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.
[Stephen Howe is Tutor in Politics at Ruskin College, Oxford.]
The opening minutes of the Russell Crowe film Gladiator depict a dramatic confrontation between the armies of imperial Rome and the wild German tribes who resist them. The Germans reject the Roman demand for submission in fairly forthright style – by sending the emissary back to the legions’ lines, still mounted but headless. As the gory figure gallops into view and the barbarians roar defiance, one of Crowe’s legionary sidekicks says simply: “People should know when they’re conquered.”
It’s a scene, a line, and an assertion that could be used as a starting-point for classroom discussion on any and every aspect of the history of empires. “’People should know when they’re conquered’ – discuss, with reference to ancient Rome, medieval Ireland, Victorian Maori or Zulu, 21st century Iraqis…”
In the media, a great deal of current debate about Iraq or Afghanistan pivots around the question: when should people recognise that they have been conquered – or liberated? In academia, a large proportion of recent historical work on past British and other empires focuses on related issues: when did people recognise that they were conquered? How did they react, adapt, cooperate or resist? How did they think about those who had conquered them – and how were their ideas about themselves reshaped by the fact of conquest?
Meanwhile, behind these debates and researches lies a parallel assertion about modern global politics and its antecedents, less often explicitly posed but only a little less central to current debates among analysts, current affairs polemicists or indeed historians: “people should know when they are conquerors.”
This would-be teachers’ aid also carries its associated questions. How should United States – or British – citizens today react to being (or being perceived as) hegemons, imperialists or aggressors? What stories do they tell themselves about their countries’ global roles? How do these relate to their conceptions of national and other identities? How far or in what ways have notions of themselves as “being imperial” entered into, or even constructed, such identities?
Niall Ferguson’s worldview revolves almost entirely around those two assertions. Some people – mostly poor and dark-skinned ones – need to recognise that they are conquered, accept the fact, indeed realise that it’s in their own best interests to be so. And other people, especially Americans, must know and accept that they are conquerors and imperialists, shoulder the accompanying burdens, understand that such a role benefits everyone.
As Ferguson says in the introduction to his latest book, Colossus (2004): “Unlike most of the previous writers who have remarked on this, I have no objection in principle to an American empire. Indeed, a part of my argument is that many parts of the world would benefit from a period of American rule.”
A portrait of the gladiator
At only just over 40 years old, Niall Ferguson has been named as one of Britain’s 100 most important public intellectuals by Prospect magazine, and even more notably, as one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time. After a glittering undergraduate and postgraduate career at Oxford University and several years teaching there, he soon achieved a repertory of prestigious posts worthy of some particularly well-connected medieval bishop.
For a time, he was simultaneously professor of political and financial history in Oxford, professor of economics at New York University, and senior fellow of the Hoover institution at Stanford. New York became his main base at the start of 2003, and in summer 2004 he is taking up a history professorship at Harvard.
Within weeks of arriving in the United States, Ferguson also found himself shuttling to Washington on government invitation, fraternising with policymakers from Colin Powell downwards. His existing profile as a pugnacious reviewer, columnist and TV pundit in London newspapers and on the BBC was rapidly complemented by the appearance of comparable ubiquity in the US news media....
“Today there is no longer the slightest pretense by well-informed Israelis that the Arabs left in 1948 of their own free will or at the behest of foreign despots.”
So states Tony Judt in “The Rootless Cosmopolitan,” an article in the July 19 issue of The Nation that is the Foreword to a new collection of Edward Said’s writings (From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map, Pantheon, August). As confirmation, Judt cites a well-known Haaretz interview (January 9, 2004) with the Israeli historian Benny Morris.
Here is what Morris said in the interview:
". . . it turns out that there was a series of orders issued by the Arab Higher Committee and by the Palestinian intermediate levels to remove children, women and the elderly from the villages. So that on the one hand, [my new] book [The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited] reinforces the accusation against the Zionist side, but on the other hand it also proves that many of those who left the villages did so with the encouragement of the Palestinian leadership itself."
Two weeks later, in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times (January 26, 2004), Morris wrote:
". . . .not all Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 were expelled like the Arabs of Lydda and Ramle. Indeed, most fled because they feared the ravages of war or because they were advised to do so by their leaders."
One could excuse Judt, a historian and Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University, for possibly having missed Morris’s Los Angeles Times piece. One could perhaps excuse him for not mentioning that Morris is controversial and his accusations against the “Zionist side” are bitterly contested by the Middle East scholar Efraim Karsh; after all, Morris’s claims are more congenial to Judt than Karsh’s, and Judt, notwithstanding his credentials, is only human. But it’s harder to excuse Judt asserting that no “well-informed Israelis” doubt any longer that the Arabs were expelled and citing a specific interview with Morris as basis for that assertion, when in that very interview Morris says the opposite.
That, however, is par for the course in this latest opus by Judt, which is thinly disguised as a paean to his late personal friend Said but is actually another tirade aimed not at Israel’s past or present policies, but its existence. Judt—whose main interests, according to his university’s website, are “modern European history; French history and the history of ideas”—made his triumphal debut as a Middle East commentator last October 23 in a New York Review of Books article calling for Israel’s dissolution. It won him instant fame, and again, perhaps it’s understandable that rather than actually write a Foreword to Said’s book, Judt used the opportunity to play some more riffs on the politicide refrain.
We know that this article isn’t really a Foreword to Said’s book because of Judt’s own description of it. Its essays were published from December 2000 to March 2003, all but one of them in Al-Ahram, and they “show,” Judt tells us, that
". . . .in his final years [Said] was consistently pursuing three themes: the urgent need to tell the world (above all, Americans) the truth about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; the parallel urgency of getting Palestinians and other Arabs to recognize and accept the reality of Israel and engage with Israelis . . . ; and the duty to speak openly about the failings of Arab leadership."
Judt goes on to tell us: “Indeed, Said was above all concerned with addressing and excoriating his fellow Arabs.” If so, Judt has done his late friend a disservice since, after a brief introductory part, his ostensible Foreword deals mainly with Judt’s own hang-ups about Israel and the need to dismantle it, rather than just humbly surveying what Said had to say in his essays. Judt does take some swipes at the PLO’s corruption, but we hear little about this “excoriating” of the Arabs, or what Said supposedly meant about “accept[ing] the reality of Israel”; instead the article becomes Judt’s own Israel-bashing party with a few assists from Said. But, you know how it is in life, we can’t pass up the chances we get. . . .
Judt’s accusations against Israel fall into two main categories: it’s a bully that’s ludicrously bigger and more powerful than the Palestinians, insensitively ignoring and crushing them at every turn; and—a category of crime in itself—it encourages or allows Jews to build homes in the West Bank and Gaza.
So, approvingly quoting Said’s description of the 1993 Oslo agreement as a “Palestinian Versailles,” Judt calls Israel “an established modern state with an awesome military apparatus” and the Palestinians “a dispersed, displaced, disinherited community with neither an army nor a territory of their own.” Hence “the whole thing was deeply flawed” from the start since, “having nothing to give up, the Palestinians had nothing to negotiate,” and that, in Judt/Said’s account, explains why the process ultimately failed at Camp David and Taba in 2000.
One wouldn’t guess from this description that the Palestinians are part of a Muslim Arab people outnumbering Israel by 200 million to 6 million and by 22 states to 1, and that in the course of the “process” the Palestinians have received generous political, military, and financial assistance for waging their “struggle” from Muslim Arab brethren in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia and from Muslim brethren in Iran. And at no point in Judt’s article do the words “European Union” appear; we’re never told that—with the EU, the UN, the United States, and Israel itself as donors—the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza receive more aid per capita than any people on earth, and that it’s not exactly Israel’s fault if the PA regime steals and squanders almost all of it. No, the author of The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron and the French Twentieth Century and Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals 1944-1956, has bought into the melodrama of Palestinian helplessness hook, line, and sinker, and his approach to facts is distinctly postmodern.
So when we get to the failed Camp David and Taba negotiations of 2000, Judt is able to sustain the melodrama of the Bully and the Helpless Waif. But he adds some nuances of his own; claiming a 2001 article in the Israeli tabloid Yediot Ahronot as the source, he says that at Camp David the Palestinians were to get “50 percent of their own land . . . Israel was to annex 10 percent . . . and the remaining 40 percent was to be left ‘undecided’—but under indefinite Israeli rule.” Actually, the published versions of the percentage of West Bank land (in addition to all of Gaza) that Israel offered the Palestinians at Camp David vary anywhere from 87 percent to 94 percent (along with a piece of the Negev), but Judt’s numbers are a new one on me. Perhaps the good professor was confusing the Israeli offer with the Area A/B/C dispensation that had prevailed in the West Bank up that point; but no matter, when deconstructing Israel you’re allowed a little creativity.
Judt acknowledges that “six months later, at Taba, the Palestinians were offered an improved territorial deal . . . but the resulting Palestinian state would still have been utterly dependent on Israel and vulnerable to its whims”—without spelling out what that’s supposed to mean. But perhaps it means that those who point out that at Camp David, and even more so at Taba, Israel did what it was supposed to do to absolve itself of its alleged sins—and did so at a time when Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Fatah were flourishing in the PA and its educational system was systematically inculcating anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel—that those who say these things aren’t going to win the argument no matter what, since it might spell the end of the precious myth of Palestinian victimization.
For Judt, though, Israel’s venality is pretty much indelibly established by its practice of letting Jews live in Judea, Samaria, and (until lately) Gaza. He acknowledges that the original Oslo agreement stated that “contentious issues—the governance of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the problem of the Jewish settlements” were to be left for the final-status negotiations. No matter; he gripes that whereas “in 1993 there were just 32,750 Jewish housing units on the West Bank and Gaza[,] [b]y October 2001 there were 53,121.” One, two, three—gasps of horror!
Never mind that Barak at Camp David proposed that, in any case, 80 percent of the settlers would be concentrated into blocs in the few percentage points of West Bank land remaining to Israel. Aside from such pesky facts, one wonders if the historian of ideas has done much thinking here. By any enlightened conception of human rights, statements such as “Blacks can’t live in my suburb” or “Arabs can’t live in the Galilee” or “Jews can’t live in Judea and Samaria” should be abhorrent. Indeed, even if Arafat had accepted the offer of a state and all the Jews then living in the territories had remained there, they would have constituted a very modest minority of 10 percent of the population. That Judt—who has written about all the thinkers and is entrusted with teaching their ideas to young Americans—never questions the assumption that this, the presence of these people, would have been intolerable, perhaps says something about him as a thinker, a Jew, and an American that is not pretty to contemplate.
But if you’re still not convinced that Judt is a visceral opponent of the Jewish state, try this paragraph, which comes toward the end of his purported “Foreword”:
"Today [Israel] presents a ghastly image: a place where sneering 18-year-olds with M-16s taunt helpless old men (“security measures”); where bulldozers regularly flatten whole apartment blocks (“rooting out terrorists”); where helicopters fire rockets into residential streets (“targeted killings”); where subsidized settlers frolic in grass-fringed swimming pools, oblivious of Arab children a few meters away who fester and rot in the worst slums on the planet. . . ."
Along with the fact that Judt’s hatred of Israel and Israelis is pretty much boundless, one can conclude from this paragraph that the good professor has been watching a lot of TV. The television, after all, is an excellent medium for conveying, shall we say, an imagistic conception of Israel.
One wonders, though, if Judt hasn’t also noticed some other images on his TV during this last decade or so. Even with the major networks’ biased coverage of Israel, I know from talking to Americans that some pretty “ghastly images” of Palestinian violence have been getting through. Indeed, since the post-Camp David terror war that started in September 2000, a lot fewer tourists and immigrants have been coming to Israel, and something must be deterring them; I don’t think it’s settlers frolicking in pools. I remember, though, that business about two off-duty soldiers being lynched in Ramallah, two teenage boys being bludgeoned to death in a cave, a pregnant mother and her four young daughters being shot pointblank in their car—oh, I could go on.
But none of this sours Judt on the Palestinians in the least. One could imagine him saying, “I sympathize with you people, but this stuff is going too far; you have to calm down if you want people like me to keep supporting you.” Yet, though he writes approvingly that “Said never identified with terrorism, however much he sympathized with the motives and sentiments that drove it,” and makes one offhand reference to “terrorist atrocit[ies]”—praising with faint damnation?—no Palestinian act that Judt has ever witnessed on his TV screen has dampened his enthusiasm for these people whose cause he thinks he’s embraced.
That, after all, might have made it harder for Judt to arrive at his grand summation: “The Jewish state today is widely regarded as a—the—leading threat to world peace.” Yes, that was indeed the result of one European poll, in which Israel easily outstripped Iran, North Korea, and other contestants (including the U.S., which came in fourth) for the honor; and the professor, while presumably knowing that the poll was taken in a continent where Jews can no longer walk the streets safely, that is swamped with pro-Palestinian propaganda beyond even what American viewers of the liberal networks can imagine, and that has never precisely stood up to Arab oil power, cheers happily in New York.
Indeed, if Tony Judt has his way, America will stop being “the one place where official Israeli propaganda has succeeded beyond measure” and instead “awaken to its responsibilities”—which means realizing that “historic Israel,” along with “historic Palestine,” is now “a lost cause,” and that “a single institutional entity capable of accommodating . . . both communities will have to emerge. . . .” Judt, in other words, has had it with Israel; he knows much of Europe feels the same way, and he seeks to encourage in America “a debate about Israel and the Palestinians that many people [i.e., people who want Israel to exist] would prefer to avoid. . . .”
One wonders if, with his animus so concentrated on Israel, Professor Judt has ever looked much at the surrounding countries and noticed the fate of the non-Muslim and non-Arab communities in them. One wonders if he’s heard about the Kurdish teenagers now being tortured for months in Syrian dungeons, the fate of Christians in Lebanon, Egypt, or for that matter the Palestinian Authority—and surely he’s heard something about the recent experiences of black, non-Arab Muslims in Sudan. Though Judt would love nothing more than for Israelis, too, to start “debating” their own dissolution, and though his earlier liquidate-Israel article got some airplay among highbrow Israelis, it seems the idea—apart from a few irrepressible eccentrics like Meron Benvenisti—isn’t catching on even among the Israeli Left. Even if there’s a fringe of self-hating suicidalists among us, they, too, look at the surroundings, and are deterred. As for the rest of us, we have the same desire for our country to exist that, say, Americans have.
No, it looks as if Tony Judt will have to fight to destroy us—and he will.
Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, has gained notice for his extremist views on Israel, including recent profiles in both the New York Times and The Washington Post. That extremism comes out when he calls Israel an "apartheid system in creation" and a "racist state" that "brainwashed" Americans do not understand. Jerusalem, with its Jewish majority since the 1880s, he deems "an Arab city" whose control by Israeli "foreigners" is "unacceptable." And so on.
These statements bear more than passing resemblance to the hyperbole that a Palestinian press hack might spout. And it's no accident, actually, for Rashid Khalidi in fact once was a Palestinian press hack.
According to Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times, writing on June 9, 1982, Mr. Khalidi was at that time "a director of the Palestinian press agency." That would be Wikalat al-Anba al-Filastinija, or WAFA, the PLO press agency, where Mr. Khalidi's wife, Mona, was chief English-language editor in 1976-82. Mr. Friedman quotes Mr. Khalidi in his official capacity saying that the Israelis are out to "crush the P.L.O."
There is other evidence that Mr. Khalidi worked for the PLO. In a Jan. 6, 1981, article in the Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Khalidi used the word "we" referring to the PLO. In 1991, he served on the PLO "guidance committee" at the Madrid conference, along with such figures as Faisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi and Sari Nusseibeh. Mr. Khalidi stated, "We had political decisions to make and diplomatic strategy to decide." On another occasion at Madrid, he told the press "We want this process to succeed and if doesn't we don't want it to be our fault."(Emphases added.)
In 1985, Mr. Khalidi published an adulatory book on the PLO in which he personally thanked Yasser Arafat: "Permission to utilize the P.L.O. archives ... was generously given by the Chairman of the P.L.O. Executive Committee, Yasir Arafat. To him and to the dedicated individuals working in the office of the Chairman, the P.L.O. archive and the Palestine News Agency (WAFA), who extended every possible assistance to me on three trips to Tunis, I owe deep thanks."
Today, however, Mr. Khalidi distances himself from his past. In reply to our questions, he wrote that between 1976 and 1983, "I was teaching full time as an Assistant Professor in the Political Studies and Public Administration Dept. at the American University of Beirut, published two books and several articles, and also was a research fellow at the independent Institute for Palestine Studies," and says he had no time for anything else. Mr. Khalidi dismisses the allegation that he served as a PLO spokesman, saying, "I often spoke to journalists in Beirut, who usually cited me without attribution as a well-informed Palestinian source. If some misidentified me at the time, I am not aware of it."
In truth, Mr. Khalidi is still spinning for the Palestinian leadership. For example, although the Palestinian Authority (PA) is ruled at the whim of a despotic Yasser Arafat, Mr. Khalidi argues the PA has an "elected leader." He asserts that Israel's government "refused to negotiate" with the PA when, in reality, Israel has formally negotiated with the PA since 1993....
Viewed piecemeal, the individual fragments of a jigsaw puzzle don't mean a great deal. Only when painstakingly assembled to complete the picture do the tiny bits make sense.
In many ways, science is not unlike a jigsaw. Experiments yield detailed results but often they are so specific as to be of little or no general application or meaning.
The results of any single study often only gain true meaning when placed in the context of the whole picture. Stepping back to take in the big picture, in other words, is crucial to understanding.
But how do you get the big picture without having individual parts to assemble? This is where the so-called western scientific method - which aims through experiment, observation and deduction to produce reliable explanations of natural phenomena - comes into its own.
Science is good at reducing a complex problem to its constituent parts. Reductionism, as it's known, makes an unwieldy problem a lot less unwieldy to study.
[S]tereotypically, reductionists are those white-coated folk bending over equipment-strewn benches in sterile laboratories. They are not without their detractors - often people such as ecologists and ethologists, who generally prefer to treat their subjects as whole, integrated systems. Reductionism, for many of them, is a dirty word. To some extent, the divide between reductionists and holists is not unlike that between the practitioners of orthodox and alternative medicine.
Does one work better than the other? Which approach yields that elusive Holy Grail,"the truth"? That the answers are far from clear suggests that the questions may be partly to blame. For a start, what do we mean by"better" and, more importantly, by"truth"?
Without waxing too philosophical, both better and truth are relative terms. In particular, they relate to the level or scale of understanding we seek.
Take the common or garden leaf, for example. Regarded merely as the lateral outgrowth on the stem of a plant, a leaf may be described in terms of its colour, shape, texture or smell. It could also be considered in terms of its potential applications, such as in cooking or herbal remedies. Taking another tack, leaves may be thought of as the primary organs of photosynthesis - as plants' or trees' solar panels, if you like. Biochemists, meanwhile, may want to understand leaves at a chemical or molecular level, and so on.
The point is that no one approach is necessarily better than another and none will provide a once-and-for-all true account of leafiness. Each level of understanding may be appropriate in its own right. More importantly, we can only fully appreciate leaves by standing back and taking in the big picture. To do that, however, many mainstream scientists believe they need to take lots of small, precise pictures - in much the same way that the number and detail of individual pixels determine the clarity and definition of a TV screen.
In their quest for ever greater knowledge, such scientists have increasingly specialised, a trend showing no immediate sign of abating.
But there is another move afoot....
Among the A-list of self-declared enemies of the American state, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn are the gold standard. But the historian Gabriel Kolko, though less popular than either, has been almost as influential. In the 1960s, Kolko introduced a strident and ideological form of history into the academic world. Writing from a Marxist perspective, he helped construct the intellectual edifice of modern academic anti-Americanism, reflexively exculpating America’s adversaries while portraying America’s past and present in such dark tones as to make the nation repellent and - absent a socialist revolution - beyond redeeming. In Kolko’s nuanced prose, America is a nation “intellectually and culturally undeveloped,” “blind to itself - its past, its present, and its future” - an “evil society.”
A graduate of Harvard University, Kolko spent most of his career on the faculty of York University in Toronto, where he has authored over ten books on American history, including two books on the origins of the Cold War, a synthesis of American history after 1865, and an overview of the Vietnam War. These books have influenced a school of radical historians, including Thomas McCormick, Lloyd Gardner, Walter LaFeber, Robert Buzzanco, and Bruce Cumings. In keeping with the leftward shift of university culture, Kolko’s fellow academics have lavished his radical texts with intemperate praise. In the New York Review of Books, Hans Morgenthau wrote that The Politics of War “is a book of major importance” because it represents “the first revisionist book concerned with the origins of the Cold War which is also a work of first-rate scholarship.” The idea that a book blaming the United States for the Cold War using an analytic framework almost identical to that employed by the Kremlin’s propagandists – and by a distinguished Harvard political scientist -- would have been inconceivable in the pre-Sixties university culture. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Professor Gaddis Smith called the same book “the most important and stimulating discussion of American policy during World War II to appear in more than a decade.” Fellow radical and anti-American extremist Noam Chomsky is also thrilled with Kolko’s work. According to Chomsky, The Limits of Power is “the most important analytic study of evolving U.S. policy in this period….” Kolko reciprocates the adulation. In a blurb for Chomsky’s extended diatribe, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Kolko called The Limits of Power a “brilliant, shattering, and convincing account of United States-backed suppression of political and human rights in the Third World.” According to Kolko, Chomsky should be “obligatory reading for any American seeking to comprehend the role of the United States in the world since 1946.”
Like other radical academics, Kolko prides himself on being a political activist, not to say revolutionary. Throughout the Vietnam War, he traveled numerous times to France and to North and South Vietnam, meeting with Communist officials and advising them on how best they could defeat the United States. He also organized aid shipments to the Communists, called upon fellow leftists to wage war against American imperialism, and backed the Communist cause around the world. In May, 1971, he pleaded with Americans to send money to a group called “Canadian Aid for Vietnam Civilians.” Kolko noted that the organization “allocates 45 percent of its income each to the NLF and North Vietnam” and will help alleviate “the suffering the war has inflicted on all the people of Vietnam.” How it would help to alleviate the suffering of all the people of Vietnam with 90% of its money earmarked for the Communist aggressors and oppressors, Kolko failed to explain.
The starting point for Kolko’s work is the preposterous idea that America is a totalitarian nation, where the rich rule and the poor obey. The “ruling class,” according to Kolko “defines the essential preconditions and functions of the larger American social order, with its security and continuity as an institution being the political order’s central goal in the post-Civil War historical experience.” The ruling class dominates both the Republican and Democratic parties, which have no significant differences between them that Kolko is able to detect. Obviously, this theoretical framework lacks any originality and is merely a crib of Marx’s discredited attack on “bourgeois democracy,” in which the state is just “the executive committee of the ruling class.” Republicans and Democrats, Kolko explains (as though this is in fact an explanation) are “inalterably wedded to the desirability of capitalism as a general economic framework.” (And why not if one compares capitalism to the totalitarian states that Kolko appears to endorse?) In Kolko’s presentation reform movements like Progressivism and New Deal liberalism for example amount to nothing more than efforts to promote “efficiency” in preserving America’s totalitarian system. Stalinist apparatchiks would not disagree.
America’s unjust political order produces vast riches for a few and poverty and inequality for the majority, while ensuring that the ruling class controls foreign policy. The ruling class, Kolko summarizes, is “the final arbiter and beneficiary of the existing structure of American society and politics at home and of United States power in the world”
From this untenable ideological premise, Kolko concludes that the Cold War was not about Soviet expansionism but an American attempt to promote free trade and corporate profits. In Kolko’s writing’s the Kremlin’s actions play no role in determining American policy. In fact the opposite is the case. The Truman Doctrine and other American policies were not about defending relatively free societies from the fate of the Kremlin’s East European satellites but were the expression of America’s own bid for world economic hegemony. Or, as Kolko puts it – following in a long line of Soviet apologists -- the United States set out (during and after World War II) to “restructure the world so that American business could trade, operate, and profit without restrictions everywhere.” Fears that American leaders expressed over Communist expansion in Eastern Europe were merely a cover for this agenda. Concern over the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia and other Kremlin aggressions were so much Western fantasy and Cold War paranoia. For America’s ruling class, the central foreign policy concern “was not the containment of Communism, but rather more directly the extension and expansion of American capitalism according to its new economic power and needs.” Not surprisingly, Cold War Soviet leaders said exactly the same thing....
At the end of his afterword to the new updated edition of The History Wars (Melbourne University Press), Stuart Macintyre writes that the"history wars are an ugly side of the Australian present and they debase public life".
This leaves one contemplating a paradox. If Macintyre so disapproves of the history wars, why did he launch this polemical book that he must have known would inflame passions and, having inflamed those passions, why did he compound the matter by writing an equally provocative afterword to the new edition? (See Macintyre's"Past shrouded in polemics" on this page yesterday.) Make no mistake: The History Wars is not a work of scholarship but of polemic and can only be treated as such. Would not the best course have been to remain silent?
I think there are good reasons why Macintyre deprecates the history wars while opening up a new front in them. The first is that Macintyre wants to fight the Cold War over again. It is McCarthyism that provides his model. He places historians in the role of the Hollywood directors and actors of the 1950s. He portrays them as being persecuted by some sort of evil alliance that seems to be composed of John Howard and the print media, with this newspaper being cast in a leading role.
Having set up this fictional scenario Macintyre can then portray himself as the champion of these poor downtrodden and persecuted historians. Hence he has an obsession, especially when dealing with the origins of the word history, with trying to establish that historians are"wise" and knowledgeable people. Flattery will get you everywhere.
This portrayal appeals to members of a history profession in Australia that believes it is under attack. A recent report of the Australian Historical Association refers to relentless downsizing of history departments in Australian universities and"anxieties about a 'crisis' in the discipline".
Macintyre's exposition of the history wars panders to this mood of anxiety and its accompanying" culture of complaint". He provides a simplistic explanation: the Government and the media are out to get you. He confirms their victim mentality.
The history wars have a negative influence not because they encourage public debate about historical matters, thereby removing control of them from the"wise" folk of the history profession. After all, that has been one of the positive benefits of the history wars. No, the problem is that their continuance locks too many historians into a negative mind-set. These historians can blame everyone but themselves for the present state of history in Australia.
The history wars look backwards. They encourage historians to produce yesterday's history, history appropriate to the '60s and '70s when many of them underwent their significant experiences. Theirs is the history of old Australia. There is, however, a new Australia that is in need of a history that makes sense of its world. This is the internationalised Australia of the 21st century.
Our students are telling us what that history should look like. During the past 10 years there has been a significant growth in students studying world history at Australian universities, in particular 20th-century world history. This matches the extraordinary growth in student interest in international relations in political science departments.
For example, at my university, the University of Wollongong, we have had an 80 per cent increase in first-year student numbers in those subjects dealing with 20th-century history and world history. During the same period there has been a decline of about 25 per cent in first-year Australian history numbers.
At the same time, in NSW at least, ancient history is booming in schools and universities. Students want to study history that fires their imaginations and enables them to look outside the narrow world of the here and now.
This may help explain why, for many of them -- in fact, far too many -- Australian history is a giant turn-off. In conversation with many of these students the word"boring" often crops up. In many cases the experience of the compulsory civics-Australian history subject in Year 10 in NSW is the cause of their disenchantment. The problem, I suspect, is that Australian history has become just another excuse for preaching politically correct ideology at students.
A significant issue is that too many members of the history profession in Australia have an attitude problem. Instead of whingeing about how awful everything is, they should view the present situation as an opportunity and a challenge. Their particular challenge is to teach the type of history appropriate for the internationalised world of their students.
Teachers of Australian history have a particular challenge. This is to escape from the" culture of complaint" and seize the opportunity to get themselves in tune with their times or else face irrelevance. So long as they remain trapped within that culture they will continue to transmit a sour and mean-spirited picture of Australia's past to students. Who wouldn't prefer to study the excitement of the Persian wars or the machinations of the late Roman republic to the hellfire sermons that all too often pass for Australian history...?
In 1998, Ron Chernow, who had written successful biographies of J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, told his publisher he planned to write his next book on Alexander Hamilton. He got a chilly reception.
"They said books on the founding fathers did not sell well," Mr. Chernow recalled in an interview last week."They said books on the Civil War and World War II were much more popular."
On this Independence Day, Mr. Chernow's book,"Alexander Hamilton," is No. 6 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, and Cokie Roberts's"Founding Mothers" is No. 13. Eight other hard-cover books about the Revolution and the early days of the country are also on the"new nonfiction" display at the Borders on L Street in downtown Washington.
Nor is this a short-term fad. Joseph J. Ellis's"Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation" and David McCullough's"John Adams" won Pulitzer Prizes in 2001 and 2002 and were among the biggest-selling history books of the last decade.
Many writers of history who once concentrated on different eras have switched their attention to the founding fathers. For example, Jay Winik, whose acclaimed book about the Civil War,"April 1865: The Month That Saved America," came out in 2001, is now writing a book about the 1790's.
"It's not coincidental that this vogue arose now, in probably the most bitterly divided time since the Civil War," said H. W. Brands, a historian at Texas A&M University and the author of ,"The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin," which was on best-seller lists in 2000.
"When the country is divided along cultural, economic and partisan grounds,'' Mr. Brands said,"people look for a time when we were all together."
Mr. Winik agrees with that analysis."Americans are looking for an anchor," he said."What better anchor can you get than the founding fathers, who made something out of nothing. What is so critical to understand is that they really differed in a number of ways. They had tough, hard debates, jealousies and rivalries. But they came together, and the sum became greater than the individual parts."
As Mr. Ellis toured to promote his book, which is a series of essays about the relationships between and among the founding fathers, he said he realized that people were impressed with the civil, respectful correspondence that Adams and Jefferson, bitter political enemies, conducted for years after they left office.
"It's difficult to comprehend Bill Clinton developing a correspondence with George W. Bush," Mr. Ellis said.
Over the years, views about the founding fathers have risen and fallen with the public mood. In the early 19th century, Americans"spat on the graves of the founding fathers," blaming them for having saddled the country with seemingly irreconcilable problems, Mr. Brands said.
Northerners" called the Constitution a covenant with hell because it allowed slavery," Mr. Brands said."Southerners thought 'all men created equal' was a glittering generality that meant nothing in everyday life."
But during the Reconstruction period, which coincided with celebrations of the country's centennial, people began to look at the founders in a different light - as great men of a golden age, beloved in the North and South alike.
Disdain for the founders was expressed once again at the turn of the 20th century, when some scholars argued these men were guided more by personal financial motives than patriotic impulses. During the days of the civil rights movement, Washington, Jefferson and others were sometimes seen as hypocrites for having owned slaves.
But in times of national crisis, like the two world wars, when Americans"especially wanted to feel unified and good about themselves," Mr. Brands said, the prevailing view of the founders tended to be uniformly positive....
Levon Sevunts, in the Montreal Gazette (June 26, 2004):
It's sometimes hard to explain to non-Armenian friends the need to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government.
"Why don't you let it go?" I often hear. "Get on with your life. It happened 90 years ago, for God's sake."
But for Turkish historian Taner Akcam, the need to recognize and learn from the Armenian genocide is as acute now as it was when the modern Turkish Republic was founded 80 years ago, particularly in Turkey itself.
Akcam, a controversial historian at home whose views have made him the target of death threats, argues that Turkey is approaching a second crucial stage in its nation-building process and if it doesn't learn from past mistakes, it is bound to repeat them.
Akcam contends the collapse of the Soviet Union and the U.S. invasion of Iraq have reawakened the Eastern Question, the redrawing of the political map of the Middle East at the expense of the Ottoman Empire and now the Turkish Republic.
Equally dangerous, Akcam argues, is the reawakening of revanchist ideas among Turkey's military-bureaucratic elites. Coupled together, these tendencies could lead to another calamity, he warns.
From Empire to Republic is certain to create controversy, especially in Turkey, where discussions of the Armenian genocide are still taboo. But what makes Akcam's book stand out among other works on the subject - apart from the fact that the author is a Turk - is that it is the first serious scholarly attempt to understand the genocide from the perspective of the perpetrator, rather than the victim.
Jason Burke, in the Guardian (June 27, 2004):
IN THE SUMMER of 1989 a young American academic announced, in a relatively obscure conservative foreign policy journal, that history had ended. Or at least soon would. At the time, few had heard of Francis Fukuyama, then working in the US State Department. But then few people thought that the Berlin Wall would be hauled down within years, let alone months. Fukuyama, a modest, quietly spoken man who at 37 appeared to have correctly predicted the collapse of communism while simultaneously providing a perfect framework for understanding the post-Cold War world order, was catapulted to global attention.
Twelve years later, on 11 September 2001, Fukuyama was working in his seventh-floor office at Washington's Johns Hopkins University when a Boeing 757 with 64 people on board crashed into the Pentagon. He was able to watch the smoke rising into the clear blue air as the headquarters of America's defence establishment burned. History, at least in the sense most people understood it, had not apparently ended after all.
Smirking columnists and academic opponents circled like B-52s over Tora Bora. The Guardian wondered drily if Fukuyama would be writing a sequel to The End of History , the book he had published in 1992, ignoring the several books he had published subsequently on topics ranging from biotechnology to social capital and the market. 'Good to see historian Francis Fukuyama responding to the carnage in Manhattan (by) arguing shamelessly that it has left the world "irrevocably different" - the importance of the nation state reasserted, a re-energised America forced to forsake isolationism,' the Sunday Times sneered. 'All this from a writer who made his name with the sunnily titled The End of History . To paraphrase Attlee, a period of silence on his part would be welcome.'
In fact, the demise of Fukuyama's philosophy was regularly announced through the Nineties. With wars and genocide killing hundreds of thousands in the Balkans and Africa 'history' - at least in the sense that most people understood it - seemed as vibrant and vicious as ever. What made the attacks on Fukuyama more pointed was that the trajectory of his thinking, from unchallenged global dominance in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union to unsteady and threatened insecurity following the attacks on New York and Washington, was a metaphor, in the minds of many of his detractors, for American power itself. The fact that his book, unlike most works by American foreign policy specialists, had been a global bestseller, commanding a $ 400,000 advance, hardly helped.
But Fukuyama had never argued that the stream of daily events - history as war, peace, kings, queens, bombs and famines - would slew to a halt. When he spoke of history Fukuyama meant the grand tale of human society's evolution of a cultural - and thus political and economic - system that matches our species' collective aspirations and can fulfil them. Fukuyama, drawing heavily on Hegel, felt that our various civilisations' constant development of varying alternative forms of government and culture that had been the dominant theme in history ever since the earliest societies was over. The dialectic progression through thesis and antithesis was over. A synthesis, unchallenged by any coherent alternative, had finally evolved. The best example of that synthesis was, happily, to be found in America circa 1990. 'We are talking about. . . the endpoint of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government,' Fukuyama declared.
Mrs Thatcher was apparently unimpressed. 'End of history? The beginning of nonsense,' she is reported to have said. But then she, like so many of those who comment on Fukuyama, probably hadn't actually read his books.
Alexander Rose, in National Review (July 1, 2004):
The most mammoth footnote ever recorded appears, if memory serves, in a volume of John Hodgson's 19th-century magnum opus, A History of Northumberland, a copy of which I once happened to own. Hodgson, a country vicar and amateur antiquary, knew more about that tumultuous Anglo-Scottish border county than any man who has ever lived, which I suppose means he gets a pass on devoting no fewer than 165 pages to his single, sesquipedalian note.
David Hackett Fischer, the author of a bestseller, Washington's Crossing, while a dab hand at footnotes (he racks up 1,122), is the John Hodgson of the appendix. At a time when publishers are asking their authors to compress their scholarly apparatus, Fischer appends 24 appendices plus, for good measure, a fascinating 32-page essay on the changing historiography — how we perceive an historical event, as opposed to examining what actually happened during that event — of Washington's crossing of the Delaware.
These"technical" appendices range from a disturbingly interesting discussion of"Ice Conditions on the Delaware River" to a catalogue of"Weather Records in the Delaware Valley, 1776-77" to a table of"Ratios of Artillery and Infantry in the Battles at Trenton and Princeton." Then there are the lengthy orders of battle for the American, Hessian, and British armies: e.g., on January 2, 1777, the Light Infantry Brigade comprised the 1st Light Infantry Battalion, the 2nd Light Infantry Battalion, the Grenadier Battalion Köhler, the 42nd Foot (Royal Highland Regiment), and the 71st Foot.
All this stuff isn't intended solely to delight fetishistic war buffs. Thanks to modern computing and research methods, we know more about the past than even its original residents knew about themselves: mortality rates, average height of the population, international trade figures, nutritional levels, and so forth. Fischer's essential technique, a trademark throughout his books, is to mine this ore of hard data and refine it sufficiently to reveal the era's broader social structures, its greater forces, and the influence these bear on the formation of collective"mentalities" (a piece of scholarly jargon used to describe how people think, their attitudes, and how they see the world). ...