will come a time when he’s gone. Who might replace him is a mystery. Also unclear is how Putin might be replaced: by a violent coup? Some legal way under the Russian constitution? In this episode, Liana Fix of the Council on Foreign Relations and Maria Snegovaya of the Center for Strategic & International Studies use the Soviet past as a guide to understanding possible scenarios under which a successor may emerge -- and what new leadership in the Kremlin means for Russia, Europe, and the United States.
44:27 3/7/24
Election of 1980
Hey, 2024 is an election year! This is the first episode in an occasional series examining influential elections in U.S. history. The moralistic incumbent expressed anguish over soulless materialism. The optimistic challenger promised Americans they could overcome any and all problems. The election of 1980 pitted Democrat Jimmy Carter against Republican Ronald Reagan as Americans struggled with stagflation at home and crises abroad. Reagan's victory marked a sea change in U.S. politics, tilting the political landscape to the right. Reagan crusaded against big government and Soviet Communism. If the incumbent looked impotent in the face of these vexing problems, Reagan projected strength -- a timeless lesson of campaigning. In this episode, historians Jeremi Suri and Jeffrey Engel discuss why this election still matters.
81:09 3/4/24
Who Was Alexei Navalny?
Alexei Navalny was Russia’s most prominent and effective opposition leader, an anti-corruption crusader and democratic politician who entered public life as a provocative blogger around the same time his future persecutor, Vladimir Putin, became Russia's president. Navalny died inside an Arctic penal colony on Feb. 16. He was 47. He leaves a legacy, setting an example of how to challenge the regime even while under constant state persecution. In this episode, Miriam Lanskoy of the National Endowment for Democracy explains who Navalny was, why his opposition movement was so effective, and what his death says about late Putinism. 
38:37 2/29/24
Strangelove at 60
In early 1964, Stanley Kubrick's black comedy Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb premiered in theaters. Sixty years later, it remains one of Kubrick's greatest films, a commentary on the madness of the idea that anyone could win a nuclear exchange. If you watch the film today unaware of the cultural and political milieu in which it was made, you might not get the jokes. In this episode, Joe Cirincione, an expert on nuclear arms control and the history of the arms race, discusses the very real scenarios the movie brilliantly satirized. 
50:26 2/27/24
Two Years of War w/ Michael Kimmage and Mark Galeotti
In every war, there is a battle over its origins. In this episode, historians Michael Kimmage and Mark Galeotti discuss Kimmage's new book, "Collisions," which seeks to explain why the excessive optimism of the early 1990s about Russia's path toward democracy and market economics never materialized. Moreover, Kimmage's narrative explains what led to each major collision between Russia and Ukraine; Russia and Europe; and Russia and the larger "rules-based order" led by the United States. Russia under Putin -- and for a brief period, Dmitry Medvedev -- and the United States under five presidential administrations could not overcome a fundamental dissonance in how each viewed the other's role in the world. Institutions such as NATO and the E.U., seen in the West as bulwarks of democracy, human rights, and economic prosperity, were viewed with hostility by Putin, who believed an independent Ukraine had no right to join them. ((Note: This conversation was recorded before the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka fell to Russian forces))
64:35 2/22/24
Two Years of War w/ Yaroslav Trofimov
When Russian shells began raining on Ukrainian cities and Russian tanks smashed across the border toward Kyiv on Feb. 24, 2022, much of the world wrote off Ukraine. But Vladimir Putin's war of aggression did not go as planned. Ukrainian forces not only stopped the Russian drive on the capital, they drove the Russians back. This is the story told by the Wall Street Journal's Yaroslav Trofimov in "Our Enemies Will Vanish," an eyewitness account of the war's first year. In this episode, Trofimov, who has spent two decades covering conflicts from the front lines, discusses what's at stake for Ukraine as the war turns into a First World War-style slog, and as U.S. aid for Ukraine is entangled in election-year politics. ((Note: This conversation was recorded before the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka fell to Russian forces))
46:56 2/20/24
Rwanda's Genocide, 30 Years On
In 1994 Rwanda was scarred by an organized campaign of mass carnage perpetrated by the Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus. It was the final genocide of the twentieth century, with the killers murdering about one million people in about 100 days. The United Nations and U.S. looked on but failed to act, a tragic misstep that has influenced decision-makers since to look differently at the task of intervening in foreign conflicts to protect the innocent. In this episode, Omar McDoom of the London School of Economics and Political Science, a scholar of genocide and expert on central Africa, reflects on the enduring lessons of Rwanda's darkest hour.
55:34 2/15/24
All We Are Saying Is Give War A Chance
Most everywhere one looks in the Middle East today there is conflict: Israel-Gaza, Yemen and the Red Sea, Iraq, Iran and its proxies. The catalyst for this mayhem is the failure to reach a ceasefire in Israel's war against Hamas that would allow for the release of all remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas militants. Some analysts see the dangerous potential for a wider war -- or even a global war between the U.S. and its allies on one side versus Russia, China, Iran and other despotic regimes on the other. In this episode, Trita Parsi of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft breaks down the causes of today's dangerous crises. 
42:57 2/13/24

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