Category Archives: News

Lenin poisoned?

Investigating deaths of historical figures! How cool!  This is the job I want.

American medical schools conduct “clinicopathological conferences” giving physicians and students an opportunity to study a famous medical case whose diagnosis is considered questionable.  In the end, a pathologist and an historian solve the case with a diagnosis using up-to-date medical tools and information.

The University of Michigan held a ‘clinicopathological conference’ (try to say that 10 times in a row ).  The attendees of the conference addressed the death of Lenin.  How did Lenin really die?  Is it possible that he was murdered?

Last Friday, 4 May 2012, an historian and a pathologist ‘solved’ the 88 year old mystery of Lenin’s death.

Dr. Laurie, the historian told the audience that Lenin may have been murdered.

“In 1921 Lenin started complaining that he was ill. From then until his death in 1924, Lenin ‘began to feel worse and worse.  He complained that he couldn’t sleep and that he had terrible headaches. He could not write, he did not want to work. He wrote to Alexei Maximovich Gorky, ‘I am so tired, I do not want to do anything at all.’  But he nonetheless was planning a political attack on Stalin, Dr. Lurie said.

And Stalin, well aware of Lenin’s intentions, sent a top-secret note to the Politburo in 1923 claiming that Lenin himself asked to be put out of his misery.  The note said: ‘On Saturday, March 17th in the strictest secrecy Comrade Krupskaya (Lenin’s wife) told me of ‘Vladimir Ilyich’s request to Stalin,’ namely that I, Stalin, should take the responsibility for finding and administering to Lenin a dose of potassium cyanide. I felt it impossible to refuse him, and declared: ‘I would like Vladimir Ilyich to be reassured and to believe that when it is necessary I will fulfill his demand without hesitation.’

Stalin added that he just could not do it: “I do not have the strength to carry out Ilyich’s request and I have to decline this mission, however humane and necessary it might be, and I therefore report this to the members of the Politburo.’

Dr. Lurie said Stalin might have poisoned Lenin despite this assurance, as Stalin was “absolutely ruthless.'”

According to the Soviet press, the leader suffered strokes before his death.  It was claimed that Lenin died of a stroke.  Dr. Vinn, the medical pathologist, stated that stroke was not a likely cause of death as stroke is not accompanied by seizures.  But, Dr. Vinn pointed out that many poisons can cause seizures.  According to the New York Times, “Dr. Vinters believes that sky-high cholesterol leading to a stroke was the main cause of Lenin’s death. But he said there is one other puzzling aspect of the story. Although toxicology studies were done on others in Russia, there was an order that no toxicology be done on Lenin’s tissues.” (New York Times)

Read the full article at “Lenin’s Death Remains a Mystery” .

So…does this exercise prove that Lenin was murdered?  If so, who murdered him.  Stalin is a serious suspect.  Yet, did his wife kill him per Lenin’s own request.  So many questions…looking for answers.

Whose death will be studied next?  I vote for a look at Stalin’s death.  How about Woodrow Wilson? Whose death would you like investigated?  What would history to like if those historical figures had died 20 years later?

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300 French Jews deported to Estonia (1944)

It is a little known piece of history that Estonian prisons, way up here in the North corner of Europe, were used by the Nazis to house French Jews before they were deported to concentration camps in Germany.  Three hundred Jews in 1944 were forced into train cars in Paris and then forced to endure a long dark trip to Estonia.  It is unclear why the Jews were housed here in Tallinn.  After only four months, the Nazis then sent the prisoners back to Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig.

“We can try, but we will never completely understand what those people were feeling, the ones who were sent from occupied France to occupied Estonia in May 1944 as part of ‘convoy nr. 73’,” said [Foreign Minister] Paet.  “In a moment, the future was slashed and what used to be Europe became, for the captive peoples, a uniformly grey spider web of railway stations and concentration camps, in which each thread served a role in the devilish system,” the foreign minister added.

75% of Estonia’s 4500 Jews left Estonia and escaped to the Soviet Union before the Nazis invaded in 1941. (History of Jews in Estonia)

My Jewish friend, Valya, told me that the Soviet government gave her family and other Jews passage on trains to go to Russia before the Nazis arrived.  She remembers leaving and how she wondered if she would ever return ‘home.’ In her early twenties in 1941, Valya, would not see Estonia again until after the war.

Valya was fortunate to have escaped.  Of those that remained, virtually all Jews that remained in Estonia were executed by the Nazis by 1941.  It is estimated that up to 1000 Estonian Jews may have been executed.  Estonia was declared Judenfrei at the Wansee Conference on 20 January 1942.

“The Nazi regime also established 22 concentration and labor camps in Estonia for foreign Jews…An estimated 10,000 Jews were killed in Estonia after having been deported to camps there from Eastern Europe. Four Estonians most responsible for the murders at the Kalevi-Liiva Concentration Camp were accused of war crimes trials in 1961….”(Wikipedia. “History of the Jews in Estonia.”)

In 2012, Estonia, finally free of both Nazi and Soviet occupation, has encouraged research on the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity.   This last week the Estonian Foreign Minister opened an exhibit at the Tallinn Occupation Museum on the French Jews deported to the Baltics. (Estonian Foreign Minister)

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Should there be limits to wartime censorship?

Barbara Tuckman, a journalist during World War II, wrote in her book, Stillman and the American Experience in China: 1911-45how the American government used American journalists to ‘work for the war effort’ by holding back information, giving them false information and even asking journalists to provide false information.

I remember stories that my mother told me about China.  She and my father, a young Naval officer, were stationed in Shanghai prior and during the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese in 1937.  My mother told me wondrous and exciting stories about China.  This led to my lifelong interest in Asia and history.  I was raised on stories about Chiang Kai-shek (Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng [蔣中正]), the Chinese and a world so different from my own.  Later when I studied about modern China at university, I found a discrepancy between her stories and what I read in history books.  Now I know that my mother was repeating stories that she learned from the contemporary press and in some cases those stories were false.

What do you think?  Is censorship necessary during war?  To what extent?  Should the public know more so that they have an opportunity to respond to inappropriate behavior of its government during wartime?  Remember the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War?  or torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?

Yesterday Associated Press apoligized for firing Ed Kennedy, one of its wartime journalists.  Mr.Kennedy defied American military censorship by announcing the end of World War II a day before the Americans wanted it announced.  The American government had agreed with Stalin to keep  the momentous news quiet for one day so the Soviets could take front stage in the surrender of the Nazis.  Kennedy lost his job with Associated Press for his transgression.  I am sure the other journalists who obeyed the censorship weren’t too excited by Kennedy’s scoop.

Edward Kennedy: AP Apologizes For Firing Journalist Who Defied Embargo And Reported End Of World War II

“NEW YORK (AP) by David B. Caruso — In World War II’s final moments in Europe, Associated Press correspondent Edward Kennedy gave his news agency perhaps the biggest scoop in its history. He reported, a full day ahead of the competition, that the Germans had surrendered unconditionally at a former schoolhouse in Reims, France.

For this, he was publicly rebuked by the AP, and then quietly fired.

The problem: Kennedy had defied military censors to get the story out. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Harry Truman had agreed to suppress news of the capitulation for a day, in order to allow Russian dictator Josef Stalin to stage a second surrender ceremony in Berlin. Kennedy was also accused of breaking a pledge that he and 16 other journalists had made to keep the surrender a secret for a time, as a condition of being allowed to witness it firsthand.

Sixty-seven years later, the AP’s top executive is apologizing for the way the company treated Kennedy.  ‘It was a terrible day for the AP. It was handled in the worst possible way,’ said president and CEO Tom Curley.

Kennedy, he said, ‘did everything just right.’ Curley rejected the notion that the AP had a duty to obey the order to hold the story once it was clear the embargo was for political reasons, rather than to protect the troops.

‘Once the war is over, you can’t hold back information like that. The world needed to know,’ he said in an interview.” (for the full story, read Huffington Post‘s site.)

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Justice for Sierra Leone? Special Court delivers a guilty verdict.

Former Liberian President Convicted of War Crimes

UPDATE:  The Special Court for Sierra Leone has found Charles Taylor guilty  of aiding and abetting war crimes on all charges.

The judge read out 11 offences of which Taylor had been found guilty,  all war crimes or crimes against humanity. They were:

1. Acts of terrorism
2. Murder
3. Violence to life
4. Rape
5. Sexual slavery
6. Outrages of personal dignity
7. Cruel treatment
8. Other inhumane acts
9. The use of child soldiers
10. Enslavement
11. Pillage

For an excerpt of the live reading of the judgement by Judge Lussick go to BBC.

I spent 6 months in 2003 working for Sierra Leone‘s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  This Commission worked in tandum with the Special Court for Sierra Leone  and was created to address the 10 years of crimes committed during the Civil War (1991-2002).   My task was to research the 10 year war to create an impartial history of the war.  A gruesome war, families and cultures were torn apart and the communities of Sierra Leone were deeply affected by the war.

Today at 11:00 a.m. Hague time in Netherlands, the Special Court for Sierra Leone delivered its judgement against Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia.  This case was transferred to Europe and removed from Sierra Leone because of security concerns.

“Charles Taylor was charged in an 11-count indictment alleging responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone during the country’s decade-long civil war. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.” (Press Release 4-26-12)

Charles Taylor is the first sitting leader to have been arrested and then convicted of an international crime.  Taylor’s conviction stands to warn leaders that they will be held accountable for international crimes committed against their own people as well as for aiding others to commit those crimes.

“Taylor’s conviction sends a powerful message that even those in the highest level positions can be held to account for grave crimes,” said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch. “Not since Nuremberg has an international or hybrid war crimes court issued a judgment against a current or former head of state. This is a victory for Sierra Leonean victims, and all those seeking justice when the worst abuses are committed.” (

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Armenian Genocide

Today is the 97th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.

I finding it surprising, if not shocking, that today no major newspaper has mentioned the genocide that began 97 years ago.

How can we change that? Who will remember the Armenians? Genocide is not something that any of us can afford to forget.

My grandfather, an Irish immigrant who dedicated his life to working in American law, once told me that we must defend the least of our people, because if we do not, who will later defend us?

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German soldiers preserved in World War I trench discovered

10 February 2012

Twenty-one German soldiers entombed in a perfectly preserved World War One shelter have been discovered 94 years after they were killed.

“The men were part of a larger group of 34 who were buried alive when an Allied shell exploded above the tunnel in 1918 causing it to cave in.

Thirteen bodies were recovered from the underground shelter but the remaining men had to be left under a mountain of mud as it was too dangerous to retrieve them.

Nearly a century later French archaeologists stumbled upon the mass grave on the former Western Front during excavation work for a road building project.

Many of the skeletal remains were found in the same positions the men had been in at the time of the collapse, prompting experts to liken the scene to Pompeii.

A number of the soldiers were discovered sitting upright on a bench, one was lying in his bed and another was in the foetal position having been thrown down a flight of stairs.”


Anniversary of Nixon trip to China: February 21-28, 1972

Assignment: China – “The Week That Changed The World”

“Richard Nixon’s visit to China in February 1972 changed the course of history — reshaping the global balance of power and opening the door to the establishment of relations between the People’s Republic and the United States.
It was also a milestone in the history of journalism. Since the Communist revolution of 1949, a suspicious regime in Beijing had barred virtually all U.S. reporters from China. For the Nixon trip, however, the Chinese agreed to accept nearly 100 journalists, and to allow the most dramatic events — Nixon’s arrival in Beijing, Zhou Enlai’s welcoming banquet, visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City — to be televised live.

The coverage was arguably as important as the details of the diplomacy. It profoundly transformed American and international perceptions of a long-isolated China, generated the public support Nixon needed to change U.S. policy, and laid the groundwork for Beijing’s gradual move to open China to greater international media coverage.

While the outlines of the Nixon trip are familiar, the behind-the-scenes story of how that momentous event was covered is much less well-known. This segment of Assignment: China focuses on journalists who went with Nixon and includes interviews with those officials who sought to shape the coverage. The Week that Changed the World contains previously unreleased footage of the Nixon visit, as well as interviews with journalistic luminaries such as Dan Rather and Bernard Kalb of CBS, Ted Koppel and Tom Jarriel of ABC, Barbara Walters of NBC, Max Frankel of the New York Times, Stanley Karnow of the Washington Post, and many others.

Reported and narrated by U.S.-China Institute Senior Fellow Mike Chinoy, formerly CNN’s Senior Asia Correspondent and Beijing Bureau Chief, and edited by USCI Multimedia Editor Craig Stubing, the film offers a fascinating and previously untold perspective on one of the most important historical moments of the 20th century. Clayton Dube conceived of the Assignment: China project and supervises it.” U.S. China Institute