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.
Jim Benning, in Alternet.org (March 15, 2004):
Author Chalmers Johnson was asleep in his San Diego-area home on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the telephone rattled him awake.
Metropolitan Books publicist Tracy Locke was on the line from her Manhattan office two miles from Ground Zero. The previous year, she had promoted Johnson's book, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire , which warned that U.S. policies abroad were creating the potential for retaliatory attacks."Blowback" is the term the CIA uses to describe the unintended consequences of covert actions.
The book had generated only modest interest when it was published, but with the events of the morning, Locke knew that was about to change. Before rushing home, she spoke into the telephone in a voice flattened with shock, telling the author,"Turn on your television. The World Trade Center has just been hit. The worst kind of blowback has happened."
Johnson was stunned. He hadn't exactly predicted the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the book, but he had come close."World politics in the twenty-first century," he wrote,"will in all likelihood be driven primarily by blowback from the second half of the twentieth century – that is, from the unintended consequences of the Cold War and the crucial American decision to maintain a Cold War posture in a post-Cold War world."
Blowback shot up bestseller lists and was reprinted thirteen times as Americans struggled to make sense of the attacks. Impressed with Johnson's prescience, the German magazine Der Spiegel labeled him the"California Cassandra" after the mythological Greek prophesier who often went ignored. Johnson had more to say, however. In January 2004, his follow-up book hit stores and soon landed on bestseller lists. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic rails against America's vast military presence abroad and warns that more harm is on the way, including perhaps the end of the republic itself, if the nation does not rein in its military and change its aggressive posture.
Neoconservative thinkers behind the Project for the New American Century would beg to differ with Johnson's analysis, of course, but many others have embraced the book. The Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune praised it, and writers as diverse as William Greider of The Nation and James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly have voiced their enthusiasm. Wrote Fallows:"Chalmers Johnson's relentless logic, authoritative scholarship, and elegantly biting prose distinguish the Sorrows of Empire, like all his other work."
Paige Williams, writing for the Financial Times (London) (March 13, 2004)
One of Samantha Power's favourite lunch spots is a place off Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts called Casablanca. Decorated with 20ft murals of the movie, Bogart and Bergman gaze with melancholy at diners digging into their seared cod and mixed greens.
The theme has echoes of Hitler and of Hollywood, which resonate because Power's seminal writings on war and human rights have made her a celebrity favoured by the American left...
She is equally distinguished in accomplishment. Over-achievement is de rigueur in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but rarely does it come so globally at the age of 33. In her best-selling book of 2002, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Power chronicled the role of the US in the history of genocide. The book criticises America's record of passivity in the face of international slaughter and has become required reading for anyone hoping to strengthen US foreign policy on human rights. Power pushes the issue as founding executive director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights at Harvard, where her obsessive tendencies have not gone unnoticed. (When she was working on the book she would crank the heat up to 80 deg F during the day so she could stay warm while she worked late into the night.)
Yet lately, to her dismay, she has been at risk of being interpreted as a bit more hawk than dove - of being appropriated to justify President George W. Bush's war in Iraq. She cringes at the idea...
..."It causes me great discomfort when my book is read in its most narrow sense, which is that, 'The United States should intervene militarily when it feels like it'," she says. She puts down her fork."I mean, the book is the furthest thing from a plea for American military intervention, and certainly for unilateral military intervention on a whim or on a subjective set of excuses and justifications. It's not even about genocide. It's about are we injecting concern for foreign life, for human life, into our foreign policy as a matter of course and not as a fluke matter of convergence with national interests? And the answer remains no."...
...Power is hyper-articulate, and unhesitant in her delivery, which gives me a chance to work on the grilled pear salad. She is also fiercely accommodating of the tape recorder under her nose and doesn't knock it over once, even though she speaks with her hands: twisting and turning as though wringing out a point, this one being that the US should have intervened in Iraq not last year but in 1987-88, when Saddam Hussein's regime was exterminating an estimated 100,000 Kurds.
"I think the narrow read on my book is, 'Intervene when there is badness on the face of the earth, and if you can't get (UN) Security Council support, well, so what?'
"Having experienced a little of war in Bosnia, it is so awful that it really is something one should employ as an absolute last resort, and my criteria for military intervention - with a strong preference for multilateral intervention - is an immediate threat of large-scale loss of life. That's a standard that would have been met in Iraq in 1988, but wasn't in 2003."...
..."The war in Iraq very plainly was not about Saddam's genocide against the Kurds and human rights. It was about a perception of Saddam as a threat to very traditional American security interests. Now the so-called (WMD) security threat has been exposed as exaggerated, at best, and concocted, at worst, the only argument this administration has left for having gone to war is the human rights-democratisation-genocide argument. So they have an awful lot invested in trying to make Iraq a more humane place."...
..."A paradox is that I would hope I was a poster child for the integration of consideration of human rights into American foreign policy, and for the recognition that American interests will best be advanced if we do this," she says.
Other than her close friend Doris Kearns Goodwin, the historian, Power is the only person I've met who can speak at such length while barely coming up for air.
She says it's critical for the US to win back some credibility,"and not be the bull in the china shop".
"Can this administration restore America's credibility?" I ask.
"No," Power says."I don't think so."...
..."We're still going to have special interests no matter who's the president," she says."We're still going to have a reluctance to subject ourselves to international law that we feel we're above. The unfortunate part of the relationship about human rights and security is that now we view the welfare of foreign citizens as valuable and relevant only in so far as it advances our security."...
Memo to the staff of the New York Times from Bill Keller, executive editor (March 10, 2004):
I'm excited to report that we have a new editor for the Book Review. He is Sam Tanenhaus, a writer of distinction, a thinker of tremendous range and ambition, a passionate consumer of books, a kind of literary and intellectual fire-hose. He will begin April 1.
Sam's list of accomplishments should probably be headed by his virtuoso 1997 biography of Whittaker Chambers, a finalist for both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. Richard Bernstein's review in our pages called it"the kind of writing that can keep you propped up against your pillow late at night." Sam is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and his writing on books and ideas has appeared in just about every significant venue in the English language (including our own magazine, Op-Ed page, Arts & Ideas page and, of course, Book Review). Taking charge of the Book Review means he will set aside his current work in progress, a biography of William F. Buckley Jr. Though he has made his reputation in non-fiction, Sam's M.A. from Yale was in English literature, and in our interviews we've found him to be an avid reader and incisive critic of serious fiction. To anyone who might have fallen for the notion that we were looking to dumb down this precious franchise: take that!
In nearly four months of searching, we considered most of the most impressive talents in the world of book reviewing. Many of them wrote incisive diagnostic essays on the Review and its promise. Jill and I interviewed widely -- and, I confess, we may have prolonged the process a little because those conversations were so stimulating. In the end, we kept coming back to Sam, his ideas, his passion for the Review, his energy.
This will be a kind of homecoming, and not just because of his double-digit byline count as a Times contributor. Until April 1999, Sam worked for Katy Roberts as an editor on the Op-Ed page. He gets The Times, which gives us great confidence that he will bring not only fresh creative energy but the ability to make things happen.
Chip McCrath [McGrath] , who has been eagerly awaiting his liberation to the writing life, bequeaths to Sam an illustrious record and a staff dedicated to the highest standards.They have been patient with us and generous with their thoughts about the Review. I think they, and all of us, are in for an exciting time.
An influential Democratic historian has credited President Bush with instituting one of only three"grand strategies" in the history of U.S. foreign policy by trading in the doctrine of containment for pre-emption.
John Lewis Gaddis of Yale said his fellow historians have not paid sufficient attention to the importance of Mr. Bush's sweeping overhaul of U.S. foreign policy because they are blinded by their liberal bias.
He also accused former President Bill Clinton of failing to adequately address global threats that gathered on his watch.
"The Bush team really did, in a moment of crisis, come up with a very important statement on grand strategy, which has not been taken as seriously as it should have been taken, particularly within the academic community," Mr. Gaddis said in an interview.
The eminent Cold War historian makes his argument in a new book called"Surprise, Security and the American Experience," published by Harvard University Press, which has caught the attention of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other White House advisers.
It also has earned the derision of Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign.
"There's nothing visionary about a reckless, arrogant and rigidly ideological foreign policy that's lost America influence and cooperation in the world to win the war on terror," said David Wade, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Democrat.
Mr. Gaddis writes that America's three grand strategies were instituted by Mr. Bush, John Quincy Adams and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. All three strategies were prompted by rare, catastrophic attacks on America by foreign enemies.
In 1814, after the British burned the White House, Adams, then secretary of state, resolved to secure America through pre-emptive continental expansion, a grand strategy that endured for a century.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor prompted the United States to lead the Allies to victory in World War II, Roosevelt and his successors as president went about securing America through a grand strategy that came to be known as containment of communism. But that strategy became obsolete when the Cold War ended shortly before Mr. Clinton took office.
"The Clinton administration was somewhat like the Harding and Coolidge administrations after World War I," Mr. Gaddis said."There was the sense that the war had been won, the fundamental processes in world politics were favorable to us, and therefore you could just kind of sit back and let them run."
But these processes of globalization and self-determination during the Clinton administration did nothing to stop terrorists from using minimal resources to inflict massive death and destruction against the United States and its interests.
The former president did not act decisively to head off this gathering threat, Mr. Gaddis said.
"It just seems to me that any good strategist would be unwise to sit back and assume that things are going our way," he said."You ought to be thinking through how what appear to be favorable trends can produce backlashes."
Such a backlash occurred on September 11, 2001, necessitating a new grand strategy, which was implemented by Mr. Bush....
Interview with Douglas Brinkley conducted by Elizabeth Shelburne, in the Atlantic Monthly (March 10, 2004):
Why did you choose John Kerry as your subject? I know you started the project in 2002 before Kerry had announced his candidacy for President. What drew you to him?
I'm the director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, and we have a longstanding World War II oral history project. We've interviewed thousands of veterans from D-Day, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, the Battle of the Bulge, and so on. A couple years ago, we shifted to the Vietnam War. Now we're interviewing Vietnam veterans. Our first project was interviewing 150 veterans of the Battle of Khe Sanh. The second project was interviewing all of the Vietnam senators: John Kerry, Bob Kerrey, John McCain, Max Cleland, Chuck Wild, and Chuck Hegel—and having them talk about how they served in Vietnam and then came back and ran for the Senate as veterans. That's what their main calling card was. I quickly saw that biographies or memoirs had already been written about most of these guys. But nothing had been written about John Kerry's experience—he was sort of a blank slate.
Also, when I interviewed him I learned that he had kept voluminous diaries and war notes—letters home, all of that. So I started thinking about him more and more, and it made perfect sense to do a book on him. With John Kerry, you not only get all the combat action sequences of Vietnam in the Mekong Delta, but you also get the anti-war movement. Vietnam is more than just a battlefield term. It defines an era of both fighting and protest.
Why do you think Kerry granted you the kind of access that he did?
Believe it or not, simply because I asked. He had all this material in his closet that he hadn't looked at for thirty-five years, and I think he had three choices. One was to keep it all in the closet. The second was to write a memoir himself. And the third was to turn it over to somebody else who would write about it.
This was not an immediate thing. I put in a request when I first heard about the existence of the material, and I was stonewalled for month after month. Finally, I went and interviewed him a second time, and I told him that it was killing me to know that those diaries were just sitting there and that I couldn't read them. He reconsidered and one day just said,"Go at it."
You have to remember that Bob Kerrey got completely pummeled for his service as a U.S. Navy Seal in Vietnam. He was run out of the Senate and run out of politics altogether, and lambasted everywhere from The New York Times to The Nation . So it was not clear that opening this vault, which included stories like the one about Kerry accidentally killing a young girl on a sampan, would be helpful to him. When the Atlantic Monthly article about him first came out a couple months ago, Senator Kerry was very nervous about it. Nobody knew how the media would judge it. But the article got a great response. People felt it showed how literate he was, how thoughtful—that it demonstrated a kind of intellectual angst. But you can never predict how these things are going to play in the culture.
By the second page, you have laid out one of the central themes of the book, which seems to be that John Kerry is this Boston Brahmin who often finds himself at a remove from the people around him, both in the military and in public life. But again and again he's able to cross the chasm. How does he manage to do that?
He really cares about the individuals that he befriends. He has a bond with this band of brothers from Vietnam. These guys are like true family to him. For example, in Vietnam, Kerry never liked to go to the Officers' Club. He would just go eat with the enlisted men. That's unusual. Most of the young officers liked getting away from the enlisted men and hanging out in the Officers' Club. Kerry enjoyed being with the enlisted men more. He just functions better with everyday working people—he doesn't condescend to them. He's not trying to wear blue-collar outfits; he'll wear his Hermès tie to go talk to steel workers. At first, it seemed to me like, God, he's dressed in this perfect suit, and he's going to a factory? But ultimately, the factory workers prefer that to his pretending that he's one of them. We can make fun of him for looking stiff, or for wearing a fancy suit, but it's much worse to seem like you're changing your clothes and your attitude just to be something you're not.
In your book, you mention that Kerry fancied himself more of a"liaison between the establishment and the have-nots, than a true member of either." Does he still have that vision of himself now?
Yes. That's very much in the aristocratic, democratic tradition of people like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy who were able to champion the underclass, even though they themselves came from the upper class.
Kerry volunteered for the Navy after Yale. What drove him to do that?
To understand John Kerry, you need to look at his father, Richard Kerry. During World War II, Richard was a test pilot. In fact, he flew planes at such a high altitude that he contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a hospital in the Rocky Mountains. John Kerry was born in December 1943 in Denver, Colorado, while his father was thought to be dying of TB. Once his father healed, he was no longer able to fly planes at that altitude. He shifted from working in the U.S. military to working for the State Department.
The Kerry family had been stationed in Berlin, Oslo, France, and all over the eastern seaboard. They had a great sense of public service. Richard Kerry absolutely loved the American armed forces, and there was nothing that made him more proud than for his son to enlist. Richard Kerry was of the WWII generation, which felt that enlisting was how you showed your love for your country. By 1965, Richard Kerry thought Lyndon Johnson was making a terrible mistake in sending mass numbers of troops into Vietnam, and he was violently opposed to U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. But in spite of these feelings, he also thought his son should serve in uniform. People today have a lot of trouble understanding that. When you believe in your country and you want to wear the uniform, you go into the military even if there's turmoil, and you follow your commander-in-chief, even if you don't agree with him. There are plenty of young men and women in Iraq right now who don't think we should be there. But that doesn't mean they're not doing their duty in an admirable fashion every day.
If you were Kerry, how could you not serve? Was he going to live his life as a fraud—as somebody like Dick Cheney who finagled five deferments? Or was he going to try to use his father's influence like Bush to jump over a hundred thousand other people on a waiting list to get a National Guard billet? He couldn't live with himself if he did that. That's how one defines character.
Max Boot, in the Weekly Standard (March 15, 2004):
In 1995, when I was a junior editor at the Wall Street Journal, I was handed "The Daniel J. Boorstin Reader" to review. I had heard of the author but had never read his work. As I dove into this 900-page compendium, I quickly discovered that Boorstin had a discerning eye for detail, an ability to compose flowing sentences, and a love of quirky facts.
He put those talents to use writing compelling narratives that ranged from mummifying techniques in ancient Egypt to art in modern France. His masterpiece was "The Americans," a trilogy that showed the importance of spelling bees, the garment industry, traveler's checks, and all sorts of other hitherto underestimated influences in the making of this country.
After my gushing review of the "Reader" appeared, I got an appreciative letter from Boorstin inviting me to lunch at the Cosmos Club. This is where--at its former location on Lafayette Square, across from the White House--Civil Service commissioner Theodore Roosevelt once held Rudyard Kipling spellbound. Our lunch was in the grand old pile where the club moved in 1952. With his natty bow tie, horn-rimmed glasses, and tweed jacket, Boorstin looked very much the Washington sage.
What I remember chiefly about the lunch is that he was a charming raconteur and a man of great learning who graciously spoke to me as if I were an equal. Though he was already a wizened ancient--or so it seemed to a twentysomething--his thoughts flowed as smoothly as a fine fountain pen and his
talk was as intoxicating as a cocktail.
I went away from the meal with enhanced respect for the great man. It was with sadness, then, that I read of his death on February 28 at 89. He was treated to lengthy obituaries, which duly noted his glittering résumé: Rhodes scholar, professor at the University of Chicago, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of History and Technology, Librarian of Congress, bestselling author. But if it's possible for someone who won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and just about every other accolade a historian could reap to be underappreciated, then I would say, judging from the obituaries, that Boorstin was underappreciated.
Most of the articles had a slightly sniffy tone. They praised Boorstin, to be sure, but with reservations. He was, first of all, a "popular" historian--not a compliment in today's academy. He had also "named names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee following a youthful flirtation with communism. Perhaps worst of all, his books are known for celebrating America's achievements instead of wallowing in its shortcomings. As a consequence, Yale's David Greenberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Boorstin . . . had come to be derided in some quarters as a conservative."
It's not hard to see why he might have gotten such a reputation. An old-fashioned liberal, Boorstin was disgusted by the excesses of 1960s leftists, whom he labeled, in a 1968 Esquire article, "The New Barbarians." He also opposed racial quotas and much of what passed for ethnic studies, which he once described as "racist trash."
Carlin Romano, in the Nation (March 5, 2004):
Time magazine once diagnosed newspaper columnist, author, professor-at-large and Hugh Hefner sidekick Max Lerner (190292) as suffering from a" crush on America." Seven years after his death, Lerner's faint presence in repositories of print immortality suggests that the feeling in the other direction might have been characterized the same way, except the magic's gone.
Despite 6,000 columns for the New York Post , wide syndication in his prime and scores of trenchant articles for PM , The New Republic and this magazine (of which he was briefly political editor in 1938), Lerner gets no entry in Donald Paneth's Encyclopedia of American Journalism or many other reference works. Despite his fifteen books, including America as a Civilization (1957), a masterly 1,036-page study that Henry Steele Commager thought earned Lerner his"place alongside Tocqueville and Bryce," you'll find no article on Lerner in such standard sources as Eric Foner and John Garraty's The Reader's Companion to American History . (Here the entry on old rival Walter Lippmann adds insult to injury, calling Lippmann"unique among twentieth-century writers in combining a career as an editor and syndicated columnist with that of an intellectual.") Turn to"L" in the sixteenth edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and there's just one line from Lerner--Alan Jay Lerner.
Not a yield likely to make Lerner's champions break into a chorus of"My Fair Culture." Is Lerner's low profile just the routine post-mortem slump that lasts until the first acolyte turns biographer, critic or annotator? Did Lerner's autumnal frolicking at the Playboy mansion, Esalen and similar drive-throughs of California sexuality spike his chances for inclusion in the establishment pantheon? Or is Lerner's dimmed reputation du jour simply a cautionary tale for all intellectuals who succumb to the lure of slapdash journalistic commentary for big bucks--the Alsops of yesteryear, the Wills and Krauthammers of today? Lerner's current eclipse may simply indicate an inverse relationship between excessive ephemeral writing and sustained reputation.
One pleasure of Sanford Lakoff's Max Lerner: Pilgrim in the Promised Land is that it makes a case for Lerner as a cultural thinker with no special pleading. Drawing on his personal familiarity with Lerner as he synthesizes Lerner's evolving thought, Lakoff, a onetime Lerner student and now a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, monitors his hybrid scholar/satyr from Minsk cradle to American grave. The accumulated detail is meant to protect Lerner--a romantic-poetry buff--from going the way of Ozymandias.
Belinda Cooper, in the NYT (March 6, 2004):
Taner Akcam doesn't seem like either a hero or a traitor, though he's been called both. A slight, soft-spoken man who chooses his words with care, Mr. Akcam, a Turkish sociologist and historian currently teaching at the University of Minnesota, writes about events that happened nearly a century ago in an empire that no longer exists: the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. But in a world where history and identity are closely intertwined, where the past infects today's politics, his work, along with that of like-minded Turkish scholars, is breaking new ground.
Mr. Akcam, 50, is one of a handful of scholars who are challenging their homeland's insistent declarations that the organized slaughter of Armenians did not occur; and he is the first Turkish specialist to use the word "genocide" publicly in this context.
That is a radical step when one considers that Turkey has threatened to sever relations with countries over this single word. In 2000, for example, Ankara derailed an American congressional resolution calling the 1915 killings "genocide" by threatening to cut access to military bases in the country."We accept that tragic events occurred at the time involving all the subjects of the Ottoman Empire," said Tuluy Tanc, minister counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, "but it is the firm Turkish belief that there was no genocide but self-defense of the Ottoman Empire."
Scholars like Mr. Akcam call this a misrepresentation that must be confronted. "We have to deal with history, like the Germans after the war," said Fikret Adanir, a Turkish historian who has lived in Germany for many years. "It's important for the health of the democracy, for civil society."
Most scholars outside Turkey agree that the killings are among the first 20th-century instances of "genocide," defined under the 1948 Genocide Convention as acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."
During World War I the government of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, fearing Armenian nationalist activity, organized mass deportations of Armenians from its eastern territories.
In what some consider the model for the Holocaust, men, women and children were sent into the desert to starve, herded into barns and churches that were set afire, tortured to death or drowned. The numbers who died are disputed: the Armenians give a figure of 1.5 million, the Turks several hundred thousand.
In the official Turkish story the Armenians were casualties of civil conflict they instigated by allying themselves with Russian forces working to break up the Ottoman Empire. In any case atrocities were documented in contemporary press reports, survivor testimony and dispatches by European diplomats, missionaries and military officers. Abortive trials of Ottoman leaders after World War I left an extensive record and some confessions of responsibility.
A legal analysis commissioned last year by the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York concluded that sufficient evidence existed to term the killings a "genocide" under international law.
Yet unlike Germany in the decades since the Holocaust, Turkey has consistently denied that the killings were intended or that the government at the time had any moral or legal responsibility. In the years since its founding in 1923 the Turkish Republic has drawn what the Turkish historian Halil Berktay calls a "curtain of silence" around this history at home and used its influence as a cold war ally to pressure foreign governments to suppress opposing views.
Mr. Akcam is among the most outspoken of the Turkish scholars who have defied this silence. A student leader of the leftist opposition to Turkey's repressive government in the 1970's, Mr. Akcam spent a year in prison for "spreading communist propaganda" before escaping to Germany. There, influenced in part by Germany's continuing struggle to understand its history, he began to confront his own country's past. While researching the post-World War I trials of Turkish leaders, he began working with Vahakn Dadrian, a pre-eminent Armenian historian of the killings. Their unlikely friendship became the subject of a 1997 Dutch film, "The Wall of Silence."
Turks fear to acknowledge the crimes of the past, Mr. Akcam says, because admitting that the founders of modern Turkey, revered today as heroes, were complicit in evil calls into question the country's very legitimacy. "If you start questioning, you have to question the foundations of the republic," he said, speaking intensely over glasses of Turkish tea in the book-lined living room of his Minneapolis home, as his 12-year-old daughter worked on her homework in the next room. In a study nearby transcriptions of Turkish newspapers from the 1920's were neatly piled.
Jonathan Calt Harris, managing editor of Campus Watch, in frontpagemag.com (March 8, 2004):
Central Connecticut State University, situated in New Briton and making up one part of a four-campus state university system, has a pattern of acute political bias when it comes to the Middle East.
Campus Watch began posting articles on CCSU as early as June 2002, and added a full survey page in January of 2003.
CCSU offers neither a prominent scholar in Middle East studies nor an established program in this field. Rather, it makes its mark through teach-ins and conferences; events run more like political rallies than scholarly inquiries. Then, far from doing anything to stem these tendencies, documents made available to Campus Watch reveal an administrative pattern that goes all the way to the top of the university system administration of ignoring this bias, concealing it, and rewarding it.
On November 8, 2000, CCSU faculty members Ghassan El-Eid and Norton Mezvinsky, plus Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiya, and Stephen Fuchs, a local rabbi invited at the last minute, held a teach-in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict co-sponsored by the colleges Center for International Education.[i] Some faculty cancelled classes and required their students to attend the event, with the result, notes Barry Gordon of the media watch group Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting (PRIMER), that a captive audience was subjected to seventy minutes of anti-Israel rhetoric, and then ten minutes of the pro-Israel perspective.[ii] The central theme of the event was to compare Israel with Nazism and apartheid.
(The full PRIMER report is available at Campus Watch at www.campus-watch.org/survey/id/43.)
[Editor: One of the speakers at the event, Norton Mezvinsky, is a professor of history at CCSU; Harris identifies Mezvinsky as "an anti-Zionist" who "lionizes Elmer Berger, an agitator who denied the existence of a Jewish people." Mezvinsky is co-editor of a "collection of articles in 1989 titled Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections."]
According to teachers reports, Mezvinsky informed the class that the well-armed and well-funded Israelis, fought the Palestinians in 1948, but did not mention that armies of five Arab countries first invaded the U.N.-sanctioned Jewish state. He blamed only Israel for the Palestinian refugee problem and never mentioned the estimated 800,000 Jewish refugees simultaneously expelled from Arab lands. Mezvinsky accused Israel of granting minimal rights to non-Jews, despite the fact that Arab citizens of Israel vote, sit in parliament, and have greater political and religious freedoms than do other Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East.[xv] One of the things that Mezvinsky said over and over again is that Israel is a terrorist state, one participant recalls....
So great was the public outcry over Mezvinskys lecture, however, CCSU momentarily awoke. The events organizer, Richard Benfield was quoted in the New Briton Herald calling Mezvinskys lecture more inflammatory than informational.[xx] President Judd scolded Mezvinsky. From what I have been advised, wrote Judd, you breeched [sic] the tenets of what I asked the faculty in this program to do....
In December of 2002, Norton Mezvinsky was rewarded for his extremism by being named a CSU Professor, an honor reserved for faculty members who fulfill the highest ideals of outstanding teaching, scholarly achievement and public service.[xxiv] An associate professor of history at CCSU, Katherine Hermes, declared Mezvinsky everything that a CSU professor stands for.
Even apart from the record noted above, this honor is puzzling. Mezvinskys 1999 book, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, co-authored with the late Israel Shahak, offers his interpretation of religious groups in Israel; it is noteworthy primarily for its erroneous depictions of Judaism. Mezvinsky declares that For religious Jews, the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value; for Likud, it has limited value.[xxvi] He asserts that under Jewish law, the killing by the Jew of a non-Jew under any circumstances is not regarded as murder.[xxvii] He inaccurately puts forth fringe views as representative of the Israeli polity, for instance citing rabbi Yitzak Ginsburgh, a radical theocratist who lauded Baruch Goldstein and wrote Jews killing non-Jews does not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion and the killing of innocent Arabs for reasons of revenge is a Jewish virtue. Mezvinsky falsely protrays this as a widespread Israeli opinion.
(Mezvinsky claims the quotations are out of context. I made several attempts for him to respond to the above quotations, but he made untenable demands to have his comments presented unedited and unabridged that I could not accept.) Diana Muir, a frequent reviewer for the Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor, finds that Mezvinskys book frequently substitutes his bias for knowledge. Beyond the malicious absurdity of its premise, wrote Muir, Mezvinskys work is riddled with undocumented slurs and falsehoods presented as fact.
David Greenberg, in the LAT (March 2, 2004):
By the end of his career, the Pulitzer Prize-wining historian Daniel Boorstin, who died last weekend at 89, had come to be derided in some quarters as a conservative. In an age that viewed national myths with skepticism, Boorstin celebrated American exceptionalism and touted Western achievements.
Ironically, though, Boorstin's own signal contribution to the world of ideas lies not in his now-dated Cold War boosterism but in his improbable legacy as a postmodern thinker one who became invaluable for comprehending today's image-drenched public life.
Boorstin's reputation for conservatism stemmed partly from his pronouncements against liberal shibboleths like affirmative action and multiculturalism, which he issued ex cathedra from his perch as librarian of Congress, a post he held from 1975 to 1987. But the perception of his political orientation also reflected his scholarship, dating to his influential 1953 book, "The Genius of American Politics."
That tract provocatively praised the absence of theory in American political debate. In contrast to the ideologically driven bloodshed that had scarred Europe, he argued, America's short life and abundant land had endowed it with a special, salutary pragmatism. Boorstin even interpreted the Civil War as conservative in nature, since both sides claimed allegiance to the Constitution instead of seeking to overturn it.
For stressing continuity rather than conflict in the American past, Boorstin was grouped with contemporaries like Louis Hartz and Richard Hofstadter as "consensus" historians. All of them found broad agreement among generations of Americans on the basic tenets of liberal capitalism leaving little room for more radical socialist movements, for example, to develop. But whereas Hartz and Hofstadter lamented the conformity and homogeneity of American thought and politics, Boorstin unapologetically admired it.
Yet if Boorstin's enthusiasm for American exceptionalism defined his place in his profession, in the wider world of letters he has come to be seen, a bit incongruously, as part of the canon of postmodern thinkers.
One tenet of postmodernism, to put it reductively, is that in advanced societies, reality has come to consist merely of constructed simulacra, with no grounding in material reference. In the 1970s and '80s, literary critics, mostly French, elaborated these concepts with a rarefied philosophy and a dense jargon (like "simulacra"). But Boorstin was onto many of these ideas even before the French, though in keeping with his disdain for theory he presented them in plain terms and sprightly prose as well as a tone of rueful nostalgia.
The critical work was "The Image: Or What Happened to the American Dream," published in 1961. A meditation on reality and illusion in the world around us, the book has become well known for many reasons including its definition of a celebrity as "a person who is well-known for his well-knownness." Above all, "The Image" decried the advent of what Boorstin termed the "pseudo-event": a staged occurrence that's not intrinsically significant but is created in order to make news a press conference, for instance, or the presidential debates of 1960, which Boorstin deplored as specious drama.
At their worst, creators of pseudo-events could wreak havoc; Boorstin considered Sen. Joseph McCarthy "a natural genius at creating reportable happenings" who could garner headlines merely by waving a piece of paper. Ultimately, Boorstin worried, the proliferation of contrived illusions threatened the viability of American democracy as a project in rational self-governance.
Since then, scholars and journalists have used the idea of the pseudo-event to critique virtually every aspect of public life. In recent weeks it's been used to explain incidents from Howard Dean's post-Iowa "scream" to the flap over Janet Jackson's bared breast. Boorstin invented a concept that the culture needed.
In "The Image," Boorstin also lamented how celebrities, with their manufactured reputations, had displaced the authentic heroes he admired those who earned fame through genuine innovations in leadership, science or the arts. Boorstin then reexamined such innovators in his later works, paying homage to intellectual adventurers from Columbus and Copernicus to Einstein and John Maynard Keynes.
Boorstin had his ideological blind spots, but in his long, idiosyncratic career, he managed to proffer a few real discoveries of his own meriting him a modest place in the history of human thought that he strove to understand.
Bruce Craig, in the weekly newsletter of the National Coalition for History (March 4, 2004):
This week, the 180,000-employee Department of Homeland Security celebrates its first anniversary as an institution. There to document the event is Priscilla Dale Jones, the department's recently hired historian. Her office is believed to be the only Congressionally sanctioned office of history in the federal government (see"Homeland Security History Office Authorized" in NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE, Vol. 9 #39; 9 October 2003).
Jones comes to the position with an MA in history from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Ph.D. from Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge, England. Her academic interests include modern Europe and Holocaust studies; her dissertation focused on the evolution of British war-crime policy from 1939-58.
Jones was selected for the historian position in part because of her strong background in oral history and also because of her experience in history-related contract administration. Prior to her appointment with the DHS she ran the oral history program at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, which, at the time, was associated with the Florida International University: More recently, she was a historian with the Air Force History Office where for a decade she assisted in the editing of a journal called Air Power History and managed various history-related contracts.
Jones began her new duties with the DHS earlier this month. Among the first tasks she hopes to tackle is to make contact with the broad community of federal historians and see how other departmental and agency history offices are organized and operate. After that she hopes to be able to develop a strategic plan for her office and begin to carry out the other objectives described in her office's legislative charge. We wish Priscilla"all-the-best" in her new position.
Roger Moore, in the Orlando Sentinel (Feb. 29, 2004):
In a recent radio interview, noted historian Paul Fussell admitted that he wrote his new book, The Boys' Crusade, as a"response" to the works of Stephen Ambrose and Tom Brokaw. Fretting over rose-colored obituaries highlighting Bob Hope's USO shows ("Front-line troops never saw Bob Hope") and Brokaw's pervasive"greatest generation" sugar-coating, Fussell wants to set -- or reset -- the record straight.
And Fussell, a decorated World War II infantry veteran and the author of The Great War and Modern Memory, as well as other authoritative works on how time and revision gild combat history, is just the guy to do that.
In 184 footnoted and pointed pages, Fussell reminds sentimentalists how furious the British were that the U.S. military and its troops brought their racism to the British Isles along with their pre-D-Day gear. He ridicules the misty-eyed last two-thirds of Saving Private Ryan. He reminds the reader of the near mutinous infighting within the Army -- 19,000 men who deserted in the 11 months U.S. troops fought in France, the Low Countries and Germany. He details the"friendly fire" blunders and intelligence failures that cost thousands of lives.
The boots on the ground, Fussell writes, knew all this. Whatever the"morale" back home or in the rear echelons, where Bob Hope put on his shows, the men on the lines were simply trying to stay alive.
And Fussell makes the point, over and over again, that the staggering casualties of the first months after D-Day meant that the U.S. Army in Europe grew younger, more poorly trained and"worse" as the war went on. Hundreds of thousands of young draftees were uprooted from their lives and sent to save the Brits and free the French, who didn't much care for them, in spite of their sacrifice.
Fussell has statistics, letters home, on-the-scene accounts and his own memories to bolster his arguments.
"Many officers neither had nor deserved the confidence of their men," one general of the day noted.
Pentagon"spin" was as vigorous then as it has proved since. Failures were covered up, lives wasted and young men left embittered by the friends they saw used up and spit out for a war most had a hard time understanding.
The word" crusade" that so many historians use to describe the Allied war effort? Fussell says that would have made your average infantryman laugh. Until, that is, the last days of the war, when they liberated the first concentration camps. Then, the"boys" of Fussell's army, got it. But that wasn't why they were there. They were drafted.
Fussell's point is that Brokaw, Ambrose and others do no one any favors by making"the Good War" more righteous and less savage than they should. World War II history should not be mythologized nor sanitized to create best sellers gobbled up by rear-echelon heroes, stateside warriors and the generations that came after them. Romanticizing an earlier war is the easiest way to drum up support for the next one.
Daniel Pipes, in his blog (Feb. 12, 2004):
My Talk at UC-Berkeley. I spoke on February 10 at the University of California-Berkeley to a crowd of about 550; a sizeable number could not get in. As I had expected, this was the most out-of-control talk of the roughly one thousand I have given, with a core group of about 150 Islamists, Palestinian radicals, and far-leftists constantly disrupting me, mostly with insults that I would prefer to forget.
The best and fullest account of the event is by Cinnamon Stillwell," Fascism at UC Berkeley: Muslim Student Association Disrupts Daniel Pipes Lecture ," at ChronWatch . There are some 200 comments on this – some from others who attended the event – at "Daniel Pipes at UC Berkeley," LittleGreenFootballs.com . (For first-hand accounts, see comments #27, 28, 86, 94, 107, 125, 126, 135, and 214 ) One person ("zombie") has posted pictures of the event . (For zombie's narrative of them, see #145 at the LittleGreenFootballs.com site.) In addition, the school paper, the Daily Californian , covered the event in an article titled" Staunch Israel Backer Attacks ‘Militant' Islam ."
The videotape that my hosts were supposed to make of this event did not happen, so before commenting in any depth on what happened I am waiting to get hold of one of the several others made that evening. For the moment, suffice to say that the vice-chancellor of the university present at this event, plus the UC police arrayed at it in large numbers, both showed weakness in permitting the disruptors to dominate. I should not have been subjected to this treatment. To make matters worse, none of the offenders was arrested. I shake my head with dismay at this; and a second time on recalling that UC-Berkeley is a taxpayer-funded institution.
And this observation: The same Muslim Student Association which is under federal investigation for financing terrorism and perpetuating violence and had a direct role in disrupting my talk (as outlined in an e-mail dated Feb. 10 from"sajidah the berkeley girl") is sponsoring at Berkeley on February 13-15, 2004 a conference titled" Liberation Through Islam ." Two items here are worthy of note: the session on" Preparing to Die " and the"special live talk from prison by Imam Jamil Al-Amin." Al-Amin, for those unfamiliar with the name, is a convicted cop-killer; but at Berkeley he is fêted as a distinguished speaker. (February 12, 2004)
Feb. 17, 2004 update: Several more articles have appeared on this event:
- " Time to Take a Stand Against Campus Terror ," a blistering editorial from FrontPageMag.com focuses on the culpability of UC-Berkeley's administration for allowing such disruptions to take place and makes this important point:"Both of the Islamo-fascist organizations that disrupted the Berkeley event – the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine – are officially recognized student organizations funded by student fees. There is no excuse for funding organizations who are self-declared enemies of the free exchange of ideas. The University of California needs to suspend both offending groups and withdraw their funding."
- " The Pipes Speech ," by Lee Kaplan of dafka.org, also at FrontPageMag.com. Kaplan focuses on the content of my talk.
- " Raucous crowd lays into Mideast pundit Pipes at U.C. Berkeley speech ," by Joe Eskenazi in the Jewish weekly of San Francisco.
- " Firebrand Theater: Daniel Pipes as a cool medium ," a long, strange, impressionistic piece, looking almost exclusively at the audience reaction, by Tim Cavanaugh of the libertarian magazine, Reason .
In addition, the national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom, Sara Dogan, wrote an open letter to the vice chancellor of UC-Berkeley , John Cummins (who, as I noted above, was present at the talk).
It's interesting to note that my opponents appear not to have written anything on this incident; I guess it's not exactly something they are proud of.
Feb. 26, 2004 update: Robert M. Berdahl, chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley, sent this letter in response to a protest about the way the university handled my talk:
February 26, 2004 Dear xxxx: I would like to respond to your inquiry about the recent lecture of Daniel Pipes on the campus. The University faculty or some student groups occasionally have invited controversial speakers to the campus. We believe it is important to have all points of view expressed, regardless of the likelihood of criticism that ensues from those who hold opposing viewpoints. When Daniel Pipes was invited by Hillel to speak, we anticipated that pro-Palestinian students would use the occasion to protest, and we planned accordingly. When we hold an event on campus that we can reasonably anticipate will produce heckling and potential interruptions, our purpose is to assure that the speaker is able to deliver his or her message and complete his or her speech. We can neither insist that only those who agree with the speaker attend, nor can we silence those who attend and disagree with the speaker. We can and do require that anyone who interrupts a speaker leave the event, if necessary at the insistence of the police. We took such action at the Pipes speech. As the Daily Californian noted in its coverage: Throughout the speech, a handful of loud commentators were escorted outside by the police, and a large faction of Pro-Palestinian students made a dramatic exit toward the end of Pipes' speech. Pipes' supporters often shouted back for those students to listen. And somewhere in between, the moderate Jews, Muslims and community members said they found little resonance in Pipes' words and even less of an opportunity for real discussion. Did the campus meet its obligation to preserve the right of a speaker to present his or her message? I believe it did. The article from The Front Page [Magazine] concludes with the observation:"The audience gave Pipes a standing ovation with loud cheers at the conclusion of his speech." Uncivil behavior, lamentable as it is, is not a crime, nor is it a violation of the Code of Student Conduct. No matter how ugly and hurtful may be the comments of those who dissent from the opinions of the speaker, those comments are also protected by the First Amendment, and they are punishable only when those who make them refuse to leave when asked to do so by the police. I do wish to take exception to Mr. Pipes' comments about the Muslim Student Association at Berkeley and our Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He implied that funding for these organizations can be linked to terrorist groups and that funding originating in Saudi Arabia for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies somehow corrupts the research conducted there. Such allegations are inaccurate, without foundation, insulting, and intentionally provocative. I hope you can appreciate how difficult these situations can be, how important it is for us to respect both the rights of speakers and the rights of dissenters. We are not perfect, but I submit that, on the whole, we handle it reasonably well. Sincerely, Robert M. Berdahl
In reply to the chancellor's taking exception to my comments:
- About the Muslim Student Association : He should be aware that the Senate is looking into its connection terrorism, as I have already noted on this weblog ;
- About the UC-Berkeley Center for Middle Eastern Studies : I advise him to read Martin Kramer's analysis of the corrupting effects of Saudi money .
Before labeling my words"inaccurate, without foundation, insulting, and intentionally provocative," Mr. Berdahl would do well to do just a smidgen of research.