An e-bulletin (or whatever you call it) from Publisher’s Weekly regarding the shall-we-say-creative memoirist James Frey’s upcoming Oprah appearance declares: “Other guests will include publisher Nan Talese and "some of the country's leading journalists"--to address the headlines and controversy surrounding his memoir.” It’s instructive that amid this firestorm over “A Million Little Pieces” journalists are pleading the case pro and con, and the great Oprah herself is emerging as the ultimate arbiter (with a little assist from Larry King).
Yes, journalists do struggle with questions of fact and fiction – and have suffered from some infamous embarrassments (Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke), but THIS IS OUR TURF TOO. I haven’t heard or read one professional historian weighing in on the question – and standing for the importance of sticking to facts, truth in labeling, constructing compelling narratives while staying within the realm of nonfiction. Maybe, as Alonzo Hamby pointed out, we’re too busy waiting for Steven Spielberg to show up for his historical award or still talking about the convention appearance of Oliver Stone, who should be on the Historical Profession’s Ten Most Wanted List for making such a mess of fact and fiction in his JFK and Nixon movies.
But too many of us are too mired in our methodological skirmishes, too busy burrowing away into some arcane anthole, or, even worse, too enamored of the deconstructionist acrobatics to mobilize passion on this issue, let alone plunge into the question publicly with a thoughtful and thought-provoking defense of the search for truth and the integrity of non-fiction that would be fresh, authoritative, and accessible to the public. Instead, we leave it to the likes of Frank Rich who in his essay in the Sunday New York Times, somehow, predictably, put the question into presidential perspective with yet another predictable diatribe against the Bush administration, and not a word about the Clinton administration’s role in all this (remember what the definition of the word is, is; remember the distinction which most of the intellectual class accepted during the Lewinsky scandal between lying and justified lying). Perhaps, our profession has also been too harmed by the Ambrose, Ellis and Goodwin scandals, and we, too, like Catholic priests and journalists, stand defined in the public mind by the sinning minority rather than the virtuous and sincere majority.
During the winter of 1812-1813, for example, four hundred men died of pneumonia at Greenbush, New York, because of inadequate shelter, fuel, clothing, and medical care. In northwestern Ohio in November 1812, General William Henry Harrison postponed his anticipated advance upon Detroit until he could accumulate more rations and supplies. During the ensuing winter, however, his troops continued to be ill-housed, poorly clothed, inadequately fed, and generally short of all supplies—despite vast expenditures of money and laborious effort. Under the circumstances Secretary of War John Armstrong had little choice in the spring but to order Harrison to halt his attempts to retake Detroit by land and to wait for Commander Oliver Perry to gain control of Lake Erie. In November 1814 General Brown complained that “five men have perished by disease to one who has fallen by the sword,” mainly because of the “infamous” quality of clothing and shoes and because winter clothing always arrived on the frontier in the dead of winter rather than in the fall.
The logistics system often broke down because of incompetence, venality, poor planning, lack of coordination, shortage of specie, shortage of materials, theft, and so on. Political and military leaders shared much of the blame, but the military's reliance on private contractors for important tasks like delivering food, building materials, clothing, and ammunition lay at the core of the logistics problems of that historical period. It wasn't that every private contractor was venal or incompetent, but in general the system encouraged and rewarded incompetence and venality.
Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, the armed forces of Europe professionalized the logistics arms of their armies and navies, reducing as much as possible reliance on private contractors (except, for the most part, at the production end). Great Britain and the United States eventually followed suit.
History does not, of course, repeat itself exactly. Yet, we can learn lessons and make analogies. I am not an expert on the system of private contracting in Iraq, but I think it safe to say that it marks a historic departure from the military professionalization of logistics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The military professionals and bureaucrats of the last one-hundred years or so produced their own SNAFU's, of course, but the recent reversion to private contracting in Iraq and elsewhere seems to have also brought the return of breakdowns and cost-overruns analogous to the old, pre-professional system.
Recently, for example, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) said: "Big bucks [are] being wasted and lining the pockets of many well-connected American corporations. Waste, fraud, stupidity, and no-bid contracts characterize the process. And it's all done in the name of patriotism and national security."
On January 22, the Associated Press reported that "troops and civilians at a U.S. military base in Iraq were exposed to contaminated water last year and employees for the responsible contractor, Halliburton, couldn't get their company to inform camp residents, according to interviews and internal company documents."
Today, January 25, the New York Times reported that "a new [DOD] audit of American financial practices in Iraq has uncovered irregularities including millions of reconstruction dollars stuffed casually into footlockers and filing cabinets, an American soldier in the Philippines who gambled away cash belonging to Iraq, and three Iraqis who plunged to their deaths in a rebuilt hospital elevator that had been improperly certified as safe."
In the end, these breakdowns, failures, and wrongdoings will probably not be the main cause of American failure in Iraq, but they are troublesome and worrisome. They should inspire closer scrutiny of the wisdom and cost-effectiveness of excessive reliance on private contracting.
Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the epistemic status of historical facts can be funny!
My personal favorite bit of highbrow wit about the uncertain status of facts comes from John Coatsworth:
I take it as a duty, therefore, to issue a clear warning: all of the numbers in this article are, without exception, inaccurate; however, that is not a valid argument against their use. Literary estimates typically contain fewer errors (we all know that Mexico was 'poorer' than its northern neighbor), but only because they specify a ridiculously wide range of values. Numerical estimates have the virtue of inspiring controversy and thus may lead to the compilation of more accurate statistics.... even failures can prove fruitful for the advancement of historical knowledge.*But there's also this, attributed to Lord Stamp, on official statistics of India:
The Government are very keen on amassing statistics -- they collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But what you must never forget is that every one of those figures comes in the first instance from the chowty dar (village watchman), who just puts down what he damn well pleases.**
*John H. Coatsworth,"Obstacles to Economic Growth in Nineteenth-Century Mexico," The American Historical Review 83, no. 1 (February 1978): 80-100; 80-81.
**Cited in Charles H. Feinstein and Mark Thomas, Making History Count: A Primer in Quantitative Methods for Historians, (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 319.The homepage for"Non Sequitur" is http://www.ucomics.com/nonsequitur/.
President Bush thinks it's because they're undemocratic. The cure ... elections, Millenium grants from the US taxpayer (for states that are worthy of our lucre), and unfettered corporate capitalism.
These after all are the ingredients we have stirred into the Iraqi stew. Surely, success will crown our efforts.
I have one word of advice for Mr. Bush. Look at Louisiana.
Louisiana has had elections for 200 years. It has strong corporations. And it even receives plenty of subsidies from the US government.
And yet, and yet ... its people are impoverished, levels of education are low, and it is known far and wide for a corrupt and brutal police force.
I don't want to belabor the obvious. But shouldn't figure out how to lift up Louisiana before we try exporting American democracy around the world at the point of a gun?
And Louisianas don't have to fight terrorists. And they aren't beset by civil war.
Maybe the president missed his Yale class on Edmund Burke. Here's a crash course. Burke believed that you can't mechanistically reshape a society by manipulating the machinery of government or altering the formal rules by which people govern themselves. Society is fundamentally organic.
I learned about Burke in high school (Ridgewood High, Ridgewood, NJ) thanks to teacher Milo Okkema, a conservative. I wish the president had taken his class. It might have saved him from the crusade he took us on.
First off, we can all be proud that the AHA is against torture. This clearly was an urgent professional issue that had to be resolved decisively. Or was it conceivably a political talking point that simplified murky and complex issues about just what the t-word means, especially in wartime situations? Oh well, no matter. The wider world will pay it no mind. Doctoral students at some institutions might try to claim exemption from oral exams, but they are unlikely to prevail. (From my own memories, I could not blame them for making the effort.)
Second, the AHA has placed itself on record as against Horowitzism, clearly a species of McCarthyism. Granted that the Academic Bill of Rights is a blunderbuss proposal that might well do more harm than good, is it just possible that David Horowitz is on to something when he claims that ideological diversity is an uncommon feature of humanities and social science departments across the country—and that diversity of ideas might just be a good thing? Naah! Not a chance.
Third, the AHA has also managed to dodge an opinion on speech codes, an increasingly common feature in American higher education. Luker, Beito, K.C. Johnson—get with the program! We need the proliferation of ayatollahs in universities across the country (my own included) telling students—and faculty—just what words are being added to the verboten list month by month and which are acceptable. Control over language facilitates control over thought, and we all know it is a social good to require the right thoughts.
And, oh yes, there was the award to Steven Spielberg, who was unfortunately too busy to accept it in person. Fascinatingly, it comes just as critics and scholars are talking about his latest film’s blatant disregard for facts. (Oops, we don’t use that word any more, do we? Remember the AHR cover a decade or so back featuring Oliver Stone, who considers himself a historian of Shakespearean dimensions? (Or maybe it is the other way around.)
Of course, there are a few truths (another dangerous word) that transcend all these resolutions and non-resolutions. The first is that no one inside or outside the profession really cares what a 70-person AHA business meeting resolves or fails to resolve while the other 5,500 or so attendees are off attending to business. The second is that as usual the AHA business meeting had nothing to resolve about real professional issues faced by practicing historians in and out of higher education.
The AHA convention serves important purposes. Most attendees will actually find some panels that are worth attending. The book exhibits provide a wonderful opportunity for catching up on new literature. The event is wonderful for meeting with old friends and exchanging ideas. It is a critical venue for preliminary job interviews. If we didn’t have it and the OAH meeting (and the regional and state functions) we would have to invent them.
But isn’t there some way we can keep the business meetings from looking like sessions of a splinter faction of a European Green party?
One suggestion, Rick: Cover more of the real news. You do it well.
Where are the historians? Where is the historical analysis of one of the gravest constitutional and political crises of this nation's history? Where is the active, loud, and intelligent discussion of historical comparisons and issues? The touchstone of the crisis is the claim made and repeated by a president elected under questionable circumstances and by narrow margins that he possesses whatever powers he deems necessary to wage an executive war, funnel money to private military contractors, spy on citizens without warrant, torture prisoners, leak classified information for political purposes, appoint cronies to high position without congressional approval, foster the installation of tamper-prone electronic voting machines, invent "signing statements," and carry out innumerable other acts that conform to the archaic constitutional phrase, "high crimes and misdemeanors"—while he effectively allows a great American city to die and lacks wise policies to deal with issues ranging from the China challenge to global warming and nuclear proliferation.
The majority party in both houses of Congress, flush from ten years of the material fruits of power but now mired in its own scandals, is too sycophantic, complicit, or apathetic—and perhaps too ignorant of history—to care about its own constitutional powers vis-à-vis the president. It limps toward phony investigations of selected crimes and misdemeanors, uninterested in carrying them out in a serious, meaningful way. Meanwhile, Bush's "political base" in the hustings is reported to care more about fluctuating gasoline prices, abortion, income taxes, "intelligent design," and Old Testament "values" than to worry about corruption, nuclear proliferation, poverty, capital punishment, infrastructure disintegration, and constitutional issues. Occasionally this base worries about the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues, but only briefly, perhaps because their "news" comes from such stellar "newsmen" as foxy Bill O'Reilly, Right-wing radio talk shows, or religion-based radio and TV networks.
Many in the press are doing excellent work in reporting the facts or analyzing the crisis, yet while they and we are still relatively free to do this, it seems not to matter to the "base"—and certainly not to the administration or the majority party. A report in the Associated Press on a recent research study concludes that even college students "lack the skills to perform complex literacy tasks," suggesting that the general public also lacks these skills.
Still, where are the historians? Hobbled by their own ideological divisions or by postmodern epistemological relativism? Apathetic? Feeling powerless and useless? Weary? Confused about the difference between analysis and political opinion, between the past and the present?
Last night I attended a bipartisan meeting in Cincinnati of a newly formed group—the first in the state—worried about the crisis in foreign policy (in addition to the crisis in domestic affairs). In political terms, there were Democrats, Independents, and Republicans in attendance. In occupational terms, there were lawyers, doctors, consultants, business-persons, bankers, academics, and others. All agreed with the Republican who said that this administration has wasted American military power and squandered America's moral stature (the greatest victory of Osama Bin Laden), and who also agreed with others who said that this administration has failed in almost every category or endeavor, except holding and expanding its own political power. They, we, are concerned, but we want to analyze, write, speak, network, use what expertise we have, and offer solutions.
But we Americans need historians of the United States and the world to speak, too—to speak on this blog site, POTUS (Presidents [or Politics] of the United States). Or will we go silently into the dark night?
Fears rise for stranded whale.
Was this a reference to the presidency?
No, it was a reference to a real whale somewhere.
We are living in this kind of world. No wonder people are confused. War threatens in Korea and Iran. The stock market has tanked because of exploding oil prices. The president has assumed the power to spy on anyone he pleases without a court order. And the media are sending out News Alerts about the fate of a single whale.
This is democracy in the 21st century.
Which brings me to Richard Reeves's new book on Ronald Reagan. The reviews have been mostly critical because Reeves doesn't offer much analysis. How Reagan the B movie star became president and changed the politics of the country isn't explained. But I have found the book to be useful. On almost every page there are obvious and alarming parallels to the current administration.
To address just one. It seems that at a meeting held in September of 1981 to deal with new estimates showing the deficit was exploding Reagan turned to an aide and admitted that Tip O'Neill had been right: the tax cuts would result in large and ever rising deficits.
Reagan's response was not to call for the suspension of tax cuts. Instead, he decided to plow on. In a major speech to the country he explained that we must remain on course and be strong and force Congress to cut spending to get the budget back in balance. He took no responsibility for the prospect that the deficit would rise to over $100 billion and then increase after that. In conjunction with the speech the White House put out a fact sheet that underestimated the looming budget deficits by half, says Reeves. That is, the administration deliberately lied. Officials knew the real numbers. They concealed them and gave the press phony numbers.
Reagan is now regarded in many circles as a successful president. In many ways he was. But surely one of his legacies was that presidents now feel they can get away with the blatant misrepresentation of hard economic numbers.
I do not need to rehearse the sorry record the current administration has compiled in this regard.
So the question is: Why don't historians make the case in public repeatedly and loudly that presidents lie about statistics?
We are living in this kind of world. No wonder people are confused. War threatens in Korea and Iran. The stock market has tanked because of exploding oil prices. The president has assumed the power to spy on anyone he pleases without a court order. And the media are sending out News Alerts about the fate of a single whale.
I have been inspired to frame the issue in this manner by my POTUS colleague Jeff Kimball's latest post.
Maybe the conventional wisdom is true, maybe it isn't, but I suggested to my friend that cynical voters may be part of the reason we have crooked politics and politicians, inasmuch as their cynicism leads them to be apathetic about elections, pessimistic about the possibility of reform, or, if they are politically active, to vote their biases and self-interests (in other words, to corrupt themselves by supporting corrupt politicians). I said that as long as there's politics – and there always will be – there will be politicians, so our only choice is to support the best ones we can find, or to become one ourselves. I said that while all politicians may have to compromise ethical standards, it's a matter of degree, and there are extremes of good and bad. Some politicians, I said, are better and more honest than others, and I named some examples of the good and bad politicians in history.
Yeah, you guessed it, I mentioned Tom DeLay as an example of a very corrupt contemporary politician – a living, breathing, smiling example. I could have mentioned some others, too, but I thought that DeLay was an obvious, incontrovertible, and, therefore, safe example. If my friend bought my argument, he didn't admit it. I think he's a conservative and didn't want to get into a heated debate. Neither did I.
But here's the point I want to make: According to all accounts, the Republican Party is defending itself regarding the DeLay-Abramoff scandal by appealing to voters' cynicism, arguing that both parties are equally corrupt, that there's nothing new in what has happened. I don't think the evidence about the current scandal or historical record of the past couple of decades bears this out ( see, e.g. LA Times ). Nor do I believe that all Republican politicians are as corrupt as DeLay. But even if one believes the Republican Party line, do two wrongs make a right? Isn't the Republican Party the party in power? Where's the accountability? Where's the outrage among Republicans and conservatives? Or is cynicism about politics just an excuse for voting one's biases and selfish interests?
I still believe that military attacks on Iran would be disastrous for the Middle East and the United States. I still believe that I was correct in arguing that the Bush administration has pursued and does pursue a madman strategy of ambiguously threatening the use of excessive force. Policymakers do not really have to be mad or crazy to use the madman theory of coercion, but I now believe that Bush and his advisors are indeed really madmen, because reports indicate that they may now be contemplating military attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities or cooperating with the Israelis in planning such attacks.
Their doctrinal rigidity in favor of military force and against diplomacy during the past year or more has put them and us in a situation in which the"game" may have taken control; that is, their course of eschewing diplomacy and of talking directly with Iranian leaders has banished the alternatives that existed through diplomacy. They have, in other words, painted themselves and us into a corner. And knowing what vaulting hubris the Bush war party possesses, it would take more wisdom, honesty, and humility than they have to change course. This is how World War I came about and how the October 1962 Missile Crisis almost led to an invasion of Cuba and a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. An additional danger is that leaders in Tehran are playing the same game and are as mad as those in the White House.
Even though you've been raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They can be a great people... they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all -- their capacity for good -- I have sent them you, my only son.
Thus speaks a heavenly father to his only begotten son. Superman's getting really messianic on its long-awaited return, isn't it?
(You can hear Jor-El's Y-hw-h -like speech if you watch the trailer.)
What could producers do to retool this aging franchise and draw back viewer support?
Kreistof in the NYT today suggests that W begin waging an all-out war on world poverty. Nice idea. But even if W agreed to do so that wouldn't help him much.
He has two problems. 1. Iraq. 2. Democrats don't hear him hitting the notes that might draw their support.
There's not much he can do about Iraq at this late date. It's a mess. As I suggested in an article last month on HNN Bush might be able to attract public support were he to turn from war president to peace president. But it's now obvious that he has decided to stick with his war president strategy.
How about the second problem?
Bush has governed from the right for 5 years. It got him re-elected. But it also kept his numbers in the cellar except in the post-9-11 period, which we have finally emerged from.
James Pfiffner has suggested that Bush had three opportunities to govern from the middle and strike a pose as president of all the people and not just president of the Republican Party. Each time--after his disputed election, after 9-11 and after his re-election--he took the partisan course. (I would add a fourth. After Katrina he had yet another chance to strke a bipartisan note.) This was smart politics in the short-run, but he is paying the price now.
He has no reservoir of good will to help him ride out the rough times. He has only his base. And his base isn't enough.
But what if he started acting and sounding like president of all the people now? It might smack many as an act of desperation. And so many people are so angry with him that they might never give him a chance to demonstrate his good will. But by what alternative path can he possibly win back the public? Unless peace breaks out in Iraq he is unlikely to win popular acclaim for his Iraq policy. That gives him precious few choices.
Were I invited to give him some straight advice I'd tell him, Mr. President, the time is right to begin speaking like a president of all the people. No more ideological appeals. No more partisan attacks on Democrats. Just honest talk about your own failings and the country's big problems.
If, Mr. President, you are doubtful about the success of this stragey, think back to your big speech on Katrina. Remember the way Democrats responded? They were eager to hear more when it looked briefly that you might actually make a major commitment to New Orleans. Then you stepped back and left NO to twist slowly in the wind.
You have 3 years left to your presidency. Howe about making a fresh start?
No, we're not talking about President Bush. This is the story of Benjamin Harrison and the infamous Billion Dollar Congress of the 1880s.
This is one of those striking historical analogies that makes you think history really is cyclical. Of course the story is more complicated the more facts you include. But the simple narrative is compelling.
The story begins with Grover Cleveland, a conservative Democrat much in the middle-of-the road mold of Bill Clinton. Cleveland even had his own sex scandal ("Where's my Pa? Gone to the White House ha ha ha").
The story continues with the election of Harrison, the descendant of a president, in an election notable mainly for the way it turned out. Cleveland won a majority of the popular votes but Harrison won a majority in the electoral college.
The loser was the Democrat, the winner the Republican.
The following four years the Republican congress, eager to use the projected surplus (from high tariff revenues) to curry favor with voters, spent like crazy, doling out millions on pork and new programs (like pensions for veterans).
The public finally became disenchanted with Harrison and in the next election brought Cleveland back.
This is obviously where even our simple narrative diverges with the present. In the 19th century the profligate spenders get rebuked at the very next election and the incumbent is defeated. In the 21st century the incumbent is reelected.
A year ago after the election of 2004 the analogy seemed to have lost its force. But here a year later it seems to have become attractive once again. Though Bush was reelected and Harrison wasn't, the public's tolerance for the bloated spending of the Republican congress seems finally to have reached its limits.
The differences between the two era are obvious. Cleveland was known as Honest Grover. Bill Clinton, whatever his virtues, was never in any danger of winning a similar moniker. And after 9-11 the current administration faced a far different set of challenges than its 19th century antecedent.
What is to be learned from this brief history lesson? Cleveland on his second round in office had to face the mess created by the Republicans, which included most spectacularly the near depletion of the country's gold reserves, which in turn led to a devastating panic. Bush is having to face the mess he himself created. But the outcome may be similar. Both administrations, identified with bad times, were turned out by the public in the next election.
If the Democrats have great hopes for 2006 and 2008 it will not be because they have elected a better party chairman or retooled their message. It will be because the party in power during bad times usually is forced out by voters hopeful for better times.
In our little analogy it was economic bad times that forced a change in government in the 19th century. Today the picture is more complicated. The grievances include a war gone bad, profligate spending and insane tax cuts.
But I predict the outcome will be the same. A change in the people who run the country. First congress will see a shift in power or at the very least a serious diminution in the strength of the Republicans. Second the presidency will shift hands.
Note: These reflections were inspired by my reading of H.Paul Jeffers's An Honest President, a quite interesting biography of Grover Cleveland.
As was the case with Forrest McDonald, I first encountered John Blum as a graduate student. Blum’s first book, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era, was of significant help in my long-ago and best-forgotten endeavor of writing an M.A. thesis on the issue of hyphenated Americanism in the 1916 presidential election. I was smart enough to recognize a superior monograph (his lightly revised dissertation) when I saw it, but in those days it was not yet clear that Blum would become one of the most distinguished of historians of 20th-century American politics. His A Life with History (University Press of Kansas, 2004), published in his eighty-third year, is his thirteenth, and likely last, authored book. It is significant, not simply as a chronicle of an important career, but also as case study in the social history of the mid-20th century intelligentsia.
A glance at John Blum’s c.v. would seem to reveal another son of the Ivy League establishment—prep school at Phillips Andover; B.A., Harvard; naval officer in World War II; Ph.D., Harvard; a few years on the faculty at MIT, then a long and productive career at Yale. But of course Blum was not a scion of the establishment, as it existed when he grew up. Born to a family of lower-middle class, non-religious Jews who seem always to have been hard pressed to make ends meet, he was in every respect a marginal man. Much of his story amounts to his adoption by a WASP elite that held loose anti-Semitic prejudices, but practiced pluralism all the same.
Andover, he tells us, changed his life. Here and elsewhere as the work moves along, he always encounters some anti-Semitism, usually dismisses it as harmless, and is constantly advised and helped along by non-Jewish mentors who clearly see him as a highly intelligent and exemplary young man whom they want to succeed. And succeed he does, in all sorts of ways—as a student, as a naval officer, as a scholar and teacher. He profits from the assistance of men with names such as Wilbur Bender, Henry Chauncey, Frederick Merk, and Elting Morison. He marries an attractive and talented young Gentile woman, much to the chagrin of her father. She becomes a noted scholar of art. He becomes the first tenured Jewish member of the History Department at Yale, and a good friend and confidant of Yale’s WASP establishment leadership. He also becomes the first Jewish member of the Harvard Corporation—the seven-person board that governs Harvard university.
Blum tells little about his personal life; this is a memoir of a professional career. Nevertheless one is left with several personal impressions. The author is a gentleman, restrained in his criticism of others, frequently refusing to name the people he most dislikes. He is also the sort of person who yields to calls of duty, whether a department chairmanship, larger faculty leadership, or even a one-year appointment as Acting Librarian of Yale University. He is also a political activist, who campaigns for George McGovern in 1972, sympathetically edits the diary of Henry A. Wallace, and deals as best he can with the militant New Left radicalism that consumed so many campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In this last capacity, alas, he in the mode of much of the Ivy establishment inclines toward a form of “dialogue” that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to appeasement. (He recalls being present at a luncheon, given by the assistant to Yale’s president for a number of black militants who persisted in throwing the “m-f word” at their hosts for the entire occasion.) Dialogue, he still believes, was necessary. He is also convinced he is and always has been a “centrist,” to which one can only remark that in American politics the center is a constantly moving target.
A final merit of this book is Blum’s discussion of all his books. Most of us will agree that The Republican Roosevelt and V Was for Victory are the most important. But the Morgenthau Diaries and the Wallace Diary will be profitably used by scholars far into the future. And there is not a bad title in his long list, including this work, which reminds us of how pluralistic our society has become in so relatively short a time.
``Welcome to Injun Country'' was the refrain I heard from troops from Colombia to the Philippines, including Afghanistan and Iraq.... The War on Terrorism was really about taming the frontier.So Robert Kaplan says in his Imperial Grunts. But one whopping historical analogy is not enough: not only is the War on Terror like the Indian Wars, both of them, Kaplan has it, resemble the work of the British Raj in the nineteenth century.
In the current New York Review of Books, John Gray writes, with characteristic snappiness,
The suggestion that there is an analogy between the American Indian wars and the global role of the United States today is striking, and so is the comparison between those wars and the construction of the British Raj. In each case the resemblance is tenuous or nonexistent.Which is perfectly fair. The Raj was, after all, a reasonably long-term colonial proposition with an extensive civil service and a supporting ideal of imperialism. The Indian Wars were, more or less, a military expression of ``get out of my way''. The War on Terror is neither: despite Niall Ferguson's urgings, an intelligent, thought-out American imperialism has not emerged nor, I bet, will it. And, as Gray points out, we had better hope the War on Terror doesn't start to look like the Indian Wars; to hope so is, as he writes, ``repugnant and absurd''.
But right as Gray is about these points, there are certain discomfiting lessons of the Indian Wars that might well apply today.
First is the question of whether the army is big enough for the job. In 1865, the United States had an enormous, experienced army of which other major nations were rightly envious and fearful. Looking forward at the job ahead of them, you might have thought, it's a good thing, too. They've got to occupy the seceded states and restore civil authority. They've got to occupy the western territories and create civil authority. A million hardened soldiers in an established military hierarchy -- even half a million hardened soldiers -- might be a good thing to have for such projects.
Except, of course, Congress shrank the army to a tiny fraction of its wartime self. By the late 1860s, the U.S. Army in its entirety was maybe half the size of the raiding party Sherman had led through Georgia.
With a larger army, Reconstruction might have gone better: more troops might have kept the Klan and its ilk in check. Western settlement might have gone more smoothly too: along with a carefully planned and built set of railroad supply lines, a larger army might have made the West less wild.
But nobody much wanted the U.S. to have a big, European-style army. It was costly and frankly un-American. As it was, the soldiers and their gory chores were well away from most Americans' thoughts, and only the worst mishaps made the headlines.
Which leads to the second question, of whether the U.S. Army can do the job of a colonial force without a colonial policy, or a philosophy of colonialism, to back it. There was no imperial plan, really, for the West. American leadership tended to assume that once stifling tribal leadership and customs were got rid of, the Indians would happily begin living like other U.S. citizens. This sanguine expection turned out to correspond poorly with sanguinary reality.
Possibly the Indian Wars, which lasted a quarter-century after the Civil War, would have been shorter and less bloody had the territorial projects looked a bit more like the Raj, with a little more institutional and ideological support. If they succeeded well enough it was because, as Gray points out, the American settlers rolling across the plains were inexorably displacing the Indians and their ways.
When the U.S. tried to repeat the project of empire-without-imperialism in the Philippines, it had less luck. There were no Conestogas heading to settle the archipelago. The still-tiny, underfunded army ended fighting its savage war of peace without either a clear imperial mission or a plausible theory of territorial assimilation.
So possibly today we can, after all, draw lessons from the disjunctions between expectation and reality in these earlier American empires-without-imperialism. Just not, maybe, the lessons Kaplan wants to draw.
With the baby boomers starting to retire, we are clearly sleepwalking through a major fiscal challenge to our political system. The blame can be spread all around. Conservatives have used the Social Security and Medicare crisis to try to privatize programs and to avoid health care reform. Liberals refuse to acknowledge that substantives reforms are needed for programs ranging from pensions for government workers to Social Security. Instead, they demagogue on issues like Medicaid costs looking for a way to damage the GOP.
Either way, we have a massive generational imbalance taking shape within the federal government, one that will only get worse in the coming years. America has “elderly state” and a national security state, with little wiggle room left for anything else. The baby boom retirements are here. They are no longer stuff of the future.
It is startling that the issue is so marginal to mainstream political debate today. In most crises, we find that politicians ignored the issue until it was too great to downplay (the economic depression for example). The difference with today’s crisis is that it involves built-in, difficult-to-remove commitments that will severely constrain the ability of the federal government to act. This crisis will therefore not offer the same kind of opportunity for a “focusing event,” as political scientists call it, for politicians to mobilize and solve the problem.
Martin Gilbert,"Churchill and America"(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005) David Bercuson and Holger Herwig,"One Christmas in Washington" (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2005)
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting an eminent physician, who told me he owned every book on Winston Churchill ever written. I am certain he unintentionally exaggerated; the Library of Congress lists a thousand titles. The Churchill industry is huge, based on the academically unfashionable belief that individuals, functioning within the limits of their times, can profoundly affect the course of history.
Its dominant entrepreneur is Martin Gilbert, author or editor of eighteen previous books on the great Englishman. Gilbert’s latest, “Churchill and America,” primarily directed at an audience on this side of the Atlantic, will appeal to a large audience of educated readers with little interest in the fads that preoccupy the university intelligentsia. It begins with the marriage of the beautiful American socialite Jennie Jerome to Lord Randolph Churchill in 1874 and takes us through their son’s sixteenth and final stopover on American soil in 1961.
In December, 1900, just twenty-six, Churchill made his second visit and first lecture tour to the United States. World famous after his exploits in the Boer War, he was recognized as a military journalist of the first rank and had won election to the House of Commons. Courageous in battle, witty and eloquent in oral and written communication, he was a crowd-pleaser, above all adept at self-promotion. Very quickly, he had become a celebrity, a person of public interest not simply for what he had done but for who he was. Drawing large audiences, he was introduced on one occasion by Mark Twain. He stopped in Albany to visit with Governor and Vice-president elect Theodore Roosevelt. Over his lifetime, his appeal would be greater in a United States that viewed him from a distance than in a Britain that saw his foibles close-up. First Lord of the Admirality by World War I, he was cashiered after the disaster he had set in motion at Gallipoli, then brought back after a decent interval as Minister of Munitions. In the first post, he had done what he could to encourage, even provoke, American intervention on the side of the Allies; in the second, he worked effectively with leading American counterparts.
Maintaining a wide range of relationships with important public men in the United States during the 1920s, he consistently advocated friendship and cooperation between the two English-speaking nations. Out of the Cabinet after the Conservative defeat in the general election of 1929, he made two more US lecture tours, further developing his American profile. World War II made possible his enduring image as prime minister of a beleaguered but determined British nation. Yet his appointment had been a close call, mandated in part by his half-American ancestry and his high visibility in the United States. More than a third of Gilbert’s book focuses on his relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt. The story has been oft-told, most recently in Jon Mecham’s excellent “Franklin and Winston” (2003). The Churchill-Roosevelt comradeship lasted less than six years. In the difficult years 1940-42, Churchill’s skill as a supplicant and Roosevelt’s grasp of American interests quickly combined to establish a leadership that overrode the distrusting instincts and combative impulses of subordinates on both sides. Inevitably, Roosevelt was the dominant partner. Churchill often privately chafed at real and imagined American slights, but always knew when to stop and proclaim eternal Anglo-American friendship. The two men appear to have developed real affection for each other. Nonetheless, the prospect of victory created new tensions. Churchill was determined to maintain the British Empire, Roosevelt actively hostile to its continuance. Churchill saw the Soviet Union as an expansionist menace, Roosevelt envisioned it as an equal partner. Still they preserved their personal friendship–-and the US-British alliance–-to the end. Roosevelt’s death in April 1945 and Churchill’s political defeat a few months later allowed popular memory to remember their collaboration as more harmonious than it actually had been.
In “One Christmas in Washington,” David Bercuson and Helger Holweg, historians at the University of Calgary, concentrate on the formation of that collaboration. They focus on Churchill’s dramatic visit to the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, and the critical planning conference (ARCADIA) that accompanied it. Based on impressive scholarly research, their work possesses a multi-dimensional quality that Gilbert never quite achieves. Demonstrating just how wary American and British officials were of each other, the authors underscore the way in which Churchill’s willingness to cede leadership and Roosevelt’s will to grasp it led to a genuine alliance based on American geostrategic supremacy.
Seven of Churchill’s sixteen visits to the United States would come after 1945. He always preached the necessity of British-American friendship and always received great acclaim. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy formally ratified the aging statesman’s legendary status by proclaiming him an honorary US citizen.
In recounting an extraordinary story, Martin Gilbert tells Churchill devotees little they do not know or that he has not already written up. His book appears to be primarily an attempt to exploit the U.S. Christmas market. But he also conveys great authority and has the good sense to allow Churchill to speak as much as possible in his own words.
Bercuson and Holweg write in the same spirit, putting two outsized and engaging personalities at the forefront of what could have been a dry monograph. Scholars of the Grand Alliance will enjoy reading their work and quite likely learn from it. Both books will appeal to my physician friend.
Alonzo L. Hamby teaches American history at Ohio University. His most recent book is “For the Survival of Democracy: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s.”
Dallek is right.
What galls me is that Bush and his supporters complain that the Democats are full of hate for Bush without taking responsibility for the divisive practices and rhetoric of this adminstration which inspire hate.
Let Bush show that he is president of the US and not President of the Republican Party and he'd discover the wellspring of goodwill people would demonsrate.
But of course at this late date many may no longer wish to respond in a positve way.
Frank argues Bartels's definition of class at some length. He concludes by saying that if Bartels's paper is the whole story, then there is nothing to explain about what he calls, variously,"right-wing populism" or"working-class conservatism" and I am sympathetic to his suggestion that there most certainly is.
Frank doesn't explain why Kansas is a particularly good state to examine (it has not just gone Republican, and if it has just gone a particular shade of Republican it would be perhaps more telling to analyze states where there have been more obvious shifts), and maybe he should.
But I mention this not because of the substance of the argument -- though the substance interests me -- but because there is substance in the argument between the two.
It's true, the quarreling parties do not universally observe the Tawney principle. Frank indulges what he calls his"fondness for sarcasm", and he points out in a footnote that Bartels has not been 100 percent gracious in his criticism either. But mainly they're arguing the actual data and the actual issues. Neither argues that he wouldn't like the consequences of his critic's argument being true, or that he doesn't like his critic's friends. They argue the points at issue.
This is the kind of argument that leads to better understanding of substantial issues. It's the kind of argument after which, even if it turns out both parties have been wrong, and even if they've been more wrong than right, each can properly claim to have advanced our understanding of the subject for having pressed their claims. It's the kind of argument that is a credit to its participants, and to the audience they address.
Bush’s in-house lawyers further claim that the commander-in-chief clause gives him extraordinary powers in time of war. However, Congress did not constitutionally declare the war in Iraq; it “authorized” the use of “necessary force.” Does snooping equate with “force,” especially snooping on citizens?
The wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan long ago turned into “occupations” and “police actions.” This is a difficult legal and conceptual area, but it can be argued that we are no longer at war in these places. Let’s look at what history, anthropology, and sociology tell us about the meaning of “war” – the “thing” behind the “word.”
War is the most violent relationship that can exist between societies. It is best defined as armed and lethal conflict between organized human groups, which in the modern historical era have usually been nation-states – or organized factions within nation-states in the case of “civil war.” It is a resort to deadly physical force over other methods of achieving social ends. As collective violence, it is distinctly different from the individual acts of homicidal and suicidal killing, and, as the activity of organized groups, it is more structured, systematized, protracted, and purposeful than mob killing. Finally, war is characterized by reciprocal, organized violence that is limited in time and place.
Gray areas exist in the instances of guerrilla and counter-guerrilla war, even though war in these cases is still distinguished from other kinds of collective violence by its “organized” and “time/space-limited” qualities.
Moreover, you can’t fight a “war” on “terror” anymore than you can fight a war on drugs or poverty (see definition above). You fight real, blood and guts wars against identifiable groups, which are doing the same against you. These organized groups have usually been nation-states. But if Bush wants to claim that he is fighting a war against particular U.S.-threatening terrorist groups, then let him name them and go after them by legal national and international means.
“Terror” is a violent tactic of inspiring fear in an attempt to intimidate others; it is not a group to be warred upon. The United States sometimes practices terror itself or has and still does support terrorists. Moreover, contrary to what Bush says, terrorist acts against nation-states, including the United States, are not new.
“Patriotism” is another term that needs discussion. There’s the patriotism of loyalty to the principles of the Republic and its democracy; and there’s the patriotism of loyalty to a war leader. I choose the former, regardless of party. Related entry: "Is It a Struggle or a War? WARNING: Replies to this blog entry are subject to secret retrieval and review by Federal Law Enforcement Agents without a court-ordered warrant.
First, I want to second everything Jeff Kimball says in the previous post.
But my reason for blogging today is to give Dick Cheney a little free advice.
The NYT says in a front-page story, "Behind Power, One Principle as Bush Pushes Prerogatives," that the vice president and others inside the administration have "argued that previous presidents unjustifiably gave up some of the legitimate power of their office."
After 9-11 they were determined to take back the power.
Here's my free advice: If Cheney wants to preserve the powers of the presidency he should stop the president from overreaching. Almost always what weakened the presidency most is overreaching. It's almost a rule of US history that super strong presidents are followed by weak ones. In crises the American people have turned to the executive for action. Once the feeling of crisis has disappeared they have sought to rein in the executive. Clear abuses of power have led directly to curbs, as happened with Nixon.
As a first step in protecting the presidency Cheney should therefore recommend that his boss take congress into its confidence about the NSA spying operation. Only quick action now can stave off the inevitable reformation.
Of course, it is nonsense to think that the presidency is in danger--or has been from congressional limits in the post-Watergate era. The office has been as big or small as the men who have occupied it, as Woodrow Wilson said.
And there's been little sign that the institution has shrunk much. In the 9-11 crisis Bush seemed to have every power he needed to take aggressive action.
This is a small thing, but look at the entourage that follows presidents these days on foreign trips. I haven't seen any figures for Bush, but the NYT reported that Clinton took nearly a thousand people with him when he visited China as president. My guess is things haven't changed under Bush. If this be evidence of an office in need of robust puffing of the chest I'd hate to think what a robust presidency would look like.
Anyway, I'd bet my copy of the Constitution that the founding fathers taking in the current scene would think it is congress not the presidency which is in need of geritol. What has happened to congress over the last two generations is sad, sorry, and tragic.