Second World War history is not Barack Obama's strong suit

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Barack Obama is a history buff. When he makes a political point he instinctively reaches for the historical parallel: the Lincolnesque “team of rivals” making up his Cabinet, Winston Churchill’s attitude to torture or his own family’s experience of the Second World War.

The only problem is that he sometimes gets history wrong.

His plan to visit Buchenwald is in part a tribute to his great-uncle, Charlie Payne, who participated in the liberation of Ohrdruf, a satellite camp.

Last May, however, Mr Obama said that his uncle “was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz”. Republicans pointed out that it was the Soviets who liberated Auschwitz.

“Unless his uncle was serving in the Red Army, there’s no way Obama’s statement can be true,” a Republican spokesman said.
The Democratic candidate issued a correction, but critical historians have found earlier examples of Mr Obama’s elastic approach to the facts.

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john richard barker - 5/16/2009

to me BO is setting us up for holocaust denial!!

Stephen J Cipolla - 5/8/2009

Obama is trained as a lawyer, and a constitutional lawyer at that. He can probably recite the facts and the holding of the Korematsu decision, but I doubt that he could tell you much about the history of socio-economic exclusion and racism against the Japanese in America, i.e., The historical context that made the decision acceptable. We don't learn history in law school.There are courses called "legal history." But, that kind of proves my point. We are taught to manipulate historical facts, distort evidence or keep it out of court entirely if possible.We don't learn anything about history of police abuse and corruption in criminal law;or corporate abuse and political influence in corporate law;or the way that slavery was reintroduced into the South post 13thAmendment by the Black Codes and the courts' acquiesence and silence. And the history of racial oppression codified by the SCt in Plessy;or the SCt's rejection of the history of racist juries in capital cases with black defendants in McKlesky.

Louis Brandeis,one of the greatest advocates and greatest Justices in the history of the SCt,brought sociology and history into the SCT with his written briefs while he was an advocate in that Court. But, law students are not taught to use "Brandeis briefs" as part of their tactical toolbox in law school. Constitutional scholars, and SCt justices are rarely much better than the average undergraduate history major.