Niall Ferguson: Blasts Harold Pinter

Historians in the News

... The celebrated historian Niall Ferguson, a rigorous and imaginative thinker, wrote a crushing critique of Pinter's argument that such was the hegemony of the US in the 20th century that its evils -- from supporting right-wing dictatorships in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Greece, Haiti and more, to Vietnam and the current excursion in Iraq -- were barely recognised or discussed in the Western world.

Ferguson took issue with that and, expectedly, made a bravura argument against it. ''Nobody pretends that the US came through the Cold War with clean hands,'' he wrote.

''But to pretend that its crimes were equivalent to those of its communist opponents -- and that they have been wilfully hushed up -- is fatally to blur the distinction between truth and falsehood. That may be permissible on stage. I am afraid it is quite routine in diplomacy. But it is unacceptable in serious historical discussion.''

And here is the rub.

''So stick to plays, Harold, and stop torturing history,'' Ferguson continued. ''Even if there was a Nobel Prize for it, you wouldn't stand a chance.

''Because in my profession, unlike yours -- and unlike Condi's, too -- there really are hard distinctions between what is true and what is false.''...

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Lorraine Paul - 12/28/2005

Yes, the US did crawl into bed with every petty dictator who waved the anti-communist card.

I expect that 'moral equivalency' will be raised at some stage in history studies. It has been discussed, though only in passing, in one or two contexts lately.

Jim Williams - 12/27/2005

Pinter's and your contention that scholars have paid little attention to the crimes of the U.S. during the Cold War is absurd. There is extensive scholarly literature on these, sholars will write more studies as records are declassified, and I would hope that the vast majority of college U.S. History courses deal with these sins.

What is true, however, is that the public does not recognize the misdeeds of the U.S. in places like Iran, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, etc. I also am skeptical that most high school courses handle these misdeeds well.

I do agree with Ferguson that the U.S. has less culpability than the USSR, but that does not excuse our egregious interference in the autonomy of other states, our undermining of democracy, and our support for tyrannical oppressors. While war may make strange bedfellows, the U.S. cohabited with some utterly disgusting vermin. May we be more moral in the future and remember that "the enemy of my enemy" should not necessarily be my friend!

Lorraine Paul - 12/25/2005

Harold Pinter is correct. There has been little, if any, discussion of the US's worldwide actions during the Cold War.

It should be openly discussed and not swept under the carpet of 'moral equivalency'.