history


TIME's Person of the Year 1927-2009

From Time Magazine, here’s an interactive of all of their Person of the year selections from 1927 to 2009. Click on the image above and you can select each person to read the article from source.

TIME started this shtick in 1927 when they first chose Charles Lindbergh as their Man of the Year for his achievement of the first solo non-stop trans-atlantic flight, supposedly as a way of making up at the end of the year for not having him on the cover when the flight occured. They caught up with the times (no pun intended) of political correctness and changed the title to Person of the Year in 1999, though the total number of women they bestowed this honor to through all these years is a whopping 5 excluding the colletive “You” that they made Person of the Year in 1999 when someone in their offices got really lazy and decided to throw us all masses a bone for our “user contributions” to social and public sites such as wikipedia, Youtube and other internet social, knowledge and information outlets.

A quick count gives me 51 Americans in the list to date, with every serving American President since 1930 making the list at least once. George W made it not once, but twice, and heck.. Newt Gingrich was selected in 1995 for becoming the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years

TIME's view of the world atlas

proving once again that even for the most erudite journos of this land, the “world” for the most part stretches only from the shores of California to the beaches of Maine. Nevertheless, they are very well written articles and provide quite an interesting look into history, even if you feel like you are looking through red, white and blue colored glasses.

By looking at those characters, if you are wondering what TIME considers its criteria is for these selections, here’s a brief explanation from them.

TIME’s Person of the Year is the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.

So, it doesn’t mean the person has to be a heroic figure, a major philanthropist or a Nobel Laureate, it only means he or she had to have been “in the news” through out the year, affect our lives for good or bad, and prove to be important positively or negatively. Hence the selection of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, a villain to the west.. and you wonder if it is also the reason why Vladimir Putin made it in 2007. Surely, he wasn’t

Gorbachev - Twice Man of the Year and Man of the decade.. just don't mention that to the Russians now.

Khomeini - Man of the Year in 1979

selected for the same reason Gorbachov was picked in 1987 and again in 1989, the second time as the person of the decade! I mentioned this to my Russian friend and he cussed out some obscenities I’d rather not type.. but if there isn’t enough validation for so many of the Russians now who loath Gorbachev for being the puppet of the west in their perception, him getting this accolade (if you can call it that) twice, is proof positive. Going back a few decades, TIMES seleced another Soviet leader twice for Man of the Year – Josepth Stalin in 1942 and earlier in 1939. An year earliers, in 1938 TIME selected none other than Adolph Hitler! Just read through that article on Hitler and then come back to 2007 and read the one on Putin and you can’t help but draw parallels between the two – from their rise to ascendancy under somewhat synonymous circumstances to their huge popularity within their countries not despite but due to their despotic, ruthless and dictatorial behavior.

Hitler - Man of the Year 1938

.
Hitler rose to prominence in the post WWI Germany, appealing to the sentiments of those humiliated Germans with hurt pride in the aftermath of a defeated nation desperate for a Nationalistic hero to give them a sense of self respect and global relevance back at any cost. He thrived and prospered in Nazi Germany by spreading his Fascist principles, revving up a sense of “superiority” among his countrymen by belittling, admonishing and killing people of other races, suppressing free speech and all opposition and turning into a ruthless dictator by getting rid of everyone in his way. Here’s a snippet of that controversial 1938 Man of the Year selection and the corresponding commentary..
.
.

What Adolf Hitler & Co. did to Germany in less than six years was applaudeldly and ecstatically by most Germans. He lifted the nation from post-War defeatism. Under the swastika Germany was unified. His was no ordinary dictatorship, but rather one of great energy and magnificent planning. The “socialist” part of National Socialism might be scoffed at by hard-&-fast Marxists, but the Nazi movement nevertheless had a mass basis. The 1,500 miles of magnificent highways built, schemes for cheap cars and simple workers’ benefits, grandiose plans for rebuilding German cities made Germans burst with pride. Germans might eat many substitute foods or wear ersatz clothes but they did eat.

What Adolf Hitler & Co. did to the German people in that time left civilized men and women aghast. Civil rights and liberties have disappeared. Opposition to the Nazi regime has become tantamount to suicide or worse. Free speech and free assembly are anachronisms. The reputations of the once-vaunted German centres of learning have vanished. Education has been reduced to a National Socialist catechism.

Putin - 2007 Person of the year - many similarities in style and rise.

.

Compare this to the circumstances and rise of Putin’s star. End of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, sudden and epochal disintegration of Soviet Union, a suffering but aspiring nation plunged into turmoil by an inept leader in Yeltsin totally incapable of guiding the nascent Russian democracy leaving a corrupted and crime-filled Russia hobbled and rudderless and many of the Russians on the streets trying to sell whatever they can for survival. When Putin took over in 1999, Russia was in dire straits and needed a strong leader.  Here are a few snippets from a very insightful article from TIME on the rising star of Putin and the way Russia is changing under his rule, when they made him the Person of the Year in 2007.

Yeltsin bombed his way out of the threat of civil war and managed to hang on to power, but Russia was left hobbled. Virtually every significant asset—oil, banks, the media—ended up in the hands of a few “oligarchs” close to the President. Corruption and crime were rampant; the cities became violent. Paychecks weren’t issued; pensions were ignored. Russia in 1998 defaulted on its foreign debt. The ruble and the financial markets collapsed, and Yeltsin was a spent force. “The ’90s sucked,” says Stephen Sestanovich, a Columbia University professor who was the State Department’s special adviser for the new Independent States of the former Soviet Union under President Bill Clinton. “Putin managed to play on the resentment that Russians everywere were feeling.” Indeed, by the time Putin took over in late 2007, there was nowhere to fall but up.

..

He is clear about Russia’s role in the world. He is passionate in his belief that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a tragedy, particularly since overnight it stranded 25 million ethnic Russians in “foreign” lands. But he says he has no intention of trying to rebuild the U.S.S.R. or re-establish military or political blocs. And he praises his predecessors Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev for destroying a system that had lost the people’s support. “I’m not sure I could have had the guts to do that myself,” he tells us. Putin is, above all, a pragmatist, and has cobbled together a system—not unlike China’s—that embraces the free market (albeit with a heavy dose of corruption) but relies on a strong state hand to keep order.

..

In his eight years as President, he has guided his nation through a remarkable transformation. He has restored stability and a sense of pride among citizens who, after years of Soviet stagnation, rode the heartbreaking roller coaster of raised and dashed expectations when Gorbachev and then Yeltsin were in charge. A basket case in the 1990s, Russia’s economy has grown an average of 7% a year for the past five years. The country has paid off a foreign debt that once neared $200 billion. Russia’s rich have gotten richer, often obscenely so. But the poor are doing better too: workers’ salaries have more than doubled since 2003. True, this is partly a result of oil at $90 a barrel, and oil is a commodity Russia has in large supply. But Putin has deftly managed the windfall and spread the wealth enough so that people feel hopeful.

Russia’s revival is changing the course of the modern world. After decades of slumbering underachievement, the Bear is back. Its billionaires now play on the global stage, buying up property, sports franchises, places at élite schools. Moscow exerts international influence not just with arms but also with a new arsenal of weapons: oil, gas, timber. On global issues, it offers alternatives to America’s waning influence, helping broker deals in North Korea, the Middle East, Iran. Russia just made its first shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran—a sign that Russia is taking the lead on that vexsome issue, particularly after the latest U.S. intelligence report suggested that the Bush Administration has been wrong about Iran’s nuclear-weapons development. And Putin is far from done. The premiership is a perch that will allow him to become the longest-serving statesman among the great powers, long after such leaders as Bush and Tony Blair have faded from the scene.

But all this has a dark side. To achieve stability, Putin and his administration have dramatically curtailed freedoms. His government has shut down TV stations and newspapers, jailed businessmen whose wealth and influence challenged the Kremlin’s hold on power, defanged opposition political parties and arrested those who confront his rule. Yet this grand bargain—of freedom for security—appeals to his Russian subjects, who had grown cynical over earlier regimes’ promises of the magical fruits of Western-style democracy. Putin’s popularity ratings are routinely around 70%. “He is emerging as an elected emperor, whom many people compare to Peter the Great,” says Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center and a well-connected expert on contemporary Russia.

..

Now that Putin has solidified his grip on power, he no longer seems overly concerned with courting Western approval. Despite a chorus of disapproving clucks from the West, Putin has shackled the press, muted the opposition, jailed tycoons who don’t pledge fealty. In Russia this has been a terrible time to be a democrat, a journalist, an independent businessman. Just ask Garry Kasparov. The chess grandmaster—the highest-rated player of all time—is a far cry from stereotypically dysfunctional champions like Bobby Fischer. Kasparov has a keen political mind and a lively sense of humor. For years he has fought an increasingly lonely struggle as a democratic activist facing an uncompromising state. On Nov. 24, while holding a political rally in Moscow, he was arrested on a technicality and spent five days at Moscow’s Petrovka 38 jail.

A week or so after Kasparov’s release, we are sitting in Moscow’s Cosmos Hotel, where he is taking part in a human-rights meeting. Assembled is a ragtag group of Russian activists, and here Kasparov is a star. (Even here his two bodyguards sandwich him whenever he walks about.) Unlike many of Putin’s other critics, who seem fearful of chastising their leader openly, Kasparov isn’t cowed. “Putin wants to rule like Stalin but live like Abramovich,” he says, referring to Roman Abramovich, the billionaire Russian oil trader who owns London’s Chelsea soccer team. “Putin’s system is more like Mafia than democracy.”

Putin’s administration has blocked democrats like Kasparov from participating effectively in politics by making it all but impossible for them to meet the entry requirements. The President, in our discussion, routinely suggests that Kasparov is a stooge of the West because he spoke to the foreign press in English after his arrest. “If you aspire to be a leader of your own country, you must speak your own language, for God’s sake,” he says. Kasparov recently gave up his long-shot race for President.

By all indications, Putin’s ambitions are not one of a conqueror that Hitler was, though the Chechens, people of Chechnya, might disagree.   Russians believe he is only doing what is necessary to strengthen Russia and make Russia relevant again in the world order.  All the Russians think he has good intentions for Russia and Russians, as evident from his whopping 70% popularity rating, but if Hitler and his evil ways have served any purpose to Germany and the rest of the world, it is that the ends will never ever ever ever justify the means!  Ask those Germans in the mid to 30s what they thought of Hitler and his well intentions for them and their country, and if they had a popularity rating then, my guess is his would have put Putin’s to shame.

In spite of my earlier snickering at TIME’s perception of America as the world in their selections, ironically, this ramble perhaps reads more like American propaganda.  The point though is that the inherent desire and almost a compulsive need for an individual’s search for identity and the perils of its mis-association with a patriotic and mythical nationalistic pride is not only cause for much internal anguish, it is also a dangerous perpetrator of much violence in this world; but the ideals and myths of nationalism and their pros and cons are a topic for another day.

Agassi revealed his addiction to Crystal Meth during the 1997 season

Recently, Andre Agassi wrote a book and revealed that he was on crystal meth during the 1997 tennis season and even threw a few games away because of its addiction. He was criticized widely for his actions by many in the Tennis circles, and rightfully so, but what caught my attention was the speculative debate within the media about the motive behind his revelation. The obvious connotation here was that Agassi was possibly doing this to gain publicity for his book to increase its sales. They wondered why Agassi would do this at the cost of tarnishing a very good reputation he earned through a widely popular Tennis career.

I admired his game in the 90s, he was the most instinctive Tennis player that I ever watched and he could conjure up angles on the Tennis court that most could only dream of, but just like any normal sports fan, I know very little about Agassi the person beyond his Tennis game. He was a dynamic personality, very articulate and always seemed to give a favorable impression in interviews, but I can’t even begin to guess what his true motive was behind his new revelation and in all honesty it is of little interest to me. It could be that since he was writing an auto-biography, he felt compelled to reveal the truth that he was hiding from everyone else, or as the sports talk speculation went, it could also be a publicity stunt to sell more copies of his book. The answer to that can only be answered by Agassi but that is really not the focus of this post.

What if I was a popular personality and decided to write my autobiography? Would I be interested in revealing those unsavory aspects of my life that I am not very proud of, or would I hide them in my closet or gloss over them and only focus on those events that I am proud of that I know will show me in positive light? Why reveal the ugliness in my life or the bad deeds I committed to the rest of the world? What possible good can come out of tarnishing my hard earned reputation? Surely, there is no harm in the world continuing to believe in my legend, even if it is false at some level. So, how does the rest of the world get a truthful, unbiased perspective of my life and personality unless I intend to present one myself? Would a biography or an analysis from a historian solve that problem? What of those thick biographies of world figures? Do they only tell the truth that favors the characters of their subjects? Can a reader ever know the “truth” about a historical personality or a historical even in its entirety?

My true interest here is not so much on Agassi’s motives or for that matter his virtues but in the general nature of characterization of a life along with the mode of interpretation and presentation of an event for the rest of the world to read, comprehend and assimilate in a historical context. How can history present a truthful, objective and balanced perspective on personalities and events? Specifically, how should history be written or revised and corrected so that it is truly reflective of what it ought to be? To answer this question, first you have answer for yourself what is history and why you should bother with it?

R.G Collingwood - a historian and a philosopher

History records and explains past events and life and development of people and their surroundings, in a chronological order. Value and significance attached to history is one of a subjective viewpoint, an opinion that each one of use has to arrive at on our own. Such personalities as Karl Marx and Henry Ford have debunked history, Marx calling it “a nothing” and Ford calling it “more or less bunk”. On the other end of the spectrum, philosophers such as G.W.F Hegel and Sigmund Freud warn us of ignoring history at our own peril, with Freud stating that “only a good-for-nothing is not interested in his past”. My view on history leans
more towards the latter than the former and I can’t explain its importance any better than this synopsis from the British philosopher and historian R.G. Collingwood:
“History is for human self-knowledge. Knowing yourself means knowing, first, what it is to be a person; secondly, knowing what it is to be the kind of person you are; and thirdly, knowing what it is to be the person you are and nobody else is. Knowing yourself means knowing what you can do; and since nobody knows what they can do until they try, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.” This is a perfect summarization of how I feel about history.

If you believe in this value of history, the obvious question to ask is how it should be written to provide this value, because as it stands right now, beyond the places, dates, names and pictures, the veracity of our documented history addressing the life of significant personalities and cause and effect of significant events is rightfully subject to doubt and extensive debate. The reason for this cynicism is partly because most of the remnants of our past history are a conceptualization of historians who weren’t direct participants of those events or those lives. Even the occasional collaborative records of those who experienced those events are suspect with potential bias driven by populism and nationalism.

So it seems like an easy question to answer, just be objective and report the truth, but in reality that is more complicated than it appears on the surface. The realization of complete objectivity in documenting history is a subject of great debate among historians because in majority of the cases it cannot be achieved in documenting anything substantial beyond the dates, names and places. Picking on Agassi again for illustration, imagine that he hadn’t written his book yet and hasn’t revealed anything about his crystal meth addiction, and imagine I am a historian who is interested in writing Agassi’s biography. Let’s say I follow sports and write about Tennis and know of Agassi as much as any other scribe in the Tennis circle, but have little insight into Andre Agassi the person. I clearly don’t have enough to write his biography to present his characterization beyond that of a mere outside observer. So I approach him about this, get his approval; find out about his life and present a comprehensive and truthful biographical perspective on it.  But, a true objective appraisal would have required me to decide on the truth based on purely observable phenomenon and I would have had very little to report on.

John Lukacs is one of the prominent historians of our times and author of much acclaimed “Five Days in London”, an account of Winston Churchill’s decision between May 24 and May 28, 1940, the weekend when his War Cabinet had to decide whether to come to terms with Hitler or fight on alone during those early days of WWII.  Here’s his assessment of objectivity as it applies to human knowledge:

John Lukacs - a contemporary historian and author of "Five days in London"

Knowledge, which is neither objective nor subjective, is always personal. Not individual: personal. The concept of the individual has been one of the essential misconceptions of political liberalism. Every human being is unique, but he does not exist alone. He is dependent on others (a human baby for much longer than the offspring of other animals); his existence is inseparable from his relations with other human beings.


But there is more to that. Our knowledge is not only personal; it is also participant. There is—yet there cannot be—a separation of the knower from the known. We must see further than this. It is not enough to recognize the impossibility (perhaps even the absurdity) of the ideal of their antiseptic, objective separation. What concerns—or should concern—us is something more than the inseparability; it is the involvement of the knower with the known. That this is so when it comes to the reading, researching, writing, and thinking of history should be rather obvious. Detachment from one’s passions and memories is often commendable. But detachment, too, is something different from separation; it involves the ability (issuing from one’s willingness) to achieve a stance of a longer or higher perspective. The choice for such a stance does not necessarily mean a reduction of one’s personal interest, of participation—perhaps even the contrary.

Francis Parkman - a great American historian

For an approach to writing history, Francis Parkman, the famous American historian of the 19th century declares..
“Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them. He must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.”

Beyond that, no matter how truthful and unbiased I might think the biography I wrote might be, there are always going to be elements within that you the reader cannot certifiably verify as true or false. Has Agassi revealed all his secrets to me? Why would Agassi be interested in disclosing any anecdotes of his life that can reflect negatively on him? Worse yet, what’s to stop him from bending the truth to project him better?  So, at the end of the day, it comes to my application in understanding Agassi, his life and his times, and my ability to present an unprejudiced and unbiased view. Even if I happened to be influenced by Agassi maybe because I was once a great fan of his and slant the biography to make him look favorable or choose not to print some facts that would have shown him in a bad light, you the reader are only left to make your own opinions and either trust the veracity of my report or not.

This is not to say that there haven’t been situations where perceptions of historical figures have been proven wrong and re-adjusted by revisionist history. In fact, history is replete with characters ignored or reviled and later revived and adored when the times of our world caught up with their idea or vision. There are many examples of great people who didn’t get their due during their time because few could identify with their point of view. Either they were too eccentric, too out of the norm or too radical – just too different from the mainstream or the popular view of their time. So, they were ignored, ridiculed, shunned and in some cases even arrested and imprisoned. These are people across all walks of life – thinkers, leaders, philosophers, inventors, poets, painters, economists, authors, actors and even comedians – but contemporary history is always a product of its own times and any review of history cannot be done without keeping its chronology in context. There are very few absolute truths outside the disciplines of science and history is no exception. All it means is that, even in this day and age when there are more scientific methods than ever before to verify the truth behind an inquiry, one who is seeking historical knowledge has to understand this and make their own judgments with the information they have. Like Hallett Carr and John Lukacs suggest in their own way:

Before you study the history, study the historian, and before you study the historian, study his history.

Mahatma

Courtesy of Google timeline, I have been perusing some newspaper articles from the past and compiled some clippings from various papers (mostly western) covering Mahatma Gandhi’s non cooperation movement for the Indian freedom struggle from late 1910s to his assassination in 1948. I am only posting a sample of these clippings, but if you read through the timeline, it is interesting to note the skeptical tone of the coverage to a gradual and grudging concession to a few aspects of his philosophy and just like with most great people in history, a broader acceptance and acclaim after his death.

On a personal level, I was astounded to realize how Himalayan a task this was for him to not only apply his principles of Satyagraha against the British rule even as he was constantly being thrown into jail, but also to govern the entire masses that loved and adored him but not always believed in his discipline of non-violence and resorted to rage and riots many times during this period. He would repeatedly call on their affection and loyalty and threaten to fast to death on every such occasion (he fasted more than 15 times much to the ridicule of the western press) and break that fast only after the violence subsided. He was reportedly close to death on more than one such fasts, much to the fear of the British rule for as much as he was detested by them for his non-cooperation, his martyrdom would have whipped up an anarchy that they feared would have been uncontrollable.

Whether you agree with all of his philosophies or not, history revisited is only going to shed an even brighter light on his selfless soul. As one writer summarizes best during Gandhi’s fast to near death to stop the bloody violence during the partition, “but if Gandhi dies, something will have gone from the world which it will be impossible to replace. In all these years he has been accepted by enemies and friends alike as the greatest example of absolute incorruptibility of mind and body. He is perhaps today the one public figure of the world whom it has always been impossible to bluff, bribe or bully. His personal life has always faced any spotlight without a tremble. He has had nothing to hide, nothing to save, and only a life to give for an ideal”. A few months later, he was assassinated by Godse.

Here are a few newspaper clippings, in the chronological order – click on the images for a full view.

Poverty Bay Herald, Jan. 23, 1914.

Poverty Bay Herald, Jan. 23, 1914.

The New York Times, July 10, 1921

The New York Times, July 10, 1921 {Click on the image to get a full view}

The New York Times, March 20, 1922

The New York Times, March 20, 1922

Spokane Daily Chronicle, Dec. 30, 1931

Spokane Daily Chronicle, Dec. 30, 1931

The Age, Apr. 1, 1937

The Age, Apr. 1, 1937

St.Petersburgh Times, August 10, 1942

St.Petersburgh Times, August 10, 1942

The Free Lance Star, Mar. 3, 1943

The Free Lance Star, Mar. 3, 1943

The Toledo Blaze, Jan. 17, 1948

The Toledo Blaze, Jan. 17, 1948 {Click on the image to get a full view}

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Jan. 31, 1948

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Jan. 31, 1948{Click on the image to get a full view}