2001: September to December

History Grapevine Archive

Click here for the History Grapevine Archives.



Re: The Bush administration's decision to release thousands of pages of Ronald Reagan's presidential papers after historians complained about blocked access. Depending who you read, historians have either (a) scored a triumphant victory over the administration or (b) been bamboozled by shrewd maneuvering. In camp (b) is the National Security Archive'sTHOMAS BLANTON, a leader in the fight to force the administration to open presidential records to inspection. His take:

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales announced (via an op-ed in the Washington Post) that the administration was backing down from its attempt to stall public release of Reagan-era documents under the Presidential Records Act. This retreat came exactly three weeks after we filed suit against Bush administration policy on presidential records, in a case brought by Public Citizen Litigation Group on our behalf and that of the American Historical Association and other scholars and public interest groups. Ironically, the Justice Department attorney on the other side of the case also found out the news by reading the Post!

Not included in the Gonzales op-ed was the fine print: Only 8,000 of the 68,766 pages that have been stalled since January are cleared for release; the others are still under review by Reagan and Bush representatives. Until we win the lawsuit, we can expect more of this kind of indefinite delay, with no deadline.


Victory at least can be claimed in the fight with the Adams Mark Hotel. The hotel has withdrawn its $100,000 lawsuit against the OAH. The hotel sued after the association relocated its year 2000 convention when allegations surfaced that the Adams Mark had aggressively engaged in racial discrimination.


How does SIMON SCHAMA find the time to write both his books and the TV scripts based on them? The answer is sometimes he writes the TV scripts first. In a recent interview on CNN Schama admitted that volume one of his History of Britain was based on the TV script and not the other way around due to"exigencies of time." He assured viewers however that volume two was written ahead of the TV script.


Celebrated military historian JOHN KEEGAN was compelled to admit in the Wall Street Journal that he had underestimated the effectiveness of air power alone in the Afghan war. This was his second mea culpa on this score. Keegan was compelled to make a similar confession in 1999 after he had criticized the bombing of Serbia as ineffective. He conceded then that the war was"a victory for air power and air power alone."

Air power has long been derided by historians, citing the conclusions of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, which proved that the thousands of non-nuclear bombs dropped by the Allies in World War II had little effect. DAVID HALBERSTAM in his new book War in a Time of Peace says that the military chiefs were also skeptical about air power until the Gulf War, when a renegade air force official persuaded Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf to try a new strategy based on the use of precision bombs. As soon as the publisher of the book gives HNN permission to run an excerpt, we will.


Add HOWARD ZINN to the list of historians whose views on 9-11 have attracted attention. An email circulating on the Internet chastises the" controversial leftist professor, who is a holdover from the 1960s" for a speech he gave to students at Newton North High School in late November. According to the email, Zinn equated U.S. military operations in Afghanistan with the September 11 attacks. Concludes the email:"News of the incident enraged townspeople already upset with the radical school system's disdain for traditional displays of patriotism such as flags in the classroom and the Pledge of Allegiance, in addition to its legendary embrace of the homosexual agenda."


In the coming months these books will be published: In January a Jacques Barzun Reader. In February, Richard Brookheiser's America's First Dynasty, which concerns the Adams family. The book reportedly concludes that Adamses were born losers.



Historian DANIEL PIPES is threatening to go to court to close down a website run by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Pipes and CAIR have been at odds for years. CAIR says that Pipes has defamed Islam. Pipes says CAIR defends terrorists. Now that terrorists have brought down the World Trade Center in the name of Islam, the Pipes/CAIR controversy is attracting new attention. If you want to know more, both sides have laid out their arguments conveniently on the Internet, but you have to be extremely diligent about the URL address you type in. Type in DanielPipes.com and you get CAIR's web page. Type in DanielPipes.org and you get Mr. Pipes's page. Mr. Pipes is understandably upset that his name is being used by his critics as the name of a website in which his views are ridiculed. His critics say: tough luck.


The Associated Press reports that Israeli historian BENNY MORRIS, who not so long ago was drawing fire from fellow Israelis, is now under attack by Arabs. Morris is one of the Israeli revisionists. In the late 1980s he riled the Israeli establishment with research showing that most Palestinians were forced to leave Israel after the country's founding. (Conventional wisdom was that they left voluntarily.)

Arabs used Morris's research to advance the claim that Palestinians have a right to return to the territory now part of modern Israel. The Arabs may have the facts on their side, but Morris argues that they aren't sincere about their oft-stated desire for peace. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, he says,"deceived Israelis by holding out the promise of the acceptance of their legitimacy in the Middle East, when in fact he didn't really mean it."


Mr. Bush may be riding high in the polls, but he's in the doghouse with historians, who have joined Public Citizen in filing a lawsuit against his executive order withholding presidential papers from public inspection. The suit is supported by the American Historical Association, the National Security Archive, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and presidential historians HUGH GRAHAM and STANLEY KUTLER. This is Kutler's second suit against a president. He spearheaded the campaign to force the release of the Nixon Watergate tapes. In the statement announcing the lawsuit, Public Citizen pointedly noted that the"executive order also raises barriers to vice presidential records - including the vice presidential records of President Bush's father - by providing for the first time that a vice president may claim a vice presidential 'executive privilege,' which the Archives is also required by the Bush executive order to honor."


ERIC FONER has become the Weekly Standard's favorite whipping boy. In the October 22 issue the magazine chastised the Columbia historian for placing himself"beyond the pale with a commentary [in the London Review of Books] that begins: 'I'm not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House.'" A week later DAVID BROOKS, recalling a recent visit to Yale, observed that students there no longer seem enthralled with Foner and other"old icons" of the left like Edward Said and Noam Chomsky, who are increasingly regarded as"part of an over-the-hill generation whose insights are dated." And the week after that Brooks lumped Foner in with Chomsky and Sontag, characterizing their remarks on 9-11 as"sour, critical, and contemptuous of America’s response." Asked about all this, Mr Foner told HNN:

Well, I don't read the Weekly Standard except when I fly the shuttle from NY to Washington or Boston, where they give it out for free, and I have not done that lately. But their response does not bother me at all. All I was trying to say is that the apocalyptic and Manichean rhetoric emanating from the administration (and echoed in the press, including, I presume, the Weekly Standard) is the enemy of reasoned analysis. I guess I'd really be worried if the Weekly Standard agreed with something I wrote.


SEAN WILENTZ, scourge of the Clinton impeachment committee, years ago came in for the kind of criticism the Weekly Standard is now heaping on Eric Foner. No more. Wilentz on October 29 made the magazine's"Surprisingly Good Guys List," which celebrates"people we assumed would be chattering asses but who have turned out not to be." A reader nominated Wilentz for the list after the historian"spoke out strongly in support of military action against terrorism at a rally organized by the Princeton Committee Against Terrorism--the student group opposing campus anti-Americanism at Princeton." The editors of the Standard admitted they were skeptical, but a report in the Daily Princetonian was persuasive."Wilentz mocked root-causes thinking, pointing out that, based on the biographies of the September 11 killers, this would mean terrorism is caused by 'money, education and privilege.' 'To say that poverty explains terror,' Wilentz continued, 'is to slander those caught in poverty who choose to lead worthy lives. [Terrorists] are not the oppressed, but they are parasites on oppression.' Wilentz's bracing conclusion: 'Our opponents must be crushed if not eliminated.'"

Of the Standard's change of heart about him, Wilentz told HNN:"Wait a couple of years and, who knows -- the Standard might just find something nice to say about Eric, too! But I wouldn't be worried if I were Eric, just as I'm not worried now. That the Standard is confused by my views comes as no surprise -- because the Standard is confused by just about everything. And you can quote me."


In a newspaper interview earlier this year ARTHUR SCHLESINGER said that his one regret in life was becoming involved in too many projects that delay his research and writing. Apparently, however, he cannot help himself. There are always worthy projects to be worked on. His latest is editing a series of presidential biographies for Henry Holt. The first two volumes roll off the press this February: GARRY WILLS on James Madison and LOUIS AUCHINCLOSS on TR. ROBERT REMINI sometime later will do -- no, not Andy Jackson -- but Jackson's nemesis (one of them any way): John Quincy Adams. (Just to round out this month's column: It's Sean Wilentz who's doing Jackson for Holt.)


EDMUND MORRIS'S new book on TR, a sequel to his Pulitzer-Prize winner, is titled, Theodore Rex. This also happens to be the title of a notoriously awful buddy-cop movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and a talking dinosaur.

BILL CLINTON -- reminder: President of the United States (1993-2001) -- will be the subject of a new book by Washington Post reporter John F. Harris. It will be the first big book on the Clinton administration by a White House reporter. Due date: 2004. Publisher: Random House. Advance: big. Headache for the Clintons: it comes out the same year as Hillary's.



The headline in the New York Times screamed, BOOK SAYS NIXON CONSIDERED A WOMAN FOR SUPREME COURT. The article below, by ADAM CLYMER, noted that in his new book about his years as White House counsel JOHN DEAN reveals that Richard Nixon wanted to appoint a woman to the high court in 1971. This according to White House tapes" cited in the book." No doubt the headline caught readers' attention, but it was hardly news. In 1999 Mel Small reported in The Presidency of Richard Nixon (University Press of Kansas) that Nixon had"flirted with the idea of a female Supreme Court justice." Small also noted that Pat Nixon had lobbied hard for a female justice, noting that it would be a first. Nixon loved firsts but ultimately declined. One potential nominee failed to receive a recommendation from the American Bar Association. Another was discovered to favor same-sex marriages.

Editor's Note: Stanley Kutler wrote in to complain about this entry. His letter is published at the bottom of this article in the section reserved for reader comments.

$50 MILLION!!!

And the winner is .... Senator Robert Byrd's $50 million plan to promote the teaching of history, which was approved overwhelmingly by Congress, is now being implemented. The funds are being split among 33 states. Several city schools won the fat prize of a million dollars. But you didn't have to be a big city slicker school district to win big. The Dunbar school district won a million, too. Dunbar is in West Virginia, Mr. Byrd's home state. This is probably a coincidence.

(Note: R. Eugene Harper, University of Charleston, tells HNN that Dunbar won the award fair and square after designing a detailed program of seminars and summer institutes that met the federal criteria:"The application is not suspect. There were sixty applications and thirty-three were granted, just one from West Virginia. In the federal design of the program, the grants were intended to be in the million dollar range. The intent was to make a major committment with a core of teachers, and not to fritter away small amounts. ... Sorry to disappoint, but this project and grant award does not fit the West Virginia stereotypes insinuated in the news blurb. As a newsletter by and for historians, one does expect a little more than"National Inquirer"-type innuendo.")


More trouble for MICHAEL BELLESILES, author of Arming America. As we reported last month, Bellesiles's web site was attacked in September, apparently because he had so angered pro-gun groups (he claims that guns haven't always been popular in America, insisting that few people owned them until the 19th century). Now the Emory University professor is in trouble with the academy. So many questions have been raised about his use of evidence that the Emory University history department has asked him to produce a detailed defense of his research. The book won the prestigious BANCROFT PRIZE in 2000. The book has attracted so much interest that the WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY has decided to devote a special forum to the book in April 2002. The forum will feature five experts on the history of guns.


The Library of Congress is looking for a historian to head up a team to write a history of the United States House of Representatives. The plan for the book keeps changing. Originally, the book was going to be a comprehensive work designed for the benefit of members of the House. Now the scoop is that it will be turned into a coffee table book. A search is underway for several million dollars in funds needed to publish it. Final decisions concerning the scope of the project are scheduled to be made in January. Whoever is selected to run the project will reportedly be given a hefty staff.


ROBERT REMINI, the highly esteemed biographer of Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay has now moved on to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. Remini, whose books usually run 800 pages or more, said the hardest part was keeping the manuscript down to 40,000 words, the publisher's requirement.

MICHAEL KAZIN, the Georgetown professor, who recently published an article in the New York Times concerning the Left's response to 9-11, is hard at work on a biography of William Jennings Bryan.

ROBERT CARO continues his biography of Lyndon Johnson. The news is that there still is no news about the publication date of volume three. Caro has explained that before he finishes volume three he has do the interviews for volume four. He's worried the people will die before he has a chance to get to them.


Probably every HISTORY GRAPEVINE will include something on the Kennedys. They are ubiquitous. Cashing in is writer BARABARA LEAMING. Her Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years will appear in November. Her next book? Reports indicate she has been paid in the high six-figures for a new bio of the neglected 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. GRAPEVINE hopes she will be able to give us the inside story on the missing history of the Camelot king.


Journalist HAYNES JOHNSON gets the HISTORY GRAPEVINE award for prescience. His latest book is called, The Best of Times: America in the Clinton Years. It began appearing in bookstores shortly after 9-11.



We start with DAVID MCCULLOUGH. Two weeks ago his publisher printed the one millionth copy of his Adams biography. Enough have now rolled off the presses to have supplied every fourth American in Adams's day with their very own. His next book is a biography of George Washington.

Attempting to cash in on McCullough's success, his publisher, Simon and Schuster, has reissued TRISH TODD'S 1981 biography of Adams's wife, Dearest Friend: The Life of Abigail Adams. Biographies of presidential wives apparently have found a niche. In October PHYLLIS LEE LEVIN, who also wrote a biography of Abigail, is coming out with a book on Edith Wilson, the First Lady who ran the country after the president suffered two strokes.

HISTORY GRAPEVINE had heard that Stanford’s DAVID KENNEDY , author of the award-winning Freedom from Fear, was given a high six-figure advance for his next book. So we asked him. His response was discreet:"As for the grindings of the rumor mill: historians are supposed to distrust such emanations." But he did tell us what the book will be about:"Specialists might describe it as an essay on American exceptionalism. I describe it as a reflection on the distinctive features of the American historical project; in my more giddy moments I've been heard to refer to it as a re-visitation of Tocqueville, with the benefit of an additional nearly two centuries of historical data. The American publisher is Viking-Penguin, and the target date for publication is 2005."

Is there a historian alive who hasn't written about The Kennedys? The latest to do so is famed LBJ biographer ROBERT DALLEK, who can be spotted these days at the Kennedy library in Boston, where he has been given special access to several archives. HISTORY GRAPEVINE heard that he received a big advance, too.

Another new entrant into the Kennedy Book Wars is veteran biographer GEOFFREY PERRET, whose last book was about another soldier, who went a little further in the military, U.S. Grant. Perret's Jack: A Life Like No Other is attracting Kennedy-style attention. GQ is even going to run an excerpt. The author is scheduled to appear on the Today Show.

Also scheduled to appear on the Today Show is RICHARD REEVES, yet another Kennedy biographer. His newest book is President Nixon: Alone in the White House. It's due out in October. Nixon would undoubtedly have been delighted to discover that books about him now apparently can attract almost as much attention as those about Kennedy, finally evening the score. Newsweek is featuring excerpts from the book. Another big book on Nixon is due out in 2002 or 2003 from DAVID GREENBERG, the journalist-turned-historian who writes Slate's History Lessons. Greenberg, who also writes for this magazine, told GRAPEVINE that the book"is a history of Nixon's image in American political culture from 1946 to the present." His thesis: That"Nixon both encouraged and reflected a tendency to regard politics as little more than a contest of symbols and imagery." The book, published by Norton, will be called: Nixon's Shadow.

JOSEPH ELLIS'S book remains on the New York Times best seller list. HISTORY GRAPEVINE has learned that several journalists are methodically going through his footnotes in search of evidence that he fabricated stories about history as well as himself. All indications are that his footnotes are clean. RICK PERLSTEIN, the author of Before the Storm, is writing a long piece about Ellis for the Washington Post.


In the New Republic in July, in the course of attacking DAVID MCCULLOUGH'S new biography of John Adams, Princeton's SEAN WILENTZ criticized American Heritage Magazine, blaming the venerable institution founded by Allan Nevins for"the fall of popular history." Responding, RICHARD SNOW, the long-time editor of the magazine, noted in a fairly calm letter to NR that American Heritage takes history seriously, citing several recent articles, including one concerning faulty voting machines. HISTORY GRAPEVINE has learned that Snow is privately telling people he is furious at Wilentz. (To read the exchange between Snow and Wilentz click here.) This would not be the first time Wilentz has courted controversy. After his 1998 appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, in which he famously lumped the anti-Clinton pro-impeachment members in with a long list of devils from history, Republicans for a time seemed almost angrier at him than Clinton. HISTORY GRAPEVINE notes, however, that American Heritage is harder to ridicule than Bob Barr. (Question for Richard Snow: Is there a reason American Heritage is nearly alone among major magazines in its utter indifference to the Internet? The magazine's website is so out of date it currently features articles from the April issue.)

'Tis the season to make war on people who write popular history. The latest to be attacked is New York Times bestselling author STEPHEN AMBROSE. In the current issue of American Prospect, staff writer Nicholas Confessore calls Ambrose"a hack." His evidence? That Ambrose has published nine thick books in nine years and that"Ambrose has published no scholarly books or articles in more than a decade." Confessore says that Ambrose is guilty of sentimentalizing the World War II generation, exaggerating, for instance, the significance of D Day. Confessore nowhere disputes that Ambrose actually knows a helluva lot about World War II. HISTORY GRAPEVINE wonders if a man who knows what he's talking about can accurately be described as"a hack"?


MICHAEL BELLESILES has apparently so offended pro-gun activists with his book Arming America, that someone hacked into his website in early September and altered records he'd posted there. Several estate records were changed to include pornographic book titles, according to Bellesiles. Around the time that the website was hacked both the Boston Globe and National Review published stories that Bellesiles had misrepresented estate records from Vermont. Bellesiles has suggested that the media relied on documents the hacker had altered. But JAMES LINDGREN, Northwestern University Professor of Law, has challenged Bellesiles's contention. Lindgren says he copied the files in question from the site months before the reported attack and insists they are the same files the media had access to. If you want to contact Bellesiles to find out more, don't try email. He reports on his website"that an unknown web stalker has sent a series of viruses to my email, forcing me to abandon that form of communication." He adds:"It is therefore necessary to use one of the traditional methods."

Doonesbury-creator GARRY TRUDEAU was taken in by the Bush IQ hoax we exposed several weeks ago. In his strip Trudeau reported that Bush has an IQ of 91, according to a study by the Lovenstein Institute. The Institute does not exist. Trudeau has apologized. The source of the hoax, which spread across the world by email, has now been traced apparently to linkydinky.com, a website expressly designed to create rumors and spread them.


First, Germany was sued by Americans for claims stemming from World War II atrocities. Now it's Japan's turn. According to the Nichi Bei Times,"A former U.S. prisoner of war has filed a class lawsuit with a U.S. federal court in Chicago against the Japanese government seeking a reported $1 trillion in compensation from wartime suffering at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army." Presumably, historians will be hired to produce the evidence.

comments powered by Disqus