2004: January to August

History Grapevine Archive




SUMMER 2004

THE SUMMER THAT WAS

Here's what you missed while you were napping, reading, or writing this summer. Overseas, China published on an official website the claim that Goguryeo Kingdom --long regarded as a part of the ancestral history of Korea--is actually part of Chinese history. South Koreans--one of whom went so far as to say "the war has just begun"-- shot back that China was guilty of rewriting history. Meanwhile, China was busy accusing Japan of rewriting history after a Tokyo school district adopted a textbook that conveniently whitewashes the history of Japan's invasion and occupation of China. While those disputes were simmering, a Thai art historian--PIRIYA KRAIRIKSH--came under attack in his own country for questioning the "authenticity of the 14th-century Sukhothai inscription on the King Ramkhamhaeng Stone, which all Thai school children are taught marks the beginning of the Thai writing system," as one newspaper account summarized the dispute. Piriya argued that the inscription was actually made in the nineteenth century "to prove to Westerners that Thai civilisation was centuries old." After Piriya sought to be elected president of the Siam Society and the scholarly dispute became public, "a group of residents in Sukhothai threatened to hold a traditional cursing ceremony by burning chilli and salt ... citing the damages to Sukhothai's prestige and tourism industry." No one thinks that civil war is about to break out in Thailand over the controversy. But Thongchai Winichakul, one of the country's leading historians, observed ominously: "Seeking historical truth may prove damaging to your health, because people feel they already know what the truth is. For them, these truths are unquestionable."

In Australia the so-called "history wars" continued over KEITH WINDSCHUTTLE'S claim that historians Down Under had fabricated an overwrought picture of aboriginal suffering at the hands of white overlords. According to one newspaper account, the Australian Historical Association, at its annual convention, "spent virtually an entire day trying to work out strategies to deal with the menace [of Windschuttle's accusations]. Would there be safety in numbers if academics stood together? What should be done when the terror struck again? How could anyone survive when the mass media was in on the conspiracy?" LYNDALL RYAN, one of the Windschuttle's targets, who admitted to five erroneous footnotes, declared in a paper that "The AHA"--that's the Australian Historical Association--"and universities need strategies and protocols in place to address future assaults on academic historians." AHA president, DAVID CARMENT, "raised, though he did not fully support, the concept put forward by West Australian historian Cathie Clement for a code of ethics that would gag historians from criticising the integrity of their peers in public." Another historian suggested they hone their media skills so the next time Windschuttle attacks they are ready to respond.

And all that was just what was happening on the other side of the world. Over here a history book became the subject of such a hot controversy that some surmised it might cost John Kerry the election. The book, of course, is DOUGLAS BRINKLEY'S new book, Tour of Duty, which is said to have so provoked the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" that they felt compelled to declare war on Kerry. "I had forgotten all of this, and then the book came out," retired Navy Capt. George M. Elliott told the media. "Thirty years ago, every man in United States military uniform was a war criminal, and in 2004 a lone hero emerges and his name is John Kerry. That's not right. That's just not right."

Has any other history book played an important role in an election? Grapevine can think of only one: JFK's Profiles in Courage, and it did not have nearly the impact that Brinkley's book has had, of course. Brinkley himself briefly became a center of attention when the Kerry campaign claimed it could not release Kerry's Vietnam diary because Brinkley supposedly had been given exclusive access. For several days the usually omnipresent Brinkley was nowhere to be seen, giving rise to the jibe that he "seems to have entered the witness protection programme." When he surfaced he disclosed that he doesn't control the diary and has no objections to its release. Hard as the controversy has been on Kerry, it's been a boon to the sales of the book. Some 95,000 copies have been sold. Brinkley says it is his first bestseller. (The book put out by the Swift Boat Vets has also become a bestseller.) A paperback is being prepared that will include new material and a few minor corrections, says Brinkley. Minor corrections? Brinkley's critics say the corrections are substantial and numerous. We'll have to wait and see.

SO WHERE'S MOSER?

Another historian missing in action, so to speak, during the height of the Vietnam controversy was RICHARD MOSER. Moser is the nation's leading academic authority on the Vietnam soldiers who turned against the war. But during the recent debates over the Winter Soldier investigation Moser was mum. Where was he? We found him at his office at the AAUP as he was in the process of moving to a new job, moving into a new house, and sending a child off to college. He felt badly about sitting out the debate, he told HNN, but his"books and files [are] all boxed up." He did, however, agree to an interview, which we published on August 30.

OUR SCANDALS DISSECTED

The galleys are out for PETER HOFFER'S book about the history scandals--one of two books scheduled to be published on the subject before the end of the year. Hoffer, drawing on his experience as a member of the AHA's professional division when it made a practice of investigating plagiarism and other offenses, takes a no-prisoners approach. STEPHEN AMBROSE--guilty of plagiarism, of course, insists Hoffer, who notes that a journalist had found evidence of plagiarism in Ambrose's second book, which was published in 1964, long before he turned to popular history. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN--yes, her, too, he says in a chapter that bluntly uses the "P" word to describe her transgressions. MICHAEL BELLESILES--guilty of fraud.

As for JOSEPH ELLIS--here's where things get interesting. While Ellis has been welcomed back into the good graces of the profession on the grounds that he had simply let his imagination get the better of him, Hoffer suggests that Ellis's integrity as a writer may be in question, too. Hoffer observes that in American Sphinx, Ellis leaves the "strong impression " that he was present at a week-long meeting about Jefferson held in 1992 at the University of Virginia. Ellis quotes Jefferson scholar Paul Finkelman incorrectly, however, suggesting that Ellis had relied on an erroneous account of the meeting provided in a newspaper. Yet in Ellis's footnotes he doesn't cite the newspaper story--"shades of Ambrose" says Hoffer, who says that Ellis's hinting he was at the meeting is "awfully close to his fabrications about other, personal matters." Hoffer writes sympathetically about Ellis, noting that Ellis became a better writer when he began to let his imagination fly. But in lying to his students Ellis obviously earned "our censure."

The book will be published in October by PublicAffairs. Hoffer says he wrote it for the general public, but the way he frames the issues will be of interest to historians. As Hoffer notes, the plagiarism scandals are but one dimension of the larger crisis in which history finds itself today. Historians will also want to check the index. A remarkable number come in for criticism.

HOW DID HE DO IT?

"Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States Millions of men and women readied themselves for work." Thus begins a book that sounds like it might have been written by DAVID McCULLOUGH, but which was in fact produced by the United States government: The 9/11 Commission Report. There's a reason it reads so well. It was, to a great extent, the work of a historian, the University of Virginia's PHILIP ZELIKOW, the commission's executive director. It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the size of his achievement. At a time when the work of historians is so often being called into question, Zelikow has produced a government report that derives much of its power from the fact that it reads like a history book--and by virtue of that has achieved the near impossible goal of finding a large popular audience. At a time of crisis in the history profession it has taken a historian on a government payroll to help restore faith in the ordinary work of historians: the accumulation of evidence, the explanation of cause and effect, and the writing of a pleasing narrative devoid of jargon.

BEFORE ITS TIME?

Harvard's FRANK FREIDEL famously was ridiculed in the late 1940s for writing about FDR so soon after Roosevelt's presidency had ended. What might they say now? Over the summer two books by famous historians appeared attempting to put into perspective the Bush administration. First, came JOHN KEEGAN'S instant history of The Iraq War. Then came ARTHUR SCHLESINGER, JR.'SWar and the American Presidency. Neither book has fared well in the pages of book reviews. Keegan's book, which provides an account of the U.S. military's speedy race to Baghdad, is considered "readable" but disappointing: "the book leaves the reader wanting a conclusion, which cannot yet be written." Schlesinger's book, which focuses on what he refers to as the revival of the imperial presidency under Bush, was damned in the NYT for its fleeting attention to important issues. We report. You decide.

MOVIE WATCH

Over the last few years, as Grapevine has noted time and again, Hollywood has been making an effort to depict historians and the writing of history in a positive light. They have done it yet again. In the new version of the Stepford Wives Nicole Kidman, playing the role of a crazed TV executive with a maniacal do-anything-for ratings personality, is made human in a scene in which she is featured as a woman on the road to redemption by depicting her as a reader of a history book, Robert Caro's third volume on LBJ. The director even has her note that she can't wait for the fourth volume.

WERE THEY JUST IN A RUSH?

Reading the corrections page in the NYT has been boring lately, but one, from June 8, caught our eye:

Because of an editing error, an obituary of former President Ronald Reagan yesterday referred incorrectly in some copies to the Nicaraguans known as contras, to whom his subordinates secretly diverted profits from selling arms to Iran. They were rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government, not the Marxist Sandinistas who ran the government.

Yes, that would be getting things wrong.

SPEAKING OF RONALD REAGAN

It was to be expected that politicians would try to exploit their connections to Ronald Reagan following his death in June at age 93. Within days even John Kerry was saying nice things about Reagan. But nothing topped the Nixon Library's embrace. Into our email box at HNN a scant three days after Reagan's death came a news release announcing that "The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace is honoring the life and legacy of Ronald Wilson Reagan with a special exhibition illuminating the relationship between America's 40th and 37th Presidents." Like the old master himself, the Nixon library had figured out that it was profitable to rub shoulders with those who are loved even if Nixon himself wasn't. Those visiting the library were invited to sign a remembrance book that would eventually be sent on to the Reagan family. Will the library do the same for Gerald Ford when he finally passes from the scene? Or Jimmy Carter? Or Bill Clinton? Or does the library only honor past presidents with remembrance books who are popular? One wonders. When Nixon died did other presidential libraries establish remembrance books in his honor? And just how close were Nixon and Reagan anyway that the library has devoted an entire exhibit to their "friendship"? One suspects that if Reagan weren't popular with the public the Nixon people might have seen fit to overlook their relationship. And a certain partisanship suffuses the effort. Do they after all celebrate in a similar exhibit Nixon's relationship with Bill Clinton? Yet theirs was undoubtedly far more significant to Nixon than the 37th president's relationship with Reagan. Clinton at least invited Nixon to the White House and eagerly consulted Nixon on foreign policy. No Republican dared to similarly embrace Nixon for fear of being tarred with the Watergate brush.

HE LOVES HISTORY

Figuring out President Bush's attitude toward the muse of history is, well, difficult. He told Bob Woodward that he doesn't spend much time thinking about his place in history--we'll all be dead by then, he said, betraying the old-fashioned view that history is something written on Mount Olympus by impartial gods at a time in the distant future. (Perhaps it should be. See above.) But then at a campaign stop recently in Lima, which is located in the all-important--altogether now everybody--"battleground state of Ohio," he said that he loves reading history books above all others, save for the Bible (which of course won a round of fervent applause). So what's he read lately? He said he had just read a biography of Alexander Hamilton. (RON CHERNOW'Snew biography, perhaps?) Why read history books? "History is a way to understand the past so you can better see the future," the president told a boy. Do we dare touch this? Do we say that it makes historians sound like a more literate version of the local TV weatherman who each night offers his predictions? No we don't don't dare say it. That would be inappropriate.

NEW BOOKS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Kitty Kelley is no historian, of course--hence, we aren't putting her name in BOLD CAPS--but her newest book, due out this fall, would seem to fall loosely--yes, very loosely--into the category of history. It's called: The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty. Also due out this fall is a recent history of Iran, The Persian Puzzle, by Kenneth Pollack (no CAPS for him, either). Pollack, you may remember, is the fellow who authored The Threatening Storm, the book that is said to have inspired some liberals to support the war in Iraq. There's a new book about the writers of American ballads (including Bruce Springsteen) edited by SEAN WILENTZ (yes, IN CAPS): The Rose & The Briar, which we take note of simply because it would appear to reflect an interesting side of the famous political historian with which we were not previously aware. (Click here to see a list of other new books, as compiled by HNN's Trade Books Editor, MURRAY POLNER.)

As for books historians are working on, one you might want to know about is a history of the United States Senate by LEWIS GOULD. Gould tells Grapevine the book is turning into a history of the Senate as a dysfunctional institution. Three reasons mainly: 1. the persistence of the filibuster, 2. television, and 3. "a tradition of alcoholism that has gone unremarked but is quite evident when one delves into the memoirs and biographies." The book is due out in 2006.

IRAQI HISTORIANS

Why have we not heard more about what's happening in Iraq from Iraqi historians (save for HNN bloggerHALA FATAH)? We wondered about this until we read a recent report by KEITH WATENPAUGH, who explained that one answer is that "Most, if not all, Iraqi historians and other academics with international reputations left the country over the three decades preceding the war to assume better-paying or less-restrictive positions in the Arab Gulf, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, or the West." Only one historian, we surmise, is taking a leading role in remaking Iraq. It is TAHIR AL-BAKAA', who was named minister of higher education by the interim government in June. According to Watenpaugh, "A historian of the modern Middle East, al-Bakaa' had been elected president of al-Mustansiriyya University by his peers in the immediate postwar period. A ranking Baathist, he escaped de-Baathification through sheer force of his personality and kept his university open and functioning through much of last year. He recently announced that he would keep the ministry out of local university administration."

WHAT HISTORY IS GOOD FOR

Add this to the list of reasons people should study history. In Nebraska the committee responsible for a new design of the quarter--every state is being given the opportunity to submit an image to be placed on quarters--was considering a picture of a heavy Conestoga wagon drawn by a horse heading east until historian GORDON HOWARD pointed out that Nebraskans used lightweight farm wagons hitched to mules. The state secretary of state was quick to note the wagon should have been heading west. The design, by a Minnesota artist who evidently was unfamiliar with Nebaska's history, was rejected. So was another that featured "an ear of corn superimposed over a silhouette of the USS Nebraska submarine." "When I think of the icons of Nebraska, a submarine is the last thing I think of," commented historian MICHAEL SCHUYLER.

INSIDE STORY

How, many have wondered, does JUAN COLE do it? How does he manage to find the time to write thousands of words a month on his blog, which has proven to be over the last year an essential source of information about events in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East? The answer is that he has used two sabbaticals to maintain the blog. Unfortunately for his readers, as he told GRAPEVINE, "the boom is about to be lowered on me this year." His sabbaticals over, Cole has to return to teaching full-time. The blog, as a result, will suffer. "I've asked colleagues for guest op-eds and sometimes get them, but only once and that's usually it," he observed. "They don't have time. A lot just stare at me and say, 'What world are you living in? When would I get time to do *that*?' "

SCANDALS (NO, NOT THE ONES YOU'RE THINKING OF)

How, others have wondered, did CONRAD BLACK manage to write a highly-praised (if unoriginal) 1200 page biography of Franklin Roosevelt while running his business empire? Here the answer would seem to be that he did it by running his empire, Hollinger International, into the ground. His is a most fascinating story. The very month the roof fell in on his business his book came out to rave reviews. These days he can be found shuttling between meetings with lawyers, who are trying to deal with accusations he looted his company of $500 million, and events celebrating his biography. Is there a connection between the two Conrad Blacks, the accused businessman and the praised historian? Just one, it would appear. Black used $12 million from Hollinger to buy the vast Roosevelt archive on which he based his book in part. (It was a bad deal. When the papers were recently sold they fetched just $2.7 million.) He is scheduled to be the keynote speaker next month at the annual meeting of the World Congress of History Producers. The organizer of the conference describes Black as a "master historian and a truth seeker of incomparable skill." About the first accolade there's apparently plenty of evidence. As for the latter, well, perhaps the less said the better, though he may manage to stay out of jail.

THOMAS CLARK UPDATE

As Grapevine has noted previously, one of the most remarkable historians in the country may be THOMAS CLARK, the Kentucky scholar who turned 101 this year. Recently he was hospitalized with an infection. But the last word we had was that he is back home and feeling better. He is preparing to write yet another book. This one is about the state's "crazy land system," which he says was based on erroneous land surveys. He told a news reporter he's hurrying to get the book finished "before I pass out."

COMING SOON TO A VIDEO STORE NEAR YOU

With Vietnam back in the news maybe people are wishing they had a chance to refresh their memories by viewing the 1983 PBS documentary: "Vietnam: A Television History." Fortunately, the 11-hour series is now available on four DVD's. But some aren't satisfied.Two hours are missing from the DVD collection: The section laying out the political context of the war. Just as bad, complains one reviewer, is that the package is bare bones: "No extended interviews, no footage from the cutting room floor, no behind-the- scenes peek at production." Viewers who want the political context will have to read the book the series is based on, STANLEY KARNOW'SVietnam: A History.

SPRING 2004

UPS & DOWNS

UP this time around are: NIALL FERGUSON, who was named by Time Magazine one of the "100 World's Most Influential People"; octogenarian THOMAS CLARK, the Kentucky "historian laureate for life," who has become so revered a figure in his state that a local foundation is raising money by selling prints depicting Clark for $20; GERALD NICOSIA, who, owing to his old collection of 20,000 FOIA documents, has become the media's leading source on John Kerry's antiwar activities; and RICK PERLSTEIN, who has been given a prime seat at the Village Voice from which to comment regularly on the 2004 campaign.

DOWN--or at least knocked about a bit--are: ALAN BRINKLEY, who was sharply criticized for defending Columbia University during the graduate student strike; ALLEN WEINSTEIN, who has been lambasted for secrecy after being nominated as chief archivist of the United States; and GARRY WILLS, who was savagely rebuked for numerous "howlers" in his recent book "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power.

Up and Down simultaneously, is: HOWARD ZINN. Feted as a star historian at the March OAH meeting, where a night was devoted to a town meeting held in his honor, he was simultaneously held up in scorn in a long piece in Dissent for writing a "big, bad book."

HISTORY FOR DUMMIES

What's this, we wondered, when we came across a a review of Germany for Dummies on H-Net? All kinds of books get reviewed on H-Net, but this? One of the volumes from the ubiquitous Dummies series? And a book which deigns to tell the reader, the review informed us, that Germany is "situated in the very heart of Europe," it "isn't a huge country," and it features "a flat maritime landscape." Not to worry. It was an April Fool's joke by DAVID IMHOOF, H-German Editor, who praised the book as "a weighty tome." But we got to wondering. Is there such a book? There is. We found it on Amazon. No, the author is not, "Donefor Oldman," as was indicated in the H-Net review. It is the prolific Donald Olson, also the author of Frommer's Irreverent Guide to London, London for Dummies, and England for Dummies. Thinking of visiting Europe. Let Donald Olson be your guide. Click here. Donald Olson has you covered.

NOT THE TEACHER'S PET

In case you don't happen to subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education--or you missed the issue two weeks ago--we wanted to draw your attention to a remarkable confession made by JAMES E. McWILLIAMS, an assistant professor of history at Texas State University at San Marcos. It seems that he had rigged up a foolproof system for catching cheaters on multiple-choice tests. (Yes, he gives multiple-choice tests in history class. Yes, that's controversial, but we'll leave that issue for another day. In his defense it should be pointed out that he has 375 students.) The foolproof system worked as designed and he caught cheater after cheater, eight students in all on just one recent test. Each time the students were confronted with the evidence, they confessed. Well, that is, all of them but one confessed. The eighth, dubbed J7 --"arms crossed in front of his chest," and a smirk on his face--insisted he had not cheated and that the professor owed him an apology. He was a physically large student and "began yelling wildly." "For an instant," says professor McWilliams, "I seriously thought he was going to hit me, if not toss me out the window." J7 did not strike a blow. But McWilliams decided not to press the issue. Why?

Mr. J7 is black. In addition to being green, I'm also white. I know that he cheated. He knew that he cheated. But, after his performance -- a brilliant but subtle flash of the race card conveyed through body language and facial expressions more than words -- the once-crystal-clear context that had me in charge evaporated into the stale air of my office. We both knew he'd won this game. I ripped up the quizzes and tossed them into the trash. He left my office without a word. I felt horrible.

Moral of this story? That depends on your point of view. It's a kind of crude political Rorschach test. Conservatives are likely to see it as another example of a craven professor giving in to political correctness. Liberals are apt to think the student's race is irrelevant. Still others will wonder why Mr. McWilliams decided to share his experience. Was he seeking sympathy? Was he feeling guilty? Then there will be those who are just curious to know how that cheating-detection system of his works, which is explained in the article.

THE MISPLACED BOOK

This is a story that has no moral. But it's funny and we thought we'd share it. Recently, the new prime minister of Canada, Paul Martin, visited President Bush at the White House. As is customary on such occasions the leaders exchanged gifts. Mr. Bush gave Mr. Martin a pen. What, wondered the Canadian press corps, had Mr. Martin given Mr. Bush? "Ya, ah, well, ah -- ha, ha, ha -- OK," he stammered."I'm pretty sure, because I think Sheila [his wife] picked it out. I'm pretty sure that what we presented was a riding vest and I don't know the answer." A helpful official, international trade minister Jim Peterson then interjected that Mrs. Bush got the vest and Mr. Bush got a copy of the recent bestseller, Paris, 1919, by the University of Toronto's MARGARET MacMILLIAN. But then it turned out, as one account put it, that "both Mr. Martin and Mr. Peterson were wrong. Officials confirmed later that Mr. Martin gave Mr. Bush the riding vest and Mrs. Martin gave Mrs. Bush the book."

No doubt it will occur to some readers that Mr. Bush should have gotten the book. But maybe Mrs. Bush will share it with him. It is the story after all of the trouble a president comes to when he tries to apply moral principles to the conduct of foreign policy.

A COLUMNIST'S SHORTCUT

Suppose you are a columnist. You are busy. There are books to read. Columns to be turned out. Interviews to be given. How to get everything done? DANIEL PIPES has a short-cut. Borrow from your own books. Twice in six weeks, he revealed to HNN, he has reprised material he first dealt with in a book published in 1983, In the Path of God. "I have fantasies," he confessed, "of systematically working my way through the volume, spinning off one weekly column after another."

Pipes, of course, is famously productive. In addition to his books and articles and everything else, he also served as the editor of the Middle East Quarterly. He lasted eight years in that post. His successor, MARTIN KRAMER, recently announced he is leaving after less than three. (To be fair, Kramer began September 1, 2001. He's not exactly had much of a chance to rest during his tenure.)

We are reminded, when we think of people like Pipes, of what someone once said about LBJ. He has "an extra pair of glands."

ZINN, ZINN, ZINN

If you are a conservative, you probably tire of the multitude of references in the media to HOWARD ZINN'S ever-popular history of the American people. Maybe you've even thought to yourself that maybe, hey, you should write a conservative history of the American people to give readers a choice. Well, LARRY SCHWEIKART and MICHAEL ALLEN have beat you to it. A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus' Great Voyage to the War on Terror, published by Penguin, will appear in November. RONALD RADOSH has already dubbed it the "anti-Zinn book that has long been awaited." He added: "The only question is: will you, like Zinn, get mentioned in major Hollywood films and on TV shows like The Sopranos?"

TRAIN DRIVERS EARN MORE

Historians in the United States earn on average about $60,000 a year, according to a recent survey. In Great Britain they earn so much less that the Guardian recently discovered that train drivers earn more: "On average, a train driver earns around £32,394 [=$59,503], but a lecturer after five or six years of study will normally be on around £22,100 [=$40,593] and researchers on something like £18,667 [=$34,286]." The paper profiled one fifty-two year old historian. She insisted on anonymity because "she does not want her students to know how poor her pay and conditions really are." The really bad news? "The Association of University Teachers estimates academic pay has declined by 40% in the past 20 years compared with the rest of the UK workforce."

BABIES

From the American Revolution Roundtable:

From the beginnings of the United States, people have named their children after our Founding Fathers. There's Washington Irving, Washington Roebling & George Washington Carver. For Civil War buffs there's Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Union General Jefferson C. Davis, and, of course, there's Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sadly, this practice seemed to be disappearing: until now. For the second year in a row, the #1 name chosen for baby girls is: Madison!! Some pundits believe that this can be traced to the 1984 movie "Splash" starring Tom Hanks with Daryl Hannah, as Madison, the mermaid he loves. Even if true, she picked the name after reading it on a street sign in Manhattan

SAY, DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE HOLOCAUST DENIERS ARE MEETING?

After the OAH meeting in Boston in March you were probably too exhausted to go to another history conference held in Sacramento in April. Don't worry. What you missed was the chance to attend a convention of Holocaust deniers, dubbed as the "revisionist event of the year." The flier we received bragged that "the stellar line-up of speakers" is "already generating a lot of interest and 'buzz,' and the 'traditional enemies' are taking note." Fifteen speakers were scheduled, some coming from overseas, including, from Germany, one "Horst Mahler, author and attorney." They even managed to get a speaker from Israel, somebody named Barry Chamish. Who, we wondered, is Barry Chamish? Of course, he has a website. Among his preoccupations: that John Kerry had a Jewish grandfather and claims he didn't know it! "Ask yourself, do you know anyone who doesn't know his father's religious background?"; that the American government bankrolled an operation to x-ray Israeli kids in 1948 for ringworm at the alleged cost, in current dollars, of $50 billion ("Needless to ask, was the American government so concerned about ringworm in Israeli immigrant children that it paid $50 billion to treat the fungus?"). And so on. Chamish claims to be concerned with the fate of Israel, but if he is why is he hanging out with people like the aforementioned Horst Mahler, who has been identified by the Jewish Press as "one of the founders of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group" who later escaped to Lebanon and "received guerilla warfare and terrorist training from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)"?

Cost of the two-day conference was $35 ("That includes the Ernst Zundel Revisionist Resource Guide as well as six meals.") It was held at the ... well we don't know where it was held. The flier didn't say, of course: "For security reasons, the conference location is not being publicly announced beforehand. It will be disclosed to all registered attendees in form of a reservation package, which includes tickets, location and hotel information."

PLAGIARISM

Finally, we thought it worthwhile to observe that Hollywood has taken note of the plagiarism scandals. In a recent movie, Secret Window, Johnny Depp (AKA Mort Rainey) discovers his wife sleeping with another man and goes crazy. Among the mishaps that tip him over the edge ... a charge of plagiarism. But don't rush to conclusions. Depp isn't a historian. He's a best-selling novelist. And his real crime is murder, not plagiarism. But that plagiarism has now become a fashionable enough moral offense to have attracted the notice of Hollywood is one of the consequences no doubt of the history scandals. In this day and age of loosening moral standards it's good to know that plagiarism apparently still connotes an act of public shame. At least in Hollywood.

MARCH 2004

AND YOU THOUGHT WESLEY CLARK DIDN'T HAVE A PRAYER!

Among the late entrants into the presidential race was one JOHN BUCHANAN. John Who? And why should you care? Mr. Buchanan happens to have been the journalist who triggered a national investigation last year into the alleged Nazi ties of Prescott Bush, the current president's grandfather. (You may recall that HNN asked Bush I biographer HERBERT PARMET to examine the evidence Buchanan unearthed. Click here for the article.) Buchanan admits he doesn't have a chance. "In any traditional political sense, my 'campaign' is a joke," he charmingly admits in a flier distributed over the Internet. But no one can say he lacks a sense of humor. Buchanan is running as a Republican.

Why is he running? He explains: "My personal goal is a treason trial for both George W. Bush and his Daddy. We'll see what history brings, eh?" If he has any concern that his campaign will undermine the credibility of his findings about the Bush family fortune, he isn't acknowledging it. Indeed, he seems to think that his "campaign" will draw attention to his work. It is the inattention to that work that galls him. His flier includes the following statement:

Instead of achieving proper journalistic recognition for his history-making news scoop, Mr. Buchanan found that no major "news" organization in the United States would touch the documents. The New York Times, ABC News, The Washington Post, CNN - they all refused to take possession of the documents or report the story. As a result, Mr. Buchanan has created a Presidential campaign based on a simple and critically important national objective - taking back the country and the Republican party from the global corporations, war profiteers and conglomerate media that have hijacked the rights of the people - the true owners of government as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams -- in the name of bottom-line profits for global corporations.

If you want to know more abut John Buchanan's campaign feel free to visit his website (of course, he has a website; what self-respecting presidential candidate doesn't?).

WHO'S WRITING WHAT

In the depth of winter, as snow continues to fall on godforsaken parts of this country, historians are busy at work on new books. THOMAS FLEMING (an HNN board member) is doing a book on Valley Forge. JAMES"Lies My Teacher Told Me" LOEWEN is finishing a book on so-called Sundown Towns, named after posted signs which warned,"nigger don't let the sun go down on you." BERNARD WEISBERGER is doing a baseball book. ROBERT REMINI is a year away from finishing his official history of the House of Representatives. And WILLIAM LEUCHTENBRG is doing a book on the presidency. Leuchtenburg is supposedly retired. But he's busier than anybody else, young or old, and this is only partly hyperbole. In addition to his book on the presidency he's writing a book on Hoover for ARTHUR SCHLESINGER'S series on the presidents. He's also working with KEN BURNS on a new documentary. In January he delivered a long and erudite paper on the mysterious "switch in time that saved nine"--the change in the voting record of the Supreme Court that followed FDR's court-packing plan. Whew!

Speaking of Schlesinger's series ... he deserves an award, doesn't he, as the most courageous and inspired series editor ever? In addition to having Leuchtenburg do Hoover, he had JOHN DEAN do Harding; H.W. BRANDS, author of a biography of TR, do Woodrow Wilson, TR's enemy; and ROY JENKINS, British politician, do FDR, the greatest American president of the twentieth century (according to Newt Gingrich). Schlesinger even had Bob Remini, the Jackson biographer, do John Quincy Adams, Jackson's enemy. What's next? Jimmy Carter doing the book on Gerald Ford? (Hey that's an idea!)

Speaking of John Dean ... Dean has a new book out in April on Bush: Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.

Finally, apropos of nothing, we thought we'd mention DAVID HALBERSTAM'S new book: Defining A Nation: Our America and the Sources of Its Strength. Halberstam told NPR he asked fifty people to define what America is all about--and got nearly fifty different answers.

PLAGIARISM AND OTHER SCANDALS

They're not exactly whodunits. But there's still enough mystery surrounding the history scandals of the past few years that two authors are writing books about them. The hope here is that we'll finally find out what exactly was going on in the heads of STEPHEN AMBROSE, DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, JOSEPH ELLIS et al. when they committed their various transgressions. The first book to appear will be Scandals and Scoundrels: Seven Cases that Shook the Academy (University of California Press), by RON ROBIN, professor of history and communication studies at the University of Haifa, Israel. Later in the year there will be Historians on Trial: The Cases of Stephen Ambrose, Michael Bellesiles, Joseph Ellis, and Doris Kearns Goodwin (Public Affairs), by Peter Charles Hoffer, a professor of history at the University of Georgia.

HISTORIANS ON TOP OF THE WORLD

Because so much attention has been paid to the historians caught in scandal, for balance we thought it might be worthwhile pointing out each month those who are having the time of their lives. Consider this a snapshot of historians caught in the act of bliss.

Three come readily to mind this month:

  • DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, whose book about John Kerry happened to appear just as Kerry's campaign, which once seemed dead in the water, revived.

  • DAVID HACKETT FISCHER, whose new book about Washington's Crossing has become a surprise New York Times Best Seller (to Fischer's surprise; the book is serious and erudite).

  • JOHN M. BARRY, who had the good luck to publish a book about the The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Greatest Plague in History just as the Asian bird flu appeared, inspiring numerous media stories drawing parallels with the subject of Barry's book, the outbreak of influenza in 1918.

    THE NYT'S FAVORITE CONSERVATIVE HISTORIAN

    A few months back, if you'd asked, we would have sworn that the NYT's favorite conservative historian was NIALL FERGUSON, who shows up regularly in the "Week in Review." Or perhaps MAX BOOT, who had the honor of appearing three times on the paper's op-ed page in 2003. But now apparently the Times has a new favorite conservative, KIRON SKINNER. In January in the course of two weeks Skinner popped up on the op-ed page twice, both times as the author of pieces involving Ronald Reagan. (Skinner is co-editor of Reagan: A Life in Letters.)

    Her first piece compared Ronald Reagan with George W. Bush. The second compared Reagan with Martin Luther King, Jr. Both pieces demonstrated that Skinner possesses a rare ability to see comparisons that have eluded others. In the first article she argued that Bush's willingness in 2003 to stand up to Germany and France was strikingly similar to Reagan's willingness in 1983 to stand up to the Nuclear Freeze movement. Whether true or not, it was an interesting observation. In the second piece she argued that Reagan and King shared a similar respect for civil rights, even though they stood on opposite sides in most political debates. Again, an interesting observation, if not one that many historians would find particularly compelling.

    But strange as Skinner's pairings may or may not be, what really mystified was Skinner's appearance on the op-ed page twice in a single month. We know of historians who have tried their whole lives to get onto the op-ed page and never succeeded even once.

    Then a few weeks later came a hint at what may have impelled the editors to turn to Skinner: It's her quirkiness. In the first ever public explanation of what the Times wants in an op-ed piece, David Shipley explained that the paper prefers pieces that take unusual and refreshing approaches. By that standard Skinner's clearly qualified; who else ever thought to pair Reagan and King for their similarities?

    Was Skinner's conservatism a factor in her selection? Possibly. Shipley indicated that the "editors tend to look for arguments that have not been articulated elsewhere in the editorial space. If the editorial page, for example, has a forceful, long-held view on a certain topic, we are more inclined to publish an Op-Ed that disagrees with that view."

    The upshot is that the Times's stated policy would seem to favor conservatives over liberals, as liberals are far more likely to see their views reflected on the editorial side of the paper. As there are more liberal than conservative historians, a bias in favor of conservative historians would tend to marginalize many of the lions of the profession. That these liberal lions have not been marginalized-- see "Who Has Succeeded in Getting an Op Ed into the New York Times?"--leads to one of two conclusions: either the Times does not take its own policy of ideological diversity too literally or the lions are so ingenious in their arguments that their pieces are irresistible even if they tend to confirm the liberal views expressed in editorials.

    BOOK CAUSES RIOT

    Writers always want to have an impact, but causing a riot is not what most have in mind. It is certainly not what JAMES LAINE wanted when he came out with Shivaji: Hindu King of Islamic India, which raises questions about one of the legendary hero-warriors Maratha worshipped in India. But a riot is what he got in January. According to one account, in response to the book's publication "200 members of a group called the Sambhaji Brigade went on the rampage and destroyed thousands of rare Sanskrit manuscripts. ... A clay tablet from the Assyrian civilisation was one of the most precious items destroyed." To ease tensions Laine issued a clarification and the publisher, Oxford University Press, pulled the volume from the shelves of India's bookstores. Seventy-two people were arrested for vandalism. Three historians were given police protection.

    DICK CHENEY'S FAVORITE HISTORIAN

    Ok, we don't know who Dick Cheney's favorite historian is. But he apparently is enthralled with VICTOR DAVIS HANSON. According to a recent Washington Post profile of the vice president one of Cheney's "favorite recent books" is Hanson's An Autumn of War. Cheney even invited Hanson to dinner in the fall of 2002 as the United States was preparing to invade Iraq. "[Cheney] does believe there's sort of a tragic vision in the world," Hanson told the Post. But "he's not one of these ideologues that says he doesn't trust the U.N. or Europe. But human nature being what it is, he has a very realistic view that you can't be afraid to act, even if it's not popular." Hanson is identified in the article as a Democrat, though based on his writings in National Review and elsewhere you'd probably be safe betting he's more inclined to vote for Bush than Kerry.

    WANT A BOOK CONTRACT?

    Question. Say, you're a big media mogul and you want to stop a writer from saying nasty things about your empire. You (a) threaten to sue him, or (b) try to stop the people who know you from talking with him. Answer? If you're Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein you choose (c): You offer the writer a contract to write a history of the Irish. That's what Weinstein did when New York Post reporter Keith J. Kelly began work on a piece about Weinstein's Talk Magazine. Kelly, however, didn't bite. (Click here for the story of Weinstein's multiple attempts to derail negative stories by allegedly bribing authors with book contracts.)

    WHAT WAS THAT COMPUTER THINKING?

    A few months ago Grapevine had the opportunity to buy an audio book over the Internet from Audio.com. It was John Dean's The Rehnquist Choice. Now whether you like John Dean or not, his book is serious and well-researched. And we happened to like it. But when we returned to the Audio.com website a few months later we were surprised to be informed that "Others who bought The Rehnquist Choice also bought More Napalm and Silly Putty (Unabridged) By George Carlin." Huh? Had the marketing geniuses at Audio.com blown a fuse or misprogrammed their computers? What in the world would lead their computer to conclude that a reader of Dean's book would also be interested in Carlin's? Call us puzzled.

    NOW THIS IS LOCAL HISTORY DONE RIGHT

    The Durants famously produced nearly a dozen books on the history of Western civilization. Gibbon's history of the Roman Empire comprised half a dozen volumes. Allan Nevins's history of the Civil War ran half a dozen volumes, too. And now there's Mickey Danyluk's monumental series commemorating the 150th anniversary of Windsor Locks (CT). Thus far he's produced three volumes. The local paper says he plans on writing ten.

    WEST WING FAME

    Are you a fan of "The West Wing"? Did you happen to see the book President Bartlet was reading a few episodes back? While the camera never let the cover come into full view, the book was ALONZO HAMBY'S biography of Harry Truman, Man of the People. Mr. Hamby told us a former student friendly with the producer of the show sent him a photograph."This was a complete surprise," he told Grapevine in an email."I have no idea why they chose the book--perhaps for its cover, perhaps because it was just lying around." He added:"It is always nice to have a few seconds of fame for an (unfortunately) out-of-print work. I await my White House pass eagerly."

    MEL GIBSON

    No, we're not here to talk about you-know-what. We'll leave that to the Religious Studies majors. But we wanted to share an item that suggests Mel Gibson has become a a powerful shaper of public attitudes toward history. According to the London Times Gibson's last epoch film, Braveheart, "etched itself so powerfully on the Scottish national consciousness that a statue of William Wallace bearing the face of Mel Gibson now stands at the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge in Scotland."




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