This Department features reviews and summaries of new books that link history and current events. From time to time we also feature essays that highlight publishing trends in various fields related to history.
If you would like to tell the editors about a new book (even your own) that addresses the concerns of HNN -- current events and history -- or would like to write a review, please send us an email: email@example.com.
According to Herbert Mitgang, author of Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America’s Greatest Authors, the new book Perilous Times is “a cautionary tales for our times.” In it, Geoffrey Stone, who teaches law at the University of Chicago, centers his argument on six wartime “episodes” in which the federal government punished people for their political beliefs.
He discusses the Sedition Act, when it was a crime to criticize the government, congress or the president; Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas which punished Northern Democrats – the Copperheads; Woodrow Wilson’s vindictive jailing of Eugene Debs and others opposed to the draft and World War I’; the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese during World War II; the post-WWII Cold War loyalty oaths, HUAC, Joe McCarthy and others, which Stone considers “perhaps the most repressive” in our history, and the Vietnam War years when Hoover’s FBI and the government spied on and sought to prosecute antiwar dissenters while the government tried to prevent the Washington Post and the NY Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers.
Thankfully, Mitgang writes, some Supreme Court justice were memorable, “whose opinions, often in dissents, went against flag-waving martial sentiments and upheld the tight of free speech.”
Concludes Stone: “If free speech is essential to self-government in ordinary times, it is even more critical when citizens must decide whether to let the Southern states secede, withdraw our troops from Vietnam, or launch a regime change in Iraq.”
Los Angeles Times, 0ctober 24, 2004
Washington Post Book World, 0ctober 31, 2004
MUSICOLOGISTS now seem to agree that Handel was gay. So, it is thought, was Schubert. About Tchaikovsky there is no doubt: definitely gay, along with Britten, Copland and many other major composers and musicians.
They may not have been gay in the modern sense of the word, as the defining component of their sexual identity. Certainly not Handel, who hid what must have been terrible loneliness under a cloak of irascible heartiness. Nor Schubert, whose relationships with the young men in his circle still elude our understanding. Schubert's devoted friends considered the pudgy, bespectacled and sickly composer a genius in their midst. But who was sleeping with whom? We're not sure.
That we can now flesh out these giants' stories with this crucial missing component of their character is due to the efforts of some pioneering cultural historians and musicologists. Yet, along with the outing of past master composers and musicians there has been a more dubious effort by some to find evidence of a collective gay sensibility in their music.
What exactly is a gay sensibility? With today's gay icons ranging from the brainy, unkempt liberal firebrand Congressman Barney Frank to the stylish, flamboyant and cuttingly funny fashion guru Carson Kressley of"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," who can say? And if it does exist, just how is a gay sensibility expressed in music? Especially purely instrumental, or"absolute," music?
The latest to enter the discussion is Nadine Hubbs, a professor of music and women's studies at the University of Michigan, whose new book,"The Queer Composition of America's Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music and National Identity," has just been released by University of California Press. This is an ambitious, provocative and impressively documented work, with more than 70 pages of detailed footnotes for a 178-page text. It tries to prove that what has come to be considered the distinctive American sound in mid-20th-century American music - that Coplandesque tableau of widely spaced harmonies and melancholic tunes run through with elements of elegiac folk music and spiked with jerky American dance rhythms - was essentially invented by a group of Manhattan-based gay composers: Copland, of course, and Virgil Thomson, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, Marc Blitzstein, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem.
Eric H. Cline, associate professor of Ancient History and Archeology at George Washington University, manages the near-impossible: maintaining – mostly -- the right balance in a book about the long train of conflicts associated with a sacred city settled, dominated, and coveted by Jews, Christian, Muslims and others over different eras, including our own. In his thorough vetting of Jerusalem's four millennia of conflict, Cline also successfully engages the broader issues of Israel and Palestine, military history generally, and the examination of the fault lines between religious symbolism and community violence. He even takes on the interplay of ideology and mythology, challenging tendencies to exploit beliefs about the city's past to advance agendas for its present and future.
One example of the abuse of history that he corrects successfully is the absurd assertion by leading Palestinians that there are no historical connections between Jews and Jerusalem's much-fought-over Temple Mount, now the site of the Haram al-Sharif Islamic holy site. Another corrective is his well-narrated account of Jerusalem in the sleepy centuries of Ottoman rule, a much-needed antidote to Mark Twain’s snide and boorish Innocents Abroad.
A possible weakness of the book, however, may be the author's mild, but apparent, bias in dealing with today's conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Cline appears to have a stronger sympathy for Israeli side. This is mostly reflected by a greater deference to one side's suffering and imputations of good will. Some examples illustrate.
While depicting the Jordanian Arab Legion's siege of west Jerusalem in the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Cline dramatizes the genuine fears and losses among the new Israelis and the dispossessed 2,000 Jews of the Old City but mentions only in passing the 30,000 or so Palestinian Arabs of Jerusalem attacked and dispossessed. Must Palestinians face a kind of invisible asterisk of doubt where their people are concerned?
In regard to that"asterisk", also troubling is how Cline deals with the Deir Yassin massacre. That militarily unnecessary slaughter of residents of an Arab village in the Jerusalem area in April 1948 by dissident Jewish guerilla groups was a significant moment in the modern history of the city and region. Cline hesitates to assert a clear fact of history by declaring the incident disputed and falling back on the word “events” rather than"massacre” even though he is explaining a statement of condemnation by the Jewish Agency for Palestine. As Cline notes, the Deir Yassin massacre's details do remain murky but there is sufficient logic and data available to put the fact of massacre beyond revision or dispute.
Cline also overlooks a troubling incident in the 1967 war in which Israeli General Uzi Narkiss had to threaten to arrest Israeli Army chief rabbi Shlomo Goren to stop him from urging the destruction of the Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount. However ridiculous, Palestinian denials of a Jewish connection do proceed from realistic fears as well as nationalist mythology.
He also examines the past in light of the present. However,he cites a Roman historian who ascribes a special anti-Jewish animus to Arab auxiliaries of the Romans, but neglects such other facts of history as Josephus' report of the Nabatean Arabs as"the Jews's friends," of Arab troops being brought by Jewish leaders to take the Temple from dissidents, and the Assyrian king Sennacherib's report of Arabs brought to defend ancient Jerusalem under a Jewish king.
Cline also tackles the hype over Israel's"Jerusalem 3000" celebration and presents a rare and coherent narrative of the terrorism by rightwing dissidents from Palestine's Jewish community in the 1930s, which were denounced by representatives of the majority of Jews.
This book is a useful, even necessary, read about the Jerusalem of yesterday and today. Perhaps, in these troubled times, its narratives can avert a worse Jerusalem for tomorrow.
Tom Cornell is a veteran of the Catholic Worker Movement, former national secretary of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, a founder of Pax Christi, U.S.A., and the only Catholic living or dead who served as lieutenant to both A.J. Muste and Dorothy Day. He worked closely also with Barbara Deming, Thich Nhat Hahn, and through Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, Jr. He lives at Peter Maurin Farm, Marlboro, New York and lectures throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Ira Chernus, professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has accomplished a major work in this slender, clearly written volume, tracing a theory and practice as it has been molded, mostly by religious and some secular radicals, all of them American but Mohandas K. Gandhi.
From the Introduction: “The heritage of U.S, nonviolence thought is actually a heritage for the whole world. Its roots go back to the Anabaptist Protestants in Central Europe... and to Quakers in England. But the United States can claim credit for leading the world to a new idea: society can be permanently improved when people band together in organized groups to work actively and nonviolently for social change. ...The ideas of Tolstoy and Gandhi came back to the United States, where they inspired many others, who often did not know that ideas they ascribed to Tolstoy and Gandhi had their origins in this country.” Professor Chernus does not venture a definition of nonviolence, other than to state that his is a study of the principled sort, the nonviolence of the strong, as Gandhi put it, a principled nonviolence based on logical arguments and religious or moral conviction.
Again, from his Introduction: “The following chapters reconstruct the logical arguments expressed or implied in each individual’s or movement’s words. Each chapter explains the individual’s or group’s basic world view and values and shows how they led logically to a commitment to nonviolence... sometimes in ways the individuals or groups never quite achieved or even attempted.”
Chapters follow on the Anabaptists, Quakers, William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolitionists, Henry Davis Thoreau, the anarchists of the late 19th to mid 20th century, World War I as a turning point, Mahatma Gandhi, Reinhold Niebuhr, A.J. Muste, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barbara Deming and Thich Nhat Hahn.
The Anabaptists’ aim was personal conversion and moral perfection in a church of the saved set apart from the sinful world. Abstention from war and military service because of Jesus’ teaching of nonresistance to evil cost them persecution in country after country, including this one. Sin was personal, the cultivation of virtue the life’s work of the believer.
The early Quakers aimed at transforming the social order to advance God’s plan for human history. They hoped to influence, if not control, the nation’s political institutions. Nevertheless, as John Woolman taught, the approach to social change was to be indirect, through the conversion of hearts one at a time, overcoming the power of sin to attain spiritual perfection. However, Woolman located sin primarily in social and political institutions.
Excellent chapters follow on William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolitionist movement, the nonviolence movement addressing slavery and racism, and Garrison’s eventual abandonment of nonviolence.
Chernus notes that Henry David Thoreau did not attempt to bring about social change, in fact mistrusted those who would. He notes the irony that Thoreau may have inadvertently discovered a principle of social change, that if enough people refuse to participate in an evil system, they might “clog the machinery” and create a better society by freeing themselves from unquestioning obedience, the principle of noncooperation.
He then turns to the secular anarchist tradition, up to the mid- 20th century, clarifying a most misunderstood line of thought and practice marked by egalitarianism, freedom, direct action, mutual aid and localism. Chernus centers on Emma Goldman and Murray Bookchin. It is easy to see the link between anarchism and nonviolence, especially in the emphasis on non-coercion.
The Progressive movement has its tangled place. Although secular, it had its influence upon the Social Gospel movement, which in turn moved nonviolence adherents to greater social responsibility.
World War I gave great impetus to anti-war sentiment and gave rise to the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the War Resisters League, a secular counterpart to the FOR. It also envigorated the democratic socialist movement. WW I also forced Christian pacifists to begin to ask whether a mass nonviolence movement has to be tied to religion, or to the Christian faith.
The challenge of Reinhold Niebuhr to what he saw as a sentimental and unrealistic Christian pacifism gets a sensitive and careful chapter. Niebhur had been the executive secretary of the FOR in the 1920s, but abandoned pacifism over questions of social justice, especially labor rights, claiming the need for coercive action for the redistribution of wealth. It was his project also to wean the Protestant clergy, largely influenced by the FOR, away from pacifism in the face of the Nazi-fascist threat as it gathered, toward what he called Christian realism. Chernus sees in Niebuhr’s theological work, emphasizing the darker side of human nature, especially as it is manifested in human organizations (Moral Man, Immoral Society, 1932), the logical groundwork for much of the Cold War, something Niebuhr could not have foreseen.
A.J. Muste (1885-1967) was unquestionably the pre-eminent American pacifist of the 20th century. “In the subtlety of his hard-headed political analyses, he could match any political scientist of his day.” “His true goal was to promote the practice of nonviolence by blending the personal and societal dimensions. His greatest strength as a thinker, writer and leader was his ability to explore that blend in all its subtle complexity. As a psychologist, sociologist, and political scientist of nonviolence he was probably unequaled in the U.S. tradition.” A.J had been ordained to the Dutch Reformed clergy in 1908, maintained his credentials in the New York Presbytery, and was a member of the Society of Friends, Quakers. He spent some years in the Marxist movement and returned to the church on the eve of WW II.
Chernus offers a key to A.J.’s thinking: “Muste staked his own work and his own life on one overpowering insight: ‘Life is built upon a central truth... God is love, love is of God. Love is the central thing in the universe....’ Love... is a cosmic force, which people not only sense but participate in whenever they act lovingly.... If God is love, then to have a relationship with God is to link oneself with that cosmic force.... Because God is Love, there is ‘an inexorable moral order,’ which dictates that in any endeavor good results come only from acts of love: ‘the law that evil can be overcome only by its opposite, i.e. by a dynamic, sacrificial goodness, is so basic to the structure of the universe.’”
By the end of his life, the question was unavoidable: Is this any longer an adequate basis for building a strong, enduring nonviolence movement in the United States?”
Now to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. This reviewer is too close to the subject to be objective. Hardly anyone gets the Catholic Worker right who has not spent at least a couple of years living it. Chernus fixates the movement in its formative years and supposes that Dorothy Day’s asceticism is typical of Catholic Workers. The shifts in worldwide Catholicism since the Second Vatican Council, 1963-’65 have affected the CW too. An exaggerated dualism has given way to a more incarnational theology and praxis. Dorothy’s ascesis was never the style for most of us. Dorothy’s organizational ability-- many writers allude to it-- is a myth. Dorothy could barely organize her own kitchen. She inspired others to do it. Dorothy’s craft was journalism. She practiced it almost every day of her life. She was also very close to God, and we all knew it, as cantankerous, arbitrary and headstrong as she sometimes was. We obeyed her because we loved her.
It is really a simple matter: Catholic Workers in over one hundred and fifty houses and farms around the U.S. and abroad practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in direct action, in a spirit and discipline of evangelical nonviolence, living communally and in voluntary poverty. They critique contemporary society for its materialism, its over-reliance on bureaucracy and technology, and challenge the legitimacy of governmental institutions especially in their war-waging, while remaining loyal to the Catholic Church. People of every persuasion are welcome to join in the work. An ecumenical and interfaith sensibility is strong.
Chernus credits Dorothy and the Worker with bringing Catholicism into the mainstream of American nonviolence, an enormous achievement greatly enriching the movement. Gandhi, Muste and Dorothy Day stressed a willingness to suffer, to absorb violence rather than to inflict it. Chernus finds this a stumbling block. True, the prospect of suffering is never likely to galvanize the masses, but victory in any kind of battle is never going to be cheap.
To understand Martin Luther King, Jr. and his approach to nonviolence, one has to examine a complex web of ideas. First of all, King was a preacher, and he believed in a personal God, that men are made in his image and that they are therefore free: “The essence of man is found in freedom.” Equality demands agape love, overflowing love that seeks nothing in return but to build community. King acknowledged the reality of sin and evil but insisted that human nature is essentially good. He rejected Niebuhr’s teaching that society depends upon selfishly motivated coercion. “The universe is under the control of a loving purpose,” and, “The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.” A strong line in the web of King’s thinking is the undeniable social dimension of Christianity. There is a strong revolutionary strain in King’s thinking also, in the face of an unjust social order, but the exercise of revolutionary power must always be nonviolent. His practice was largely in the way of resistance, beyond protest and noncooperation, and he had no qualms about coercive use of nonviolence.
This rich chapter ends with Chernus’s questions: How much of his influence remains in the civil rights movement that King led? Its success is widely debated because “its ultimate results are so unclear. The lasting impact of King’s nonviolence is even less clear. Did he make nonviolence an enduring force in the United States? Or did his nonviolence allow the white community to see him as harmless and therefore to ignore the radical challenge of his message? ...To what extent has the revered image eclipsed the actual man? ...It is simply too soon to tell.”
Barbara Deming is the least known of the figures in this book. She made her case for nonviolence on a completely secular and pragmatic basis. Deming had no qualm about coercive nonviolence either. She pointed to the possibility of a more broadly based nonviolence movement, and was herself convinced that “if enough people join in the experiment, we will be surprised to discover just how enormous its potential is.”
Thich Nhat Hahn is the most widely read Buddhist in the western world. His work is informed by immense scholarship, yet his writing seems so simple as to appear naive. He has pushed nonviolence to address the ecological crisis. Nhat Hahn is credited as the major proponent of socially “engaged Buddhism,” which has significant following in Asia but has yet to flower in the U.S.
This reader would like to see recognition of the broad influence of Richard Gregg, who educated WW II war resisters in the coercive use of nonviolence, and of advances in thinking in the Anabaptist tradition. John Howard Yoder does not make the bibliography, yet he has had significant impact on the wider Christian church.
Chernus mentions only Phil Berrigan/Jonah House’s Plowshares as a movement of nonviolent resistance in the present time, but might have added the ongoing work of the AFSC in on-the-site dialogue on Israel/Palestine, Christian Peacemakers (largely Anabaptist) and their work of accompaniment and advocacy in Palestine and Iraq, Voices in the Wilderness against sanctions and the Iraq occupation, and School of the Americas Watch. Nonviolence includes far more than resistance. He might have added precautionary notes about sentimentalism, adventurism and factionalism.
Chernus states more than once that reason alone will never motivate people to large scale, effective nonviolence. At the same time he strongly suggests that the nonviolence movement must drop any confessional or religious identity. Religious people may very well agree. A new spirituality will have to move people with the same power, a spirituality that recognizes and respects the truth in all religious traditions. Not syncretism, not a watering down, not a lowest common denominator, but a vibrant spirituality based upon the unity of the human family, to make Christians better Christians, Jews better Jews, Muslims better Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, the same, and secularists too.
This study is long overdue and destined, one hopes, to stimulate deepening study, discussion, understanding, and more effective practice of nonviolence.
Since the earliest days of European discovery, America has inspired dreams of fabulous wealth and gain."It is a veritable Cockaigne," Columbus wrote during his third voyage, likening the New World to the medieval legend of gluttonous plenty. The conquistadores followed close on his heels in a wild scramble for gold, treasure and even eternal youth. The British settlement of North America, meanwhile, got its start as a profit-seeking commercial venture.
In the U.S., the dreams of opulence came true. Americans today enjoy a level of material abundance that sets the standard for the world's aspirations -- and soars beyond the wildest imaginings of centuries past. How this came about is the subject of John Steele Gordon's superb"An Empire of Wealth" (HarperCollins Publishers, 460 pages, $26.95). With clarity and good sense, Mr. Gordon tells the story of America's transformation from uncharted wilderness to economic colossus. Along the way, he offers well-wrought set pieces on the people, technologies and industries that propelled the race to riches.
Reviewer Eric Foner writes that little attention has been paid to the nearly five hundred thousand free blacks that lived in the U.S. just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, most of whom lived in slave states. They had many legal rights such as the freedom to wed or own properties but were also severely restricted. Everywhere they were denied the right to vote, be on juries, or attend public schools. Foner praises Ely, who teaches at the College of William & Mary, for being the first historian to scrutinize “the quality of their lives in the detail or … sophistication” he brings to the book. Even so, he does comment on the lack of attention given to the “capriciousness” of slavery and the condition of the free slave. Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2004
Lukacs is unhappy with the author’s technique of dealing with the Hitler-Stalin parallel. They were, he argues, “very different men” and their methods of governance as well as their counties were quite different. He also writes that the book fails to deal “with what is, and must be, the most interesting and telling element: the actual relations
of Hitler and Stalin. How did they regard each other; what did they see and esteem in each other?”
Los Angeles Times. September 12, 2004
Judis begins with the Bush-Cheney neoconservative premise that
the United States can bring democracy to Iraq by means of war, thereby making it a model for the Middle East. “In an enlightening interpretation of American history,” Chace comments, “Judis (a New Republic senior editor) expresses the hope that George W. Bush and his successors will soon understand the folly of imperialism as did Roosevelt and Wilson.” TR learned his lesson from the U.S. annexation of the Philippines, after a war in which as many as a quarter of a million Filipinos died and some 4,000 American military volunteers were killed and 3,000 wounded. Wilson believed his invasion of Mexico would oust the dictator Victoriano Huerta and institute a democratic regime. Instead of a" cakewalk" and popular celebrations, the invasion, writes Judis, “inspired riots and demonstrations all over the country and united Huerta with his opponents.” Concludes Chace: The next U.S. administration will have to decide if its “crusade” to refashion the Middle East “and elsewhere” is beyond American’s power.
The New York Times Book Review. September 12, 2004
Bronner’s highly critical review describes Gertrude Himmelfarb’s latest book as tendentious. It is, he charges, an “exceptionally well written and clever attempt—all the more clever since its political aims are never made explicit”-- to use her understanding of the American, English and French Enlightenments to defend her conservative political opinions. Washington Post Book World, September 12, 2004
Kedouri, the late Iraqi Jewish scholar and fellow of the British Academy, wrote this book in 1970. “Though the events discussed here are far from contemporary,” writes Schindler, they provide a valuable background for studying the problems we are now faced with in the Middle East.”
The book’s title is taken from Chatham House, where the Royal Institute of International Affairs was quartered. When Arnold Toynbee, a pan-Arabist, was its chair, from 1925 to 1955, Chatham House tended to blame “all of the globe’s ills on Western materialism and capitalism,” writes Schindler. Kedourie did not agree with that sentiment. He described the 0ttoman Empire as avaricious, incompetent and corrupt and never supported the Arab leaders who came after them: “little officers” who took power on waves of Arab nationalism, but were usually worse than the 0ttomans they replaced.
The Chatham House mentality, which approved the “force of Arab national aspirations” no matter how negatively it might affect non-Arabs, as Kedourie put it, still lives on and flourishes in Britain and the United States, writes Schindler. “We see it around us every day.”
Washington Times, September 12, 2004
Editor's Note: After this brief entry was posted we received a letter from Sol Schindler concerning his review."Your encapsulation of my review," he wrote,"gave, I'm afraid, the wrong impression of Kedourie's complaint against Arnold Toynbee. I quote Kedourie as writing of the 'shrill and clamant voice ... thrilling with self-accusatory and joyful lamentation.' That statement had nothing to do with Pan-Arabism but referred directly to blaming the West for all the maladies of the World. Jeanne Kirkpatrick summed up the viewpoint some years back by saying ironically Blame America First. Toynbee with no irony at all suggested we blame the British Empire first, last, and always."
The reviewer, a recipient of a Nona Balakian Citation for Exellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle, writes that the LBJ tapes and author Holland's"annotated compilations of trabscripts" pre and post-assassination of JFK was previously available in Michael Beschloss's"Taking Charge: The LBJ White House Tapes, 1963-64." In the tapes, LBJ expressed doubts about the Warren Commission verdict casting 0swald as the lone killer, suspecting instead the act was retaliation for US secret operations in Cuba. Now at work on a history of the Warren Commission, Holland"evidently prefers to give the commission"the benefit of the doubt." Which leads the reviewer to write that the"unanswered question is not who killed JFK but"who was Lee Harvey?" Nevertheless, McLemee writes,"Readers not driven by a hunger for fresh clues may be the ideal audience" for Holland's book because"it offers a special kind of evidence: namely that people on the scene moved as if in a fog, with history unfolding around them often concealed from view"
Newsday, September 19, 2004
Fuller, who teaches religious studies at Bradley University in Illinois, scrutinizes ten religious"revolutionaries" who scorned orthodoxy and fostered new ways of being religious. While the book is mainly a historical rendering of religion in America, it nevertheless deals with Anne Hutchinson, Thomas Jefferson, Mormon founder Joseph Smith, transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson,the mesmerist Phineas Quimby and the spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis.Fuller writes that black liberation theologian James Cone was a more important religious rebel than Martin Luther King, Jr. because"King continued to operate within the basic franework of biblical Christianity while Cone's liberation theology used the language of the Black Power movement to call for the emancipation of black people from white opptession by whatever means black people deemed necessary." Fuller also argues that a"third religious tradition"--metaphysical religion---has played a key role in our past."His basic thesis," writes reviewer Fairbanks, who teaches political science at the University of Houston--Downtown, is those interested in everything from Wicca to vegetarianism to meditation exercises are all part of a well-established tradition of nonchurched 'spiritual seekers' that goes back to the early days of the republic." Their number is growing but so are the country's"more conservative evangelical denominations," and the two are"moving further and further apart."
Houston Chronicle, September 19, 2004
Baseball in California did not suddenly come alive when Walter 0'Malley and Horace Stoneham, owners of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants decided (actually it was 0'Malley's decision) to move west. The West Coast had long had major league baseball with its excellent Pacific Coast League, many of whose players were as good as those in the major leagues. Kevin Nelson points to baseball's origins during the Gold Rush when men who learned the game in New York City and environs brought the sport west. It was Hearst's SF Daily Exanminer that first printed"Casey at the Bat." Nelson, says reviewer Kirsch,"widens the focus to put baseball in its context in the social and cultural history of California" and also adds" colorful anecdotes and asides." He writes about the three DiMaggio brothers --Joe, certainly, but also Dom and Vince-- who played in the majors but began with the SF Seals of the PCL. And Jackie Robinson,who played on an all-black team in the 0wl League. , Robinson once played on a racially integrated team in spring training against the all-white Chicago White Sox and wowed them with his play."'Geez,'" White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes allegedly said, 'if that kid was white I'd sign him right now.'"
Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2004
Dobbs, national reporter for the Washington Post and author of “Saboteurs: the Nazi Raid on America,” discussed three new books which, he writes, illustrate the dangerous and complex world we now inhabit.
In “The Bomb in My Garden: The Secrets of Saddam’s Nuclear Mastermind” (Wiley) a onetime Iraqi scientist Mahdi 0beidi explains “in jaw-dropping detail” how Saddam’s Iraq were able to manufacture highly enriched uranium—with the help of the “naivete and greed” of American, French and especially German scientists. Ironically, had Saddam not invaded Kuwait in 1990 and been defeated in the Gulf War, he would probably have been able to develop a nuclear bomb within a few years and thus deterred foreign invaders.
Strobe Talbott’s Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb (Brookings) can also make the reader apprehensive. Talbott, who once worked for Time magazine and served as Clinton’s deputy secretary of state, writes that once India developed the bomb and carried out three nuclear tests in 1998, they helped to “undermine the entire postwar system of international diplomacy.” When Pakistan followed suit, Talbott says that Clinton then believed “the world was closer even than during the Cuban missile crisis to a nuclear war.”
Finally, Max Frankel’s High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Cuban Missile Crisis (Ballantine) is, writes Dobb, an “exciting, sparsely elegant account of the missile crisis.” Dobb notes: “We now know that there were many more nuclear weapons in Cuba than the CIA believed, including dozens of tactical weapons whose primary purpose was to forestall an American invasion.” Though Moscow told Castro never to use these nukes without its permission, “there were no physical controls over the weapons and no guarantees that they would not be used as part of a desperate last stand.”
“Back then,” Dobb concludes, “at least we knew who the enemy was and where he would be most likely to strike. These days, we cannot be sure who the enemy is or who possesses the power to ‘destroy worlds.’”
Washington Post Book World, October 17, 2004
Most Americans know the Hollywood mythology of the Cuban missile crisis. Our collective assessment of the significance of this national security crisis, the participants and the process, has been largely shaped by emotion, fantasy and politics. Max Frankel in his remarkable new book, High Noon in the Cold War, has changed all that.
Frankel shares the real story of this critical series of events like an old friend sitting with us in front of a flickering fire on a crisp fall evening. Gracefully he enlightens and fascinates with well-crafted portraits of John F. Kennedy, his close advisors, those in the periphery at the Pentagon and in the Congress, and their counterparts in Moscow and Havana. High Noon presents the story without the bluster and self-confidence of history written by the winners, and instead allows us into the hearts and minds of the key decision-makers and their world that autumn of 1962.
John F. Kennedy, privately pain-wracked and publicly politically assaulted for his youth and a lack of seriousness in 1962, played this game of global chess, in part by doing what one might believe any president would do. He consulted with a variety of advisors, trusted and some less trusted, and he attempted to more deeply understand what Khrushchev’s first surprising call of “Check!” required of America. Frankel does a wonderful job of putting the reader inside the pressure cooker of the Executive Committee as well as insightfully portraying the extensive series of possible moves weighed minute by minute by John Kennedy himself.
The deliberation and debate in both Washington and Moscow, after false starts and misunderstood and mixed messages resulted in the American declaration of a Cuban blockade-lite, described as a quarantine, implemented with a sensitivity that seemed at times an affront to Navy tradition. The eventual resolution surprisingly satisfied America, satisfied the Soviets, and only Fidel Castro felt betrayed at the immediate outcome. The Soviet nuclear-capable SS-4 Medium Range Ballistic Missiles were removed from Cuba, as were the Soviet strategic IL-28 bombers. Khrushchev allowed Castro to retain the defensive antiaircraft batteries provided he not use them against American U-2 high altitude surveillance planes, left a 3,000 man Soviet combat brigade on the island, and Castro was promised that he would never have to pay for any future Soviet defensive weaponry. In return, Khrushchev received a direct and very public pledge that the United States would never invade Cuba, and a secret pledge that the United Stated would dismantle the obsolete but symbolic Jupiter medium range ballistic missile from Turkey within five months time. Later in 1962, Castro accepted $53 million in American medical supplies and baby food in return for his release of 1,113 survivors of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Frankel portrays the facts of the resolution of the Cuban Missile crisis cogently, but it is in his exploration of the dramatic and frenetic internal debate over the meaning of the signals on both sides, and even the logistics of information flow, that make the book difficult to put down.
The Kennedy administration had secretly recorded many meetings, including those of the ExCom, and the revealed data now available sheds new light on the events as they occurred. Frankel is a reporter, a former executive editor of the New York Times, and won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of President Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. As he writes about the events and decisions that precipitated and then resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis over forty years after the fact, with newly available information, and some fifteen years after the end of the Cold War, Frankel can be both brutally and breathtakingly honest.
Some might say that the most brutal as well as breathtaking conclusion drawn by Max Frankel is that Khrushchev and Kennedy never came as near the point of no return, a nuclear Armageddon over the Soviet missiles in Cuban as has been oft declared and glorified with a kind of delicious horror in America and around the world. Instead, the story is more about the way both national leaders were plagued with over-aggressive and at times illogical advisors, and internally confronted by an array of opportunistic political critics. The truth is revealed in the ways both leaders personally intended to act, and did act, to avoid escalation – even as events indeed escalated, and misunderstandings appeared to mushroom like the fearful images that colored the entire affair. This correction to the historical record is welcome indeed. Yet, this is not the sole accomplishment of High Noon. Our understanding of key important players and events is not only enhanced by Frankel’s attention and perspicacity, but readers gain a whole new perspective on the crisis and its resolution. Just as certain “paradigm blindness” afflicted key members of the national security bureaucracy in the United States, and the Soviet Union, and Havana for that matter, historians and other observers have also been afflicted with a kind of paradigm blindness. We have seen Kennedy and Khrushchev as responding to a purely military threat and weighing fair options posed by advisors who were only serving their President. Yet, Frankel exposes two men who were attempting to resolve not only the facts of the threat, but the paradigm flaws driving their own advisors. Khrushchev, the “wily old peasant” and Kennedy the wunderkind occupying a fresh new White House faced down fear as they faced down their own animated and noisy advisors, and their internal critics.
We have long been aware of the impact and perspectives on the crisis of men like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the crusty Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. Frankel reveals the real depth of animosity for the White House during this high-pressure predicament. Likewise, the perspectives of senior Communist Party leadership of Nikita Khrushchev’s wild ideas are richly illustrated. What comes through most clearly is that in different ways, the inexperienced and urbane Kennedy and unsophisticated political survivor Khrushchev both overcame the animal reactivity stoked by much of their staff. While the world waited in fear and helplessness, this unlikely pair of leaders learned a great deal about each other, and themselves, in October 1962. In response to what both sides later recognized as alarmingly dangerous communications pitfalls, Kennedy and Khrushchev implemented a hotline teletype connection between Washington and Moscow in 1963, with an eye to avoiding the nuclear brink. High noon had come and gone without a shootout, and we would not pass this way again.
A review of High Noon in the Cold War would not be complete without a mention of the outstanding work Frankel does in portraying one lesser known hero on the American side. CIA Director John McCone, a traditional conservative brought over into the Kennedy Administration for political reasons after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, is a man that modern political observers often seek in Washington today and do not find. McCone is distinguished in modern studies of CIA history as the only Director of Central Intelligence who gave primacy to accurate intelligence estimating, instead of to either covert action or managerial aspects of the CIA. An outsider to the intelligence community, in the months leading up to the Cuban Missile crisis McCone took issue with his own CIA’s assessment that the Soviet Union was preparing for nothing much in Cuba, despite of the deployment of a ring of SAM anti-aircraft batteries being installed in August 1962. McCone instead advised Kennedy that this activity logically related to something else either planned or ongoing that warranted immediate and serious American attention. The world, and certainly the mythology of a new Camelot in America, would have placed the white-haired 60-year-old Republican in the Kennedy administration as the odd man out – and he was. But his dead on reasoning and independent streak (later seen in his resignation from the Johnson administration in 1965 because of Johnson’s disregard for the bleak CIA assessment of the possibility of U.S. success in Vietnam in favor of more rosy Pentagon assessments) were a precious balm to a President who needed reason instead of reactionaries.
While John F. Kennedy may also fit the bill, McCone brings to mind the characteristic contributions of a group of Americans most recently illuminated by former Navy Secretary James Webb in his new book Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (Broadway, 2004). The intrinsic stubbornness and fierce individualism of McCone was a key factor in the resolution of the Cuban Missile crisis, and that Kennedy gave credence to McCone’s advice over the majority opinion attests to his own qualities of Scots-Irish independence in the face of overwhelming pressure.
While the Cuban Missile crisis holds a unique position in American history, Frankel’s fresh visitation of the men and the process of October 1962 is also of critical importance today. High Noon provides not only a wise enhancement of our national memory but a prudent guide for the present. John F. Kennedy listened to the heated and often confused chatter and outdated paradigms of his national security team, and then sought time alone or with key advisors, away from the microphones, to assess the reasonability of the recommendations – as well as the soundness and logic inherent in the information that came to him under the guise of national intelligence. When determining his course of action, a course that could have led to all-out war and the death of thousands of servicemen and civilians here and in the Soviet Union, Kennedy contacted each of the living former American Presidents for advice and comment. His pre-decision conversation with Dwight D. Eisenhower is particularly poignant and simultaneously amusing. Furthermore, while he informed a group of twenty key congressional leaders after his decision to respond to the Soviet missile deployment with a Cuban quarantine had been made, they were pleased to have been informed if not consulted about a decision that was still very much unknown to the American public or the rest of the world.
Almost a full generation after the end of the Cold War, America finds itself engaged in multiple overseas military deployments, wars of liberation, and wars against terrorism. While nuclear annihilation seems far from imminent, warnings of the danger of weapons of mass destruction used against innocent civilians in America and elsewhere flow consistently from Washington and from other monitors of global security. Congressmen and women, politics-watchers around the country and living ex-Presidents can only imagine the role of deliberation and ascendance of reason over bureaucratic or political agendas that Max Frankel so elegantly and engagingly portrays in High Noon in the Cold War.
French historian Jean-Yves Le Naour, who teaches at the University of
Aix-en-Provence (he has also written “A History of Sexual Behavior during World War I”) has painstakingly researched the sad story of an obscure soldier and a country consumed with postwar grief. If nothing else, Le Naour’s admirable and readable account shines a mirror on the insanity of war and the high price it always demands of its participants and their families.
“The men and women of a France that had veiled itself in black, torn asunder by the individual and collective mourning for some 1,400,000 dead and missing men, were all too familiar with the pain of loss … ‘And if it were my son, my husband, my brother, ny comrade?’ asked everyone who had never given up hope ” for the 400,000 soldiers said to be missing. Their graves or bodies were never found but the need to find a loved one who might still be alive obsessed France for more than twenty years after Mangin, an amnesiac, “a living dead man, a ghostly symbol of grief” appeared. Perhaps skeptics can now better appreciate why so many families refused to give up hope when they insisted, against all reason and for so long, that their missing relatives in the Vietnam War might still be alive.
During the Great War, shell shock, battlefield fatigue, fear and horror and the consequences of combat, was usually explained (remember General Patton’s contempt for soldiers unable to function in combat in WWII and those of his countrymen who applauded his slapping a hospitalized combat soldier) as usually affecting troops not quite right in the head. “Warfare and its violence were left largely blameless,” notes Le Naour sarcastically, “the sick were ‘predisposed,’ the victims of a morbid heredity and war only revealed or aggravated what was already there.” He quotes a corporal whose job was to ferret out dog tags among the corpses who, said the corporal were: "half-squashed, mangled, caked with dirt, tangled on equipment, packs, bags, no longer much of anything but muddy, bloody heap.” And he digs up an official document reporting that the broken and"vaporized" bodies of the dead “took up less space in their caskets than their names did on their dog tags.” Is it any wonder that in today’s war in Iraq, Americans are not permitted to see the remains of the dead or even the grievously wounded?
National mourning after so devastating a war meant, at least in France, honoring the fallen and missing, and ultimately accepting the death of a loved one. Sigmund Freud, for example, tried to prepare himself for the possible deaths of his three sons fighting at the front by analyzing and explaining the complicated elements of grief in “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” and “Mourning and Melancholy,” both published in 1915.
In the end, Le Naour concludes, France was “morally defeated, without resources or energy, with a sense of accelerated decadence and Pyrrhic victory.” Why the war was fought and who profited from the war and whether it was worth the human cost absorbed politicians and ideologues for decades after, as it did elsewhere, leading in time to more wars against internal dissidents and supposed external enemies. The “war to end all wars” proved to be just another meaningless mirage politicians and their sycophants invent to assuage postwar critics and the families of the dead.
Mangin was certainly not the only reason post-WWI France plunged into such despair and defeatism, but the prominent role he unwittingly played allowed the depressing situation to fester and spread. In 1942 – with much of France now ruled by the pro-fascist Vichy government-- this"living unknown soldier"-- who it turned out was really named 0ctave Felicien Monjoin, died, and was buried in a common cemetery. In 1948, his remains were exhumed and placed in another grave not as an amnesiac victim of war but rather as “ a collective ceremony honoring the living unknown soldier, martyr of the Great War, around whom the community and France had drawn together in suffering.”
Since then, France has fought senseless wars in Algeria and Indochina, losing both, but once again, like all other warring nations and tribes, leaving in its wake dead and missing soldiers, including reluctant conscripts, not to mention civilians, among them more grieving family members. The more things change….
Rashid Khalidi, an American of Palestinian descent, holds the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University and directs the university’s Middle East Institute. He has been an astute critic of Western, particularly U.S. policy in the Middle East. In his introduction he writes: “I found it difficult to maintain a restrained tone in writing this book… [I] was particularly infuriated …as a historian, because all too much of the extensive public debate ” about these relations has been in a historical vacuum “driven by wildly inaccurate and often racist stereotypes.”
The major thrust of the book, he argues, is a critique of the Bush administration’s “rush to war” in Iraq resulting from policies devised by “muscular nationalists” and “neoconservatives” --- members of the “War Party” surrounding the president. Several of them, Khalidi maintains, served in the past as advisors to “extremist” Israeli leaders including former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Most were ignorant of Middle East history and the social structure of the region’s diverse ethnic groups.
Khalidi presents a survey of recent Middle East history with major emphasis on the past century. He discusses the impact of Western colonialism and the resistance to its intrusions by indigenous populations. Until recently U.S. relations with the region were “pacific and mutually satisfactory.” This situation prevailed until the post- World War II era, when it was transformed by the rise of our status as a global power with a network of political and economic interests throughout the world.
European imperialists differed from Americans. Although they gave priority to their British or French national goals, some of them were sympathetic to and informed about peoples with whom they worked. Many like T.E.Lawrence, Gertude Bell, and H.St. John Philby and others learned the “native” languages and understood their cultures unlike American empire builders in the neoconservative movement seeking hegemony in the Middle East. Khalidi derides the Bush administration’s claim that its policies seek to bring democracy to the region. The experiences of Americans familiar with the region, so-called Middle East experts, are disregarded by higher government officials. Their views, the author observes, are “diluted and buffered by layers of bureaucracy.”
One of his five chapters is a critique of the American role in the Palestine/Israel conflict. Though it was Great Britain not the United States that created the problem, Khalidi observes, it has become the American lot to cope with it. Americans have been attracted to the lure of Zionism by the “potent” influence of the Bible, by the images of brave settlers taming the land opposed by “ignorant fanatical nomads.”
Khalidi believes that, following 9/11, policies of the Bush administration and Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have reached the point where they are “virtually indistinguishable in a number of realms.” The shared rhetoric concerning “terrorism” is a prime example. It remains to be seen how this convergence of American and Israeli policies and interests will impact America’s standing in the Middle East. Khalidi traces the development of American policy from “even-handed” at the end of World War II to partisan by the 1960s when Israel was used by the U.S. as a “proxy stick” against Soviet activities in the region. Until now, he asserts, the U.S has done little to resolve the problem, ignoring the Palestinians, focusing instead on relations with the surrounding states.
In addition, he berates the Oslo “peace agreement,” which was supposed to lead to mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO; since then life for ordinary Palestinians has gone “downhill almost from the beginning.” Their lives have become considerably worse, impacted by closures, economic deterioration, and loss of land to expanding Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.
If there is ever to be substantive progress toward peace, Khalidi believes, the approach taken by recent administrations on all sides must be completely reversed. Talks on the critical issues: refugees, Jerusalem, borders, water allocation, etc., must be started “immediately,” before Israel gobbles up “the pie that the two sides must ultimately agree to share.”
Finally, although the book has no bibliography, the thirty four pages of notes contain valuable data and extensive references, many of them primary sources to support the author’s often sharp critiques and startling observations.
Mr. Ayton is the author of The JFK Assassination: Dispelling The Myths (2002) and Questions of Controversy: The Kennedy Brothers (2001)
Max Holland first established his credentials as a JFK assassination expert through his painstaking research into how conspiracy theorists had misled the public about the role the CIA and other intelligence agencies played in the assassination.He was also one of the first researchers to provide evidence which established that a Soviet disinformation campaign had been responsible in creating many myths about alleged US Government involvement in the death of JFK.Holland’s research concerning Soviet efforts in the dissemination of false information about CIA involvement in the assassination is bolstered by Christopher Andrew’s ‘The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB’ which establishes the nature of KGB disinformation techniques in the USA during the 1960s and 1970s.
Holland’s research into New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s bogus investigation of the assassination has never been seriously challenged.Together with Patricia Lambert’s thorough examination of Garrison’s investigation (‘False Witness’) Holland’s work has done much to demolish long-standing myths associated with the alleged New Orleans-based conspiracy to kill JFK.Through his excellent articles (The Nation, Wilson Quarterly, The Atlantic and American Heritage) detailing how conspiracy theorists had skewered the truth about the assassination Holland has provided the American public with an understanding of how and why conspiracy ideas captured the imagination of the American public for the past four decades.His research into the work of the Warren Commission also established how conspiracy theorists had wrongly concluded that Commission members deliberately sought to cover up the truth about the assassination.His forthcoming book about the Warren Commission is eagerly awaited.
It was therefore surprising to read a review of Max Holland’s new book “The Kennedy AssassinationTapes” that did not recognise the author’s previous contributions to the subject.I am always suspicious of anonymous reviews by newspapers and weeklies which cover subjects as complex as the JFK assassination.What credentials and authority do the reviewers possess and how much time have they spent researching the subject? With this in mind I read Publishers Weekly review of Max Holland’s book .
It should be clear to many JFK assassination researchers that Publishers Weekly has not understood the importance of Holland’s work and how it has advanced the knowledge and understanding of LBJ’s role in the events of November 22 nd 1963. The magazine’s writer maintains that “…much of Holland’s book is redundant with Michael Beschloss’s recent and better executed ‘Taking Charge’ ….the bulk of the tapes in question…have for the most part, already been thoroughly digested, parsed and summarised…” However, Publishers Weekly has misrepresented Holland’s contribution.The writer is obviously unaware of the author’s unique expertise in matching the contents of the tapes with his own erudition in the field of JFK assassination studies, an erudition that does not extend to most writers who previously used the LBJ presidential recordings.What differentiates Holland from previous writers is the way he combines his extensive knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the assassination and the subsequent government enquiries with his own work transcribing and interpretating the presidential recordings.
Although the books written by historians Michael Beschloss and Jeff Shesol have been rightly acclaimed they are, in part, flawed. Both writers have taken crucial assassination-related conversations out of context in their books ‘Taking Charge’ and ‘Mutual Contempt’. Holland’s superior knowledge and intimate familiarity with the presidential recordings has allowed him to correct the record.This can be no better exemplified than in the way Holland provides the correct context to many of the statements LBJ made about the assassination, the Warren Commission investigation and the endless speculation that went on between 1963/69 about the possibility of a conspiracy to murder President Kennedy.
Holland correctly relates how LBJ’s oft-repeated assertions about a ‘JFK conspiracy’ have, over the years, led conspiracy advocates to lay claim to having ‘proof’ that a conspiracy existed.But Holland’s background knowledge of the assassination and also his knowledge of the way LBJ verbalised his thoughts is crucial.As he demonstrates, comments made by Senator Richard Russell to LBJ – ‘I don’t believe it’ – and LBJ’s reply ‘I don’t believe it either’ – have been misused by numerous writers to imply that both men rejected the conclusions of the Warren Commission investigation.However, as Holland correctly points out, both men were discussing the single-bullet theory, not the conclusions of the Warren Commission investigation.Holland also corrects previous interpretations by showing how both men’s rejection of the single-bullet theory was not based on considered judgements but simple opinion.At the time of the conversation in question both men had not been privy to the ballistics evidence which supported the theory.And LBJ’s manner of speaking, Holland states, his ‘well-known penchant to exaggerate and speak for effect’, has long been recognised by LBJ historians.
Furthermore, Holland, unlike Beschloss, puts the assassination-related conversations all in one volume together with his extensive added commentary.The result is a clearer understanding of what transpired when LBJ became embroiled in the conspiracy controversy and the related Warren investigation.Holland also takes the story to the waning days of LBJ’s presidency.
This excellent book quickly and decisively silences the conspiracy critics who believe that LBJ had a hand in the murder of his predecessor.And, whilst conceding that LBJ may have harboured fears that foreign involvement in the assassination was a clear possibility, Holland nevertheless presents LBJ’s musings in the correct context of Cold War realities and the fears the conflict engendered; fears that led LBJ into speculation about whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald had been acting alone.LBJ had been conflicted as to whether or not conspirators murdered JFK.However, he was never able to substantiate his suspicions beyond simple guesswork. In the end he merely speculated that Castro was likely to blame.
This book is by far the most lucid and compelling account of the role President Johnson played in the investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination.His book should be read not only by JFK assassination researchers but also future LBJ historians.
When Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ, was released media pundits were surprised at its initial success and especially after it became the movie phenomena of 2004. However, Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus (published before the movie was released) points to the plausibility of the Passion’s success as Prothero outlines American’s fascination with Jesus first as deity and eventually as popular national icon. This fascination began in the 18th century as Jesus was first separated from Calvinism by the evangelical revivals of the Second Great Awakening in which “populist preachers competed for the hearts of parishioners by humanizing Jesus.” (13) Thomas Jefferson’s fascination with the teachings of the “enlightened sage” led him to find time among his busy presidential schedule to edit the New Testament and cut it down to the essential words of Jesus. “Jefferson’s Bible” included the essential words of Jesus free from the early church’s distortions or hints of supernaturalism thereby disentangling Jesus from the creeds and traditions of the church.
After the Civil War, Christians continued to emphasize the humanity of Jesus while at the same time extricating the American Jesus from the Bible. Liberals were informed by new modernist thinking including Darwinism, comparative religion, and higher criticism that undermined the authority of the Bible and jettisoned liberals to insist on Jesus alone. Evangelical hymnology popularized by the urban revivals of Moody and Sankey and the sentimental religious literature of authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Bruce Barton created notions of Jesus that were either highly feminized or masculinzed but nevertheless outside the pages of scripture.
Finally, with the post-immigration boon of the 1960s, Jesus became disentangled from Christianity altogether as Jesus piety became possible even for non-Christians. Beginning with the hippie Jesus movement of the late 1960s, Jesus by the 1970s became a pop icon as evidenced in the musicals—Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Proclaimed the “Year of Jesus,” the Jesus movement spread in 1971 from California across the nation. Prothero points to the current mega nondenominational church as the legacy of that movement as well as Christian contemporary music and the tremendous expansion in Christian commercialism.
In the second half of American Jesus, Prothero contends that non-Christian outsiders such as the Mormons, the Black Church, Jews, and Asians appropriated Jesus in order to acquire respectability and establish their American identity. Beginning in the 1890s, Mormons began to both “Americanize and Protestantize” their tradition dropping some of its more controversial beliefs as it gradually gravitated toward evangelicalism and belief in a more evangelical Christ. Today it has become harder to distinguish evangelical Protestants and Mormons as the LDS Church members have increasingly adopted evangelical themes such as cultivating a personal friendship with Jesus.
African Americans fall within Prothero’s outsider grouping as the Nation of Islam, womanist theologies, black Jews, and some black Protestants affirm the blackness of Jesus. For them Jesus has been transformed into the “black Moses who delivers them not only from sin but also from oppression.” (228)
For Jewish and Asian immigrants to be American meant having to reckon with Jesus. Just as Rabbi Mayer Wise reasoned that to reject Jesus meant “forfeiting” their claim on mainstream status, he sought to recast Jesus as a Jew rather than a Christian eventually claiming him to be the “greatest rabbis of all time.” (239) Likewise both Hindus and Buddhists have made Jesus serviceable to their own needs. Since the late 19th century, American Hindus have embraced Jesus as a “great Yogin” or as Krishna’s have suggested an incarnation of their Supreme Lord Krishna. Buddahists today who follow the Dali Lama think of Jesus as a “fully enlightened being.” (287)
Jesus, Prothero concludes, has become the nation’s icon because as a nation of immigrants populated by both Christians of all stripes and non-Christians have meant the array of possible Jesuses has expanded as well, “making Jesus in the likeness of America.” (290)
Readers find more on this fascinating topic in Richard Wrightman Fox, Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession (San Francisco:HarperSanFrancisco, 2004).
Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University, recognizes Hersh’s past investigative achievements, such as his role in exposing the crimes in Vietnam’s My Lai and more recently, Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. However, he calls Seymour Hersh’s “Chain of Command” “a missed opportunity…little more than a miscellany, a book without a spine”—filled with “unidentified sources” and not enough analysis.
Bacevich is disappointed that Hersh did not pick up and discuss the radical changes by the Bush administration and how it has discarded
traditional practices. Hersh, he writes, might have made a significant contribution to understanding the Bush administration’s international behavior and what its “new kind of war” – Donald Rumsfeld’s phrase—with “no fixed rules” means for the rest of us. “Abandoning old rules means chucking out old inhibitions” about allies, treaties, the use of the armed forces, and “morality and the rule of law.”
“[T]his imperfect book,” Bacevich concludes, “provides an oblique but timely reminder of why rules exist in the first place: to guard against the failings to which human beings are prone and for which, in public life, others –19- and 20-year-old soldiers- are obliged to pay.”
This review appeared in the Washington Post and also in the Miami Herald, 0ct.10, 2004.
I don’t imagine books by and about Vietnam are widely read and discussed anymore. Nor can they be found on best-seller lists even today, when we are engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Beidler’s recollections are different. What his book offers, some 35 years later, is a mirror image of the bitter and irreconcilable antiwar books composed by disillusioned and resentful ex-soldiers between the two world wars of the 20th century. Philip Beidler was and may still be an angry veteran. God knows he has every right to his anger.
Still, it’s more than a familiar retelling of the war’s outrages and crimes. Beautifully written, at times eloquent, Beidler, an ROTC lieutenant and armored cavalry platoon leader, has written this gem of a book perhaps, as he says, “to keep us from going insane with anger about efforts by people such as McNamara to say he’s sorry now. Or as we might have said it down in III Corps, ‘Sorry, Mr. McNamara, but dead is dead, and sorry don’t mean shit.’”
His contempt is reserved as well for the foreign policy elites, like Rostow, Rusk, and Bundy, who either cheered on the war or just couldn’t say no to LBJ. He mentions the two Tonkin Bay “attacks”—one a U.S.- South Vietnamese provocation, the second a lie to justify American military intervention which led to 58,000 GI deaths, hundreds of thousands wounded in body and mind, and three million Southeast Asians dead. He writes about battles between black and white soldiers away from combat areas. As an officer, albeit a junior one, he felt so threatened by fraggings or the killing of officers and NCOs that he began carrying a weapon in non-combat areas. He spends a chapter on the murderers of My Lai, one platoon of which “had already become known as accomplished rapists.” Its officers, except Lt. William Calley, were never punished, though Calley was cheered on by home front rightwing patriots and excused by Richard Nixon.
All the same, Beidler goes beyond these atrocious events, which in any event are barely remembered now by bewildered Americans who find it hard to believe that virtually all our many wars may not have been inherently just. He visits the Wall and spots the names of too many men from his unit. There are no names on the Wall for America’s other recent wars: Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Kuwait, Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Were they merely cannon fodder for our new breed of chicken hawks in Washington or genuine patriots? 0r just ordinary men and women seeking adventure or cash? Now, he literally sneers, with the war in Iraq ongoing and no end in sight, yellow ribbons and flags are everywhere to be seen along with “Proud to be an American bullshit.”
Since his return home he’s remarried, adores his daughter, and teaches English at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa. He remembers and honors the ordinary soldiers with whom he served. But he also honors a conscientious objector, John Balaban, now a close friend and “role model,” who chose to do his alternative service in Vietnam. In Beidler’s judgment, his recollection, “Remembering Heaven’s Face,” belongs on the same shelf as the finest memoirists of Vietnam, books by veterans W.D. Ehrhart, Ron Kovic, Tim O’Brien, Philip Caputo and others. To Beidler, Balaban, now poet-in-residence at North Carolina State University, is a "moral witness in Vietnam,” the subtitle Balaban gave to “Remembering Heaven’s Face.”
So, with Iraq still burning, can Syria or Iran or North Korea and a revived draft be far behind? “Meanwhile, we can be getting the hoo-ah kids ready for the next American shoot-em-up,” he concludes. “ Go out and do the mission, we’ll say. Deal with the Charlies or the sammies or the ragheads or whatever. From where I stand, after all these years, I can offer only one sure lesson: Don’t come home expecting anyone to care.”
THE Battle of Trafalgar was a moral victory for Spain that should be a source of national pride, a book by one of its leading authors claims.
Cabo Trafalgar by Arturo Perez-Reverte, published to tie in with the bicentenary of the battle next year, sets out to restore Spain's place at the centre of the battle which is still seen as a shameful period in its history.
The account reserves some excoriating criticism for Spain's French allies and some modern vernacular Castilian for the English.
Mr Perez-Reverte's thesis is that the political circumstances leading to the battle had already doomed the Spanish sailors.
They were badly trained and often unpaid and reluctant allies of the French who were incompetently led by Adml Villeneuve. Despite the defeat, the Spaniards won a "victory of character", the book says.
"The defeat was not the battle itself but the political factors that led to it. Spain has had fanatic priests, corrupt ministers and imbecile kings but at least the people fought."
Mr Perez-Reverte said:"It was the case then as it is now. For example, look at the dignity of the people in the wake of the attacks on Madrid on March 11."
The book, billed as the most important Spanish work on the subject since the eminent novelist Benito Perez-Galdos (1843-1920) wrote his own Trafalgar, is a blend of archive research and popular narrative techniques.
--James E. McWilliams
Historians love to examine causation. Appropriately enough, early Americanists have mined the causes of the American Revolution. The most common interpretations, of course, have centered on The Founding Fathers, who have been variously interpreted as conservatives and as radicals, ideologues and pragmatists.
T.H. Breen jumps into this large fray with an original and interesting thesis. Seeing a collection of imported items at a Williamsburg museum piqued his curiosity about consumerism and political protest. Breaking from other historians, and building on his museum observations, he rejects the myth of self-sufficient yeoman farmers in the 1750s and 1760s and instead interprets the colonists as eager consumers happy to buy imported goods.
This fresh perspective provides a new twist on an old story. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the colonists benefited from growing affluence, due in large part to spending by British troops. As consumer spending increased, colonists took
increasing pride in their improving status. When the war ended, colonists felt the restrictions firsthand--restrictions which were only intensified when the British government began to raise taxes. The colonists responded by refusing to buy British imports.
Breen interprets these well-known boycotts against the Stamp Act and other British taxes as more than purely economic actions. They are, more accurately, the key to understanding the Revolutionaries' deeper motivations. It was consumerism in fact that united the dispersed and varied colonists. Boycotts of British goods caused a political mobilization based on an increasing awareness of grievances, rights, and--ultimately--power.
The personal, as they say, became the political. Publishing the names of those who had agreed to boycott helped Revolutionary consumers shame wavering moderates who had not yet joined the struggle. Curbing consumption united the community behind the anti-tax activists, building a collective response of sorts. Breen, in fact, sees the movement as egalitarian, overcoming the boundaries of class and gender. The revolutionaries, he explains, “would need the support of all consumers, women as well as men, poorer sorts as well as wealthy lawyers and merchants." In other words, he is able to include many groups who are traditionally omitted from the conventional storyline of protest. This inclusion informed "a genuinely radical political ideology"-- an achievement for which these groups seldom receive proper credit.
Breen's vision of the colonists is not, however, misty-eyed. He views them as "frightened, bigoted, chauvinistic, ambitious, jealous, proud, and misinformed." In addition, his story is not a one-time snapshot; it enjoys a chronological structure that shows how the consumer protest grew over time, moving in unforeseen ways, partially and tentatively, but slowly gaining in popularity and effectiveness, building toward a sense of nationalism. His perspectives on human nature and on chronological change ring true. He has not tried to push his subjects into an arbitrary "paradigm.” For those who are not experts on colonial history, rest assured that Breen writes well. His claim that writing the book was "extremely pleasant” is quite evident in its accessibility.
"I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends." Pope Urban II, Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095
Whether or not the Crusadesfeaturing Christian and Muslim armies fighting in the Holy Landbear at all on modern geopolitics or simply the modern imagination is a matter of considerable interest. Two new books about the Crusades take us into that past:
The First Crusade: A New History, Thomas Asbridge (Oxford, September 2004) [Publisher information]
Akbar S. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., observed that,"There is an underlying assumption among commentators looking at the confrontation between Islam and the West that it has been engendered by the events of September 11, 2001. Thomas Asbridge, by tracing the roots to the First Crusade in his lucid and provocative 'new history,' helps us to understand the present by explaining the past." Prof. Asbridge is a lecturer at the University of London.
Crusades: The Illustrated History; Christendom · Islam · Pilgrimage · War, Thomas F. Madden, ed. (Michigan, September 2004) [Publisher information]
Eight authors, including the editor, contribute to this volume. The essays begin with an examination of the Christian and Muslim worlds, then progress through the five major crusades of the 11th through 13th centuries, plus ensuing campaigns through the fall of Acre in 1291. Particularly intriguing is the chapter titled"The Second Crusade: War Cruel and Unremitting," by John France, a scholar whose research focuses on the experience of warfare and crusading. The volume also covers crusades against heretics in Europe and the legacy of the whole enterprise.
… and Now
Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991, Kenneth Pollack (Nebraska, 2002; paperback edition September 2004) [Publisher information]
Much attention has been paid to Iran's possible nuclear weapons ambitions, and U.S. officials believe that that Persian nation provides support to Shiite insurgents in Iraq. But Iraq's Arab neighbor to the northwestSyriais causing concerns as well. Newsweek reported this week that"Deep in the Pentagon, admirals and generals are updating plans for possible U.S. military action in Syria and Iran" [story link]. U.S. officials have just concluded talks with Syrian and Iraqi officials concerning foreign fighters infiltrating into Iraq from Syria. And Syria's government promised a response to Israel's recent killing of a Hamas leader in Damascus. These developments coincide with the release in paperback of Kenneth Pollack's Arabs at War, a detailed study of the performance of Egyptian, Iraqi, Jordanian, Libyan, Saudi Arabian, and Syrian armed forces in all their engagements from 1948 to the Persian Gulf War. Lawrence Freedman, reviewing the study in Foreign Affairs, described it as"an extremely valuable, compendious, and convincing military history of the contemporary Arab world" and"a standard work of reference" for understanding the historical and contemporary performance of Arab armies [review link].
[Mr. Fleming is the author of "The New Dealers' War" and "The Illusion of Victory, America in World War I."]
Fact: The year is 1940. Britain stands alone against the military might of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. President Roosevelt is running for an unprecedented third term. Should America enter the war to rescue Britain? A majority, still deeply disillusioned with the U.S. experience in World War I, oppose sending a single soldier to Europe. The GOP candidate, Wendell Willkie, gains in the polls when he begins attacking FDR as an interventionist. A shaken Roosevelt promises the mothers of America that he will never send their boys to fight in a foreign war. He wins a narrow victory.
Fiction: In Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America," the year is also 1940. Instead of Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate is the legendary Charles Lindbergh, a frequent spokesman for America First, the nation's leading antiwar group. In his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, Lindbergh accuses American Jews, along with a British propaganda apparatus and the Roosevelt administration, of trying to push the U.S. into a war that most Americans do not want to fight.
In fact, Lindbergh made a similar speech in the fall of 1941. He was immediately assailed by liberals as an anti-Semite and covert supporter of Hitler, igniting a media firestorm. Similar accusations are hurled in "The Plot Against America." The narrator, a nine-year-old character named Philip Roth, is upset to discover that he now hates Lindbergh, formerly one of his heroes, for attacking FDR, whom his devoutly Democratic father, Herman Roth, has taught him to love. Young Phil is even more upset when Lindbergh wins in a landslide.
How plausible is the scenario of Mr. Roth's novel? Not very, although it cannot be entirely dismissed. There were certainly sentiments in American culture at the time--about Germany and Britain and about American Jews--that Lindbergh could have exploited had he chosen to. But Lindbergh's political views were far more antiwar than anti-Semitic.
Mr. Roth is attempting the kind of alternative history that has become popular among novelists and historians. It is not idle to ponder what would have happened if the antiwar impulse in the U.S. had triumphed before Pearl Harbor.
In the novel, one of President Lindbergh's first moves is a summit conference with Adolf Hitler to sign a nonagression pact with Germany. Ten days later, he signs a similar "understanding" with Japan. When Hitler invades Russia in June 1941, Lindbergh hails him as a crusader against the world's premier evil, communism. Meanwhile the president assures Americans that he will build a military force second to none, making them invulnerable to attack. Most Americans applaud.
If you accept the idea of a President Lindbergh, this America First solution to the world crisis is within the realm of the possible. Just what would have followed, in Britain and on the Continent, is another question, which Mr. Roth never explores.
For the novelist, a grand political narrative is less important than its intimate effects, and here, for a while, Mr. Roth captures our interest. Lindbergh's policy creates turmoil in the Roth family and most of their middle-class Jewish section of Newark, N.J. "All the Jews could do was worry," reports a frightened Phil, who tries to gain admission to a local orphanage to escape his Jewish identity.
Not all the Jews in the novel worry. Phil's stylish aunt becomes the wife of one of Newark's leading conservative rabbis, who hails Lindy as an American messiah for his program to advance the cause of assimilation. Soon the rabbi and his wife are working for a new federal bureau, The Office of American Absorption, which sends Jewish children to the Midwest and South to acquaint them with "heartland life." Herman Roth's employer, an insurance company, decides to transfer him and other Jewish workers to jobs in the heartland too, ostensibly to stir the melting pot. Suspecting a sinister motive, he declines and works as a laborer instead, adding to his son's anxiety....
In 1946, Dr. Leon Goldensohn, an army officer, was allowed to conduct lengthy interviews with Nazi war criminals awaiting judgment in the famous trials at Nuremberg. Robert Gellately, the Earl Ray Beck Professor of History at Florida State University, and editor of this edition of Goldensohn’s papers, provides a sterling introduction.
In it, he offers a few critical comments on some of the major counts brought against the indicted Nazis. The prosecution, he believes, “exaggerated the intentionality and coherence of Nazi planning and policymaking” because it wanted to “link all the crimes to an overall conspiracy.” Hitler’s interpreter, Paul O. Schmidt, a witness at the trials who was present at countless numbers of meetings and conferences, put it this way to Goldensohn: “Our foreign policy was an improvisation…The Nazis kept talking about a thousand-year Reich, but they couldn’t think ahead for five minutes.”
Goldensohn’s copious and detailed interview notes are the centerpieces of this compelling book (He died in 1961). It will remind readers of Gitta Sereny’s marvelous 1974 book, Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder, based on the huge amount of time she spent with the imprisoned Franz Stengl, the commandant of Treblinka. Sereny’s Stengl, like virtually all the men Goldensohn interviewed appeared and sounded “normal.”
These men included Karl Doenitz, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg (“the [prosecution] image of Alfred Rosenberg as the main Nazi ‘theoretician’ or ‘philosopher’ is without any merit whatever,” comments Gellately) and the biggest fish of all, Hermann Goering, who proclaimed his innocence of war crimes, claimed he was long estranged from Hitler and who loathed Goebbels. 0ddly enough, many of the defendants barely knew one another, if at all. Goldensohn and another army psychiatrist visited the defendants daily. He conducted formal and informal examinations and discussions and wrote verbatim and summary accounts as many of the Nazis talked endlessly about themselves and what and why they did or did not do.
0tto 0hlendorf, who was later found guilty in another trial and executed, ran Einsatzgruppe D, which he claimed had murdered 90,000 people, mainly Jews. When 0hlendorf told Goldensohn he was an “intellectual” and “idealist,” Goldensohn called him a butcher for killing innocent people and 0hlendorf became upset. It was not the image he held of himself. He was hanged in 1951.
Hans Frank, who was Governor General of Poland (where most of the worst concentration camps were situated), ended one of his conversations by praising Einstein and Freud for leaving Germany “because both of them would doubtlessly have been caught by Himmler and murdered.” Blaming the SS chief, Josef Goebbels and the secretive Martin Bormann for the crimes, he closed by saying (or repenting?): “What a horrible system we had. How blind we were.” He was hanged in 1946.
Rudolf Hoess commanded Auschwitz and talked openly about gassing women and children. With his wife and children living virtually next to the ovens and prisoner barracks, he blithely said he never felt any guilt for the estimated 2.5 million deaths he helped carry out. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I was obeying orders.” Goldensohn then asked if it troubled him “to kill children of the same age as your own?” His answer: “It was not easy for me or other military SS men but we were convinced by the orders and the necessity of these orders.” Besides, he (and many others) repeated that the responsibility belonged to Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Adolph Eichmann, who they insisted, were the real criminals. Tried by a Polish military court, he was fittingly hanged – where else? -- at Auschwitz in 1947.
None of the men Goldensohn spoke with were mentally deranged –with the possible exception of the anti-Semite and pornographer Julius Streicher, who published the vile Der Sturmer. But they all worked, profited and obediently and proudly served a government so evil it still defies belief. Many denied any knowledge of the extermination camps or the mass slaughters in Eastern Europe. Some of the men Goldensohn spoke with were true believers while others were merely opportunistic sycophants. All rightly deserved the punishments they received.
Ironically and sadly, however, the downfall of their Third Reich was followed by yet another set of state criminals, as the perceptive Anne Applebaum appropriately noted: “The camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were destroyed.”
You have to wonder where and when we could have a repeat of those horrid decades and, just as important, who among us will have the courage to say No to their masters.
Lecturer currently living in Germany. She has co-authored a book on the White Rose, the student anti-Nazi resistance group at the University of Munich, calneled "Shattering the German Night," published in the US and presently in its 7th edition in German. Since the late 1990s, she has been giving seminars on American History at the University of Munich.
This is a major work of documenting and putting together in chronological
sequence the evolution of Nazi genocide between 1939 and 1942. It is not a
work of "incisive analysis" as quoted on the book jacket, but rather one of
enormous detailed description based on painstaking research into primary and
secondary sources, demonstrating great insight and knowledge of German
history. It should become a reference work for all scholars and students of
the Holocaust, and will certainly assist in providing evidence for any
future court litigation, as in the case of David Irving, the
However, it is not a book I would recommend for the average lay reader.
Although it is written in a clear and direct style, the title itself seems
Overly ambitious and tends to raise expectations it cannot fulfill. To
describe decisions that led to genocide is not an analysis of "origins."
Description is not analysis -- and analysis is what one has hoped for.
Christopher Browning, a renowned historian of the Holocaust, has been
pivotal in his previous works in penetrating the minds of "ordinary" Germans
who, as soldiers in police battalions, gradually become murderers. In this
book, he describes step-by-step how Jewish disenfranchisement,
stigmatization, expropriation, expulsion, "resettlement," mass execution by
firing squad. gas vans, and finally, gas chambers and crematoria were
decided upon within the Nazi administrative structure. The relentless March
of Evil is almost unbearable to read in its dryness and directness.
Contrary to received notions, Browning stresses that "the Final Solution"
was not a well-organized operation thought out well in advance, with German
precision and efficiency. It was rather a stumbling, improvised and chaotic
project from the beginning of the war in 1939 till the bitter end. He calls
the decision "prolonged and incremental." In view of its results, that point
does not seem quite as significant as he seems to believe.
Another point he raises, which however is not discussed in detail, is "that
the genocidal commitment was not shared by ordinary Germans." But then he
goes on to cite the historian Ian Kershaw's serious qualification of that statement: "the
road to Auschwitz was built by hatred but paved with indifference." He does
not explore in depth that hatred or that indifference.
As so often in the case of Holocaust literature, the point of view expressed
by the author represents either the standpoint of the perpetrator or the
view of the victim; rarely, if ever, does an author present both. In this
case, we absorb the positions and decisions of the murderers, and gradually,
even for us readers, the victims become the empty abstract statistics of
deportation and death that they were to the Nazis. Sometimes it seems like
one is reading a protocol of insane bureaucrats who by some mysterious
process ended up ruling a country and turning the entire continent of Europe
into a killing field. It is frightening in its step-by-step
matter-of-factness. I absorbed a terrible amount of detail on coordination
and logistics and efforts at organization of death among offices and
government structures, all of it in an atmosphere of jockeying for position
and indescribable coldness -- with the very rare moment of individual
ethical discomfort and doubt. I was deluged with information over 400
pages, but not with illumination. The origins of evil remain a mystery.
We try to understand, but it continues to elude us.