Vic Henningsen


Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.

For commentaries from Vic from before April 2013, visit the VPR Archive.

Years ago, one of my colleagues was invited to address university scholars in Ecuador about U.S. cultural dominance of Latin America. She responded: “Stop worrying about that. Start worrying about how much the U.S. is becoming like Latin America – with a vast and growing underclass ruled by an uncaring oligarchy.”

Few remember the Peggy Eaton affair, the Whiskey Ring, the Mulligan Letters, Teapot Dome, the Vicuna Coat, the Hughes Deal - all scandals that rocked the political landscape and influenced campaigns of yesteryear. Someday this will also be true of personal email servers, Benghazi, and mythical New Jersey Muslims cheering 9/11.

Ever since Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death, politicians and the press have been speculating relentlessly about his “replacement” on the Supreme Court.

Rachel Portesi

There’s no bad time to look at art, but an election year February is particularly good.

Art doesn’t shout, but it does speak to those who listen and, this winter, two exhibits in our area speak deeply indeed, posing questions about nature, the past, and ourselves.

At first glance, the paintings of Vermont artist Eric Aho and those of South Dakota native Harvey Dunn couldn’t seem more different.  

In 2004, Vermont governor and Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean wondered why working class whites consistently acted against their own economic interests by voting Republican. Some suggested that Republicans’ cynical politicizing of social and cultural values masked economic policies favoring the rich. Others argued that Americans don’t vote on the basis of where they are, but on where they expect to get.

Back in the fall, trying to take a shortcut through a building at Dartmouth, I was surrounded by armed guards eyeing me with grim suspicion. I’d forgotten Hillary Clinton was campaigning there.

It’s said that we’re entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

‘Nothing Ventured’ is the first half of a popular saying that’s been variously attributed to Gilbert & Sullivan, Benjamin Franklin and Geoffrey Chaucer.

Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” consisted of The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as four 1965 measures: Medicare/Medicaid, Elementary and Secondary Education, Voting Rights, and Immigration. Together, they represented the most extensive federal effort to address basic social needs since Roosevelt’s New Deal.

When random hit-and-run tactics prompt the United States or European nations to consider sacrificing freedom for security, let alone actually do so, terrorists win.

After 9/11 it was said that the worst of times brought out the best in people, but, sadly, sometimes they trigger our lowest instincts.

It’s been some time since schools and businesses shut down and the nation observed a sixty second silence at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, marking the end of hostilities in World War I at that time and date in 1918.

On October 25th, 1415, near the small village of Agincourt, a tattered English army under King Henry V scored one of history’s most famous upset victories. Outnumbered, hungry, weakened by disease, wearied by constant marching in autumn rains, English archers rallied to destroy the pride of France’s aristocracy.

In the early 19th century basic transportation hadn’t changed much since Roman times: things moved overland as quickly as a man could walk, a horse could ride, or a team pull a wagon. The fastest means of moving goods was by water, but once on land you were in trouble.

Years ago, a friend used to annoy other motorists by what he called “Vermonting them to death” – imitating his grandparents making their weekly trip to town, driving well under the limit, just over the center line, backing up traffic.

When I first visited Georgian Bay, some thirty years ago, canoes were abundant. It’s not just that they were Canada’s iconic means of transport - evoking the First Nations, explorers, and fur trade voyageurs - and that having one was perhaps an even more deeply-felt expression of nationalism than flying the Maple Leaf.

“People wouldn’t be in such a hurry to get off the grid,” observed my elderly neighbor, “if they knew how long it took to get on it.”

When Congress passed the Social Security Act in 1935 planners believed the scheme would work forever. After all, average life expectancy for American women was 63; 60 for men. Actuarial tables demonstrated that those who reached 65 didn’t last much longer and wouldn’t drain the system by collecting benefits for years and years.

The most common body of water in Vermont is probably the farm pond, built for a practical purpose. Ours used to water livestock, but it really was built purely for fun.

South Carolina’s legislative debate over the Confederate battle flag pitted those viewing it as an honorable symbol of courage and sacrifice against others who regard it as an emblem of terror and oppression.