WSJ Historically Speaking: When the Enemy Is at the Gates

When the Enemy Is at the Gates

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

After a rebellion erupted in 2011 against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the city of Aleppo found itself split in two. Today, with help from Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s regime is laying waste to rebel-held parts of Aleppo. Mosques, museums, hospitals and schools there now lie in ruins. The image of a stunned, wounded little boy covered in soot and blood held the world’s attention briefly in August, as the siege went on. Many classrooms have moved underground, but the fact that schools continue to operate at all in Aleppo testifies to the determination of parents and educators to keep alive both civic values and culture.

Sieges have often drawn out such higher ideals and achievements, even as they show humanity at its brutal worst. Continue reading…

WSJ Historically Speaking: A Brief History of Leaking

Spies easily deciphered letters by Mary, Queen of Scots ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Spies easily deciphered letters by Mary, Queen of Scots ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Is a private email merely a leak that hasn’t happened yet? It is starting to seem that way after the number of hacking scandals in recent years. We still don’t know the culprit behind the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computers, although President Barack Obama has tied Russia to the operation. The theft seems too sophisticated to blame on a pimply teenager in a bedroom.

But the fact that the reason remains a mystery (was it to help Donald Trump, embarrass the U.S. or settle some private score?) highlights a longstanding difficulty in plugging leaks: People divulge secrets for all sorts of reasons—from the vindictive to the virtuous, and everything in between. Continue reading…

WSJ Historically Speaking: How Earthquakes Have Changed History

A 6.0-magnitute earthquake in Napa, Calif., on August 24, 2014, damaged buildings and caused injuries. PHOTO: RICK LOOMIS/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

A 6.0-magnitute earthquake in Napa, Calif., on August 24, 2014, damaged buildings and caused injuries. PHOTO: RICK LOOMIS/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

The Big One is looking a little more likely these days. Since the California earthquake of 1857, tectonic plates along the San Andreas Fault are thought to have shifted by as much as 26 feet. Only last year, scientists raised the chances of a quake in California of magnitude 8.0 or greater in the next 30 years to 7% from 4.7%. Unfortunately, for all the sophisticated science behind this prediction, nobody knows whether this means devastation tomorrow or many decades from now. Continue reading…