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.
[Mr. Girin will be attending CUNY Baruch College as a junior this fall. He has been published by Israel National News, VDARE.com, Think-Israel, and other websites and magazines in the United States, Israel, and Russia.]
The current War on Terror “has its roots in our refusal to be an equal part of the world community” and results from “our having taken a fragment of life and turned it into the only way of life decreed by God, Capital, or Phallus.” Such, at any rate, is the assessment of Lester Edwin J. Ruiz, secretary of the misnamed Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA).
Currently based in San Francisco, the PJSA is the product of the 2001 merger of two previous "peace studies" organizations: the Consortium On Peace Research Education and Development (COPRED) and the Peace Studies Association (PSA). According to the mission statement posted on their homepage, www.peacejusticestudies.org, PJSA aims "to create a just and peaceful world" through "peace studies" programs in kindergarten up to graduate school, through "the forging of alliances among educators, students, activists, and other peace practitioners [sic.]" and through the "creation and nurturing of alternatives" to injustice, violence, and inequality. The impression one gets from PJSA's homepage, which is chock full of such airy vacuities, is that it is a fairly benign leftist group.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Thus, according to the summer 2003 issue of the Peace and Justice Studies Association's Peace Chronicle newsletter, the launching of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 to liberate Kuwait from Saddam's aggression and occupation was "a day of infamy, the war of aggression, no different from all the wars and attacks against the US that our leaders called infamous.” To Ruiz and his comrades, Pearl Harbor was only a day that "our leaders" call infamous. The liberation of Kuwait from Saddam's imperialist forces actually was one.
The leader of the PJSA is the vehemently anti-Israel activist Simona Sharoni. A native of Israel and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor from Romania, Sharoni is a founding member of the "Women In Black,” a group of Israeli women who sided with the Palestinian terrorists during the first Intifada. “Women in Black” were nicknamed "the black witches" by Israeli soldiers for their disruption of counter-terrorism activities and for their harassment of Israeli security personnel at roadblocks and checkpoints.
Simona Sharoni has devoted her adult life to anti-Israel and anti-American activism. After leaving Israel in the 1990s, Sharoni taught at the American University in Washington, D.C., and is now a visiting professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where COPRED-PSA/PJSA was based before moving to San Francisco. (Evergreen is also where Rachel Corrie was recruited to die helping to obstruct Israeli Defense Forces in their war against Palestinian terrorists.)
In an interview with Georgetown University's campus newspaper, Sharoni denounced her Israeli Jewish parents and said she was "overwhelmed by the ease of the racist comments in the home I grew up in.” She also compared Palestinian suicide bombers to anorexic girls and "gay teens who have to commit suicide because of rampant homophobia." (The Palestinians must appreciate both comparisons.) Professor Sharoni believes that suicide bombings are not a crime against humanity but merely the manifestations of a psychological disorder brought about by the actions of the Israeli government.
Professor Sharoni has even gone so far as to prevent her four-year-old daughter from learning Hebrew in order to "deprive her of her connection to a culture which has been problematic." In the same interview, Sharoni railed against the "dehumanized" American Jews and their refusal to call the security fence in Judea and Samaria an "apartheid wall." In a fashion typical of anti-Israeli activists, she compared the residents of Palestinian refugee camps (who were put there and have been left there by their fellow Arabs) to inmates of Nazi death camps, quipping, "people who lived in concentration camps should be able to understand what it is like to live in a refugee camp.”
Beyond the roster of anti-American and anti-Israeli activists, the PJSA includes peaceniks who dwell in a transparently delusional world. A perfect example of the latter is Howard Richards, a professor in the Peace and Global Justice Studies department at Earlham College. Page through his 12-point manifesto, "Twelve Things We Can Do Every Day for World Peace and Justice,” published in the summer 2003 issue of the PJSA's Peace Chronicle, and you come upon the following advice:
- "Reduce, reuse, and recycle";
- "Cultivate an organic garden";
- "Use less fossil fuel"; and
- "Process inner anger by following a spiritual path or getting some form of therapy."
Plant flowers, see a psychotherapist—this, according to Richards, is the way to defeat al-Qaeda and Zarqawi's butchers in Iraq.
In the same issue, PJSA-member and Georgetown philosophy professor Mark Lance (former co-chair of COPRED's board of directors) contributed an article called "Transfer By Siege," which provides a typically distorted analysis of the Security Fence in Judea and Samaria, comparing it to the Berlin Wall, as though it was democratic Israel that was the totalitarian presence in the Middle East rather than the forces seeking to destroy it. Lance describes the wall as a destructive barrier that divides Palestinian villages, destroys their inhabitants' livelihood, and makes it nearly impossible for sick Palestinians to get to the hospital. To Mark Lance and the PJSA, the Security Fence is built not to protect innocent Israelis from murderous rampages of suicide bombers and terrorist gangs; rather, it is an attempt at "ethnic cleansing" of the Palestinians, an "apartheid wall." In his conclusion, Lance calls for a "massive international campaign to force Israel to end all aspects of the occupation." In other words, peace demands the disarming of the victims of terror and rendering them defenseless against their attackers.
Other articles in the PJSA's Peace Chronicle consist of long and disjointed diatribes against the actions of the United States. Even in the wake of the September 11th atrocities, Lance warned that the "military police action" against the terrorist-sheltering Taliban is an "attack on an already devastated populace" that will bring about "massive death from starvation and malnutrition" of many Afghans. In a column in the Fall/Winter 2001 issue of Peace Chronicle, written mere months after the Twin Towers fell and while the search for victims' remains continued around the clock, Lance proclaimed, "Both on the domestic and on the international fronts, the ‘war’ on terror promises to be a major step forward for the forces of totalitarianism and imperialism." Not a single PJSA spokesman ever calls for equivalent measures to be taken against occupiers like Syria and Morocco. Nor do any of the peace activists condemn suicide bombings or shooting attacks on Americans or Israelis.
The PJSA deploys its members—many of whom are teachers and professors—to recruit students for the Hate America-Destroy Israel Left. Matt Meyer, PJSA's co-chair, organized demonstrations outside Chuck Schumer's Brooklyn residence after the senator supported the overthrow of Saddam's regime; Meyer works for the NYC Department of Education. The other co-chair, Nancy Hanawi, is a professor at UC-Berkeley, while Lester Ruiz teaches at New York Theological Seminary. Most of the other PJSA board members are also educators who teach at colleges and schools in America and Britain.
While the PJSA might be seen as an obscure leftist group with insane or repugnant views, the sobering reality is that most PJSA is an association of educators who have authority over hundreds if not thousands of young Americans yearly. American parents should be aware that the teachers of their children could be PJSA-supporting pedagogues. Far from being a peace organizaton the Peace and Justice Studies Association is a division in the fifth column army that is at war with America and the West.
David McCullough's best-selling books on American history have been praised for their readability and criticized for their superficiality.
But no one has detected a political agenda behind McCullough's output. McCullough's books projects a patriotic warmth about his American heroes -- nothing too controversial.
And until now, McCullough, unlike such well-known American historians as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Forrest MacDonald, has steered clear of partisan political organizations, and kept his political beliefs to himself.
But a look at the fiercely conservative and influential Heritage Foundation's website shows that McCullough may have changed his mind about declaring his political affiliations -- and that some right-wing think tank chiefs think his work actually does have a deeply political message.
Last Friday, June 10, McCullough took the book tour on behalf of his latest volume,"1776", to Washington -- and to the Heritage Foundation. A videotape of the proceedings appears on the Heritage site: http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev061005a.cfm
The Foundation was sure it knew exactly what it was getting.
John Hilboldt, the Heritage director of lectures and seminars, gushed over McCullough as a"rock star historian." He noted how the story McCullough tells in his new book fits in with the Foundation's political commitments, including"preserving individual liberties," and"limiting government power."
Edwin J. Feulner, President of the Foundation, introduced McCullough by making the point that he is not"a professionally-trained historian," but an author following in a"great but sometimes forgotten tradition in the United States" --"writing history for real Americans."
McCullough, Feulner proclaimed, is"America's historian."
Limiting government power? Real Americans? America's historian -- as opposed to those American historians who don't belong to America?
The message was perfectly clear: David McCullough is the Heritage Foundation's kind of historian. If Harry Truman, the subject of one of McCullough's earlier books (and one of his heroes) had been introduced that way, by Heritage Foundation officers, he would have given his audience hell. (Although, true enough, it is hard to imagine Truman on a book tour, let alone taking it to a right-wing think-tank.)
McCullough gave the Foundation something different. He did not object to or distance himself from Hilboldt and Feulner's remarks. Instead, he smiled and profusely thanked them for their"grand introduction." Then he delivered a smooth and dramatic lecture on the importance of history as a humanizing force and on the military saga of 1776.
The lecture carried little overt political content (aside from McCullough's admirable lamentation that the state of Alabama has removed history as a subject to be taught in its public elementary schools.)...
[Mr. Kramer is a senior associate (and past director) of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. He is also the Wexler-Fromer Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy..]
Professor Juan Cole, the blogging sensation, is at it again, claiming that he objected to the "terrible idea" of the Iraq war back in 2002 and 2003. Proof? "I can produce witnesses to my having said that if the UN Security Council did not authorize the war, I would protest it." This new posting echoes one that Cole made last November, when he claimed to have "said repeatedly in 2002 and early 2003" that "it was a bad idea to invade Iraq." Apparently it's important to Cole, who's an anti-war icon, to demonstrate that he opposed war from the get-go.
Tony Badran responded last autumn with a devastating posting, comprised of various quotes from Cole's own weblog. Here are some of them. Cole, before the war (February 11, 2003): "I am an Arabist and happen to know something serious about Baathist Iraq, which paralyzes me from opposing a war for regime change in that country." Cole, start of the war (March 19, 2003): "I remain convinced that, for all the concerns one might have about the aftermath, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the murderous Baath regime from power will be worth the sacrifices that are about to be made on all sides." Cole, after the war (July 30, 2003): "I refused to come out against the war. I was against the way the war was pursued--the innuendo, the exaggerations, the arrogant unilateralism. But I could not bring myself to be against the removal of that genocidal regime from power." Some "terrible idea."
But since Professor Cole still needs help with his memory, let me add this quote to the litany (April 1, 2003):
I hold on to the belief that the Baath regime in Iraq has been virtually genocidal (no one talks about the fate of the Marsh Arabs) and that having it removed cannot in the end be a bad thing. That's what I tell anxious parents of our troops over there; it is a noble enterprise to remove the Baath, even if so many other justifications for the war are crumbling.
You've got the mise-en-scene? The much-titled expert reassures anxious parents of service personnel that their sons and daughters are risking their lives in a "noble enterprise." Now read this passage, which Cole wrote over a year later (April 23, 2004):
I would not have been willing to risk my own life to dislodge Saddam Hussein from power. And, I would certainly not have been willing to see my son risk his.
So apparently the "noble enterprise" wasn't that noble, at least in retrospect. For it's only in retrospect that Cole came to see the "noble enterprise" as a "terrible idea." Only in retrospect did a war to depose Saddam look to him like a "bad idea," since at the time he thought it "cannot in the end be a bad thing." When war began, he thought it would be "worth the sacrifices." Only in retrospect did he decide it wasn't even worth the risks.
Cole shows neither courage nor integrity in fudging his past position. While he flays others for selective memory and shifting their rationales, he commits precisely the same offenses. Would it damage his ego or his reputation for punditry to admit that the "noble enterprise" didn't turn out quite like he expected? What's he afraid of? After all, he wasn't regarded as any great expert on Iraq going into the war. Even a true expert, Peter Sluglett, has admitted he overestimated U.S. chances of getting Iraq right: "Perhaps I was naive." Why does Cole, an Iraq novice in comparison, insist on his own prescience?
Finally, there's Cole's claim that he was going to "protest" the war if it didn't get a U.N. Security Council resolution. He says he's got witnesses. Well, they'd better be good, because here is Cole on the record (February 4, 2003):
My own knowledge of the horrors Saddam has perpetrated makes it impossible for me to stand against the coming war, however worried I am about its aftermath. World order is not served by unilateral military action, to which I do object. But world order, human rights and international law are likewise not served by allowing a genocidal monster to remain in power.
That sounds like an overwhelming moral case for unilateral action, with apologies to the UN.
So that's Juan Cole--the historian who can't even get his own history straight. His "noble enterprise" belongs to the same category as President Bush's "mission accomplished," with this difference: President Bush may have been sincere. With Cole, you never know.
[Mr. Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is editor of the Middle East Quarterly.]
University continues to consider hiring embattled Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi for its newly-endowed Robert Niehaus chair in Contemporary Middle East Studies. Khalidi, a specialist on Palestinian politics and history, has become controversial for his highly politicized mix of polemics and history. He has sought to rebut criticism, arguing that questioning his scholarship infringes on his first amendment rights. Speaking at Columbia University on April 4, 2005, for example, he said, “Freedom of speech and academic freedom are particularly necessary for unpopular and difficult ideas, for conventional ideas, for ideas that challenge reigning orthodoxy.”
Khalidi is right about the importance of freedom of speech, but he misses the point. Academic freedom is meant to protect scholarship, not replace it. For any history professor, the core of scholarship is the ability to uncover and interpret primary source material. High school students might select sources uncritically in order to prove their thesis, but history professors must evaluate not only what the source says, but also its veracity and perspective. Judgment matters. Next to plagiarism—of which Khalidi has also been accused recently—deliberate omission, failure to judge sources, and eschewing primary source and field research are the greatest academic sins a professor can commit.
In 2004, Khalidi authored Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East in which he argued that U.S. government officials had entered into the Iraq conflict ignorant of Middle Eastern history. Unlike others academics and critics of Bush administration policy, Khalidi refused to travel to Iraq to conduct his research. Instead, he made Iraq a template upon which to impose his theories. His failure to engage Iraqis is reflected in his ignorance of Iraqi history. His narrative failed to mention Saddam Hussein’s murder of tens of thousands of Shi‘i Marsh Arabs, and the ethnic cleansing of cities like Kirkuk and Sinjar. Polemics may forgive sins of omission, but scholarship should not. Worse, while his narrative ignores Saddam’s chemical weapons attack on Kurdish civilians, in the Iraqi equivalent of Holocaust denial, he questions Saddam’s complicity in a footnote.
The devil, though, is in the details. Khalidi demonstrates an unwillingness to utilize primary sources and an inability to access source credibility. He relies repeatedly on the Asia Times, implying the source to be a newspaper when, in reality, it is an internet fringe commentary newsletter. In other footnotes, he relies on the work of the Guardian’s Brian Whitaker and Independent columnist Robert Fisk, both of whom their colleagues say embrace conspiracy theories, eschew ethics, and fabricate stories. He quotes former Pentagon official Karen Kwiatkowski discussing her experiences with Iraq planning. The bipartisan U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence interviewed Kwiatkowski about her allegations of intelligence manipulation and, according to its publicly available July 7, 2004 “Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq” and found her claims unsubstantiated if not fraudulent. When queried by Senate investigators, Kwiatkowski could not cite a single example to back her accusations. Many other journalists also distanced themselves from Kwiatkowski whose web commentaries are replete with anti-Semitic conspiracy. Khalidi, however, adopted her rhetoric blindly. She may have lied, but her claims fit his thesis.
The most serious indictment of Khalidi’s scholarship, though, is his embrace of the work of Robert Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and a contributing editor at The Nation, but the preface to his 1980 book Hostage to Khomeini places him as the Middle East Intelligence Director for the Executive Intelligence Review, the magazine of the Lyndon LaRouche movement. LaRouche is the perennial presidential candidate and conspiracy theorist who was convicted of fraud in 1988 for a scheme in which he bilked retirees to finance his organization. Among the theories he has pedaled is that Queen Elizabeth II is a drug dealer, 1984 Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale is a deep-cover Soviet agent, and Jewish American officials like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Doug Feith are Israeli agents. While Dreyfuss now disassociates himself from the LaRouche movement, arguing that LaRouche veered to the right while Dreyfuss moved to the left, the style, content, and accuracy of his reporting has not changed. Much of his writing including that referenced by Khalidi still parallels those theories advanced in LaRouche publications.
Khalidi committed professional negligence by using Dreyfuss’ material without evaluating quality. Good scholars do not rely on sources of whose credentials they are unaware. To be fair, Khalidi is not alone in his reliance on Dreyfuss. University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, who has called criticism of Khalidi’s work “a McCarthyite witch hunt,” has repeatedly directed his readership to articles by Dreyfuss, recommends Dreyfuss’ blog, and has parroted Dreyfuss’ theories about the dual loyalties of Jews in American policy.
Khalidi is entitled to his free speech, but cloaking it in the rubric of academic freedom is dishonest. College freshmen who constructed arguments on fringe internet commentary and embraced the findings of conspiracy theorists would fail courses. His twisting of facts and failure to evaluate sourcing for the sake of political gain undercuts the opus of his work.
First amendment rights should always allow Khalidi and his defenders to say what they want. But academic freedom should not mean casting aside all scholarly standards. Lawyers also can say what they want, but they cannot substitute legal legwork for fantasy when arguing cases or penning law journal articles. Society would look ill upon doctors who used their free speech rights to withhold cancer treatment from a patient, and instead urge them to eat nothing but pineapples and ketchup. Free speech does not absolve anyone from professional incompetence. Nor should it supplant academic rigor, fieldwork, and research.
[Mr. Henaut holds a Ph.D. in Early Christian Literature from the University of Toronto.]
Tom Harpur, in his book The Pagan Christ, advances the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth may not have been an actual historical person and that the gospel figure familiar to us is a mythic creation of the early Church.
There are, admittedly, few non-Christian sources from the first century after his death which refer to Jesus. Those that do, like Tacitus or Suetonius, can be said to reflect second-hand information likely derived from the local Christian community itself. But there is nothing unusual in this.
During his short public ministry, Jesus was a wandering sage with a small following in an "obscure" corner of the world from Rome's perspective. Why would its historians take note of him?
There is also a scarcity of references by non-Christian historians to Christianity itself, despite the early Church's rapid spread throughout the Roman Empire. This silence cuts both ways.
The testimony of the Jewish historian Josephus is also problematic since it says Jesus was the Christ and that after his death he appeared to his disciples. But if these aspects of the text are viewed as an interpolation into a shorter but authentic reference to Jesus as a wise man then we are left with a text little different from Josephus's reconstruction of numerous other Jewish holy men.
Harpur's theory also involves the paradox that while Jesus didn't exist, his brother James, did. There is a reference to James in Josephus that cannot be so easily expunged as an interpolation, and Paul indicates he visited James in Jerusalem. Surely James would have remembered that he never had a brother named Jesus!...
...Greater care must be used applying the "argument from silence" than Harpur admits. For example, a surprising number of important scholars on the historical Jesus - Rudolf Bultmann, Joachim Jeremias, and Geza Vermes - are not mentioned in his index or bibliography. Are we to conclude Harpur is unaware of these scholars?
What survives in the historical record is often not what we might expect or find convenient. Not until 1990 was the family burial tomb of the High Priest Caiaphas discovered near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This hardly should be viewed as finally providing the necessary proof that he in fact did exist.
Direct evidence for Jesus' existence in non-Christian sources or the archeological record may not yet be conclusive, but the other evidence for his existence is still indisputable.
...He[Brinkley] describes the media circus that was part of the origin for his most recent book, "The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion."
"I was in Normandy last June, working with CNN on their coverage of the D-Day anniversary," he said. "I was in a little Normandy village with Wolf Blitzer, and we were in this little car and suddenly the phone rang, and the producer answered it, and she said, 'Reagan's dead.' And that changed a lot of the coverage. We were spending the night in this cemetery and over the water in the Channel they were doing a lot of fireworks and there was this kaboom! kaboom!, and all along the white crosses and stars of David there was this eerie red glow. And all the coverage became centered on the Pointe du Hoc speech."
In a nutshell, these are Brinkley's gifts -- to be on the scene, to describe it in vivid detail, and to see the possibilities within a given moment. Listening to the replays of one of Reagan's most important speeches, Brinkley became interested in how that speech had come about -- and as a biographer of both Jimmy Carter and John Kerry, he knows the importance of public oratory and the complex process of creating it. As he began doing research at the Reagan Presidential Library, what was originally conceived as a magazine article grew into a book, and with Brinkley's characteristic speed, it's being published a year later.
Some readers might be surprised that Brinkley would move from Kerry to Reagan, but he follows his passions.
"You know the history of World War II appreciation, which we've all been a part of here, really began in 1984, when Time put it on the cover and Lance Morrow did this incredible piece and Reagan did the Pointe du Hoc speech," he said. "Communities began to recognize, 'Oh my God, we've got a Normandy veteran.' And the men didn't talk at that age, they were just hitting the 60s, just getting into the senior bracket, and Reagan talking about them at Normandy made it somehow OK to talk about yourself in that way.
"And then it snowballed. And (UNO historian Stephen) Ambrose was next in line to catch that wave. He didn't like Reagan that much, politically, but he recognized that those speeches were just unbelievable, like a trigger point. And that's when the Eisenhower Center started, interviewing all those veterans from '84 to '94. Steve saw Pointe du Hoc. You can't go there and not be moved. More moving than the Alamo or Mount Rushmore."
Ambrose, founder of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans and of the National D-Day Museum, was an important mentor for Brinkley. Ambrose died in 2002.
"I think about him every day," Brinkley said. "I miss his voice. It was so direct and wise. I learned about a work ethic from him -- he was an extraordinarily disciplined guy. And I learned that curiosity was the great gift to have as a historian, that it wouldn't be work if you were curious, because you couldn't stand not knowing. I had that, but he brought that out in me. . . . And he taught me that D-Day is the turning point in 20th-century history. There's a debate whether it's D-Day or Hiroshima/Nagasaki; those two events were very transformative.
"Reagan and Ambrose, more than anybody, turned our country from recognizing D-Day rather than Pearl Harbor as the biggest World War II anniversary. Before 1984, the big date everybody knew was Dec. 7. But Pearl Harbor was about our poor naval preparedness and it's hard to build a World War II triumphalism out of that."...
Brinkley made the bestseller lists for the first time in 2004 with "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the War in Vietnam," which drew criticism as well as praise. "I'm very proud of that book," he said. "It tells you what a tinderbox Vietnam still is . . . There's not a reporter in the country who wouldn't have killed to have been ahead of the game and to have had Kerry's diaries when I had them. And part of my work is to figure out where the interesting material is."
But he insists he's not partisan: "That kind of right/left stuff doesn't interest me. I have some right-wing friends, a lot of libertarian friends, a lot of Democratic friends too. I'm trying to find a good story about America to tell."
And he enjoys the limelight. His schedule this week includes radio (the Don Imus show) and TV appearances ("Today" and "O'Reilly Factor") -- "and you get notoriety with that," he said, confessing to an occasional bout of pre-show nerves. "But you have to be part of the mix. I'm doing less now, because of the kids. You could be like (author Thomas) Pynchon and just not.
"But I'm a natural lecturer and speaker. My mother was a drama teacher, my sister has done ABC news for ABC in San Francisco, and my father was a social studies teacher who went into business. So I come from a teaching family. Naturally, if I have a view on something, I'm going to talk about it.
"My mom has a drawing I did when I was 7 years old of the Vietnam War," Brinkley said. "History's always been part of my life. I don't get up thinking, 'Oh, I've got to go to work.' I think, 'Oh, I get to continue!' "
Brinkley has been described as a celebrant, a cheerleader for American history, and it's hard not to celebrate along with a man who speaks in superlatives, who looks at the world in terms of "great gifts." Reagan's great gift, according to Brinkley, is "that there was no meanness to his spirit." Ambrose taught Brinkley that "curiosity is the great gift."
Critics have said that Brinkley's all over the map. "That's my great gift,"
he said, and laughs uproariously at himself.
Lisa Hajjar has made an entire academic career out of bashing the United States and Israel for their supposed use of “torture” against Arabs. She spouts off these baseless accusations from her academic home at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), where she teaches in its “Law and Society” program. In fact she has no credentials at all in law. (She also teaches “Middle East Studies” at UCSB, with even fewer qualifications in that field.) Instead she holds a PhD in sociology from American University. The one in Washington, not Cairo.
Hajjar is among the shrillest voices in the United States trying to chant the accusations over American “abuses of the human rights” of the al-Qaeda terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. She served on the pretentious “world tribunal,” the one that found Saddam’s Iraq innocent and the US guilty of war crimes and human rights abuses. Among the “tribunal’s” objective findings were that “the occupation of Palestine, Afghanistan and all other colonized areas is illegal and should be brought to an end immediately.”
Lisa Hajjar has written:
“There is no reason to doubt that torture has been systemic and pervasive, or that authorization can be traced up the chain of command, or that this has seriously damaged not only the immediate victims but also our national institutions and America's image abroad. Yet top officials in the Bush Administration are still doing what torturing regimes do: denying the facts and blaming "rogue" officers. Despite the abundant evidence of torture, Congress refuses to challenge these denial tactics in any meaningful way, for example by refusing to confirm for high office those responsible. What we desperately need is public acknowledgment that torture is always and everywhere a crime, and an official policy that reflects this conviction.”
Hajjar has tried to define herself academically as a scholar having some expertise on the use of torture. She defines her aim as the debunking the false “popular belief that Western history constitutes a progressive move from more to less torture.” The fact that she publishes her “findings” on web sites of the communist party raises questions about her credibility and objectivity. Hajjar gets her kicks out of issuing “warnings” about human rights abuses. She has spent her energies bemoaning the “torture” of the Iraqi Ba’athists being held in the Abu Ghraib prison.
Lisa Hajjar is apparently the daughter of a Finnish mother and a father of Syrian descent. She teaches in the “Law and Society Program” at the University of California at Santa Barbara, but she is in fact nothing more than a third-rate leftist sociologist. She has no training in law or legal studies, is not qualified as a Middle East scholar or researcher, and his extraordinarily few bona fide publications even in sociology. None of this prevented UCSB from granting her tenure as well as its “Pious Award” for her “research”. She was among the UCSB faculty members opposing the war against Iraq and defending Saddam as part of “Not in Our Name”.
Among the “scholarly articles” Hajjar lists on her vita are many propaganda screeds that she published, including those in the anti-Israel pro-terror “Middle East Report,” for “In these Times”, on the MERIP organization’s web page, in the “Amnesty International” magazine, and a partisan defense of Palestinian mass murderer Marwan Barghouti.1 On her vita, besides the partisan propaganda we could find at most six articles she has published in refereed journals, hardly enough to get a faculty member tenure in any serious academic department.
Hajjar is author of a recently-published pseudo-scholarly book, Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza, a broadside assault against Israel’s military courts, which often try Palestinian terrorists. Israeli civilian courts do not have jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the simple reason that these areas are not formally annexed to Israel, although Palestinian terrorists convicted in military courts may appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court. The book is less an analysis of the military courts than it is a partisan denunciation of Israel’s presence in the “occupied territories” and an open endorsement of the rights of Palestinians to “resist” it, Hajjar’s Newspeak term for mass murdering Jews. (Israelis arresting murdering terrorists would not qualify as “resistance by Jews” in the Hajjar book, of course.)
True, Israel itself has debated the circumstances under which “moderate physical pressure” could be applied to captured terrorists to force them to reveal information. But Israel is in a state of war and a fight for its very life against Arab fascism. Indeed years ago even this “moderate pressure” was prohibited by the Israeli court system. The main prisoner abuse of jailed Palestinians in Israel these days seems to be that some of their VCR’s are really difficult to pre-program.
In fact, while prohibited in Israel, it is not clear at all why terrorists should NOT be tortured,2 this on purely ethical grounds. Be that as it may, while conceding that “a history of Israeli interrogation of Palestinians has never been written, and the conditions do not exist for such an undertaking,” Hajjar is willing to take the word of the Bash-Israel lobby that Israel routinely uses torture against Palestinian prisoners. Among the primary sources cited by Hajjar to prove that Israel uses torture are screeds in Tikkun Magazine, the “Palestine Research Center” in Beirut, the late neonazi anti-Semite Israel Shahak, and other far-leftist propagandists. Hajjar’s “book” has been lavishly praised by pro-terror Islamic fundamentalist web sites, and one of her screeds has been cited and praised by a neonazi web site.
Before coming to Santa Barbara, Hajjar taught “military law” at Swarthmore. There she engaged in partisan one-sided indoctrination in her classroom, as is revealed by the syllabi of her courses there. Her required reading list was a who’s who of far leftists, communists, and haters of American and Israel. Among her proclamations at Swarthmore, was: “While the United States voices outrage about Saddam Hussein, it goes on tolerating human rights violations and other misdeeds by regional allies.” Her “research” at Swarthmore consisted of little more than serving as a cheerleader for politicized “cause lawyers.”
Hajjar has served as editorial assistant and writer at MERIP, a fanatically anti-Israel pro-terror “think tank” in Washington DC. She also is a member of the board of editors (alongside such “scholars” as Columbia University’s Joseph Massad) of the pseudo-academic Journal of Palestine Studies, a partisan propaganda journal that features such “scholars” as the PLO chief. The Middle East Quarterly describes the Journal of Palestine Studies as a “PLO propaganda organ disguised as an academic journal; for example, it routinely refers to the creation of Israel as an-Nakba (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic).” Orbis, Fall 1988, p. 637, describes the Institute of Palestine Studies, publisher of the Journal of Palestine Studies, as "an arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization." Stanford’s Joel Beinin publishes his anti-Israel propaganda pieces there, as do the usual Israeli far-Left anti-Semites favoring the destruction of their own country. The “journal” makes little attempt to hide its political agenda.
Hajjar does not hide her support for Palestinian violence. She writes: “Because Palestinians are stateless and dispersed, their struggle for national rights has taken ‘unconventional’ forms, including guerilla warfare. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which emerged in the 1960s to lead this struggle, has been castigated by Israel, and to a lesser extent the US, as nothing but a terrorist organization. This typifies the use of the terrorist label to non-states in their struggles against states.… Since most Palestinians have identified politically with the PLO, it was easy for the Israeli state to relate the repression of Palestinians to the imperatives of Jewish/Israeli national security. Generally speaking, everything connected to Palestinian nationalist activities and especially to the PLO was considered a security threat which (sic) could justify limitations and restrictions of rights.”
Those “unconventional” Palestinian forms of protest happen to include blowing up buses full of school children and pregnant mothers.
Hajjar is a radical feminist, but one with little real interest in the position of women in the Arab world and with no concern at all over Israeli women being murdered by her beloved Palestinian terrorists. She has mentioned that in Morocco things are less equitable than at Vassar. She seems to believe that the main cause for Arab feminists should be destroying Israel. She is highly praised by Neve Gordon, a fanatic anti-Israel lecturer in political science at Ben Gurion University in Israel, someone who was arrested for serving as a “human shield” for Palestinian murderers, and someone who wrote a sycophantic piece about Holocaust Denier Norman Finkelstein, comparing Finkelstein ethically to the Prophets in the Bible. Gordon and Hajjar like to cite one another as authoritative sources for the claim that Israel uses torture against Arab prisoners. This is a bit like Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky citing one another’s works to prove how that America is more oppressive than Nazi Germany.
At least five of Hajjar’s articles are featured on a PLO web site. Together with Steve Niva, a pro-terrorism far-leftist faculty member at Evergreen State College in Washington State (from which Rachel Corrie was dispatched to go commit suicide on behalf of Palestinian terrorism in Gaza) and a Counterpunch columnist, she is a sycophantic groupie of Edward Said and described his book as “a seminal event, causing lasting reverberations throughout the academy."3 Hajjar also writes for “The Nation”, where she openly endorses nutty conspiracy theories.
She writes inter alia:
“While neoconservatism may help explain much about American military and foreign policy after 9/11, it doesn't account for the legal reasoning that set the conditions for the torture scandal. For that, we need to look to the Federalist Society, an organization established by right-wing lawyers in the early 1980s to redress ‘liberal bias’ in American law schools and the legal profession. The thinking and influence of Federalist Society types who dominate legal positions (and judicial appointments) in the Bush Administration are laid bare in the torture memos, which document the triumph of international law-averse officials in the Justice Department, the Pentagon and the White House over dissenting voices in the State Department and sectors of the professional military.”
She has tried to build much of her academic credentials upon her “research” concerning the uses of torture. She insists torture is used widely by both the US and Israel and her evidence for this is that some Arabs claim this is so, as do some far-left propagandists such as Kenneth Roth from “Human Rights Watch.” In fact, HRW has been exposed by NGO-Monitor as constituting little more than an anti-Israel smear lobby and is hardly a credible source. Other “sources” for her claims concerning torture include the extremist anti-Israel leftist organization in Israel, Betselem, which denies that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism at all - other than by surrendering to terrorist demands, and which has been repeatedly caught lying. She teaches her views to hapless UCSB freshmen in a formal course about “torture.” Hajjar regularly attacks Alan Dershowitz savagely for daring to suggest that under certain circumstances torturing terrorists might be justified. She compares American and Israeli officials to the nazis tried in Nuremberg.
Lisa Hajjar may be at her most dishonest when she is co-authoring political propaganda together with Stanford University professor of history Joel Beinin. In Alyssa A. Lappen’s words, Beinin “denounces American ‘imperialism’ on Al-Jazeera Television. A former Zionist, he refers to jihadist suicide bombers as ‘martyrs.’ He praised Mideast scholars for ignoring the issue of terrorism, and he regularly repeats the most twisted and paranoid claims of Islamist regimes as though they were historical fact.” Beinin used to be the ayatollah of the notoiously-biased “Middle East Studies Association,” an anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda outfit disguised as an academic professional association. (Hajjar has chaired sessions at MESA events.) Beinin religiously churns out propaganda, with Hajjar is his regular sidekick. Indeed, Beinin proudly lists these propaganda screeds on his personal web page.
Beinin and Hajjar were among the professors signing a statement before the Allied invasion of Iraq, warning that Israel was planning to conduct genocidal atrocities against Arabs the moment the US troops landed in Mesopotamia. Well, Saddam was long ago toppled, with not even a smidgen of an atrocity was performed by Israel, while not even a whisper of an apology has come from either Beinin or Hajjar. Orwellistically, the two continue to collaborate in conferences devoted to “New History”, which is to say – pseudo-history.
Hajjar is a co-author and collaborator with Beinin in a number of projects, including "Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Primer." It is widely reprinted, including on anti-Israel pro-terror web sites such as “From Occupied Palestine,” and also on those that are fronts for the PLO.
The “Primer” is a rather typical example of getting just about everything possible wrong. It begins with the proclamation that religion plays no role in the Arab war against Israel and that it is all a "struggle over land". Now one of the few things unchallengeable about the Middle East conflict is that it has virtually nothing to do with land. Arab countries already control 6,145,389 square miles of land. That is almost twice the land area of the United States, which is 3,537,438 square miles, and about the same as the land area of Russia. Israel, even when including all of the "occupied territories" retained from 1967, controls less than 10,000 square miles. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip comprise about 2300 square miles (a bit less when deducting Jerusalem and its suburbs from the account), which is about half the size of the Everglades. Beinin and Hajjar want us to believe that with 6,145,389 square miles, the Arabs want war and genocide, but with 6,145,389 plus 2300 more, then they will want peace. If Israel only trades “land for peace” with the land-deprived Arabs, and never mind that its abandonment of the West Bank would leave an Israel ten miles wide and waiting for the Arab armies to annihilate, then all will be well.
Hajjar and Beinin want the world to believe that the entire Middle East war is due to the fact that those evil selfish Jews are unwilling to share their 10,000 square miles with the poor land-starved Arabs. But, in reality, the obvious true cause of the Middle East war is the fact that the Arab world is unwilling to allow the Jews to control even a sixth of one percent of the territory of the Middle East. The Arabs, controlling more land than any other ethnic group on the planet besides the Russians (most of whose land is frozen tundra), are simply unwilling to share even the tiniest sliver of the Middle East with the Jews.
In the “Primer” Beinin and Hajjar get most of the rest of their political history wrong as well. They claim that religious Zionism developed after the Six-Day War, whereas it developed in the nineteenth century. They claim that the Six Day War triggered messianic religiosity among Israelis, whereas the evidence suggests Israelis became more secularist after 1967 than they were before.
Beinin and Hajjar also reveal their biases by what they do NOT report, such as the mass immigration into "Palestine" of Arabs from neighboring countries starting in the late nineteenth century, and their counting of all Moslems, including Turks, as "Palestinian Arabs." They write, "In 1920 and 1921, clashes broke out between Arabs and Jews in which roughly equal numbers of both groups were killed." This makes it sound like Jews and Arabs were equally involved in murder. In fact, the Jewish dead were murdered by Arab pogromchiki whereas the Arab dead were rioters shot by British troops. When Arabs started mass-murdering Jews in 1929, Beinin and Hajjar blame the Jews, for raising a flag near the Wailing Wall.
They then write: "In 1921, the British divided this region in two: east of the Jordan River became the Emirate of Transjordan, to be ruled by Faysal's brother 'Abdullah,’ and west of the Jordan River became the Palestine Mandate. This was the first time in modern history that Palestine became a unified political entity (emphasis added)." In fact, of course, it was clearly a division of Palestine into an Arab two-thirds and a remaining third earmarked for Jews.
The Beinin-Hajjar version of the creation of the "Palestinian" refugee problem is nothing more and nothing less than the Arab version. Those horrid Jews expelled the poor innocent Arab victims! In fact, the Arab refugees fled at the direction of their commanders and to escape the battle zones created when the Arab fascist states invaded Israel and tried to annex all the lands of Western Palestine.4 Beinin and Hajjar also repeat the now-discredited myth about how Arab civilians in Deir Yassin were "massacred" by Jews.
Beinin and Hajjar then recite the lies about supposed discrimination by Israel against Israeli Arabs: "But in many respects they were and remain second-class citizens, since Israel defines itself as the state of the Jewish people and Palestinians are non-Jews." France is a French state, Greece is a Greek state, England is an English state. Being in the minority is synonymous with being a second-class citizen in the "minds" of Beinin and Hajjar, but only in Israel. (If anything, Israel discriminates in FAVOR of its Arab citizens and against Jews!!) Not a word in their screed on the status of ethnic and religious minorities in the rest of the Middle East. They go on: "About 40 percent of their (Arab) lands were confiscated by the state and used for development projects that benefited Jews primarily or exclusively." I guess the Left-Coast Duo assume that Arabs do not use the roads, universities, hospitals and parks in Israel on public lands.
The Beinin-Hajjar account of supposed abuses of Arabs by Israel is as undocumented and baseless as it is unscholarly. They write, "Torture of Palestinian prisoners has been a common practice since at least 1971, and dozens of people have died in detention from abuse or neglect." Their evidence is that they think so. This is all complete falsehood and propaganda dressed up as "research". They add, "According to Israel, Palestinian terrorism includes all forms of opposition to the occupation (including non-violence)." According to Israel? According to Beinin and Hajjar, all forms of Arab atrocities against Jews are "protests against occupation”, whereas no form of anti-terror operations by Israel could possibly be considered justifiable self-defense.
The Beinin-Hajjar take on the "Oslo Accords" is that "the PLO accepted this deeply flawed agreement with Israel because it was weak and had little diplomatic support in the Arab world." They have got to be kidding! Beinin and Hajjar do not think the Oslo Accords were “deeply flawed” because they produced 1700 Israelis murdered by the PLO after it foreswore all use of violence forever, but rather because they failed to deliver Israel’s annihilation.
We now of course know that the PLO "accepted" the Oslo deal only in order to get control of the West Bank and Gaza and use them as terrorist bases to attack Israel. The PLO had no intention of abandoning terror and murder, nor its ambitions to seek Israel’s annihilation. No mention at all from Beinin and Hajjar about how the PLO violated each and every clause in the Oslo Accord almost from the instant it was signed.
Beinin and Hajjar are at their most disengenuous and "revisionist", which is to say – dishonest, when they tell the saga of the failed "Camp David II” conference: "Although Barak offered a far more extensive Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank than any other Israeli leader had publicly considered, he insisted on maintaining Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. This was unacceptable to the Palestinians and to most of the Muslim world." Actually, Barak there offered Arafat not only East Jerusalem but control of the Old City of Jerusalem as well, including its Jewish shrines. Arafat turned Barak down because the deal did not provide for the immediate annihilation of Israel (also known as the ‘right of return’), which is really the PLO’s minimal demand.
Then there are the innuendoes and falsehoods by the Left-Coast Duo when it comes to recent years in the Middle East. They write: "The Israeli military response escalated dramatically after two soldiers, allegedly 'lost' in the PA-controlled West Bank town of Ramallah, were killed October 12 by a Palestinian mob returning from the funeral of an unarmed young man whom soldiers had shot dead the day before." Note how the use of the quote marks around the word "lost" and the absence of quotes around the word “unarmed” convey to the reader the totally-false impression that the two were involved in something nefarious. In fact, the two Jewish victims were innocents, who were tortured and murdered in cold blood, and then their bodies were mutilated.
Ultimately Hajjar lets her pseudo-scholarship and imagination fabricate the contents of her “research”. She claims her own phone was tapped after the 9-11 attacks. Hajjar is convinced that torturing Arabs is ingrained in the American soul. She is as fond of whining about make-pretend “right-wing conspiracies” as is Hillary Clinton. Just before the toppling of Saddam, Hajjar endorsed warnings that “senior (US) officials could face prosecutions for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide if the war unfolds as reportedly planned,” and claimed Bush was planning to nuke Iraq. This sociologist with no legal training at all insists she has the right to pass legal judgment upon the United States: “the Bush administration has articulated positions and pursued policies that blatantly contravene the Geneva Conventions.”
We have no doubt that her Stanford sidekick Joel Beinin agrees.
1 The Making of a Political Trial: The Marwan Barghouti Case. Middle East
Report, no. 225 (Winter 2002).
2 Alan Dershowitz, "Is It Necessary to Apply `Physical Pressure' to Terrorists--and to Lie about It?" Israel Law Review 23/2-3 (1989).
3 Lisa Hajjar and Steve Niva, "(Re)Made in the USA: Middle East Studies in the Global Era," Middle East Report 7, no. 4 (October–December 1997), pp. 4–5.
4 Efraim Karsh, “Were the Palestinians Expelled?” Commentary Magazine, July-August 2000 and Efraim Karsh, “The Palestinians and the ‘Right of Return,’” Commentary Magazine, May 2001.
Rachel Donadio, in the NYT Book Review (5-29-05):
[Rachel Donadio is a writer and editor at the Book Review.]
WHEN it came out in 1967, ''The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,'' by Harold Cruse, crystallized a moment. The moment passed, but Cruse, a black cultural nationalist, was not just a footnote to history.
''The Crisis'' was at once an anti-integrationist manifesto and a critical history of 20th-century African-American culture and politics, and it arrived like a thunderclap just as the civil rights era was shifting into the black power era. ''Throughout the late 60's and the early 70's one could see the signal bright red cover almost everywhere that young people were gathered,'' Stanley Crouch writes in the introduction to a new edition of the book, to be released on June 10 by New York Review Books.
In ''The Crisis,'' Cruse urged black intellectuals and artists to establish their own institutions and reclaim black American culture from those who sought to appropriate it. ''The special function of the Negro intellectual is a cultural one,'' he wrote. ''He should take to the rostrum and assail the stultifying blight of the commercially depraved white middle class who has poisoned the structural roots of the American ethos and transformed the American people into a nation of intellectual dolts.''
His words reverberated widely. ''I think many of us received the call to be an intellectual through Harold Cruse,'' Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of the department of African and African-American studies at Harvard University, said in a telephone interview. Cruse taught that ''being an artist or an intellectual didn't mean musing merely on Grecian urns. It meant we could make an intervention, implicitly political, for our people, and by teaching we could make a direct contribution to the broader struggle for rights for the African-American people,'' Gates said. ''As hokey as that might sound today, I think that's why many of us became academics and scholars.''
When he died in March at the age of 89, Cruse was largely off the radar, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, where he had taught since 1968 -- the early days of its African-American studies program. A famously curmudgeonly autodidact and the son of a railway porter, Cruse grew up in New York City. He never finished college, and was among the first blacks to receive tenure at an American university without a college degree. Many black intellectuals said they learned as much from the example of Cruse as from his writing. ''He was self-taught, tremendously disciplined and unrelenting in his commitment to black freedom,'' Cornel West, a professor of religion at Princeton University who has written widely on African-American topics, said in a telephone interview. ''I agreed with him very little, but I learned much from him.''
''The Crisis'' offered something for everyone, since it criticized everyone, from icons like W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson to West Indians and Jews. For every argument that holds water, there's another that unravels, often into conspiratorial vitriol. Cruse accused West Indians of looking down on American blacks, and was distinctly sniffy about some members of the black power movement's leadership, including Stokely Carmichael, Lincoln Lynch and Roy Innis, who were all of West Indian descent.
But Cruse reserved special venom for Jews. In ''The Crisis,'' he asserted that ''the great brainwashing of Negro radical intellectuals was not achieved by capitalism, or the capitalistic bourgeoisie, but by Jewish intellectuals in the American Communist Party.'' He also cited passages from Dostoyevsky, oddly enough, about how Jewish merchants exploited blacks in the South. When the book was published, reviewers tended to ignore its anti-Semitism. In a recent interview, Mark Naison, a professor of African-American studies at Fordham University, said he didn't think people take Cruse's analysis of black-Jewish relations ''very seriously'' today, especially not Cruse's dismissal of the role Jews played in the civil rights movement. ''It's too ahistorical and too conspiratorial to have much weight outside the sort of anti-Semitic fringe of the black intelligentsia, which is now a fringe, not mainstream,'' Naison said.
[NEH Chairman Bruce Cole spoke recently with this year's Jefferson Lecturer, Donald Kagan, about the teaching of history. Kagan has taught at Yale for thirty-six years and is the author of eleven books, among them his four-volume magisterial work, The Peloponnesian War.]
Bruce Cole: How did you get to be an historian?
Donald Kagan: From the time I was a little boy I found myself reading history when I had a choice. I read a lot of things, but history had a special appeal for me.
Then, as so often is the case, a teacher made a difference. In high school I had a teacher who taught us modern European history. I was so taken with the various qualities that he had and a way of thinking that I had not heard before that it caught my attention. Nobody I knew had ever gone to college, so the notion of being a professor simply didn't occur to me, but I thought I would be a high school history teacher just like Mr. Silverman.
Cole: You talk about history being fun and history being enjoyable. Isn't that one of the real reasons people read history?
Kagan: Oh, yes. Throughout the human experience people have read history because they felt that it was a pleasure and that it was in some way instructive. The profession of professor of history has taken it in a very different direction. There's never been such a gap between people who write history as a profession and people who read history. To most people, history doesn't seem like fun, and it doesn't seem to have very much to do with what they are interested in.
Cole: Why is that?
Kagan: The profession took a particular turn that I don't think was inevitable or necessary, away from what it had been in the primary sense--the telling of a story, a narrative act. History had its own way of explaining things. The way historians explain things is by telling a story. They ask a question to which the answer is a story. That is to say, it's a series of human reactions to particular circumstances that take place in time and thereby produce a narrative and a story.
Somehow I think the power of the physical sciences attracted people's minds, and anything that wasn't a science somehow wasn't serious. So people decided that what we historians do had to be a science. The more that misfit took place, the further it went away from the traditional concept of history.
Cole: You had to give history a kind of legitimacy in the academy?
Kagan: That's right. It had to be something as serious a science seemed to be.
Cole: When do you date that to?
Kagan: You could say, I suppose, that there were professional historians in the nineteenth century, particularly, I would say, in Germany, where they invented the PhD. These were people who made their livings first of all as professors at universities, and, second of all, as people who wrote history. That didn't require that they should turn away from the traditional approach, and many of them did not. I think the big turn came somewhere in the twentieth century after the First World War, and again, I think, as a reaction to the power of science.
Cole: This goes across all the humanities disciplines?
Kagan: That's right. It just seemed easier to many people to do it with history than it did with some of the other humanities. The other humanities didn't go the way of science. They went off into other strange directions. When I think about it, everybody would consider the great historians who have ever lived--Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus, Gibbon, Macaulay--none of them got a PhD.
Cole: Don't you think, though, that one of the reasons that the sale of books on history is so vigorous today is because people are reading history for pleasure?
Kagan: That's right. They read those books that fit their interest in history. They don't read other books.
Cole: I have this idea--it comes from John Lukacs--that history is our fourth dimension and that we have to be historians. We can't get to work in the morning unless we have memory, a home.
Kagan: In my judgment, the best history is one that tells a story and combines it with analysis. The natural way for an historian to analyze things includes answering with a tale. The combination of telling an interesting story and answering questions along the way that an intelligent person is interested in hearing about--that's history at its peak, in my opinion.
Cole: If you were cast away on a desert island and you had only one book by an historian--
Kagan: One book, eh? Oh, that's hard.
Cole: How about two? I'll let you have two.
Kagan: I guess it's not an accident I spend most of my life reading Thucydides. Most people who are interested in history start with him.
Herodotus is first, but there's a continuity between Thucydides and the way he carried out his work and serious historians afterward. He maintains that power. I could not give him up. I love the way he writes.
Beyond that, I would want to have the historical essays of Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Cole: That's very interesting. How about Gibbon?
Kagan: Gibbon is a more cultivated taste. His style is too fancy for my particular taste. The story is a grand story, but I don't find that as you move along it's as captivating as many others.
Cole: The greatest user of irony ever, though--
Kagan: --is Gibbon.
Kagan: No wonder. I don't have proof of this but I'm convinced his favorite writer must have been Tacitus, who has that same quality. But the styles are very different. Tacitus is very terse and ends up with a sting in the tale. I guess Gibbon does a lot of that, too, but Gibbon is wonderfully satirical.
Cole: Wonderful. Let's get back to you. You had this inspiring teacher, Mr. Silverman. Then what happened?
Kagan: There was another teacher as well. I went to college to prepare to be a high school history teacher with a particular interest in modern European history. In those days, the New York City school system was really excellent and demanding. They had a curriculum that required all potential history teachers to take many a course. So I thought, why don't I start at the beginning? I thought I would take ancient history. I went to the wise old heads among the students in this field and I said, 'What about that?' They said, 'No. Ancient history is fine, but wait until you're a senior because maybe she will have retired.'
This remarkable woman--Professor Meta Elizabeth Schutz was her name-- had this reputation of being an ogre, just a terrifying person. She was a maiden lady from Maine, and, indeed, she gave out the signals of a very hard-headed lady. I took her course, and I was overwhelmed by how serious she was about what she was doing. Part of it was to communicate to us the history, and part of it was to improve us as students, which she thought meant also as people.
She didn't let anything go by. She was as demanding of us both in terms of knowing what was in the books and in our expressing ourselves, in the quality of our thought.
I wanted to be like her. She was my model. I often wonder if she had been teaching something else whether I would have been captured equally.
Kagan: As it turned out, she was teaching Greeks and Romans, and they just grabbed me, especially the Greeks. I felt drawn to these remarkable people.
I would put her first in terms of pushing me in that direction.
Cole: Did you find that same kind of inspiration in when you went off to graduate school? Were there models there, too, for you?
Kagan: There were, although I really didn't need it much anymore. I had been so excited by what happened. It changed my life. I determined that I was going to be a professor of ancient history no matter what it took. And it took a lot. I was in the second semester of my sophomore year, and I had never studied Latin or Greek. I discovered that I would need to be able to master Latin and Greek and French and German and probably Italian, too. It was really quite a crazy and bold step.
Cole: Were you the first person in your family to go to college?
Kagan: Yes, I was.
Cole: Me, too.
Kagan: So you know how we appreciate it.
Kagan: Well, let me tell you one more teacher story, because I personally am walking proof of how important teachers can be to students. I was so far behind in the classical languages, and somebody said,"Well, why don't you go over to somebody in the classics department and ask for help?" This seemed strange, but I thought I would.
I went to a teacher and told her my story, and she said,"Yes. I will help you." She must have been a woman in her sixties, and she had suffered stroke, so that she wasn't getting along very well. She said,"If you will come to my house at eight o'clock in the morning"--classes began at nine at my college--"I will teach you Latin as fast as you can learn it." In the remainder of that semester, we covered the whole year of Latin in less than a semester. She did this out of the goodness of her heart. That gave me the chance, a fighting chance if I kept slugging away, to get to where I wanted to go. It tells you something about what a real teacher can be like.
Cole: This has been your model for teaching. And I am sure you have given back this many times.
Kagan: I doubt that I could have been as worthy and as important as they were, but I've tried.
Cole: What led you to your interest in the Greeks, in particular, of all the possibilities there?
Kagan: As I read about them, more and more I became struck by certain aspects that were central to their culture. When I try to explain it to people, I use the term"the tragic spirit." The Greeks, unlike most people, were very well aware of two things at the same time. One is that human beings are capable of truly great things--by"great" they meant great good things and great terrible things. They accepted that. At the same time, human beings were not divine. They were mortal, and they were capable, as I say, of terrible things as well as good.
Most civilizations have coped with the problem of death by diminishing it or denying it. Either they say, well, yes, we die, but it's not important because we're not important. The other is to deny mortality, and to say, no, we can be immortal in certain circumstances.
The Greeks really had no sense of immortality. At the same time, they maintained a sense of the importance of human beings and the great beauty of life. In other words, they faced the fact that death would come, and it was terrible, but the fact that death would come did not mean that what we did while we were alive was unimportant. That attracted me enormously.
Cole: Was that your first area of interest, the Greeks?
Kagan: Yes. I never gave up my boyhood love for modern European history, but I put that aside. My first serious professional interest was the Greeks, and then behind them the Romans.
Cole: What can we learn? What can modern students learn about battles of more than two thousand years ago?
Kagan: Well, not an enormous amount from the battles themselves, I think. There are some common human things to be learned: One has to do with the uncertainty in human events in general and in war particularly. Surprising things happen and battles are sometimes the ones that reveal that.
The Greeks ought never to have defeated the Persians. We shouldn't have known a thing about the Greeks. Before their civilization emerged, it should have been obliterated by the extraordinary superiority of the Persian Empire. But at places like Marathon and Salamis and Plataea, they defeated an outfit that outnumbered them in men and resources to the most astonishing degree. Well, there's something to be learned in that, too.
Cole: The ancient Greeks and democracy are always very much talked about. In what ways are the ancient Greeks foreign or familiar to us?
Kagan: That's a good historian's question. I can see that you are a true historian because you really always ought to ask that question about anybody at a different place or a different time: What's the same and what's different?
We, to some degree, are like what we are because we inherited certain things from the Greeks and the Romans. One of them that's so striking is the whole area of politics.
Politics as we understand it was invented by the Greeks. It's a Greek word meaning things that have to do with the polis, the polis being a civic community that is made up of individuals, none of whom is the subject of a single master. If you go outside of the Greeks, you will find that every civilization has some kind of monarch and that he usually is thought to be divine or that he derives his power ultimately from the accord of a divine creature.
That is not true in the Greek city-states when we first see them. They don't have kings. They always have a council. They always have an assembly. The people have to, at some point, participate in the decisions of what the community does. We take it for granted that's the normal way.
But that's the abnormal way.
Cole: That's one of the reasons I think that our democracy here is sometimes not valued enough. Democracy seems just to be the natural way of things. But this certainly is not the case.
Kagan: No. It's very important to recognize this is the unnatural way of things. Even if you look at the Western tradition it's only been true for a very small part of Western history. You have two hundred, three hundred years of this kind of thing with the Greeks. Then you have a couple hundred years in the Roman Republic when something like that is happening. And the next time you see it is in the eighteenth century when the United States gets it.
Cole: Why do you think this happened?
Kagan: Ah, that's the miracle of all miracles. I used to say this when I would be joking with the students. I'd say,"This is a miracle." It was the best I could do in the old days, but I've seen an explanation that really appeals to me by a contemporary Greek historian, Victor Davis Hanson. Victor has written a wonderful book called The Other Greeks, in which he essentially explains this phenomenon. He connects it with the development of the independently owned family farm, a brand-new thing in the world at the time. It happens roughly at the same time that the Greeks are developing a new style of warfare based on what they call the hoplite phalanx, which is a close-ordered formation of heavily armed infantrymen that requires for success the same kind of person who is this independent family farmer, who has never existed in the world before.
This same man then soon demands that he participate in the decisions of his community. All these three things--citizen, soldier, farmer, and an independent family farmer at that--come into being over a century or so. That is what makes possible the whole concept of self-government.
Cole: This is also a theory about the lethality of democracies in war, right?
Kagan: Hanson feels that there is something special about democracies in warfare. I think that's interesting but less totally convincing. The story of how the Greeks got to be what they were I find much more important and much more convincing.
Cole: That's fascinating. That's familiar to us. What's foreign to us?
Kagan: I think immediately of two great gaps between us and anybody in the ancient world. First, the Judeo-Christian tradition was unknown to them. Their approach to ethics, to religion, is very different from what the Western tradition has come to be. The other big difference was the Industrial Revolution. I'm wrapping into this the agricultural revolution--these related events that happened in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Why are these so terribly important? Those developments made it possible for human beings to think, as we regularly do think now, about increasing the total amount of wealth available.
The Greeks, like everybody else before them, imagined there was only a certain amount of wealth in this world and anybody who got more did so at the expense of somebody else.
Cole: A finite amount, a zero-sum game.
Kagan: That's the way they thought about things. Our hopes for peace--which God knows haven't been met very frequently--have to do at least with the notion that it's conceivable that people will not need to fight each other over material things because there may be enough material things for everybody. Such a notion would have been totally foreign to the Greeks. That's one difference.
The other is the Judeo-Christian tradition versus theirs. Here is a simple way of illustrating the difference. If you stopped a Greek on the street in the fifth century or fourth century and said,"What is justice?" as, indeed, Plato does in his Republic, the Greek gives the answer that Plato reports, which is,"Justice is doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies." Both halves of that are equally important. The Sermon on the Mount hadn't been spoken, much less heard, and, if the Greeks had heard it, they would have thought it the silliest thing imaginable.
Cole: That's fascinating. Say an undergraduate were to put the question: should we still care about the Greeks?
Kagan: It's easy enough to make the case, I think, of why intelligent people should want to know about the Greeks. Think of all the things that they invented that we now take for granted. In addition to things like self-government, they invented the writing of history as we understand it. They invented tragedy. They invented comedy. They invented most forms of poetry as we understand them today. They invented the novel. They pioneered in science, in a whole range of sciences, in ways that even if their science isn't our science any longer, their way of thinking about the natural environment is what is at the root of modern science today. No other civilization came up with that.
We want to know how these things came about and what sort of people did this. Fortunately, we have some of the best exemplars in these different fields. If you want to read tragedy, I think Sophocles is not a bad place to go. If you want to read history, Herodotus and Thucydides are very good places to go. They are not so strange and foreign as to be unreadable.
There are students who have never read anything like that before, and they are fascinated. There's no escape. That would not be possible with other societies.
Cole: Do you find that there is a renewed interest in ancient history, the Greeks, specifically?
Kagan: I really don't think so. I think it varies from place to place, chiefly with who is teaching. I think the way that universities work today--you know better than I--is people take what they like.
Cole: Right, or what they think will help them get a job.
Kagan: And since there is no pragmatic pressure to take anything to do with the ancient Greeks--there's no in-hand profit that's obvious--the overwhelming reason they're going to do it is if word gets out that there's a good teacher teaching it. Where there are good teachers in the subject, the subject flourishes. Where there are not, it doesn't.
Cole: I know you take the view that history should be preeminent.
Kagan: Without history we are the prisoners of the accident of where and when we were born.
Cole: We have no bearings.
Kagan: That's right. I think, by the way, a liberal education is about freedom: that word"liberal" is connected to the word"freedom." Is this education suitable for a free person? Well, you have to liberate yourself first from the prejudices of the world in which you live. And the word"prejudice" ought not to be regarded as necessarily negative. We couldn't live without certain kinds of prejudices. On the other hand, if all we have is our prejudices, we lack freedom entirely. We need to examine the experience of human beings in context and times different from us.
That can be done by looking at many, many, many civilizations. But I think some of them have special advantages: one of them is remoteness. If it's pretty much like ours, it's a little less valuable than one that's not much like ours or has many, many differences.
Kagan: On the other hand, if it's too remote, it may seem strange or amusing because we simply can't relate to it. Many civilizations in history are very worthy but so different from ours that we really can't get very far. The Greeks are very useful to us because of the combination of similarity and difference. But many of the things that derived in large part from the Greeks are not a powerful part of the tradition in which we now live, not because people have rejected them, but because people never even heard of them.
Cole: They just don't know about them.
Kagan: They just don't know anything about it.
The most valuable thing that has come to me in confronting questions of the world in which I live is to be aware the Greeks confronted many of these problems. Here's what they thought and here's what they did, and already I have been given an alternative to what is the common thinking. If I had my way, I'd know as much as I could about as many civilizations as possible, because that's the most liberating thing I could do.
Cole: You once held an unusual role for a professor of history and classics. You were the Yale athletic director.
Kagan: That's right.
Cole: How did that happen?
Kagan: That was an accident. I've always been a fan of sports. As a boy, I played any sport that I could. So sports were important to me. This took the form, when I came to Yale, of being glad when I was appointed to the faculty committee on athletics, which helps to manage the athletic program.
At a certain point the athletic director left his post and there was no time to make a proper search for a professional replacement. We were in a tough spot. The president came to me and he said,"Please, you've been on this committee longer than anybody else. Would you do this?" After considerable gulping, I said yes.
Cole: Did your vast knowledge of ancient civilizations and Greece help you in that job?
Kagan: You know, I think it helps me in everything. I think it helped me there, too. I am a strong supporter of college athletics properly done, and I think we do them properly at Yale. When sports are being managed properly, intercollegiate competitive athletics are a good thing. The Greeks engaged vigorously and powerfully in athletics in search of a kind of human excellence. Our athletics program does the same.
Cole: I understand that in your leisure time you like to read mysteries, that you're a Nero Wolfe fan. I was just curious as to whether you see parallels between the historian and the mystery writer.
Kagan: Sure. The truth of the matter is I read widely among detective stories until I ran into Nero Wolfe. He was so much better than everybody else that I lost interest in all the others. I never much cared about whodunit. I don't love to guess who did it or work the solution. I enjoy the characters. Nero Wolfe and Archie are what those books are for me--the interplay between these two personalities. It's a more sophisticated and enjoyable version of the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson relationship.
Cole: Some of your students have been telling stories out of school, stories about your setting up a hoplite phalanx even in class. Is that correct?
Kagan: Oh, sure. That's a very important audience-participation activity.
Cole: How many students does it take to make a hoplite phalanx?
Kagan: We can make do with about a dozen.
Cole: Do you arm them?
Kagan: No, no. We can easily fake the whole thing. (Laughter.)
Cole: This has been great. And I can't tell you how excited we are about the Jefferson Lecture.
Kagan: I'm looking forward to it as well.