Comments About Historians: Archives January to June 2003





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Eric Hobsbawm: No Apologies (posted 8-24-03)

Sarah Lyall, writing in the NYT (August 23, 2003):

Born in 1917, the year of the October Revolution, the historian Eric Hobsbawm has lived through much of "the most extraordinary and terrible century in human history," as he describes it, from the rise of Communism and fascism to World War II, the cold war and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Recent events, he says, "fit in with the gloomy picture" he has had of world affairs for the last three-quarters of a century.

But for an unapologetic pessimist, Mr. Hobsbawm is remarkably robust, bordering on cheerful.

As he describes in "Interesting Times: A 20th-Century Life" (Pantheon), his new memoir, Mr. Hobsbawm has overcome considerable odds, including a fractured childhood in Weimar Germany, to become one of the great British historians of his age, an unapologetic Communist and a polymath whose erudite, elegantly written histories are still widely read in schools here and abroad.

He turns his analytical historian's eye on himself, examining with wry, rich detail the history of the century "through the itinerary of one human being whose life could not possibly have occurred in any other," he writes. The title's twin meanings — interesting times, according to the old Chinese curse, inevitably carry tragedy and upheaval, too — neatly capture the tensions between his personal history and his life as a historian.

"Do you remember what Brecht said — `Unlucky the country that needs heroes'?" Mr. Hobsbawm asked. "From the point of view of ordinary people, uninteresting times, where things aren't happening, are the best. But from the point of view of a historian, obviously, it's completely different."

Mr. Hobsbawm, a gangly 86-year-old with thick horn-rimmed glasses and an engagingly lopsided smile, spoke in his living room in Hampstead, long the neighborhood of choice for London's leftist intellectuals, in between sips of coffee. The room was lined with books; the front hall was full of the toddler paraphernalia that comes when one's home is a destination of choice for grandchildren (he has three). The telephone rang constantly as various family members and friends called to discuss plans that Mr. Hobsbawm invariably said would require further consultation with his wife, Marlene, who was out for the morning.

Mr. Hobsbawm is that unlikeliest of creatures, a committed Communist who never really left the party (he let his membership lapse just before the collapse of the Soviet Union) but still managed to climb to the upper echelons of English respectability by virtue of his intellectual rigor, engaging curiosity and catholic breadth of interests. He is an emeritus professor at the University of London and holds countless honorary degrees around the world, from Chile to Sweden.

Yet he will always be dogged by questions about how he can square his long and faithful membership in the Communist Party with the reality of Communism, particularly as it played out under Stalin. In "Interesting Times," he denounces Stalin and Stalinism but also praises aspects of Communist Russia and argues that in some countries, notably the former U.S.S.R., life is worse now than it was under the Socialist system.

Some people will never forgive Mr. Hobsbawm for his beliefs. In an angry review of his new book in The New Criterion, David Pryce-Jones said that Mr. Hobsbawm was "someone who has steadily corrupted knowledge into propaganda" and that his Communism had "destroyed him as an interpreter of events."

"Interesting Times" has gathered mostly glowing reviews across Britain. But the book again raises the problem that even Mr. Hobsbawm's admirers find dismaying.

In The Times Literary Supplement, the historian Richard Vinen said that "Interesting Times" does not give a satisfactory explanation of its author's motivations. "The closer that he comes to such questions, the more confusing he becomes," Mr. Vinen wrote.

Mr. Hobsbawm does address the issue in a section explaining why he did not abandon Communism in 1956 when Nikita S. Khrushchev's electrifying denunciation of Stalin sent waves of revulsion at Stalin's crimes through the worldwide movement. But while many of his colleagues resigned from the party in horrified protest, Mr. Hobsbawm did not.

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Eric Hobsbawm: Lying to the Credulous (posted 8-24-03)

David Pryce-Jones, writing in the New Criterion (January 2003):

Eric Hobsbawm is no doubt intelligent and industrious, and he might well have made a notable contribution as a historian. Unfortunately, lifelong devotion to Communism destroyed him as a thinker or interpreter of events. Such original work as he did concerned bandits and outlaws. But even here there is bias, for he rescued them from obscurity not for their own sake but as precursors of Communist revolution. His longer and later books are constructed around the abstractions of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the supposedly pre-ordained class struggle between them, capital and capitalism, empire and imperialism—in short the Marxist organizing principles which reduce human beings and their varied lives to concepts handy to serve a thesis worked up in advance and in the library. This material, needless to say, was derived from secondary sources.

The purpose of all Hobsbawm’s writing, indeed of his life, has been to certify the inevitable triumph of Communism. In the face of whatever might actually have been happening in the Soviet Union and its satellites, he devised reasons to justify or excuse the Communist Party right to its end—long after Russians themselves had realized that Communism had ruined morally and materially everybody and everything within its reach. He loves to describe himself as a professional historian, but someone who has steadily corrupted knowledge into propaganda, and scorns the concept of objective truth, is nothing of the kind, neither a historian nor professional.

It becomes quite a good joke that Communism collapsed under him, proving in the living world that the beliefs and ideas in his head were empty illusions, and all the Marxist and Soviet rhetoric just claptrap. This Hobsbawn cannot understand, never mind accept. His best-known book, Age of Extremes, published as recently as 1994, still attempts to whitewash Communism as “a formidable innovation” in social engineering, glossing with fundamental dishonesty over such integral features as enforced famine through collectivization and the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and omitting all mention of the massacre at Katyn, the terrifying secret police apparatus of Beria, and the Gulag. At the same time, Hobsbawm depicts the United States “unfortunately” as a greater danger than the Soviet Union. Presenting him with a prestigious prize for this farrago, the left-wing historian Sir Keith Thomas said, “For pure intelligence applied to history, Eric Hobsbawm has no equal.” Another left-winger, the journalist Neal Ascherson, held that “No historian now writing in English can match his overwhelming command of fact and source.” So much for Robert Conquest, Sir Kenneth Dover, Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Bernard Lewis, and other genuine scholars.

A mystery peculiar to the twentieth century is that intellectuals were eager to endorse the terror and mass-murder which characterized Soviet rule, at one and the same time abdicating humane feelings and all sense of responsibility towards others, and of course perverting the pursuit of truth. The man who sets dogs on concentration camp victims or fires his revolver into the back of their necks is evidently a brute; the intellectual who devises justifications for the brutality is harder to deal with, and far more sinister in the long run. Apologizing for the Soviet Union, such intellectuals licensed and ratified unprecedented crime and tyranny, to degrade and confuse all standards of humanity and morality. Hobsbawm is an outstand- ing example of the type. The overriding question is: how was someone with his capacity able to deceive himself so completely about reality and take his stand alongside the commissar signing death warrants?

Not long ago, on a popular television show, Hobsbawm explained that the fact of Soviet mass-murdering made no difference to his Communist commitment. In astonishment, his interviewer asked, “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?” Without hesitation Hobsbawm replied, “Yes.” His autobiography, Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life,[1] conveys the same point, only rather more deviously. On the very last page, it is true, he is “prepared to concede, with regret, that Lenin’s Comintern was not such a good idea,” though for no very obvious reason (except as a cheap shot) he concludes the sentence by cramming in the comment that Herzl’s Zionism was also not a good idea. Note that slippery use of “Comintern” as a substitute for Communism itself. The concession, such as it is, is anyhow vitiated by an earlier passage when he attacks America and its allies, bizarrely spelled out as India, Israel, and Italy, and referred to as rich and the heirs of fascism. In this passage he predicts, “The world may regret that, faced with Rosa Luxemburg’s alternative of socialism and barbarism, it decided against socialism.” (Which leaves Americans as barbarians.) By my count, these are the only two expressions of regret in this long book. In contrast, the October revolution remains “the central point of reference in the political universe,” and “the dream of the October revolution” is still vivid inside him. He cannot bring himself to refer to Leningrad as St. Petersburg. Learning nothing, he has forgotten nothing.

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Eric Hobsbawm's Romance with Communism (posted 8-24-03)

Christopher Hitchens, writing in the NYT (August 24, 2003):

In March 1950 there was a public debate in New York City, moderated by the eminent radical sociologist C. Wright Mills. The motion before the meeting was: Is Russia a socialist community? Proposing for the ayes was Earl Browder, a loyal Stalinist who had nonetheless been removed by Moscow (for some minor deviations) from the leadership of the American Communist Party. Opposing him was the mercurial genius Max Shachtman, later to become a salient cold warrior but then the leader of the Trotskyist (or Trotsky-ish) Workers Party. Reaching his peroration against Browder, Shachtman recited the names of the European Communist leaders who, for their own minor deviations, had been liquidated by Stalin. Turning to his antagonist, he pointed and said: ''There, but for an accident of geography, stands a corpse!'' Eyewitnesses still relish the way in which Browder turned abruptly pallid and shrunken.

Eric Hobsbawm has been a believing Communist and a skeptical Euro-Communist and is now a faintly curmudgeonly post-Communist, and there are many ways in which, accidents of geography to one side, he could have been a corpse. Born in 1917 into a diaspora Jewish family in Alexandria, Egypt, he spent his early-orphaned boyhood in central Europe, in the years between the implosion of Austria-Hungary and the collapse of the Weimar Republic. This time and place were unpropitious enough on their own: had Hobsbawm not moved to England after the Nazis came to power in 1933, he might have become a statistic. He went on to survive the blitz in London and Liverpool and, by a stroke of chance, to miss the dispatch to Singapore of the British unit he had joined. At least a third of those men did not survive Japanese captivity, and it's difficult to imagine Hobsbawm himself being one of the lucky ones.

For the most active part of his life as an intellectual and a historian, Hobsbawm identified himself with the Soviet Union, which came into being in the same year he did. The failure and disgrace of this system are beyond argument today, and he doesn't any longer try to argue for it. In ''Interesting Times,'' he explains his allegiance in a pragmatic-loyalist manner, to the effect that many people were saved by Communism from becoming corpses, and that one was obliged to choose a side. This is utilitarianism, not Marxism, and he seems to recognize the fact by being appropriately laconic about it. It seemed to make sense at the time; he lost the historical wager and so did the party; history, he says, does not cry over spilled milk. Willing as I was to be repelled by such reasoning (blood is not to be rated like milk, after all), I found that I was instead rather impressed by its minimalism. If you wanted to teach a bright young student how Communism actually felt to an intelligent believer, you would have to put this book -- despite its rather stale title -- on the reading list.

To have marched in the last legal Communist demonstration in Berlin in 1933 may have been an experience as delicious as protracted sexual intercourse (Hobsbawm's metaphor, not mine), but the experience of defending the indefensible and -- more insulting -- of being asked to believe the unbelievable was far less delightful and, equally to the point, very much more protracted. Again, Hobsbawm's vices mutate into his virtues (and vice, as it were, versa). He is determined to show that he was not a dupe, but went into it all with eyes open, while he is no less concerned to argue that he did not want to become one of those ''God That Failed'' ex-Communists. Is this idealism or cynicism? He was one of a group of solid and brilliant English Marxist historians, including Christopher Hill and Edward Thompson and John Saville, none of whom could stomach the Communist Party after 1956. Yet he soldiered on as a member until the end of the Soviet Union itself, while admitting that he hardly ever visited the place and that when he did, he didn't much care for it.

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Thomas Reeves: Howard Zinn Is Not Courageous (posted 6-16-03)

Thomas Reeves, writing for the National Association of Scholars (June 16, 2003):

In the May 23, 2003 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, James Green, a professor of history and labor studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, published a lengthy hymn of praise to radical leftist historian Howard Zinn. The occasion was the celebration of the sale of one million copies of Zinn's textbook A People's History of the United States. "First published in 1980, the book, updated by the author, continues to be assigned in countless college and high-school courses, but its commercial sales have remained strong as well. It is probably the only book by a radical historian that you can buy in an airport."

Green is obviously of one mind with Zinn. Both endorse the usual litany of leftist assumptions, including the innocence and goodness of minorities, the evil of nearly all war, the wickedness of capitalism, and the corruption inherent in virtually every American institution. Christopher Columbus and Ronald Reagan are villains; socialists and pacifists are heroes. You get the picture. It's a tidy, always predictable, little world liberals and leftist radicals inhabit. American history is largely a story of oppression and exploitation. We should be ashamed to wave the flag.....

Should this passionate mission and stunning achievement be portrayed as courageous? That's Green's spin on the Zinn story. Well, one must give Zinn his due for being an active civil rights backer in the 1960s. But on a larger scale, Zinn's record reveals more expediency than bravery. For decades, he has been engaged in the creation and dissemination of propaganda, profiting handsomely in every way by telling the Left what it wants to hear and helping to foist these views on ignorant youth.

True courage would have been a devotion to objectivity, as elusive as that sometimes is, to present the story of American history in all of its complexities and shades of gray. True courage would have been to step outside the boundaries of politically correct conformity to explore the true richness of the human experience, striving for balance, fairness, and detachment. If Zinn had taken this approach, his book sales might have been lower and his speaking engagements fewer in number. He might be ignored rather than lionized on American campuses. But millions of Americans would be better informed, and the national culture would be wiser and healthier.

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Stephen Howarth: Claims that He Was a Victim of Plagiarism (posted 6-13-03)

Alex Beam, writing in the Boston Globe (June 3, 2003):

More than a year ago, Newburyport historian James Charles Roy, while researching the life of Admiral Horatio Nelson, noticed what he calls "similarities in material" in two well-known books. One was Booker Prize-winning author Barry Unsworth's 1999 novel "Losing Nelson," about a man obsessed with the reputation of the hero of Trafalgar. The other was a popular 1988 biography, "Nelson: The Immortal Memory," written by Stephen Howarth and his late father, David.

Roy wrote to Howarth, pointing out two passages, each about 150 words in length, that Unsworth seems to have lifted from the biography. Howarth quickly compiled his own list of 20 alleged "modes of expression or original use of language first created by either my father or myself and subsequently used by Mr. Unsworth without permission or acknowledgement."

About half of Howarth's examples of supposed copying seem exaggerated. But I have little doubt that Unsworth wrote portions of his novel with the Howarth book open next to his keyboard.

Howarth wrote Unsworth a brief letter, with examples of the books' overlaps, in February of last year. Unsworth acknowledged his debt to the Howarths: "The biography you wrote with your father was a very valuable help to me." He also pointed out that he had consulted a "mass of material" while researching "Losing Nelson" and noted that "it is not easy, when one is seeking to absorb a great quantity of factual information and reproduce it in another form . . . to avoid echoes of the language in which it is originally cast."

Unsworth then characterized his book as "a totally original work of the imagination, derivative from nothing and no one." In conclusion, he wrote, "I very much hope that there are no hard feelings on your part - to have exerted an influence on another writer must after all be a source of gratification."

But there were hard feelings on the part of Howarth, who found the reply "annoying." He consulted a lawyer in England, who advised him that too much time had elapsed since the publication of "Losing Nelson" to pursue legal action, and "that in terms of a percentage of [Unsworth's] text, the copyright infringement was too small for further action without considerable further expense." Howarth did allow Roy to contact the press, which is how I became involved.

I first tried to reach Unsworth, who lives in Italy, several weeks ago. The 73-year-old novelist has not been in good health, and his wife advised me in an e-mail that he had nothing to add to the comments he made in his letter to Howarth, quoted above.

Unsworth's American publisher, Nan Talese of Doubleday, is of course a big fan of his. "The fact that some of the phrases of the Howarth book found their way from Barry's research notes into his novel is indeed unfortunate, but hardly a matter of gravity," Talese e-mailed me. "Knowing Unsworth as a most modest writer of unassailable integrity, I am sure he regrets it, and has no wish to glory in others' work."

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Anthony Glees: His New Book About the East German Stasi Is Causing Waves (posted 6-11-03)

David Leigh, writing in the Guardian (June 11, 2003):

The historian Anthony Glees, in what will prove either to be a reputation-making or a reputation-busting book released this week, is accusing a senior Liberal Democrat politician and fellow-academic, John Roper, of having been an "agent of influence" for the East German communist secret police, the Stasi.

Lord Roper rejects the charge indignantly. The 68-year-old former Labour and SDP MP says he was engaged in building bridges with East Germany in the 1980s as part of a Foreign Office-approved policy of thawing relations.

He was deceived, he says, about the background of an undercover Stasi officer he employed as a research fellow when he was director of studies at Chatham House. Friends of Lord Roper describe Professor Glees as having "a chip on his shoulder" and looking for a succès de scandale .

Lord Roper says Prof Glees appears to be promoting the philosophy of the Iraq arch-hawk, Richard Perle, now an influential figure in George Bush's Washington circle, but then a dedicated cold warrior who argued that contacts with Soviet bloc regimes only served to give sustenance to the enemy.

Friends of Prof Glees, on the other hand, privately describe Lord Roper as "a pompous buffoon who was totally out of his depth" in his contacts with the communists. At the heart of the row is a rumbling controversy about the identity of the so-called "Chatham House spy".

The Royal Institute of International Affairs, as Chatham House is officially known, has long been the bastion of foreign policy thinking, with close links to the defence and political establishment. It famously gave its name to the Chatham House rules: off-the-record in journalistic parlance.

Prof Glees, a German speaker, has successfully used his knowledge of the surviving fragmentary Stasi files, some of which have only recently been decoded, to expose a succession of minor British figures as having - wittingly or unwittingly - helped the secret police in the days of the cold war.

He alleges that the Stasi successfully penetrated Chatham House, where Lord Roper was director of studies in the 1980s and filed a series of secret intelligence reports on defence and political topics which might have been gleaned from those around Roper.

 

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Paul Berman: Does He Know What He's Talking About? (posted 5-27-03)

Stephen Schwartz, writing in frontpagemag.com (May 27, 2003):

Berman is considered by many to be the successor to the American socialist writer Irving Howe, but although Howe had many faults, an addiction to padding and hot air was not among them. In addition, Howe's writing on the radical left was historically sound, even when wrong in its interpretation. By contrast, fact checking is foreign to Berman, who is so busy tossing off clever remarks that he has left major holes in his arguments. He cannot even get the assassination in Sarajevo in 1914, which set off the First World War, right: The victim was Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, not, pace Berman, "the Grand Duke of Serbia."

Berman recalls the names of obscure French radical magazines accurately, but mangles historical events known to every literate person. He is at his worst when argument sweeps away fact altogether. Near the beginning of this book, he declares, with his habitual insouciance, that in Somalia in 1993, the U.S. intervention "which was intended to feed the Muslim masses, was also intended to crush the Muslim few who stood in the way."

Such allegations are not only heartless, they are slanderous. They also draw on faulty research; toward the book's end, he places Mogadishu in Sudan, rather than Somalia. But they sound clever.

Berman's devotion to superficially convincing rhetoric persists. He reproduces Camus's tired clichés about rebellion and extremism as if they were novelties, equating all forms of protest, throughout modern history, with terrorism. For all his reading, he apparently knows nothing of a fundamental, if deeply flawed work in this area, The Sociology and Psychology of Communism, by Jules Monnerot, which offers an explicit comparison of communism with Islam.

While it is certainly true that the Wahhabi and neo-Wahhabi varieties of Islamic extremism, as well as the ideology of the Ba'ath party, have a totalitarian nature in common with the ideologies of the 20th-century dictators, Berman fudges any understanding that, no matter how much we should hate Bolsheviks and Nazis, they may not, as he claims, be reduced to "tentacles of a single, larger monster." A valuable recent study of the Soviet regime, Stalin's Last Crime, by Jonathan Brent and Vladimir P. Naumov, points out an issue widely overlooked by political theorists: Stalin, like Mao after him, did not protect the Marxist state, but systematically attacked and undermined it by massive bloodlettings among its cadres. Thus, Stalin did not, as Berman would have it, "whimsically" liquidate Communists. There was an undeniable gap between the humanist claims of the Communist regimes and the reality of their rule; Stalin and Mao subverted the former to reinforce the latter. By contrast, the brutalities of Hitler an Mussolini were clearly intended to guard their state apparatus, founded on an open ideology of brutalization.

But for Berman to have noted that aspect of modern totalitarianism would require, in general, greater care in the fashioning of his polemic. Early on, for instance, he alleges that "Germany, the sworn foe of the French Revolution," was viewed by "enlightened and progressive thinkers" in the 19th and early 20th centuries as the "principal danger to modern civilization." Such a view was not shared by a number of leading figures in the history of socialism: Marx and Engels in reality viewed Germany, and even German imperialism in Eastern Europe, as a liberating force in opposition to Russian reaction. Having made his anti-Germanic declaration, Berman seemingly reverses it by describing Marxism as a
"cult of German philosophy."

On topic after topic, Berman betrays his affinity for the glib parallel. Close to the end of this book, he judges the faint-heartedness of 1930s French leftists and contemporary liberals regarding military action against dictatorships as a consequence of their "refusal to accept that, from time to time, political movements do get drunk on the idea of slaughter."

Before that, he describes, and then derides, the left reflex against war that embodied the traumatic effects of societies so drunk in the First World War. He has confected a false account of French socialism in the interwar period, and seems to have joined the company of those ex-leftists, few as they are, who now see the massacres of 1914-1918 (and, one might add, the insanities of Saigon) as unambiguous liberation struggles. But the righteous battles against Franco and Hitler, the defence of Korea and the Balkan Muslims and Kosovars, and the removal of Saddam Hussein cannot retrospectively legitimize the errors and horrors of Verdun and Vietnam.Berman lashes the Europeans who failed to prevent the Balkan massacres of the 1990s, failing to grasp that his own polemics against Islam echo much of the propaganda used to justify the Serb assaults on Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo. He has gained high praise for his commentary on Sayyid Qutb, a leading modern Islamist theorist, which was published in the New York Times in advance of this book's appearance. But his simplistic analysis of totalitarianism is aggravated by his projection of an Islam completely without nuance.

While Qutb, an Egyptian lumpen intellectual, has had immense influence on young jihadists, he is not considered a serious religious commentator by the majority of traditional ulema, or established scholars within the faith. Forming an opinion about contemporary Islam after reading Qutb alone is rather like judging the whole history of the radical left by the writings of Noam Chomsky.

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Ilan Pappe: His Conference at Haifa Closed by School Authorities (posted 5-27-03)

Haim Watzman, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education(May 27, 2003):

The University of Haifa blocked a controversial academic conference last week, leading some researchers to charge that the institution is violating academic freedom.

The daylong conference, scheduled for last Thursday, was on the subject of the historiography of the 1948 war between Israel and the Palestinians. Israelis call this conflict the War of Independence and Palestinians call it al-Naqba, meaning "the catastrophe."

The meeting was organized by a group of scholars who are often termed "post-Zionists," central among them the historian Ilan Pappe, of the university's international-relations department. According to Mr. Pappe, when the participants arrived at the hall where the conference was scheduled to take place, the room was locked and security men were stationed outside.

In an e-mail account of the incident that Mr. Pappe sent to his colleagues at the university, he said that he had been instructed by the university's dean of social sciences, Aryeh Ratner, to cancel the conference. According to Mr. Pappe, Mr. Ratner said that the conference could not be held at the university because one of the scheduled speakers was Udi Adiv. Mr. Adiv served a jail term in the 1970s and 1980s after being convicted of spying for Syria.

Another speaker was to be Teddy Katz, who claims that Israeli forces committed a massacre in 1948 in the Arab village of Tantura. Mr. Katz's master's thesis on this incident was approved, and then the approval was rescinded, in another controversy at the university (The Chronicle, November 9, 2001).

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Robert Dallek: Surprised by the Fuss About Mimi (posted 5-23-03)

Joanna Weiss, writing in the Boston Globe (May 20, 2003):

It was only 38 words, two lines in an 800-page biography, Robert Dallek mused. That's all the mention his book, "An Unfinished Life," made of the now-notorious "Mimi," the 19-year-old intern who had a tryst with President John F. Kennedy.

And the bespectacled Boston University professor, best-known for his tomes on Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and foreign policy, said he never imagined how much - even in this post-Watergate, post-Clinton era - the twin notions of "sex" and "intern" would attract public fascination.

"It's been sort of a firestorm," Dallek said of the tabloid covers and talk show rants, after a lecture last night at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. "What's amazing to me is how much interest there is in this."

Apart from the shock of this new attention, the fear of being labeled a scandal-monger, the fact that his photograph appeared next to Monica Lewinsky's in the New York Daily News - Dallek admitted he hasn't been entirely depressed at the turn of events.

"I haven't resisted, you know," he said, eyebrows raised. "Because obviously, it's a talking point in selling the book."...

The book came out just days after he discussed the affair in a May 11 broadcast interview with Dateline NBC. Soon afterward, he got a call from a reporter at the New York Daily News, who wanted to talk about the intern.

"I naively said to him, 'You're going to run a story about this?' " Dallek recalled.

The reply: "Man, we're going to run it on the front page."

The rest, one might say, is history. Yet how long the excitement will last is unclear; "I think it will subside," Dallek said.


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Simon Schama: How He Found His Voice (posted 5-23-03)

Andrew Billen, writing in the London Times (May 20, 2003):

"Many people in, as they say, 'the broadcasting community' expected us to bomb, and how! History was the single least popular subject in schools. The presenter-led genre of documentary was considered passe. And here I was, a white male, not dead, but quite unfashionable enough.

"But we got off to such a headwind that we were allowed to get a bit more essay-like and demanding of the audience as it went on. The viewing did fall off, actually, partly because the last series went out in the summer and the World Cup was on, but there's no doubt that some of the last programmes were among the best, in my view."

I say I was surprised by the demotic voice he chose in the early episodes.

Actually I winced at its cliches: Anglo-Saxon Britain lived in "the long shadow of Rome"; "a truckload of trouble" accompanied the Norman invasion; propaganda worked "like a dream"; the Normans owned Britain "lock, stock and barrel".

I tell him I thought the programmes grew more fluent as they went on; he thanks me, ignoring my implied criticism of his earlier style.

"Yeah, no one was telling me to do that. I wanted to have a slightly more street-ish voice without being pretentiously blokeish. I loved what Kenneth Clark did, but I thought some sort of alternative voice would do for history."

Once he got to the tough, yet elegiac, final episodes, the death of Empire, women under Victoria, Churchill and Orwell, his voice grew to match its subject.

"I think the coda was lyrical because I felt that way," he says. "It just came straight out."

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Daniel Pipes: Caught in the Crossfire of the Musim Civil War (posted 5-22-03)

Hussain Haqqani, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Although the Washington Post, among others, has editorialized against his appointment, the controversy should be seen in the context of the civil war of ideas in the Muslim world -- between those who wish to reconcile adherence to their faith with modernity and those seeking the restoration of a mythical glorious past. The Pipes nomination has become a test of strength for those Islamists who wish to paint the war against terrorism as a war against Islam. If they can rally American Muslims to their cause, they would be able to limit the scope of debate about Islamic issues within parameters set by them. That objective doesn't serve the interests of the U.S. or of Muslims....

 

Islam's external enemies, and their real and perceived conspiracies, are the focus of most discourse in the Muslim world. Colonial rule and, since then, injustices meted out to Muslims under non-Muslim occupation in several countries are real issues that need to be addressed. But the failure of Muslim societies -- in particular the leaders -- to embrace education, expand economies or to innovate cannot be attributed solely to outside factors. The root causes also lie in the fear of some Muslims to embrace reasoned debate and intellectual exchange, lest this openness somehow dilute the purity of their beliefs.

The campaign against Mr. Pipes is an example of this tendency to scuttle discussion. Muslims who disagree with his views should respond to him with arguments of their own. Slandering him might help polarize secular and Islamist Muslims, but it won't raise the level of discourse about Islamic issues. It's time for Muslim leaders in the U.S. to break the pattern of agitation that has characterized Muslim responses to the West.

 

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Robert Caro: Kisses and Makes Up with the LBJ Library (posted 5-22-03)

David Barboza, writing in the NYT (May 22, 2003):

For 26 years Robert A. Caro has painstakingly chronicled the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson. He has interviewed more than a thousand of Johnson's former aides and colleagues. He has pored over countless records in the Johnson presidential archives. And to critical acclaim he has published three volumes of his projected four-volume biography of Johnson. His latest volume, "Master of the Senate," received the Pulitzer Prize for biography this year.

But because of a long-running feud over his portrayal of the 36th president, Mr. Caro and his work were unwelcome at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum here. His best-selling Johnson books were conspicuously absent from the museum's bookstore. He says he thinks that important records in the Johnson archives were kept from him.

"They would go out of their way to insult me," Mr. Caro said in an interview in the L. B. J. Library reading room, where he was continuing his research.

And the library did not invite him to speak. "I think I was the only Johnson biographer who had never been asked to speak there," Mr. Caro said by telephone from New York City, where he lives.

But that changed on May 13 when the library, under new leadership, embraced him. He spoke to a crowded gathering there. He autographed copies of "Master of the Senate." He was even honored at a dinner in the private suite that Johnson kept at the library after he left the White House in 1969, a suite that Mr. Caro had never seen in his 26 years of work here, even though it was just down the hall from where he conducted much of his research.

"It was time for us to have him here," said Betty Sue Flowers, a former English professor who recently took over as director of the library and museum. "I think it's good to have a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Johnson speak here, and I have no problem with Caro."

 

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David McCullough: His Uninspiring Lecture (posted 5-22-03)

Philip Kennicott, writing in the Washington Post (May 16, 2003):

Last night at the Ronald Reagan Building, McCullough gave the prestigious Jefferson Lecture, the highest humanities honor the federal government can bestow. The setting was festive, or as festive as the dreary convention-hotel-style space in the Reagan building can be. Members of the Marine Band provided music, and the Armed Forces Color Guard a little spectacle. Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, warmed up the crowd with what has become a familiar gag: He makes students look like stupid dolts by reading their writing or citing their test answers. It always gets a laugh.

The NEH, which curates annual lecture series, asks only that the Jefferson Lecture, for which it pays the speaker $10,000, be "original and substantial." Unfortunately, McCullough's lecture, while entertaining, was neither very original nor particularly substantial. It was meant, perhaps, to be inspirational, with a long peroration about the glories of history, the human drama, the importance of leadership, the lifting of the spirit, and much more repetitive flapdoodle. This stuff sounds good when well delivered, and McCullough has the natural, practiced delivery of a man who might do voice-overs for the History Channel.

But for something so prestigious as the Jefferson Lecture it was all rather flimsy and diffuse. McCullough began with a reference to the dark days of history (in this case 1942); moved on to some interesting detail about the famous John Trumbull painting in the Capitol Rotunda (much of which can be found in his book on Adams, Page 627); reminded us that our forefathers weren't gods but they were brave and learned; and then made a pitch for the importance of public education (and teaching of values).

He harped on a familiar theme, the necessity of history being entertaining and pleasurable, and he delivered one line that got particular applause: "No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read."

Maybe not, unless you lard it with so much "readable" detail, about the weather, the dress, the dimples in the cheeks and the flies on the wall, that it becomes crushingly unreadable (the Simon Schama problem, and sometimes a McCullough problem)....

There is a considerable effort, in this country, to make history merely a stable of stories domesticated for the entertainment of the comfortable classes. McCullough's speech last night met that unfortunate standard. But McCullough is a serious historian, and a best-selling historian who has managed to negotiate the pressures of publishing without the plagiarism scandals that have disgraced his peers in the pop-history biz. And he is also deeply and sincerely concerned that history isn't getting out there enough, that it isn't reaching young people.

If he wants to know why it isn't, he should read his own speech.

 

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KC Johnson: The Puritan as Historian (posted 5-19-03)

Scott Smallwood, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (May 19, 2003):

In another era, KC Johnson might have been a monk, cloistered away in some book-lined retreat. Instead, he lives alone in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. It's just him, his mattress on the floor, his sofa with missing cushions, and his desk. He often works till 2 a.m., sleeps for four hours, and starts all over again.

Mr. Johnson lives, in the words of his graduate-school mentor, a "puritanical" life. He doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, doesn't eat meat, and isn't in a relationship. He has just one hobby outside work: running.

He was born Robert David Johnson, though everyone knows him now as KC (a nickname drawn from a Boston Celtics star). He grew up in suburban Massachusetts, the son of two public-school teachers. His parents now live in Maine, and he visits regularly, taking the train and the bus because he never learned to drive a car.

Every few weeks, he travels to North Carolina to see his younger sister. Her husband is paralyzed, and Mr. Johnson sends much of his salary to them.

Each morning, he dons his signature bow tie. But he is not a natty dresser. Instead, he sports white sweatsocks, Nikes, and shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows. He's got a friendly, if mildly awkward, demeanor, and what one friend describes as a "silly grin."

Mr. Johnson has always been the young one. He entered Harvard University at 17 and graduated in three years. By 25, he had earned his Ph.D., also from Harvard. And now, at 35, his publication record reads like that of a scholar twice his age. He has written three books, two published by Harvard University Press. His fourth, on the 1964 presidential election, will be published by W.W. Norton in 2004. And Cambridge University Press has given him a contract for a book about Congress and the cold war.

Students love him. In most classes, he lectures for 90 minutes without notes. Charles Dew, one of his colleagues at Williams College, where he taught for four years before coming to Brooklyn, says: "It was like he was made for this job."

And his mind is filled with the details that history addicts adore -- like the last time Kansas elected a Democratic U.S. senator (1932) or the loser of the 1976 Pennsylvania race for the U.S. Senate (Rep. William J. Green III). At one point in his graduate seminar this spring, a student spoke about 1970's three-way campaign in New York for a Senate seat. Mr. Johnson rattled off the election result: "I think it was something like 39-37-23." Actually, the third-place candidate got 24 percent of the vote.

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Howard Zinn: A Million Copies of His Book Have Been Sold (posted 5-19-03)

James Green, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (May 19, 2003):

A sellout crowd filled the 92nd Street Y in New York recently to celebrate a publishing milestone: the sale of one million copies of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. First published in 1980, the book, updated by the author, continues to be assigned in countless college and high-school courses, but its commercial sales have remained strong as well. It is probably the only book by a radical historian that you can buy in an airport.

Zinn's editor at HarperCollins, Hugh Van Dusen, says the book is unique in his 40-plus years of publishing: For two decades, it has sold more copies each year than it sold the year before. Last year it sold 128,000 copies.

The people who gathered in New York to hear readings from A People's History by James Earl Jones, Danny Glover, and others were celebrating more than a book, of course. They were celebrating a person -- someone a former student, the novelist Alice Walker, called "this unassuming hero, this people-loving 'trouble maker.' "

At 80, Zinn is not only a best-selling author but remains a tireless crusader for peace and justice, and a public speaker who is in more demand than ever. His credibility and authority as a social critic stem in part from the sincerity and longevity of his commitment to radical thought and action....

Born of immigrant, blue-collar parents, Zinn was raised, he said, in a family always "one step ahead of the landlord." After the United States entered World War II, he worked in a unionized shipyard until 1943, when he joined the Army Air Corps at age 20. He served as a bombardier on B-17s flying missions over Europe -- an experience that would later shake his belief in "just wars." After the war ended, he married Roz Shechter, who also lived in Brooklyn and shared his passion for reading as well as his "outlook on the world, the war, fascism, socialism," as Zinn put it in his autobiography.

They lived first in a basement in Bedford-Stuyvesant, then moved to the Lillian Wald housing project on the East Side. There they raised two children while he unloaded trucks at a warehouse and she did office work for a publisher. During this time, Zinn attended New York University and then Columbia University on the G.I. Bill. His first college teaching job took him south to Atlanta and Spelman College in 1956. When he and a group of African-American students protested segregation by sitting in a whites-only section at the Georgia statehouse, a riot nearly erupted. Zinn soon became influential in the civil-rights movement and served with Ella Baker as an adviser to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

When Zinn's students brought their activism back to the campus, he was blamed and fired. He moved to Boston University in 1964, and a year later spoke on Boston Common at that city's first significant rally against the U.S. military incursion in Vietnam. He became one of the peace movement's most charismatic and effective leaders, a reputation that endures. Today, he is constantly called upon to speak about the United States' attack on Iraq.

When Zinn decided to write A People's History (at Roz's insistence), the radical movements he had championed were fading and the book's chances for success seemed slight. Oscar Handlin, a renowned Harvard historian, hated it. In a review for The American Scholar, he wrote sarcastically that the author was "a stranger to evidence." Not only was the book "anti-American," Handlin thundered in conclusion, but its author heaped "indiscriminate condemnation on all the works of man -- that is upon civilization, a word he usually encloses in quotation marks."...

Zinn's People's History drew upon the entire corpus of New Left scholarship, a body of work academics like Silber and Bennett despised. Radical historians welcomed the book, but some expressed reservations as well. Eric Foner, a respected historian with leftist sympathies, praised Zinn in a New York Times review for writing "with an enthusiasm rarely encountered in the leaden prose of academic history" and for offering vivid descriptions of protests and movements usually ignored in mainstream history. He thought historians might well view A People's History as "a step toward a coherent new version of American history," but Foner also remarked that Zinn's "bottom up" approach offered a "curiously circumscribed" view of the American past, one in which Zinn portrayed the common people as "either rebels or victims" but rarely as people simply "struggling to survive with dignity in difficult circumstances."

Despite the chilly climate in which Zinn's book appeared, A People's History caught on with thousands of readers. One of them was Bruce Springsteen, who read Zinn in the depressing winter months of 1981-82 as he thought about the suffering he saw in the heartland at the beginning of the Reagan era. Shutting himself off in a rented New Jersey hideaway with his guitar and a tape deck, Springsteen recorded the haunting songs that appeared on his 1982 album Nebraska -- bleak poems about the losers in a land of new millionaires.

Daniel Pipes Assailed by Muslim Group (posted 4-17-03)

Alan Cooperman, writing in the Washington Post (April 7, 2003):

It's Round 3 of the bare-knuckle slugfest between Daniel Pipes and U.S. Muslim organizations.

The first round was on the Internet, and it went to Pipes. The second round was on college campuses, and it went to Muslim groups. Round 3 is at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

President Bush last week nominated Pipes for a seat on the board of directors of USIP, a nonpartisan, federal think tank established by Congress to promote "the prevention, management and resolution of international conflicts."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a D.C.-based civil rights group, called on the White House to rescind the nomination or the Senate to reject it.

Many American Muslims regard Pipes as "the nation's leading Islamophobe," the council said in an e-mail to its supporters....

CAIR and other Muslim groups call him a bigot.

"Pipes's nomination sends entirely the wrong message as America seeks to convince Muslims worldwide that the war on terrorism and the war against Iraq are not attacks on Islam," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.

"Pipes's anti-Muslim polemics have had the opposite impact of that sought by the institute. His views promote unending conflict, not peace."

Pipes declined to comment on his presidential appointment, but he denied the charge of bigotry.

"For reasons of its own, CAIR has been trying for years to place me in the category of those who consider Islam the enemy, which is not where I belong," he said. "My position is that militant Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution."

The fracas over Pipes's nomination is unusual for the USIP, which has generally kept a low profile and developed a reputation as an institution that is solid, middle-of-the-road and even somewhat boring.

To ensure the institute's independence, Congress stipulated at its inception in 1984 that its 15-member board can never have more than eight voting members of the same political party. Board members meet six times a year and are paid $400 a day when working on institute business.

USIP spokesman John Brinkley said the group would not comment on Pipes's qualifications. "We work happily with whoever they choose to put on our board," he said.

The institute has a particular motive for wanting to avoid political trouble right now, as it starts an $80 million fund drive to build a new headquarters on Constitution Avenue facing the Mall.

Pipes and Muslim groups, in contrast, have scores to settle.

At the end of 2000, Pipes put up a Web site to promote his writings, www.danielpipes.org. About the same time, someone else put up www.danielpipes.com, which transported visitors to a page on CAIR's Web site titled, "Who Is Daniel Pipes?"

Threatening a lawsuit, Pipes won back the rights to his domain name after about a year. CAIR denies it was behind the crafty appropriation of Pipes's name. Last year, the feud deepened when Pipes founded Campus Watch, a group devoted to exposing college teachers, events and organizations that justify terrorism, denigrate Israel and support radical Islam. CAIR and other Muslim groups decried the move as a threat to academic freedom and an effort to chill pro-Palestinian speech.

They won a show of solidarity when more than 100 professors across the country asked Pipes to add their names to his watch list.

 

Historians Against the War (posted 4-17-03)

James M. O'Neill, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 10, 2003):

Growing numbers of American historians are so worried that the Bush administration is ignoring the lessons of the 20th century, and even the last 2,000 years, that they are signing petitions, marching against the war in Iraq, and holding teach-ins across the country.

The Bush administration is "ignoring the established pattern of what destroys great empires - the eventual reliance on military power over economic and cultural dominance," said Van Gosse, one of the activist historians and a professor at Franklin & Marshall College. "This happened to the Romans, to the British."

Those who view historians as irrelevantly stuck in the musty past might be doing a double-take these days.

These academics have mobilized into a national organization called Historians Against the War. They wrote a petition decrying the recent "egregious curtailment" of civil liberties, and organized teach-ins on college campuses across the country this week.

"Our job is to better understand the past, and what's the point of doing that if you're not going to link it to the present?" said Lee Formwalt, executive director of the Organization of American Historians and a professor at Indiana University. "We can provide a deeper understanding of how we got to the present situation."

That logically leads historians to the next step - sharing their conclusions, in an activist way, with the public. "The idea that we just sit in an ivory tower is myth," Formwalt said.

Last night, a teach-in at Temple University sponsored by Historians Against the War included lectures on presidential leadership in wartime, the mass media's coverage of the war, the history of modern Iraq, and "colonialism discredited."

Similar teach-ins sponsored by the group were held at Rutgers, Rowan, Pennsylvania State University, and Franklin & Marshall this week.

Gosse, who helped organize the Franklin & Marshall teach-in, said "there's a hubris in the administration that they can control events."

Gosse said Vietnam still hangs heavy over American foreign policy. He said the Bush administration might believe the current conflict reverses the "Vietnam syndrome," but it really reinforces it, because the United States is showing it will act only against a less-than-challenging adversary, using overwhelming force, and "bullying the public through a cowed and craven mass media."

Gosse said he had received e-mails and calls from non-academics outraged that historians would take a public position on a current event.

Gosse has no patience for such criticism. He said that unlike conservative historians of the 1950s and early 1960s, who saw the norm as supporting and even advising the government, today's liberal historians "are critical intellectuals providing a vital democratic function. It's not a partisan thing."

The more aggressive use of history to question current American foreign policy, a "new left revisionist" look at events, developed in the late 1950s, headed by University of Wisconsin professor William Appleman Williams and his book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.

"He engaged scholars by arguing that if we feel what we do has value, we should carry that beyond the classroom," said David Applebaum, a history professor at Rowan who organized a teach-in there. "Balance is not what historians are after," Applebaum said. "We're after an authentic and verifiable understanding of events."

Roger Kimball: Still Slaying the Dragons of the Left (posted 4-15-03)

Bernard Chapin interviews Roger Kimball; in Enter Stage Right (March 2003):

Anthony Burgess once said that whenever he read Ulysses by James Joyce his reaction to his own writing became "why even bother?" I have had the same experience after reading the works of Roger Kimball. Mr. Kimball is the Managing Editor of The New Criterion but he is also one of the journal's most prolific writers. Reading his work is similar to reliving the great lectures one received in college (back when lectures weren't considered oppressive). He writes on all cultural topics but what I have found particularly impressive is his unforeseeable achievement of making artistic philistines like myself interested in topics within the art world. His work is stimulating for a variety of reasons but primarily it is due to Kimball, despite being infinitely learned, possessing a style that is highly readable. Amongst his lively sentences is an uncanny ability to place his subjects within the context of the larger issues that embody our culture.

We on the right often ask "Where are our tough guys? Why don't we stand up to these fabricators?" Read Kimball and you won't ask anymore. He never shirks from the duty of exposing the poseurs of the SRL (Self-Righteous Left-interviewer's term). Here before us, bespectacled and sporting a bowtie, is one of our greatest enforcers. Kimball, despite his civilized appearance, lands Tysonesque roundhouses with a greater strength and frequency than many of our other commentators put together. The libertine deconstructionists must lament the day he chose to forgo an academic career as he would have been much easier to deal with within the catty world of our universities. I'm fairly certain that the likes of Dr. Fish and Dr. Derrida quiver in slouched post-modern angles after being informed by an overpaid colleague that Roger Kimball has written something about them.

His work, The Long March, may be the finest non-fiction book that I've ever read. In it he meticulously dissects the great hysterics of 1960's whose moronic gallivanting across our universities and political system has brought so much misery to the west in the decades that followed. I hope that many of our readers are unfamiliar with Kimball so that the joy of gazing at the words and arguments of one of the last great knights of western civilization will lie ahead of them. You may think that what I am writing here is just hype but in the scrolls that follow you will see that my introduction is nothing compared to the glitter of the analysis below. Let us now, in this enterstageright.com exclusive, examine the Grand Examiner himself.

The first thing I'd like to ask, and I know this would be of great interest to our readers concerns our culture. Specifically, have conservatives lost the culture war? And, if not, what kind of countermeasures can we undertake to make sure that there is still something left of western civilization?

Ah, the culture war. Have conservatives lost? It seems like such a simple question. Why is it so difficult to answer? There are a several reasons. In the first place, when we speak of "the culture war" we mean a conflict with multiple fronts, different and sometimes opposing goals, and shifting allegiances. The dumbing down of higher education is part of the culture war. So is the institution of political correctness and the activist judicial culture that imposes the values of a liberal elite on more and more areas of life. So is the sexual "revolution," so-called, and the disintegration of the family. Ditto the imperatives of multiculturalism, with their assumption of cultural relativism and egalitarianism. The culture war embraces what has happened to institutions like The New York Times, which has long since subordinated reporting the news in order to shill for all things trendy; the culture war also embraces the degradation of popular culture, the proletarianization of public taste, and the failure of manners. If the culture is a plural phenomenon, so too are "the conservatives." There are plenty of people who call themselves conservative who worry about one aspect of the culture war but cannot get worked up about another aspect. The liberal media is always going on about "the vast right-wing conspiracy," etc., but in fact conservative opinion in this country is a much more heterogeneous thing than liberal opinion.

These two things -- the multiplicity of "fronts" or battles that constitute the culture war and the diversity of conservative opinion -- make it well nigh impossible to give a single answer to the question "have conservatives lost the culture war?" That said, however, I believe that any conservative who contemplates the cultural landscape today must come away sobered if not, indeed, depressed. There has been a steady loss of cultural capital as one educational institution after the next -- schools, colleges, museums, and so forth -- waters down its offerings in the name of diversity or populism. There is some irony in the fact that as educational rhetoric proliferates, the content of the education becomes ever more anemic.

The dilution of culture is one problem: for all the marvelous "information technology" we command, people seem to know less and less; their cultural range of reference has contracted to the tiny circle described by the latest headlines and characters of this year's sitcoms and "reality" programs (i.e., virtual reality programs). But if the content of culture has been steadily eroded it has also become increasingly tawdry. The culture war is also a moral war, a war over the definition of the good life. Most of the news from that front of the culture war is discouraging. ...

Regarding your background, I notice that a doctorate is never mentioned after your name. Is this do to the fact that you just do not list your educational accomplishments? Is it due to the fact that pursuing a doctorate may have been superfluous to your professional goals? Or, and I'm hoping that this is the answer, that you felt that you could not stomach seven years of a heavily politicized curriculum in the leftist enclaves known an as American universities?

I was a graduate student at Yale and fully intended to embark on an academic career. When I moved to New York in the mid-1980s, I was hard at work on a dissertation on the philosophy of art. But once I started writing regularly for magazines like The New Criterion I found myself drifting further and further away from the culture of academia. Long before I published Tenured Radicals in 1990, it had become clear to me that, at many institutions, academic life in this country was a grim affair: warped by politics, distorted by hermetic "theorizing," disfigured by unreadable prose and pretentious posturing. It was not a world I aspired to join. I should also point out that, after the publication of Tenured Radicals, it was not a world I would be invited to join. That book, along with Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, became a book that academics loved to hate. I was at first alarmed by the venom lavished on me and the book but I soon learned to see the comic side of the spectacle. In any event, it became crystal clear that an academic career was out of the question -- what university would have me? -- and I let the dissertation languish. I should say for the record, however, that I regret not having finished the degree, since I believe one should finish what one starts.

Brian Dippie: The Canadian Who Grew Up Loving the American West (posted 4-11-03)

Lindsay Kines, writing in the Edmonton Journal (April 13, 2003):

Like so many boys of his generation, Brian Dippie wanted to be a cowboy. He dressed like a cowboy, played cowboys and Indians, and worshipped cowboys riding across the screen in Edmonton movie houses of the late 1940s.

Once, he and his older brother got to see Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, perform at the Edmonton Gardens. The show overwhelmed Dippie, so taken was he by the notion of this hero of comic books and movies, standing right there, on a stage, in Dippie's home town.

"I think that what was really powerful for lots of kids growing up then was the notion that it wasn't just about the past,'' he said recently. "It wasn't history. It was somehow as real as Gene Autry, standing in front of you, singing a song.''

But where other kids outgrew their cowboy passion, Dippie grew into his. He went on to study the art and imagery of the West, wrote his masters thesis on Custer's Last Stand, and, eventually, landed a job teaching American history at the University of Victoria.

Today, he is considered one of the leading scholars on the history of Western art, cowboy painters, and their influence on the legends of the Wild West -- a mythology that, in so many cases, still defines how the world sees Americans and how Americans see themselves.

He has produced more than a dozen scholarly books on Western art and mythology, preparing catalogues for major museums across the U.S., and appearing in PBS, A&E and Time Warner documentaries on everything from General George Custer to the art of Remington.

Last fall, Dippie became the first Canadian ever appointed president of the Western History Association. And Calgary's Glenbow Museum recently announced Dippie will be one of two consulting curators for an exhibit of paintings by Charles Russell and Frederick Remington at the institute next summer.

A CHILDHOOD PASSION BECOMES A LIFE'S WORK

Even as a child, Dippie's love for the West was deeper than most. He read voraciously, collected books on the subject, and put his budding artistic talent to work by selling -- for the whopping price of $3 each -- intricate pencil crayon drawings of Indian faces, copied from photographs.

"I've always seen myself as a case of arrested development,'' he said. "I'm one of those fortunate ones who was able to convert a childhood love. Everybody in my neighbourhood played cowboys, but they went on to become engineers or minister or bakers or something else.''

Dippie went on to major in cowboys.

 

Francis Fukuyama: Still Convinced He Was Right (posted 4-11-03)

You might expect, first of all, some kind of apology from Francis Fukuyama, the political economist who famously told us just over a decade ago that, thanks to the collapse of Soviet communism, we had reached "the end of history". The world, he said in the best-selling book The End of History and the Last Man, was becalmed as it converged on the Western model of liberal capitalism and we needed no longer to fear the clashing of great civilisations.

He might similarly find this a good moment to say sorry for putting his name to an open letter sent to President Bill Clinton a few years ago urging him to take action against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. The note was co-signed by figures such as Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, who were out of government then, but who today - as the top guys in the Pentagon - have been primarily responsible for pushing us into the war in Iraq.

You may be disappointed, however. It is the luxury of academics, as against political leaders, that no humility is ever really needed. Now teaching at the Washington DC-based School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), part of Johns Hopkins University, Professor Fukuyama has no trouble explaining himself. It does not even seem contradictory to him that his most recent book, Our Posthuman Future, which is coming out in paperback this week, includes a section headlined "The Recommencement of History". He would probably like, first, to set the record straight on Iraq. Talking in his book-lined office at SAIS, he baulks, although with placid politeness, at the suggestion that "that" letter was the proof of what some anti-war commentators see as a conspiracy among conservative hawks in Washington to manipulate American foreign policy towards armed aggression against Saddam. Only when President George Bush came to power, with his Republican base, could the plot start to bear fruit.

"In that case, it was one of the most public conspiracies ever hatched," he replies, before taking instant issue with the manner of the response that has taken us into conflict. Indeed, he berates the Bush administration for ignoring world opinion and ordering in the troops without international backing.

"I signed the letter, but I have not been at all happy with the way they have executed this," he begins, shrugging of any responsibility for where we find ourselves now. "The letter did not say you should go into this unilaterally, that you can do this in contempt of the views of the rest of the world. That was not what I signed up to. I don't think Iraq is the single most serious problem in the world and that therefore you can subordinate all of your alliance relationships and goodwill with the rest of the world to this. It is not a good trade-off." As for predicting where we will stand once the fighting is over, Fukuyama demurs.

Now, what about this stasis in history he was on about before? In fact, his apparent about-face in the new book - that history is resuming its march - is not meant as a contradiction of his earlier views at all. His thesis, he insists, is intact, more or less. It is just that something else has raised its head that, well, complicates matters a little. Our Posthuman Future is about biotechnology, psychochemical drugs and the genetic engineering of our bodies, and how such life-science advances threaten to run amok with what it is to be a human being. It is about Ritalin, gay genes and clones.

But that aside, how can he stand by his first book, one that did so well that it reached the best-seller lists in America and was translated into 22 languages? Let's see. Since it came out we have had years of war in the Balkans, the twin towers were knocked down in New York, and now conflagration in Iraq. There is plenty of history there, surely. To be fair, his premise was not that nothing more was going to happen on our planet and that historians - and newspaper headline-writers - were soon to be out of a job. Fukuyama was talking more about history as defined by the German philosopher Hegel as the process of evolution in human society. By the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we had all more or less reached the same conclusion, he wrote - that free-market capitalism, with private ownership, trade and entrepreneurial endeavour, was the model that worked, even if it came in slightly different varieties.

He need not disown his celebrated theory "as long as it is understood properly". He posits: "The End of History was really about the long-term process of modernisation, whether there is basically one broad path to go down, and whether that process converges into a single broadly defined set of institutions. Well, there aren't really a lot of alternative paths to modernisation, and if you look in a long enough timescale, I would say that is right."

 

Glenda Gilmore: Victim of the Right Wing? (posted 4-11-03)

Eliana Johnson and Jamie Kirchick, freshmen at Yale University, writing in frontpagemag.com (April 11, 2003):

On the evening of the historic day that Baghdad fell, Yale held a forum of professorial invective against the statesmanship that brought it about. Without skipping a beat, Yale’s anti-war professors, who yesterday claimed to oppose war in the interests of the Iraqi people, have now moved on to expressing lunatic conspiracy theories. Wednesday, we attended a “teach-in” sponsored by the Yale Coalition for Peace, the Muslim Students Association, and the Students for Justice in Palestine, among other groups. The panel of speakers included professors Ben Kiernan, Director of the Genocide Studies Program at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, Ellen Lust-Okar of political science, Dmitri Gutas of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Glenda Gilmore, the C. Van Woodward Professor of History and University Chaplain, Rev. Frederick Streets.

Professor Glenda Gilmore, in the smug, self-righteous fashion that characterizes a large component of the anti-war movement, found it difficult to discuss anything but herself. Gilmore’s comments were devoted entirely to decrying the supposed international conspiracy launched by right-wingers like Andrew Sullivan and Daniel Pipes, intended to “shut you up and to shut me up.” Gilmore reached her startling conclusions following the scathing reception her controversial October 11 column in the Yale Daily News received. Gilmore seemed dumbfounded that her statements would elicit such a harsh response. One of the more inflammatory sentences read, “Bush's National Security Strategy makes the United States an imperial power in the most sinister sense of the term, and Congress' resolution will finally and unabashedly give George W. Bush the job he seems so sure he deserves: emperor.”

In one breath, she listed the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and Lynne Cheney, as elements of a “pre-planned” plot to squash her political speech. The right-wing campaign, according to Gilmore, is “targeted at anti-war professors” and aims to silence her and anyone else who raises a peep of protest about Bush or the war. She protested Daniel Pipes' labeling of her as"Hating America," though not once in her tirade did she mention the last line of her column,"We have met the enemy, and it is us." It is certainly difficult to understand how Pipes could construe Gilmore’s comment as anything but a symptom of a deep and abiding hatred of America.

Wrongfully assuming that the audience was filled with antiwar students, Gilmore found herself at a loss for words when her tenuous reasoning was accidentally exposed to critical questioning. It became clear that Gilmore was never in fact silenced. The opposite occurred; her views were exposed, disseminated, and legitimately criticized by those who disagreed with her. Coming from the insulated world of leftist academia, Gilmore assumed that criticism and denunciation of her vitriol was evidence of a conspiracy against her. Rather than present well-developed or coherent arguments against the war, she filled her allotted time attempting (successfully) to elicit pity from her audience. It was a spectacle of self-aggrandizement.

For Gilmore's response, click here.

Eric Alterman: Noam Chomsky Is Untrustworthy as a Historian (posted 4-4-03)

Eric Alterman, writing in his blog (April 3, 2003):

[R]eaders have been writing me from this site’s earliest moments asking me why I am not a fan of Noam Chomksy, (the historian and foreign policy writer, not the linguist. I am not qualified to judge the linguist). I always respond that to do so would take up too much space on Altercation and is deserving of an essay, not a quip.

Last week’s first-rate New Yorker profile of Chomsky helped fill that need, and inspired much discussion about the man, his beliefs, and his methods. This post, from Brad DeLong, appeared in a response on H-Diplo, the list-serve for diplomatic historians. DeLong was not so careful in a post about me not long ago, but this seems to me to be right on the so-called money. Meanwhile, for a long discussion of Chomsky’s politics, with links see the page created by Russil Wvong here.

Delong was taking aim at an assertion by another scholar that “Chomsky never denied the Cambodian genocide.The slur stemmed from some early comments where he said it had not yet been proven. He said something to the effect of sometimes massacres occur, sometimes they are made up, in this case we don’t know yet. He found the evidence convincing long ago, maybe two decades.” Here is his lengthy response.

Delong writes: I’m afraid that’s not an adequate description of Chomsky’s defense of the Khmer Rouge at the end of the 1990s. He didn’t write that there was insufficient evidence that the Khmer Rouge were genocidal butchers. He made false claims that there was evidence that the Khmer Rouge were not genocidal butchers—that “highly qualified specialists” who have studied the “full range of evidence” had found that the Khmer Rouge were acting no worse than the French Resistance after liberation, or the American colonists after their victory in their Revolution.

For example, take a look at Chomsky writing in The Nation in 1977, claiming that: “there are many other sources on recent events in Cambodia that have not been brought to the attention of the American reading public. Space limitations preclude a comprehensive review, but such journals as The Far Eastern Economic Review, the London Economist, the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and others elsewhere, have provided analyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available, and who concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and unusual peasant discontent, where brutal revenge killings were aggravated by the threat of starvation resulting from the American destruction and killing.” Dig deeper, and you discover that these conclusions come from the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and that neither the Economist nor the Far Eastern Economic Review has published any articles concluding that executions numbered at most in the thousands, were localized in areas where the Khmer Rouge did not have control, or were the result of peasant discontent generated by the economic destruction created by American bombing.

Chomsky is not lying, quite (except in his claim that the wingnuts of the Melbourne Journal of Politics are “highly qualified specialists” who have “studied the full range of evidence”): you can find such claims in the Melbourne Journal. But Chomsky definitely does want his readers to believe something false: that you can find these claims in the Economist and in the Far Eastern Economic Review as well. Now I believe that this is a common pattern for Chomsky — the misrepresentations that verge on outright lies, and then the subsequent denials of what he had claimed. For example, one common defense one hears from Chomsky supporters of Chomsky’s involvement in defending French anti-Semite and Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson is that all Chomsky was doing was defending Faurisson’s right to free speech. But it’s much uglier than that. Robert Faurisson: a guy whose thesis appears to be that “the alleged massacre in gas chambers and the genocide of the Jews is part of one and the same lie, a gigantic political and financial racket for the benefit of Israel and international Zionism.” Yet when Chomsky writes a preface to Faurisson’s work, Chomsky claims that Faurisson appears to be “a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort,” that Faurisson is being persecuted unfairly because some people have an ideologically-based hatred for his scholarly conclusions, and that there is nothing he has read by Faurisson that indicates Faurisson has any special sympathy for the Nazi cause.

It is one thing to defend neo-Nazis’ right to free speech. It is another to claim that they are relatively apolitical liberals being persecuted by ideologues who hate the truths they have uncovered. And it is yet a third thing to claim, after the fact, that your support for Faurisson was exactly the support that Voltaire would have given him.

"The Antidote to Simon Schama" (posted 4-4-03)

Paul Gallagher, writing in the Scotsman (March 28, 2003):

SCOTTISH Television is to broadcast the"antidote to Simon Schama" with a documentary series telling the history of Britain from the point of view of the Celts.

Schama's BBC series A History of Britain was criticised for being too anglocentric and brushing over the influence of the vanquished ancient Britons in the story of the British Isles.

The alternative view will be given in The Sea Kingdoms, a ten-part documentary series to be broadcast in a prime-time slot from next month.

Based on a book by Alistair Moffatt, the presenter, the series describes the origins of modern Britain by visiting the western and northern areas of the British Isles, where traces of the ancient Celtic culture are most visible today. Mr Moffat said:"In the early history of Britain, the sea played a key role. That was how people travelled and communicated because there were no roads. The sea is the main character in the series. It is the sea that binds the Celtic races together and it was by the sea that the culture flourished.

"This series is in many ways the antidote to Simon Schama, who took a very land-based view - and a very English point of view - of our history."

Herbert Aptheker, Communist (posted 3-31-03)

Fredric U. Dicker, a student of Mr. Aptheker's, writing about the late historian's obituary in the NYT; in the New York Post (March 30, 2003):

Aptheker played a major role in my life by steering me towards my graduate school and getting me blacklisted (because of my associations with him) from the Merchant Marines.

The Times' obit said Aptheker "founded" the American Institute of Marxist Studies in New York in 1964. But Aptheker didn't "found" the Institute, as all of us attending classes there knew. It was "founded" on orders of, and with money from, the Communist Party, and was located less then a block away from longtime CP national headquarters at 50 East 13th St.

What's more, it was already well-established long before it opened its doors because (as everyone familiar with it knew) it had simply emerged out of an earlier CP recruiting front, "The Jefferson School" (or, as the Union Square cognoscenti used to call it, simply "The Jeff").

I remember Aptheker as an intense, doctrinaire but friendly lecturer in American history who enjoyed putting young students like myself in their place when they said something foolish - like claiming that "consensus," and not "class contradiction," was the driving force of history.

My favorite Aptheker quote, delivered on a visit to Long Island University's Socialist Club (of which I was vice chairman): "If the ends don't justify the means, what does?"

My very favorite Aptheker book: "The Truth About Hungary," justifying the Soviet crushing of the heroic 1956Hungarian Revolution. That took some doing, even for a "Marxist historian." Wonder why the Times left that title off its list of Aptheker's works?

I remember Dr. Thomas Stirton, the liberal and fair-minded chairman of LIU's History Department, telling me: "Aptheker is not respected in the field of history because what he writes is propaganda, determined by the party line at the time and not by a real effort to find the truth." Aptheker himself told me he couldn't ever imagine reaching a conclusion as an historian that contradicted Communist Party positions, because the CP had the best brains and the best analytical tools for finding the truth. Right, and Leon Trotsky was a Nazi agent.

Aptheker, during his long CP career, was an intellectual commissar, a would-be revolutionary, a plotter and a party "historian" who used his keen mind and research skills to advance his goal of estranging Americans from loyalty to their country. The Times should have described him as such.

Henry Kamen: Did He Slur The Conquistadores? (posted 3-20-03)

Giles Tremlett, writing in the Guardian (March 17, 2003):

Outraged Spanish conservatives have turned against an historian for daring to question the idea that bravery, patriotism and belief in a Christian god were the key values of the Conquistadores who created Spain's new world empire.

The respected American historian Henry Kamen has been accused of "rubbishing the history of Spain" and "destroying the foundations of the Spanish empire" in his book, Spain's Road to Empire.

There has even been talk among those most upset by the attack on such national icons as conquistadores Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro of settling Spain's wounded honour with an old-fashioned duel.

Mr Kamen's book has shaken the accepted, school-taught Spanish view of the New World conquista as an epic tale of organised empire-building carried out by brave, loyal Spaniards for the greater glory of their country and monarchs. The historian has, instead, painted the destruction of the Inca and Aztec civilisations as the work of ruthless, self-interested entrepeneurs and mercenaries who used the Spanish crown as little more than a shield for their ambitions.

"Most of what he says is distortion and twisted interpretation," complained one angry letter writer to the conservative daily newspaper ABC. "In other times this would have led to a duel."

In Spain's august Royal Academy of History, many of whose largely elderly academicians cut their teeth as professors in General Franco's universities, the angry rumbling of discontent has been at its loudest.

"His theses are false. He is just trying to grab attention," fumed academician Luis Suarez. "We have the misfortune that foreigners write our history for us."

"The worst thing is the morbid passion, the history that defames," added the academy's former director, Antonio Rumeu de Armas.

Mr Kamen's crimes, his critics have said, include pointing out that much of the conquista of Aztecs and Incas was done by native peoples allied to Spain and that those who most benefited were often the German and Italian bankers who paid for the expeditions.

Where Spaniards themselves were prominent in a period of empire-building that stretched from the end of the 15th century to the mid-18th century, greed for silver and gold and "pitiless, barbaric" cruelty were the tonic of the times. Worst of all for the traditionalists, Mr Kamen has questioned whether the Spain of the times, itself only just "reconquered" from the Moors and "united" under a single monarchy, could really be considered a proper country.

ERIC FONER: DID HE TRIVIALIZE 9-11? (posted 3-19-03)

Daniel Pipes, writing in the New York Post (March 19, 2003):

Has anyone noticed an indifference in the precincts of the far Left to the fatalities of 9/11 and the horrors of Saddam Hussein?

Right after the 9/11 attack, German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen called it"the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos." Eric Foner, an ornament of Columbia University's Marxist firmament, trivialized it by announcing himself unsure"which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House." Norman Mailer called the suicide hijackers"brilliant."

RASHID KHALIDI: RADICAL? (posted 3-19-03)

Alyssa A. Lappen and Jonathan Calt Harris, writing in frontpagemagazine.com (March 18, 2003):

Rashid Khalidi next fall [is going to become] ... “Edward Said Professor of Middle East Studies” [at Columbia University] and head of the university’s Middle East Institute.

A glance at Khalidi’s work shows why this is a step in the wrong direction for Columbia University. His writings and statements routinely cross the line from education into a political advocacy that is not just extremist but often factually wrong. Four examples:

On American foreign policy. Following Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Khalidi called the widespread resistance to this act of aggression an “idiots’ consensus” and called on his colleagues to combat it.[i] After 9/11, he admonished Washington to drop what he called its “hysteria about suicide bombers.”[ii]

Khalidi asserts that the U.S. government has “yet to support the independence of Arab Palestine,”[iii] despite open endorsement by President George W. Bush of a Palestinian state[iv], and nearly $1 billion in direct U.S. aid to the West Bank and Gaza since 1993.[v]

And beware anyone who disagrees with Khalidi! He throws reckless accusations out against them, such as calling Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz “a fanatical, extreme right-wing Zionist.”[vi]

On Palestinian violence. Khalidi glorifies anti-Israel violence as contributing to “political enlightenment”[vii] and unsurprisingly admires those who carry it out. His loyalty to Palestinian terrorist groups run so deep that he actually dedicated his 1986 valentine to the PLO, Under Siege, to “those who gave their lives . . . in defense of the cause of Palestine and independence of Lebanon.”[viii] The book whitewashes PLO violence against Israelis and Lebanese, as well as the Syrian occupation.

On media coverage. When Palestinian violence garners unfavorable publicity, Khalidi’s response it to blame the messenger, not the murderers. Thus, in response to Palestinians lynched two off-duty Israeli officers on October 12, 2000, Khalidi did not critique the perpetrators of this crime, but railed against the “prostitute” and “cynical” media that dared to show Palestinians triumphantly displaying bloodied hands after the killings. In like spirit, he faults not those Palestinians who erupted in joyous street celebrations at the murders of 3,000 Americans on 9/11, but the media for having the temerity to report these occurrences.[ix]

On Israel as a U.S. ally. In Khalidi’s fevered imagination, Israel is not a democratic ally but an “apartheid system in creation” and a destructive “racist” state. In his efforts to indict the Jewish state, Khalidi is quite prepared to make up accusations, such as his claim that Israel’s army has “awful weapons of mass destruction (many supplied by the U.S.) that it has used in cities, villages and refugee camps.”[x] This is a plain lie. That so few Americans agree with his bizarre reading of Israel’s democracy as a menacing enemy state causes him to dismiss them as “brainwashed.”[xi]

In short, Khalidi’s scholarship is laced with a vicious political radicalism.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: JOINING A LAWSUIT OVER THE TULSA RACE RIOT (posted 3-18-03)

Brent Staples, writing in the NYT (March 16, 2003):

Americans tend to think of lawless nations in Africa and Eastern Europe when the discussion turns to mass murder and crimes against humanity. But a commission created by the Oklahoma Legislature spent the late 1990's searching for mass graves in and around Tulsa. The missing dead -- who could number as many as 300 -- were shot, burned, lynched or tied to cars and dragged to death during the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. This was a nightmarish disturbance in which an army of white Tulsans reduced to ashes 35 square blocks of what was then the most affluent black community in the United States.

The Tulsa Race Riot Commission closed up shop without finding the bodies that witnesses recall seeing stacked like cordwood along railroad sidings and on street corners. But the commission report shows without question that the city encouraged the loss of life and property by deputizing what amounted to a lynch mob. The state may also have been at fault in failing to protect the community. Witnesses recall seeing white police officers looting and burning, and in some cases killing unarmed black citizens without provocation.

The survivors and their families presumed that the ghastly detail in the riot report would move the city and state to make restitution, especially in cases where lost property and life could be documented. The Legislature has instead decided to bury the report and deal with the matter partly by giving the survivors commemorative medals.

These aging men and women, many in their 90's, have not been content to go quietly to the grave. Instead, they have filed suit seeking damages, represented by a legal team including Charles Ogletree, the Harvard law professor, and the trial lawyers Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Willie Gary. The arrival of the high-profile legal team sent a shock through sleepy Tulsa. But the most electric moment came when 88-year-old John Hope Franklin, one of the most important historians of the 20th century, was found to have joined the suit as a plaintiff.

Mr. Franklin served as an adviser to the riot commission. His support for the suit represents a powerful condemnation of the State Legislature. His name resonates in the black Tulsa community of Greenwood, where a boulevard is named in his honor. Greenwood, such as it is, might not even exist if not for his father, the estimable lawyer B. C. Franklin (1879-1960), who was practicing in the community at the time of the riot. B. C. Franklin somehow managed to avoid being killed and was briefly held captive after the conflagration. After his release, he turned immediately to the task of fighting the city in court. The accounts of this period in his autobiography,"My Life and an Era," published posthumously, will be quoted often if this newly filed lawsuit comes to trial.

BENNY MORRIS: DISENCHANTED (posted 3-7-03)

Leonard Stern, writing in the Ottawa Citizen (March 3, 2003):

The depth of Arab rejectionism was made clear recently in a dialogue between two scholars, one Israeli and one Palestinian, organized by an academic journal. The Israeli was Benny Morris, one of the"new" historians who has spent his career documenting Palestinian suffering and calling for Arab-Jewish co-existence. His dialogue partner was Joseph Massad, a Palestinian professor of modern Arab politics at New York's Columbia University.

One would have expected the forum to be a love-in. It wasn't. Mr. Massad dismissed Jewish claims, historical or cultural, to the Holy Land. The Israelites who built the great temples in Jerusalem have no connection to contemporary Judaism, he declared. Benny Morris was stunned:"You're saying that Jews are not Jews. That's what you're saying!" Mr. Massad went further and suggested it is the Palestinian Arabs who are the real descendants of"ancient Hebrews."

One could sense the despair welling up inside Mr. Morris. He devotes his life to understanding and publicizing the other side's story, and in return gets only rejection and denial, the intellectual equivalent of a fist to the face, or a bomb on a bus.

CHRIS HILL: WHY WAS HE FORGIVEN? (posted 3-7-03)

Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times (London) (March 3, 2003):

Last week the historian Christopher Hill died. He moved easily at the top of British society, was Master of Balliol College, was feted as a writer.

He also joined the Communist Party before the war and remained a member until 1957. Would everyone have been so tolerant, so happy to consort with him if he had been a fellow traveller of the Nazis? In Hill's defence it is said that he was kind and avuncular and also that he did at least leave the Communist Party when the Soviets invaded Hungary. Yet resigning in 1957 means that he stayed through the collectivisation of the farms and the purges and the theft and the murder of the people of Lvov and elsewhere in Poland, stayed when Czechoslovakia was taken over and when the Polish democrats were hanged and when the East German rising was brutally suppressed."Well, at least he resigned in 1957" is not much of a defence so far as I'm concerned.

For me his tardy resignation may not have been sufficient; for others it seems it wasn't necessary. Hill's friend, the historian Eric Hobsbawm, didn't bother leaving the party, commenting only that remaining"was certainly difficult for a while". He stayed a member until the Berlin Wall came down. He was rewarded by being made a Companion of Honour. He accepted. And we bother calling Mick Jagger a hypocrite.

The party of which Hobsbawm and Hill were members was financed throughout its existence by the KGB. When it was dissolved, the assets did not dissolve with it.

They are now used to finance something called the New Politics Network, an organisation which promotes tactical voting against Tories. You would have thought that the people involved in these activities would feel sufficiently ashamed to make some attempt to return their blood money to the people from whom it was stolen.

As memories of the Cold War recede, it is easy for history to be rewritten, crimes erased, horrors forgotten. It has just been announced that in April the BBC is to screen a four-part series called Cambridge Spies on the life of Burgess, Philby and Maclean. In a monumentally offensive statement, a spokesman for the BBC said that the programme would be"the first time that they can be seen to be heroic because it's post-Cold War. In Cambridge Spies, we see and understand why it was that these young men were so implacably opposed to fascism and how communism was the only legitimate response". I look forward to the BBC's four-parter on the much-misunderstood Lord Haw-Haw. Julian Lewis, an MP who has spent much of his life fighting the far Left and the far Right, spoke to me the other day about the extraordinary tendency of these old communist activists to live into their nineties."Some people think it is because the fire of life burns in them so strongly," he said."I think it is because they know what will happen to them when they die".

HOBSBAWM: NOSTALGIC FOR THE COLD WAR (posted 3-3-03)

Matthew Price, writing in the Boston Globe (March 2, 2003):

How did Hobsbawm's politics affect his scholarship? Can a communist also be a judicious scholar? This is a question which, at least in some quarters, has been hotly debated. In a New Criterion essay which savaged the historian this January, journalist David Pryce-Jones thundered that ''Communism destroyed him as a thinker or interpreter of events.'' Arguably, Hobsbawm's failures are most glaring when the topic is the communist world of the 20th century. In his only full-length work on 20th-century history, ''The Age of Extremes'' (1994), he dubiously argues that ''the Soviet system was not `totalitarian.''' His bold description of the Cold War years as ''The Golden Age'' raised the hackles of a few critics. ''To refer to the years 1950-1974 as a `Golden Age' cannot help but sound ironic to someone from, say, Prague,'' the historian Tony Judt commented in the New York Review of Books.

For Hobsbawm, the Cold War is an object of considerable nostalgia. He places heavy emphasis on the rising affluence of the Western working classes, who flourished in the two decades after World War II, becoming able to afford washing machines and cars. At the same time, he points out that the Soviet Union outperformed the West economically in the 1950s. Meanwhile, the Cold War provided the world with a stable system of international relations (given our present situation, a compelling argument), and the might of the Soviet Union gave capitalism an ''incentive'' to reform itself-''fear''-that is lacking today.

Hobsbawm continues to speak fondly of the Brezhnev era. He recalls that a ''lady from Leningrad who married a close friend of mine told me in the 1970s: ''You must realize that for ordinary Russians these are the best times in their or their father's and grandfather's lives.'''

What of his political convictions today? I ask. ''I was very strongly committed and I remain committed to collective action for change,'' Hobsbawm says. He tells me how enormously cheered he is by the recent victory of Lula, Brazil's new left-wing president. And he cites a recent poll showing that the Vietnamese are the most satisfied with the prospects for their children. Still, he is sobered by the 20th century's ugly history. Via e-mail, he ventures a final assessment: ''It is not for someone who supported the USSR to minimize the human costs of the Soviet and Chinese experiments.'' But, he adds, ''It is for others to say that not only Communism was blood-stained.''

RE: ELLIS, AMBROSE AND GOODWIN (posted 2-26-03)

Joyce Lee Malcolm, a professor of history at Bentley College, writing in ReasonOnline (March 2003):

The cases of Ellis, Ambrose, and Kearns Goodwin are instances in which our most honored historians failed to live up to professional standards. Ellis’ infraction seems to me the least serious. His scholarly work remains unquestioned, although personal integrity is expected in teaching no less than in scholarship. Kearns Goodwin plagiarized and is paying the penalty. Ambrose, by contrast, was guilty of wholesale plagiarism and was unrepentant. He made a fortune from the hard work of other scholars. Either his books should be removed from sale, or the actual writers should be compensated from the proceeds. But Michael Bellesiles’ unprofessional conduct is of a much deeper dye than these. At least the plagiarized works presumably were accurate representations of the past.

NIALL FERGUSON: APOLOGIST FOR BRITISH IMPERIALISM (posted 2-12-03)

Jon E. Wilson, lecturer in history at King's College London, writing in the Guardian (February 8, 2003):

Niall Ferguson is the Leni Riefenstahl of George Bush's new imperial order. Just as Riefenstahl's photography glorified the violence of fascism and sold it to the middle classes, Ferguson's Channel 4 series and book on the British empire presents the acceptable face of imperial brutality.

From hawks within the Bush administration to their cheerleaders on the Mail and Telegraph, the invasion of Iraq is justified in the name of a new benevolent colonialism. Just as the world is preparing for a fresh western war of conquest, Ferguson arrives to convince us that imperialism can be a Good Thing. With its swashbuckling heroes and glamorous locations, his series Empire lends fake historical legitimacy to this new imperial enterprise. But by using Britain's imperial past to justify America's imperial future, Ferguson's arguments are misleading and dangerous. Worst of all, they encourage policy based on a version of the history of empire that is simply wrong. Apologists for the new imperialism argue that Pax Britannica ushered in an unprecedented period of worldwide peace and prosperity. If the US took its global responsibilities seriously, they claim, Pax Americana could now do the same again.

This new imperialism tries to justify itself with a story about Britain's introduction of free trade, the rule of law, democracy and western civilisation across the globe."No organisation", Ferguson says,"has done more to impose western norms of law, order and governance around the world." That story is a fable dreamt up by 19th-century propagandists to sell the benefits of empire to an uncertain public back home.

Instead of enriching the world, the British empire impoverished it. The empire was run on the cheap. Instead of investing in the development of the countries they ruled, the British survived by doing deals with indigenous elites to sustain their rule at knock-down prices.

LOSERS CALL HOWARD ZINN (posted 2-11-03)

Andrew Sigler, writing in the"Official Howard Zinn website" (February 10, 2003):

The winners write history. The losers call Howard Zinn. If the name doesn't sound familiar, remember the words of Matt Damon's title character in"Good Will Hunting":"Have you ever read Howard Zinn's 'People's History of the United States'? That book will knock you on your ass."

NEWT GINGRICH, HISTORIAN (posted 2-10-03)

Paul Bedard, writing in U.S. News & World Report (February 17, 2003):

Say what you want about ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. One thing's for sure: He's a big thinker. So much so that he's acting as an outside adviser and war historian-cum-strategist to the Pentagon's Iraq team. Just last week we found him in Kuwait huddling with Central Command Gen. Tommy Franks. An insider says Gingrich is"very good with the big 50,000-foot thing. He's good at the big picture."

REVISIONS CALLED FOR A TEXTBOOK THAT TELLS THE TRUTH ABOUT A MEXICAN MASSACRE IN 1968 (posted 2-8-03)

Tim Weiner, writing in the NYT (February 7, 2003):

The struggle for the control of history continues in Mexico. The biggest battleground today is what happened on the night of Oct. 2, 1968.

Every reputable historian, and almost every living eyewitness, says this:

Government troops massacred student protesters in Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City that night, on the eve of the 1968 Olympic Games, and then tried to wash away the blood, along with every trace of the killing.

For the next 30 years, Mexico's high-school students learned nothing about the event from their official history textbooks — nothing that was true, at any rate. The textbooks, approved by the secretary of public education, either made no mention of the Tlatelolco massacre or suggested, in passing, that the students were the attackers that night.

Then the government approved a new book: "History of Mexico: an Analytical Approach," by Claudia Sierra Campuzano. Its version of events is, by almost every account, far closer to the truth as documented by declassified government records, independent witnesses, and recorded history.

"The army surrounded the square and fired from every angle on thousands of youths," the book says, leaving "hundreds of dead and wounded, thousands of arrests," followed by "the persecution and imprisonment of student leaders."

So it was more than a little strange to Ms. Campuzano, a 52-year-old professor at the National School of Anthropology and History in Cuernavaca, to hear this week that the Public Education Ministry was ordering her book off the shelves. "It's like the Spanish Inquisition," she said in an interview. "It's a crack in the facade of democracy in this country."

"Even worse, the government looks ridiculous," she said.

Evidently, someone in the government agreed with that assessment. Today, the minister of public education, Reyes Tamez, said in an interview that the book would not be removed, but, perhaps, revised.

H.R. TREVOR-ROPER: IN MEMORY OF A HISTORIAN WHO CHALLENGED MARXISM (posted 2-6-03)

Norman Ravitch, writing in Conservativenet (January 31, 2003):

The recent death of H.R. Trevor-Roper in Britain marks the end of a fruitful historical career. Trevor-Roper made his name with two accomplishments: a fine book on Hitler's last days and a significant challenge to the Marxist interpretation of the Puritan Revolution. He was an inspiration for those who thought of history as more than"one damned thing after another." It is true, however, that he countered Marxist views by attempting to turn them upside down, holding for instance that it was not rising bourgeois groups which challenged Charles I but declining aristocratic landowners fearful of their loss of status. In interpretations of the French Revolution, also beloved of Marxists as the rise of the bourgeoisie, another British historian, Alfred Cobban, also sought to offer a counter-Marxist interpretation of social change as a revolutionary force. Both Trevor-Roper and Cobban lost influence by using Marxist techniques against the Marxists instead of abandoning their nonsense altogether. Trevor-Roper also destroyed some of his stature by first accepting the bogus Hitler diaries as authentic. Still, he was an admirable historian, a fine writer, and a true gentleman -- something not found much among historians today. I also remember that he wore magenta socks along with an otherwise conservative British costume. He was heads above the likes of Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, and Douglas Brinkley on whom our media relies for historical insight.

MICHAEL BELLESILES: DEFENDED IN THE PAGES OF THE OAH NEWSLETTER (posted 2-5-03)

Jon Wiener, writing in the OAH Newsletter (February 2003):

Arming America was the subject of a series of critical articles in the William and Mary Quarterly in 2001. The same issue also contained a series of articles on a book about Denmark Vesey, executed for plotting slave rebellion in Charleston in 1822. (See Jon Wiener,"Denmark Vesey: A New Verdict," The Nation, Feb. 21, 2002, 21-24.) The Vesey book was shown to have transcription errors on virtually every page, which undermined the author's entire thesis. The publisher withdrew the book. But there has been no move in the history profession to investigate or discipline that historian, and his university has taken no action--because the scholarly criticism and the publisher's action were deemed sufficient. In the Bellesiles case, the parallel would be the publication of a revised edition with errors corrected. Indeed, Bellesiles had conceded serious problems in his probate data, and was working on correcting those errors when he and his publisher parted ways in early January. His plans included a corrected version of Table 1. Do Gray, Katz, and Ulrich [the authors of the Emory Report that led to his resignation] consider that an appropriate resolution of the problems they found? They refuse to say.

The context of the debate over Arming America is crucial to understanding the problems with the committee's report. Gun rights groups have been working to discredit the book and destroy Bellesiles's career since before the book was published--they see it as"anti-gun," partly because the introduction criticized Charlton Heston and the NRA. (In fact, the debate over gun control is not going to be decided on the basis of an argument about whether our present gun culture began in the mid-nineteenth century.) Instead of focusing on the book's thesis or claims made about its contemporary significance, their strategy has been to try to discredit it by focusing attention on errors in a tiny portion of the documentation. It's an old tactic, and an illogical one--the book could be wrong about the origins of our present gun culture even if its footnotes are flawless. But the tactic often works.

By accepting the terms of debate set by others, Gray, Katz, and Ulrich abdicated their intellectual responsibility to work independently and to consider the significance of their findings. As a result, their report has ominous implications for other historians dealing with controversial issues. Of course every historian has an obligation to provide full and accurate citations of evidence in a form that makes it possible for others to replicate their work. But I know of one historian coming up for tenure who, after reading the Emory report on Bellesiles, decided to remove all the tables from his book manuscript, to treat the evidence anecdotally instead, in order to avoid facing the same kind of critique.

DAVID McCULLOUGH: PRESENT AT THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS (posted 2-4-03)

Newsweek's Howard Fineman, in the course of an interview on CNBC (January 28, 2003):

HOWARD FINEMAN: To me, the pageantry of it is worth taking a look up into the gallery because there, David McCullough the historian will be sitting. And among his interesting books is one about Harry Truman. And I remember interviewing George W. Bush during the campaign and his telling me that his two heroes politically were Winston Churchill and Harry Truman. He somehow has to sell himself as a populist and a guy who will go against the grain to create a new world order as Truman did in the Cold War after World War II.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Any other significance, by the way, to McCullough sitting there? I mean, historians have long been guests at the White House and at White House functions. Is there anything else we should read into this?

Mr. FINEMAN: Well, I think that the president has been thinking very seriously of how to explain to the American people that the kitchen table security, both economic and--and in terms of terrorism that they care about is related to the architecture of the world. And that's what Harry Truman did after World War II, building the Pentagon, building NATO, building the alliances that led to the--to--to the United Nations and so on. And that's very much what the president has to do tonight, create a seamless web between personal security in the home and the world at large. That's a very tall order, but he's been underestimated before. And I dare say he's probably being underestimated again.

TWO BRITS IN FAVOR OF WAR WITH IRAQ (posted 1-29-03)

Jamie Wilson and David Pallister, writing in the Guardian about a historian and a journalist who have sided with the Blair government on Iraq (January 27, 2003):

Andrew Roberts , the prolific rightwing historian, is commander-in-chief of the hawks. At 39 he is currently writing a biography of Henry Kissinger, having disposed - in a decade - of Salisbury, Churchill, Hitler, Napoleon, Wellington, Chamberlain, Halifax and the House of Windsor. Roberts is a keen supporter of the Atlantic Partnership, an exclusive band of influence-peddlers whose support for the Bush/Blair line of attack is based on a passionate belief in preserving the fragile partnership between America and Europe.

The Partnership, which Roberts describes as"Yanks Anonymous", was set up two years ago by the former Tory minister Michael Howard with Charles Powell, formerly Mrs T's foreign affairs adviser, as vice-chairman and John Mayor, Henry Kissinger and the former Labour defence minister Lord Gilbert as patrons. Last October it launched the Atlantic Partnership panel which, although not exclusively hawkish, now counts among its members some of the leading advocates for the removal of Saddam."I support a war against Iraq because I think it would be relatively easy to topple the greatest menace to world peace alive today," says Roberts. I would prefer we did not go back to the UN before taking action because it is a vapid talking shop beholden to the French."

William Shawcross , the historian and journalist, is one of the prominent guests at the high table of the debate, a longstanding critic of the feebleness of UN intervention, a one-time liberal who has turned into a belligerent Atlanticist."The case for getting rid of this terrifying madman as soon as possible is overwhelming," he says."I simply do not believe that America and Britain would be acting in this way unless Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. They are either buried very deep or are mobile and being kept one step ahead of the inspectors. But I simply do not think we can go on appeasing Saddam forever. Let us hope that the diplomats and the military build-up will make him step down peacefully, and that there will be pictures of Iraqis dancing in the streets in the way they did in Kabul. If that happens, I think the left will be thinking, 'Where were we?'"

JOEL BEININ: HIS PROBLEM WITH MATH (posted 1-29-03)

Martin Kramer, former director of the Dayan Center for Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University, and the author of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle East Studies in America, commenting in his blog on Joel Beinin (January 24, 2003):

Friday, January 24, 2003. Math Quiz at Stanford. Joel Beinin, the Stanford history professor and immediate past president of the Middle East Studies Association, offers an on-line course on the Arab-Israeli conflict, for an e-learning consortium run by Stanford, Yale, and Oxford. In the introduction to the ninth lecture of the fall semester, he told his students that American aid to Israel since its establishment had come to one trillion dollars—a fantastic sum, at least ten times the actual figure. One student, a Yale alumnus named Jonathan Leffell, wrote to Beinin to ask just how he arrived at the trillion-dollar figure. A bristling Beinin added up the aid. “That's $100 billion or $1 trillion,” he concluded triumphantly. “Since the math wasn't so hard,” he chided the e-student, “you might ask yourself what it was that prevented you from seeing this.”

Incredibly, Joel Beinin, Stanford’s expert on all matters related to Israel, U.S. policy in the Middle East, and regional political economy, didn’t know that a trillion dollars is $1,000 billion. He thought it was $100 billion. Well, he knows what a trillion is now, thanks to Mr. Leffell. (Leffell suggested to Beinin that he ponder “how you could have made this mistake, which is one of an order of magnitude, in the first place.”)

Beinin apologized, but did no pondering. To the contrary: “Israel has received far more in U.S. aid than any other country in the world.” But this isn’t the point. Far more interesting is what must have gone through Professor Beinin’s mind whenever he heard a trillion or a hundred billion.

For example, the annual U.S. budget is about two trillion dollars. Did he imagine that Israel had gotten something like half of that vast sum over its lifetime? The aggregate GDP of the Arab states is a bit more than $500 billion, a figure every serious student of the Middle East should know, especially since it was highlighted in the Arab Human Development Report. It’s a GDP just under Spain's. But if Professor Beinin thought the Arab GDP was five trillion—well, that’s about half the GDP of the United States.

I could go on, and the mind boggles at the possible permutations, but the bottom line is this: until a few months ago, Joel Beinin could not possibly have had any sense of the relative scale of the U.S. economy, the world economy, or the Middle East’s economy. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for an earlier generation of Marxist political economists. You didn’t agree with them, but at least you had one thing in common: the ability to count.

As for the content of Beinin’s course, I hear it was a model of bias, but that’s not surprising. If you’re curious, take it yourself. It’s being offered again, beginning February 18.

JORG FRIEDRICH: ASSAILED FOR CLAIMING GERMANS WERE VICTIMS TOO (posted 1-27-03)

Daniel Rubin, writing in the Houston Chronicle (January 19, 2003):

The country that slaughtered millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and Slavs has been hesitant to raise questions about its own peoples' suffering in a war that its Nazi leaders started. But Friedrich, whose earlier work focused on Nazi atrocities, has ignited a raucous debate with a new book that questions the morality of the Allied bombing of German cities in World War II.

The serialization of [Jorge] Friedrich's book, The Fire: Germany Under Bombardment, 1940-1945, in Bild, Germany's largest tabloid, has released a torrent of wartime reminiscences in German newspapers and television programs.

It also has unleashed a torrent of protest elsewhere. Journalists in Britain, whose cities were pounded by Hitler's Luftwaffe and later by German V-1 "buzz bombs" and V-2 missiles, have taken particular umbrage at Friedrich's account of the deaths of 635,000 German civilians.

"I am not interested in blaming anyone," Friedrich said. "I am interested in clearing up the facts." Yet his use of words such as "massacre" and "crematorium" were bound to raise hackles because they suggest that there is some moral equivalence between the Nazis' genocide and the Allies' military tactics.
Friedrich, who was born in 1944, argues that Allied air raids such as the one at Swinemuende, now part of Poland, were unnecessary, and reflect Allied rage at the Germans' refusal to capitulate.

Historians have debated whether bombing German cities, particularly as the British did, was an effort to choke the Nazi war machine or to destroy German morale. Some argue that the Americans and British merely tried to do to German civilians what Hitler had first tried to do to the residents of Rotterdam, Warsaw, London and Coventry.

Tami Davis Biddle, historian at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., said a series of documents show that when the Allies targeted eastern German cities, they knew their bombs would fall on refugees as well as massing troops.

"It is a statement of the desperation and the level of fear among the Allies that no one stops and says, 'Wait a minute, maybe we should rethink this, " Biddle said.

ROBERT KC JOHNSON: DEFENDED BY NEW YORK SUN (posted 1-24-03)

Editorial in the New York Sun (January 24, 2003):

At Brooklyn College, meanwhile, administrators reacting to the dispute over a denial of tenure to historian Robert David “K.C.” Johnson are in a defensive crouch. Brooklyn’s provost, Roberta Matthews, sent a letter to the Wall Street Journal asserting that she is “proud” of “our distinguished chair of the History Department.” In a 30-year career in academia, the chairman, Philip F. Gallagher, has a record of scholarship that consists, so far as we can tell, of writing the introduction to a volume of essays, none of which he authored. In the classroom, the chairman received a teaching evaluation score of 2.5 on a four-point scale, 24.8% lower than the next-lowest-ranked member of the department, and a full 42.4% below the department average, according to figures compiled by the student government. When The New York Sun inquired of Ms. Matthews about exactly what made Professor Gallagher “distinguished,” the answer we got back from the college’s public relations woman was that the provost considers all of the college’s chairmen to be distinguished.

One of the historians whom Mr. Gallagher joined in leading the charge against Professor Johnson, Bonnie Anderson, maintains a Web site in which she declares that she “combines writing with activism” and she “continues to march for … assorted radical causes.” No wonder Mr. Gallagher had called her an “academic terrorist”; in Professor Johnson’s case, Ms. Anderson seems to be activating at the expense of merit in the CUNY tenure process....

Professor Johnson’s troubles at Brooklyn started when he took a stand for standards in a search that seem rigged to find a woman and when he pointed out that a college-sponsored forum on terrorism included no speakers supporting American or Israeli policy. Fixing CUNY will require not just rectifying Mr. Johnson’s case but swiftly taking concrete measures to change the Brooklyn College history department and the atmosphere in the university as a whole. It will take nothing less to assure that young professors who are outstanding scholars and teachers will choose careers at CUNY, rather than shying away because they know they will have to devote their energy there to wrestling in the swamp with the radical rapscallions.

RICHARD PIPES: SEER? (posted 1-22-03)

David Habakkuk, in a letter to the editor of the Financial Times (London) about Richard Pipes (January 18, 2003):

Not everyone is as convinced as your correspondent John Lloyd appears to be that Richard Pipes is a prophet vindicated on the question of Soviet nuclear strategy (FT Weekend January 11-12).

Noting that President Ronald Reagan's adviser on negotiation with the Soviets took Mikhail Gorbachev's statement that"a nuclear war could never be won and must never be fought" as a significant reversal of policy, the liberal Russian historian Vladislav Zubok comments that the irony was that"principled agreement" on this point"had become an undisputed consensus in the Politburo" back in the 1970s. In 1983, the Brookings Institution scholar Michael MccGwire, using a methodology rooted in his earlier work as the head of the Soviet naval section of British Defence Intelligence, identified a big change away from strategies of nuclear pre-emption on the part of the Soviets in the late 1960s and concluded that as a result they would eschew first use of nuclear weapons. The accuracy of this prediction was demonstrated when in 1988 MccGwire's colleague Raymond Garthoff identified a reference in the confidential Soviet journal Military Thought to a secret directive of the Central Committee in 1973-74 instructing that military planning should be based on the assumption that"the Soviet Union shall not be the first to employ nuclear weapons".

On this basis, both MccGwire and Garthoff argued that, as Gorbachev's"new thinking" developed existing lines of thought, the chances of a reversal of policy were greatly overestimated; and also that the arguments of the"new thinkers" against strategies of"deterrence" deserved a serious hearing.

In the event, the questionable assumption that the outcome of the cold war constitutes a vindication of western security strategies continues to dominate debate. The bizarre outcome is that our security experts hymn the virtues of employing apocalyptic threats to use weapons of mass destruction to counter an adversary superior in conventional power, at a time when the US is the natural target of such strategies.

If one treats nuclear weapons as a panacea for oneself, which one must deny to others, obviously the only real basis for a non-proliferation strategy is willingness to resort to preventive war. Some may think that such a strategy will lead to what your correspondent terms"the restoration of democracy" in at least parts of the Middle East. Others will fear it is liable to lead to a full-scale" clash of civilisations" - the only conceivable means by which Islamic radicals could realise their dreams of destroying western liberal society.

THOMAS FLEMING: HOW HE NARROWLY MISSED BECOMING A LAWYER (posted 1-22-03)

Tom Deignan, profiling Thomas Fleming in Publisher's Weekly (January 22, 2003):

"Become a lawyer," his father said, when Fleming graduated from Fordham University in the 1950s,"and I guarantee you'll make a million dollars by the time you're 30."

Fleming's dad, Thomas James Fleming, was a top official in Frank Hague's notorious political machine, which ran Fleming's native Jersey City into the 1940s. So this was no empty promise. But while Fleming admits the prospect of going to law school—not to mention the big payoff—was attractive, there were other things to consider.

"I also might end up in jail," says Fleming with a hearty laugh, seated on a plush couch in the Upper East Side Manhattan apartment where he's lived for nearly four decades. In the end, Fleming turned his father down, and embarked on a career in publishing, which has proven to be nearly as lucrative as machine politics. In a career spanning nearly five decades, Tom Fleming has churned out more than 40 books, including fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, and garnered the respect of fellow novelists and historians alike.

Fleming, 75, is the only author ever to have won main selections for the Book-of-the-Month Club in both fiction and nonfiction. His novels—such as The Officer's Wives, about three tumultuous military marriages from the Korean to Vietnam Wars—have sold millions of copies internationally. Fleming has also written much-discussed histories, including a revisionist take on FDR and the New Deal (2001's The New Dealer's War) as well as more popular narratives such as Liberty!, published in conjunction with a 1997 PBS series on the American Revolution (one of Fleming's favored topics).

This month, Fleming's latest novel, Conquerors of the Sky (Forge), hits bookstores. Dubbed"a novel of aviation," Fleming's publishers are saying his 22nd novel is the culmination of his career. Hype aside, Fleming admits his latest novel is, in many ways, unlike any he's ever written. Conquerors covers the 20th century and explores the evolution of the aviation industry, which celebrates its 100th birthday next year. Through the triumphs, tribulations and tragedies of the airplane, Fleming introduces us to a large cast of characters that can certainly be described as Flemingesque, given their myriad passions, scars and achievements....

Next out for Fleming is a book about a figure who had a lot more trouble with this delicate balance: Woodrow Wilson. Nearly complete, and to be published by Basic Books, Fleming's next work is a political history of World War I, in which Wilson comes off as a well-meaning but ultimately ineffective peacemaker. Fleming is also in the early phase of writing a Civil War–era novel, though he's tight-lipped beyond that.

For now, Fleming is gearing up for the publicity end of Conquerors, which coincides with a prestigious honor he will receive from New York's Union League Club later this month. On January 29, Fleming—already a Fellow of the Society of American Historians and past president of the American Center of PEN—will receive the Union League's Abraham Lincoln Award for his lifetime contribution to American literature. (Past winners include such luminaries as John Updike and David McCullough.) All of which makes Fleming's decision to avoid law school and machine politics look pretty shrewd.

"It's a good thing, too," adds Fleming, ever the prescient historian."The Hague machine collapsed two years later."

ERIC HOBSBAWM: RUINED BY COMMUNISM? (posted 1-17-03)

David Pryce-Jones, writing in the New Criterion (January 2003):

Eric Hobsbawm is no doubt intelligent and industrious, and he might well have made a notable contribution as a historian. Unfortunately, lifelong devotion to Communism destroyed him as a thinker or interpreter of events. Such original work as he did concerned bandits and outlaws. But even here there is bias, for he rescued them from obscurity not for their own sake but as precursors of Communist revolution. His longer and later books are constructed around the abstractions of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the supposedly pre-ordained class struggle between them, capital and capitalism, empire and imperialism—in short the Marxist organizing principles which reduce human beings and their varied lives to concepts handy to serve a thesis worked up in advance and in the library. This material, needless to say, was derived from secondary sources.

The purpose of all Hobsbawm’s writing, indeed of his life, has been to certify the inevitable triumph of Communism. In the face of whatever might actually have been happening in the Soviet Union and its satellites, he devised reasons to justify or excuse the Communist Party right to its end—long after Russians themselves had realized that Communism had ruined morally and materially everybody and everything within its reach. He loves to describe himself as a professional historian, but someone who has steadily corrupted knowledge into propaganda, and scorns the concept of objective truth, is nothing of the kind, neither a historian nor professional.

It becomes quite a good joke that Communism collapsed under him, proving in the living world that the beliefs and ideas in his head were empty illusions, and all the Marxist and Soviet rhetoric just claptrap. This Hobsbawn cannot understand, never mind accept. His best-known book, Age of Extremes, published as recently as 1994, still attempts to whitewash Communism as “a formidable innovation” in social engineering, glossing with fundamental dishonesty over such integral features as enforced famine through collectivization and the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and omitting all mention of the massacre at Katyn, the terrifying secret police apparatus of Beria, and the Gulag. At the same time, Hobsbawm depicts the United States “unfortunately” as a greater danger than the Soviet Union. Presenting him with a prestigious prize for this farrago, the left-wing historian Sir Keith Thomas said, “For pure intelligence applied to history, Eric Hobsbawm has no equal.” Another left-winger, the journalist Neal Ascherson, held that “No historian now writing in English can match his overwhelming command of fact and source.” So much for Robert Conquest, Sir Kenneth Dover, Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Bernard Lewis, and other genuine scholars.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: APOLOGIST FOR SUICIDE BOMBERS? (posted 1-17-03)

Edward Alexander, writing in the Jerusalem Post about three academics he believes are apologists for suicide bombers, the third being Karen Armstrong (January 14, 2003):

The third member of my trio of academic apologists for suicide bombers is Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun who specializes in comparative religion, has written a best-selling book called Understanding Islam, and played a key role in the (scandalous) recent PBS series celebrating the life of Muhammed. In a lengthy interview with Al-Ahram Weekly (4-10 July) she recounted how during her time in Israel in the mid-eighties working on a documentary about St. Paul she herself had a revelation: she heard some Israelis refer to"dirty Arabs" and she instantly recognized that today's Israelis are to today's Arabs what Nazis were to Jews in the thirties and forties, and that"the Israelis can do what they want because America will always support them." Vigorously insisting that there is"nothing... anti-Western" about Islam, she calls for a reinvigorated jihad by her Muslim friends, whom she advises to"march down the street at Ground Zero in New York, call it 'Muslims against Terror.' [Muslims] need to know how to manage the media." Palestinian suicide bombers cannot possibly be motivated by religion because"this is not how religion works"--QED--but by"absolute hopelessness." Armstrong's justification for suicide bombing grows out of her fine sense of equity in military struggle. These poor people, she complains,"don't have F-16s, and they don't have tanks. They don't have anything to match Israel's arsenal. They only have their own bodies." In other words, murdering innocent people is a permissible, indeed praiseworthy grab for equality by an"occupied" people.

It goes without saying that Armstrong overlooks the little fact that occupation arises from Arab aggression and not aggression from occupation; that Arafat and Co. are backed militarily, financially, and politically by 1.2 billion Muslims, by twenty-one Arab nations (as well as the non-Arab nation of Iran), and by the European Union; or that the massacres of 9/11 have revealed just how powerful and"equalizing" a weapon in the hands of radical Muslim Arabs is the total disregard for the sanctity of human life, their own included: nineteen technically competent barbarians attacking two American cities, killing thousands of people, causing billions of dollars of property damage, shattering whole industries, and throwing a half-million people out of work. But for Armstrong the only thing 9/11 revealed was the"intolerance" of Western society (and perhaps the need to create strategic equity for disadvantaged Muslims by giving them nuclear bombs).

Armstrong has for years taught Christianity and comparative religion at London's Leo Baeck College. As if mindful of the irony that she should be employed by a school named after a scholarly, mild-mannered Jew who was forced into a tragic leadership role during the Nazi period, she has bared her teeth in a gesture of mean spite towards her occasional employers by alleging that Jews who kick up a fuss over the resurgence of antisemitism all over Europe as well as in the Arab world are"stuck in the horrors of the Nazi era." Her only qualm about suicide bombings is that they may tarnish the glorious image that Palestinian Arabs currently enjoy in England. For ethical temperaments like Armstrong's it is detection, not sin, which is criminal.

ROGER WILKINS: JEFFERSON'S COMPLICATED LEGACY (posted 1-16-03)

Mary Ann Gwinn, writing in the Seattle Times about Roger Wilkins, who in 2001 published Jefferson's Pillow:

Only in the last 50 years has the country begun to awaken from the dream of the Founding Fathers as noble to the core, Wilkins says, aided by our loss of innocence as a result of the civil-rights movement, Vietnam and the women's movement. He is encouraged by the thoughtful response to his book, saying that"It's quite clear to me that had I published this book in the 1950s, I would have been buried in abusive mail ... back then, people weren't ready to think of these people as less than godlike. It's almost like the virgin birth, our founding was pure, we were founded by perfect men with the noblest of ideals -- Thomas Jefferson couldn't have slept with a slave."

Wilkins has seen his own views evolve:"If I had written this when I was younger I would have skewered these guys. I finished this book in my late 60s. If by then you don't understand that life is complex, that nothing is black and white, then you're a damned fool."

Wilkins has made a kind of peace with his country and has enjoyed unexpected benefits from writing the book -- after reading"Jefferson's Pillow," a Virginia genealogist went to work on Wilkins' family history and discovered that he had an ancestor who served two enlistments in the Revolutionary War. This spring he and his daughter will travel to Mississippi to visit a small cemetery where his great-grandparents are buried.

Many of his fellow black Americans have yet to find that middle ground.

"There are still not a lot of black people jumping up and down and saying we should be patriotic," Wilkins says."They say, 'Yes, I'm glad you wrote it' -- I've seen a couple of admiring reviews from black people and some nice letters. But black people, rightly ... find it hard to just accept America wholeheartedly when America still continues in big ways and small to injure virtually every black person it touches."

BRIAN VICTORIA: EXPOSING THE VIOLENT HISTORY OF ZEN (posted 1-16-03)

Allan M. Jalon, writing in the NYT about Brian Victoria, an American who has published two books about the history of Zen (January 11, 2003):

To many Americans, Zen Buddhists primarily devote themselves to discovering inner serenity and social peace. But Zen has had strong ties to militarism — indeed so strong, that the leaders of one of the largest denominations in Japan have remorsefully compared their former religious fanaticism during Japan's brutal expansionism in the 1930's and 40's to today's murderously militant Islamists.

The unexpected apology for wartime complicity by the leaders of Myoshin-ji, the headquarters temple of one of Japan's main Zen sects, was issued 16 days after 9/11, which gave it a particular resonance. But the leaders of Myoshin-ji — as well as other Zen Buddhist leaders who have also delivered apologies over the past two years — mainly credit a disillusioned Westerner for their public regrets: Brian Victoria, a former Methodist missionary, who is a Zen priest and historian.

Buddhist leaders in Japan and the United States said in recent interviews that Mr. Victoria had exerted a profound influence, especially in the West, by revealing in his 1997 book,"Zen at War," a shockingly dark and unfamiliar picture of Zen during World War II to followers who had no idea about its history. Keiitsu Hosokawa, secretary general of Myoshin-ji, made a speech to the group's general assembly in September 2002 in which he said that the Japanese edition of"Zen at War" had been one of several factors that"provided the impetus" to issue the group's apology.

Now, in a new sequel called"Zen War Stories," Mr. Victoria has dug more specifically into relationships between Zen leaders and the military during World War II.

From its beginnings in Japan, Zen has been associated with the warrior culture established by the early shoguns. But the extent of its involvement in World War II has stayed mostly submerged until recently. Many people in the United States and Europe know Zen's indirect traces through the poetry of the Beats or the quietist aura of contemporary architecture and clothing.

Even John Dower, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of modern Japan at M.I.T., whose early interest in Japan was kindled by Zen-inspired architecture, said that Mr. Victoria's works had opened his eyes to"how Zen violated Buddhism's teachings about compassion and nonviolence."

Ina Buitendijk, a Dutch Zen devotee, was so inspired by Mr. Victoria's work in 1999 that she mounted a letter-writing campaign pressing Zen leaders to confront their history. Mrs. Buitendijk's husband, along with other Dutch civilians, was interned by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies during World War II. All this she put into the 28 letters she said she had written to Zen spiritual figures, educators and administrative leaders in Japan. A number of leaders responded, sending her official apologies, some of which were published....

Mr. Victoria, 63, is a former Nebraskan who lives in Australia and teaches Japanese studies at the University of Adelaide. He embraced Zen in 1961, partly because he believed its history was free of the violent conflicts that had marked Western religion.

In 1964, ordained a Soto priest while living in Japan and increasingly active in opposing the Vietnam War, he was chastised by a religious superior for taking part in peace protests. He then discovered the writings of Ichikawa Hakugen, a Zen priest who had taken an early look at Zen's war-time role. It was buried, like that of Emperor Hirohito, by efforts to stabilize Japan during the cold war, Mr. Victoria said.

ROY FOSTER: ASSAILING THE NOSTALGIC MYTH THAT SURROUNDS IRISH HISTORY (posted 1-10-03)

Christopher Shea, writing in the Boston Globe about Oxford historian Roy Foster's campaign to rescue Irish history from the mythmakers:

Angela's Ashes, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Riverdance, pubs with Gaelic slogans above the taps and a middle-aged warbler having a go at Danny Boy onstage: Irish nostalgia sells, all right. The green brings in the green. And yet it's a certain brand of history that moves the product, the pints, the tickets to the sort-of-Celtic dance extravaganzas. What sells are stories and symbols that tell people what they want to hear -- stories that boil Irish history down to an emerald glop of cliche, sentimentality, and wishful thinking.

At least this is the view of Oxford University historian Roy Foster, one of the most elegant and probing writers on Irish topics and also one of the most controversial.

He's the leading figure in a generation of"revisionist" historians who have chipped away at what they describe as Irish myths. North American readers are about to get a fresh taste of his stiletto pen and icon-smashing habits when his latest book, The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland, hits these shores. It skewers Frank McCourt (his memoir is"played on one note, without depth or nuance, and with a beady eye fixed on the reader throughout"). It eviscerates American activists who compare the Irish famine to the Holocaust. And it hangs out to dry pop historians and"heritage industry" types. His sweeping survey, Modern Ireland: 1600-1972, published in 1988, is a much-debated classic. As the official biographer of William Butler Yeats (volume two is due this year) he's in a position to shape interpretations of Ireland's greatest poet for generations. A handsome 53-year-old with swooping Yeatsian hair and no shortage of black in his wardrobe, he also cuts a stylish figure on the English and Irish literary scenes.

His fans say he is a key figure in shifting Irish historiography away from Isle-of-Saints-and-Scholars cliches and an obsession with proving the Irish are the Most Oppressed People Ever (MOPE, some wits call it), toward more complex ideas about Irish identity."If you wanted to name the 10 leading historians in the world, he'd be on that list," says Timothy Guinnane, an economist and historian at Yale who has written on 19th-century Ireland.

And yet Mr. Foster has also been condemned by Gerry Adams, former Irish Republican Army militant and current mainstream Northern Ireland politician, for undermining all that Irish patriots hold dear. When Mr. Foster got his job at Oxford, in England, in 1991, the Irish Times ran an unsigned profile basically calling him a sellout.

DANIEL PIPES: DEFENDED AGAINST CHARGE OF MCCARTHYISM (posted 1-9-03)

Stanley Kurtz, in an article in National Review (January 7, 2003):

Ever since Daniel Pipes established the Campus Watch website, he has been accused of McCarthyism. That charge has been rebutted again and again, yet still the charge is leveled. It has become a convenient excuse for silencing Pipes. Yes, the Campus Watch website posts the work of professors who it believes are biased and misleading in their treatments of topics Middle Eastern. But that is a way of starting debate, not stopping it.

In"Balancing the Academy," I showed that, if anyone, it is actually the post-colonial theorists who dominate contemporary Middle Eastern Studies who"blacklist" their foes. Post-colonial theory is built around a technique that labels academic opponents bigoted"Orientalists." After naming the names of such supposedly reactionary scholars, and after claiming to expose their work as bigoted, the post-colonialists reward one another with tenured chairs. I think the post-colonialist's assessment of their foes is wrong. Even so, I don't doubt their right to speak and write as they do. Nothing Daniel Pipes has done holds a candle to the"blacklisting" technique of his foes. So why should he be silenced, while the post-colonialists remain in control of the academy?

In"Campus Conformity," a recent op-ed in the New York Post, I showed how one of Pipes's most prominent critics called Campus Watch"McCarthyite," yet did so on a website called"Israel Lobby Watch." So how is it that Campus Watch is condemned as McCarthyite, while Israel Lobby Watch gets a pass?

The only remaining excuse for the rank hypocrisy of Daniel Pipes's foes is that the Campus Watch website posts complaints by students of professorial bias. This, supposedly, is the heart and soul of Pipes's McCarthyism. It is true that the posting of student complaints is a less than ideal procedure — a last resort in a discipline that has all but shut out voices of those who support American foreign policy. But the decision to post student complaints ought to be the subject of reasoned debate, not an excuse to silence critics.

GAVIN MNENZIES: CHINA BEAT COLUMBUS (posted 1-9-03)

Jack Hitt, writing in the NYT Magazine about Gavin Menzies's new book, which claims the Chinese beat Columbus by more than half a century (January 7, 2003):

Menzies' book, ''1421,'' boldly asserts that the Chinese discovered America 70 years before Columbus. Riding the tube out to his house, I saw ''1421'' promoted on the billboards at the station stops, alongside Eminem's new album and J. Lo's latest movie. The London papers have feverishly debated Menzies' radical thesis since its publication in November; his book will finally arrive here in the New World later this week, accompanied by a huge publicity campaign from its American publisher, William Morrow.

''My wife, Marcella, and I were in Beijing for our 25th anniversary, in 1990, and we went to the Great Wall,'' he said, explaining the origins of his discovery. ''I asked when the section we visited was completed, and the guide said 1421. Later we went to the Forbidden City and learned it was completed in 1421.'' Menzies quickly discovered that a great deal of Chinese history gathered itself up in 1421, and he resolved to write a book. But the focus of his book changed as he learned more, especially after looking into the life of the eunuch admiral Zheng He. Zheng was also known as Sin Bao, and his seven major sea expeditions became legendary, even in the West, as the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.

''Zheng set sail in 1421,'' Menzies said. ''The famed Treasure Fleet junks were five times larger than Columbus's caravels. Each held a thousand men. Two years later, in 1423, seven ships returned. Then, in a decision that would change all of history, the Ming emperor ordered all the ships dismantled. He pensioned off the sailors. And he burned all the records.''

Traditional historians would agree with Menzies that in 1423 China abruptly abandoned exploration and turned inward after the Treasure Fleet returned from sailing no farther west than Kenya. But Menzies, a self-taught historian publishing his first book at age 65, says that he has found evidence proving that the Chinese didn't turn around after Kenya -- but rather rounded the Horn of Africa and discovered the New World.

KEITH WINDSCHUTTLE: THE FIRESTORM HE'S CREATED IN AUSTRALIA (posted 1-9-03)

Bernard Lane, writing in the Weekend Australian (December 28, 2002):

It's polemics at 10 paces as academics argue over Keith Windschuttle's revisionist rendering of the tragic fate of Tasmania's Aborigines. Bernard lane reports.

IN a history war, courtesy is prominent among the casualties. There certainly have been sharp exchanges since September 2000, when historian Keith Windschuttle began his revisionist campaign on the colonial frontier. Where orthodox historians saw guerilla warfare and genocide, Windschuttle saw myth and invention.

Two years on, Windschuttle has published the first of a projected three-volume dissent, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, beginning with Van Diemen's Land. And it has evoked rather restrained, even polite, responses from his principal living targets, Henry Reynolds, the doyen of frontier historians, and Lyndall Ryan, author of the standard work, The Aboriginal Tasmanians. At a Sydney debate in November 2000 after Windschuttle had begun his Quadrant magazine series, "The Myths of Frontier Massacres in Australian History", Reynolds adopted a jocular, sarcastic tone, suggesting Windschuttle's work had little value beyond pandering to conservatives. "You can probably see them there at lunch in the Melbourne Club dribbling into their consomme in delight," he said.

Earlier this month, when Reynolds came to review Windschuttle's book for this newspaper, there was the same interest in political consequences -- "the black armbands can come off and go out with the rubbish" -- but he acknowledged the work as "far better researched" than the Quadrant series and a successful debunker of "the more outlandish stories about early Tasmania that are still widely circulated".

Indeed Reynolds, history professor at the University of Tasmania, said during an interview that he hoped his books and Windschuttle's would be studied side by side, offering readers a rare and wonderful debate about history and its methods.

In this newspaper two weeks ago, Ryan, University of Newcastle professor of Australian studies, gave a neutral sketch of the Windschuttle thesis before modestly observing that "it is possible to reach a plausible alternative conclusion" -- namely, her view that the Tasmanian authorities set out to commit genocide. "Two truths are told," she said. "Is only one 'truth' correct?"

In a paper for a December 2001 conference at the National Museum in Canberra, Ryan seemed less open to the multiple truths of historians. She dismissed Windschuttle's "forensic approach" to massacre accounts, deployed in Quadrant, as "an inappropriate tool". For her, Windschuttle was merely a "journalist"; she made no mention of his training as a historian.

That atmosphere has been transformed by Windschuttle's book. Both Reynolds and Ryan have confessed error, the former more forthrightly than the latter. Neither sees this error as fatal to their vision -- although, so far, neither has offered a detailed or direct defence to Windschuttle's book.

The tone of their commentary has cooled. Asked about this, Reynolds says: "I'm a bit concerned about Keith, he's litigious." But what about Reynolds and Ryan -- they stand accused of historical fabrication -- might not they have grounds for action against Windschuttle? "I would think that's possible," Reynolds says.

DAVID IRVING'S CONNECTION TO THE BOYCOTT ISRAEL MOVEMENT(posted 1-7-03)

Edward Alexander, writing in the Jerusalem Post about Mona Baker, director of the Center for Translation and Intercultural Studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, who dismissed two translators from her boards solely on the grounds that they carry an Israeli passport (January 7, 2003):

As the boycott [Israel] campaign intensified, its guiding lights were plagued by problems of definition bearing a ghoulish resemblance to those that once beset the Nazis in deciding just which people were to be considered fitting victims of discrimination, oppression, and (eventually) murder. Perhaps this is why Baker struck up an acquaintance with David Irving, who in December reported on his web site that she had kindly taken the trouble to alert him to an ad placed by Amazon.com in the Israeli press which might be considered supportive of that terrible country.

The Hitler-loving historian could have supplied Baker with information about problems the Nazis faced in implementing their boycott: Should the targeted group be people with four Jewish grandparents or perhaps just two?

DALLEK: HISTORIAN OR GUMSHOE? (posted 1-7-03)

John Taylor, Executive Director of the Nixon Foundation, commenting on a reference Robert Dallek made in his Atlantic piece about Kennedy's medical records to the possibility that Nixon operatives were behind the break-in of the offices of two Kennedy doctors in the 1960 campaign:

Chalk up another burglary to Richard Nixon.

Or so says historian Robert Dallek, whose current"Atlantic Monthly" article and upcoming book chronicle President Kennedy's cover-up of his multiple ailments and use of Codeine, Demerol, Methadone, Ritalin, Testerone, thyroid hormones, Phenobarbital, steroids, and various anti-spasmodic and -psychotic drugs.

On"Good Morning America" recently, Dallek implied to host Diane Sawyer that RN, who ran against Kennedy in 1960, had inspired break-ins at Kennedy's doctors' offices to get his medical records. Dallek said he thought the alleged 1960 crimes had"the smell...of Watergate to it."

There's no evidence that President Nixon knew in advance of either the 1972 Watergate break-in or the 1971 burglary at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. The genesis of the former remains murky. The latter was approved by an overzealous White House aide, John Ehrlichman, who hoped to learn more about Ellsberg after he stole the Pentagon Papers and gave them to the newspapers - the largest leak of classified documents in American history, and during wartime to boot.

Yet Dallek says he's convinced RN was behind the 1960 crimes - even though he conceded to Sawyer, and later to me, that he had no evidence.

Admitting that Kennedy wouldn't have been elected if the public had known about his health problems, Dallek told Sawyer,"Indeed, Richard Nixon understood this, too, because I believe they tried to break into his doctors' offices to get these records to use against him in the campaign."

Having worked with former President Nixon on his memoirs, including a nearly day-by-day recounting of Watergate, Sawyer knows as much about the subject as a small army of historians."You have proof of that?" she asked Dallek.

"No proof of it," the author admitted."But, indeed, it has the smell, Diane, the aura of Watergate to it, and of the [Ellsberg] break-in..." ...

The only authority Dallek cited to me was historian Herbert Parmet's Kennedy biography,"JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy." But while Parmet does refer to successful and attempted break-ins at the offices of Kennedy doctors, he doesn't blame them on the Nixon campaign.

It's ironic that Dallek should rely so heavily on the Parmet book in making his unfounded charges against RN. Parmet makes clear that the only source for the attempted break-in was a Kennedy doctor, Janet Travell, who, as Parmet carefully documents, had problems with credibility and selective memory.

He told me that his approach as an historian was"to speak truth to power."

Where President Nixon is concerned, it is also evidently to dishonor the defenseless.

AMBROSE CHANGED THE WAY WE LOOK AT HISTORY (posted 1-2-03)

Anthony Giardina, writing in the NYT Magazine (December 29, 2002):

Late in his life, Ambrose had to defend himself against the charge of plagiarism; in the end, that seems a less serious charge than another that might have been made against him: that of romanticizing the soldiers' experience. Ambrose, like Brokaw and Spielberg, never saw combat, and thus was free to write with a boy's awe. He loved to marshal quotes referring to the ''mystical'' attachment of a squad, the ''ecstasy'' of comradeship itself. The grunts who actually fought World War II and lived to tell about it didn't often use a word like ''ecstasy'' to describe their experiences. To read the firsthand accounts of veterans like E. B. Sledge, Paul Fussell and James Jones is to discover another kind of soldier, less war-dazzled and much grittier. But by the end of the century, we were ready to be told another story about war, and to be released into feelings of unity we hadn't had the chance to experience in 50 years.

History gets rewritten because our national mood changes; sometimes it's as simple as that. We get a new idea and it lets us reshape even the recent past in a kindlier light. Ambrose's significant contribution was to ask us to think about war not as the clash of large, sometimes inchoate forces but almost exclusively as the drama of the fighting man, of brothers helping brothers. In so doing, he helped reshape the war narrative in our time. Step into a movie theater and you can't miss it: suddenly, every war has become World War II. The Delta Force fighting in Somalia in ''Black Hawk Down'' is indistinguishable -- down to the haircuts, manliness and indomitable sense of purpose -- from the band of brothers in the recent HBO miniseries Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg fashioned out of Ambrose's book. Even the Seventh Cavalry that Mel Gibson marches into battle in Vietnam -- of all places -- in ''We Were Soldiers'' seems to be humming ''Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree'' instead of ''Purple Haze.'' Everything we thought we'd learned about war in the past 30 years has given way to a revisionist theory that seems to have sprung directly from Ambrose's books. ''It's about the man next to you'' are among the last words spoken in ''Black Hawk Down.'' ''That's all it is.''

''We fought for each other,'' Mel Gibson intones at the end of ''We Were Soldiers.'' And you thought wars were about politics.

It may well have troubled Stephen Ambrose -- who opposed the Vietnam War -- that the mood he helped entrench in us may have muted the discussion of a new war. No doubt, too, the prominent Hollywood liberals who have ridden to glory on the crest of the World War II narrative may be wondering whether they didn't ride it too hard. Inevitably, when war is reduced so entirely to the ecstatic spectacle of brother helping brother, it becomes that much harder to decide how, and why, men might refrain.



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