Historians and 9-11
Recently, along with a few thousand others, I was privileged to attend the annual Francis Boyer Award Dinner of the American Enterprise Institute, to hear Norman Podhoretz give the recipient's annual speech. Podhoretz chose to speak about the intellectuals, the culture and the war on terrorism. He reminded us, looking back to the early days of the war in Vietnam, that the American intervention was in fact not only popular and supported by most of the populace, but that even the American media and its news reporters strongly backed the War. It was only later when an active minority, composed largely of both the literary community and the new student rebels began to oppose the intervention, that the tide turned and the minority was able to effectively change the American mindset, so that the Johnson administration was put on the defensive. So successful was their campaign, Podhoretz argued, that even Richard M. Nixon was forced to pretend that he had a method of extricating the United States from the conflict should he be elected President. Podhoretz also reminded us that even when the Vietnamese Communists suffered a major defeat, such as that which occurred after their Tet offensive, it was inaccurately reported. Walter Cronkite proclaimed on the CBS Evening News that Hanoi had scored a major victory and that the United States had lost--and that perhaps it was time for the US to consider leaving Vietnam. From that moment on, it was clear that it was the cultural war over Vietnam that really had been lost.
Now, Podhoretz argued, the chance still exists that the viewpoint of a minority of anti-Americans among the intellectual elite--such as Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, Eric Foner and other culprits he cited--could interfere with the Bush administration's effort to wage a long and necessary war--one he termed World War IV--against terrorism and the countries which give the terrorist infrastructure economic, political and military support. The tide could turn, he warned, once it becomes apparent that success requires real commitment and struggle, and might, as in Vietnam, result in significant American losses. That is why it is so important that those of us in favor of waging a war against terrorism never lose sight of the need to prepare the ground for the public to accept its necessary responsibility by continuing to argue in favor of the war, and to never cease in fighting against those among the intelligentsia who will continue to cast aspersions against it.
The same day he spoke, The Institute for American Values, a communitarian think tank in New York, released an important open letter to America from a group of 60 academics and public policy officials, in support of the war against terrorism. Titled"What We're Fighting For," the statement marks an important departure in the onslaught of anti-American and anti-war sentiment among the elites. Most significant is that the signatories include a coalition of individuals from both the conservative, neo-conservative, communitarian and left-liberal communities. They include former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, now at Syracuse University; Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University; Samuel Huntington of Harvard University, James Q. Wilson of UCLA, and Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University. Etzioni told Fox News that the nation had to be reminded why we were at war because the signers sensed a weakening of resolve. Other signers also include Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University Law School, Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute, Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Walzer of Princeton University and Dissent magazine, and George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
The statement is indeed an important development, although as Podhoretz argued, it is unnecessarily defensive, and might have been stronger. Reading through the long and sometimes convoluted arguments that go on and on, one detects almost too much of an attempt to cover every base, and to let its obviously intellectual audience--for whom the statement is clearly intended--have every argument possible so that they will not feel uneasy to actually be defending military action. Nevertheless, it is a positive statement, particularly when its authors write,"if the danger to innocent life is real and certain, and especially if the aggressor is motivated by implacable hostility--if the end he seeks is not your willingness to negotiate or comply, but rather your destruction--then a resort to proportionate force is morally justified." The authors acknowledge that some of the signers of the letter oppose" certain U.S. and western policies," but they emphasize that our radical Islamic enemies oppose the"foundational principle of the modern world, religious tolerance, as well as those fundamental human rights" that are part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and which they argue"must be the basis of any civilization oriented to human flourishing, justice, and peace." Most importantly, the signatories understand that those who attacked our nation on September 11" constitute a clear and present danger to all people of good will everywhere in the world," and that they are guilty of"naked aggression against innocent human life, a world-threatening evil that clearly requires the use of force to remove it."
One must wonder, of course, why American intellectuals would have to go to such great lengths to spell out the reasons why our country has to be at war. The reasons, at least for ordinary citizens, are quite clear. The problem is that this is not the case with many American intellectuals. Once again, it seems that American historians are among those who are the most obtuse. Case in point is the current issue of the Newsletter of the Organization of American Historians. The February issue features an article by Alan Singer called,"Now is the Time to Teach Democracy." It features the following sentence, which the Newsletter's editors have highlighted in super size text which they put in a center box alongside the article:"The events of September 11 do not compare in magnitude with a number of actions taken by the United States since the end of World War II including the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the systematic destruction of Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan."
This nonsense comes, mind you, from an individual who dares to call himself a historian, and who even worse, now educates future teachers at Hofstra University in New York. In the past weeks, much evidence has been gathered to show how, in fact, lives have been saved and terror abated in Afghanistan because of the destruction of the Taliban. But Professor Singer dares to claim that our country is continually engaging in"systematic destruction" of the world's innocents. One is again reminded of George Orwell's famous remark, made after reading a particularly fatuous remark from a 1940s-era pacifist in Britain, that such garbage must have been said by an intellectual, since no ordinary person could believe it.
Indeed Professor Singer begins his article by informing us that while he was meeting with student teachers on September 11, he found one of them sobbing, as she feared her husband had died, since he worked on a top floor of one of the Trade Center towers. He then continues to say how"distressed" he was to read a commentary a few weeks later by Diane Ravitch, who, writing in a teacher's journal, said"we must not teach children to tolerate whose who hijack commercial jetliners and kill innocent victims." To the average reader, Ravitch's words appear to be good common sense, ones that in fact should not have had to be spelled out in an education journal in the first place.
So what upsets Professor Singer? Nothing less than his fear that Ravitch's words are"an ad hominem attack--to silence people who are protesting against the bombing of Afghanistan." Since to most readers, Ravitch has said nothing of the sort, Singer's condemnation appears as nothing but bizarre. What really upsets him is that the clear-minded Ravitch knows that there is absolutely no equation at all between the terrorist attack of September 11 and the wars of defense fought by the United States.
Moreover, Diane Ravitch understands that what is called multiculturalism in the academy is a dangerous and divisive ideology, one that encourages people to think of themselves as part of a group to which they belong, rather than as one among other individuals. It is an ideology that leads to the very kind of" cultural relativism" that leads those who adhere to its tenets to excuse and seek to"understand" the views of Islamofascist radicals, whom they are then hesitant to condemn. Professor Singer is aghast at her views. Noting that he stands with those who" challenge racism, ethnocentrism, homophobia and gender-bias,"--assuring us he stands with the gods of political correctness--Singer then goes on to compare Ravitch, George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden as one of a kind--all supposedly people who believe"there is a universal truth that has been granted only to us."
Professor Singer is furious that Ravitch is fed up with those who argue we must"try to understand why others in the world hate America." Professor Singer, to the contrary, is proud that he stands with those who indeed"see their task as one of explanation." And he proceeds to let us know--quoting an old Rand Institute publication no less--how the Islamic world feels itself under siege and sees itself as victims of the West. Singer--a man obviously unfamiliar with the writings of Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami, Victor Davis Hanson and others--prefers to insure that his own students learn the difference"between Islam . . . and the actions of one organized group or a few individuals." Moreover, he wants to assure that his students learn"why many people in other countries believe they have been injured by the United States and its allies." It is the old radical refrain--the US is to blame; our actions are responsible for their attacks, and only addressing the underlying cause of America's role can stop terror--which after all, is only a response to the bad we do. Students, he says, need to read reports from the other nations and get"multiple perspectives." To think they may otherwise respond as Americans--and unite with their fellow citizens to repel aggression.
Professor Singer ends with the old canard dug up from Vietnam days. He is"proud to stand with Abraham Lincoln," he tells us, who"in 1847 risked his political career by defying a President who misled the American people in order to launch an imperialist adventure." Notice the language--the Mexican War was an"imperialist adventure." The US, it seems, was"imperialist" back in the 19th Century, although most historians date America's imperial role to 1898 and the turn of the Century. And, of course, he is proud to stand with Rep. Jeannette Rankin who voted against US entry into World War I, with Senator Wayne Morse who opposed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, and--to keep things up to date--with Rep. Barbara Lee, who cast the only dissenting vote in Congress against US military intervention to stop terrorism.
As a radical, Singer says the US government has to end what he calls"gross international inequalities," which he believes, of course, are"maintained by United States military power." If that is the case, then any use of that very military power by its very nature works to bolster the imperialist system, and by not addressing the so-called"root causes" of terrorism, actually insures that terrorism will continue. His ending is a virtual replay of Noam Chomsky--a left-wing screed about how the US system" consigns millions" to"refugee camps, battered cities and desiccated villages and fields of the Middle East," producing scores of young people who have"very little to lose." The root cause of terrorism, therefore, is the United States. We are the guilty, and obviously, are receiving our just desserts.
Alan Singer's article is in itself nothing new. It is hardly distinguished; it reads almost as a parody of the left-wing worldview. What is significant, however, is that it is featured in a newsletter sent to virtually all historians of American history teaching in our nation's universities. Obviously, his sentiments are shared by the OAH's editors, who feel that Singer's views are representative of many of their own organization's membership. And so they are. And that is why we must heed Norman Podhoretz's admonition as he closed his Boyer speech. We must, he told us, not relent in making the case for waging the war against terrorism. Just as neo-conservatives in the '70s and '80s laid the groundwork for the Reagan administration's successful conclusion of the war against Communism by undermining the arguments of those who sought"understanding" with the Soviet Union, so too must we carry on the intellectual war against those who, in the name of social justice, would weaken our resolve. The Alan Singer article is, unfortunately, proof that once again, Norman Podhoretz is correct.
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Arnold Shcherban - 4/29/2004
Neither Gorbachev, nor Reagan, nor any other(especially
as negligible, in this regard, person(s) as Pope or Walesa or one nation were the major cause of the collapse of communist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe.
This is frivolous and extremely simplistic conclusion,
abandoning the major historical, economical and cultural
changes happened in the world, in general, and within those countries that pewriod of time, in particular.
It is primarily based on the implied popular axiom perpetrated througout western intellectual ideological thought: communist regimes, its ideology, economy, foreign policy strategies had never been changing, but just forced to do this or that by the pressure(mostly military) coming from the West.
I'm currently in the process of working on a large article, may be even a book, on just that topic.
Ben - 8/25/2003
It is the liberals and the "PC Police", the same crowd who continue to whine that "we wuz robbed!" in the last Presidential election, who seem to have a problem with free speech. They label President Bush and John Ashcroft as evil, compare Bush to Hitler, and generally display their ignorance on a daily basis.
Radosh has credentials that few can touch - he was raised as a communist, hung out with the children of the Rosenbergs, visited the "socialist paradise" in Cuba, and ultimately rejected the lies of communism. Mr. Goldfinger - or whatever your name really is - what are YOUR credentials?
Ben - 8/25/2003
ABSTRACT - Nicholas D Kristof Op-Ed column, on 58th anniversary of atomic bombing of Hiroshima, says emerging consensus that bombing was unnecessary to end World War II is profoundly mistaken; says Japanese wartime records and memoirs show that emperor and some of his aides wanted to end war by summer of 1945, but they could not prevail over military that was determined to keep going even if it meant 'sacrificing 20 million Japanese lives'; says Japanese wartime leaders who favored surrender saw their salvation in atomic bombing; quotes Hisatsune Sakomizu, chief cabinet secretary in 1945, who called bombing 'golden opportunity' for Japan to end war (M)
Ben - 8/25/2003
Gorbachev never meant for the Soviet Union to collapse. It happened because of continuous pressure, since the 1940s, by the United States and its allies. I am not saying that Gorbachev had no hand in it - but, nevertheless, Communism would still thrive in Europe if it had not been for Ronald Reagan, the Pope, Lech Walesa and others who knew the truth about Communism.
Marie Longo - 3/28/2003
I am hoping that this is Sergeant Charles Horgan, part of the First Batallion 30th Infantry Regiment. I have been searching for some kind of way to contact you since seeing you on television this morning. I wanted to say a few things, hopefully lift up your spirits - let you know that even though we are total strangers-your in my heart. I won't go into detail, until I know for sure if this is you. Write back if you could please. I am hoping to hear from you. My name is Marie by the way and I am from New York.
Jacob Goldfinger - 3/1/2002
I agree that "context" often comes down to comparing atrocities and death totals, which is counter-productive. Some would also use context to excuse terrorist attacks against the United States.
I hope that an understanding of the context of the Sept. 11 attacks would foster greater concern in the U.S. for the death of innocents around the world. Personally, I do not oppose military engagement, though some of the tactics and weapons employed do concern me (cluster bombs, daisy cutters). We don't yet know the impact of our campaign on civilians in Afghanistan, nor will we until there has been a thorough field investigation by objective observers. What also concerns me is the apparent indifference to Afghan civilian deaths. Our war on terrorism requires that we do exactly what terrorists do not: sort the innocent from the guilty, non-combatants from combatants.
What truly infuriates me, however, is the suggestion by Radosh and this administration that merely expressing these concerns or questioning the conduct of the war on terrorism is "anti-American." The attempts to stifle criticism, punish dissenters, and challenge the patriotism of anyone who expresses something less than blind faith in the administration presents a very grave threat to our democracy.
Jacob Goldfinger - 3/1/2002
Mr. Steeter, you continue to misrepresent my previous statements.
I cited the Rwandan genocide in discussing the need to put the Sept. 11 attacks into global and historical perspective. This is necessary not only for our own understanding, but it is crucial to building and maintaining a worldwide coalition to combat terrorism.
In no way, and at no point, did I ever suggest that our lack of action in Rwanda should preclude a military reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks or the cooperation of other nations.
What I did say, and what I continue to assert, is that if the United States remains indifferent to attacks on innocents abroad, we should not be surprised if other nations abandon our campaign. In other words, a global effort requires a concern for atrocities beyond our own back yard. It requires an objective standard of justice, not the naive expectation that Pakistanis and Afghans share our outrage over the loss of American lives if we're indifferent to the death of Afghan civilians.
It also isn't particularly useful to paint the "liberal left" (whatever that is) with a broad brush. There are isolationists and interventionists on the left and the right.
The left has been campaigning against the Taliban since they came to power in Afghanistan, and many were calling for military intervention more than five years ago. The Taliban was a major topic of discussion at the U.N. Conference on Women in 1996, where then-First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke at length about the Taliban's oppression of women. Human rights groups have thoroughly documented the Taliban's atrocities in Afghanistan.
Many on the left have consistently called for military intervention for humanitarian reasons in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan. Usually, this has represented a minority opinion in the U.S. It seems only a minority of that minority, such as Susan Sontag and Noam Chomsky, get all the ink.
The right, on the other hand, has generally opposed employing the military for humanitarian reasons. John McCain was a dissenting voice in the Republican Party in support of U.S. involvement in Bosnia. In fact, McCain wanted to send ground troops. Most of the Republican Party opposed U.S. involvement, and opposed intervention in Rwanda or even, before Sept. 11, against the Taliban.
Of course, presidents Clinton and Bush both worked actively with the Taliban before Sept. 11. Despite being fully aware of the Taliban's brutality, Democratic and Republican administrations found common ground with terrorists on our "war on drugs" and in support of routing the Caspian oil pipeline through Afghanistan.
Neither of our political parties occupies any sort of moral high ground here. And there's no consistency among leftists or rights that I can discern.
Dale R. Streeter - 3/1/2002
You have labeled my rebuttal as a non sequitur, presumably because you think the right of self defense to be unrelated to the issue of suppressing terrorism. Certainly the United States is justified to defend itself just as any other nation would also be in such an instance. It is a bitter lesson indeed to have to suffer such an event as occurred on 9/11 before the half-hearted measures of the past are seen to be ineffective. You suggest that because we failed to intervene in a civil war in Ruwanda, which led to immense suffering and death, we have no right to expect others to support us in this enterprise. Well, as the liberal left has relentless pointed out (and I do not suggest that this is your position), the U.S. should not be the world's policeman. But there are times when intervention and action must be taken. Surely, American efforts to end the atrocities in Bosnia, although belated to be sure, are sufficient proof that the U.S. is not above disinterested actions on the behalf of others. Its facile to say that we "demanded" that others help us to the dirty work; the widespread support that the President has been able to gather suggests that other nations also see terrorism as a threat their own security.
You said, "Terrorists can destroy buildings and kill people, but they cannot destroy our freedom or our Constitution. Only our government can do that. . ." What will destroy our freedom is our unwillingness to defend it. Arguments, regrets, or promises are worthless when someone is holding a knife to your throat.
Barrett Archer - 3/1/2002
I would never say that your position is un-American. Mr. Radosh makes that assertion, and he is mistaken.
I have found recently that the argument for "global and historical context" has been used to excuse, or at least justify, what happened on 11 Sept (not refering to your position specifically, but in general). The majority of arguments for "historical context" have been set up as "on Sept 11, 2800 Americans died. But in Somalia, America killed X, here America killed y, and elsewhere, America killed z." Noam Chomsky's writings immediately post 9/11 which made this very point. Others immediately followed suit. I hope as historians we can agree there is so much more to "historical context" than comparing death totals. Yet it seems to me that when most people (speaking generally again) invoke the phrase "historical context" it is largely to compare atrocities. Furthermore, the majority of those invoking "historical context" seem to be opposed to the war, for reasons they describe in their "historical context." So much so, that "historical context" in my mind has become a codeword meaning "the closed-minded Bush administration" and opposition to the war effort. And yes, most people who use the "context" argument are on the left, as the right is wholy behind this war effort, except for the Buchananite populists, who have their own definition of the "context" of these events.
I am glad that HNN is contributing to the study of the greater historical context of 9/11. I am grateful that they include pieces by conservatives such as Radosh and Daniel Pipes. Given the general left-leaning nature of us historians, their presence contributes to *our* putting 9/11 in better context.
R. B. Bernstein - 2/28/2002
Thank you, Mr. Wright, for your good sense. Victoria Glendinning, the biographer of Anthony Trollope, concluded her foreword to that book by observing, "To understand is not to forgive -- it is only to understand. Knowledge is power."
Ronald Radosh's screed is distressing in various ways -- for its equation of doubts about certain American military responses to the horrific, brutal crimes of 9/11 with apologizing for those who perpetrated those crimes; for its unabashed line-drawing; for its ad hominem attack on a fine historian, Eric Foner. But, in some ways, its worst flaw is precisely that identified by Joe Wright -- its rejection of our need as historians to understand even those viewpoints that we find strange, repugnant, or incomprehensible. Not endorse them, not forgive them, not champion them or apologize them -- merely understand them.
Michael Burleigh's brilliant THE THIRD REICH (FSG, 2000) does a superb job of understanding Nazi ideology and culture while at the same time condemning it in words of understated moral eloquence. There are any number of other fine historical works that do the same. Perhaps Ronald Radosh would do well to read some of them.
(I am a constitutional historian who teaches at a law school.)
Adjunct Professor of Law
New York Law School
Jacob Goldfinger - 2/28/2002
I never said that aggressive force was inappropriate in this case. I never said our sins of the past excused or justified terrorist attacks against us, I never said inaction was the correct reponse, and I never said that the U.S. somehow "deserved" to be attacked.
I'm not really sure why you imagined that this was my position, or the position of the so-called "left." The only thing I advocated for was the need to put the Sept. 11 attacks in a global and historical context. And I defy anyone who claims this position is "anti-American."
If we pursue our military aims without attempting to understand our own policies and actions around the world, and without consideration for the lives of innocent civilians who get in our way, then our "war or terrorism" will fail, making us more isolated, more vulnerable and less secure.
Jacob Goldfinger - 2/28/2002
In fact, I never opposed a military reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks. Even most of those who have questioned some of the tactics used in dismantling Al Qaeda (i.e., cluster bombs, daisy cutters) don't question the importance of the military's role in fighting terrorism. (At this point, there has been no investigation of the impact of our campaign on civilians in Afghanistan, so neither those who defend nor decry the Pentagon's consideration for civilians, or lack thereof, has any actual, credible information to support their positions.)
I did say that it is not only responsible, but necessary to put the Sept. 11 attacks in context. After all, as George W. Bush said to the world, "You're either with us, or you're against us."
Fair enough. But if we're going to give marching orders to foreign governments, we need to show the same concern for civilians of other nations that we demand they show for U.S. civilians. If we really expect Pakistan to do our bidding, we must be willing to accept some objective standards of justice.
This position is not "ant-American," as Radosh claims, and it doesn't place "blame" on the United States, as you suggest. It isn't even a particularly "leftist" position. It's common sense.
What is un-American is this administration's efforts to tar any attempt to question its policies as somehow unpatriotic or "anti-American." That attitude, codified by post-Sept. 11 administrative and legislative attacks on our liberty, presents a very real threat to our democracy.
Barrett Archer - 2/28/2002
I ask, Mr. Goldfinger, when *is* it appropriate for the U.S. to use aggressive force? Must we wait until the terrorists have killed enough Americans that the death total (compared to U.S. atrocities) is even? If that's the case, then I'm getting the hell out of Washington, DC.
The fact that the U.S. has committed atrocities in the past should not be an excuse for inaction in this case.
Much of what I've been hearing from my historian friends sounds like it could come from Pat Robertson. The U.S. had this coming, because it's just as "evil." The only difference is what "evil" the U.S. has perpetrated. For the Left, its the much-repeated triumverate of "Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam" (not to mention, Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda). For Robertson, its our tolerance for "immorality" that brought it on. Both prescibe the same remedy "understand" and "repent" from "past sins."
peter burkholder - 2/28/2002
Funny thing, but I've always found that the strength of an argument is inversely proportional to the amount of name-calling used to back it up. And so it is here. Historians who even dare to question the war effort are called "un-American." Help me out here: I must be "obtuse" -- another epithet thrown in for good measure to describe my views, which apparently are little more than "nonsense" and "left-wing screed." And don't even get me going about hiding behind the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a justification for anything!
By all means, keep writing. You do more damage to your cause than I could ever hope to do myself.
Pete Burkholder, Ph.D.
Dale R. Streeter - 2/28/2002
Although Jacob Goldfinger does not provide his credentials, we are left to assume that he is an historian and is thus, in his own mind at least, better qualified than Ronald Radosh to speak about the effects of the attack on our country. In his fury to discredit and dismiss Radosh's views, he seems to have overlooked an important point. The first is the fundamental human instinct for self-preservation. I suppose Goldfinger believes we should tear our hair and weep bitter tears for our "misguided" political policies of the past and accept the destruction and mass murder of innocent Americans as a just punishment for the "evil" the U.S. government has perpetrated over the past two-hundred years. If this is so, then who can ever be safe from the attacks of what I assume Goldfinger would characterize as "righteous" anger of those with any grievance against the United States? Will a terrorist spare Goldfinger and his like-minded friends and attack only the "enemies of democracy"? Any society, like any individual, has the right to protect and defend itself (these are literal terms, not code words for aggression) against threats to its existence. To compare the attack on the WTC and the Pentagon as similar to military operations conducted against an enemy at war is absurd on the face of it. Its not anti-american to cite instances of the great loss of life that war causes, its just ignorant and silly to blame only one side and ignore the equal number of atrocities committed by the other. The difference between terrorism and war is not difficult to distinguish for most people. Goldfinger, like many on the left, scream that the government is trying to suppress their views, to stifle free speech, and to force the complicity of all citizens in this "unjust" military reaction to the tragedy of September 11th. If this is so, why is the discourse dominated by the critics of government policy who charge that those who support the administration are right-wing toadies or worse? Something stinks here.
Charles Horgan - 2/28/2002
I was appalled with the Singer article. It was filled with irrelevancies as are the earlier comments to this letter.
This response is precisely on point.
Jacob Goldfinger - 2/28/2002
Radosh is not a historian, he is an ideologue who isn't particularly concerned with facts. He also isn't concerned with the principles of democracy, since he considers those who question the details of our war on terrorism "anti-American."
Is it anti-American to point out that certain U.S. actions have killed more civilians than were killed on Sept. 11 (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam)? It's perfectly understandable that we're more concerned with "our" losses than the deaths of innocent people halfway around the world; after all, is it OUR loss of life and security that is at issue.
But we're asking - no, DEMANDING - that the rest of the world do as we say to combat terrorism. Should we tell Pakistanis that the death of Americans is more important than the death of innocent Afghans? Should we not mention the fact that we did nothing while some 800,000 INNOCENT Rwandans were slaughtered; thousands, day after day, for about four months. We did nothing. They're not American. They're not important.
It is a quintessentially American endeavor to argue that the global war on terrorism must rely on certain objective, universal principles of human rights and the laws of war.
To put the Sept. 11 attacks in context, to defend the principles of the U.S. Constitution, does not threaten our security or democracy. Though clearly this threatens the Bush administration.
Terrorists can destroy buildings and kill people, but they cannot destroy our freedom or our Constitution. Only our government can do that, but only if Americans allow this administration to intimidate them into silence.
Joe Wright - 2/28/2002
As a teaching assistant I was mildly disappointed but not shocked recently that many of my students conflated historical empathy and sympathy, but I am confident that they now have a pretty good grasp of the difference. I find it much more disturbing that people who are apparently taken seriously (by virtue of being published regularly) about historical issues can get away with the same fallacy. Isn't it historians' job to try to empathize with a variety of historical subjects--get inside their heads and understand what made them tick--and then engage in a separate process of sympathy--deciding with whom to agree, disagree, judge gently or harshly? To believe this article is to think that the process of understanding someone is the same as justifying or agreeing with their actions and perspectives. Does this mean we can only write good histories of sympathetic figures, or that it's OK not to comprehend those we disagree with? I don't think this is good historical practice, or good political and civic practice for that matter either.
CDunn - 2/25/2002
I'm not a professional historian, so I won't write that much, but I was left wondering if the author is under the employ of the current administration, or perhaps some right wing group.
I mean really: "In the past weeks, much evidence has been gathered to show how, in fact, lives have been saved and terror abated in Afghanistan because of the destruction of the Taliban." This statement can't be supported at all.
Also, I couldn't believe the ending:
"Just as neo-conservatives in the '70s and '80s laid the groundwork for the Reagan administration's successful conclusion of the war against Communism by undermining the arguments of those who sought "understanding" with the Soviet Union, so too must we carry on the intellectual war against those who, in the name of social justice, would weaken our resolve."
The Cold War was ended when Gorbachev chose a path of 'understanding' with the West. The Soviet economy was stagnant, but then, it had been for years. If he had chosen, he could have taken the route of the neo-Conservatives, and rattled swords and hurled insults at each other for years and years more. So really, it sounds like the 70's and 80's woosies he criticizes were closer to being correct after all.
I think half of the reason America has become almost surrealistic with all media and discourse slanted far far to the right have been the organized attacks like this one designed to shut up any and all dissenting voices.
Perhaps it's time to let our resolve be weakened a bit, if that means that we can move back to a situation where dangerous ideas are discussed objectively and with voices from all sides of the political spectrum.
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