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SOURCE: New York Review of Books (7-17-07)
To the Editors:
William Dalrymple ["Plain Tales from British India," NYR, April 26], accuses me of having "encouraged the US to embrace empire." He adds in a footnote that I have "recently expressed doubts about the capacity of the US to sustain the imperial interventions he earlier supported."
However, anyone who has read my book Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, written in 2002 and published before the invasion of Iraq, knows that my doubts about the American capacity to make a success of quasi-imperial undertakings are scarcely recent. "On close inspection," I wrote,
"America's strengths may not be the strengths of a natural imperial hegemon. For one thing, British imperial power relied on the massive export of capital and people. But since 1972 the American economy has been a net importer of capital...and it remains the favoured destination of immigrants from around the world, not a producer of would-be colonial emigrants. Moreover, Britain in its heyday was able to draw on a culture of unabashed imperialism which dated back to the Elizabethan period, whereas the US...will always be a reluctant ruler of other peoples. Since Woodrow Wilson's intervention to restore the elected government in Mexico in 1913, the American approach has too often been to fire some shells, march in, hold elections and then get the hell out—until the next crisis. Haiti is one recent example; Kosovo another."
Afghanistan may yet prove to be the next.
And now Iraq, just as I predicted in Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, published in 2004. QED.
I might add that it was my unease about the naiveté of American neoconservatives that, six days before the event, led me to cast doubt on the wisdom of British involvement in the invasion of Iraq ("What's Really in It for Britain?," Financial Times, March 14, 2003).
Though I strongly differ from Niall Ferguson in my politics, and have often wondered at his odd enthusiasm for the bloody business of conquering and ruling over other people, as a fellow Scot of the same generation working in the same field, I have nonetheless long admired my compatriot's impressive eloquence and his great industry. I was therefore more than a little surprised to see him denying encouraging the US to embrace Empire, and to find him distancing himself from the neocons he says he now finds "naive." Could this be the same Niall Ferguson who wrote with characteristic brio in The New York Times Magazine of April 27, 2003, the following passionate call to arms?
Let me come clean. I am a fully paid up member of the neoimperialist gang. Twelve years ago—when it was not fashionable to say so—I was already arguing that it would be "desirable for the United States to depose" tyrants like Saddam Hussein. "Capitalism and democracy," I wrote, "are not naturally occurring, but require strong institutional foundations of law and order. The proper role of an Imperial America is to establish these institutions where they are lacking, if necessary by military force." Today this argument is in danger of becoming a commonplace.... Max Boot has gone so far as to say the United States should provide places like Afghanistan and other troubled countries with "the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets." I agree.
The United States unquestionably has the raw power to build an Empire...[but] where, then, is the new imperial elite to come from? The work needs to begin, and swiftly, to encourage American students at the country's leading universities to think more seriously about careers overseas—and by overseas I do not mean in London.... So long as the American Empire dare not speak its own name...today's ambitious young men and women will take one look at the prospects for postwar Iraq and say with one voice, "Don't even go there." Americans need to go there. If the best and brightest insist on staying at home, today's imperial project may end—unspeakably—tomorrow.
The extreme folly and naiveté of such neoimperialist ideas are now, one hopes, obvious to all.
From the start in his brief introduction on the Vietnamese background and the Geneva Accords in 1954, Moyar offers a revisionist perspective with some issues receiving extensive development such as the nature of the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, its effectiveness in establishing control in South Vietnam and dealing with the insurgency after 1957, and the U.S.-backed coup to remove him in 1963. On these questions Moyar provides an extensive review of the different perspectives presented by U.S. journalists in South Vietnam, the American military advisers working with ARVN (the Army of the Republic of Vietnam), assessments by State Department officials and Central Intelligence evaluations, memoirs by South Vietnamese, and North Vietnamese reports on the status of the conflict. Other issues such as the feasibility and wisdom of sending ARVN and U.S. forces into Laos and North Vietnam to disrupt Hanoi’s movement of troops and supplies to South Vietnam are developed in less depth. Some of the issues are “what if” questions such as the impact of an earlier, and more extensive American military escalation, or the possible effects of a U.S. decision to negotiate a withdrawal from Vietnam on Southeast Asia, and American relationships with major Asian allies and countries such as Indonesia and India.
The reviewers appreciate Moyar’s effort and his willingness to rethink and challenge the existing scholarship on many of the major issues. They do disagree with Moyar on a number of his most important issues. Moyar provides a detailed rebuttal to many of their reservations and disagreements that should provide an opportunity for further discussion and stimulate further research and revision. Some of the disputed issues are as follows:
1.) The reviewers do not question Moyar’s depiction of the Vietnamese heritage of disunity and nearly a thousand years of Chinese hegemony, as well as Ho Chi Minh’s long-term relationship with the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong. Moyar, however, is challenged with respect to the assessments of Qiang Zhai, Chen Jian, and Ilya V. Gaiduk on Ho Chi Minh’s relationship with the major communist powers (9-11), and on his maneuvering with his communist allies before and during the Geneva Conference. Moyar suggests that President Dwight Eisenhower failed to realize that the French and their Vietnamese allies “were on the verge of crushing the Viet Minh in early 1954” and declined to support the French at Dien Bien Phu with U.S. airpower: “while bombing could not have wiped out all of the Viet Minh forces at Dien Bien Phu, it almost certainly would have thwarted their attack—both by reducing their numbers and cutting their supply lines at key chokepoints—and it would have left them with a sharply reduced capacity for large-unit warfare throughout Indochina.” (28-29)
2.) Moyar depicts Diem as an increasingly successful leader considering the situation when he took over in 1954 and faced immediate French hostility, the presence of Viet Minh who did not relocate to the North, the Catholic refugees migrating from the North, the problem of dealing with the religious sects, the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hoa, and the Binh Xuyen in Saigon. As long as Washington resisted the desire to pressure Diem to manage his problems like an American democratic politician, Moyar’s Diem is an active leader, successful interacting with the people in the villages, carrying out land reform, and implementing successful anti-communist campaigns to dig out the Viet Minh cadre, and developing a conventional force in ARVN as well as village-based forces. Moyar does note that all of Diem’s programs were handicapped by his reliance on Vietnamese administrators from the French colonial period, and only gradually did Diem get newly trained officials to take over. (64-72) Recent assessments on Diem, however, disagree significantly with this overview.
3.) Regarding the emergence of the Viet Cong insurgency in 1957, Moyar vigorously challenges the view presented by some American journalists in Vietnam led by David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, by military advisers such as John Paul Vann and other U.S. officials, as well as many scholars that the Viet Cong steadily made progress against Diem’s various forces from Civil Guard and Self Defense forces to ARVN. Moyar describes more of an ebb and flow in the conflict, with Diem adjusting to the Viet Cong attacks and almost driving them out of the villages at the end of 1959. (85-86) However, a Hanoi shift from large-scale attacks to a rural insurgency with infiltration of new, well-trained cadres from the north led to the undermining of GVN (the Government of the Republic of Vietnam) in the villages and the creation of a shadow Viet Cong government. With the arrival of increased U.S. aid under John F. Kennedy, advisers, helicopters, and M-113s, Moyar suggests that the initiative shifted back to Diem with the coming on line of a new generation of post-colonial Diem administrators and the strategic hamlet program. Moyar concludes that Diem halted the decline, and despite mounting criticism from some American journalists, continued to achieve gains in the counterinsurgency campaign right into November 1963. Moyar marshals substantial evidence to support this interpretation, however, he notes disagreement with this view from U.S. observers, officials, and most scholars.
4.) None of the reviewers challenge Moyar’s critical assessment on the events leading up to the overthrow and assassination of Diem in November 1963. The Kennedy administration is depicted as divided on whether or not to approve a coup by ARVN leaders, and the new Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge emerges as the main manipulator in Saigon, acting at times without Washington’s knowledge or against Kennedy’s instructions. Nevertheless, the reviewers decline to defendWashington’s involvement, although some suggest that the key consideration for Washington was whether or not Diem was an effective leader with respect to the insurgency. They question Moyar’s emphasis on increasing American demands that Diem act like an American leader and negotiate compromises with the Buddhists and other dissident groups.
5.) The main disagreement between Moyar and the reviewers on LBJ focuses on the wisdom of trying diplomacy to negotiate over Vietnam or on Moyar’s preference for escalating sooner, harder, and into Laos and North Vietnam. Several reviewers suggest negotiations would have been preferable to what ensued and that Richard Nixon’s turn to détente with the Soviet Union and China and negotiations on Vietnam suggest a possible alternative. Moyar rejects this alternative on the grounds that the most important consideration for LBJ and his advisers was to keep China and a communist Vietnam from spreading communism and their influence further in Southeast Asia and weakening the U.S. relationship with many of its major Asian allies. Thus, Moyar revives the domino theory and develops its potential impact in depth. (290-292), 375-391)
6.) The reviewers are not persuaded by Moyar’s thesis that a firmer response by LBJ in 1964 might have prompted Hanoi to reconsider its decision to start sending regular North Vietnamese army units to the south (325-329); that firmness in the form of sustained bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trails in Laos as well as North Vietnam might have prompted China to back off on support to Hanoi (321); and that ultimately in 1965 Washington needed to hit North Vietnam hard with sustained bombing and interdict the supply lines in Laos as well as North Vietnam. (348, 360-361) Moyar’s recommendation probably require a separate “what if” study that discusses the availability of U.S. forces and logistics to carry out his suggestions as well as the likely impact elsewhere in Vietnam if U.S. forces are directed to these tasks. Finally, there is always a reaction in the Vietnam conflict from Hanoi and its allies, which would have to be considered.
7.) Moyar’s suggestion that a window of opportunity existed to persuade China to let Hanoi fend for itself against U.S. escalation is also disputed. Moyar argues that China shifted from an August 1964 stance of declining a commitment to support North Vietnam against a direct American attack to increasing assistance by March 1965 including troops for road construction and increased arms. (360-363) Several of the reviewers conclude that Moyar has rejected assessments by China specialists such as Chen Jian, Quang Zhai and Xioming Zhang that Mao had laid down a line of defending North Vietnam against U.S. troops since 1962. The memory of what happened in Korea, as Moyar admits, made LBJ very cautious with respect to actions that might precipitate a Chinese intervention.
SOURCE: Northern Territory News (7-7-07)
Alister Hayes hopes the memorial will be ready for the 200th anniversary of the Englishman's birth in 2009.
A statue of Darwin is to be built near the bus exchange by private developer Allan Garraway.
But some have suggested a bronze monument to the father of evolutionary science should be a centrepiece of the $1.1 billion waterfront development.
Another Darwin expert, American professor Tim Berra, has also called for a statue in the Territory capital.
A bronze bust, said to be of Darwin, was on display at the entrance to the NT Museum for many years -- until it was discovered the statue was actually of an obscure English explorer.
SOURCE: Martin Woollacott in the Guardian (7-7-07)
When a scholar as eminent as Hobsbawm professes perplexity as well as pessimism about the future the rest of us will be naturally inclined to share his anxieties. His worries are those of a man who, in spite of his reputation as a radical, has had a lifelong attachment to order. At different times he has had different views of what constitutes that order. But the essence, it may be ventured, is that order rests on understanding. Human beings need to comprehend change, to grasp the ways in which it can be managed, to cope with history rather than to be crushed by it. Our situation now, he argues, is that there is even less of such a rational understanding, particularly in Washington, than there was in the past.
Since change is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, he says, that is truly dangerous. During the cold war era, for all its dismal aspects, there was more recognition of constraints and limits, and history, in any case, was going more slowly. People woke up each morning to a world in which certain things, both good and bad, were fixed. Not so now. The demise of the Soviet Union has, he suggests, set off a pathological political process in the United States. He confesses that he does not know why America has abandoned "a real hegemony" based on consent and soft power for the illusory pursuit of world domination. At one point he suggests that recent American foreign policy has been the result of a kind of mad negotiation between its relatively sophisticated coastal parts and a central region with no understanding of the world. At another he offers the rather standard thought that American over-reaction to the threat from terrorists amounts to "inventing enemies that legitimise the expansion and use of its global power"....
SOURCE: New Perspectives Quarterly (5-1-07)
NPQ | The late Isaiah Berlin famously made the distinction between "negative" and "positive" freedom—the first being "freedom from" tyranny and interference and the second being "freedom to" do what one will in his or her zone of non-interference; the freedom of self-realization.
As you pointed out in your argument about "the end of history," negative freedom has pretty much been accepted universally, in principle if not in practice, since the end of the Cold War. Even in China the zone of personal space has grown immensely.
But, almost by definition in a diverse world, positive freedom, the "freedom to," is not universal. Some people want to wear headscarves, others want to marry the same sex.
After the "end of history" aren't most conflicts now over positive freedoms?
Francis Fukuyama | It's true. Most liberal democracies have been able to avoid this question of what positive freedoms they want to encourage because they haven't been challenged. Now they are challenged by minorities—Muslim immigrants in Europe, for example—or in some way by rising cultures in Asia that have a very strong sense of their own moral community, their own nonliberal values. It has become a very live issue.
In Europe especially, the issue of immigration and identity converges with the larger problem of the valuelessness of postmodernity. The rise of relativism has made it harder to assert positive values and therefore the shared beliefs Europeans demand of immigrants as conditions for citizenship. Postmodern elites have evolved beyond identities defined by religion and nation to what they regard as a superior place. But aside from their celebration of endless diversity and tolerance, they find it difficult to agree on the substance of the good life to which they aspire in common.
Also, to be clear, what I argued in The End of History was that Hegel had a more positive sense of what freedom is in terms of the recognition of basic human dignity, of the capacity to make moral choices. So, in a sense the "end of history" means the beginning of the reconstruction of a more positive, substantive, idea of what it means to live in a liberal democracy.
NPQ | Just as immigrants asserting their identity bring new conflicts to liberal societies, doesn't the projection of the West's "postmodern valuelessness" —relativism, secularism, permissiveness, materialism—into other cultures through the mass media and entertainment generate clashes of a global scope? Migrants come here; our media go there. After all, Osama bin Laden never came to America. He knows it through the "Hollywood image."
The globalizing media simultaneously tie together, differentiate and define; they are the space where recognition is granted, where dignity is assigned. If they are the new agora, aren't they also, then, the new ground of conflict?
Fukuyama | Definitely. There has been a culture war going on within the United States for a long time over this issue. Cultural conservatives and the religious right have long criticized Hollywood for undermining the values of family and faith. In a sense, their position is not all that different from Osama bin Laden's. The valuelessness projected by American mass culture is a problem.
Obviously, Muslim extremists don't accept the basic framework of liberal tolerance within which America's culture wars are waged. But there is a relationship. What we see today on the global stage is in some sense an extension of America's own culture wars.
SOURCE: Associated Baptist Press (7-6-07)
Randall Ballmer, a history professor at Columbia University, told more than 550 supporters of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty that many of America’s Baptists, in recent decades, have “lost their way.”
“They have been seduced by leaders of the Religious Right into thinking that the way to advance the gospel in this country is to abandon Baptist principles,” he said.
Among the examples he listed were former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Southern Baptist. Moore’s controversial decision to place a massive monument to the Protestant translation of the Ten Commandments at the center of the rotunda in the Alabama Supreme Court building ultimately cost him his job, but it also made him a folk hero among many of the nation’s conservative Christians.
Moore argued that his oath to defend the United States and Alabama constitutions required him to “acknowledge God” as “the source of law” by creating the monument.
“Why not post the Decalogue in public places? Because, quite simply, it trivializes the faith and makes the Ten Commandments into a fetish,” Ballmer said. “What Roy Moore was peddling was idolatry, pure and simple—a conflation of the gospel with the American political order.”
Ballmer also assailed Baptists who have, he argued, so aligned themselves with political movements, they have diminished their ability to call the very officials they helped elect to moral account....
SOURCE: http://www.aikenstandard.com (7-5-07)
Orangeburg's Walter Brian Cisco, author of "War Crimes Against Southern Civilians," will be at the Hayne Avenue bookstore from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 25.
Cisco is a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Army Commendation Medal. He also served as a captain of the South Carolina State Guard.
His long-held interest in the Civil War has led to his writing career. He is the author of 1991's "States Rights Gist: A South Carolina General of the Civil War," which was named a selection of the History Book Club in 1992; "Taking A Stand: Portraits from the Southern Secession Movement," released in hardcover in 1998 and in a paperback edition in 2000; 2004's "Henry Timrod: A Biography" on the South's leading wartime poet; and "Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman," released in hardback in late 2004 and paperback in early 2006. "Wade Hampton" was also a History Book Club selection and is considered the comprehensive Hampton biography.
Cisco's writing has also been featured in magazines and journals such as Confederate Veteran, Civil War, and Southern Historian. He has been writing on Civil War-era topics for about 20 years.
"War Crimes Against Southern Civilians" examines the in-the-field consequences of the Union's "hard war" policy adopted in 1864 with Lincoln authorizing his generals to turn the war to civilian targets. Specific topics include the St. Louis Massacre, which forced 20,000 Missouri civilians into exile; civil rights abuses, theft and violence under Union rule in Tennessee; and the pillaging and destruction of Georgia civilian properties on Sherman's March....
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) (Click here for embedded links.) (7-6-07)
[CHE] Why did you start the original Informed Comment, your blog on the Middle East, and how important has its growth and popularity been to your career?
[COLE] I began Informed Comment in the spring of 2002 as a direct response to the September 11 attacks, in hopes of explaining what I know about the greater Middle East (where I had lived off and on for almost 10 years) to a public that was thirsty for information and expert interpretation. At that time, I was unknown outside Middle East studies and could not so much as get an op-ed published in a local newspaper.
The Weblog became a phenomenon, generating in some months as many as a million page views -- making me one of the top bloggers in the world, and giving me a second career as a public intellectual. The Weblog became my entrée to opinion pages, radio, television, speaking tours, etc. Without it I would still be known mainly among other specialists (not a bad fate, since I respect specialist research enormously - just a different fate).
[CHE] In your post announcing the launch of Informed Comment Global Affairs, you mention the burdens of solo-blogging, the incessant daily need to post so as not to alienate readers. Is it your hope that the new blog will alleviate the downside of solo-blogging?
I personally don't mind solo-blogging or posting daily, which I maintain is key to a successful blog. But I worked as a journalist in my youth and learned habits of celerity and concision that aren't necessarily common or perhaps even approved of in academe. Most academics specializing in area studies or foreign affairs take some time to write even 800 words, and wouldn't dream of just spontaneously posting thoughts on their field. I am hoping that a group blog can provide a place to publish for colleagues who have something important to say on current events, but who could only make an entry once a week or once every two weeks.
[COLE] It is not an original idea. Crooked Timber is an example of a successful academic group blog. And the History News Network in some ways functions similarly for historians and on a much larger scale than I contemplate. But I think the range of expert comment in the blogosphere is still too limited, and that more interfaces between the public and academics on issues of burning public concern are vital to democratic discourse and rational decision making.
The 24-hour cable-news stations have some excellent talent and do some things well, but their owners clearly are pushing them in the direction of infotainment and sensationalism. The Internet is an opportunity to escape those constraints and get away from what I think of as the clown-pundits, but too few academics take advantage of it. Maybe a proliferation of group blogs is what is needed to help address this problem.....
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (7-6-07)
Terrence P. Reynolds, chairman of the theology department at Georgetown, said this week that he had heard conversations about Mr. Dyson, but that they were at a level above him. "It may be a complicated matter," Mr. Reynolds said.
Mr. Dyson, who was a professor of humanities and religious studies at Penn, confirmed later that he began at Georgetown on July 1 and would teach English, theology, and African-American studies. As a university professor, he will move between departments.
"I had a true home at Penn," Mr. Dyson said of the university where he worked for five years. "But there is no city more vibrant and teeming with ideas and possibilities to explore than Washington."...
SOURCE: Hartford Courant (7-5-07)
Two centuries ago, Foner said, speakers questioned how a nation professing to be a beacon of freedom could practice slavery.
Then Foner, the Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, offered a modern-day version of that challenge.
In the Declaration of Independence, Foner said, Thomas Jefferson railed against King George III for abuses in the holding of trials and for allowing wars to target civilians. Then Foner noted current U.S. policies that allow people designated as enemy combatants to be imprisoned without a trial or the rights of the judicial system, and the president picking which international treaties to follow or ignore.
``What would Thomas Jefferson think?'' he asked.
SOURCE: HNN Staff (7-5-07)
HNN on several occasions has called the mayor's office in Atlanta to follow-up. Each time we were instruicted to leave a voice mail for the press office. Each time we got no response. We asked Arnita Jones, executive director of the American Historical Association, if the AHA had heard anything from the mayor's office in response to the organization's letter of concern. She indicated the AHA had received no response as well.
Professor Fernandez-Armesto has told HNN he has been notified by email that the city investigated the arrest and exonerated the police. But officials never got his side of the story, he says. He is therefore hiring a law firm"to demand that a properly constituted inquiry into the public interest aspects of the case" be undertaken.
He sent us this email:
After members of the Atlanta police force assaulted me for jaywalking and imprisoned me at the AHA Conference in January, I got thousands of messages - including some from citizens of Atlanta, who had also suffered at the hands of the police, without the attention or consolation I got. So I drew up a list of about forty questions of public interest raised by my experience - ranging from police training to the siting of road-crossings - and waited patiently for the inquiry the mayor was reported as having ordered. Six months went by without anyone contacting me for testimony. On 4th June, the mayor's office added insult to injury by sending me a letter claiming that I had made an allegation of misconduct against the police (which I had not done, preferring to defer to the mayor's promised inquiry) and claiming to have investigated it and exonerated the force! This was obviously false: you can't conduct an investigation into an allegation that has not been made. Any honest investigation would have taken evidence from me and other witnesses with relevant testimony. The police took evidence neither from me nor from any of the conference-goers whom I know to have useful insights.
I have therefore now engaged a law firm to demand that a properly constituted inquiry into the public interest aspects of the case is held. I explicitly do not want anything for myself, and am not seeking damages or compensation; and I have no grudge against the young policeman who initiated the assault on me. I want only to ensure - after what I have been through - that Atlanta gets the policing and urban planning it deserves, and that the voices of people who claim to have been inhumanely treated by the police be heard.
I hope any readers of HNN who were at Atlanta, and experienced the zeal of the police, or who felt the inconvenience of the siting of the crossings, or who witnessed the attack on me, or have any relevant information or comments will help, by letting me know by e-mail to FELIPE.FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO@tufts.edu, and telling me, if they'd be so kind, whether they would be willing for their views to go before the inquiry. (Attendance in person won't be required: testimony can take the form of an affadavit, or a personal statement, or a press report.)
A news story in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution indicates a police internal investigation cleared the police of wrong-doing:
An internal investigation by the Atlanta Police Department into an infamous jaywalking incident has exonerated the officer accused of roughing up a professor.
But the bickering about what really happened that day continues.
The 101-page report concluded that Officer Kevin Leonpacher acted appropriately when he arrested distinguished historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto while the professor was jaywalking in downtown Atlanta six months ago.
"[Fernandez-Armesto] wasn't arrested for jaywalking," said Atlanta Police Public Information Manager Judy Pal."He was arrested for disobeying a lawful order from a police officer."
The 57-year-old professor called the investigation"profoundly incompetent.""My goodwill is not inexhaustible," Fernandez-Armesto said in a telephone interview from his home in London."I'm not going to let this go."
SOURCE: New Republic (6-29-07)
Kinsley makes the remark in passing in an article about an error that creeped into Reagan's Diary, which was edited by Brinkley for HarperCollins.
Kinsley is named in the index. Page 400. According to the book Kinsley had lunch with Reagan on March 21, 1986.
Only he didn't.
In a jocular vein Kinsley notes that he did not have lunch with Reagan that day or any other day, unless he forgot, which is unlikely. It turned out that an editor at HarperCollins had mistakenly included Kinsley's name in the book. It was Charles Krauthammer who had lunch with Reagan that day (along with several others). "Brinkley was terribly apologetic and said he would correct the error in the next edition," Kinsley says.
SOURCE: John Gravois in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (7-6-07)
In early May, I set out for the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University, the world's premier annual gathering of scholars who study the middle ages. The congress is probably the best place to hear the latest research on early vernacular Bibles and Norse myths, but my goal was to find a fantasy role-playing game.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, I had spoken to some youngish scholars who said they found their way to medieval studies via an adolescence spent playing D&D, the iconic role-playing game. I spoke to scholars at elite universities and scholars at sleepy institutions; to associate professors, adjuncts, and graduate students; to men and women. All of them had cast spells, slain goblins, and rolled the many-sided dice of Dungeons & Dragons.
They still seemed to love pondering the kinship between fantasy and the Middle Ages. But when I asked some of them whether I might find a role-playing game at the congress, their academic superegos kicked in.
"If you locate a D&D game, I will be extremely surprised," one of them, Jeff Sypeck, a medievalist blogger, wrote me in an e-mail message. "I can't imagine that such a pastime would be viewed fondly at Kalamazoo."
That response revealed something interesting and awkward: the uneasy coexistence of academic medievalists and the burgeoning subcultures of recreational medievalism (Quasi medievalism? Pseudo-medievalism? Neo-medievalism? The terms vary according to levels of interest or contempt). ....
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (7-5-07)
Mr. Lewis's bellicose reputation preceded him. His George Mason speech had already been postponed from its original February date because of protests from left-wing student organizations. When he finally delivered it, he did so under heavy security.
The postponement raised alarm bells. "George Mason may be the father of the Bill of Rights," wrote a reporter at National Review, "but it looks like the university named in his honor is having trouble with that part about free speech."
Student leftists, however, were not the only people challenging Mr. Lewis's academic freedom that week in April. Hours before he flew to Virginia, he resigned from his position at Ashland, in the culmination of a years-long faculty battle over his interest in objectivism, as Rand termed her philosophy. And in the Ashland arena, Mr. Lewis says, his foes were mainstream and evangelical Christians.
Mr. Lewis says his battles reflect the extraordinary and unfair degree of hostility that objectivists in academe receive from both left and right. "In the morning at Ashland, I was resigning because conservatives and evangelicals were opposed to me," he says. "And then in the evening I was at George Mason, and there were some Muslims and this new student SDS opposed to me. I found that poignant."...
SOURCE: Theodore Dalrymple at http://www.newenglishreview.org (7-1-07)
For about the previous quarter century, it was more or less an historical orthodoxy that there had been such a genocide. Robert Hughes accepted the idea in his best-selling history of early Australia, The Fatal Shore. I accepted it myself, because when I first visited Australia in 1982 I read several books on the subject by professors of history at reputable universities, and rather naively supposed that their work must have been founded on painstaking and honest research, and that they had not misrepresented their original sources.
Windschuttle argued in his book that they had fabricated much of their evidence, and that, contrary to what they claimed, there had been no deliberate policy on the part of the colonial authorities or the local population either to extirpate or kill very large numbers of aborigines. He showed that the historians’ reading of the obscure source materials was either misleading or mendacious....
After the book was published, there were furious challenges to Windschuttle. Slurs were cast upon him: he was, for example, the Australian equivalent of the holocaust deniers. A book of essays in refutation of his point of view was published; a refutation of the refutation was also published. He appeared all round the country in debates with some of his detractors. As far as I understand it, the massed ranks of the professional historians were unable seriously to dent his argument. A few small errors (which he acknowledged) were found in his book, but not such as to undermine his thesis; in any case, they were very minor by comparison with the wholesale errors of his opponents. He had been much more scrupulous than they.
What struck me at the time about the controversy was the evident fact that a large and influential part of the Australian academy and intelligentsia actually wanted there to have been a genocide. They reacted to Windschuttle’s book like a child who has had a toy snatched from its hand by its elder sibling. You would have thought that a man who discovered that his country had not been founded, as had previously been thought and taught, on genocide would be treated as a national hero. On the contrary, he was held up to execration....
[Raphael:] According to McCullough, John Adams acted the role of a lonely hero, willing to buck the will of the people. If Adams had been “poll-driven,” he would have “scrapped the whole idea,” McCullough claims, since there was little popular support for independence in 1776. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Twenty-one months earlier, people throughout rural Massachusetts had declared in favor of independence, but John Adams tried to talk them out of it. Later, after Lexington and Concord, Adams came around to their opinion. But he was hardly alone.
In January of 1776, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense sparked a nationwide conversation of unprecedented proportions. In every tavern and meeting house across the land, people argued the merits of the case, and by spring the results were in: an overwhelming proportion supported independence. More than 90 towns, counties, and states issued formal declarations urging Congress to take action. The largest state, Virginia, declared independence on its own.
It took a while for Congress to catch up with the groundswell of popular opinion. Delegates from Maryland, for instance, were opposed, but then the county conventions met and issued specific instructions: Change your vote, they said, and do it immediately. “See the glorious effects of county instructions,” a Maryland patriot wrote to John Adams. “Our people have fire if not smothered.”
The sweeping, deliberate debate over independence resulted in the most productive outpouring of patriotic sentiment in our nation’s history, but McCullough takes the honor and glory away from the people and bestows it on a single individual. Ironically, John Adams knew better, and he said so at the time. On July 3, the day after Congress voted in favor of independence, he boasted to his wife Abigail that the population at large had considered the “great question of independence . . . by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets, by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection, in town and county meetings, as well as in private conversation,” and in the end “the whole people, in every colony of the thirteen, have adopted it as their own act.”...
SOURCE: Allen Barra at the American Heritage Blog (7-4-07)
These are just a few examples of the misinformation corrected by Ray Raphael in his cult favorite book Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past (New Press, 368 pages, $15.95). Founding Myths doesn't merely debunk popular stories in American History, it shows how they were created and why they persist, and why their persistence is blocking the path toward a true understanding of American history.
Just in time for the Fourth of July, Mr. Raphael shot off some fireworks for us in this interview.
One of the most enjoyable things about your book, Founding Myths, is that you skewer treasured legends of America history, or perhaps folklore would be a more appropriate term, while providing the context in which their stories grew. Paul Revere, for instance. Is the story of Paul Revere's ride one that was popular after the revolution or was it a creation of a later era?
The legend of Paul Revere's ride was a long time in the making. Revere himself, in his official deposition shortly afterwards, devoted only one sentence to the ride that would someday make him famous. When he died, 43 years later, his obituary made no mention of it. Still, locals remembered this and other rides made by Paul Revere, and they played up his heroic deeds by word of mouth. This was not unusual. For generations after the Revolution, Americans told tales of their local heroes during the War for Independence. In the mid-nineteenth century, the historians George Bancroft and Benson Lossing collected over a thousand such stories, each featuring some local star. Paul Revere was among these, but only one of many.....
SOURCE: Press Release--Historians Against the War (HAW) (7-4-07)
We envision a conference that will attract historically-minded scholars, activists from a variety of social movements, graduate students, educators, artists, and independent researchers and writers. We construe the theme of our conference broadly. We want to fashion a program that grounds the Iraq War in the histories of Iraq, the U.S., the Middle East, and the wider world; contextualizes the U.S. empire in terms of race, class, gender, culture, and citizenship as well as political economy and the state; explores the politics, identities, and society of modern Iraq; assesses current and historical antiwar, anti-intervention, and solidarity movements in the U.S.; compares political Islam, Zionism, and the U.S. Christian right; examines opposition to war and militarism in society, within the military, and among young people subject to conscription or recruitment; tracks U.S. strategies towards other zones of turbulence and targets of intervention; weighs the capacities of states and movements to resist U.S. hegemony and construct a polycentric alternative; and considers the future of the “war on terror,” the new imperial presidency, and democracy after the Bush administration.
In addition to the presentation of academic papers, we encourage interactive formats that promote open dialogue and collective learning among people on the program and members of the audience. Thus we welcome proposals for roundtables and workshops that engage, for example, with activism or teaching. If there is sufficient interest, we will hold a poster session. We also welcome proposals for cultural performances and curated exhibits as well as submissions (and recommendations) for our concurrent film and video festival. Proposals are due on 30 October 2007. Please include a title and description of your proposed contribution (including each part of a group proposal, as in a panel with three papers or a roundtable with four participants), a biosketch for each contributor or participant, and complete contact information. For group proposals, please make every effort to put together a balanced and diverse group of contributors or participants. Submit your proposal electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, Eric Hobsbawm is certainly an eminent historian, and a clever man; and as he passes his 90th birthday, still with his pen in his hand, he deserves our admiration. This collection of his recent essays and lectures celebrates that anniversary, and
it gives a good sense of the vigour and passion with which this famous intellectual surveys the contemporary world. But the qualities of a great historian are conspicuous here, mostly, by their absence.
Good historical writing involves paying close attention to evidence, and the careful structuring of coherent arguments. Above all, it requires what might be called 'practical subtlety' - awareness that human motives and actions are complex things which interact with other factors in all kinds of different ways. Most of this book, however, consists not of historical interpretation but of political opinion. And what it offers is not practical subtlety but theoretical simplicity, rendered complex only by occasional self-contradiction.
Just one of these essays sets out a properly historical argument, analysing the basic differences between American 'imperial' power and that of the former British Empire. But this essay, too, is driven by polemical concerns, aimed against those who say that the US should now provide something equivalent to the old 'Pax Britannica'. And since Hobsbawm thinks both that the Pax Britannica was illusory, and that the US should not impose its own version even if it could, it's not clear whether the historical part of his argument has much real work to do....
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education summary of article in he Common Review (7-3-07)
Films reflect the zeitgeist of the period in which they were made, according to Mr. Mattson, and in this way can be as useful as a primary-source document. Take Saturday Night Fever, he says. "I know, your mind's eye sees John Travolta gyrating in a white sport suit with wide lapels, finger stabbing the air," he writes. But the movie also explores issues from everyday life in the 1970s, he argues, such as "ethnicity, working-class woes, strained relations between the sexes, and urban life on the skids."
Yet there is often little pedagogical reflection among professors about how to use films in class, writes Mr. Mattson. "Too often when someone says they're showing a film in class, what they really mean is, I have a conference to attend that day."
In agreeing to teach the course, the author says, "I had entered the world of the postmodern academy." He describes that type of academy as "a place where consumerism and entertainment seep in." It can be "summed up by the omnipresent student center that looks like a megamall replete with food courts," he writes. The postmodern academy is "a place where 'party-school rankings' are as desirable as research rankings, and where teaching is done on the cheap -- usually by graduate students and adjuncts."...
SOURCE: Boston Globe (7-3-07)
Faust, who officially took the reins Sunday, is laying the groundwork for a multibillion-dollar fund-raising campaign, planning for the new Allston campus, and launching an initiative to make the arts more central to Harvard's identity.
One of her toughest tasks is to corral a sprawling collection of 10 largely independent schools into a single university able to respond as one to competition in the sciences and other challenges.
A brief e-mail Faust sent yesterday greeting students, faculty, and staff seemed to reflect that concern. She wrote of "bridging our differences" and the "shared enterprise" of the community. Different schools within Harvard sometimes compete with each other for donations or preeminence in a field.
Sounding upbeat and enthusiastic in a phone interview yesterday, Faust said she would lead a dean's retreat next week to begin vigorous academic planning, not only within schools but between them.
That will help the development of the new Allston campus and lay the groundwork for the next capital campaign, she said.
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (7-3-07)
"Come on up, the view's great, only a little more to go." Five minutes effort was all I needed to join them. And after 14 days of strenuous trekking on Nepal's steep mountain trails, leg muscles hardened and middle-age spare tire diminished, I should have been ready to tackle those last hundred feet. But lungs heaving and heart pounding, I had serious doubts about my ability to take even one more step upward.
Not that the 18,192-foot summit of Kala Patar is a particularly lofty goal. Behind me, across the Khumbu glacier and a mere seven miles to the east as the gorak (a Himalayan crow) flies, loomed Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain at 29,035 feet. Looking over at Everest, I could clearly see the route that in 1953 New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay followed up the southeast ridge to the summit, as well as the route up the west ridge that Americans Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld took in 1963. That was real mountaineering; all I had to do this day was scramble up a big pile of rocks.
But making it up the last hundred feet of Kala Patar proved one of the hardest physical challenges I've ever faced. I felt as though I was chained to a large invisible boulder, condemned to drag it up the slope behind me. I knew I was fighting altitude, the ultimate adversary in Himalayan mountaineering. On previous climbs in the US, I'd climbed more technically challenging mountains over 14,000 feet. But at 18,000 feet, the air contains half the oxygen found at sea level. If I spent a week camped near the summit of Kala Patar, my body would acclimatize, and I'd be able to breathe easily, like the Sherpas who accompanied us. But it wasn't going to happen in the next five minutes. For a moment, contemplating the pile of rocky debris that lay between me and the summit of Kala Patar, I thought I'd hit my limit....
SOURCE: NYT (6-27-07)
His charges led to a full-blown investigation of the Cobble Hill High School of American Studies by the city’s Department of Education that backed up his story of failing scores being raised to passing. In short order, the assistant principal, Theresa Capra, resigned; the principal, Lennel George, was removed; and a string of education officials were caught up in questions about a coverup.
But, as it turns out, more than one person can blow a whistle.
Acting on a tip in July 2005, Richard J. Condon, the special commissioner of investigation for New York City schools, began a separate 23-month investigation into what happened at the high school in 2002 and 2003.
It resulted in a scathing 67-page report released yesterday that called Mr. Nobile a subpar teacher with poor evaluations who wrongly accused Ms. Capra of engineering a cheating scheme because she had given him a negative review that could have led to his firing....
Mr. Nobile, in an interview, dismissed the new report. “I was an eye and ear witness to the tampering by Ms. Capra and the coverup by Mr. George,” he said. “I know what I saw, I know what I heard, and I know tampering when I see it.”
He said that the new allegations against him were without merit and that he expected to be reinstated to his teaching job. “There are two Mickey Mouse allegations of corporal punishment,” he said. “In the first case, the boy retracted his complaint because he realized he was being manipulated. Case No. 2 was when I tried to break up a fight and the boy jumped me.”...
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (7-2-07)
Iran expert Farideh Farhi weighs in today on the gasoline station protests in Iran and their real meaning. Many thanks to her for an incisive posting!
The problem with keeping up a successful blog is that one has to do an entry every day or readers forget to come back to you. I found this out through early experiments at IC, where traffic fell off dramatically if I missed days, even weekends. Most journalists, analysts and academics don't have time to blog daily, and therefore don't blog.
This outcome, of absence from the internet owing to being busy, is undesirable, since we need more informed commentary in the blogosphere, and serious analysts need to interact with the public if our democracy is to be vital.
Some sites, such as Crooked Timber and Wampum, have solved this problem by essentially forming a blogging cooperative. That way something goes up every day, but no one person is always responsible for it.
We'd like to experiment with this form. Readers are always asking for a wider range of coverage at my site-- Afghanistan, Palestine/Israel (as if I'm not in enough trouble), Pakistan, etc.
So I thought we'd test the waters with this form. The site is in its infancy and I hope it will grow over time. I've got some agreements from colleagues and hope to have more. It will also be open to guest submissions, and to already-existing bloggers who want to go outside the framework of their blogs, and to do a link-back.
SOURCE: http://www.dailyprogress.com (7-2-07)
Congressmen Dan Daniel of Danville, L.F. Payne of Nellysford and Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Rocky Mount won the last 21 elections in the sprawling 5th District without defeat.
Shreve, 46, plans to formally announce after this November’s elections that he will challenge Goode, 60, in 2008 for the seat that the Democrat-turned-Republican congressman has held the past 10 years.
Shreve is one of at least three Democrats looking at a challenge to Goode. The others are Brydon Jackson, a former state trooper and current Chatham businessman, and Michael Shure, a progressive radio talk show host and University of Virginia graduate working in southern California.
Among the three, Shreve is the only candidate who has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and raised more than $5,000.
Nelson County vineyard owner Al Weed, who twice challenged Goode and lost by hefty margins in 2004 and 2006, rates Shreve, who has taught history at UVa and Louisiana State Univer-sity, as a serious contender.
SOURCE: New Haven Register (7-2-07)
Submit your photos from the Indiana Jones shoot in New Haven.
But Hiram Bingham III was a Yale historian and explorer who really did hack through a fetid jungle and scrambled over the Andes to find the "lost city" of Machu Picchu in 1911.
Bingham, a tall, handsome and rich adventurer, historian, aviator, and later U.S. senator and governor of Connecticut, often is cited as a possible model for the pulpy Jones creation.
Peruvians to this day suspect Bingham sent crates of gold from Machu Picchu back to New Haven, which sounds like an exploit from an "Indiana" script.
The cargo was actually about 5,000 pieces of pottery and other artifacts. (Or is that all they contained?) Peru is demanding Yale relinquish the national archeological treasure.
So, how ironic is it that what is likely a fictional version of the real Bingham is blocking traffic in New Haven to film the fourth installment of the series, within blocks of Bingham's old ivy haunts?
That depends on which Indiana Jones precursor you prefer.