Roundup: Historian's Take
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.
SOURCE: http://www.press-citizen.com (4-4-09)
As the justices of the Iowa Supreme Court considered Varnum v. Brien, they had before them the trial record in the Iowa District Court for Polk County, the briefs submitted by the lawyers for both sides and two dozen "friend of the court," or amicus, briefs offering information that judges might find useful in shaping their opinion.
One of those briefs came from 23 professors of law and history based in Iowa's colleges and universities. It was drafted with the assistance of Stephen Sanders of Chicago. I was one of the signers.
The filing of a historians' amicus brief in same-sex marriage cases has been a common practice ever since 2003, when Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Justice Margaret Marshall's opinion in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health drew on ingredients of one developed by historians Nancy Cott and Michael Grossberg and signed by dozens of historians.
Those briefs have emphasized that the meanings of marriage have changed over time -- the practices of coverture, which gave husbands nearly unlimited access to their wives' bodies at marriage, and therefore also gave husbands authority over the property women brought to the marriage and earned during it, have been chipped away at over the course of two centuries; interracial marriage is no longer punished as miscegenation. They also emphasized the increasing practice of filtering state benefits through marriage, thus denying equal access to state benefits and protection to couples denied access to marriage. All these arguments were made, one way or another, in briefs filed by litigators or amici in Varnum.
But the brief filed by Iowa professors of law and history was different. This brief focuses squarely on the first article of Iowa's constitution, which begins, "All men and women are, by nature, free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring and possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness."
We offered the Iowa Supreme Court evidence that our state has a strong -- albeit imperfect -- record in expanding the meaning of equal protection of the laws. In our brief, we sought to instruct the court in its own powerful history.
• In 1839, 26 years before the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, the Iowa Supreme Court refused to recognize a contract that enslaved a man.
• In 1851, the Iowa Legislature removed legal constraints on interracial marriage; the U.S. Supreme Court would not rule that anti-miscegenation laws are a denial of equal protection until 1967.
• In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools are a denial of equal protection of the laws.
• In 1873, nearly a century before the U.S. Supreme Court made a similar ruling in 1964, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that discrimination in access to public accommodations is a denial of equal protection of the laws. That case, brought by Emma Coger, who was thrown off the first-class dining table on a steamboat crossing from Keokuk to Quincy, Ill., deserves to be much better known.
• And in 1949, the Iowa Supreme Court again insisted that discrimination in access to public accommodation is a denial of equal protection of the laws in response to a sit-in at a downtown Des Moines lunch counter that had refused to serve black customers.
Yesterday's carefully crafted decision does not name the brief of professors of law and history, but pages 17-18 lean heavily on its specifics, and the general sense of the argument -- our brief was informally known as the "equality brief" -- infuses the entire decision, from start to finish. The decision places Kate and Trish Varnum and all their colleagues in the suit in a grand tradition of individuals who have helped the nation give life to the commitments of Iowa's constitution and of the Fourteenth Amendment's promise that "No state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws." It does a historian's heart good to see history lessons studied so carefully.
HNN Hot Topics: Gay Marriage
Posted on: Sunday, April 5, 2009 - 19:05
SOURCE: Gilder Lehrman Institute's historynow.org (3-1-09)
Well before Barack Obama’s election, the New Deal was emerging as an instructive model for those trying to understand, and address, what is now known as the “worst financial crisis since the 1930s.” But is the New Deal in fact a useful model for our own troubled times?
In some respects, the New Deal – and in particular its first hundred days – have important lessons for our time, lessons that President Obama seems already to have learned. Franklin Roosevelt’s first and most important contribution to solving the great economic crisis he inherited in 1933 was to exude confidence and optimism and to invite frightened Americans to put their trust in his energy and activism. In his Inaugural Address, Roosevelt promised “action, and action now,” and to a large degree he delivered on that promise. The frenzy of activity and innovation that marked those first months, a welcome contrast to the seeming paralysis of the discredited Hoover regime, helped accomplish the first, and perhaps most important, task he faced: ending the panic that was gripping the nation.
Roosevelt also moved quickly and effectively to address the most dangerous financial crisis of the Great Depression – a wave of bank failures that was threatening shut down the financial system altogether. The banks were in trouble in part because the financial markets were in trouble; the massive stock market collapse that began in October 1929 erased massive amounts of wealth – and because many banks had invested heavily in the markets, and had leant recklessly to speculative investors, the banks found themselves without sufficient capital and in many cases without reserves. The biggest wave of failures occurred in the weeks just preceding Roosevelt’s inauguration....
Economic orthodoxy – which rested on the assumption of scarcity and gave high priority to balanced budgets and fiscal prudence – was a powerful force in the 1930s despite its failures, just as the rollicking and now staggering orthodoxy of free and unregulated markets is today. The great achievements of the New Deal helped pave the way to an understanding of how to address severe deflation, but it never itself came to a point where it could use the tools at its disposal aggressively and effectively enough or quickly enough. As the Obama administration tackles a new financial catastrophe, it makes sense to look at the history of the New Deal – as the President reportedly is doing. There is much to learn from it – not just from its achievements, but also from its failures.
Posted on: Friday, April 3, 2009 - 18:07
SOURCE: China Beat (blog) (4-2-09)
As many readers of this blog doubtless realize, everything having to do with Tibet is subject to mythologizing. That the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of Tibetan independence is one of these myths. This notion gets mentioned in the Western press routinely, and it sometimes even shows up in comments by academic specialists. In fact, the prize was awarded to him more because of the events in Tiananmen Square that had happened just a few months before the award than for anything related to the Tibet struggle per se.
Indeed, it appears that if there had been no confrontations at Tiananmen in 1989, the Dalia Lama would not have received the prize. To be sure, the European community began to embrace the Dalai Lama and his cause after his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1988 when he announced a major concession to Beijing giving up the demand for independence for autonomy. Moreover, the demonstrations and the subsequent bloody suppression in Lhasa in spring 1989 generated additional support and sympathy for the Tibetans. But it appears unlikely that those events alone got him the prize. The situation is described fully in an October 13, 1989, New York Times article"How, and Why, the Dalai Lama Won the Peace Prize." (To read it in full, follow the link.) To give a sense of its take on the situation, which was based on interviews with informants close to the prize selection process, here are some excerpts from it:
People close to the Nobel Peace Prize selection process say that the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, gained the advantage over other candidates, including President Mikhail S. Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, largely because of the brutal suppression of the democracy movement in China and the international outrage that followed.
As China called the Dalai Lama's honor ''preposterous,'' people in Oslo who are close to the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in telephone interviews that the choice of the Dalai Lama was an attempt both to influence events in China and to recognize the efforts of student leaders of the democracy movement, which was crushed by Chinese troops in June.
The Dalai Lama, as religious and political leader of Tibet, has been waging a nonviolent struggle for nearly 40 years to end Chinese domination of his homeland.
He was named the 1989 recipient of the prize last week and was ''among the favorites from the beginning,'' said Jakob Sverdrup, secretary to the Nobel Committee and director of the Nobel Institute...
Mr. Sverdrup said that the award often swung back and forth between winners who represented humanitarian ideals and those in the trenches of international power politics. The choice of the Dalai Lama was in some ways a combination of both, he said...
In addition to Mr. Gorbachev, front-runners included Vaclav Havel and Jiri Hajek, prominent Czechoslovak dissidents.The committee settled on the Dalai Lama in mid-September... informants said, three months after hundreds of people were killed in Beijing when the Chinese authorities cracked down on the democracy movement. In the aftermath of the crackdown, there was pressure from Norwegians to have the movement's student leaders named as recipients of this year's award, despite the fact that the Feb. 1 deadline for nominations had long passed...
Posted on: Thursday, April 2, 2009 - 20:29
SOURCE: http://www.foreignpolicy.com (3-1-09)
The Great Depression made the United States the world's unquestioned financial leader. The current crisis can do the same for China.
In the Great Depression, as in the current economic crisis, the downturn was particularly severe because of a lack of leadership in the international order. The dominant financial power of the 19th century, Britain, was financially exhausted by the First World War. The new major creditor, the United States, had emerged as a strong economic player, but did not yet have leadership committed to the maintenance of an open international economic order. The simple diagnosis was that Britain was unable to lead, and the United States unwilling.
If the scenario sounds familiar, it should. The story from the Great Depression has an uncanny echo in current debates about international economic leadership, with the United States playing the role of Britain -- the exhausted debtor economy -- and China taking the place of the United States as the world's largest creditor. But if China is the America of this century, can it do a better job than the United States did in the 1930s? The way in which the emerging superpower takes to this role will determine in large part how the world will emerge from the downturn and the shape of the new global economic order that will follow.
Charles Kindleberger, the late economist, argued that the United States should have acted as a lender of last resort in the early 1930s, continuing to keep its financial markets open to investment and its market open to foreign goods, rather than heading down the path of protectionism. It should also have stimulated the world economy through countercyclical fiscal policy.
But at the time of the Great Depression, there were all kinds of convincing reasons why Americans did not want to take on the burden of a worldwide rescue. Sending more money to Europe was seen as pouring money down the drain, and after all, Europeans had fought the world war that had been the root cause of the financial mess. Economically, helping Europe would have made a great deal of sense from a long-term perspective, but politically it was a non-starter with no short-term payoff.
In the middle of the current financial crisis, a deep-pocketed China faces the same dilemma: swallow its pique and help save the same countries that got us into this situation, or look to its own short-term interests first. Today, there are increasing demands that China contribute more to internationally coordinated rescue packages through a reformed International Monetary Fund (IMF). China is also one of the few economies still growing in 2009, though most economists have reduced their estimates of growth rates. Finally, China and the United States are the only countries that are large enough, and have sufficiently well-ordered government finances, to launch major efforts at fiscal stimulation....
Posted on: Thursday, April 2, 2009 - 20:27
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (4-2-09)
Avigdor Lieberman, the Moldovan night club bouncer, is now foreign minister of Israel. The world has had a lot of fun laughing at the pronouncements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who stands falsely accused of threatening to wipe Israel off the face of the map. But Ahmadinejad has protested that it would be wrong to kill large numbers of civilians.
In contrast, Lieberman has threatened to wipe at least two countries, Egypt and Palestine, off the map. Monstrously, he suggested bombing the Aswan Dam, which would have the effect of murdering all 80 million Egyptians and sweeping them into the Mediterranean in a vast continental African tsunami.
Lieberman promptly announced on assuming office that the Mideast peace process is dead. Well, at least we have an outbreak of frankness.
Whereas Ahmadinejad was humiliated by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger on his visit to that university, which provoked public protests, Lieberman's acceptance into the Israeli government has been greeted mildly and he was allowed to come to the Brookings Institution and meet with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Lieberman is a Central/Eastern European ultra-nationalist in the mold of Slobodan Milosevic and Jorg Haider, and it is shameful that he was allowed into the government and more shameful that this travesty has passed without a peep in the civilized world.
The The Electronic Intifada lists"Some of Avigdor Lieberman's infamous statements":
' # In 1998, Lieberman called for the flooding of Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat.
# In 2001, as Minister of National Infrastructure, Lieberman proposed that the West Bank be divided into four cantons, with no central Palestinian government and no possibility for Palestinians to travel between the cantons.
# In 2002, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Lieberman in a Cabinet meeting saying that the Palestinians should be given an ultimatum that"At 8am we'll bomb all the commercial centers ... at noon we'll bomb their gas stations ... at two we'll bomb their banks ..."
# In 2003, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there.
# In May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan that called for the transfer of Israeli territory with Palestinian populations to the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, Israel would annex the major Jewish settlement blocs on the Palestinian West Bank. If applied, his plan would strip roughly one-third of Israel's Palestinian citizens of their citizenship. A"loyalty test" would be applied to those who desired to remain in Israel. This plan to trade territory with the Palestinian Authority is a revision of Lieberman's earlier calls for the forcible transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel from their land. Lieberman stated in April 2002 that there was"nothing undemocratic about transfer."
# Also in May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel's 1.2 million Palestinian citizens would"have to find a new Arab entity" in which to live beyond Israel's borders."They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost," he said.
# In May 2006, Lieberman called for the killing of Arab members of Knesset who meet with members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.'
Daniel Pipes: Avigdor Lieberman's Brilliant Debut
Posted on: Thursday, April 2, 2009 - 14:29
SOURCE: CNN (3-30-09)
Americans are usually uninterested in legislative procedure. The technical rules that govern the House and Senate are of little concern to average citizens except for those rare moments when procedures become tied up with major policy battles.
Older Americans may remember, when in the early 1960s, many citizens watched as southern Democrats filibustered civil rights legislation in 1964 until Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen backed President Johnson by ending the debate through a procedure known as cloture.
Congressional procedure is in the news once again. President Obama is thinking about using the budget reconciliation process, which prohibits a filibuster, to push through the Senate the many proposals that he introduced to Congress in last month's address.
Reconciliation would only require a majority vote in the Senate rather than the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster (the Democrats control at least 58 seats).
Not only would the administration include tax and spending proposals in the legislation, but health care and possibly environmental measures as well. This would be a bold political move.
"We'd like to avoid it if possible," Budget Director Peter Orszag recently explained, "But we're not taking it off the table."
Orszag added that history was on the president's side: "Pretty much every major piece of budget legislation going back to April 1981, April '82, April 1990, April 1993, the 1990 Act, the 2001 tax legislation, they were all done through reconciliation. Yet somehow this is being presented as an unusual thing."
The budget reconciliation process was created as part of the budget reforms of 1974 when Congress attempted to centralize its budget-making process so that it could counteract the "Imperial Presidency."
Reconciliation was an effort to allow Congress to fine-tune taxing and spending decisions made by the committees so that the final budget matched the initial guidelines proposed by Congress. The reconciliation process changed by the 1980s, but the effect of providing Congressand the president one avenue through which to avoid a Senate filibuster remained intact.
Several presidents, as Orszag argued, have used reconciliation to pass legislation, including every president since Ronald Reagan. Now President Obama's administration is thinking of doing the same thing, although he might expand reconciliation to include two major policy initiatives -- national health-care reform and environmental regulations -- that go well beyond the budget.
To include such sweeping changes as health care in reconciliation would go far beyond what previous presidents have attempted to do with this process.
The appeal of avoiding a Senate filibuster is strong. Democrats and Republicans who face divided government have been extraordinarily frustrated that the modern Senate essentially requires 60 votes on any significant piece of legislation. This has become a recipe for inaction.
But what are the risks for the administration? The first risk is that Republicans will become so furious with Obama's use of this tactic that any chance of bipartisanship will disappear and in future Republicans will be even more willing to use dilatory tactics to block the administration's priorities.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, warned that including health care in reconciliation would do "serious damage to our bipartisan effort." Minority Whip John Kyl of Arizona warned that it would turn the bills into a "purely partisan exercise."
But this particular risk is probably not enough to scare off the White House. After all, there is no substantial evidence that Republicans will be willing to join in supporting the administration at any time in the future.
At the height of Obama's popularity and in one of the gravest economic crises that the nation has faced, only three Republicans were willing to vote in favor of the stimulus legislation. Although the conservative movement is divided and in search of leadership, congressional Republicans remained disciplined and united, willing to vote as a bloc against the president.
The bigger risk has to do with Democrats themselves. Like Republicans, Democrats have remained relatively united since 2006. But by using reconciliation, the administration would be packaging together several bills, each of which has the potential to cause serious fissures within the party.
The increased spending in the budget has already caused a coalition of "New Democrats" led by Sen. Evan Bayh to warn about about its effect on the deficit, as well as to question the proposed tax hikes on Americans who earn between $250,000 and $400,000.
The environmental programs will certainly open up long-standing splits between legislators from industrial states and those from suburban-heavy areas more sympathetic to cracking down on pollution.
Finally, as President Clinton learned in 1993 and 1994, health-care proposals will stimulate internal divisions over questions about financing as well as the proper role for government versus private insurers.
By trying to do everything at once, President Obama could potentially divide the Democratic Party, creating some of the same problems that President Carter faced in the late 1970s, at the same time that Republicans remain united.
A rule named after Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia allows senators to remove specific measures that are not directly related to the budget, and this could become a tool to cut up the legislation that does pass, leaving Obama with much less than he wanted -- and a party that is fractured.
The benefits of reconciliation are clear, and the risk of partisan anger should not be overstated.
He might need to make this move if he wants to get such sweeping legislation given the partisan environment of Washington. Yet the president must move very carefully if he chooses this route and make certain that in the process of obtaining speed and efficiency, he does not cause excessive damage to the party he will lead in the next three years.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 22:20
SOURCE: WSJ (4-1-09)
On Feb. 10, Israel elected a new Knesset (or parliament) -- the 18th since the establishment of the state in May 1948. Like its predecessors, it consists of a hodgepodge of 12 different parties. The two largest parties, Kadima and Likud, won 23% and 21% of the vote, giving them 28 and 27 seats respectively -- a long way short of a majority. For seven weeks, neither was able to create a viable coalition to take over the government of the country. At last, a coalition government led by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu has emerged.
In a sense, the creation of any sort of working democracy in Israel is a remarkable achievement. Since its creation, the country has been engaged in a life-and-death struggle with relentless enemies. It exists in a region where democracy hasn't flourished, and most of its citizens originate in countries with little or no experience of democratic government. Despite all of this, there has been no attempt at a military takeover or any kind of coup d'état -- not even a constitutional crisis.
But it is becoming increasingly clear that electoral reform of some kind is imperative if Israeli democracy is to survive. The latest election reveals in an acute form the gaping inadequacies and, worse still, the looming dangers of the existing electoral process and the resulting political structure: indecisive, splintered and at times corrupt.
Electoral reform has been discussed before and was even attempted in 1992 when the Knesset introduced a new law providing for the direct election of the prime minister. I remarked at the time, in the course of a lecture in Jerusalem, that Israel already had the worst electoral system in the Free World and had succeeded, with true Jewish ingenuity, in doing something I wouldn't have thought possible: finding a way to make it even worse. My audience reacted with thunderous applause. That pseudo-reform was abandoned in March 2001; the need to establish a workable electoral system able to function effectively remains.
The present system is usually described as "nationwide proportional representation." That is to say, the whole country is a single constituency, in which parties -- not individuals -- compete. Each party has its own list of members, and each has its own way of assembling and arranging that list. The presidency, like the British monarchy on which it is apparently modeled, is primarily symbolic. The head of government is the prime minister; he and his cabinet are all members of the Knesset, where they must command a majority of votes in order to govern or even survive. The threshold for admission to the Knesset -- which consists of 120 members -- is just 2% of the total vote. The result is that parliamentary representation, and with it a measure of political influence, at times even of control, is given to various special interest groups, which in a normal constituency system would never succeed in electing a single member....
Posted on: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 21:20
SOURCE: NYT blog (3-31-09)
Lyndon Johnson could have warned Barack Obama that winning the support of the 535 senators and representatives, even if a majority of them share your party affiliation, wouldn’t be easy. This is especially the case after eight years of an administration that tried to reinstate the bad old days of the Imperial Presidency — using executive privilege and signing statements to bypass the legislature.
No president came to office with a greater understanding of Congressional workings than L.B.J. Eleven years in the House and 12 in the Senate, where he became its most effective majority leader ever, gave him a special feel for how to win passage of big reform programs.
One of the greatest landslide victories in presidential history in 1964 and two-thirds majorities in both houses opened the way to the landmark Great Society measures of Johnson’s second hundred days in 1965 — Medicare, federal aid to education and voting rights, to mention just the best known reforms.
Despite his majorities, Johnson took nothing for granted. He predicted “a hard fight every inch of the way.” He told one adviser: “I’ve watched the Congress from either the inside or the outside … for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen a Congress that didn’t eventually take the measure of the president it was dealing with.”
To fend off the day when the Congress would resist his requests, Johnson launched a campaign of carrots and sticks that won majorities for his reforms. He directed aides to treat every member of Congress as if he or she was the center of the political universe. They were instructed to return a representative’s or senator’s call in “10 minutes or else.” Johnson himself devoted countless hours talking to them on the telephone.
Conservative Democrats and Republicans were not neglected. When Representative Silvio Conte, a Republican from Massachusetts, cast a vote for a Johnson initiative, the president called to thank him “on behalf of the nation for your vote.” “It’s the only time since I have been in Congress that a president called me,” Conte said. “I will never forget it.”
Every bill Johnson sent to the Hill was presented as a collaboration and was identified with a particular representative or senator. And no cooperative legislator would go un-rewarded. The Senate minority leader, Everett Dirksen, was a principal recipient of Johnson’s largesse. Johnson’s closest aide, Jack Valenti, remembered seeing them sitting in the president’s living quarters, “their knees almost touching, sipping refreshments.” Dirksen would describe some deserving constituent he favored for a regulatory agency or commission or judgeship. Johnson would feign outrage at Dirksen’s lobbying, but a deal would be struck for the senator’s support of a Johnson bill in return for an appointment.
Uncooperative legislators paid a price for their independence. When Senator Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, justified a vote against a Johnson bill by saying that columnist Walter Lippmann shared his view, Johnson scolded him: “Frank, next time you want a dam in Idaho, you call Walter Lippmann and let him put it through.”
Three months into his presidency, it’s apparent that Mr. Obama is not likely to match the 207 significant pieces of Johnson legislation; but not because he’s unmindful of L.B.J.’s methods. Like Johnson, the current president has been showering considerable attention on members of Congress, courting them by traveling to the Hill and asking their input into his big ticket items — the budget, health insurance, educational, and environmental reforms. His acceptance of earmarks in the stimulus bill can be read as concessions to the kinds of requests Johnson satisfied to win votes for his legislative priorities.
But Mr. Obama faces a more difficult challenge than Johnson’s. Unlike L.B.J., he lacks long-time ties to Congressional leaders, which may be one reason his stimulus plan barely made it out of the Senate and many Democrats, including Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, are balking at the president’s proposed budget. In addition, the sort of mutual back-scratching Johnson relied on is out of vogue. Trading pork-barrel grants for Congressional votes is no longer seen as acceptable politics but as unsavory opportunism. Also, Mr. Obama has far thinner majorities than Johnson had and fewer moderate Republicans to woo. Finally, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and deficits running as far into the future as the eye can see are problems that did not burden Johnson’s reach for a Great Society.
Yet all is not lost. President Obama has a degree of popular support that rivals the approval F.D.R., Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan enjoyed. And the public’s continuing eagerness for change gives him an advantage over Congress that may yet translate into major economic and social reforms.
If Congress frustrates the president’s reach for promised alterations, it will risk paying a price in 2010. As the elections of 2006 and 2008 demonstrated, voters use the ballot box to make their sentiments known on national questions. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will be immune from popular displeasure if the economy continues to stumble, medical costs stay out of reach for millions of Americans, educational opportunities shrink and environmental problems remain unchecked.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 14:38
SOURCE: Daniel Pipes website (4-1-09)
"Who, a century back, would have imagined Jews making the better soldiers and Arabs the better publicists?" I asked back in 2005.
A foremost example of the Arabs' p.r. prowess lies in their ability to transform the map of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the early decades, maps of the Arab-Israeli conflict showed Israel in a vast Middle East, a presence so small, one practically needed a magnifying glass to locate it. These days, however, the conflict is typically portrayed by a huge Israel looming over the fractured West Bank and Gaza areas.
This shift in size implies a shift in underdog status; whereas Israel's weak-actor status once came through clearly, the Palestinians have now usurped that position, with all its attendant benefits.
A recent study by Joseph A. Vandello, Nadav P. Goldschmied and David A. R. Richards,"The Appeal of the Underdog," in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin takes as its starting point the assumption that"When people observe competitions, they are often drawn to figures that are seen as disadvantaged or unlikely to prevail. … If people are drawn to sympathize with figures seen as underdogs, attitudes about the parties in this conflict might be strategically shaped by emphasizing the underdog status of one group over the other."
The trio then tested this hypothesis by looking, in part, at the Arab-Israeli conflict. To uncover the possible advantage of being perceived as the underdog, the authors conducted an experiment in which they
operationalized underdog status by subtly reinforcing physical size disparities through maps that shifted the perspective to make salient Israel as large, surrounding the smaller occupied Palestinian territories, or conversely, by making Israel appear small by showing it surrounded by the Arab countries of the greater Middle East.
Having set up the experiment with two maps, the authors"predicted that this shift in visual perspective would create perceptions of underdog status, which would in turn predict support for the underdog side."
Participants were asked which side they considered the underdog in the conflict. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, 70% saw the Palestinians as the underdog. In contrast, when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, 62.1% saw Israel as the underdog,
Being perceived as underdog does indeed confer advantages for winning political sympathy:
Participants were also asked toward which group they felt more supportive. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, 53.3% were more supportive toward the Palestinians. In contrast, when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, 76.7% were more supportive toward Israel.
Participants were asked to rate how much sympathy they felt toward each side in the conflict on a 1 (none) to 5 (a lot) scale. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, participants expressed slightly more sympathy toward the Palestinians (3.77 vs. 3.73), but when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, participants expressed more sympathy toward the Israelis (4.00 vs. 3.30).
(1) There is something peculiar about rooting in a life-and-death situation for the underdog, as though there were nothing more at stake than a sporting championship, but so be it. Modern life asks one to make decisions on many issues where knowledge is lacking; and the views of a poorly uninformed public then can drive the poll-driven politics of mature democracies.
(2) Pulling for the underdog fits into a larger context. For example, I documented in 2006 (in"Strange Logic in the Lebanon War") that"taking casualties and looking victimized helps one's standing" in the battle for public opinion.
(3) Wanting to appear the underdog or to be taking heavier casualties inverts the historic imperative"whereby each side wants to intimidate the enemy by appearing ferocious, relentless, and victorious."
(4) This inversion is one of the many ways in which warfare has fundamentally changed during the past 60 years, turning into a nearly unrecognizable variant of its historic identity.
(5) The framing of a war – shaping how it is perceived – has reached such importance that, as I put it in 2006,"the Clausewitzian center of gravity has moved from the battlefield to the op-eds and talking heads. How war is perceived has as much importance as how it actually is fought."
(7) Those governments need to wake up to the fundamental importance of public relations in war.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 13:58
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (3-31-09)
David Starkey has hit the headlines again, this time protesting against the "feminisation" of history. We women writers, he says, have caused problems. Our enthusiasm for writing about women has distracted readers from what really matters: the men.
It is "bizarre", claims Dr Starkey, that so many books focus on women and wives. When it comes to Tudor history, it should be Henry VIII who is centre-stage. "A proper history of Europe," he insists, would be "a history of white males".
This kind of complaint recurs almost as often as objections from older writers to youthful scribes achieving inflated advances and excessive publicity. Yet every literary party I attend is about 70 per cent male, few of whom appear to be under 35. So unexpected is a female historian that I am usually asked whether I work for a publisher.
When articles appear about the ascendancy of women in history, a few names reappear: Lady Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir and Amanda Foreman. But the fact that Foreman is repeatedly cited when her Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was published a decade ago suggests that there is perhaps not an avalanche of female writers dominating the literary pages.
Georgiana was a deserving winner of the Costa (then Whitbread) Prize for Best Biography in 1998 – but most of the other winners over the past 15 years have explored the lives of celebrated men: Andrew Motion on Philip Larkin, Roy Jenkins on Gladstone, AN Wilson on Tolstoy, Richard Holmes on Coleridge, DJ Taylor on Orwell, Claire Tomalin on Pepys, Hilary Spurling on Matisse. Foreman's book, and John Guy's on Mary, Queen of Scots, are the exception, not the rule.
Moreover, while Dr Starkey confines his complaints to books, most of us derive our notion of history from television. A widely acclaimed history book may sell fewer than 5,000 copies in hardback, but a prime-time history programme might attract more than three million viewers. And television history is undeniably dominated by men – Niall Ferguson, Simon Schama, Tristram Hunt, Tony Robinson, Jeremy Paxman and Starkey himself. Many of us would surely love to watch Lady Antonia or Alison Weir striding around castles, but so far, Bettany Hughes is the only female historian regularly to front her own series...
Posted on: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 07:08
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (3-31-09)
Should the University of Colorado have fired Ward Churchill, the fiery ethnic-studies professor and Native American advocate who is suing to get his job back?
I really don't know. But here's what I do know: By playing fast and loose with historical truth, Churchill harms the same racial minorities he claims to defend. To see why, take a quick look at the long career of John Hope Franklin.
Franklin, who died Wednesday at the age of 94, was the preeminent African American historian of the postwar United States. He was a warrior for civil rights, too, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and assisting Thurgood Marshall's team of lawyers in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
But Franklin understood that social justice demanded rigorous attention to historical fact, detail, and logic. To fight American racism, which was built upon fantasy and deception, minorities needed to keep a steady grip on their only real weapon: the truth. That's the lesson that seems to have eluded Ward Churchill.
Last week, as Churchill's tragicomic case unfolded in a Denver courtroom, most of the attention focused on his admission that he ghost-wrote a book for another scholar and then cited it in support of his own work. That's unusual and probably unethical, but it's not nearly as bad as Churchill's real sin: pawning off rumors as facts.
Most notoriously, Churchill wrote that the U.S. Army intentionally spread smallpox among the Mandan tribe of Native Americans by distributing infected blankets from a St. Louis infirmary. The truth of the account was "self-evident," Churchill blithely told a university investigative committee. "Such stories have been integral to native oral histories for centuries," he explained. "I've heard them all my life."
So that makes them true? Consider the steady stream of lies that have plagued racial minorities, all of them equally "self-evident" to the people who repeat them. When John Hope Franklin started graduate school at Harvard in the 1930s, most American history books described blacks as ignorant savages, and slavery as a benign institution for civilizing them. Blacks looted Southern coffers in the wake of the Civil War and raped white women, who were saved by the noble knights of the Ku Klux Klan. And the rest, as they say, was history.
It wasn't, of course; it was deceit and folk wisdom dressed up as fact. So Franklin and his generation painstakingly dismantled it, uncovering millions of new documents - including letters, diaries, and interviews - that gave us a more accurate account of our past.
As any historian can tell you, this process is never easy. But it was that much harder for Franklin, who was denied access to whites-only archives or forced to sit in segregated sections of them.
While conducting research at the Library of Congress, Franklin couldn't find a nearby restaurant that would serve him. But he pressed on. "For a Negro scholar searching for truth," he later recalled, "the search for food in the city of Washington was one of the minor inconveniences."
To Ward Churchill, by contrast, the search for truth is itself an inconvenience. Why try to document your hunches with archival material when you can pass them off as fact? Indeed, why visit an archive at all?
Churchill says he was fired because of an essay he wrote after the 9/11 attacks describing the victims as "little Eichmanns." Maybe he's right about that being the reason for his dismissal. But he's wrong about the Mandan Indians and about history itself, which shouldn't be fabricated to fit present-day political whims. Such practices echo the worst excesses of white supremacists, who distorted the past to prop up their own power.
By replacing those falsehoods with a new set of myths, we injure America's ongoing struggle for racial equality. If an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, to quote Gandhi, a lie for a lie makes us all cynics. You can't speak truth to power if nothing is true.
No matter what happens to Ward Churchill, then, let's make sure we set the historical record straight. And let's tip our hats to John Hope Franklin, who reminded us why it matters. For America's least fortunate citizens, the truth is often all they have.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 00:45