This page includes, in addition to news about historians, news about political scientists, economists, law professors, and others who write about history. For a comprehensive list of historians' obituaries, go here.
Glenna Whitley, in DallasObserver.com (Feb. 26, 2004):
When the train pulled into the station, Bryan Mark Rigg wrestled his bicycle onto the platform, balanced a rucksack stuffed with a video camera, laptop and tripod on his back and started pedaling through the German countryside. He had 70 miles to cover before dark. The Yale student had learned that Alexander Stahlberg, a former German soldier who lived on the grounds of a castle near Gartow, was willing to talk to him."But you better hurry," the elderly Stahlberg said."I've got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel."
Rigg had moved to Germany in 1994 to learn the language and research his senior essay. But the Arlington student's journey meant much more than a grade: He'd become obsessed with tracking down veterans of the Wehrmacht, Hitler's armed forces. And the 23-year-old student wasn't looking for just any old veterans. He was searching for the Mischlinge , men who'd survived"in the mouth of the wolf," as one soldier put it. The word, meaning half-breeds or mongrels and first applied to the offspring of white Germans and black Africans in the colonies, referred to a group of soldiers who'd straddled a chasm of contradiction: They were deemed part-Jewish by Nazi racial laws but had fought on the Führer's side.
Historians knew such men had served in Hitler's forces. But Rigg's professors at Yale told him he was wasting his time, that there were so few they were of little historical significance.
Rigg believed these eminent scholars were wrong.
Werner Goldberg, a blond-haired, blue-eyed half-Jew once held up by the Nazis as"the ideal German soldier," had told him about Stahlberg, who'd served as adjutant to Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. Some suspected Manstein was a Mischling himself, even though he'd given a notorious order calling for"the destruction of the Jewish-Bolshevik system." Rigg knew he had to act immediately. The veterans of World War II were dying off; he couldn't let anything get in the way of his quest to capture the stories of the remaining Mischlinge.
Certainly not money. Rigg had been living in Germany on peanut butter and cheap food he bought in Turkish markets. And not the setting sun on this December day.
As he pedaled furiously toward Stahlberg's home, even three layers of clothes couldn't protect against the cold. The bicycle's headlamp was broken, and he still had miles to go when the pavement turned into a dirt road. In the dark, his bike slammed into a pothole, flipping the 6-foot-2 Rigg and his pack over the handlebars.
An hour later, he arrived at Stahlberg's door bruised and covered with dirt. A tall, polished man in a nice suit, white hair slicked back, answered his knock."What happened to you?" he asked. After Rigg explained, Stahlberg said,"You probably want to take a shower."
That night, video camera rolling, Rigg would record Stahlberg's recollections of a conversation he'd had with Manstein early in the war while the two played chess.
Stahlberg told his superior he'd heard that 100,000 Jews had been murdered by killing squads in Manstein's area of responsibility as the German front advanced. Manstein didn't respond.
"Dear Field Marshal, I feel the need to tell you this because I'm of Jewish descent myself," Stahlberg said. His great-grandfather had been a Jew, a fact Stahlberg had kept secret.
Manstein paused."That's very interesting," he said. He mentioned that his family tree included a rabbi. Then he turned his attention back to the chess board.
When Stahlberg pressed Manstein about the huge numbers of Jews being slaughtered, Manstein fixed him with a stare.
"Do you really believe that?" the field marshal said.
Stahlberg said he did.
"Well, if this really happened," Manstein said,"they're only Jews."
Rone Tempest, writing for the Los Angeles Times (Feb. 25, 2004)
It was the first day of class in Victor Davis Hanson's final course at Cal State Fresno, where he has taught classical history, Greek and Latin for two decades.
The subject, Hanson told the 40 undergraduates, was the 431-404 BC Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta."It's a good time to talk about a war, because we are in a war," he said.
For Hanson, ancient reports on the Peloponnesian War are just as relevant today as recent Fox network newscasts on a suicide bombing of a Baghdad hotel. Both, Hanson believes, portray a do-or-die"referendum" on clashing cultures: the democratic republicanism of Athens versus the martial oligarchy of Sparta; the secular," consensual" democracy of the West versus the theocratic dictatorship of militant Islam.
Hanson's moral parallels between the ancient Greeks' fight for democracy and our own struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq have endeared him to the Bush administration and changed his life.
Hanson, 50, recently signed a contract with Random House for a book on the Peloponnesian War, to be titled"A War Like No Other." His $500,000 writing advance is unprecedented for a work of classical scholarship and more than he received for his previous 14 books combined. Hanson will leave Cal State Fresno next summer as one of America's leading conservative writers, most prominently showcased in his weekly online column in the like-minded National Review.
In April, amid the early stages of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Hanson used his column to hail the American advance on Baghdad as"unprecedented in its speed and daring" and predicted that its"logistics will be studied for decades." Vice President Dick Cheney enthusiastically quoted Hanson in a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Hanson's absolute, unflinching belief in the cause and its ultimate success made him a favorite of Cheney, who urges Hanson's books on his staff and on reporters traveling with him for foreign trips.
It's not hard to understand how Hanson has become an intellectual bulwark of administration foreign policy, given his conviction that nothing less than the future of Western civilization depends on our cleareyed recognition of the menace posed by militant Islamic forces.
"We haven't had enemies this antithetical to the United States in a long, long time," Hanson said several days later over coffee in San Francisco, where he was a guest speaker at the Commonwealth Club."Take your pick of the Western agenda. Women's rights? They want to go back to the Dark Ages. Homosexual rights? They want to kill them. Democracy? They don't believe in it. Religious tolerance? You're dead if you're not a Muslim. Technology? They don't like it."...
...Hanson is also a regular consultant to the influential Pentagon Office of Net Assessment, which has emerged as a key administration intelligence gathering and planning agency under Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his senior deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz. This week, Hanson was back in Washington to speak before the Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution, the conservative Palo Alto think tank where Hanson is a resident fellow. His theme,"This War Is Not New," was the same as that of the Cal State Fresno class. Sharing the podium were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Karl Rove, President Bush's main political advisor.
It is an enviable position for someone who never served in the military or trained in the science or tactics of warfare. Hanson's influence on the administration probably comes more in setting a tone or providing a historical justification for tough decisions than it does in the details of policy....
...Hanson had just published"Carnage and Culture," a sweeping look at how leaders have responded to military crises, when the 9/11 terrorist assaults occurred. Hanson first surfaced as a commentator on current events during a C-SPAN interview, and soon after launched his weekly column for the National Review, which quickly attracted the Bush administration's attention.
Hanson's support for the administration's aggressive response to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon has never flagged.
During the rockiest periods of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Hanson has only amped up his support, dismissing the significance of American casualties and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
"In the list of 10 reasons to go to Iraq," Hanson said,"I think WMD was about the 10th. I've told the administration that they made a mistake placing too much emphasis on it."...
...In Hanson's opinion, expressed in his recent military history"Ripples of Battle," Bush, despite intellectual shortcomings ("he lacked his predecessor's encyclopedic knowledge of names, places and dates"), was the right leader at the right time in responding to Sept. 11.
"The terrorist war proved that he [Bush], like the Greek iambic poet Archilochus' hedgehog," Hanson wrote,"knew one thing, but a big one: how to galvanize his people and lead them into battle against an evil enemy in the hour of his country's great peril."...
...Prominent colleagues in classics accuse him of putting scholarship in the service of neoconservative, bellicose politics.
"Hanson is a very skillful scholar who made some major contributions," said W. Robert Connor, a retired Princeton University classicist."What makes me nervous is that over time, the political agenda in his work has become stronger and more evident. I worry that the scholarly talent has become subservient to the political."
Hanson's courses are popular with students. But fellow professors at Cal State Fresno have been bruised by Hanson's uncompromising attacks on modern education, particularly ethnic and gender studies programs that Hanson terms"therapeutic curriculum" and feels should be ejected from the university.
"Being on the wrong side of Victor Hanson is not somewhere you want to be," said Western Washington University English professor Scott Stevens, who spent six years at Cal State Fresno and says Hanson drove him away."Everyone talks about the power of the left on campus, but Hanson led a powerful clique of antifeminist traditionalists who would really like to see the university return to some pre-'60s stage."...
...The farm and life there are at the center of virtually all of Hanson's writing. His scholarly achievement in classics, for example, rests largely on his pioneering writings on the Greek hoplites -- citizen-farmer-soldiers who were the foundation of Athenian democracy....
...In his military books, Hanson draws on his family history -- his grandfather's service in World War I, his father's 39 combat missions over Japan, a cousin's death in the bloody invasion of Okinawa -- to tell his stories. To Hanson, those California farmer-soldiers were modern-day versions of the Greek hoplites....
..."In times of war, I find the wisdom of farmers to be greater than all the fancy academics I ever met. A farmer can sit on his Massey Ferguson tractor and say, 'Osama bin Laden is no damn good.'
Wilson Miscamble, associate professor of history at Notre Dame, and the author of George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947-1950 (Princeton, 1992),in the WSJ (Feb. 20, 2004):
George F. Kennan's 100th birthday this week has prompted a round of effusive praise for the contributions of the man who has been dubbed "the architect," "the great theorist" and "the founding father" of containment -- the vaunted Cold War method by which the Soviet threat to the West was not so much confronted as "contained." Discussing Mr. Kennan's famous "X" article, published in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, led no less an authority than Henry Kissinger to suggest that Mr. Kennan "came as close to authoring the diplomatic doctrine of his era as any diplomat in our history."
These assessments are quite excessive and lead to a misunderstanding of the actual development of containment. It truly would be a tribute to Mr. Kennan -- himself a careful historian -- if commentators took the trouble to understand his real contribution to, and place in, American foreign-policy formulation instead of resorting to simplistic labels. This in turn might help deepen their appreciation for the complexity and even the "messiness" of contemporary policy-making.
A recent suggestion that Mr. Kennan is "America's most famous diplomat" reflects the exaggeration that makes it difficult to assess his career with any accuracy. The assertion is, frankly, hyperbole run riot. Mr. Kennan held minor diplomatic posts until the final years of World War II. He exercised a consequential influence on policy formation only from 1946 to 1950, after which his diplomatic record includes a failed ambassadorship to Moscow in 1952 and a brief, largely unproductive, stint as ambassador to Yugoslavia during the Kennedy administration. His record as a diplomat hardly puts him in the same category as John Quincy Adams, Dean Acheson, or even Henry Kissinger.
It is not as a diplomat but as a policy maker from which Mr. Kennan's significance is derived. But in this domain his record is quite mixed. Any temptation to characterize Mr. Kennan as the delineator of the West's policy of containing the Soviet Union should be firmly resisted. Mr. Kennan's authorship of the "Sources of Soviet Conduct" in 1947 introduced the broader public to the word and concept of "containment," but it must be clearly understood that he never obtained some equivalent of copyright over the "doctrine" of containment. He offered no detailed prescription for policy in the "X" article and did not outline at any length what the U.S. should do. Any characterization of him as a Moses-type figure descending to give the law of containment over to a disoriented group of American policy-makers should be rejected. Others played crucial roles in defining and enfleshing containment.
Indeed, the containment doctrine gained form and meaning from the policies that emerged, rather than dictating the nature of those policies. Mr. Kennan contributed significantly to some of these important policy initiatives -- especially the Marshall Plan -- but he lost out on many others. In fact, he dissented from some of the major policies (e.g. NATO and the incorporation of West Germany into the Western alliance) that gave containment meaning in practice. Mr. Kennan argued for a more political-economic, and a less military, version of containment: but ultimately Messrs. Truman and Acheson refused his counsel. Mr. "X," as it turned out, shared neither Acheson's firm conviction that America's security was linked integrally to Europe, nor his tough-minded recognition that strength -- including military strength -- guaranteed peace.
From the 1950s, and throughout the Cold War, Mr. Kennan maintained his dissent from the main lines of American foreign policy. He continually promoted American military disengagement from Europe and proved a passionate critic of the Reagan administration's renewed containment strategy, as well as its corollary of a major conventional and nuclear arms build-up. In retrospect, and ironically, he opposed the very containment strategies that brought the U.S. eventual victory in the Cold War.
David Mehegan, in the Boston Globe (Feb. 16, 2004):
In his sunny living room, which is fortified with walls of books, Brandeis University historian David Hackett Fischer is holding forth on the hero of his new book,"Washington's Crossing," declaiming aloud in a clear voice, almost as if he were in class.
"For me," he says,"George Washington was not primarily a Napoleonic figure or nation builder but a leader who finds a way of making a complex and open society work. I think he was a model for us in developing that style of leadership, and he brings to it all a strong sense of values."
It's not the Father of Our Country Fischer is talking about, the bland and fleshy face on the dollar bill, but the 42-year-old master horseman who led a tough, small army across the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776 and defeated a British-hired German army (the Hessians) at Trenton, N.J. It's the Washington who, a few days later, sneaked behind the British army, defeated its reserve force in Princeton, then escaped, pulling the American Revolution back from the brink of collapse.
Fischer is not in a classroom, of course, although in range and productivity he might be in a class by himself. As with his best-selling"Paul Revere's Ride" in 1994, he has taken an event we thought we have understood since grade school, researched it from scratch, and rewritten it as much for lay readers as for historians. He has challenged old assumptions and made new observations, while putting human decision in the driver's seat. The book finds:
The Hessian soldiers defeated at Trenton were not the drunken buffoons of legend but part of a tough and well-trained army, among the best in the world.
Two-thirds of Washington's army was made up of New Englanders, including a hardy crew of farmers and fishermen (some of them African-Americans) from Salem and Marblehead.
Washington did not just retire to winter quarters after the battle, but continued to encourage and support a three-month campaign that beat up Charles Cornwallis's British and Hessian forces and effectively ended England's hopes of reconquering North America.
Despite the low grades historians have given him as a general, Washington was in fact a great commander in this campaign, not only in tactics, but in inventing a way to lead an army of free men.
As in"Paul Revere's Ride," Fischer focuses on narrative details: the flat-bottomed boats used by the crossing army, the ice in the river, the white strips of paper in officers' hats for soldiers to follow in the dark, the soldiers brushing against Washington's legs as he sat horseback at the end of a bridge encouraging a retreating rear guard, his equestrian feat in regaining control of his horse when its hind legs began to slip on a steep bank.
Liz Halloran, in the Hartford Courant (Feb. 15, 2004):
Historian Douglas Brinkley set out several years ago to write a book about U.S. senators who had served in the Vietnam War. It turned out he was a little late. Most of the senators, including John McCain of Arizona and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, had published their own memoirs. Brinkley and his publisher had to settle for a project profiling just one of the few Vietnam War senators who had yet to share his full story.
What luck that the senator he ended up with was John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, a decorated veteran who commanded a Navy Swift boat during the war and became a leading anti-war activist when he returned home. Not only did Kerry have a closetful of unpublished Vietnam-era journals, letters and film, but by the time Brinkley's book was on shelves Jan. 6, the senator was poised to emerge as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The serendipity is not lost on Brinkley, who recently stood amid the noisy chaos of Kerry's New Hampshire primary victory party signing copies of the definitive-to-date Kerry book,"Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War."
"My deal with my publisher was just to do a book on the Vietnam War using Kerry as my symbol," said Brinkley, 42."It's a book about a young man's odyssey in the '60s and the '70s.
"If he had lost Iowa and had to concede like (U.S. Rep. Richard) Gephardt, I would still be behind my book as a piece of Vietnam War history," he said.
Kerry, however, was a surprise winner of the Iowa caucuses last month, cruised to easy victory in New Hampshire on Jan. 27 and has since emerged as the front-runner. Now Brinkley, a prolific author finds himself unexpectedly in demand as an expert on a man who would be president.
Brinkley had never met Kerry before the two sat down for their first interview. He had been warned that the senator was unlikely to hand over his Vietnam diaries, which he had kept in his closet for 35 years. But Brinkley's efforts collecting the oral histories of World War II and Vietnam veterans, his position at the Eisenhower Center and his promise of a serious book persuaded Kerry to share his trove.
"He asked just that I don't try to embarrass him just to sell books," Brinkley said. Brinkley began poring over diaries Kerry had begun writing in 1965 before the war while a student at Yale and continued through 1968 and 1969, his years in Vietnam. He looked at letters Kerry wrote and viewed about five hours of movie footage Kerry shot during the war.
Kerry's diary excerpts are gripping, the writing descriptive, often elegant, frequently shocking in its detail. In a letter to his parents, he mourns the loss in Vietnam of Yale classmate Dick Pershing, writing,"with the loss of Persh something has gone out of me. Persh was an unbelievable spark in all of us and we took it for granted that we would always be together - go crashing through life in our unconquerable fashion as one entity."
He describes becoming ill at seeing a Vietnamese man die alone in an enemy hospital.
"How cheap life became," he explained how military brass would praise boat gunners for killing Viet Cong with the exhortation,"Good hunting!"
Brinkley said that when Kerry was commanding his Swift boat, he carried out orders without complaint, but his journals reflected his growing feeling that the war he went to fight out of a sense of public service was becoming a political and human disaster.
The book traces Kerry's return home, his activism in organizing veterans against the war, and the Nixon administration's disinformation campaign intended to discredit him. Brinkley contacted nearly every man still living who served under Kerry in the war and spoke with numerous friends and family members.
"The Nixon White House started a 'get Kerry' campaign," said Brinkley, who documents the effort in detail, including information about wiretaps and surveillance."The exact words from the White House were 'destroy the young demagogue.'"
"They wanted to destroy Kerry to the point where, in 1972, a brick came through his window and almost killed his baby next to her crib," he said, according to an account provided by Kerry's first wife, Julia Thorne. The book ends with the normalization of relations with Vietnam in 1995, something Kerry and McCain as senators had long worked for.
When asked what he learned about Kerry that struck him most, Brinkley said it was the sense of duty to country shared by the diplomat's son and his friends, and the lasting effect that President Kennedy had on all of them.
"I never realized before this book how much John F. Kennedy had influenced the whole mind-set of young people then," Brinkley said."For somebody like John Kerry, the notion of paying any price, bearing any burden, join the Peace Corps, join the Green Berets - all that sloganeering really influenced him a great deal.
"And he's not alone."
Cinnamon Stillwell, in frontpagemag.com (Feb. 16, 2004):
If reaction to Daniel Pipes' lecture on Tuesday (2/10) was any indication, fascism is alive and well at UC Berkeley. Pipes was invited by the Israel Action Committee and Berkeley Hillel to speak at the college campus known for its leftist politics. But ironically, the home of ''free speech'' and ''tolerance'' has shown itself to be distinctly intolerant to those who express political views other than their own. And Daniel Pipes happens to fit that description.
Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum, a member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and a columnist for the New York Sun and the Jerusalem Post . But most importantly, he is pro-America, pro-Israel, and one of the foremost strategists of our time when it comes to the threat of militant Islam.
All of these combined make Daniel Pipes public enemy number one according to UC Berkeley leftists and especially radical Muslim students. Indeed, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) was out in full force on Tuesday, acting like the thugs and bullies they routinely accuse Pipes of supporting. There were about 50-70 of them, amidst a crowd of 700, and after failing to prevent Pipes from speaking, they did their best to try and disrupt the lecture and intimidate the audience.
Pipes had anticipated problems beforehand and had warned supporters that the Muslim Student Association was planning to make an appearance. They had posted an announcement about the lecture at the leftist website SFIndyMedia.org , raving that a ''Zionist'' was coming to town, and exhorting members to show up. In fact, the lecture was moved to another site on campus to accomodate a larger audience, but the MSA students still managed to sniff it out.
Outside the lecture a crowd of them were gathered, along with sympathetic leftists, many carrying the types of signs and slogans that have become all too familiar in recent years. Signs equating Zionism with Nazism, for instance. Others presented Pipes' quotes out of context in order to smear him. Then there was the guy who shows up at all Bay Area leftist events in an Uncle Sam outfit with a sign saying ''Israel Wants You to Die for Her.'' Another nut-job hovered near the entrance shouting to anyone who would listen about how Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. ''were against Zionism.''
The Berkeley Police Department was out in full force, as were a private security team. People going inside were frisked three times and had their bags searched thoroughly as well. And a sign on the door warned that no banners, signs, shouting, or violence would be allowed. Yet all of this seemed rather futile because any and all were welcomed into the lecture, including the protesting MSA students and the guy screaming about Gandhi. The event was meant to be free and open to the public, but there's a point at which this type of inclusiveness becomes counter-productive. It was clear from the get-go that the protesters intended to try to disrupt the event, and once inside, that's exactly what they did.
It began as soon as Pipes stepped up to the podium. In fact, before he'd spoken one word, someone had to be escorted outside because he wouldn't calm down. Then jeering, giggling, hissing, booing, and finally, the orchestrated chanting of ''racist'' and ''Zionist,'' (among other things) starting drowning out the lecture. However, the rest of the audience gave as good as it got and the event turned into a shouting and clapping match between Muslims and Jews.
The tension in the air was thick, tempers were rising, and yet amidst it all, Pipes kept his cool. He managed to deliver his lecture, which covered the War on Terrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Iraq, but he was forced to stop many times. Pipes spoke directly to the protesters on several occasions, pointing out the irony of their undemocratic behavior, as well as mentioning casually that it is only when he speaks at college campuses that he requires such heavy security. He even brought up the fact that members of the MSA are currently under investigation for possible ties to terrorism.
Their reaction to his speech was telling.
When Pipes brought up the need to support moderate Muslims over those who subscribe to militant Islam, they booed.
When he brought up the need to improve the status of women in Islamic countries, they booed.
When he warned that peace in the Middle East would never be achieved as long as the Palestinians continued to subscribe to a ''cult of death,'' they booed.
When he mentioned Middle East Studies professors who have been arrested under terrorism charges, they booed.
When he discussed the need to combat Islamic terrorism, they booed.
When he referred to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks as subscribers to militant Islam, they booed and shouted ''Zionism''--no doubt a reference to the myth that Jews were behind the attacks.
When Pipes brought up CampusWatch.org , the website he founded to provide a voice for students feeling oppressed by their leftist professors, they shouted out ''McCarthyism'' and, of course, ''racist'' yet again.
And when he mentioned Iraqis' ''liberation'' from Saddam Hussein's tyranny, they booed even louder.
''I'm sure the Iraqis were much better off under Saddam Hussein,'' Pipes responded sarcastically.
When it came time for the question and answer period, the group of MSA students all got up together and left, chanting ''racist'' and ''Zionist'' over and over again. However, a few stragglers were left in the audience, and they eventually had to be escorted outside by the police because of their unruly behavior. One of these was the man who had been babbling about Gandhi. By this time he got down to basics, calling Pipes ''a racist Jew.'' Sadly, it took several more of these epithets before he was forcibly removed.
After the lecture, many Jews in the audience were visibly shaken. For those who hadn't yet encountered Muslim hostility up close and personal, it was an eye-opening experience. Perhaps not all of UC Berkeley's Muslim students subscribe to the anti-Semitic views of the MSA, but if that's the case, they certainly didn't make their voices heard that evening.
The fact is, radical Muslim students and their leftist counterparts are the most domineering, destructive, and dangerous forces in higher education today. If we're to win the War on Terrorism, we may have to start with our own college campuses.
Piper Fogg, in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) (Feb. 16, 2004):
Alfred Runte came up for tenure three times at the University of Washington at Seattle. Three times he was denied. In the early 1980s, Mr. Runte, an assistant professor of history, went up early for tenure on two occasions. He considered his publishing record and his teaching exemplary. Both times his department voted in his favor, but the chairman and the college committee voted no. He says they cited a"lack of intellectual growth."
By 1985, Mr. Runte recalls, he had his doctorate, had published a book on the U.S. national parks, with one on Yosemite in the works, and had received a $30,000 grant. Again his department gave him the nod, but the eight-person college council voted against him a third time.
The university's president advised him to move on."I was flabbergasted," says Mr. Runte."I left there obviously kind of dejected." He tried desperately to find another academic job but says the stigma of having been denied tenure was too big to overcome.
Jennie Rothenberg interviews Robert Gildea, in the Atlantic (Nov. 2003):
In the immense canon of books about Europe during World War II, numerous works center on France, immortalizing the glory of la Résistance or revealing dark scandals of Nazi collaboration. Marianne in Chains is a different kind of story. In its pages, author Robert Gildea tells the tales of ordinary French people who were less concerned with abetting or resisting the Nazis than with maintaining their everyday lives.
Rather than surveying the entire nation, Gildea chose to focus on the Loire Valley, a coastal region that was part of France's occupied northern zone. Exploring newly opened archives and interviewing numerous older citizens, he was able to reassemble a picture of daily life during the occupation, complete with farmers, café owners, priests, and accordion players. More sensational characters do make occasional appearances: underground activists, corrupt officials, and informants reminiscent of Dickens's sinister Madame Defarge. But Gildea's research centers first and foremost on mainstream citizens, and his stated purpose is to move "beyond praise and blame... to understand actions and sentiments in terms of the options and values obtained under the occupation, the one extremely limited and the other extremely fluid."
Compared with other parts of Europemost notably the Eastern Front and the Balkansthe Nazi occupation of France was relatively gentle. The French, whose Latin heritage ranked them high in Hitler's racial hierarchy, were given more freedom than those of other nations to maintain their local governments, churches, and ways of life. Food was scarce, but rather than focusing on hunger and poverty, Gildea looks at the resourcefulness of the French people as they satisfied their daily needs through clandestine networks and "gray markets." In one chapter entitled "Circuses," he spends two full pages listing youth clubs and leisure organizations that existed in occupied France, demonstrating that the French people did not spend the war years "cowering at home."
Gildea's demystifying approach to history has not always made him popular with French academics. His book begins with an account of a 1997 paper he presented at the Academy of Tours, in which he argued that not all French people spent the war years in misery and starvation, and the riot his conclusions provoked from the audience. This reaction inspired Gildea to expand his research, and the conclusions he draws in Marianne in Chains are comprehensive and nuanced ....
An interview with Howard Zinn, conducted by Kirk Johnson, editor of American Amnesia (Feb. 2004):
Howard Zinn, the historian most known for "A People's History of the United States," recently talked with American Amnesia about foreign policy, Iraq, historical amnesia, and democracy. His book, which has sold millions of copies, is unique in its advocacy for a different type of history - one that focuses less on the traditional white founding fathers and more on the (not always glamorous) foundation upon which this country was established. Born in Brooklyn, Zinn worked in a shipyard before fighting in World War II as an Air Force Bombardier, carrying out missions over France and Germany. After the war he received a PhD in history from Columbia University. He is professor emeritus at Boston University.
His viewpoints provoke strong responses from both the left and the right - which is why American Amnesia sees it worthwhile to include them in our discussion of history & foreign policy. He is also the first in a series of similar discussions which will include Noam Chomsky, Errol Morris, Niall Ferguson, Michael Walzer, and others. He may stop by American Amnesia and answer follow-up questions in the comments section (no guarantees).
A: Were confronted today with alarming statistics from various groups connected with education, that essentially say were forgetting our past that even the titan moments in history are slipping from the collective memory. What do you make of these stats?
Z: We're forgetting the past because neither our educational system nor our media inform us about the past. For instance, the history of the Vietnam War has been very much forgotten. I believe this amnesia is useful to those conducting our present foreign policy. It would be embarrassing if the story of the Vietnam War were told at a time when we are engaged in a war which has some of the same characteristics: government deception, the killing of civilians through bombing, scaring the American people (world communism in that case, terrorism in this one). As for the history beyond Vietnam, that would certainly be damaging to present policy. Because if young people knew the long history of U.S. expansion, through violence and deception, they would not easily believe that we are in Iraq to promote democracy. They would know how many false claims were made in the past to justify aggressive acts. They would learn of the expansion across the continent, destroying Indian villages, committing massacres. They would learn of the deceptions surrounding the Spanish-American War, of the bloody war in the Philippines leading to the deaths of perhaps 600,000 Filipinos. They would learn of the many interventions in the Caribbean. And they would see that these interventions did not bring democracy, and they were connected to U.S. commercial interests.
A: Do you see historical amnesia that is, forgetting both recent and distant history (how many people even remember Kosovo, or even Afghanistan?) as an ailment of the younger generation, or as a continuation of the way weve always been.?
Z: It's not an ailment of the younger generation but of that part of the older generation that controls the media and the educational system. I find that young people are hungry for information, but their sources are too often the major television channels, which are controlled by a tiny group of wealthy corporations, with ties and interests close to the government.
A: How do you feel about how the citation of historical events is portrayed in the media today often as reflecting opinions of conspiracy theorists, on the margins of society? It seems as if the value of history in public discourse has been crippled somewhat.
Z: When critics of U.S. policy point to crass motivations behind our policy: like corporate profit, and political advantage, this is often labeled "conspiracy theory." There are indeed some untenable, improvable conspiracy theories floating around, but there are in fact real "conspiracies" -- That is, groups of people who have certain plans which they don't reveal to the public. For instance, the plans for the control of the oil in the Middle East are not made public, and instead they talk of overthrowing tyranny, instituting democracy, bringing freedom, etc.
Steve Neal, in the Chicago Sun-Times (Feb. 11. 2004):
As the nation celebrates the 195th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth on Thursday, Richard Norton Smith is making long-term plans to extend the Lincoln legacy.
Smith, 50, director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, who works out of an office in the Old State Capitol in Springfield, is looking ahead to the 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial; the 2008 150th anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, 2010-2015.
''Nearly two centuries after his birth, Abraham Lincoln's greatness is universally conceded,'' Smith has written. ''Yet the man himself is fast receding in popular memory. To many Americans our 16th president remains at once the most universally recognizable and elusive of figures.''
Smith said it is the goal of the Lincoln Library and Museum ''to convey Lincoln whole, employing 21st century technology to make the 19th century live again,'' and to establish Springfield as ''the preeminent center of Lincoln scholarship.''
The Lincoln library has more than 47,000 Lincoln documents in its collection, including an original copy of the Gettysburg Address.
Gov. Blagojevich, who recruited the nationally renowned historian for this task, predicts that Smith will transform the Springfield complex into ''the most exciting, the most dynamic and most successful presidential library in the nation.'' To help Smith in this effort, Blagojevich recently tapped former Gov. Jim Edgar, with whom Blagojevich shares a passion for history, as chairman of the Lincoln Library and Museum foundation board.
Blagojevich has also named Loop lawyer Wayne Whalen, one of the chief architects of the 1970 Illinois Constitution, and Bernard M. Judge, publisher of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, as members of the library's board.
Smith, who has been on the job since December, previously served as director of the Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Herbert Hoover presidential libraries and the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.
Among the reasons Smith is excited about the Lincoln center's potential to be a national tourist attraction is that with more than 50,000 square feet for the museum, the exhibition area will be three times larger than the Reagan library museum, which had been the largest in the presidential library system.
''Those responsible for conceiving the Lincoln Library and Museum have gotten the most important thing right,'' Smith said. ''They have designed a museum of unparalleled size, originality and educational promise.''
Peter Waldman, in the WSJ (Feb. 3, 2004):
Bernard Lewis often tells audiences about an encounter he once had in Jordan. The Princeton University historian, author of more than 20 books on Islam and the Middle East, says he was chatting with Arab friends in Amman when one of them trotted out an argument familiar in that part of the world.
"We have time, we can wait," he quotes the Jordanian as saying."We got rid of the Crusaders. We got rid of the Turks. We'll get rid of the Jews."
Hearing this claim"one too many times," Mr. Lewis says, he politely shot back,"Excuse me, but you've got your history wrong. The Turks got rid of the Crusaders. The British got rid of the Turks. The Jews got rid of the British. I wonder who is coming here next."
The vignette, recounted in the 87-year-old scholar's native British accent, always garners laughs. Yet he tells it to underscore a serious point. Most Islamic countries have failed miserably at modernizing their societies, he contends, beckoning outsiders -- this time, Americans -- to intervene....
Mr. Lewis's work has many critics. Some academics say Mr. Lewis's descriptions of Arab and Muslim failures epitomize what the late Edward Said of Columbia University dubbed"Orientalism" -- the shading of history to justify Western conquest. Mideast historian Juan Cole of the University of Michigan praises Mr. Lewis's scholarly works earlier in his career but says his more-popular writings of recent years tend to caricature Muslims as poor losers, helpless and enraged.
Mr. Cole is among those who say Mr. Lewis's call for military intervention to transform failed Muslim states risks making the culture clash between Islamic lands and the West worse. So far, they say, Iraq looks more like a breeding ground for terrorism than a showcase of democracy -- not surprising, they say, given that the U.S. invaded an old and proud civilization.
"Lewis has lived so long, he's managed to live into an era when some people in Washington are reviving empire thinking," says Mr. Cole."He's never understood the realities of political and social mobilization and the ways they make empire untenable."
Ilan Pappe of Haifa University says Mr. Lewis's view that political cultures can be remade through force contributed to Israel's decision to invade Lebanon in 1982."It took the Israelis 18 years, and 1,000 soldiers killed, to abandon that strategy," Mr. Pappe says."If the Americans operate under the same assumptions in Iraq, they'll fail the way the Israelis failed."
Call it the Lewis Doctrine. Though never debated in Congress or sanctified by presidential decree, Mr. Lewis's diagnosis of the Muslim world's malaise, and his call for a U.S. military invasion to seed democracy in the Mideast, have helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years. The occupation of Iraq is putting the doctrine to the test.
For much of the second half of the last century, America viewed the Mideast and the rest of the world through a prism shaped by George Kennan, author of the doctrine of" containment." In a celebrated 1947 article in Foreign Affairs focused on the Soviet Union, Mr. Kennan gave structure to U.S. policy in the Cold War. It placed the need to contain Soviet ambitions above all else.
Terrorism has replaced Moscow as the global foe. And now America, having outlasted the Soviets to become the sole superpower, no longer seeks to contain but to confront, defeat and transform. How successful it is at remolding Iraq and the rest of the Mideast could have a huge impact on what sort of superpower America will be for decades to come: bold and assertive -- or inward, defensive and cut off.
As mentor and informal adviser to some top U.S. officials, Mr. Lewis has helped coax the White House to shed decades of thinking about Arab regimes and the use of military power. Gone is the notion that U.S. policy in the oil-rich region should promote stability above all, even if it means taking tyrants as friends. Also gone is the corollary notion that fostering democratic values in these lands risks destabilizing them. Instead, the Lewis Doctrine says fostering Mideast democracy is not only wise but imperative.
After Sept. 11, 2001, as policy makers fretted urgently about how to understand and deal with the new enemy, Mr. Lewis helped provide an answer. If his prescription is right, the U.S. may be able to blunt terrorism and stabilize a region that, as the chief exporter of oil, powers the industrial world and underpins the U.S.-led economic order. If it's wrong, as his critics contend, America risks provoking sharper conflicts that spark more terrorism and undermine energy security.
David Gritten, writing in the LAT (Feb. 3, 2004):
For the last 20 years on British television, Michael Wood has done for history what David Attenborough has done for natural history. Like Attenborough, Wood is erudite and authoritative, but with an infectious on-camera enthusiasm that prevents his subject matter from becoming dry.
In such series as "Legacy," "Conquistadors," "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great" and "Art of the Western World," Wood, an author as well as TV presenter, blows the cobwebs off history. He addresses his TV audience in an earnest, almost pleading tone that commands attention.
He wears his learning lightly, and for his latest series, "In Search of Shakespeare" (8-9 p.m. Thursdays on PBS, through Feb. 19), which delves into the Bard's family background and life, one might assume he would need help. Literary critics have analyzed Shakespeare's life more thoroughly than historians. So did Wood need to read each play in his canon, looking for clues?
"Well, no, actually," said Wood modestly, leaning against a desk in the offices of Maya Vision, the production company of which he is a partner, near the British Museum. "I've been a Shakespeare man since I was 11. There are only two of his plays I've never seen on stage. At school and university I acted in Shakespeare a lot. I even toured the States as a student with the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company. We performed 'Twelfth Night' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' "
It shows. Wood enunciates as clearly as any Shakespearean actor, announcing his series (which in part aims to conclude whether Shakespeare really wrote all the plays credited to him) as "an historical detective story, an Elizabethan whodunit."
He is 55, but looks younger. There is nothing of the remote academic about him. He is friendly, approachable, with tousled hair and a taste for casual clothes: the series finds him clad mostly in sweaters and a leather jacket. Several scenes show him tramping across marshy land around Shakespeare's Stratford-on-Avon hometown in Wellington boots.
Wood admitted when he told academic colleagues he was researching the Bard's life, he encountered scepticism. "They said: 'This is not how we're taught to deal with William Shakespeare.' But I don't know why he should be treated differently from Wordsworth or Melville. There's an idea he's such a genius that you don't need to know the facts about him, that his biography doesn't matter. But you'd never say that about any other figure."
Consequently, Wood specifically concentrated his search around the Stratford area for clues to his early life: "It's logical. You're made by your mom and your dad, and where you grew up." He came away with a contentious theory -- that Shakespeare's family were Catholics, which imposed divided loyalties on them in Protestant Elizabethan England.
He also investigated Shakespeare's "lost years" from the age of 18, when he married Anne Hathaway and left his hometown, and 28, when he burst on to London's theater scene, an apparently full-fledged talent.
Wood is fascinated by this little-known period of the Bard's life, and typically likens it to the years the Beatles spent honing their skills night after night in obscure clubs in Hamburg, Germany, before returning home and achieving "instant" fame. "It's not a trivial comparison," Wood noted. "For me, the Beatles are among the most significant phenomena of the last century."
Above all, Wood aims to demolish vague popular notions about Shakespeare: "It's absurd, this idea that he's this balding guy in a ruff and a quill, an establishment figure who's safe and conservative. He's much more complex than that."
Wood studied history at Oxford as an undergraduate, then embarked on three years of a doctorate on 10th century England. He left without completing it, and entered journalism as a news reporter for the commercial channel ITV, then for the BBC as a current-affairs producer. Around 1980, he wanted to make a film about the Anglo-Saxons, and his supervisor suggested he present it himself. He did, and attracted favorable reviews; it was the turning point in Wood's career.
He had always loved seeing the world, and now relished doing so as a paid job. He traveled the whole length of the Congo for the BBC's "Great River Journeys," and enjoyed a long spell in the Mediterranean for a series on Bronze Age archeology, including such sites as Troy and Knossos. This was his first series that aired in America.
But Wood has drifted in and out of TV over the years to concentrate on writing -- one reason he is lesser known than, say, Attenborough. He quit the BBC in 1986, took time off and visited India. After he returned he made the "Legacy" series about the birth of civilization in Iraq (a country of which he is particularly fond), India, China and other ancient cultures. After that he became a frequent broadcast for Voice of America radio. In the mid-'90s, he returned to TV, fronting the Alexander and conquistador series.
Yet despite his skill in writing for the small screen, and his ease before the cameras, Wood feels TV has limitations: "I think it's a very important medium, especially for enthusing and exciting people. A TV presenter like me is a popularizer, a link between scholars and the general public. But it's not a medium for analysis."
Noting that his "In Search of Shakespeare," which accompanies the TV series, was published in October, he stressed: "The book has what I feel is the best available account of Shakespeare's background. The book's the place where you can provide all the supporting evidence."
Kimberly Strassel, senior editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 6, 2004):
History has its fair share of persecuted geniuses, men who were ahead of their time and made to pay for it. There's the hemlocked Socrates, the house-arrested Galileo, the exiled Rousseau. And to this list of giants it seems that we are now expected to add the name of Michael Bellesiles.
Mr. Bellesiles is the former Emory professor who shook the scholarly world in 2000 with his book"Arming America." An academic bombshell, the tome went against long-held beliefs by claiming that few colonial Americans actually owned guns. This set off a riotous public debate over whether the Second Amendment was designed to protect individual gun rights. Mr. Bellesiles was showered with prizes and media praise, becoming an instant academic star.
That is, until his peers started looking into that little thing called research. Reputable scholars in the ensuing months tore apart his work on probate and military records, travel narratives, and other documents. Mr. Bellesiles, when asked to explain, provided ever-more outlandish excuses: that his notes had been lost in a flood, that his Web site had been hacked, that he couldn't remember where he'd found certain documents. The officials of the prestigious Bancroft Prize stripped him of his award, he left Emory and Knopf chose to stop publishing his book. Most of us sighed happily and figured that was the end of that academic scandal.
But oh, no. It turns out that Mr. Bellesiles is still riding his dead horse, his nonexistent guns still blazing. Soft Skull Press (which takes pride in putting out books that other publishers avoid like ricin) has not only agreed to reissue"Arming America" but has decided to release Mr. Bellesiles's latest response to his critics. This 59-page pamphlet,"Weighed in an Even Balance," is a spirited attempt by Mr. Bellesiles to turn himself into the world's latest misunderstood genius. As such, it's worth reading for pure entertainment value.
Much of the booklet is a repeat of the professor's creative excuses and dissembling. He explains again about the flood and helpfully assures us that he is not an agent of the Zionist Occupational Government (though surely that is why the Bancroft panel took away his prize, right?). He does acknowledge a few errors, but only after pointing out that"even the finest scholars . . . make mistakes." As proof, he cites one blooper in esteemed historian David McCullough's 1,120-page biography of Harry Truman.
But the most amusing parts of the pamphlet are those meant to support our scholar's belief that he is up against a stubborn world that refuses to open its mind to the truth. And his sense of persecution and righteousness is very much on display. The very title of his book is taken from Job:"Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may known mine integrity."
And that's just for starters. The pamphlet is sprinkled with quotations from thoughtful men, all meant to back up Mr. Bellesiles's argument that he is fighting the good fight. We hear from Isaiah Berlin:"Few things have done more harm than the belief on the part of individuals or groups . . . that he or she or they are in sole possession of the truth." One epigraph recounts that in the 16th century, Oxford used to fine any student who diverged from the teachings of Aristotle. We are clearly meant to envision a fiesty Mr. Bellesiles handing over his shillings to the dons.
We are treated to lecturing tracts about the benefits of scholarly disagreement, the complex nature of historical research and the need for academic exploration. And finally, in case readers still aren't getting his drift, Mr. Bellesiles sums it all up in his conclusion:"There are those who rest their very identity on the notion of a certain, unchanging past. The vision that society is unalterable is not just incorrect, it is dangerously undemocratic, and as such should be of concern to every modern historian."
In fact, the academic world is hardly a monolothic creature that resists all change. If it were, we'd still be trying to explain how the sun moves around the Earth. Most historians and scientists are wise enough to realize that new discoveries or interpretations hold out opportunity. But before they completely cast aside mountains of research, they usually demand some proof. Mr. Bellesiles's problem isn't that he's misunderstood; it's that he still hasn't given them any.
Or as the old saying goes:"To be a persecuted genius, you not only have to be persecuted; you also have to be right."
Bill Graham, writing in the Kansas City Star (Feb. 1, 2004):
In January 1804, William Clark felt ill as he waited near St. Louis for a trek with Meriwether Lewis to the Pacific.
He had broken through ice the day before while trying to cross a pond on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.
After the dunking, Clark wrote, “I returned before Sun Set, and found that my feet, which were wet, had frozed to my Shoes, which rendered precaution necessary to prevent a frost bite, the Wind from the W, across the Sand Islands in the mouth of the Missouries, raised Such a dust that I could not see in that derection, the Ice Continue to run & river rise Slowly – exceeding Cold day.”
This year, as America celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from St. Louis to Oregon and back, history buffs will be able to track details and daily life along the trail largely because a University of Nebraska historian — Gary E. Moulton — labored two decades to bring the words of “the writingest explorers of their time'' to life. Such as:
“Christmas 25th Decr:'' Clark wrote in 1803. “I was wakened by a Christmas discharge (gunfire) found that Some of the party had got Drunk (2 fought), the men frolicked and hunted all day, Snow this morning, Ice run all day, Several Turkey Killed Shields returned with a cheese & 4 lb butter, Three Indians Come to day to take Christmas with us.”
Such are the passages to be gleaned from The Definitive Journals of Lewis and Clark , a 13-volume edition edited by Moulton, 61, of Lincoln, Neb.
The authors are Lewis and Clark and four of their enlisted men on one of America's greatest scientific explorations and wilderness adventures.
Modern writers have mined phrases from expedition records for books billed as the journals of Lewis and Clark. But they used only excerpts, often focused mostly on the Rocky Mountains and the Far West.
Only Moulton has compiled every journal, map, field note and scribble on a scrap of paper into a complete and authoritative account of what the explorers wrote.
“Our goal,” he said, “was to get every word of Lewis and Clark accessible to the public. We couldn't slight a particular place because we weren't interested in it.”
Darryl Owens, writing in the Ft. Wayne News Sentinel (Jan. 30, 2004):
Sometimes, history needs a nudge. And other times, only a good arm-twisting will do.
John Hope Franklin ought to know. Twice he nearly missed his waltz with history, flirting with sexier prospects.
When he was an undergraduate at Fisk University, it took a dynamic professor to nudge him into his quest. The second time it took extra prodding.
Franklin received a letter from a publishing house suggesting he write a book on African-American history."I said, `Maybe down the road,'" he recalls.
But the publishing representative visited and"really twisted my arm" with a philosophical charge and a $500 advance:"He told me this is what I ought to do. I decided I'd better take him on."
That decision led Franklin to write a seminal volume that would not only record the fractured history of African-Americans in the diaspora but also launch an unparalleled career in letters and activism.
"John Hope Franklin is by any measurement one of the premier historians of our time," says Richard Blackett, the Andrew Jackson professor of history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. His" commitment to the struggle against inequality and oppression, his mentoring of younger students, makes him, in every sense, a gentleman and a scholar."
Now, 57 years later,"From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans," is in its eighth edition and continues to speak about the place of stolen Africans in American history.
But these days Franklin is examining history from an uncharacteristic vantage point: his 89 years.
With perhaps his final major project, tentatively titled"Vintage Years: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin," he is shifting his critical lens to study the nexus between his life as a black man and the history of a people often pushed to the margins of American experience.
"I don't know," Franklin says when asked what his book will reveal about the man considered the dean of black historians."I just bare my soul."
In a real way, his childhood offers a snapshot of the extremes of black American life.
Born in 1915 in Rentiesville, a black village 65 miles south of Tulsa, Okla., Franklin was named after John Hope, a black educator and opponent of Booker T. Washington's accommodationist ideas for blacks. As the son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher,"I grew up thinking that you were supposed to read and write all your waking hours," Franklin says.
He learned that race mattered when a white conductor booted him from a train for daring to sit in the"white-only" coach. As the 6-year-old boy and his mother walked the six miles back to Rentiesville, his eyes burned with shame.
Don't cry over the law, his mother said. And she reassured him with words that would lodge in his soul: You're as good as anybody. Prove you're better than that.