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.
SOURCE: http://thestar.com.my (10-20-08)
Its president, Hashim Adnan, said the introduction of the subject without proper planning would undoubtedly add to a heavier workload for teachers and pupils who already have to contend with the Kajian Tempatan subject.
“We feel that the teaching of History as a compulsory subject could be done by including it as part of Kajian Tempatan. Intro-ducing it as a new subject will cause a ‘culture shock’ for the pupils,” he told reporters yesterday.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had recently made a call for History to be made a compulsory subject in primary schools nationwide.
SOURCE: http://english.hani.co.kr (10-20-08)
Following history scholars, history teachers nationwide launched a campaign to sign a “history educators’ declaration,” which says the “government’s move to revise the (history textbook) ‘A Modern and Contemporary History of Korea’ has fundamentally shaken the textbook authorization system and undermines the neutrality of education as guaranteed by the Constitution.”
On October 19, the National History Teachers Association said, “History educators have begun to take action because they can not endure the government’s move to revise the history textbook in a direction that would comprehensively deny the political neutrality of education, which society has worked hard to gain.”
Since October 16, the NHTA has encouraged its members to sign the declaration on its Web site (http://okht.njoyschool.net) with a series of e-mails and mobile-phone text messages and has raised funds to advertise the declaration, which over 300 history teachers have signed in just three days.
Yun Jong-bae, the director of the NHTA, said, “With history teachers and scholars we will announce the ‘history educators’ declaration’ three times by the end of this month via advertisements in the media when the government finalizes the proposed revision. This is a rare moment because history teachers nationwide have collectively taken direct action to criticize the government’s policy. That underscores how seriously they perceive this issue.” Of the 7,000 history teachers at middle and high schools nationwide, some 1,500 are members of the NHTA.
Jo Han-gyeong, a Korean history teacher at Bucheon North High School in Gyeonggi Province, said, “Last year, I taught students using Kumsung Publishing’s ‘A Modern and Contemporary History of Korea.’ I have read the textbook hundreds of times, but it is ridiculous to hear that the textbook is pro-North Korea, anti-U.S. and left-leaning. I decided to come forward because I can not endure the government’s absurd move to force students to examine history from only one point of view.”
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (10-19-08)
"I spent four hours sitting with my mother." Xinran's voice cracks. "Both of us were in tears. I believe both of us wanted to talk, that we had both dreamed of this moment and had been waiting to speak. I think she really wanted to know what happened to me during the Cultural Revolution and I really wanted her to know how I grew up without her."
She pauses; the memory remains painful. "But we couldn't speak a word. We were too frightened of hurting each other."
Xinran was more aware than most of the torment hidden beneath her mother's dignified silence, because she has spent 20 years mining the memories of men and women whose personal suffering remains taboo. The younger generation, she says, is thirsty for modernity and not interested in the old stories; the older generation feels shame, a powerful force within Chinese culture.
"The older generation became unsure about whether to tell their children all they had been through, because they needed to be respected by their children," she explains. In the past 20 years, China has changed beyond recognition and much of the younger generation have become detached from their poverty-stricken roots. As a result, a silence has descended on the old....
SOURCE: Simon Schama in the Times (UK) (10-19-08)
A few weeks earlier, on a sultry August night, I’d sat in a piano bar in one of the funkier streets in Washington DC, listening to a fat, black bluesman do Muddy Waters and Leadbelly: Mannish Boy, Hoochie Coochie Man. For such a big man his voice was high and sweet, and as he moaned and chuckled and did the little soul gasp, you felt as if all the troubles of the world poured away, along with the sweat beading on his cheeks and dripping onto the keyboard.
In the red-lit shadows, I took pulls at my Lucky Strike, put my mouth to the open-necked beer bottle and fancied that with each drag I was closer to becoming the Hoochie Coochie Man myself.It was September 1964. I was 19. The Beatles had conquered America and America had conquered me. It was not a starry-eyed infatuation and has never been since. New York had been more garish and prematurely decrepit than I’d imagined; bundles of rags laid out on the Vanderbilt Avenue sidewalk would twitch and growl and stick out a grimy hand. The diner coffee was thin piss and the Coney Island hot dogs the worst things I’d ever tried to eat.
American ugliness was not hard to find. I had been yelled at and roughly ushered to the right, white, front end of the Greyhound bus in Virginia. President Lyndon Johnson, for all his embrace of the civil rights movement, had bared his knuckles at the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party for its presumptuous attempt to unseat the racist delegation of that state at the party convention in Atlantic City. And I’d got into shouting matches with buzz-cut students in Georgetown about the ominous powers Congress had given the president to escalate the conflict in Vietnam.
But to say I had found America jolie-laide is to sell the jolie short. There had been moments in my first American summer when I’d been so gripped by a sense of belonging that I thought I’d never go back to my university in the Fens; back to the tweed and the bad eggs of a Cambridge college breakfast....
SOURCE: http://www.jsonline.com (10-17-08)
Ambrose, the famed author of “Band of Brothers,” who grew up in Whitewater, established an endowment for the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair in U.S. Military History in 1998. He named it in part after his mentor, former UW-Madison professor William Hesseltine.
When Ambrose died in 2002, the UW Foundation received the proceeds of his gift — about $500,000 from his insurance policy.
But four years later, the professorship remained unfilled, sparking controversy. John J. Miller argued in the National Review magazine that the university’s failure to seek candidates suggested Wisconsin didn’t actually want a military historian.
He made a broader claim that military history was all but dead in universities, in part because of “the rise of tenured radicals.”
At the time, university officials insisted they did want to fill the position but said they hadn’t begun searching for a candidate because they didn’t have the money to fund a professor’s salary.
Endowment money has typically paid for professors to hire graduates to do research, not to pay professors’ salaries. Salaries come from the academic department’s budget, said Russ Howes, vice president for legal affairs at the UW Foundation.
At the time, the foundation looked to raise at least $1 million for an endowed chair, Howes said.
The Ambrose endowment didn’t hit $1 million until 2005. It wasn’t until 2006 that the school had the money to pay for salary and benefits, said Gary Sandefur, dean of the College of Letters and Science....
SOURCE: Conrad Black at the Dailybeast.com (blog) (10-17-08)
President Bush did his best to manage the financial crisis in a way that would have enabled John McCain to turn it to his advantage, but the candidate missed his great chance.
His hare-brained week, starting with the Herbert Hoover quote that the economy is "fundamentally sound," ranks among America's greatest attempts at political suicide.
On succeeding days, he raved like King Lear against greed, demanded strangulating financial regulations, urged the firing of Chris Cox, (the best SEC chairman in over 20 years), and concluded by "suspending" his campaign to return to Washington and "fight" for the rescue bill the Republicans then rejected.
McCain should have pounded the cabinet table, made the bailout his own, and sold it as a method of driving a hard bargain for the taxpayers while making the impetuous and avaricious pay for their mistakes.
Unless McCain stages the greatest comeback since Lazarus, (and there were twitches of life in the last debate, so that should not be ruled out), this farrago of blunders will rank alongside Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" (1964), George Romney's claim he was "brainwashed" in Saigon (1968), McGovern's demand that Nixon propose more humiliating terms for the US to withdraw from Vietnam than Hanoi was asking for (1972), Carter's encounter with the nasty swimming rabbit (1976), Dukakis's joy-ride in the battle tank (1988), and John Kerry's assertion that he had voted for the Iraq War but then voted not to fund the armed forces (2004)....
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (10-19-08)
Dan came close to tears as he stood in the graveyards of northern France, contemplating his great-grandfather's central role in the biggest disaster in British military history. On the first day at the Somme, 1 July 1916, the army suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead. Popular history would judge that these men were 'lions' led by 'donkeys' such as Douglas Haig and Thomas Snow. 'That is the darkest day in British military history, arguably British history, and my great-grandpa was one of the key guys in the planning and execution of that attack,' Dan Snow told The Observer last week. 'That was a huge surprise. It's fascinating to be descended from one of the most maligned men in British history.'
Dan is the son of Peter Snow, the former Newsnight presenter famed for the election night 'swingometer', and together they presented the TV series Battlefield Britain. Peter is a cousin of Jon Snow, the main presenter of Channel 4 News. Dan's grandfathers both fought in the Second World War, one in the army in India, the other in the Canadian navy. But despite being a professional historian Dan had not examined his own family history. He grew up aware of Thomas from a portrait on the living-room wall and his father's joking description of him as 'a bit rubbish'. 'He had a very stern face and this big moustache,' said Dan. 'He used to stare down at us from the wall as we ate.'
So the historian seized the BBC's offer to take part in My Family at War, a series in which celebrities trace ancestors connected with the First World War to mark next month's 90th anniversary of the Armistice. But unlike many of the other participants, who include Rolf Harris and Kirsty Wark, Dan did not find a straightforward story of lost innocence.
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (10-18-08)
Another scene: Tehran, 1957. The British embassy has invited some Iranians and expatriates to meet the Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. One of the expats was Avery, then an adviser to the construction company Mowlem, who had won an important but ill-fated contract to build roads. After talking to Avery for several minutes, Trevor-Roper exclaimed: "You should come and join us!" [university teachers in Britain]. In 1958 he did so, becoming the lecturer in Persian language, literature and history at Cambridge. Over the next 50 years, Avery, who has died aged 85, became a distinguished orientalist and world expert on the history and literature of Iran. His published output was considerable and his enthusiasm as a teacher unflagging.
Avery was born in Derby, the son of a merchant navy officer on the White Star line. His father died young, leaving his mother a cottage in Staffordshire, but little money. The boy's higher education in Liverpool was cut short by the second world war. He volunteered to serve in India and was commissioned into the Royal Indian Navy, where he began to learn Persian. From 1946 to 1949, he read Arabic and Persian at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas). He then did a variety of jobs in Iraq and Iran until Trevor-Roper set him on his path through life.
His work on the history of Iran, with its alternating periods of glory and decline, included Modern Iran (1965), which long remained the best in its field. He made a strong contribution to the Cambridge History of Iran and edited the final volume, From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic (1991). But it will be his understanding and translation of classical Persian poetry for which he will be best remembered.
SOURCE: Eric Foner in the NYT Book Review (10-3-08)
Gordon-Reed has now turned her attention to an even more ambitious pro ject. In “The Hemingses of Monticello,” a work based on prodigious research in the voluminous Jefferson papers and other sources, she traces the experiences of this slave family over three generations. Engrossing and suggestive, it is also repetitive (we are frequently reminded that the law does not necessarily reflect social reality) and filled with unnecessary pronouncements about human nature (e.g., “Youth in females has attracted men in all eras across all cultures”). Readers will find it absorbing, but many will wish it had been a shorter, more focused book....
Most scholars are likely to agree with Gordon-Reed’s conclusion that Jefferson fathered Hemings’s seven children (of whom three died in infancy). But as to the precise nature of their relationship, the historical record is silent. Was it rape, psychological coercion, a sexual bargain or a long-term loving connection? Gordon-Reed acknowledges that it is almost impossible to probe the feelings of a man and a woman neither of whom left any historical evidence about their relationship. Madison Hemings’s use of the words “concubine” and “treaty” hardly suggests a romance. But Gordon-Reed is determined to prove that theirs was a consensual relationship based on love.
Sometimes even the most skilled researcher comes up empty. At that point, the better part of valor may be simply to state that a question is unanswerable. Gordon-Reed’s portrait of an enduring romance between Hemings and Jefferson is one possible reading of the limited evidence. Others are equally plausible. Gordon-Reed, however, refuses to acknowledge this possibility. She sets up a series of straw men and proceeds to demolish them — those who believe that in the context of slavery, love between black and white people was impossible; that black female sexuality was “inherently degraded” and thus Jefferson could not have had genuine feelings for Hemings; that any black woman who consented to sex with a white man during slavery was a “traitor” to her people. She cites no current historians who hold these views, but is adamant in criticizing anyone who, given the vast gap in age (30 years) and power between them, views the Jefferson-Hemings connection as sexual exploitation.
As a black female scholar, Gordon-Reed is undoubtedly more sensitive than many other academics to the subtleties of language regarding race. But to question the likelihood of a long-term romantic attachment between Jefferson and Hemings is hardly to collaborate in what she calls “the erasure of individual black lives” from history. Gordon-Reed even suggests that “opponents of racism” who emphasize the prevalence of rape in the Old South occupy “common ground” with racists who despise black women, because both see sex with female slaves as “degraded.” This, quite simply, is outrageous....
Gordon Wood book review
SOURCE: Rocky Mountain News (10-16-08)
In her five books, she has taken on her share of bleak subjects, such as the history of presidential assassinations, and infuses them with humor, yet her writing comes across more fresh than disrespectful.
Her new book, The Wordy Shipmates, is about the Puritans. She talked to us from her home in New York in advance of her appearance in Denver next week.
What interested you in the Puritans?
Hmmm. That's always the first question, and I answer it differently every time. I always loved to read their sermons, and so it was always in the back of mind that I'd like to write about them. A few events made me keep thinking of John Winthrop's sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," the one we all know that gave us the image of the city on the hill.
The first event was the terrorist attacks in New York. My favorite part of Winthrop's sermon was the call for brotherhood when he asked his fellow colonists that we should be as members of the same body and mourn together and suffer together and rejoice together. In New York (after 9/11) it was unspeakably horrifying, but there was also this real kinship and, literally, we were breathing in the air that contained pieces of our fellow citizens, and it was just so strangely special because of the brotherly love at street level. And I turned to that sermon then because that part of it seemed so beautiful.
And then came the war and I was reminded of the idea of American exceptionalism, this idea that we are superior to other peoples and nations, and that the Indians wanted us to come over and help them. And that's fairly laughable because in the Pequot War, Massachusetts troops literally burned people alive. So this idea that we're here to help whether anybody wants our help or not really crystallized for me after Ronald Reagan's funeral and watching the association Reagan had with Winthrop's sermon because of the association with Winthrop's image of the "city on the hill" and the part of the sermon about how all eyes are upon us. It was a couple of weeks after the Abu Ghraib photos came out, and it was just so strange. It all just came crashing in on me at that moment....
SOURCE: John Dean at Findlaw.com (10-17-08)
QUESTION: What prompted you to undertake this devastating examination of the historical truth of McCain's war record?
ANSWER: I was interested as soon as I read his Faith of My Fathers and found it to be a chronological mess. As a historian who believes that it's important to know whether one thing happened before another, I established a time line that, in turn, revealed numerous internal contradictions and discrepancies. So I set out to find reliable documents and sources to help figure things out: newspaper accounts, official reports, interviews with other POWs, and news film. McCain's accounts are, as he might put it,"festooned" with embellishments, and many stories are exaggerated or just made up. For example, it's incomprehensible why he made up the story about Robert Zwerlein, his plane captain on the USS Forrestal, dying before his eyes or why he said that he didn't know who"the kid" was. Zwerlein didn't die that afternoon but lived three more days and died only after McCain skipped off the still-burning Forrestal for what he called"some R&R" in Saigon. How is McCain honoring the memory of his plane captain by turning him into an anonymous prop in a melodramatic tale? And why has he claimed that the Zuni rocket knocked the bomb off his plane when the Navy report and film show that the rocket hit Fred White's plane? Does he realize the significance of insisting that the bomb dropped from his plane when, absent the Zuni strike, it suggests catastrophic pilot error? It takes effort to come up with odd stories like that and after a while you just can't ignore it.
QUESTION: Why is McCain's war record relevant to his potential service as President of the United States?
ANSWER: McCain has made it relevant by presenting it to the voting public as a measure of his readiness to be elected president and" commander in chief," as he is fond of saying. Since he references his military record to establish that he's presidential timber, we ought to examine it so that we can decide for ourselves if that record demonstrates what he says it does: honesty, courage in times of crisis, and steadfast commitment to his fellow servicemen and country above himself.
QUESTION: Has anyone accused you of"Swift Boating" McCain, and if they have, what is your response?
ANSWER: People who read the piece haven't responded that way. There's a big difference between the use of standard research methods and"Swift Boat" tactics that rely on shoddy research, unsupported claims, false assertions, and outright smears. The longer impact of the 2004"swift boating" of John Kerry is dismaying; for fear of being labeled"Swift Boaters," the press now shies away from ordinary investigation into McCain's military record. It astonishes me that large swathes of the media appear convinced that they can't do that fairly anymore, at least not for Republican candidates. If their attitude lasts, then the Swift Boaters win. Maybe that was their goal all along.
QUESTION: I understand you tried to place this essay with several mainstream media pieces. Who turned it down and, if you know, why?
ANSWER: It was turned down at a number of places, including The Nation and the Huffington Post. They obviously can't use everything they're offered so I don't want to make too much of that, but there were concerns raised about publishing something that could be construed as an attack on McCain's military record.
QUESTION: When your piece was published by Truthdig, it drew a wide range of responses. What did you think of the comments, and did you learn anything from them?
ANSWER: Some comments came from those who are confused about what happened on the Forrestal because of false rumors that the fire was caused by a"wet start" from McCain's plane. Add to that McCain's own misleading stories, and you have a tangle of conflicting claims so dense that people are tempted to throw up their hands and say that we can't ever know what happened. I don't believe that. We can sort through these details and find out what happened. There were also objections to bringing up things that happened years ago, an objection to which I'm sympathetic. In this case, though, unraveling what happened on the Forrestal years ago is relevant because McCain repeatedly points to his navy record as showing that he is strong under pressure and knows how to respond, as he put it recently,"when a crisis calls for all hands on deck." Since he left his stricken ship under what seem to be questionable circumstances, and because his account differs dramatically from official and other credible reports, it becomes a legitimate point of inquiry.
QUESTION: Have you examined other aspects of McCain's war record, and found any similar discrepancies?
ANSWER: There are a lot of discrepancies, beginning in 1982 when he first ran for public office in a district in Arizona he'd recently moved into. People started calling him a" carpetbagger," so he replied that he'd grown up in a Navy family that moved a lot and didn't have a place to call home, so he just moved to his wife's state. It wasn't a strong answer and his campaign floundered until he added that,"as a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place that I lived longest in my life was in Hanoi." After that dramatic claim, raising the carpetbagger issue seemed unpatriotic. It worked like magic and he said it showed him that his time as a POW was"a good first story to sell" on the campaign trail. He's been selling it ever since. The problem, of course, is that it's far from the truth, at least if he lived with his parents while growing up. With the exception of two years, from the time that John was nine until he was in his twenties, they lived in Washington, D.C. They had a house on Capitol Hill where Congressional leaders regularly dropped by for meals. When he returned from Vietnam in 1973, he lived and worked in Washington, D.C, four more years. So, when he made his political claim in 1982 about living longest in Hanoi, he surely knew that it wasn't true, but nobody checked it out and he kept saying it. I heard it most recently on August 21, of this year, when his biographer, Robert Timberg, repeated it as fact on NPR's"Talk of the Nation."
QUESTION: I have heard people speculate that McCain became deeply involved in resolving the"missing in action" problems in Vietnam, and the recognition of Vietnam, because he wanted to keep his own records buried. Did you look at this during your research, and is it a legitimate question?
ANSWER: A lot of people have wondered about that. I haven't looked into it yet but it is certainly a fair question to ask because McCain's claims about his medical treatment in Hanoi and his stories about why he criticized the war while he was a POW diverge significantly from reliable sources that we do have access to. If he would allow relevant records to be released, these questions could be answered.
QUESTION: Do McCain's fellow POW from Vietnam see him as the hero he apparently sees himself as?
ANSWER: There are POWs on both sides but only one perspective gets a voice in the mainstream media. For example, David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times wrote a piece about John McCain's POW experience in which McCain singled out two fellow POWs by name and called them"the camp rats." I spoke with them both and they said the story was false. One of them wrote a letter to the editor, but the Times refused to print it.
Some Closing Thoughts
Recently, the mainstream news media has worried (for good reasons) about its dwindling importance. Its treatment of McCain's record provides an excellent example of why its influence is flagging. The mainstream news media is intimidated by candidates like McCain. As a result, it has collectively given McCain a pass, rather than risk irritating him by digging out the truth of his military background.
Fortunately, all Americans can take heart and solace in the growing power of the Internet, where an historian like Mary Hershberger can find a publisher who will check and verify work and then publish it. As newspaper circulation shrinks, and news broadcasting becomes increasingly fragmented and partisan, the Internet is filling the void. Truthdig, like countless other sites, should be recognized for doing what the old Fourth Estate media no longer is willing to do. Do take the time to read what Mary reports in Truthdig, unless you do not care who John McCain has become.
SOURCE: Francis X. Clines in the NYT (10-11-08)
And what about the ignored immigrant sagas of slaves brought in chains from Africa? Native Americans who arrived in pre-history and were forced to emigrate out of the path of settlers? And Mexicans and Hawaiians pressed into citizenship through war and annexation? Not to mention hordes of illegal immigrants still arriving with no fanfare.
“It’s time to tell the story in all its fullness,” says Alan Kraut, chairman of the museum’s history committee, which has been given the formidable task of setting the record straight in a $20 million expansion called the “Peopling of America Center.” The plan is to free Ellis Island from its own immigration intake chronology (1892 to 1954) and present the nation’s fuller story, across centuries, coast to coast. With 12 billion hits already on the island’s limited family database, the craving for such information clearly has only begun.
The national imagination will benefit from moving beyond the sepia Ellis Island tableau. Wait till we follow the waves of Chinese from the Taishan region landing on the West Coast in the 1850s to labor everywhere, from railroads to mines, enthuses Mr. Kraut, a history professor at American University...
SOURCE: NYT Letters to the Editor (10-9-08)
I write as an American historian, born in the presidency of Warren G. Harding, who has over many decades observed Republican leadership.
One of the most luminous moments — the “Declaration of Conscience” — came during the McCarthy era, when Margaret Chase Smith joined with six of her Republican colleagues in the United States Senate to denounce fellow Republicans for resorting to “the selfish political exploitation of fear, bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance.”
The coverage of the 2008 campaign leads me to ask:
Are there not today Republicans of conscience who will coalesce to say to Gov. Sarah Palin and her backers: “Stop it. This vilification is not what the party of Abraham Lincoln is about.”
And say to Democrats: “Stop it. The Keating Five was then, and this is now. What we should care about is the lives of Americans in the 21st century.”
As was said of Prague in 1968, “The whole world is watching.”
William E. Leuchtenburg
Chapel Hill, N.C., Oct. 8, 2008
The writer is emeritus professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a past president of the American Historical Association.
To the Editor:
Re “Politics of Attack” (editorial, Oct. 8):
In the 1960s, Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama, the master demagogue of racial and cultural politics, made an art form of whipping up his audiences against the “distorted,” “communistic” national news media and other “intellectual morons” of the establishment.
At least he had the courtesy, when addressing his more literal constituents, to send state policemen to stand near the reporters covering his rallies lest the crowd should take him at his word.
Given the abuse directed at the news media on hand at a recent Palin rally in Florida, including the black network sound man told to “sit down, boy” (among the more printable names), the Alaska governor may want to think twice about overexciting the old base of George Wallace’s 1968 run for president — though it is not clear that she has his political self-awareness.
When talking to a Newsweek reporter in private, for example, Governor Wallace would smile insincerely after delivering some quotable snark on, say, the Supreme Court, and exclaim, “Isn’t it good someone has some spirit?”
Still, he spent the final chapter of his long career trying to atone for the destructive consequences of his rhetoric, however politically effective it had been at the time.
New York, Oct.
The writer is the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Birmingham’s civil rights movement.
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (10-9-08)
Fowler claims that many commentators during the 1960s saw youth culture as being all about the Beatles. But he says that just because they were fantastically popular - maybe bigger than Jesus, as John Lennon said in 1966 - it did not make them leaders of their generation.
Instead Fowler identifies a dreamy, folk-dancing rural revivalist Rolf Gardiner, the father of conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner, as a true youth culture pioneer of 20th century Britain.
Fowler, himself a student in Manchester during its heady 1980s Hacienda days, makes his claims in a study published today called Youth Culture in Modern Britain.
He believes that much that has been written about the Beatles, that they were at the forefront of a cultural movement of the young, for example, is untrue. "They were young capitalists who, far from developing a youth culture, were exploiting youth culture by promoting fan worship, mindless screaming and nothing more than a passive teenage consumer."
SOURCE: Jamie Glazov at frontpagemag.com (10-13-08)
FP: Dr. Kevin Mattson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Mattson: Thanks for having me.
FP: What inspired this book?
Mattson: A paradox I noticed. Conservatives seemed rather brash and war-like in their demeanor. I remember reading a book by Fred Barnes about George W. Bush entitled Rebel in Chief. I thought it strange for conservatives to sound brash and rebellious. I had always thought conservatism was about conserving rather than tearing things down. The depiction of George W. Bush as if he were Marlon Brando in The Wild One struck me as bizarre. I wanted to explore this theme historically, especially in relation to conservative ideas and the style in which conservative ideas have become so prevalent today.
FP: What is the main thesis of your book? Illustrate it for us with a few examples.
Mattson: That conservatives have consistently thought of themselves as rebels – as existential outsiders who rail against a monolithic establishment. This is a permanent feature of their thinking, even when they’re not outsiders but in government. I start with the Cold War, tracing out an apocalyptic strain in thinking about America’s role in the world (especially clear in Whittaker Chambers’s Witness). I move into the sixties and trace out Russell Kirk’s embrace of campus radicals and Norman Podhoretz’s love of Norman Mailer and the ways he used the “new sensibility” of the 1960s to frame his own neoconservatism. I then end with the culture wars of today and the rise of what I call “postmodern conservatism” – how an almost poststructuralist embrace of diversity and criticism of universal values informs the wars against “objectivity” and the mainstream media, the dominance of evolution and the call to teach intelligent design (ID) in public schools, and David Horowitz’s struggle for a student bill of rights in higher education.
FP: Can you kindly lay out the thesis of your book a bit more for us? It leads up to the idea, as you just noted, of the "post-modern conservatives", of which David Horowitz is an emblematic figure. Can you crystallize for us what the thesis here is and how exactly David Horowitz fits into it?
Mattson: Postmodern conservatism is the culmination point for the book. Postmodern conservatism takes from Buckley’s model of the conservative the stance of the rebel (still, against a liberal establishment, but as that establishment has taken numerous blows). From the sixties, postmodern conservatism takes “hipness” and the “new sensibility.” And then it bundles these things together with an interest in the postmodern ideas of “diversity” and “anti-foundationalism.” Consider the use of the term “diversity” in the original Academic Bill of Rights. The justification for ABOR also argued that “there is no humanly accessible truth that it not in principle open to challenge.” The argument is thus infused with postmodern theories about knowledge – knowledge as contingent, grounded in language games, never foundational, etc. But the conservative weds this postmodern outlook with a stance of war – the “political war” that Horowitz outlines in one of his more popular books (popular among elected Republicans). The postmodern style is also found in two other important struggles in the conservative culture wars recently – namely an attack on “objectivity” and the mainstream media as well as an attack on the teaching of evolution in public schools and an argument for the alternative paradigm of Intelligent Design. Postmodern conservatism is also the style of the existential rebel taking down an establishment.
FP: Have conservatives had to become rebels because the Left has controlled the boundaries of debate in the culture at large and stifled conservative ideas?
Mattson: Stifled? First off, the rebel stance that I’m talking about is at the beginning of my story. That’s what made Buckley so important. He cast himself as the rebel in God and Man at Yale and called conservatives the true “radicals.” In many ways, he embraced the style of rebel even before C. Wright Mills, a key intellectual influence on the New Left, embraced the style of rebel (the leather jacket, motorcycle, love of Cuban revolutionaries, etc.).
Did later post-1960s radicals use the rebel style that proliferated throughout the 1960s? You bet. Including David Horowitz who took the style of his 1960s radical days and then transposed them into his conservative style of today. But if you look at someone like Russell Kirk writing in 1969 in praise of “campus radicals,” you get a sense that this was always there, not just something conservatives adopted because it worked for them; it was much more constitutive of conservative identity. Conservatives have consistently seen themselves as rebels against a liberal establishment.
FP: Please elaborate on the continuity between Buckley's generation and the present one.
Mattson: What Buckley offered the conservative movement was the image of the rebel against a liberal establishment. He was brash and confrontational (receiving rave reviews for his style from none other than the cantankerous left winger Dwight MacDonald in a review of his book "God and Man at Yale" in which he celebrated how a "campus rebel flays faculty"). Buckley argued that conservatives should embrace controversy and sensation when making their claims. He placed academe at the center of the conservative attack, where it exists to this day. His style can be heard in the style of Ann Coulter's
rants (Coulter wrote an obituary about Buckley where she pointed the continuity with her own style out) and many other conservatives who talk in brash, rebellious, and confrontational tones. What Buckley did was to say that conservatives shouldn't think of themselves as backward looking preservationists of the existing social order. Instead, they should start tearing stuff down -- including the establishment. This style never left the conservative mind. It's the basis of our contemporary culture wars.
FP: In terms of the Academic Bill of Rights, which you mentioned earlier, this is a legitimate effort to try to bring some kind of intellectual diversity to the campus, no? You are not, surely, denying that the Left has suffocated free thought and expression in academia for a long period of time?
Mattson: Things have been changing in academe for awhile now, especially as there’s been a generational shift. A recent story in the New York Times shows this pretty clearly in my opinion, pointing out that conservative ideas are much more accepted today than they were in the past and that the charged political atmosphere of the sixties has dissipated. In any case, calling the SBOR “legitimate” is wrong, because even if there is a liberal tilt among academics, that doesn’t justify state legislatures getting involved in the situation and policing ideological leanings among the professoriate. In the end, the thing conservatives should do is say: Yes, I’m a conservative and I have strong academic credentials and stand up for what they believe in. There’s a weird whiny quality to the conservative complaint.
FP: Who was the Right’s greatest rebel? Who is he/she today? Why?
Mattson: Buckley for sure started the trend. He consciously made National Review a magazine that looked forward to full-fledge revolt against the liberal establishment – rather than an embrace of reaction and remnants. In God and Man at Yale, he labeled conservatives the “new radicals,” setting in place a style that remains to this day.
Today, there are numerous pundits who play the role (Ann Coulter for instance). But I’d choose Sarah Palin, the feminist rock star for Republicans. She’s sassy, tough, populist, anti-intellectual, anti-elite, anti-establishment. She portrays herself (and ironically enough the 72-year old McCain) as a maverick rebel standing outside the establishment. And her whole campaign is framed as an attack on the mainstream media – elite liberals – who dare to questions her credentials or who want to examine facts about her past.
FP: What do you think of how the Left has attacked Palin? You see any hypocrisy or unfairness in the attacks?
Mattson: Sure, I watched Bill Maher go after her, and I found his criticism insulting. I can’t recall the specifics here (it was late at night in a hotel room during a long road trip), but it wasn’t productive. But in general, the attack on her has been right on and certainly not sexist (the McCain camp’s attempt to protect her from the media smacks of sexist paternalism more than anything else). The attack that I’ve followed the most has been that she misrepresents her standing as a reformer, that she was certainly not against the “Bridge to Nowhere” and that she in fact benefited from it. There’s concern – sometimes seen in “troopergate” – that she governs with a style of secrecy and cronyism. And she seems too chummy with Alaska secessionists (which points to a long tradition of seditious thinking on the right – going back to its attacks on the civil rights movement in the 1950s). And the campaign clearly moved into a culture war stance by attacking the media, rather than explaining just why people shouldn’t worry about such things.
FP: You note that a good number of conservatives are ex-communists (the writers for NRO etc.) Give us your angle on this phenomenon.
Mattson: It goes to show that the apocalyptic mindset that communism induced never left them. They change their politics but their frame of mind stays the same. They see the world in apocalyptic and utopian terms. Think here of Whittaker Chambers.
FP: Speaking of Chambers, your thoughts on how the Left has come to the defense of communist spies despite all the evidence to the contrary? For instance, what do you think of Morton Sobell's recent admission that both he and Julius Rosenberg were Soviet spies? Where are the Left’s admissions of error? How about the case of Hiss?
Mattson: Yes, there were communists in America who posed a danger. Yes, I believe that Whittaker Chambers was right in his accusations about Hiss (and there are liberal friends of mine who disagree with this). But this has always been the stance of Cold War liberals. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Reinhold Niebuhr admitted that there were communists in America and that something needed to be done about it; they resisted, on the other hand, the tactics used by Senator Joseph McCarthy. I don’t think liberals have to admit errors here, because the strain of cold war liberalism that I myself identify with had always taken communists as an enemy. Pure and simple. It’s the question of how big a danger communists were in America after Truman cracked down on them that is probably the biggest difference here. Chambers was right in making his accusations, but he was wrong when he suggested that the Cold War should be fought as a religious war, lest the West lose.
FP: Near the end of your book, you note that "the conservative mind has triumphed." Tell us in which ways and why you think it is a bad thing. Is there anything good about this development?
Mattson: The conservative mind triumphed with the political victories conservatives had throughout the last decade. It triumphed in the remaking of the media establishment via talk radio, Fox News, and the right wing blogosphere. And it triumphed when George W. Bush, already in 2000, called the Republican Party the “party of ideas.” I emphasize the bad side: That a war-like state of mind is not healthy, that conservatives are too quick to reject norms and forms and institutions.
FP: In your book you refer to how Horowitz made an effort to teach conservatives how to fight political war. Is it your view that he played a significant role in helping them succeed in that enterprise and that the Left is now a failure in fighting political war? Does the Left, in your mind, now need its own Horowitz?
Mattson: Yes, Horowitz was amazingly successful at making the mindset of war so central to recent conservative triumphs. It’s hard to show direct influence, of course, but I think his style of taking the brash rebellious feel of the 1960s (when he embraced the Black Panther Party) and turning it in a conservative direction has a lot to tell us about the contemporary conservative style. It is clearly wedded to the culture wars. And it is clearly wedded to a fierce style put into campaign practice by Karl Rove and his minions.
No, I don’t think liberals need to mirror the stance that politics is a state of war. There’s too much complexity and nuance to see liberal ideas as the same as artillery or weaponry.
FP: Do you have any criticism of the Left in terms of how it has behaved in the terror war/conflict with radical Islam? For instance, you are critical of Hitchens in the book (p.4) but do you deny that there was some legitimacy in his disappointment with how the Left behaved in the context of 9/11 etc?
Mattson: Well, the left isn’t unified on that issue. I’ve always been partial to what Michael Walzer – in the context of 9/11 in fact – called the “responsible left.” My portion of the left always argues against its own pacifist and isolationist wing. There were plenty of people on the left who believed America needed to retaliate hard against Al Qaeda, particularly in Afghanistan. In fact, I can’t find too many liberals who didn’t believe that we shouldn’t try to get Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The real question is whether Iraq was a logical and intelligent continuation of that war. That’s where many liberals disagreed. Of course, there was Paul Berman, George Packer, Peter Beinart, and to a lesser extent Hitchens who argued a pro-Iraq war line with liberal intentions. But this only incited a debate on the left, not a singular view. It goes without saying that liberals (I prefer that term to the left) should see Al Qaeda fundamentalists as their enemy just as much as they see Christian fundamentalists at home as their enemy. That strikes me as a no-brainer.
FP: How come conservatives engage leftists in debate but not vice-versa? For instance, here at Frontpage we have invited liberals and leftists to our pages and promoted many of their books, including yours – like today. But leftists never reciprocate ---even what you would call thoughtful leftists like The New Republic crowd, The American Prospect, Slate, Dissent and other liberal journals. None one of them, for example, has reviewed a book of David Horowitz’s in 10 years. And now, although Party of Defeat has been out for months, not a single review of it has appeared in the liberal media, and it is pretty evident that none will. Would you call this residual Stalinism?
Mattson: I think that’s what’s called a leading question. “Residual Stalinism”? Look, all authors complain that they can’t get their books reviewed. I do it myself all the time. The more specific complaint about Horowitz is whether he thinks of himself as an intellectual, as a free thinker, or as a cultural warrior. If he’s the latter, it probably hurts his ability go get his books reviewed. I quote his book on political war in the book, and I believe his stance there is as a warrior – not someone who wants to engage the other side in discussion but who wants to destroy the other side. Well, that’s a problem for getting a wider audience.
Another thing: I think today that many right wing pundits are seen less as intellectuals and more as people who whip up their own side of the political aisle. Think of Ann Coulter, a figure I deal a lot with in the book. There’s no way that anyone believes that Coulter tries to engage in a debate – that is, reach the other side of the political aisle. She writes for her preconceived fan base, not a “swing reader” (to coin a new political term). So when her books don’t get reviewed, it reflects the further balkanization of American politics. That’s a sad feature of contemporary politics, but the blame for it cuts wide.
FP: Thank you Kevin Mattson for joining us for this issue of Frontpage Interview. We ask our readers to stay tune for an upcoming issue of Frontpage Magazine in which David Horowitz will comment on Dr. Mattson’s portrait of him in Rebels. And we welcome Dr. Mattson to engage us in this dialogue.
SOURCE: Vancouver Sun (10-13-08)
Pierre Berton seemed to know everything there was to know about Canadian history, but only three months before his death did the famous author learn a "shocking" secret about his own family's past.
He was 84 when he learned that in 1878 his father, Francis George Berton, then six years old, had been placed in an orphanage in Saint John, N.B., by his destitute widowed mother, Lucy.
Pierre's grandmother had two young sons at the time. She felt she couldn't afford to raise two boys, so she kept five-year-old Jack and left Frank, as the lad was known, at Wiggins Male Orphan Institution. Perhaps she felt Frank, being older, could fend for himself better.
Frank lived at the orphanage for 10 years, went on to receive a bachelor of arts degree at the University of New Brunswick and headed off to the Klondike gold rush to seek his fortune and start a family in Dawson City.
Maybe out of shame or embarrassment, Frank never revealed his secret to his wife or to his son, Pierre. And Pierre was too busy unearthing details about the pasts of everyone else in Canada to research his own family history.
The story of the abandoned Frank Berton was discovered almost by accident by Brian McKillop, a Carleton University history professor who has written a 681-page biography of Pierre Berton due to hit bookstores Tuesday. Titled Pierre Berton: A Biography, it is published by Douglas & McIntyre.
SOURCE: HNN Staff (10-13-08)
Geoffrey Ward in his 1985 book, Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt, 1882-1905, p. 230, notes that FDR and his mother were in Paris on September 7 when they learned that McKinley had been shot:"The Roosevelts sailed for home aboard the Teutonic four days later, and as they passed the Nantucket lightship on the nineteenth, Franklin noted, they 'received news by megaphone: President McKinley died last Saturday.' All New York seemed draped in black when they went ashore."
Persico, incredibly, has confused TR and FDR!
Email from 7-17-08
[Stern served as historian at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston from 1977 through 1999. He is the author of Averting ‘the Final Failure’: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (2003), and The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (2005) in the Stanford University Press Nuclear Age Series.]
During a recent visit to our local public library, I spotted a copy of Joseph Persico’s new book, Franklin & Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life (Random House, 2008). I had read some positive reviews and decided to take the book home for some light summer reading.
Persico provides the following account of Theodore Roosevelt’s accession to the presidency: “Vice President Roosevelt was returning from a summer trip to Europe when on the morning of September 18, 1901, as the ship passed the Nantucket Shoals, a man came out of the lightship and bellowed through a megaphone that President McKinley had died the previous Saturday.” (p. 43)
In fact, on the day McKinley was shot in Buffalo, New York (September 6, 1901) TR was attending a luncheon of the Vermont Fish and Game League. He was informed of the assassination attempt by phone and immediately left for Buffalo. When McKinley’s condition seemed to improve by September 10th Roosevelt joined his family for a vacation on Mount Marcy in New York. It was there that he received a telegram with the news that the president was dying and he immediately returned to Buffalo—arriving after McKinley’s death on September 14th.
Persico also refers to TR’s subsequent election to a full term as president:
“Roosevelts from both branches, including Franklin and Eleanor, were together in all their glory on New Year’s Eve 1902 at the White House, watching the triumphant TR, recently elected president in his own right, pump thousands of hands in the reception line.” (p. 51)
TR, of course, was not elected to a full term until 1904. Also, presidential hand-shaking receptions for the public were traditionally held on New Year’s Day not on New Year’s eve. (For a delightful account of Theodore Roosevelt’s January 1, 1907 public reception, see Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1979, pp. 8-29)
Not surprisingly, there are no sources cited in the back notes for either of these bizarre historical errors. I think I’ll read something else.
SOURCE: Campus Watch (10-12-08)
In Europe, there is hardly any attempt to create this so-called balance; pan-Arabist scholarship has become the coin of the realm. The University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the first part of the 20th century produced great Middle East scholars such as Bernard Lewis. But over the years, Edward Said and his acolytes, such as Joseph Massad, have been the ones to receive red-carpet receptions, especially at SOAS which is notorious for having an anti-Israel atmosphere. The university's Palestinian Society is the only student society in Britain professionally run by the student union and regularly hosts controversial events such as Israel Apartheid Weeks.
Given this environment, Colin Shindler's appointment as the first professor of Israeli studies at SOAS is significant. Shindler is the author of seven books and an authority on the Revisionist Zionist movement and the emergence of the Israeli Right. His latest book, entitled A History of Modern Israel, appeared just in time for Israel's 60th anniversary. In it the author traces six decades, from David Ben-Gurion to Ehud Olmert.
The author comes to the obvious conclusion that peace between Israelis and Palestinians has yet to be found. But it is worth noting that the same radical views of the al-Aksa intifada that consumed the Palestinian mainstream were in turn used by the far Left in Britain to justify boycotting Israeli academics. As Shindler observes, "This cocktail of Israeli separation, Palestinian opposition to normalization and Islamist zeal challenged the very idea of individual Israelis and Palestinians working together for peace and reconciliation."
While the country has come a long way since 1948, it is still driven by ideological disputes and different interpretations of "Jewishness" and Judaism. Nowhere are these divisions more visibly portrayed than in the lives and ideologies of its leaders from David Ben-Gurion to Yitzhak Rabin, whose assassination is still a traumatic memory for most Israelis, and a transformed Ariel Sharon. Sharon represented the last of the old guard in Israeli leadership. His absence from the political arena highlights how desperately Israelis are searching for new leadership, which is nowhere to be found under the Olmert administration. The findings of the Winograd Committee detailing Israel's failures during the Second Lebanon War illustrate this lack of leadership, direction or vision. The magnitude of the investigation has without a doubt created a political earthquake in Israel. As did the harshness of the committee's concluding that all Olmert's mistakes "add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence," which should have motivated him to rethink his actions as well as his government....
SOURCE: Raymond Seitz in the Telegraph (UK) (10-12-08)
In fact, Schama is an entire cast unto himself. Sometimes he is the wry Observer asking questions because he already knows the answers. Sometimes he is the outraged Moralist lecturing a presumably rapt audience on how iniquitous Americans can be. Sometimes he is Uncle Remus sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch whittling (doubtless a perfect replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace) and spinning yarns. And sometimes he is a fine historian plucking little-known players from American archives and depicting how they represent the essential American character.
SOURCE: BBC (10-9-08)
"Whether or not he wins the presidency, this represents an historic shift in America's self-perception," he argues in his new series for the BBC, The American Future.
It would have been inconceivable in the 1960s that white Americans in the midst of a major economic collapse would have turned to a black man to lead them out of the crisis, Professor Schama says.
The new attitude to race is the result of a generational shift that began with the civil rights movement, and has now affected not only the"baby boomer generation" born in the 1950s but their children as well, he says.
However, whether Mr Obama or any other politician is up to the challenge of dealing with the economic crisis is unclear, Professor Schama says.
One of the big problems he sees is that Americans have been taught to believe that government is the problem, not the solution.
The key, as it was in the Great Depression, is restoring America's faith in itself, he says....
SOURCE: David Kaiser at the website of H-Diplo (10-10-08)
The debate on the decision to drop atomic bombs has been carried on repeatedly and in very lively fashion here, most notably at the time of the 50th anniversary (when the moderators actually had to call a halt) and again about two and a half years ago. For at least 45 years, I would suggest, the debate has done more to illuminate the current state of the historical profession than to uncover significant new facts. Thus, the Alperovitz thesis originally gained ground because of the general academic revulsion against Cold War policies as a result of the Vietnam War, and even survived the rather trenchant criticism of Alperovitz's scholarship in his book on the New Left and the Cold War. Campbell Craig's review of Sean Malloy's book, it seems to me, exemplifies a new trend.
Increasingly the approach to the past taken in works like these takes the present as a template against which to measure the past, asking, essentially, why Truman, Stimson and company did not see the question of using the atomic bomb the way 21st-century historians would have. This is reflected, first, in a clear assumption that these men were (or should have been) very eager not only to win the war, but to win it with minimum destruction and civilian loss of life. While I certainly agree that the disregard for civilian casualties shown by all sides in the Second World War is terrifying, it was a fact, and it does not make historical sense, it seems to me, to assume that decision-makers thought or should have thought about these things the way that we do.
From this it is but a short step to distorting the evidence as to what they did think. For years I have used Secretary Stimson's famous conversation with General Groves about targeting for the atomic bomb (reported in detail by Groves) as a teaching tool. In that conversation Stimson ruled out Kyoto as a target on historical and political grounds, but there is nothing in that conversation (or in anything else that I know of) suggesting that Stimson was against dropping it on any city. Malloy, according to Craig, has contrary evidence; I wish it had been spelled out and will be interested to see it.
I was amazed, however, by another implication of Campbell Craig's review of Malloy. Without having Malloy's book I can't tell where this came from, but the clear implication of his review is that Stimson's advocacy of international control of atomic energy went nowhere. Can it be that Craig is unaware of the Acheson-Lilienthal plan and the Baruch proposal in the UN?
Craig also wrote,"At Potsdam in July, Stimson related to Truman the news of the successful Trinity test and went along with the decision to exclude the Soviet Union from the Potsdam Declaration." How on earth could the Soviet Union have been included in the Potsdam declaration when it was not yet even in the war? It has already been pointed out that Richard Frank in Downfall showed very clearly how unready the Japanese were to surrender at the time of the Potsdam declaration.
Lastly, I was struck by this remark of Craig's:"Moreover, historians have never been able to find definitive,"smoking-gun" documents that demonstrate precisely why Truman went ahead with the bombing. Our understanding of the decision, therefore, relies more on circumstantial evidence and deductive reasoning than do many other pivotal historical episodes." In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that Truman accepted his advisers' recommendations in order to end the war as quickly as possible. The"smoking gun" documents that haven't been found are the ones that would have confirmed alternative explanations.
I have found out for myself more than once that the topics of greatest interest tend also to be the ones on which peoples' minds tend to become most impervious to evidence. The question of dropping the atomic bomb is one--an odd tribute, perhaps, to the enormity of the weapon.
I arrived at Manas only knowing that I had a huge mission to accomplish--to build a history program where none existed before. My first goal was to learn the history of the wing. In completing this task, I brought the history of the 376th AEW to the men and women--active, Reserve, Guard, civilians and contractors--of the wing.
The 376th AEW, like the 50th Space Wing, traces its honors to World War II. During that global conflict, the 376th Bombardment Group, Heavy became one of the most decorated bomber units in North Africa and Europe. The unit participated in numerous raids against the oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania, including the famed Aug. 1, 1943, low-level raid as well as other important battles. For their bravery and efforts, the unit earned three distinguished unit citations.
Since December 2001, the 376th AEW has operated from Manas, serving as the premier air mobility hub and the only northern access to Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom. Its aerial port operations support U.S., coalition, and International Security Assistance Force personnel and cargo heading "downrange," while the support units and agencies provide world class warrior care to deploying and redeploying personnel and to the base's assigned population.
I witnessed the personnel assigned to these units, and those assigned to the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, setting numerous records during my deployment. Fuels specialists set and reset records for fuel transfers to the wing's air fleet, while air crews established new records for fuel offloads to receivers, exceeding one million pounds of fuel offload on seven days.
Clearly, these accomplishments continued the tradition of excellence and self-sacrifice in the face of adversity. Men and women of the 376th AEW displayed a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves and brought that to their daily tasks. ..
SOURCE: http://www.danwei.org (10-7-08)
Yan is the director of the Manchu studies department at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences and is a guest host on the CCTV-10 TV show Lecture Room. That program, which focuses on Chinese history and traditional culture, has made him a celebrity, as it has for other academics including Yu Dan, arguably the most popular exponent of Confucius ever.
After first being disclosed in a post on the Tianya BBS written by someone who claimed to have witnessed the incident, the news made the front page of The Beijing News today:
In the afternoon of October 5, Yan Chongnian arrived at the Wuxi Xinhua bookstore to meet with readers and present a talk to history enthusiasts....after the talk, Yan began to sign books. A tall young man charged towards him and slapped in his face twice before he was held down....another man in glasses tried to break away from the crowd and continued to swear at Yan: "Traitor", "You deserve it."
SOURCE: Gerald Early in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (10-10-08)
... Many of us black professionals, members of the black elite, keep the embers of our victimization burning for opportunistic reasons: to lev-erage white patronage, to maintain our own sense of identity and tradition. In some respects, this narrative has something of the power in its endurance that original sin does for Christians. In fact, our narrative of victimization is America's original sin, or what we want to serve as the country's original sin, which may be why we refuse to give it up.
We have used it shamelessly — especially those who are least entitled to do so, as we have suffered the least — hustled it to get over on whites, to milk their guilt, to excuse our excesses and failures. Being the victim justifies all ethical lapses, as the victim becomes morally reprehensible in the guise of being morally outraged. Being the victim has turned into a sucker's game, the only possible game that the weak can play against the strong with any chance of winning. Nonetheless, the narrative does a kind of cultural work that serves our purposes in some profound ways, and it may be good for the country as a whole in reminding everyone about the costs of American democracy, its fragile foundation, its historically based hypocrisy. The conservatives are right: Freedom isn't free, and the black victim narrative reminds us all of that.
In the end, black people chose to see themselves as America's exceptionalist people, the only ones who came to the land of freedom as perpetually unfree, who came to the land that welcomed the exile and the outcast against their will and who remained in that land as exiles and outcasts. In the grand scheme of American exceptionalism, the Goddesigned empire meant to do good, were African-Americans who troubled the waters with their own exceptionalist claims that went counter to the story of American triumphalist history. How could the country claim to be good and do good when it so mistreated blacks? The African-American story, perforce, had to be the tale of America's tragedy.
But of course that is not quite the case: The black American story of victimization, our exceptionalism, was meant to be a triumphalist story of its own sort. Black Americans have survived, persevered, and even thrived despite the enormous obstacles thrown in our way. In a way, the black American narrative revealed American hypocrisy but simultaneously reinscribed American greatness, for blacks were heroic victims, and only in America could the heroism of the weak win a victory able to humble a nation into recognition of its wrongs.
The black narrative of victimization may have outlived its historical need and its psychological urgency, but it still may have a kind of cultural work to do as a tale of redemption and an example of salvation history. If we are the shining city on a hill, part of that city must be the quarters of bondage, the world the slaves made, and America's true greatness might be that it is the only nation that symbolizes itself in this way, the grand city as the uplift of all people, even those it has enslaved. In the tale of heroism in adversity, perhaps best exemplified in spirituals, black-American Christianity, and the secular humanism of the blues, the narrative of victimization reminds all Americans of the need, from time to time, to lift every voice and sing in tribute to who we are, however inadequate, and to what we hope we can be when we arrive at that day when, as Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied in his vision of America as a beloved community, politics becomes an expression of love.
SOURCE: Neve Gordon interviewed by Chris Spannos (10-7-08)
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and is the author of Israel's Occupation. Visit his website at www.israelsoccupation.info
Chris Spannos is a staff member with Z.
(1) Where did your book Israel's Occupation come from?
The book has two distinct sources. First and foremost, it is a product of many years of activism in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. My understanding of the forms of control deployed in the Gaza Strip and West Bank began during the first Intifada, initially as a member of the Gaza Team for Human Rights and later as the director of Physicians for Human Rights, Israel. During the second Intifada, I became an active member of Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership) and spent much time in the Occupied Territories resisting, together with Palestinians, Israel's abusive policies. This kind of first-hand experience is invaluable and cannot be replaced by books and reports. The book is also the outcome of discussions and research carried out by a group of Israeli and Palestinian students and scholars that I was fortunate to join a few years ago. The aim of this group was to try and theorize Israel's particular form of colonization.
(2) What would you say makes your book different than other books on the occupation?
There is, to be sure, a whole slew of books about Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, (one might even call it an industry) but surprisingly there is not a single book that provides an overview of four decades of Israeli military rule.
One can find excellent books about the history of Israel's settlement project, Palestinian resistance, primarily during the first and second Intifada, the history of the military courts, the Palestinian women's movement, the labor movements, the diplomatic initiatives, and human rights abuses. I am familiar with five different books that deal with the separation barrier, also known as the wall. While these studies are crucial for understanding certain features of the occupation, Geoffrey Aronson's 1987 Facts on the Ground was the last book that attempted to provide an overview of the occupation, but his superb book appeared before the eruption of the first intifada. On the one hand, then, this is the only book that offers an extensive history of the occupation.
On the other hand, most of the books that exist are descriptive. My book, by contrast, aims to theorize the occupation and Israel's control of the Palestinian population. It aims to offer an explanation for the changes that have taken place in the Occupied Territories over the years. If in 1968 Israel helped Palestinians in the Gaza Strip plant some 618,000 trees and provided farmers with improved varieties of seeds for vegetables and field crops, during the first three years of the second Intifada Israel destroyed more than ten percent of Gaza's agricultural land and uprooted over 226,000 trees. How can one explain this shift?
(3) The book focuses on the four decades since 1967. What about the decades before, and particularly the war of 1948?
The objective of my book is to show and analyze how Israel has controlled the population it occupied in 1967. I am not writing the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the history of the mechanisms of control employed to control the Palestinian people in the most general sense. I think, for instance, that the modes of control deployed to control Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have diverged from the ones deployed inside Israel after the 1948 war in large part because Israel never wanted to integrate the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories into its citizenry. Israel, as I point out, wanted the "dowry" (the land it occupied in 1967) without the "bride" (the Palestinian inhabitants of this land) and therefore it had to introduce different forms of control.
This is not to say, however, that one can understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without looking back at 1948. 1948 is crucial both for understanding the conflict and for any just peace agreement. Indeed, I do not think there will be peace without first addressing the ethnic cleansing carried out during that war. However, discussing these issues is not the objective of my book; moreover, many excellent books have already been written on 1948.
(4) Your book provides a "Genealogy of Control." What is this and why is it important?
By genealogy of control I mean a history that describes the forms of control used to manage the population through the regulation of their daily practices. It refers to a certain kind of history from below. In the Occupied Territories the controlling apparatuses have manifested themselves in legal regulations and permits, military procedures and practices, spatial divisions and architectural edifices, as well as bureaucratic edicts and normative fiats dictating forms of correct conduct in homes, schools, medical centers, workshops, agricultural fields, and so forth. A single book does not suffice to create an inventory of these apparatuses, considering that the military orders issued over the years in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alone fill thousands of pages and deal with anything and everything, from business transactions involving land or property and the installation of water pumps to the planting of citrus trees and the structure of the governing body. Each one of these orders can be analyzed in depth so as to uncover both the processes that led to its creation as well as the effects that it generated. Why, for example, did Israel prevent Palestinians from installing water pumps? Which practices did the military introduce to enforce this regulation, and how did the lack of water pumps affect the inhabitants' daily lives? Instead of offering a meticulous interrogation of a single controlling apparatus, as some commentators have done, my book provides a bird's-eye view of the means of control so as to explain the changes that have taken place over the past four decades in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
(5) Your preface mentions changes you experienced growing up. What were some of these changes and what do you attribute them to?
When I was a teenager my friends in high school took driving lessons in the middle of Rafah, a city located at the southern tip of the Strip which today is considered by almost all Israeli Jews to be a terrorist nest riddled with tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt -- weapons that are subsequently used against Israeli targets. I mention that until the early 1990s Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza were part of the Israeli landscape, primarily as cheap laborers who built houses, cleaned streets, and worked in agriculture, but that today they have literately disappeared.
Israel's inability to quell the Palestinian emancipatory drive has led it to transform the Occupied Territories into a kind of open air prison. In the early years of the occupation Israel spent a lot of energy trying to manage the occupied population and to normalize the occupation. It monitored every aspect of Palestinian life. The number of televisions, refrigerators, and gas stoves were counted, as were the livestock, orchards and tractors. Letters sent to and from the different regions were checked, registered and examined. School textbooks, novels, movies, newspapers and political leaflets were inspected and frequently censored. There were detailed inventories of Palestinian workshops for furniture, soap, textiles, olive products and sweets. Even eating habits were scrutinized as was the nutritional value of the Palestinian food basket. Today, Israel is no longer interested in the Palestinian inhabitants as subjects that need to be managed (except perhaps in the seam zones near the borders and at the checkpoints) and this, as I show, has led to a very precarious situation, one which is much more violent.
(6) How has violence and death among Palestinians and Israelis changed over the years of occupation and how does this inform our analysis or vice versa?
While the changes in the OT have manifested themselves in all areas of life, they are particularly conspicuous when counting bodies. Between the six-year period of 2001- 2007, Israel, on average, killed 674 Palestinians per year, which is more than it killed throughout the first 20 years of occupation. Moreover, since the eruption of the second Intifada, Israel has killed almost twice as many Palestinians as in the preceding 34 years. The number of Israelis killed has also dramatically increased over the years. During the thirteen-year period between December 1987 and September 2000, 422 Israeli were killed by Palestinians, but during the six-year period from the eruption of the second intifada until the end of 2006, 1,019 Israelis were killed. One of the questions I address in the book is how to make sense of the increasing violence. I want to look beyond the straightforward, and, in my mind, simplistic answer that assumes each side has altered its methods of violence, deploying, as it were, much more lethal force. This, no doubt, is true, but the question still stands: why are more lethal repertoires of violence deployed?
(7) You write that the Occupation operated according to the "colonization principle" but over time gave way to the "separation principle." What do you mean?
By the colonization principle I mean a form of government whereby the colonizer attempts to manage the lives of the colonized inhabitants while exploiting the captured territory's resources (in our case, this would mean land, water, and cheap labor). Colonial powers do not conquer for the sake of imposing administrative rule on the indigenous population, but they end up managing the conquered inhabitants in order to facilitate the extraction of resources. The military perceived its role very differently when the colonization principle was dominant than it does today. For instance, for several years, the Israeli Military Government published annual reports entitled "Accountability," suggesting that Israel felt a need to provide an account of the social and economic developments taking place in the regions that it had captured. The thrust of the claims made in the reports can be summed up in the following way: Due to our interventions, the Palestinian economy, industry, education, health-care and civilian infrastructure have significantly developed. The point I would like to stress here is not that the development of these sectors was frequently actually obstructed, but rather that Israel considered itself responsible for these sectors, for the administration of the population. The Israeli objective was to normalize the occupation.
At a certain point during the first Intifada, Israel realized that the colonization principle wasn't working, and began looking for a new principle that would allow it to uphold the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The desire to normalize the occupation and successfully annihilate Palestinian nationalism proved to be unrealistic. It took a few years before a clear policy was shaped, but eventually the separation principle was adopted. As opposed to the colonization principle which was rarely discussed, the separation principle has been talked about incessantly. The paradigmatic sentence describing this principle is "We are here, they are there." The "we" refers to Israelis, and the "they" to Palestinians.
The second principle does not, however, aim to end the occupation, but rather to alter its logic. In other words, "We are here, they are there," does not signify a withdrawal of Israeli power from the Occupied Territories (even though that is how it is understood among the Israeli public), but is used to blur the fact that Israel has been reorganizing its power in the territories in order to continue its control over their resources. Thus, the Oslo Accords, which were the direct result of the first Intifada as well as the changing political and economic circumstances in the international realm, signified the reorganization of power rather than its withdrawal, and should be understood as the continuation of the occupation by other means. As Meron Benvenisti observed early on, Oslo was a form of "occupation by remote control."
The major difference then between the colonization and the separation principles is that under the first principle there is an effort to manage the population and its resources, even though the two are separated. With the adoption of the separation principle Israel looses all interest in the lives of the Palestinian inhabitants and focuses solely on the occupied resources. Highlighting this reorganization of power helps explain the change in the repertoires of violence and the dramatic increase in the number of Palestinian deaths.
(8) How much have the forms of Israel's control over Gaza and the West Bank changed over the years and what does it tell us about Israel's control over the region?
The separation principle produces a totally different controlling logic from the logic produced by the colonial principle. If during the first decade of the occupation Israel tried to decrease Palestinian unemployment in order to manage the population, following the new millennium Israel intentionally produced unemployment in the Occupied Territories. Whereas in 1992 some 30 percent of the Palestinian workforce was employed in Israel, in 1996 that figure had fallen to seven percent and the average rate of unemployment in the territories reached 32.6 percent, rising twelve fold from the 3 percent unemployment in 1992. Thus, during one period employment is used to manage the population, while in a later period unemployment is used as a form of control.
Along similar lines, if during the first years of the occupation Israel provided immunization for cattle and poultry, in 2006 it created conditions that prevented people from receiving immunization. The World Bank reports that acute malnutrition currently affects more than 9 percent of Palestinian children in the territories, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that in 2003 almost 40 percent of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories suffer from food insecurity. Almost half of the children between 6 and 9 months and women of child-bearing age are anemic. There has been a 58 percent increase in the number of stillbirths due to poor prenatal care and child mortality increased substantially in 2002 to become the leading cause of death for children under 5, and the second leading cause of death overall. It is not only that the Palestinian inhabitants are no longer considered to be important objects of management and that Israel has abandoned its objective of exploiting the population for economic purposes, but that it has adopted a series of policies which in effect weaken and destroy the Palestinian residents.
Indeed, under the separation principle the Palestinian is no longer conceived to be an object that needs to be meddled with and shaped. The military's policy during the second Intifada, whereby soldiers shot more than one million bullets within the first month, is poles apart from the policies of the first years of the occupation and even from Defense Minister Yitzchak Rabin's directive "to break their bones," given to soldiers during the first Intifada. The difference between beating the body and killing the body reflects the difference between the colonial principle and the separation principle, between shaping the body and crushing it.
(9) What is the difference between understanding the Occupation through the lens of policy vs. the lens of structure? Where might each lead the person who holds that perspective? And how is one better than another?
The question we need to always ask ourselves is where policy originates from. We tend to think of policy as the creation of a person or a small group of people. People commonly talk about the Eisenhower doctrine, the Bush doctrine, Ariel Sharon's doctrine, etc. as if certain doctrines originated from political leaders. I, by contrast, think that politics work differently. I think, for example, that politicians, military commanders, judges, and the like are constrained and in many respects shaped by the existing social, economic and political structures.
Let me give an example that is closer to home. The US is now undergoing an economic crisis and, as a result, Bush just passed a 700 billion dollar bailout bill. Michael Moore characterized the bill as the biggest robbery in the history of the United States. I tend to agree with this characterization, but the question I ask myself is whether this bill simply originated from President Bush and his advisors or whether it is a product of the crisis and certain political, economic and social structures in the US. I do not think one can fully make sense of the bill without taking into account certain credit structures in the US, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the intricate relationship between big business and the US electoral system, to name a few of the political processes and structures that helped shape the policies that aim to address the crisis. Moreover, it is the excesses and contradictions that are, in fact, integral to the credit structures, the wars and the influence of business on the electoral systems that led to the crisis to begin with, which then led to the policy change.
The same is true about Israel's occupation. The mechanisms of control produced their own contradictions and excesses, which led, in turn, to policy changes.
(10) You write that the changes taking place in the Occupied Territories are not the effects of policy decisions or Palestinian Resistance. What guides your thinking here?
This is not precise. The changes are, no doubt, the effect of Israel's policy choices and Palestinian resistance, but what, I ask, are the underlying causes leading to the shifts in Israel's policy choices and to the augmentation or changes in Palestinian resistance. My claim is that the policy choices and indeed the resistance were shaped by the contradictions and excesses of the mechanisms of control that Israel deployed. A curfew restricts and confines the population, but also produces antagonism; the establishment of a Jewish settlement on a hilltop is used to confiscate land, partition space, and monitor the Palestinian villages below but also underscores that the occupation is not temporary. There are scores of examples like these in the book. The crux of the matter is that the contradictions facilitated the awakening of a Palestinian national consciousness, altered the population's social stratification and played a crucial role in weakening the influence of the traditional elites, undermined the claim that the occupation was temporary and would end in the near future, revealed the logic behind Israel's so-called arbitrary processes and decrees, and helped bind together an otherwise fragmented society. Palestinian resistance, in turn, led Israel to alter its policies.
(11) The book pays particular focus to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Why are these areas important to Israel?
This book concentrates on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the areas where most of the Palestinians who were occupied in 1967 reside. Israel was, from the beginning, unwilling to withdraw from these two regions and hoped to integrate the land or at least parts of it into its own territory at some future date. My objective was to try and understand how a particular kind of colonialism works and how and why it changes over time. Israel's colonial enterprise in East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights works slightly differently and since I could not address all the differences in one book I decided to concentrate on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This does not mean that they are more important to Israel; indeed I think that Gaza Strip is less important and considered by many Israeli policy makers more of a liability than an asset. The West Bank is considered, on the one hand, a military asset. It is perceived as necessary for defending Israel's borders against external attacks, while the water reservoirs in the West Bank are considered a vital security resource due to Israel's scant water supplies. On the other hand, the West Bank fulfills a messianic aspiration. From a messianic perspective, this region is seen as part of the biblical land of Israel and therefore it belongs to the Jews and should never be returned to the Palestinians. These strains of thought often converge to create a united front.
(12) How do Palestinians and Israelis as conscious agents of change fit into your analysis?
They don't. It is, however, important to emphasize that even though my focus is on the different structures and mechanisms of control, I do not want to suggest that one should ignore or dismiss the agency of political actors. Indeed, any attempt to portray both Israelis and Palestinians as objects rather than subjects of history would be misleading. Israelis are responsible for creating and maintaining the occupation as well as its consequences, while Palestinians are responsible for their resistance and its effects. And yet the decisions of Israelis and Palestinians, as well as their comportment, are produced, at least in part, by a multiplicity of forms of control.
Since almost all the books that I am familiar with emphasize the human agency of Israelis and Palestinians, I decided to focus on the structures and forms of control. I think the two genres complement each other; indeed one cannot understand the occupation without taking into account both the agency and the structure - since most authors until now focused on the agency I decided to tell another story.
(13) What are your hopes for the book?
Like every person who writes a book I hope that it will be widely read, that at the end of the day the people who read it feel that they have learnt something, that it is taught in classes, and that it will help activists make better sense of Israel's occupation.
While the book, and particularly the introduction, employs theory in order to make sense of the occupation, I think that non-academic readers will find the book accessible and benefit from such a theorization, since it will not only improve their ability to detect the lies and transcend the political smokescreen that characterize most discussions about Israel's occupation, but also provide some tools for understanding how power ticks. I hope that people from all political stripes read it, and not only those on the left or those interested in Israel/Palestine, but also people who want to improve their understanding of how modern forms of colonization operate and how our lives are managed.
SOURCE: R.J. Stove in the American Conservative (9-22-08)
Sir Peter's slashing verdict inevitably comes to a mind confronted with the work of currently hip British neocon Andrew Roberts. The historian has an influential admirer in George W. Bush, who after meeting Roberts in a London restaurant invited him to a second date in the White House. "To prove how serious he was," Vanity Fair's Vicky Ward reported, "Bush wrote down his personal phone number." Roberts's website boasts that at their later meeting, "he and his wife spent 40 minutes alone with President Bush in the Oval Office." Rumors of a presidential biography—or ghosted autobiography—soon took flight.
Roberts's newfound vogue rests almost entirely upon A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Whether this 754-page blockbuster is the most mendacious tract marketed as nonfiction within the last decade, or whether Roberts genuinely believes the tripe he spouts therein, is among our era's more conspicuous literary puzzles. Nonetheless, this apparent dichotomy proves to be a distinction without a difference. Looking for candor in Roberts's agitprop is as absurd as seeking it in presentations from Madison Avenue. That is precisely what Roberts has become: not a historian at all but an advertising agent, whose account happens to be the Anglosphere and whose moralizing is as stridently simpleminded as Brecht's.
To expect in Roberts's effusions the smallest nuance or humility makes hunting for four-leaf clovers seem like an intelligent use of one's time. He is incorrigible. Not only must every good deed of British or American rule be lauded till the skies resound with it, but so must every deed that is morally ambiguous or downright repellent.
The Amritsar carnage of 1919, where British forces under Gen. Reginald Dyer slew 379 unarmed Indians? Absolutely justified, according to Roberts, who curiously deduces that but for Dyer, "many more than 379 people would have lost their lives." Hitting prostrate Germany with the Treaty of Versailles? Totally warranted: the only good Kraut is a dead Kraut. Herding Boer women and children into concentration camps, where 35,000 of them perished? Way to go: the only good Boer is a dead Boer. Interning Belfast Catholics, without anything so vulgar as a trial, for no other reason than that they were Belfast Catholics? Yep, the only good bog-trotter … well, finish the sentence yourself. ...