Roundup: Historian's TakeFollow Roundup: Historian's Take on RSS and Twitter
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
Benny Morris, writing in the LAT (Jan. 26, 2004):
On July 12, 1948, Israeli soldiers battling the Arab Legion and local irregulars in the towns of Lydda and Ramle, just south of Tel Aviv, were ordered to empty the two towns of their Arab residents. Over two days, between 50,000 and 60,000 inhabitants were driven from their homes. Many were forced to walk eastward to the Arab Legion lines; others were carried in trucks or buses. Clogging the roads, tens of thousands of refugees marched, shedding their possessions along the way.
The expulsions, conducted under orders from then-Lt. Col. Yitzhak Rabin, were an element of the partial ethnic cleansing that rid Israel of the majority of its Arab inhabitants at the very moment of its birth. Earlier, in the 1930s and 1940s, a near consensus had emerged among Zionist leaders on the necessity of"transfer." They believed that it was critical to buy out or drive out the Arab inhabitants from the areas destined for Jewish statehood, both to make way for Jewish immigrants and to remove the Arabs who opposed, often violently, the establishment of such a state.
The idea of transfer never crystallized into a formal Zionist policy — there was no master plan and, of course, not all Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 were expelled like the Arabs of Lydda and Ramle. Indeed, most fled because they feared the ravages of war or because they were advised to do so by their leaders. But one way or another, transfer was accomplished; 700,000 Palestinians left the country, and the refugee problem that has haunted Israel ever since was born.
For unearthing that dark side of 1948 in my book"The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949," which appeared in 1988, I was vilified by the Zionist establishment as"anti-Zionist" and"pro-PLO" — which I never was. As one of the country's"new historians," I was accused of seeking to shatter the founding myths of the Israeli state and of going out of my way to lend moral weight to the Palestinian cause.
That, of course, is untrue. I was simply a historian seeking to describe what happened.
In fact, today — after looking afresh at the events of 1948 and at the context of the whole Arab-Zionist conflict from its inception in 1881 until the present day — I find myself as convinced as ever that the Israelis played a major role in ridding the country of tens of thousands of Arabs during the 1948 war, but I also believe their actions were inevitable and made sense. Had the belligerent Arab population inhabiting the areas destined for Jewish statehood not been uprooted, no Jewish state would have arisen, or it would have emerged so demographically and politically hobbled that it could not have survived. It was an ugly business. Such is history.
Francis Fukuyama, writing in the WSJ (Jan. 26, 2003):
We have seen demonstrations all over Europe and the Middle East to protest the French government's proposed prohibition of Muslim girls from wearing headscarves in public schools. This ban is part of a larger struggle taking place throughout Europe over the continent's cultural identity. France and other European countries are host to Muslim minorities that constitute upward of 10% of their populations, minorities that are becoming increasingly active politically. European Muslims are primarily responsible for the rise in anti-Semitic incidents over the past three years, and their perceptions heavily color European media reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This demographic shift has already affected foreign policy: the French government's stance against the Iraq war and U.S. foreign policy more generally seeks in part to appease Muslim opinion.
But while the French government is publicly supportive of Arab causes, it and other European governments are privately worried about future trends. Sept. 11 revealed that assimilation is working very poorly in much of Europe: terrorist ringleaders like Mohamed Atta were radicalized not in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, but in Western Europe. In a revealing incident that took place shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center, a crowd of mostly second- and third-generation French North Africans booed the Marseillaise during a soccer match between the French and Algerian national teams and chanted Osama bin Laden's name. Third-generation British Muslims have traveled to the West Bank to martyr themselves in suicide operations.
Americans, looking at Europe, should be glad that they have made their country an assimilation powerhouse. But as the authors of a new volume on assimilation edited by Tamar Jacoby indicate, this is not something that we can take for granted. During the big immigration wave of the late-19th/early-20th centuries, the largely Protestant native-born elites deliberately sought to use the public school system to assimilate the newcomers from southern and eastern Europe to their cultural values. The 1960s and '70s gave rise to multiculturalism, affirmative action, and bilingualism, which sought to reverse course on assimilation. The '90s saw a backlash against this kind of divisive identity politics with the passage of Proposition 227 in California that wiped out public school bilingual programs at a stroke. This was our version of the headscarf ban, one that worked well because it was supported by a great many Hispanic parents themselves who felt their children were being held back in a Spanish language ghetto.
It is in this context that we should evaluate President Bush's recent proposal to grant illegal aliens work permits. Many Americans dislike the policy because it rewards breaking the law. This is all true; we should indeed use our newly invigorated controls over foreign nationals to channel future immigrants into strictly legal channels. But since we are not about to expel the nearly seven million people potentially eligible for this program, we need to consider what policies would lead to their most rapid integration into mainstream American society. For the vast majority of illegal aliens, the law they broke on entering the country is likely to be the only important one they will ever violate, and the sooner they can normalize their status, the faster their children are likely to participate fully in American life.
Picking up the New York Times, my hometown newspaper, the morning after the President delivered his State of the Union address, I immediately noted the half-page headline: "Bush, Somber and Determined, Stresses War Against Terror." Somber and Determined? Okay, maybe it sounds like it came directly from the wordsmiths of the Republican National Committee, but we do have to give the headline writers of the paper of record a little slack. Who knows what pressures they were under as they prepared to label our imperial president at the podium for us? And I have to admit that I only heard him on the radio where -- but maybe I'm channeling the Democratic National Committee -- "somber" and "determined" weren't quite the first adjectives that leaped to mind.
The speech, meant to obliterate those sixteen difficult little words of the previous year's speech and sweep the tussling Democrats offstage all at once, was promptly subjected to a morning-after wave of interpretation on TV, in the press, and in blog- and Internet-land as well. And, of course, everyone, including the Times editors, brought their baggage with them. Still, that Times headline, incongruously placed above a photo of George Bush happy and beaming rather than somber and determined as he made his way to the podium, stayed in my mind all day and finally drove me back to the speech, printed up in the same paper of record (under a photo of the President at the podium visibly smirking). I wanted to see those "somber" and "determined" words on paper. Hearing a speech delivered and reading it are, of course, quite different experiences. I wondered what might happen if I turned to his words -- okay, not his exactly, but his speechwriters' words, his political handlers' words -- in the light of day and on the page.
On my first read-through, here's the sentence that jumped out at me. It ended a passage on the recent Libyan offer to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction: "And one reason [for the Libyan decision] is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible -- and no one can now doubt the word of America."
Words must be credible. Well, that seemed a sentence to live by, and given that the State of the Union is meant to be the President's version of "the word of America," I thought I might skip interpretation, even meaning, and simply turn to the words themselves, more or less stripped of context, to try to glimpse the skeletal structure that underlay the speech. I wondered what, if anything, they might add up to. What scale exactly they might tip and what might be learned from them.
On my second reading of the first half of the speech, which focused on America in the world, I automatically began to underline, circle and count -- and here's my little summary of the words of that part of the State of the Union, a quick, crude toting up whose cumulative weight does, I suspect, tell us something that bears strikingly little relationship to the words "somber" and "determined."
In the first half of the speech, the words "terror" or "terrorists" were used 14 times; some form of "kill" ("killers," "killed," "killing") 10 times; war 7 times; and that doesn't count the various stand-ins for war or warlike actions ("aggressive raids," "attack," "offensive," "patrols," "operations," "battle," "armored charges," "midnight raids," "on the offensive," and the slightly more opaque "pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Greater Middle East," a favorite phrase of our vice president as well);"weapons" was used 8 times (usually in the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" or "of mass murder," or in one case in the extraordinarily convoluted phrase, "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities"); "threat" appeared 4 times, "hunting" or "manhunt" 3 times; "capture" 3 times; ditto "tracking"; "plotting" four times; "danger" in some form four times including "ultimate danger"; some form of the word "violent" three times; "thugs" twice; some form of "enemy" 3 times.
Among other words occurring at least once were: patrolling, vigilance, assassins, disrupt, seize, tragedy, trial, catch, fear, chaos, carnage, torture, tyrant, tyranny, despair, anger, brutal, hateful propaganda, prison cell, shake the will.
And even some normally positive words fell into this category in a process akin to guilt-by-association as in the phrase, "enemies of reform and allies of terror."
In this swirl of verbal mayhem, some form of the words "secure" and "safe" appeared 9 times, but often as in "movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends" or as in the Homeland Security Department. "Security" also appeared in the classic line: "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people," which based on the image evoked probably should have been moved to the "education" section that followed in the second half of the speech.
"Peace" or "peaceful" appear three times in this avalanche of horror, once linked to "war" ("...and cast the difficult votes of war and peace"). And "strength" or "strong" appear numerous of times.
This list is by no means a full one. And note that this part of the speech -- about the first twenty minutes or so of what 60 millions Americans tuned into -- was a mere 2,254 words long. This then is the world, as painted in words, of our "somber" and "determined" president. Can anyone doubt that it's a vision meant to scare Americans to death? You simply can't write such words so many times over and in such variety without conscious intent. And this it seems to me is the bedrock version of the state of our planet, as the Bush administration is determined that we see without any countervailing vision whatsoever. It's a planet that makes Hobbesian look like a polite term. This is the world made "safer" by the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Copyright C2004 Tom Engelhardt
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Of necessity, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger must run a fusion government....
This will be an easier task if the new governor revives the bipartisan "Party of California" that animated four previous and great governors: Hiram Johnson, Earl Warren, Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan....
Serving from 1911 to 1917, [Hiram Johnson] is remembered today as the greatest governor in the history of the state. Why? He led the reform of California. Under his leadership, the Progressives, a Republican-dominated coalition with a strong Democratic wing, rescued and revitalized indeed, refounded California by redesigning its government. Conservative Republicans were always suspicious of Johnson, just as they are suspicious of Schwarzenegger. When Johnson went to the U.S. Senate, serving there from 1917 to 1945, he kept his Progressive designation on the ballot, along with his Republican one, just in case the GOP right wing turned against him.
Warren served from 1943 to 1953, when he was appointed chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Some historians contend that he turned from conservative Republican to liberal Republican while on the court. Not so. Warren was a hard-nosed crime buster as attorney general, but as governor he was a fusion politician. His inner circle included Democrat William Sweigert, an Irish-Catholic attorney from San Francisco. He successfully urged Warren to push for such liberal programs as workers' compensation and equal opportunity in employment. The two formed a kind of Masonic-Catholic odd couple, with Sweigert as the articulator of the liberal side of Warren's political imagination. The Republican governor was equally friendly with Atty. Gen. Robert Kenny, a Daniel Patrick Moynihan-like liberal intellectual who was strongly influenced by the social teachings of papal encyclicals. Once again, as in the case of Johnson, the Republican establishment, sensing the liberal in Warren, who would flower when he became chief justice, frowned on his fusionist tendencies.
Brown, governor from 1959 to 1967, began his political career as a Republican. He didn't, however, entirely leave his Republican self behind when he became a Democrat, because the GOP of his day had a highly respected moderate-to-liberal wing. When attorney general, Brown was so close to Warren that he should be considered a member of the governor's inner circle. The two frequently drove to Sacramento from the Bay Area together. As governor, Brown enlisted key Republicans to support such programs as the water plan, the master plan for higher education, development of state beaches and parks, welfare expansion and fair-employment practices.
Republican Reagan, governor from 1967 to 1975, never forgot that he owed his political success in part to Democrats. As president, Reagan's friendship with House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, a quintessential Irish-Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts, had its prototypes in Reagan's good-humored relations with key Democrats throughout his two terms as California's chief executive. Elected on an anti-tax platform, Reagan listened to Democrats once in office and, early in his first term, gave Californians the biggest tax hike in their history and got away with it.
Daniel Pipes, writing in the Jerusalem Post (Nov. 19, 2003):
Stay the course but change the course. That was the meaning of the sudden, sharp, and understated change in Washington's Iraq policy last week.
After the American civilian administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, made a hurried visit to the White House, President George W. Bush said he wants "the Iraqis to be more involved in the governance of their country" and offered some ideas toward that end. Two days later, the Iraqi Governing Council announced that the formal occupation of Iraq would end by June 2004, becoming at that time a mere "military presence."
Ambitious plans for an early constitution have now been shunted aside; instead, reports the Associated Press, Bremer will "name an interim Iraqi leader with authority to govern the country until a constitution can be written and elections held."
The military will be "Iraqified." The new emphasis is less on establishing a Jeffersonian democracy than on shifting power and responsibility to Iraqis, and doing so pronto.
This welcome shift marks a victory for the Defense Department's realism and a defeat for the State Department's dreamy hope (as the Wall Street Journal puts it) "to re-create the Philadelphia of 1787 in Baghdad." Sure, it would be wonderful if Americans and Britons could, in leisurely fashion, educate Iraqis in the fine arts of governance. But Iraqis are not children eager to learn from Western instructors. They are proud of their history, defiant toward the outside world, suspicious of Anglo-Americans, and determined to run their own country. Attempts to tutor them will surely fail.
Iraqi today is deeply dissimilar to Germany or Japan post-1945, primarily because a very different equation exists.
- Germans and Japanese were each defeated as a people, ground down by a multi-year
total war, and so they accepted the remake of their societies and cultures.
In contrast, Iraqis emerged almost unscathed from a three-week war designed
not to harm them. Feeling liberated more than defeated, Iraqis are in no mood
to be told what to do. They take what serves them from the occupation and
fend off, through violence and other forms of resistance, what does not.
- Conversely, not having gone through a long and brutal war with Iraqis, Americans
display limited concern about the future course of Iraq.
In brief, Iraqi determination is much greater than that of the occupiers, severely limiting what the latter can accomplish.
Washington's sensible new approach is in keeping with my call in April 2003
for a "politically moderate but operationally tough democratically-minded
Iraqi strongman," as well as my recommendation to let Iraqis run Iraq.
Paul Kennedy, writing in the Guardian (Nov. 26, 2003):
It is difficult for conservatives here in the US not to concede that things have failed to go according to plan in Iraq, but only a few admit that things are a mess. Meanwhile, among the critics of the Bush administration's "forward school" - ranging from retired army generals through Middle East experts to anti-war radicals - there seems little satisfaction at having been proved correct in their forecasts that it would be harder to get out of Iraq than to kick one's way in. The situation in Iraq and, perhaps increasingly in Afghanistan, is too serious for schadenfreude. So, as George Bush and Tony Blair conferred last week, it was hardly surprising that the planned ceremonies were overshadowed not just by the mobs of protesters but also by the urgency of the private discussions about what to do next.
The Bush-Blair confab about strategy brought to mind that old tale about the two English gentlemen who had set forth vigorously one morning across the Irish countryside. By mid-afternoon they realised that their maps were faulty and they were well and truly lost. Spotting a peasant at work in his field, they called out: "I say, old chap, how do we get back to Dublin?" The peasant scratched his head thoughtfully and then replied, "Well, if I were you, sirs, I wouldn't start from here." No doubt the man had good grounds for offering that opinion, but the problem for the two walkers was precisely that they had to start from where they were at the time. And so do the Bush and Blair governments with regard to Iraq.
As they consider the various options of getting from here to there, they are naturally bombarded with all sorts of ideas from the pundits, with calls from congressmen and MPs for solutions, with urgings from allies, and, above all, with reports from the field, usually conflicting in nature. Amid all the slogans and vogue-words tossed around in this cacophony, one is beginning to drown out the rest: the term is "exit strategy" (as in, how to find one).
The sudden return of Paul Bremer, the US-led coalition's chief administrator of Iraq, to Washington, and the announcement of some form of handover to some form of Iraqi authority by June, has intensified the impression that the Bush team, especially, are looking for a way out. It's going to be difficult, politically, to get through the Christmas season (yellow ribbons on trees, families encountering their first Christmas without their father or son, images of soldiers still on patrol in Baghdad on Christmas night); but it may be even more difficult if the US electoral campaign unfolds with the two governments still, metaphorically, a long way from Dublin.
One wishes that the term "exit strategy" was not bandied about at all. Although the conservatives deny the comparison, it has deep echoes of Vietnam. Exit strategies from a conflict, such as Napoleon's retreat from Moscow or the British army heading towards Dunkirk, are often desperate, hand-to-mouth affairs, and full of Clausewitzian frictions. They smell of defeat, and defeatism. Most importantly, the open discussion by one side of various ways of making an exit gives a tremendous morale and propaganda boost to the opposition - all they have to do now is to hang on until the terminus date itself, and sharpen their knives. This is particularly true in the present situation, because there is an image abroad, fuelled by memories of Vietnam, Mogadishu and the first Iraq war, that Americans can't stand long and costly wars overseas.
Tom Engelhardt, writing in www.tomdispatch.com (Nov. 27, 2003):
The ritualistic presidential trips abroad of this administration were all flipped on their head yesterday when the President visited"Iraq" (or at least the beleaguered American version of it at Baghdad International Airport). Previously on his imperial peregrinations, he had imposed his"bubble" world on whole cities -- from Manila to Sydney to London -- shutting them down and buttoning them up, emptying them of anything like normal life as he passed through their streets and institutions untouched. Yesterday, on his two-hour turn-about at Baghdad International, he shut himself down, slipping out of his house in an unmarked car, sending out such complex and heavily preplanned disinformation that he reputedly fooled his own parents, who arrived at the Crawford ranch for a Thanksgiving meal with their missing son. He then rode a blacked-out Air Force One into Baghdad International, shut down the airport till he left, and was gone in the twinkling of an eye.
Phil Reeves of the British Independent commented in an aptly titled piece, The turkey has landed:"The administration will be hoping that the video images will help erase memories of a not dissimilar staged event on 1 May in which the President landed on an American aircraft carrier to announce that the war in Iraq had been won. As the violence has worsened, that day has come to haunt the White House. This time, wearing a US army jacket, he told the troops that America 'stands solidly' behind them, and to whoops of approval that the US military was doing a 'fantastic job.'"
I have no doubt - based on watching TV last night - that this political coup de theater will briefly pump up support here for the President (or at least that ephemeral category of presidential existence, his"job approval rating"), but since the stealth visit was phantasmagoric and changed nothing in Iraq -- as opposed to"Iraq" -- I'm ready to make a small wager of my own. Some months down the line these triumphant propaganda photos, meant to replace"Mission Accomplished," will look no better than the strutting-the-flight-deck ones do now, and will be no less useful to the other side in the presidential race. (Keep these photos Democrats!) It was perhaps typical of the event that Bush strode out from behind some curtains on the introduction of L. Paul Bremer, saying,"I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere," but evidently never ate a bite.
His rallying speech to the troops was surprisingly retread-Vietnam in tone -- all that talk about them"testing our will," us not"retreating" ("we will prevail"), not"running" ("They hope we will run") and especially that classic Vietnam line,"You are defeating the terrorists [it would, of course, have been" communists" back then] here in Iraq, so that we don't have to face them in our own country."
It would be interesting to see what Lyndon Johnson said on his surprise visit to Cam Ranh Bay back in October 1966. I'll bet some of the lines and phrases would have been almost exact duplicates. (Johnson, after all, used to talk about fighting the communists in Vietnam rather than on the beaches of San Diego.) LBJ broke off an Asian tour to fly in and out of the giant base at Cam Ranh Bay which, like Baghdad International, was a little fortified version of America and he, too, spent just 2 ½ hours in country.
I don't know whether there were any of"our" Vietnamese present when Johnson arrived, but there were evidently members of our appointed Iraqi Governing Council locked in with the troops when Bush appeared because the President mentioned them and commented that he was"pleased you are joining us on our nation's great holiday. It's a chance to give thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings we receive." (I doubt he was referring to Allah.)
And then, he assured the troops, just before boarding his stealth jet back to Crawford,"We will stay until the job is done." They, of course, will have to stay. Need I say more, except that such words are soon likely to feel sour indeed. There are, after all, other realities creeping up on this administration. Just a few days ago, for instance, the widow of a soldier slain in Iraq refused to join other relatives of those who had died at a Fort Carson (Colorado) meeting with the President )."I have a lot of harsh feelings for the president right now," [Johnna] Loia told The Pueblo Chieftain."I contemplated going, but right now I think I'd find it hard to be respectful… I would want to know why he decided to go to Iraq and why he felt that the war was justified… In my eyes, I don't feel it was justified at all."
Actually, this"unmarked,""blacked out" visit to Baghdad tells us a great deal -- none of it particularly good news for them -- about where the Bush administration is today as well as about where the arrogance of power can lead mighty nations. After all, this administration is filled with men who imagined the President's first entry into Baghdad as a truly triumphal event. (Remember those flowers that were to be strewn in the victor's path?). If you want to check out the fullness of their fantasy, don't miss Juan Cole's"Informed Consent" website.
Another problem for the administration: In our world, propaganda can't just be confined to your own side. The President may get a bump in the polls here, but the very nature of his trip, his inability to visit Iraq rather than"Iraq," his stealth journey, and so on can only be a form of aid and comfort to the enemy. His trip can't but be a sign to them of their own success to date. The problem for George Bush is that it's not as easy to black out the parts of the world you don't want to know about as it is to black out an airplane. As the Independent pointed out in the piece quoted above:"News of the visit only broke in the US after Air Force One had taken off from Baghdad and was on its way home. And no sooner was the visit made public in Baghdad, than the city was shaken by the sounds of conflict repeated loud explosions, gunfire and ambulance sirens."
And, of course, another American died from a roadside bomb this morning.
The folly that lurks in imperial arrogance is that it naturally walls you off from other realities, even in a sense from the existence of other places beyond your particular vision of them. This has taken a particularly striking form in Iraq, a country we invaded so blithely convinced of our power to rule over events anywhere on this planet that we hardly bothered about specific Iraqis. It wasn't just the lack of translators who could speak Arabic among the occupation forces, or of specialists in the region (they were left behind because they were associated with the reviled State Department when the Pentagon was riding high), or the junking of all the State Department's prewar planning for the occupation (same reason), but also our inability even to imagine that individual Iraqis had wills that might successfully oppose ours.
Who woulda thunk it: Iraqis actually live in Iraq with ideas of their own about how their world should be shaped. The imperial imagination, even when it soars, is still a distinctly limited creature.
John Patrick Diggins, writing in the American Prospect (Dec. 2003):
THE AFTERMATH OF THE IRAQ WAR WILL SURELY SEE U.S. foreign policy at the forefront of national debates for years to come. Conservatives will claim -- as they have been claiming for months -- that only they were sufficiently prescient about "the present danger" of Saddam Hussein. And liberals will again find themselves on the defensive.
Sound familiar? Back during the Cold War, neoconservative intellectuals flattered themselves in their conviction that they carried forward the anti-communist cause that liberals had dropped in the late 1970s and 1980s, and they ran with it as though they had recovered a fumble and headed toward the goal line to win the game and enjoy the glory. The monthly magazine Commentary has basked in that glory, enjoying more influence on recent government foreign policy than any other intellectual journal.
In fact, the history of the Republican Party should serve as a cautionary tale of conservatism's limitations for statecraft. With Dwight Eisenhower, communism survived in Korea; with Richard Nixon, it prevailed in Vietnam. Gerald Ford assured the American people that Poland was a "free" country. Ronald Reagan withdrew from Lebanon after terrorists massacred about 400 American and French soldiers. And George Bush Senior had no objections when Chinese officials told him that in crushing the Tiananmen Square movement, they were simply doing what America had done against student demonstrators in the 1960s. The party that Commentary claims won the Cold War was actually the party of pullout and back off. And today The Weekly Standard looks to the party that refused to support democracy in China, and could not even bring it to our neighbor Haiti, as the very party that is ready and willing to establish it in Iraq.
Russell Shorto, writing in the NYT (Nov. 27, 2003):
Three hundred and eighty years ago, a huddled band of Europeans set out across the Atlantic to seek a new life in wilderness America. They survived hardship, gave thanks, ate turkeys and eventually flourished. And every year at Thanksgiving we ignore them.
No, I'm not talking about the Pilgrims, nor about that other sect often hailed as progenitors of America, the Puritans. There was another group of settlers at the start of things. You might call them the un-Pilgrims, for they lack the neat mythic qualities that won the Plymouth residents their plum role in the national epic. Rather, the Dutch colony of New Netherland which had as its capital New Amsterdam, precursor to New York City has a ragged historical profile, which suits it because it was a jumble of ethnicities and had an excess of pirates and prostitutes. But its mixed nature is precisely the point. These forgotten pioneers forged America's first melting pot, making this holiday a particularly appropriate moment to recognize their achievement.
The contribution of these settlers has been overlooked because of that truest of truisms: history is written by the winners. The two great European rivals of the 17th century, the English and Dutch, each planted colonies in America. In time, the English engulfed the Dutch colony, which, we have been told, didn't exist long enough to leave an imprint. But that's not so. Dutch records now being translated after centuries of neglect reveal a thriving, complex society growing up alongside the English colonies. In fact, "Dutch" is something of a misnomer. The colony was Dutch, but more than half its residents were not. Then again, "Dutch" is very much the point. It wasn't accidental that Swedes, Germans, Jews and others flocked to this colony, for the Dutch Republic of the 17th century was itself built on a policy of tolerance that made it the melting pot of Europe.
The birth of tolerance in the Low Countries changed history. It made Holland the center of publishing, where Galileo and Hobbes printed their books free of censorship. The Dutch provided haven to exiled English royalty and peasants from across Europe who fled war and repression. It's often forgotten that the English Pilgrims, before taking a flyer on America, went to Holland in their search for religious freedom. They found it and then left for the same reason: they feared that amid the diversity of Holland their children would stray, and so opted to carve out an isolationist settlement in the New World.
Max Boot, writing in the Wall Street Journal (subscribers only) (Dec. 1, 2003):
The most compelling evidence of the success of President Bush's trip to Iraq was the reaction of the opposition. No, not the Iraqi opposition -- or "resistance," as the French have taken to calling it. I mean the American opposition: the Democrats and the news media....
Why, the gall of the White House in claiming that the president was at his ranch all the while he was winging his way to Baghdad. The New York Times Washington bureau chief seemed particularly indignant, though perhaps his pique was understandable given that a Washington Post reporter was invited on the trip but his correspondent was not. Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in other words a self-appointed guardian of journalistic virtue, harrumphed, "That's just not kosher."
Kosher or not, there is, in fact, a long and glorious tradition of just such deceptions in wartime (and, yes, we're at war now). Franklin Roosevelt was a master of the art. When he slipped away to meet Winston Churchill on a battleship off Newfoundland in 1941, he left the presidential yacht, the Potomac, conspicuously floating around Cape Cod with one crew member decked out with a pince-nez and cigarette holder to resemble the president. Two years later, the president took a train north from the White House, seemingly headed for his home at Hyde Park. In the dead of night, he turned around in Baltimore and headed south for Miami. From there, he flew by Pan-Am Clipper flying boat and an army transport plane, with multiple stops in between, to the Casablanca summit.
George W. Bush seems to have been infected with the Roosevelt spirit. And a good thing, too. Cynics may claim that the visit to Iraq was only "theater" without any real strategic significance, but this misses the point entirely: As FDR realized, a large part of modern warfare must be waged in the public arena. The battle over symbols and images can be as important as the battle for any hill or town. This is particularly the case in a guerrilla war where there are few conventional measures of success and the "center of gravity" -- to use Clausewitz's term -- lies in public opinion, American and Iraqi.
Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Nov. 28, 2003):
W. must have envisaged his triumphal first trip to Baghdad very differently. Last spring, before the war, he was told by Ahmad Chalabi via Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, that the Iraqi people would welcome him this November with garlands and dancing in the street. They would regard him as the great liberator, a second Roosevelt or Truman. The US military, having easily defeated the Baath army and wiped up its remnants, would have departed. Only a US division, about 20,000 men, would remain, at a former Baath army base and out of sight of most Iraqis. Engineers and decontamination units, Feith told him, would be busy destroying chemical and biological stockpiles, and dismantling the advanced nuclear weapons program, carefully securing the stockpiles of Niger yellowcake uranium.
Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress would be ensconced, running the country and dictating policy to the Baath military (minus its senior officers) and the Baath ministries (minus their ministers and deputy ministers). The educated, secular Iraqi Shiites would be busy stamping out priest-ridden superstition and covertly helping to undermine both the Iranian hardline ayatollahs and the radical Hizbullah militia in South Lebanon. The captured Baath generals would have given up Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, identifying the caves they were hiding in with Iraqi help, in Waziristan. Chalabi would already have recognized Israel and bullied the Palestinians into acquiescing in the loss of the rest of their land, so that Arafat's followers had been reduced to shuffling with their eyes fixed on the ground before their White betters. Air Force One would land in full daylight at Baghdad International Airport. W. would emerge from the plane, waving and smiling, his cowboy boots glinting in the desert sun. He would pass in review of the Iraqi military with its new generals, which might do some goose stepping for him just for show, the now reformed lads smiling warmly under their freshly waxed moustaches. A grateful and obedient country, pacified and acquiescent in Chalabi's presidency for life ("a clear move toward democracy after the brutal dicatatorship of Saddam"), would shout out "Bi'r-ruh, bi'l-dunya, nufdika ya Dubya" (With our spirits and our world, we sacrifice ourselves for you, O W.!).
Instead, the President had to sneak in and out of Iraq for a quick and dirty photo op, clearly in fear of his life if the news of his visit had leaked. He did not even get time to eat a meal with the troops. He was there for two hours. He did not dare meet with ordinary Iraqis, with the people he had conquered (liberated).
Offstage, the real Iraq carried on. Guerrillas attacked a military convoy on the main highway to the west of Baghdad, near Abu Ghraib. The wire services said, that an AP cameraman filmed "two abandoned military trucks with their cabs burning fiercely as dozens of townspeople looted tires and other vehicle parts." Guerrillas in Mosul shot an Iraqi police sergeant to death.
Emily S. Rosenberg, professor of history at Macalester College, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) (Dec. 3, 2003):
The images and references to Pearl Harbor seem to be all around us as the anniversary of the attack looms. They are instantly recognizable. But what do they mean?
The analogies came easily after September 11, 2001, when newspaper headlines picked up the cry of"Infamy!" and President Bush reportedly wrote in his diary that"the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today."...
"Infamy" framed the first representations of September 11. That word, which since 1941 had become a virtual synonym for the Pearl Harbor attack, was culturally legible to almost everyone. It invoked a familiar, even comforting, narrative: a sleeping nation, a treacherous attack, and the need to rally patriotism and"manly" virtues on behalf of retribution. Structured by the Pearl Harbor story, September 11 seemed the prelude to another struggle between good and evil; to the testing of yet another"greatest generation"; and to an inevitable, righteous victory. The Bush administration and other politicians embraced that Pearl Harbor metaphor as they prepared to strike the Taliban in Afghanistan, and journalists seemed unable to resist reacting to Al Qaeda's assaults within the rhetorical conventions of Pearl Harbor. It was a ready, and easy, metaphor. Experts who flooded the airwaves more often addressed World War II parallels than the complexities of, say, Middle Eastern politics....
Once Pearl Harbor and September 11 became rhetorically intertwined, however, the spread of disparate meanings could not be easily contained. The attack on Pearl Harbor had never represented only one story, one"lesson," or one set of rhetorical conventions. If the framework of"infamy" initially marshaled remembrance of a deadly surprise attack by"evil" racial others, the story of Pearl Harbor could easily evoke other contexts as well.
One of those was the"sleeping" metaphor. American films, cartoons, comedians, and commentators during World War II commonly depicted"Uncle Sam" as having been"asleep" during the 1930s. One of the most widely read books on Pearl Harbor after the war was Gordon W. Prange's At Dawn We Slept (1981), and nearly every rendition of the attack since the film Tora! Tora! Tora! has invoked the quote, attributed to the Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, about the dangers of"awakening a sleeping giant."...
Slowly but steadily, yet another Pearl Harbor analogy emerged. Just after December 7, Roosevelt's most embittered critics charged him with manipulating a"back door to war" -- provoking a Japanese attack and opening a"back door" to American involvement in the war that had already engulfed Europe. The more extreme view suggested a dark conspiracy: The Roosevelt administration knew the attack was coming, failed to send clear and urgent messages of an imminent assault to the Pacific commanders, and then covered up its misdeeds....
Politicians, in particular, often claim that the study of history teaches certain clear, and singular,"lessons." An examination of the uses of Pearl Harbor, however, suggests that history offers an arena for a diversity of narratives and for continuing debate about their possible meanings. Pearl Harbor stories have long been generating diverse debates, especially over the conduct of foreign policy, the global expansion of American power, and executive-branch responsibility. It is hardly surprising that September 11, so embedded within Pearl Harbor's metaphorical structures, has already sparked controversy over similar concerns. The politics of memory are no less complex than any other form of politics.
Thomas Powers, writing in the NY Review of Books (Nov. 5, 2003):
The invasion and conquest of Iraq by the United States last spring was the result of what is probably the least ambiguous case of the misreading of secret intelligence information in American history. Whether it is even possible that a misreading so profound could yet be in some sense "a mistake" is a question to which I shall return. Going to war was not something we were forced to do and it certainly was not something we were asked to do. It was something we elected to do for reasons that have still not been fully explained.
The official argument for war, pressed in numerous speeches by President Bush and others, failed to convince most of the world that war against Iraq was necessary and just; it failed to soften the opposition to war by longtime allies like France and Germany; and it failed to persuade even a simple majority of the Security Council to vote for war despite immense pressure from Washington. The President's argument was accepted only by the United States Congress, which voted to give him blanket authority to attack Iraq, and then kept silent during the worldwide debate that followed. The entire processfrom the moment it became unmistakably clear that the President had decided to go to war in August 2002, until his announcement on May 1 that "major combat" was overtook about nine months, and it will stand for decades to come as an object lesson in secrecy and its hazards.
Arnold Beichman, writing in the Washington Times (Dec. 1, 2003):
On Oct, 25, 1984, then Secretary of State George Shultz laid out what came to be known as the "Shultz Doctrine":
"We must reach a consensus in this country that our responses should go beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, pre-emption and retaliation. Our goal must be to prevent and deter future terrorist acts, and experience has taught us over the years that one of the best deterrents to terrorism is the certainty that swift and sure measures will be taken against those who engage in it. We should take steps toward carrying out such measures."
Never was such a consensus more needed than it is today 20 years later. In the shadow of September 11, 2001, pre-emption should now be No. 1 on today's agenda. Legal justification for such military action against the metastasis of terrorism must be considered as an integral part of the right of self-defense outlined by the United Nations charter. Let it not be forgotten that when President Reagan invaded Grenada Oct. 25, 1983, and ousted another Castro-controlled Caribbean regime, he was acting pre-emptively. Should President Reagan have waited for another Cuba to appear?
To Mr. Shultz's words, let me add those of an earlier American statesman, Thomas Jefferson:
"A strict observance of the laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence of written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property of all those who are enjoying them with us."
The history of the 20th century is full of examples where pre-emption might have saved millions of lives. Who could have believed that on that Saturday morning of March 7, 1936, when Nazi troops reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland in violation of the Versailles and Locarno treaties that some 31/2 years later World War II would begin? Had the British and French armies acted pre-emptively against Adolf Hitler's Rhineland coup, how many million lives might have been saved?
Thomas A. Desjardin, a historian with the Maine Department of Conservation, writing about President Bush's complaint that the American people are getting a jaundiced view of the war in Iraq from the media; in the Boston Globe (Dec. 7, 2003):
The truth is, people on the home front never get an accurate perception of what happens in large-scale conflicts, not in the past and not now. If understanding the war in real time on television is difficult to fathom, then imagine reaching back a dozen decades or more and asking "history" to figure things out.
While the media serve as a filter through which we see the story of modern warfare, a more complex and intricate system of filters has shaped our understanding of past struggles. And perhaps no event in American military history illustrates this better than the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.
To begin with, our knowledge of this Civil War battle -- the "history" of it -- comes largely from sources other than historians. Indeed, the most influential chronicler of Gettysburg listed among his qualifications the fact that he painted landscape watercolors in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood before the War Between the States. Though John Badger Bachelder did not serve in any army and was not present at the battle, most of what we know about Gettysburg is a direct or indirect result of his influence.
Prior to the Civil War, Bachelder had tried to collect enough accounts of the Revolutionary War's battle of Bunker Hill to paint an accurate historical depiction, only to find that the passage of years had left memories of the event scattered and contradictory. So when war of an equally important scale broke out again in the United States, he decided to do his research while memories were still fresh.
Within seven days of the battle of Gettysburg, Bachelder was on the field, interviewing wounded soldiers and making topographic sketches. Two months later, he traveled to the war front in Virginia, where he interviewed every officer he could find who had been present at Gettysburg. From this work, he published an intriguing three-dimensional map of the battlefield with lines showing the positions of the units. This enabled him to gain the endorsement of the Union Army commander and to continue to collect firsthand accounts of the battle....
In the end, however, Bachelder was never able to render his huge wealth of knowledge into an illustrated history. The final product of his endeavor was an eight-volume, 2,000-page summary taken largely from the already published official reports of the battle. Less than 10 percent of this massive work made use of the vast body of knowledge he had collected himself. What he had no doubt learned through years of toil was that the experience of combat is too complicated to fully understand and record....
Niall Ferguson, writing in the NYT (Dec. 7, 2003):
GUNS or butter: this is the choice historians conventionally say that governments face. Either they can build up their military capabilities to wield power abroad, or they can aim to increase their citizens' living standards.
In "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," the Yale historian Paul M. Kennedy developed this zero-sum model into a sophisticated theory of how empires work. In essence, you need wealth to be able to fight your rivals, but if you devote too much money to war, your wealth tends to stagnate. That's because (according to the theory) investment in the arms industry is less conducive to long-term economic growth than investment in sectors that ultimately satisfy some kind of consumer demand.
A simpler version of this idea suggests a trade-off between military spending and personal consumption. "Guns" are paid for by raising taxes, and this leaves people with less money to spend on "butter."
The Bush administration is currently engaged in an audacious some would say reckless experiment to disprove this theory. To judge by his actions, President Bush's response to the question "Guns or butter?" is: "Thanks, I'll take both." This, in short, is the guns and butter presidency.
It's generally a safe assumption that, in politics as in life, you can't have it both ways. But there are exceptions provided you get the timing right. Today's economic circumstances mean that, in the short run, the administration can actually afford to spend billions simultaneously on conquest and on consumption.
In the long run, this double or nothing strategy has dangers but, as Keynes remarked, in the long run we are all dead. All Mr. Bush needs to stand a good chance of re-election is 12 more months of guns and butter. In short, President Bush's second term depends on his being President Both.
Many a government has been impaled on the horns of the guns and butter issue. In the runup to Thanksgiving, however, two measures symbolized the Bush administration's conviction that it can grab those horns and take a ride. The first was approval of a $401 billion military appropriations package for next year, the biggest ever. The second was Congress's approval of a Medicare overhaul that increases the spiraling costs of the system by adding a drug prescription benefit...
To critics of the White House, the rapid shift of the federal budget from surplus to deficit is a sign of profligacy part of what they would call the Enronization of public finance. It is true that there are real constraints on how much the administration can have of both guns and butter. Yet these constraints may prove to be weaker (or, to be precise, further away in time) than Mr. Bush's critics anticipate.
First, recall that the United States has broken the guns or butter rule before. Under President Ronald Reagan, substantial increases in military spending coincided with comparable increases, relative to gross domestic product, in personal consumption that proportion of G.D.P. that the public, as opposed to the government, spends.
From 1979 to 1986, military spending leaped from 4.6 percent of G.D.P. to 6.2 percent, while personal consumption rose from 62 percent to 65 percent. Nor was this unprecedented. From 1965 to 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson managed to combine the guns needed to fight the Vietnam War with the butter of the Great Society not to mention the ballooning consumer society.
The crucial point, of course, is that in the short term at least, fiscal policy is not a zero-sum game: a government can easily increase military spending without reducing consumer demand if it finances the higher spending by borrowing rather than taxation (and provided taxpayers do not view borrowing as future taxation and reduce consumption in anticipation).
The downside is that such debt-financed fiscal policies led to inflation in the past . In the late 1960's and in the late 1980's, deficits were partly financed by printing dollars, which ultimately led to higher prices.
The good news for Mr. Bush is that this is unlikely to happen now.
Ruth Rosen, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 11, 2003):
YOU'D THINK that Republicans would be content to control the presidency and both houses of Congress, but apparently not. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., and 89 co-sponsors have launched a symbolic crusade to repeal the New Deal by replacing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's visage on the dime with that of President Ronald Reagan.
It's a bad idea -- for all kind of reasons. It's inappropriate and distasteful to put anyone's face on a coin while he is still alive. Nancy Reagan, who knows that her husband admired FDR, has asked that the resolution be withdrawn. Souder has ungraciously denied the request.
The best reason Republicans should abandon this campaign, however, is that Reagan's mythic greatness won't survive historical scrutiny and cannot favorably compete with FDR's legacy of extraordinary accomplishments.
Although both presidents were great communicators who knew how to reach out to the American people, that's where the similarity stops.
FDR's New Deal provided working people with Social Security pensions, unemployment insurance, aid to dependent children and compulsory education. It also banned child labor, gave workers the right to unionize, authorized a minimum wage and pushed progressive taxation. As a skillful leader, FDR helped millions of Americans to survive the Great Depression and rallied the nation to fight a successful war against fascism.
So far, Teflon and myth have protected Reagan's legacy. Many Americans liked him because he was a genuinely decent and charming man. As a result, few of us know that his foreign policies helped promote a long list of despots and fanatics around the world, including Osama bin laden and Saddam Hussein.
After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Reagan administration gradually began providing Osama bin laden and his followers with huge arsenals of weapons. What Reagan's foreign policy failed to grasp was that these Islamic holy warriors, who had traveled from across the Muslim world to liberate the Afghan people, hated the United States as much as the Russians.
After Iraq attacked Iran in 1980, the Reagan administration -- fearful that Iran's Islamic revolution might spread -- quietly began providing Saddam Hussein, a secular Arab leader, with intelligence and logistical support. It also approved, according to a December, 2002 Washington Post report, the sale to Iraq of dual-use items -- those with military and civilian applications -- that included chemicals and germs, even anthrax and bubonic plague.
Support for Iraq, however, didn't stop Reagan administration officials from secretly selling weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages and funds to support the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, who were then fighting the leftist Sandinista government. Financial assistance to the Contras defied a congressional ban; the sale of arms violated U.S. law and our nation's stated policy. Reagan and other high officials, however, claimed ignorance of what came to be called the Iran-Contra scandal.
To these foreign policy failures, add the unhappy history that under the Reagan Doctrine, which stated that America should support any anti-communist groups or governments, our country ended up supporting the Contras in Nicaragua, the government of El Salvador and Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebels in Angola. This support instigated or prolonged civil wars and resulted in the"disappearance" or slaughter of tens of thousands of people.
Nor did Reagan end the Cold War by boosting military spending and bankrupting the Soviet Union. He certainly tried to end the Cold War, but the idea that he was responsible is a myth. The Soviet Union began to implode and collapse in the late 1980s when a corrupt Communist Party elite dismantled the USSR's failed economic policies and appropriated its nationalized industries.
On the domestic front, Reagan blew 90 percent of a federal budget surplus on tax cuts for the rich and tripled the national deficit by the time he left office. Under Reaganomics, the country fell into a deep recession in 1982, the gulf between the wealthy and poor widened, funds for public housing and mental health evaporated and the media began describing growing homelessness on the streets of America's cities.
This is not a legacy that we should inscribe on our dime. Republicans should listen to Nancy Reagan, perpetual guardian of her husband's legacy. She knows better.