History Being Talked About Archives 12-10-03 to 12-28-03
NYT Reports on Vietnam Atrocities
New Transcripts: What Kissinger Thought and Did About Chile
Why The Nixon Library Shouldn't Be Given the Nixon Tapes
Apologizing for Sterilization in the Past Isn't Enough
The Real Alamo
Historians Discover the Five Senses
Tom Palaima: Why Do Wars Begin?
When Books Are Destroyed
McNamara's Deceptions in The Fog of War
The Alamo--Is Anything Left of the Old Yarn?
Jesus in America
Indians Are Being Taken in by a Myth About Columbus
The Wright Brothers Expected Their Planes to Be Used for War
The Wright Brothers Weren't the First to Fly, But ...
When Did Homosexuality Come to be Regarded in the West as Abhorrent?
The Smithsonian Is Being Disingenuous About the New Enola Gay Exhibit
Bellesiles Admits Errors, but Not Fraud
Korean Historians Protest China's Claim that the Goguryeo Dynasty Was Chinese
Spare Us the Dreary Science Behind Art
Why's Everybody Picking on Rosa Parks?
Where the Gestapo Headquarters Once Stood
Historians Working to Place Women's Sites on the Map
What Newly Declassified Documents Reveal About the U.S. Role in Undermining Chile's Allende
Canadians Remember One of the Most Tragic Events in Their History: The Deportation of Acadians
Alexander Graham Bell Saw a Working Telephone One Year Before He Invented His Own Version
Her Brothers Invented the Airplane, She Wowed France
How the Wright Brothers Did It
Was Nathan Hale Really Naive?
Did FDR Make Things Worse in the 1930s?
NYT Reports on Vietnam Atrocities (postd 12-28-03)
John Kifner, writing in the NYT (Dec. 28, 2003):
Quang Ngai and Quang Nam are provinces in central Vietnam, between the mountains and the sea. Ken Kerney, William Doyle and Rion Causey tell horrific stories about what they saw and did there as soldiers in 1967.
That spring and fall, American troops conducted operations there to engage the enemy and drive peasants out of villages and into heavily guarded"strategic hamlets." The goal was to deny the Viet Cong support, shelter and food.
The fighting was intense and the results, the former soldiers say, were especially brutal. Villages were bombed, burned and destroyed. As the ground troops swept through, in many cases they gunned down men, women and children, sometimes mutilating bodies — cutting off ears to wear on necklaces.
They threw hand grenades into dugout shelters, often killing entire families.
"Can you imagine Dodge City without a sheriff?" Mr. Kerney asked."It's just nuts. You never had a safe zone. It's shoot too quick or get shot. You're scared all the time, you're humping all the time. You're scared. These things happen."
Mr. Doyle said he lost count of the people he killed:"You had to have a strong will to survive. I wanted to live at all costs. That was my primary thing, and I developed it to an instinct."
The two are among a handful of soldiers at the heart of a series of investigative articles by The Toledo Blade that has once again raised questions about the conduct of American troops in Vietnam.
The report, published in October and titled"Rogue G.I.'s Unleashed Wave of Terror in Central Highlands," said that in 1967, an elite unit, a reconnaissance platoon in the 101st Airborne Division, went on a rampage that the newspaper described as"the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War."
"For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians — in some cases torturing and mutilating them — in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public," the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians.
"Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers," The Blade said."Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed — their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings."
In 1971, the newspaper said, the Army began a criminal investigation that lasted four and a half years. Ultimately, the investigators forwarded conclusions that 18 men might face charges, but no courts-martial were brought.
In recent telephone interviews with The New York Times, three of the former soldiers quoted by The Blade confirmed that the articles had accurately described their unit's actions.
But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a"rogue" unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing.
"The story that I'm not sure is getting out," said Mr. Causey, then a medic with the unit,"is that while they're saying this was a ruthless band ravaging the countryside, we were under orders to do it."
Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops.
The tactics — particularly in"free-fire zones," where anyone was regarded as fair game — arose from the frustrating nature of the guerrilla war and, above all, from the military's reliance on the body count as a measure of success and a reason officers were promoted, according to many accounts.
Nicholas Turse, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities.
"I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported," Mr. Turse said by telephone."I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds."
Yet there were few prosecutions.
Besides the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1968, only 36 cases involving possible war crimes from Vietnam went to Army court-martial proceedings, with 20 convictions, according to the Army judge advocate general's office.
Guenter Lewy, who cited the Army figures in his 1978 book,"America in Vietnam," wrote that if a soldier killed a civilian, the incident was unlikely to be reported as a war crime:"It was far more likely that the platoon leader, under pressure for body count and not anxious to demonstrate the absence of good fire discipline in his unit, would report the incident as `1 VC suspect shot while evading.'"
Mr. Causey, now a nuclear engineer in California, said:"It wasn't like it was hidden. This was open and public behavior. A lot of guys in the 101st were cutting ears. It was a unique time period."
Mr. Kerney, now a firefighter in California, agreed that the responsibility went higher.
"I'm talking about the guys with the eagles," he said, referring to the rank insignia of a full colonel."It was always about the body count. They were saying, `You guys have the green light to do what's right.'"
While Mr. Causey and Mr. Kerney became deeply troubled after they returned from Vietnam, Mr. Doyle, a sergeant who was a section leader in the unit, seemed unrepentant in a long, profanity-laced telephone conversation.
"I've seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like Sunday school," said Mr. Doyle, who joined the Army at 17 when a judge gave him, a young street gang leader, a chance to escape punishment.
"If you're walking down a jungle trail, those that hesitate die," said Mr. Doyle, who lives in Missouri."Everybody I killed, I killed to survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that's almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I've seen."
The American public was shocked in November 1969 when the reporter Seymour M. Hersh broke the news of the My Lai massacre. Years later, it was revealed that a Navy Seal team led by Bob Kerrey, who would go on to become a United States senator and is now president of New School University in New York, had killed 21 women, children and old men during a raid on the village Thanh Phong in 1969.
"My Lai was a shock to everyone except people in Vietnam," recalled Kevin Buckley, who covered the war for Newsweek from 1968 to 1972 and reported on an operation called Speedy Express, in which nearly 11,000 were killed but only 748 weapons were recovered.
At his court-martial in the My Lai massacre, Lt. William L. Calley Jr., the only person convicted in the case, said:"I felt then — and I still do — that I acted as directed, I carried out my orders, and I did not feel wrong in doing so." He was paroled in 1975 after serving three and a half years under house arrest.
In spring 1971, embittered veterans demonstrated against the war in Washington, many throwing away their medals.
One of their leaders, John Kerry, then a recently discharged Navy officer, now a senator and presidential candidate, delivered an impassioned speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971.
American troops in Vietnam, he said, had"raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."
Mr. Kerry's account came from his own experience, as well as from a three-day conference of the fledgling Vietnam Veterans Against the War. At the conference, he said,"over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
A transcript of that meeting makes for hair-raising reading. The returned troops told of the slaughter of civilians;"reconnaissance by fire," or soldiers shooting blindly;"harassment and interdiction fire," with artillery being used to shell villages; captives thrown from helicopters; severed ears drying in the sun or being swapped for beers; and"Zippo inspections" of cigarette lighters in preparation for burning villages.
New Transcripts: What Kissinger Thought and Did About Chile (posted 12-28-03)
Larry Rohter, writing in the NYT (Dec. 28, 2003):
Henry Kissinger, who had been President Richard Nixon's national security adviser, became his secretary of state less than a month after a bloody military coup in Chile toppled its leftist president, Salvador Allende, on Sept. 11, 1973, and brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power. The Nixon administration had instigated and supported Allende's overthrow, but the extensive human rights abuses that resulted were to plague Mr. Kissinger until he left office in 1977, along with President Gerald Ford.
Recently, after a long legal struggle, United States government documents from that period were declassified under the Freedom of Information Act, thanks to the efforts of the National Security Archive, a private nonprofit group based in Washington. Some of the most important papers have already appeared in"The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability" (The New Press) by Peter Kornbluh, an analyst for the National Security Archive, and next month those and others will be posted on the organization's Web site, nsarchive.org. Excerpts follow.
The realpolitik approach Mr. Kissinger favored was enunciated at an Oct. 1, 1973, meeting with officials from the Latin American division of the State Department. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jack Kubisch had arrived bearing news that at least 2,700 people were killed during the coup and expressing concern that the United States appeared too close to the Pinochet regime.
Secretary Kissinger: I agree that we should not knock down stories that later prove to be true, nor should we be in the position of defending what they're doing in Santiago. But I think we should understand our policy - that however unpleasant they act, the government is better for us than Allende was. So we shouldn't support moves against them by seemingly disassociating.
Congress felt differently, however, and led by Senator Edward M. Kennedy soon began moving to cut off arms sales to the Pinochet dictatorship. In a Dec. 3, 1974, meeting also attended by the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, William D. Rogers, Mr. Kissinger expressed frustration at what he saw as Congressional meddling and naïveté.
Secretary Kissinger: Also, I'd like to know whether the human rights problem in Chile is that much worse than in other countries in Latin America or whether their primary crime is to have replaced Allende and whether people are now getting penalized, having gotten rid of an anti-American government. Is it worse than in other Latin American countries?
Mr. Rogers: Yes.
Secretary Kissinger: Well, I think the consequences could be very serious, if we cut them off from military aid.
Later in the same meeting, Mr. Kissinger tried another approach, suggesting that the Pinochet regime was an improvement over Allende in the field of civil liberties. Again, Mr. Rogers gently challenged his assumptions.
Secretary Kissinger: The worst crime of this government is that it's pro-American in the eyes of many of these supporters of these cut-offs. Is this government worse than the Allende government? Is human rights more severely threatened by this government than Allende?
Mr. Rogers: Well, I can't say that, Mr. Secretary. In terms of freedom of association, Allende didn't close down the opposition party. In terms of freedom of the press, Allende didn't close down all the newspapers.
At a Dec. 23, 1974, meeting, Mr. Kissinger argued that compromising with Senator Kennedy on the arms sales prohibition would only lead to other Congressional demands. He also worried that banning arms sales to Chile would encourage General Pinochet, who was alarmed at the presence of Cuban advisers and Soviet-made tanks and aircraft in neighboring Peru, to seek an accommodation with China or the Arab world.
Secretary Kissinger: We never cut off aid to them while Allende was there. So now while they are in power, we cut off aid to them. It is insane.
Mr. Rogers: It is insane. But, Mr. Secretary, it does reflect an extraordinarily strong feeling amongst the Congress, as you well know.
Later in the same conversation, Mr. Rogers said that"it is very hard to make a national interest argument on Chile." But Mr. Kissinger and Assistant Secretary of State Philip C. Habib saw dominoes falling all over the world if they gave Congress any ground.
Secretary Kissinger: If it happens in Chile now, it will be Korea next year. There isn't going to be any end to it. And if we are going to wind up in an unbelievably precarious position, in which no country can afford to tie up with us, unless it is a pure democracy, then we will find some other reasons.
Mr. Habib: We will get it in the Philippines, in Vietnam.
Mr. Rogers: My diagnosis of the reason they stuck it on the department in this case is because they didn't think we were being sincere on the human rights issue. That is what they all told me.
By 1975, Chile had become a virtual pariah state and was seeking to alleviate that status by persuading the Organization of American States to meet in Santiago. On Sept. 29, Mr. Kissinger received the Chilean foreign minister, Patricio Carvajal. Mr. Kissinger not only expressed Washington's support for the idea, but opened the meeting with a sarcastic jab at his own staff.
Secretary Kissinger: Well, I read the briefing paper for this meeting and it was nothing but human rights. The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there were not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State.
The O.A.S. meeting was held in Chile in June 1976. There Mr. Kissinger met with General Pinochet, expressed support and told him not to worry about the human rights criticisms that would appear in the speech Mr. Kissinger would deliver to his fellow foreign ministers.
Secretary Kissinger: The speech is not aimed at Chile. I wanted to tell you about this. My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world, and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government that was going Communist.
General Pinochet complained about the arms buildup in Peru and hinted that he might invade if American arms were not forthcoming. In response, Mr. Kissinger apologized for Congressional opposition and promised to step up efforts to send F-5 fighters to Chile.
Secretary Kissinger: It is a phenomenon that we deal with special severity with our friends. I want to see our relations and friendship improve. I encouraged the O.A.S. to have its General Assembly here. I knew it would add prestige to Chile. I came for that reason. We have suggestions. We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende. Otherwise Chile would have followed Cuba.
In an account of the conversation with General Pinochet that was published in his memoirs, Mr. Kissinger said that the"underlying theme" of the meeting was that"any major help from us would realistically depend on progress on human rights.'' But the declassified transcript includes only brief mentions of human rights, with Mr. Kissinger presenting them to the general principally as a problem of politics and public relations, rather than as a moral problem. Mr. Kissinger, for example, talks of the need to"remove the weapons in the arms of our enemies."
Secretary Kissinger: It would really help if you would let us know the measures you are taking in the human rights field. None of this is said with the hope of undermining your government. I want you to succeed and I want to retain the possibility of aid.
A month later, back in Washington and meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Harry W. Shlaudeman, the subject was Argentina, Chile's neighbor. A military dictatorship led by Gen. Jorge Videla had taken power there earlier that year, and the new government, inspired by Chile's example and the lack of American sanctions, was carrying out political killings and forced"disappearances" that would eventually lead to the deaths of as many as 30,000 people in what became known as Argentina's"dirty war."
Mr. Shlaudeman: Well, let me just say that it looks very much that this group for Videla in Argentina - the security forces are totally out of control. We have these daily waves of murders. We get our human rights constituents - who, it sometimes seems to me, are the only ones we have - clamoring after us all the time about Argentina, because they think it is another Chile - but it isn't.
Secretary Kissinger: It's worse.
Nevertheless, Mr. Kissinger decided that the doctrine he had defined for Chile should also be applied in Argentina. Meeting with the Argentine foreign minister, Adm. César Augusto Guzzetti, in New York on Oct. 7, 1976, he made it clear that the clamor about human rights abuses would not affect relations, a response that Robert Hill, the American ambassador to Argentina, later said in a cable had left Admiral Guzzetti"euphoric."
Secretary Kissinger: Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems, but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better.
Why The Nixon Library Shouldn't Be Given the Nixon Tapes (posted 12-28-03)
Maarja Krusten, National Archives' Nixon tapes archivist, 1976-90, in a letter to the editor of the NYT (Dec. 28, 2003):
National Archives officials vow to protect records as they prepare to negotiate with John H. Taylor, director of the Richard Nixon library ("Adrift With the Trick, the Tapes, and the Passage of Time," by Francis X. Clines, Editorial Observer, Dec. 21). But who protects archivists?
In 1986, the Justice Department tried to force the Archives to accept without discretion Mr. Nixon's claims against release of records. A court threw out the directive.
In 1987, Mr. Nixon blocked the opening of 42,000 documents deemed releaseable by archivists. Mr. Taylor later claimed that the blocked items represented information "routinely" withheld at presidential libraries. The Archives sat on the documents for nine years before upholding most of its archivists' decisions on disclosure.
The belated release showed that Mr. Nixon wanted information about Vietnam ("tell Henry [Kissinger] get best deal let Thieu paddle his own canoe") and Watergate ("put it on Mitchell") withdrawn as "personal." Who will prevail in future battles, Mr. Nixon's advocates or archivists?
Apologizing for Sterilization in the Past Isn't Enough (postd 12-24-03)
Howard Markel, writing in the NYT (Dec. 23, 2003):
Ever since 1972, when the American public first learned about the Tuskegee syphilis research that subjected African-American men to scientific experiments without their consent, the medical profession has had much explaining to do about its past.
Since then, several disturbing instances have come to light. In those cases, scientists, physicians and the government-sanctioned research or treatments that we would today consider unethical, like trials of untested vaccines or medications on mentally retarded children and prisoners.
Increasingly, public apologies have been made to smooth over these clinical transgressions. Yet the doctor in me wonders whether these gestures will cure what ails us.
Since 2002, five states Virginia, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina and California have publicly apologized to people who were forcibly sterilized under laws in effect from the early 1900's until the 1970's. Thirty-three states enacted such laws in this period, and about 60,000 women and men were sterilized. All were deemed "unfit to reproduce" by the medical experts of the day.
When these sterilization laws were written, many subscribed to a simplistic version of genetics called eugenics and hoped to improve American society by encouraging the "healthy" to reproduce while simultaneously preventing those with "deleterious inherited traits" from doing so. Under this rubric, mental retardation, insanity and even criminal behavior were considered hereditary and the "carriers" of these traits a danger to future generations.
Sadly, those targeted for reproductive quarantine were already defined as outcasts by a white majority: the mentally ill or retarded, "sexual deviants," the impoverished, African-Americans and immigrants.
The recent series of public apologies for forced sterilizations has unfolded with markedly different results, depending on who did the apologizing and the motives of the person or group.
In March, with no survivors on hand to hear it, Gray Davis, then the governor of California, issued an apology for the 20,000 forcible sterilizations conducted in his state. In contrast, the previous December, Gov. Michael F. Easley of North Carolina not only made a meaningful apology to the families of the 7,500 victims of his state's mandatory sterilization laws, he also ensured that their stories would be remembered by creating a special historical archive. And last month, Dr. William Applegate, the dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine apologized for his institution's involvement in these forced sterilizations.
Some activists are now eager to broker a formal apology from Gov. Jennifer Granholm to the 3,700 people sterilized in Michigan. But Alexandra Minna Stern, a historian of medicine at the University of Michigan, said the issue was far deeper than merely uttering words of contrition.
"The biggest danger of the public apologies is that they too readily allow us to blame our predecessors as being scientifically misguided or evil and pat ourselves on the back for an enlightened, morally informed present," she said.
Thankfully we have moved out of an era of heavy-handed, coercive sterilization statutes, but many of the era's ethical issues remain.
Today, there is a great risk of societal pressures more subtly influencing reproductive choices thanks to an ever-expanding repertoire of genetic reproductive technologies, therapies and prenatal genetic screening tests.
Dr. Paul A. Lombardo, a bioethicist at the University of Virginia, worked successfully last year with his state's Legislature to commemorate Carrie Buck, a young woman sterilized against her will in 1924 after eugenics field workers diagnosed her, her mother and, by assumption, Carrie's 7-month-old daughter, Vivian, as "feebleminded." Ms. Buck's case was contested all the way to the Supreme Court where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously opined, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
Although there is a symbolic value to apologizing for the sins of our fathers, Dr. Lombardo admits that these "are limited ways of addressing public harms done in the past."
Reflecting on her experience as a member of the citizens committee that convinced President Bill Clinton in 1997 to apologize for the government's role in the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, Susan Reverby, a historian at Wellesley College, said: "There needs to be more than a television talk show format of confession and a pledge for repentance. Relying only on emotion, while critical and cathartic, is a temporary fix, at best."
These apologies would be far more meaningful if they prompted us to reflect on some troubling aspects of medical research financed by federal agencies and American pharmaceutical companies in developing countries today, like experimental drug trials in Africa, where there are markedly less strict regulations on patients' rights.
Perhaps the cruelest aspect of such trials is how comparatively little these federal agencies or companies do to ameliorate or prevent the scourges that are killing Africans and others by the tens of thousands every day.
The Real Alamo (posted 12-24-03)
Ted Mahar, writing in Oregonlive.com (Dec. 14, 2003):
Sometimes history just will not stay put.
The History Channel documentary "Remember the Alamo" illustrates the fact that history can be elusive, subversive and useful. George Orwell's "1984" hero Winston Smith works in a government office, revising history on a daily basis. The past -- even last week's past -- can be evoked to rouse pride, anger or dread, whichever seems best suited to stirring the proper public attitude or action.
Of course, the very phrase "Remember the Alamo" played its role in stirring Gen. Sam Houston's men into defeating Gen. Santa Anna in the weeks following his massacre of the Alamo defenders and other Texans at a place called Goliad.
One of the nuggets unearthed in the documentary is the never-hidden but little-known fact that many factions lived in Texas in the early 1800s. One was Texians, people from a foreign country -- the United States -- who moved to a part of the Spanish empire called Texas to farm and make a new life. Others were Tejanos, Mexicans who moved to Texas for the same reason. They were generally friendly with each other and wanted to colonize their areas peacefully.
Spain was a sclerotic empire losing its grip on its vast North American territory. A new, dangerously vigorous empire was swarming west and south and gaining speed. It doubled with the Louisiana Purchase, which Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery explored. And Mexico grew rebellious. Before the fall of the Alamo in March 1836, Texas was Mexican, not Spanish, as was the West Coast up to what is now Oregon.
The Texians and Tejanos who occupied the Alamo in February 1836 took positions in a long-abandoned, partly ruined complex nearly a century old. Part of it had been a church, but not for decades.
Santa Anna felt he was quelling a subtle invasion of Mexico -- which was not always subtle. Another group of Americans, called filibusters, favored armed seizure of Texas. Filibuster forays and skirmishes ended mostly in tactical defeat, but Santa Anna felt that they justified his fatal campaign.
Making extensive use of re-enactors, "Remember the Alamo" recounts not just the history of the siege but the history of its history. Useful as the battle was in stiffening rebel morale, after the war the Alamo itself quickly became just another army base in a region that could still be called frontier.
Historians Discover the Five Senses (posted 12-24-03)
Emily Eakin, writing in the NYT (Dec. 20, 2003):
The English mistook the Indians' war chants for songs of welcome, while the Indians mistook the red wine the settlers offered them for blood. When Powhatan, the powerful Chesapeake chief, offered food to the Jamestown settlers, it was to signal the visitors' dependent status, allies who required his protection. To his delighted guests, however, the gesture had another meaning: proof of willing subordination. The Indians, the English agreed with relief, would become docile subjects of King James.
So went some of the culture clashes in the New World as Europeans and Native Americans encountered each other for the first time. Misunderstanding was inevitable, says Peter Charles Hoffer, a historian at the University of Georgia who cites these incidents in his new book, "Sensory Worlds in Early America" (Johns Hopkins University Press). But violence, he insists, was not. The reason potentially benign missteps escalated into war, he argues, had originally less to do with competition over land and resources than the simple fact that "the two peoples employed their senses in such profoundly different ways."
Mr. Hoffer offers a catalog of sensory conflict, from Jamestown where the Indians saw a densely populated woods bordered by water, and the English saw an uninhabited peninsula ripe for settlement to pre-Revolutionary Boston, where rioting mobs engaged in "sensory warfare," destroying the visual symbols of British rule. His book is the latest bid in an increasingly aggressive campaign to elevate sight, sound, smell, touch and taste to a central place in the study of history.
"There's a tremendous interest in the sensory," Mr. Hoffer said in a telephone interview. "But I think I'm the only one who's dared to argue that these elementary sensory perceptions are causes, dictating in a thousand ways how we respond." ...
In the 1930's the French Annales school historian Lucien Febvre called for a cultural "history of the sensibilities," which, he said, would reveal the gradual triumph of reason over raw emotion. But more than half a century later, in a 1994 essay in The Journal of American History, George H. Roeder Jr., a professor of liberal arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, could still complain that "ours is a nearly sense-less profession." ("A Natural History of the Senses," the 1990 best seller by the poet and science writer Diane Ackerman, was a notable exception. But it was less a work of scholarship than a creative meditation on scientific research into the senses.)
A mere decade later, however, Mr. Roeder's charge is clearly no longer accurate. The senses or several of them at least are hot. The proof is a recent spate of papers, conference sessions and books devoted to sensory history, including "Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell" (Routledge, 1994), by Constance Classen, David Howes and Anthony Synnott; "Listening to 19th-Century America" (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), by Mark M. Smith; "The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America" (M.I.T. Press, 2002), by Emily Thompson; and "How Early America Sounded" (Cornell University Press, 2003) by Richard Cullen Rath.
In addition the works of Alain Corbin, a French sensory historian, have been translated into English, among them, "Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the 19th-Century French Countryside" (Columbia University Press, 1998), a 300-page study of the social function of church bells....
[Historians agree that sight has received more attention than the other sense.] Mr. Smith was optimistic that all five senses would eventually get their due. "Once historians begin to think in sensorial terms, work on taste and touch will probably balloon, just as it has with aurality," he said, adding that several long-neglected senses are turning out to be crucial to his current project: a history of Americans' changing conceptions of race.
"In the 19th century white Southerners began to talk about blacks in terms of smell because they were no longer sure they could differentiate black and white by sight alone," he said. "Questions of touching (handshake, caress, pummel) and taste (eating, kissing) are of immense relevance. It becomes quite clear that smell, taste and touch are, or at least should be, important not only to understanding the paternalist thrust of antebellum slavery but to the evolution of segregation after the Civil War."
Tom Palaima: Why Do Wars Begin? (posted 12-22-03)
Tom Palaima, professor of classics at the University of Texas, Austin, writing in the Times Higher Education Supplement (Dec. 12, 2003):
Why do wars begin? The simple answer is they never end. Peace is an illusion conjured up by a version of the old Roman magic trick: "Where they make a desolation, they call it peace." The full implications of Tacitus' oft-quoted observation can be translated like this: "Use your advanced military technology and overwhelming superiority in human and natural resources to create a wasteland. Call it peace. The people back home will believe you. They want to believe in their own benignity."
Do you doubt this? Then notice that peace always comes with qualifiers. Take A. J. P. Taylor's explanation of the widespread romantic innocence that the "war to end all wars" shattered: "(T)here had been no war between the Great Powers since 1871. No man in the prime of life knew what war was like."
In August 1914, the nearly 22,000 British soldiers who died in South Africa between 1899 and 1902 were not around to tell stories. Those among the 425,000 Boer-war veterans who were still alive were past their prime. And South Africa was not a great power - nor were the Zulus, Ashanti, Afghanis or other peoples butchered in colonial wars throughout this period of European peace.
War is endless. As Paul Fussell remarks in The Great War and Modern Memory: "The idea of endless war as an inevitable condition of modern life would seem to have become seriously available to the imagination around 1916."
Fussell catalogues the wars that have made the imagined real: the Spanish civil war, the second world war, the Greek civil war, the Korean war, the Arab-Israeli war and the Vietnam war. Orwell published the canonical modern myth of eternal war in 1948. Events have proved him prescient and timeless.
Ancient Greek history had already proved him right.
Among recent students of war, Philip Bobbitt, in The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, comes closest to seeing war for what it is. He thinks and writes from the perspective of modern nation-states and international diplomacy, but his title alludes to Homer's Iliad, and he begins by considering Thucydides' reassessment of the stops and starts in what the Athenian general-in-exile eventually identified as a continuous war that ravaged the entire known world. We now call it the Peloponnesian war and place it at 431-404BC, thereby creating the comforting illusion that the founders of our western cultural tradition unwisely let war out of its cage for a nearly disastrously long time, but eventually forced it back inside. However, endless war was an inevitable condition of ancient Greek life.
Thucydides, like other Greeks, distinguished between periods of formally declared war and periods of official peace. But he also knew the primary enculturating texts of Hesiod and Homer and enough about contemporary diplomatic and strategic affairs, and human nature, to grasp that eris, "strife, contention, political discord", was a constant force within and among the ancient Greek poleis, or city-states, and that competing elements within most poleis or the controlling powers within individual poleis would find, with terrible regularity, true causes (aitiai) or pretexts (prophaseis) for open civil or inter-state warfare. Thucydides took for granted that they would do so single-mindedly in their own interests....
If war is a stern teacher, the Greeks were very sternly taught. Lincoln MacVeagh, US ambassador to Greece, observed in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt on Christmas day 1940 that "the history of Greece is at least 50 per cent discord". A. G. Woodhead, author of the standard guide to Greek historical inscriptions, quotes MacVeagh to correct him: "Ninety-five percent, on the record as we have it, would be nearer the mark." War was reality in ancient Greece. I doubt whether many families during any of the four generations of 5th-century Athens were without the experience of a father, husband, brother, son or close male relative risking or losing his life in battle. The city itself was under virtual siege conditions for the much of the final three decades of its one truly great century. In a single six-year operation in Egypt mid-century, the Athenians lost an estimated 8,000 men, roughly 18 to 25 per cent of their adult male population. And, according to conservative estimates, the Athenians would have had their own "lost generation" during the Peloponnesian war, in which at least 30,000 adult male citizens died.
The Greeks would have had no illusions about war and peace of the sort that prompted Freud at the outset of the first world war to write his essay Thoughts for the Times on War and Death: I. The Disillusionment of the War.
Freud attributes the trauma caused by the great war to the enormous chasm between the artificial morality of modern civilised society and human behaviour in times of war. No such chasm existed in the 5th century BC.
Young men learnt about war from the Iliad. Homer's epic showed them the true costs of war and it portrayed the many contradictions in human behaviour within an army on active campaign and within a city-state under siege.
No Greek would ever have forgotten that his community was constantly under threat from rival communities. The plays of Aristophanes convey an appreciation of the benefits for common citizens of a cessation of armed conflict. But an Athenian farmer would never have mistaken the absence of active campaigning for what we call peace, and he would be perplexed that we have to ask why wars begin.
When Books Are Destroyed (posted 12-21-03)
André Bernard, writing in the NY Observer (Dec. 21, 2003):
In 1562, a Franciscan friar who had accompanied Spanish troops to Mexico ordered the burning of thousands of Mayan hieroglyphic books, in an attempt to eradicate the repository of local spiritual beliefs and to pave the way for Christianity. In one afternoon, practically the entire record of a civilization had been turned to ashes; only four codices are known to have survived. In 1914, the German Army invaded the Belgian city of Louvain, a treasure house of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. In an act of no military significance whatsoever, Louvain's magnificent library of 300,000 volumes, which included nearly a thousand irreplaceable illuminated manuscripts, was burned to the ground. ("At Louvain," said a man who watched it happen,"Germany disqualified itself as a nation of thinkers.") More recently, during its psychopathic reign in Cambodia in the mid-1970's, Pol Pot's regime destroyed nearly all of ancient Cambodia's manuscripts and monuments. In its rage against modernity and civilization, the Khmer Rouge went so far as to examine ordinary citizens for marks on the bridge of the nose, the telltale sign of reading glasses—which was enough to bring down a death sentence.
In two earlier books, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (1995), and Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture (2001), journalist and book addict Nicholas Basbanes explored the curious universe of book collectors, an oddly riveting place full of passion, skullduggery and misadventure—like a good mystery novel. In his new book, Mr. Basbanes leaves behind the fragrance of fine leather bindings and the Oxbridge atmosphere of finely arched library rooms; he fixes his eye instead on the killing fields of cultural elimination. From the razing of Carthage to the Serbian leveling of Bosnian repositories, he examines the bonfires that have consumed entire centuries of man's musings on matters great and small.
If books are not the most perishable products of human civilization, they have, throughout recorded history, attracted the homicidal attentions of every conquering army. In large-scale versions of the penalty the Romans called damnatio memoriae, a punishment for individuals found guilty of committing crimes against the state which involved erasing every reference—whether on stone, in a monument or on parchment— to the person in question, invaders have settled not just for mass murder of the local citizenry, but have indulged in the wholesale disappearance of every written trace of a culture (as the Taliban did to non-fundamentalist Afghans), a language (as the Normans did to the Saxons), a people (as the Romans did to the Etruscans). Early Christian and medieval monks attacked the memory of non-Christian culture with zealous efficiency.
McNamara's Deceptions in The Fog of War (posted 12-21-03)
Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate about the new documentary by Errol Morris, The Fog of War (Dec. 19, 2003):
[M]any viewers are going to come away from this film with a distorted picture of two key chapters of history in particular—the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. Here is a corrective.
McNamara's recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a self-serving travesty."Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war," he tells Morris."I was trying to help him keep us out of war." Well, the first part of that statement is true. The second part is also true, at least for the first two of the crisis's 13 days. But after the second day, McNamara became an increasingly firm advocate of bombing the Soviet missile sites, which were surreptitiously being installed in Cuba, and of then invading the island of Cuba itself—even if doing so risked sparking a larger war with the USSR. (For details, click here .)
The crisis was resolved through a combination of overt pressure and covert diplomacy. On Friday, Oct. 26, 1962, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev sent Kennedy a telegram offering to remove his missiles if the United States promised never to invade Cuba. Kennedy was set to agree. But then on Saturday, Oct. 27, Khrushchev sent another telegram upping the stakes, saying he'd remove his missiles from Cuba if the United States took its own nuclear missiles out of Turkey (which bordered the USSR in much the same way that Cuba borders the United States).
For two decades, Kennedy's aides and palace historians propagated the myth that the president accepted the first telegram and simply ignored the second. However, in 1982, on the 20 th anniversary of the crisis, a group of these aides—including McNamara—revealed that, in fact, Kennedy acceded to the missile trade; that he told only a handful of advisers about the deal; and that he even told the Soviets that the deal would be off if they publicized it. (During the Cold War, presidents could not politically afford to be seen as trading away military assets for the sake of peace; that would be condemned as"appeasement." Soviet threats were to be met strictly with American might.) In 1987, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston started to release tape recordings of the ExComm sessions, the meetings that Kennedy held with his advisers during the missile crisis. (JFK, like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon after him, secretly taped many White House conversations.) The tapes not only confirmed the revelation about the missile trade but also revealed that nearly all of Kennedy's aides—again, including McNamara—had vociferously opposed the deal at the time.
So it's bizarre to see, in this film, McNamara parroting the myth that even he long ago punctured—that Kennedy accepted Khrushchev's first telegram and ignored the second. More than that, he invents two new falsehoods. First, he mischaracterizes the second telegram as a harsh message"dictated by a bunch of hard-liners." (He says nothing about the Turkey trade.) Second, he claims that Llewellyn"Tommy" Thompson, a former U.S. ambassador to Soviet Union, persuaded Kennedy to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, not force.
This too is misleading. A full hearing of the tapes indicates that Kennedy didn't need anybody to steer him toward negotiation. From the third day of the crisis, Kennedy was looking for a peaceful solution, pondering a way to let Khrushchev save face—and was virtually alone in doing so. A week before Khrushchev brought it up, he mused about the possibility of trading away the Turkish missiles.
In short, McNamara tries to paint himself as no less dovish than Kennedy on dealing with the Russians. Yet, as he must know on some level, the opposite was true.
McNamara's recollections of the Vietnam War are still more deceptive. Congress gave President Johnson carte blanche to go to war in August 1964 after reports that a North Vietnamese patrol boat had attacked the Maddox , a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. McNamara concedes that it now appears this attack didn't happen, but claims that he and Johnson honestly believed that it did at the time.
Two things are wrong with his account. First, the officers on the Maddox did send cables reporting a torpedo attack. But they also sent cables a few hours later, taking it all back and attributing the confusion to a misreading of sonar signals. (Daniel Ellsberg, who later leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers, spent his first day as a Pentagon aide watching this cable traffic and compellingly recounts the sequence of events in his recent memoir, Secrets .)
Second, McNamara fails to mention that the Maddox itself had engaged in covert attacks on the North Vietnamese coastline. The ship's sonar officers thought they saw a torpedo attack in part because they were expecting one. This covert operation, known as"Plan 34A," was designed to provoke a North Vietnamese response, which would then provide an excuse for U.S. escalation.
Even at the time, McNamara misled outsiders on this operation. When he was asked about rumors of provocation during hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he replied,"Our Navy played no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any." Notice the careful wording:"South Vietnamese actions." Technically, he was telling the truth. There were no South Vietnamese actions. The provocations were entirely American . (As McNamara says in the film, in a different context,"I learned early on … never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you. And quite frankly, I follow that rule. It's a very good rule.")
Morris plays a fragment of a secret tape-recording from February 1964—very early in the Johnson administration—in which McNamara advocates a gradual withdrawal from Vietnam, and Johnson strongly opposes it. (At the time, the U.S. presence amounted to a small number of military advisers.) This is a significant conversation and counters the widely held view that LBJ was McNamara's puppet on the war.
However, the film neglects other evidence that reveals McNamara donning combat fatigues with gusto. For instance, there is a document of May 24, 1964, signed by McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, urging Johnson to"use selected and carefully graduated military force against North Vietnam" for as long as the North's leaders refuse to back down. The words are haunting, in retrospect—"selected and carefully graduated," as if the United States could control the pace of escalation, as if war could be mathematically calibrated. It's McNamara, the hyper-rationalist, not yet disabused.
There is also the secretly taped conversation of June 16, 1964 (nearly two months before the Gulf of Tonkin), in which Johnson says some people want him to pull out of Vietnam and McNamara says,"I just don't believe we can be pushed out of there, Mr. President. We just can't allow it to be done. You wouldn't want to go down in history as having …" Johnson interrupts, in agreement:"Not at all." (Michael Beschloss, who transcribes this conversation in his book Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964 , footnotes McNamara's remarks with a description of his tone:"McNamara is pressing Johnson very hard.")
So, yes, Johnson was responsible for Vietnam. But, more than McNamara is willing to admit—and more than this film suggests—so was McNamara.