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.
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Ann Hagedorn, a former staff writer for the Wall Street Journal who has taught writing at Northwestern and Columbia’s schools of journalism has written a revealing and riveting book about the year 1919. Woodrow Wilson is featured, of course, as are many others such as his mildly progressive “Fighting Quaker” Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, the aspiring J. Edgar Hoover, and the socialist Helen Keller (“Strike against war,” this tough woman once said in another venue. “Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs…Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction!”).
Soon after he was elected, Wilson -–much like McKinley and perhaps even George W. Bush, both men supposedly guided in their political behavior by religious faith -- told a supporter (according to Sigmund Freud and recounted by George Prochnik, NY Times, May 6, 2007): “God ordained that I should be the next President of the United States. Neither you nor any other mortal or mortals could have prevented it.” A memorable group of senatorial skeptics – among them Senators Robert LaFollette, William Borah, George Norris, and in the House, Rep. Jeannette Rankin, thought otherwise when he sent the country to war in 1917, but to no avail. Still, to the cheering throngs of Americans ready to fight the Huns from afar, the sharpest rejoinder was Charles Edward Montague’s classic putdown: “War hath no fury like a non-combatant.”
Wilson, a badly conflicted idealist and cynic, was indeed religious, but also a racist who couldn’t abide black people nor anyone else who condemned his war policies. He signed the notorious Espionage and Sedition Act (the former, Hagedorn reminds us is “still on the books”). Meanwhile, suspected “subversives,” including Eugene Debs who famously spoke against the draft and the war, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms (the Socialist Party had the courage to run Debs for the presidency in 1920 from his cell). The self-righteous Wilson wouldn’t consider releasing Debs once the war ended but Warren Harding, a far more humane president, did.
After the armistice was signed, he ordered 7,000 U.S. troops, mainly from Michigan, to be sent to Archangel and Murmansk where they found themselves trapped in someone else’s civil war “fighting under British command in a civil war between the Red Army of the Bolsheviks and the White Army of the opposition.” Washington also dispatched 5,000 troops to Siberia where the Americans soon found themselves allied with a 70,000 strong Imperial Japanese army eager to grab Russian territory. Eventually, the U.S. came to its senses and realized the U.S. had no business involving itself in Russia’s business.
After wars and interventions, there has often been a tendency to hunt for people to blame, leading to anxieties, fears and hatreds. 1919 was no exception. The Bolsheviks had taken power in Russia two years earlier. The Spanish flu pandemic was raging. Anarchists, at least the violent kind, were threatening mayhem. There were eighty-four reported lynchings of blacks and twenty-six race riots. The “war to end all wars” did not mean tolerance at home.
The bombing of A. Mitchell Palmer’s home, most likely by anarchists, led in time to government and private attacks on “red” aliens, immigrants, progressives and radicals throughout the country, the start of what was once called “the surveillance state.” Frederic Howe, commissioner of immigration at Ellis Island described 1918-20 as a “two year panic” when “civilian service agents were given carte blanche to make arrests on suspicion.” Warrantless arrests, spying on blacks, working people and leftists of all stripes were all too common. It was as if postwar America was undergoing a nervous breakdown. Hagedorn acutely adds, “By the time of the signing of the Armistice, a massive, highly organized intelligence community had evolved in the U.S….at least 300,000 American Protective League [super-patriotic] spies hidden in the folds of American society, watching trailing, and taking their bosses, colleagues, employees, neighbors and even the local butcher or their children’s school teachers.”
Perhaps most significantly Hagedorn centers on the four foot nine inch tall, ninety pound anarchist Molly Steimer, who was arrested together with five fellow writers of a Yiddish language anarchist paper for the crime of opposing U.S. intervention in the new Russia. “Under the guidance of [an] ambitious counter-radical specialist, whose name was John Edgar Hoover, spying on Steimer would one day assume the character of a mission,” writes Hagedorn.
Steimer’s lawyer, Harry Weinberger, much admired by Hagedorn and rightly so, asked at her trial, “What is it that makes the government bring an indictment, and four counts at that, against defendants who say it is wrong to send an army into Russia? Are we so poor, are we so weak, are we such cowards, that we fear the truth, or the questioning of truth?” In his own way, Michigan Senator Hiram Johnson echoed widespread protests by soldiers stationed in Russia and their families much as Steiner and her anarchist friends had when he termed the postwar interventions in Russia a “criminal policy.”
Steimer was expelled to Russia, where the equally intolerant Communists threw her out because of her public support of jailed Russian anarchists. She fled to Mexico to join one of her co-defendants, Jacob Abrams, whose name will forever be associated with Oliver Wendell Holmes in the latter’s landmark dissenting opinion when the jurist insisted that Abrams’ right to print his views was guaranteed by the First Amendment. Hagedorn lucidly describes Holmes’ conversion to this position, which has since preserved our basic freedoms.
Savage Peace is a dramatic and valuable reminder of a period that resembles our more recent time of troubles after WWII, during the Vietnam era, and in the proxy war in Central America when political and governmental demagogues hounded and persecuted critics and dissenters. Since 9/11, the Patriot Act, and the failed ideologically-driven decision to invade and occupy Iraq, we have to wonder if a new set of rabble-rousers will one day arise ready to accuse the “traitors” among us who “stabbed America in the back”?
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com ()
Among the more successful—and illogical—propaganda efforts of the Democrat Party is the widely accepted notion that conservative Christianity is a natural hotbed of anti-Semitism and Political Enemy Number One for American Jews. As someone who grew up in churches that were to the right of Jerry Falwell, I always found this notion to be mysterious at best. The fact is that the more literally an evangelical Christian takes the Bible, the more of a “Zionist” he is likely to be. Theology aside, it’s only natural-- nearly all of best stories he grows up with in Sunday School feature Jewish heroes fighting for their homeland.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard a preacher refer to the modern state of Israel—or its wartime successes—as a “miracle” and a result of divine intervention, I’d be posting this from a lot bigger house in a lot warmer climate. My experience is corroborated by historian Michael Oren’s fascinating new book, Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present, which shows that there is a direct correlation between the political relevance of Evangelical Christians in the United States and strong support by the American government for a State of Israel.
Astonishingly, Oren is the first historian to attempt a single volume history of America’s involvement in the Middle East. As his extensive bibliography suggests, a lot has been written on various parts of this history; but Oren says that his research did not turn up one overview of the subject. He fills that gap.
When Americans think about our involvement in the Middle East, they generally assume it to be a fairly modern phenomenon, centered around the State of Israel or the need for gasoline-- both big issues in the Post-WWII era. Politicians on both extremes feed this misperception. Democrats daily proclaim that if we just had more windmills or wind-up rubber band powered cars, we could ignore the region because all we get out of it is oil. The Buchanan Brigades promote the idea that anything we do to promote civilization in the region is probably at the behest of Israel—or at least AIPAC.
Support for Israel is also a key element of the media’s new all-purpose pejorative, “neoconservative.” But unless you think “neo” should be used to describe a movement that became prominent in the 1820s, that’s a misnomer. In fact, support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine predates any paleoconservative” isolationist movement in the United States by at least a hundred years.
Critics might argue that wild-eyed Evangelicals of the 19th Century who followed the religious revival known as the Second Awakening wanted to restore Israel to Palestine to hasten the Kingdom of God; but it is only recently that a policy of bringing freedom to the Muslim world and a pro-Jewish policy in the Middle East had any political punch. Wrong again. As Oren illustrates, the Middle East has been important to Americans since before the Founding. Even Pilgrim governor William Bradford and Puritan preacher Cotton Mather expressed hope for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In fact, he asserts, the reality of Muslim aggression against Mediterranean trade was a major impetus in both the forming of the United States Navy, and a Constitution with a strong enough central government to build it into a major force.
Most history texts, if they even deal with the subject, treat the Barbary corsairs as mainly a piracy issue. But the Founders, Oren writes, were shocked to confront the ideology of jihad. It led them to believe that diplomacy with—and ransom payments to-- the “Musselmen” would not be a long-term solution. Even George Washington, no fan of needless “foreign entanglements,” proposed that “such banditti for half the sum that is paid them be exterminated from the earth.”
Once the Barbary Pirates were dealt with, most history books record that Mediterranean trade opened up for Americans, and leave it at that. But as Oren records, Americans became a dominant commercial presence in the region—and a not insignificant military and cultural presence as well.
The most fascinating section of Power, Faith and Fantasy is Oren’s account of the vast collection of Americans-- missionaries, adventurers, pilgrims and military people-- who flocked to the Middle East throughout the 1800s. This is a largely untold story in modern history texts—though many famous Americans made the trip, and wrote enormously popular accounts of their journeys.
Perhaps that’s because the most influential Americans in the Middle East of the 19th Century were missionaries, a verbotten subject in modern American education. But in the 1800s, they had the ear of Presidents and Secretaries of State, the attention and support of the public, and the protection of American gunboats.
The “Restoration Movement” officially began with a sermon in Boston’s famed Old South Church by Levi Parsons to kick off what would be a century of missionary efforts in Palestine.
Interestingly, the movement’s most famous treatise was The Valley of Vision, or the Dry Bones of Israel Revisited by George Bush—yes, the forebear of two presidents.
Samuel Clemens’ first book as Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, was a debunking of American fantasies about the exotic Middle East and a huge bestseller that made his career. Herman Melville took the tour, hoping to relieve his writer’s block by getting on the Mideast travel book bandwagon, but was soured by the squalor of a place he’d had exotic fantasies about. U.S. Grant and Secretary of State William Seward also made pilgrimages, and one of Abraham Lincoln’s last words was to suggest to his wife that they should tour the Middle East after the war was over.
Some of the most fascinating chapters are those dealing with America and Egypt. Egypt became important during the Civil War as competition for Confederate cotton, and took a huge economic hit when it became the American interest to once again promote the crop in the South. Among the more ill-fated expeditions recounted in the book—and there are many—was that of prominent Civil War veterans helping to establish a professional army in Egypt. They began their stay as honored guests, but those who survived were treated as scapegoats for Egyptian shortcomings on the battlefield. Their story encompasses each of Oren’s themes: Power, faith and fantasy.
Most missionaries had a goal of establishing a homeland in Palestine for their “theological cousins,” the Jews, Oren writes. However, they were about as successful at that as they were in converting very many Muslims. Probably the most enduring legacy of those missionaries—many of whom died from disease or terrorists—was the establishing of modern hospitals and schools in the region.
It was missionaries who called world attention to the genocide of Armenians by the Turks and tried to provide relief, making this event a cause celebre in the United States. In a similar manner to modern relations with China, the United States juggled keeping good trade agreements going with the Ottoman Empire with condemnation of the plight of the Armenians.
While Oren explains the revivalist beginnings of the Restoration movement that spawned the missionary expansion in Palestine, he is a little more vague about the theological leanings of the missionaries at the later half of the century and early 20th Century who cooled on the Zionist movement. He does give a clue, however, by mentioning that many of them were Ivy League grads and from “mainstream” denominations. The fact that this cooling of enthusiasm happened around the time that Progressivism was infecting the prestigious American seminaries is probably a major factor.
Ironically, it was about the same time that secularism was dampening enthusiasm for Zionism in the missionary community that American Jews finally took up the cause in the post-WWI years. It was largely led by secular and socialist Jewish groups. For decades religious American Jews had shied away from Zionism and even spoken out against it, fearing it would make them look less American.
As Oren himself admits, much of what he covers about the 20th Century is well-known. But he sells himself a little short. It is not merely the fact that Oren puts the events in context by explaining the rarely discussed historical forces that makes Power, Faith and Fantasy valuable. He adds invaluable insight by continuing the discussion of those roots right up to the present day, making the story of America’s involvement in the region part of a seamless whole.
Among the highlights:
· Wilsonian Failure-- Oren puts another nail in the coffin for the Woodrow Wilson legacy built by Thomas Fleming and other recent historians. Wilson got involved in the war in Europe in order to further his postwar grand design, but a hundred thousand dead Americans later, he was shut out. In Europe, that helped set the stage for Hitler. However, in the Middle East, it was Wilson’s refusal to declare war against the Ottoman Empire that gave America no voice in the region. He advocated neutrality because he thought it would protect missionaries and the Albanian relief efforts; but the Albanian slaughter intensified and missionaries were persecuted and killed. Wilson’s slogan was a war to “Make the world safe for democracy,” but he deferred to colonial powers despite the pleading of many in various Arab lands for the United States to be the authority in their mandate.
· Truman’s Juggling Act: Much has been made of President Truman’s foot dragging when it came to recognizing the State of Israel. Oren does a terrific job of showing how Truman was effectively countering active Soviet attempts at expansion in the region, and makes a compelling case that Truman got it right—perhaps better than Ronald Reagan would do later, who was good with Soviet client states like Libya, but not against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
· Eisenhower’s Blunder: Oren provocatively makes the case that President Eisenhower’s support of Egypt’s Nasser during the Suez crisis not only stabilized a pro-Soviet government, it made the 1968 and 1972 wars possible.
· Carter’s Biased Arbitration: Oren is not kind to Jimmy Carter—or even his Camp David legacy. Oren writes that Sadat was the instigator of the talks, and that the U.S. was merely sought as an arbiter. Carter was blatant in his bias, and “unreservedly accepted the Egyptian position and assiduously rejected Israel’s.”
· Bush Policy in Context of American Tradition: It is common for current commentary to call George W. Bush’s vision for the Middle East and his willingness to commit American forces “Wilsonian.” However, gaining the context of the previous two centuries of American history and philosophy in the region, one would likely compare Bush more to Theodore Roosevelt’s Americanist zeal than to Wilson’s timid internationalism.
Robert Kagan’s recent great book, Dangerous Nation, put the lie to the notion of a traditionally isolationist American foreign policy. Americans have always had a missionary zeal when they travel abroad, whether it’s bringing Jesus, democracy or free trade. It is in our nature to try to improve the places we travel to, and brief bouts of isolationism are the exceptions to the rule of Americans spreading the “blessings of liberty.” In many ways, Power, Faith and Fantasy is an application of Kagan’s broader thesis to a particular part of the world.
There are two things repeated throughout the book beginning with American’s earliest encounters with Muslim societies. First, our supposedly Neanderthal pre-feminist forefathers of PC legend were constantly and openly shocked by the treatment of women in every Muslim country they visited.
The second theme from beginning to end is hostage taking. It wasn’t invented by the Iranians 25 years ago, and from the era of clippers to that of carriers, the United States has been sending gunboats of one kind or another in response to militant Islamic kidnappers.
The Civil War veterans who had been greeted with fanfare and luxury in Egypt later summed up their disillusionment with statements that Islam was “born of the sword” and “opposed to enlightenment” and “wedded to an obscuritanist past.” They came to “deplore the subjugation of women” and said the society was based on “lying backsheesh, blackmail, bribery… and murder.”
In perhaps the only concession to political correctness Oren makes in this massive book, he says, “The lack of understanding was mutual.” Actually, it sounds more like understanding—and it sounds a lot like the description I heard from a Marine friend returning from Fallujah. The more things change…
SOURCE: Written for HNN ()
Looking back sixty years at Jackie Robinson, as he takes his position at first base on Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, and breaks Major League baseball’s color line, it is difficult to see him as he was seen at the time, and as he deserves to seen. Our retrospective view is cluttered by landmark events of the civil rights movement that we know will soon be coming: Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and on and on. In standard history textbooks, Robinson’s achievements may be granted a line or two, acknowledged as a prologue of things to come, but (it is implied) relatively unimportant in itself, because—after all—it only happened in the sports arena.
The great virtue of Jonathan Eig’s Opening Day is the author’s ability to look behind the imposing landmarks and portray Robinson’s first day and, indeed, his entire first season as the social and cultural breakthrough that it was. Eig, a Wall Street Journal writer whose previous book is the highly regarded Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, also adds some modifications and nuances to the standard narrative of Robinson’s breakthrough, but the biggest contribution of this energetic, well-written narrative is its placement of Robinson, along with general manager Branch Rickey and the rest of the Dodgers, into the context of the time, when the only standard of comparison was the segregated past, and the future was uncertain.
There is also a literary monument that blocks our view of that day and that season in Brooklyn: Roger Kahn’s iconic, best-selling The Boys of Summer (1971), which focused primarily on Brooklyn’s 1955 World Series champions, has probably cemented the image of “the Brooklyn Dodgers” into place for all time. But Brooklyn’s only championship team--the team of Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo and Pee Wee Reese—was not the team of 1947. Only Reese and Furillo were stalwarts on that earlier squad (Hodges and Snider were just breaking in), and Robinson had been the only African-American player for most of the 1947 season (until joined by Dan Bankhead late in the year). By 1955, two of the team’s dominant stars—Newcombe and Campanella were African-American—and Robinson himself gave way to a young black player, Jim Gilliam, at second base.
So Eig rightly emphasizes just how alone Robinson was on that opening day and how intense the spotlight was, in an era when the NFL and the NBA really didn’t matter and baseball was truly the “national pastime.” Eig is also right to emphasize just how much skill and closely-focused fury it took for Robinson to get through the isolation and the insults. As is everywhere observed nowadays, he paved the way for generations of African-American players to come. But in 1947 he had no way to know for sure that he was doing so.
Over the past quarter-century, as sports history has become an accepted area for serious study, the Dodgers and Robinson have received a lot of attention. To mention only a handful of worthy works: Murray Polner’s Branch Rickey: A Biography appeared in 1982 (and will reappear in a revised edition, published by McFarland, later this summer). In the 1990s, David Falkner and Arnold Rampersad produced biographies of Robinson.
The foundational work on Robinson, race, and baseball, however, remains Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1983), which sets the standard for precision and thoroughness. Tygiel has donated all of his research materials, including transcripts of interviews, to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Eig is the latest writer to take advantage of them.
Eig relies mainly on primary sources, an approach that reinforces the immediacy of his narrative. Among others, he interviewed Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, and so he is able to portray vividly the young couple’s life away from the playing field, as they lived a claustrophobic existence with Jack, Jr., still an infant, in a tiny apartment on MacDonough Street. Robinson’s sponsor, Dodgers’ general manager (and part owner) Branch Rickey, was a racial idealist, but he was also part preacher, part pitchman, and all pennypincher: he stood quietly behind Robinson in the hard times, but only paid him the minimum, so the Robinsons couldn’t really afford better living quarters.
Eig effectively captures the considerable drama, on and off the field, of the 1947 season, and he also goes out of his way to modulate the melodrama. Traditional villains—notably Robinson’s teammate Dixie Walker and Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman—come across as more complicated than their stereotypes. And traditional heroes—including the Kentucky-born shortstop and Dodger captain Pee Wee Reese—have a few shades of gray in their white hats.
As Eig notes, the famous story of Reese quieting a hostile crowd by walking over to Robinson and putting his hand on his shoulder “has become a sermon, a children’s book, even a bronze statue, dedicated in 2005 at Keyspan Park…seven miles from the former site of Ebbets Field.” Eig devotes much of a chapter (“Pee Wee’s Embrace”) to showing that the incident actually took place no earlier than 1948. But he makes too much noise about his own novelty here: Tygiel has already placed the incident in 1948, and Reese himself never claimed that he deserved any special badge of courage.
Still, Eig’s conclusion about the relationship between Robinson and Reese seems about right: they became close in later years, “but not in 1947. In 1947, [Reese] was an ally, but not a strong one, and certainly not an outspoken one. Rickey and Robinson, in accounts written shortly after the 1947 season, both rated Eddie Stanky as Robinson’s earliest important backer.”
Eddie Stanky’s nickname—“The Brat”—does not suggest a reputation for being enlightened. He played aggressively, trying to grab every possible advantage, however slight, on the field, and his pestiferous style of play may have helped him feel a kind of kinship with the embattled rookie. Given that Stanky played second base, Robinson’s natural position, Stanky’s willingness to support him as a teammate may testify most strongly to Stanky’s own unquenchable desire to win.
No matter how strong their collective will to win, the 1947 Dodgers seemed unlikely to contend for the National League pennant. They had come painfully close to winning the year before, losing out at the end to the St. Louis Cardinals, and if anything they seemed weaker in 1947. Their star outfielder, Pete Reiser, was in the process of short-circuiting his career by running head-on into walls. And they seemed both too old and too young: Dixie Walker was 36 and starting to fade, as were pitchers Hugh Casey and Kirby Higbe, while catcher Bruce Edwards was only 23, and promising pitcher Ralph Branca only 21. Branca won 21 games that year, but remained emotionally fragile, and nobody seemed sure just how unpredictable Joe Hatten won 17.
The difference that meant the pennant, it can be argued, was Robinson. Channeling his anger about the insults and profane abuse that poured from the dugouts and stands, Robinson played ferociously, especially on the basepaths, where his speed and daring were taunts of their own. His statistics—featuring a .297 batting average—were not gaudy, but his 29 stolen bases led the National League, and his 12 homeruns tied for the team lead. And he led the league as well in pitchers distracted, outfielders startled, and infielders frustrated. His aggressive play propelled the Dodgers to the pennant and to the seventh game of the World Series, where (neither for the first nor the last time) they fell to the New York Yankees. For his efforts, Robinson was named Rookie of the Year. Not bad for a 28-year-old rookie, playing his fourth-best sport at a position he had never tried before.
By the end of the season, Robinson was a celebrity, not just a curiosity, and starting to deal with the special kinds of isolation and opportunity that celebrity brings. There were fewer obscenities from opposing dugouts, and, once Larry Doby appeared for Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians, Robinson was no longer the only African-American player in Major League Baseball. But the floodgates hadn’t yet opened: in 1949, when Robinson finally let loose verbally against his tormentors and also won the batting title and the Most Valuable Player Award, only three teams had black players. The day in 1971 when the Pittsburgh Pirates, on their way to a world championship, would field a team composed entirely of African-American and Hispanic ballplayers was literally unimaginable.
Eig does a splendid job of highlighting the contingencies of Robinson’s triumph and making clear that it was far from inevitable. Robinson knew that he not only had to make the Dodgers’ roster, but also had to play well, if others were to follow. Partnered with Branch Rickey, he pioneered what Eig terms his own “brand of integration, characterized by patient suffering and a zipped lip,” a brand that could not have been more opposed to his own temperament.
At the same time, as Eig demonstrates vividly and poignantly, Robinson was anything but passive. Despite and because of the uncertainties, he harnessed “fear and fury…all alone, taking his lead from the base, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing…and a nation waiting to see what he would do next.”
SOURCE: WSJ ()
You may have thought that the debate over the Kennedy assassination was settled long ago. Vincent Bugliosi would disagree, although he’d like to settle it now. Reclaiming History is less a work of historical reclamation than a very, very long — and passionate — argument about what historians and investigators have claimed and counterclaimed over the years.
The argumentative design should not be surprising because, as an attorney, Mr. Bugliosi comes to the subject steeped in the adversarial process as the finest way to arrive at the truth. His fascination with the Dallas murder, in fact, began in 1986, when a British TV company asked him to be the prosecutor in a mock trial of the presumed-guilty-but-never-tried assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Mr. Bugliosi, the Los Angeles district attorney who famously prosecuted Charles Manson and his cult, won a unanimous verdict in that case in 1971 and went on to write a book about it, the best-selling Helter Skelter. Now, after 20 years of intermittent effort investigating the JFK assassination, he is prosecuting this case in the court of public opinion.
It took that long partly because Reclaiming History is unlike any other book on the assassination ever produced by a single author. Rather than compare Mr. Bugliosi’s work with, say, Gerald Posner’s Case Closed (1993) — another effort by a lawyer to, well, close the case — it is probably much fairer to shelve Reclaiming History alongside the two massive federal investigations of the assassination.
The first, of course, was the Warren Commission’s final report and 26 supplementary volumes, published in 1964, and the second was the final report and 12 supplementary volumes issued by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979. Mr. Bugliosi is a much better and more curious writer than the legal teams that produced these federal texts, and while his output might first appear modest by their standards, for a lone author writing about a lone gunman the output is staggering. (I should note that Mr. Bugliosi mentions my work in his book, mostly favorably but not always so.)
The printed text of Reclaiming History alone runs 1,612 pages. The book includes a CD-ROM with an additional 954 pages of end-notes before the whole prolix enterprise comes to a merciful end with a mere 168 pages of source notes. If printed like a regular book, in a normal-size font and on regulation paper, Mr. Bugliosi’s work would take up 13 volumes. At $49.95, this encyclopedic work is a bargain.
Reclaiming History, at its best, is a labor of love born out of an admirable, even relentless, ardor for the truth about the assassination. There is no other way to describe the patience and stamina required to get to the bottom of so many stories, encrusted as they are by decades of falsehoods, misrepresentations and outright hoaxes. Mr. Bugliosi’s verve for setting the record straight is unequaled and will probably never be surpassed, although a book of this length, inevitably, has factual errors (e.g., the left-wing National Guardian, now defunct, is called a “libertarian newsweekly”). To Mr. Bugliosi now belongs the mantle of chief defender of the official story: Oswald did it, and alone....
SOURCE: Special to HNN ()
Once upon a time there was a great nation… But its tranquillity was disturbed by a group of bloody-minded radicals in a remote corner of the world who resented its hegemony, denied the legitimacy of its rule, and rose in rebellion. The government believed that these trouble-makers could be easily dealt with by firm military action…
Unfortunately… the government in question ‘failed to develop a sufficiently coherent military strategy or even commit sufficient resources to winning the campaign’. Its ministers attempted, from a distance of 3,000 miles, to direct operations in a country… ‘of which they have so little knowledge as not to be able to distinguish between good and bad interested advice’.
At home in the metropolis, opposition to the war, at first silent for fear of appearing unpatriotic and unsupportive of the armies in the field, gradually became more vocal.
Yes, it is the American War of Independence… the analogy with the war that the United States has been waging in Iraq… is too close to be ignored, and this is the central theme of the book. -- Foreword by Michael Howard
Between the New Statesman and the New York Review of Books we have been force-fed a drip of historical nourishment as a course of action to combat the ills (follies) of today.
Ever since September 11, 2001 and increasingly more so post-Iraq, from Borders to the blogosphere we have experienced a tsunami-like tidal wave of historical parallels with the present: whether it be Vietnam and Iraq; history of American regime change; American post-war administration in Germany/Japan; British rule in Egypt/Iraq; British neo-conservatism; Western powers and Islamofascism; and, of a more personal level, history of presidential rhetoric.
Such is the wherewithal of analogy-thinking that Robert Kaplan has penned an article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled: Foreign Policy: Munich Versus Vietnam. At the outset, Kaplan notes that, “For decades now, two analogies have battled for supremacy in American foreign policy circles: those of Munch and Vietnam. At the moment, Vietnam has the upper-hand. But don’t count Munich out.”
The latest historical treatment prescribed is British General Michael Rose’s Washington’s War: From Independence to Iraq.
Seven points are worth illuminating:
1. “Both were wars of choice and both wars sprang from competing ideologies. In the same way that George III thought civilized society was only possible under royal protection, today President Bush and Prime Minister Blair believe that civilized society can only properly flourish where conditions of democracy and freedom exist” (p.13).
2. “When the American colonists were faced with extinction by the French and Indians in the middle of the eighteenth century, they were grateful for British military protection. However, when that threat disappeared in 1763… the colonists no longer wanted British troops garrisoning their towns… What had originally been a welcome army of protection quickly became an occupying force… In the same way, the people of present-day Iraq, who were so grateful to the Coalition forces for the removal of Saddam Hussein, rapidly turned against them…” (pp.14-15).
3. “During the American War of Independence, the British were never able to properly support the loyalists. Similarly, following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Coalition forces have never been able to provide sufficient protection… One can compare Rumsfeld’s decision to disband the Iraqi police and army with the British failure to organize the loyalist militias in North America, for both occurrences led to a critical shortage of troops… At a strategic level, the British had committed themselves to an unwinnable war––just as the Americans were to do two and a quarter centuries later” (pp.21-23).
4. George Washington “was to obtain his technical expertise in gunnery and combat engineering from the French, just as the Iraqi insurgents today obtain their technical expertise from sympathizers abroad… (p.24) Benjamin Franklin, who was Congress’s ambassador in Paris, was able to collect much useful intelligence about future British intentions from… the French government” (p.85).
5. “…the destruction of Fallujah in 2004 probably represented as great a strategic disaster for the Americans as the destruction of Fairfield and Newhaven had been for the British during the American War of Independence… In doctrinal terms, it has become aligned to the policy advocated by George III in 1777 when he advised that greater brutality by the British Army in North America would ‘bring the Americans in a temper to accept such terms as may enable the mother country to keep them in order’” (p.154).
6. “Withdrawal is not a question of defeat; it is merely recognition, as the British realized in North America in the eighteenth century, that the original objections can no longer be achieved… The decision to withdraw was a bitter pill for George III and his war cabinet to swallow… In the event, Britain quickly recovered its position, and all fears of anarchy and chaos occurring in the former colonies in North America proved groundless… In the same way, the withdrawal of the US occupation force from Iraq should be seen in the context of the war against global terror. After the battle of Yorktown in 1781, Britain recognized that a position had been reached when to continue with the war was wholly counter-productive to its wider strategic goals. The same position has now been reached… by the US in Iraq. The outcome of a withdrawal from Iraq may not necessarily be the doomsday scenario that those opposing it suggest. The gloomy predictions about what would happen in Vietnam when the Americans withdrew were similarly confounded when the so-called domino theory failed to materialize” (p.200).
7. Why is GW43 (George Walker Bush) unable to combat GW1’s (George Washington) strategy? “… unlike his forty-third successor, George Washington was able to combine his idealism with practical military experience––for when Virginia had been threatened by the French during the Seven Years War, Washington had volunteered for military duty. As a result, he had been able to see at first hand how the Indians employed guerrilla tactics against the British regular troops. He had begun to understand the essentials of insurgency warfare. If George Bush had felt the same sense of duty as his predecessor and had himself experienced military service in Vietnam, then he too might have better appreciated the sort of war that he was committing his nation to in Iraq…” (p.27).
After reading the 200 pages-plus hardback I thought it meaningful to pop-down to London for an evening with former British Ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer (now head of the Press Complaints Commission). At the outset of his lecture delivered at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD)––housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London)––Meyer hinted towards his philosophy à propos the publication of Rose-like texts: deeming it erroneous to prohibit criticism of Anglo-American strategy for fear of letting the enemy in. The Q&A session was colonized by all talk of “national interest” and “diplomacy” leading me to question whether it was both in the national interest and diplomatic for General Sir Michael Rose to have published such a pernicious pamphlet (not to mention him causing a major stink with remarks made to the BBC’s flagship programme Newsnight). Meyer’s rejoinder was rather disdainful for such an enquiry “touched a raw nerve”––unsurprisingly, for he is the current chair of the PCC––feeling the need to reaffirm that Michael Rose is a “respected and forthright individual.”
The sheer volume and scope of the material Bevan has gathered on destruction of architectural heritage as a form of “cultural cleansing” makes The Destruction of Memory a valuable resource. Its great virtue is its range, covering the Nazi intention to obliterate the built heritage of Poland, the ongoing Chinese campaign to obliterate Tibetan culture, and the IRA bomb that toppled Admiral Nelson from his monumental Pillar in Dublin.
Although Bevan covers the Globe, he concentrates on those territories most familiar to Europeans, particularly the terrain of European and eastern Mediterranean ethnic conflict: the Balkans, Germany, Jews, and Armenians. Bevan’s topic is not the destruction of the Armenians, but the destruction of the built landscape of Armenian. He focuses on the deliberate erasure of memory that has taken place in the decades since the genocide as Armenia’s stone churches with their distinctive, conically-roofed domes have been made to disappear. Modes of destruction vary. Some were lost because there was no one left to maintain them, some were dismantled by a victorious ethnie that deliberately uses Armenian buildings as a legitimate source of dressed stone, others were deliberately destroyed to serve a political end. That end is to erase the evidence that much of southeastern Turkey was once Armenian.
Unfortunately, Bevan is given to sweeping assertions of truths that are either unsupported or demonstrably wrong. Is it true, as Bevan asserts, that Christianity “has always” been given “to destroying the religious architectural heritage of its rivals” while Islam “has generally” converted them “to mosques rather than destroying them?” Who knows? If there is evidence that would enable a score to be tallied, Bevan doesn’t provide it.
What Bevan too often does provide are bad facts. For example, he flatly states that “every remaining mosque in Athens… was… demolished.” Minarets were a particular target during the Greek war of independence, because the Muslim ban on church bells was enforced under Ottoman rule (some Greek monasteries display the huge, hanging wooden beams that were struck by monks forbidden to ring the hours with bells) and because the tall minarets were a constant and humiliating reminder of occupation and subservience, made concrete by Islamic restrictions on the height, repair, and building of churches. One of the most poignant buildings in Greece is the Ottoman-era cathedral at Athens, a tiny, low building patched together out of found stones.
Unlike the minarets, mosques were not uniformly destroyed when the Ottomans were driven out in 1829. They were reused for other purposes. In Athens the Fethiya, or Camii, or Mosque of the Conquerer (built in the ancient Agora on the site of a Byzantine Church) and Tzistarakis Mosque on Monasteriki Square (now a Ceramics Museum) survive.
Elsewhere we learn that in 1968 a “Jewish tourist” set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque. In fact, the arson was committed by an Australian Christian intending to hasten the second coming of Jesus.
And we are informed that “many millions” of ethnic Germans resident in Eastern Europe were “killed” in the aftermath of World War II. Not even Alfred-Maurice de Zayas cites such inflated numbers.
While the density of errors of fact ought not to be excused, it is somehow outweighed by the mass of absolutely fascinating, morally complex, and, to me at least, often unfamiliar material. I was not aware of how close we came to actually losing Paris. Bevan describes Hitler’s command to his retreating army to level Paris with explosives. The plan was foiled by the insubordination of Dietrich von Choltitz, a Nazi General not otherwise known to have sided with the angels. Nicolea Ceausescu, who I remembered, if at all, as just another drearily vile, Soviet-era puppet dictator, emerges as the author of a remarkable plan to produce a new-model Romanian worker, in part by razing virtually every village, town, and historic building in the entire country - and replacing them with a Marxist built landscape. Communism fell before he could complete the project. Germany, by contract, demolished only a few of the Nazi buildings left standing at the war’s end. Prime among them were the Ehrentempels, a pair of classical-style temples located on the Nazi ceremonial plaza in Munich. They were built to enshrine the remains of the Nazi martyrs killed in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 9, 1923, part of the extraordinary secular religious faith of Nazism. Material like this makes Bevan well worth reading despite the flaws.
Most of the flaws in The Destruction of Memory appear to follow from the author’s reliance on skewed and biased sources. Bevan relies heavily on news accounts. Students of nationalism are all too aware of the rarity not only of objective reporting in areas experiencing ethnic conflict, but of the difficulty of verifying even the most basic facts. Bevan appears unaware of how easily even competent reporters for reputable newspapers can be misled on the hotly contested terrain of ethnic conflict. And, errors of fact aside, there are errors of omission that occur because covering the destruction of architecture in countries with a free press is simple, and criticizing nations with a boisterous and self-critical press, even easier. India comes in for harsh criticism for the destruction of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya, an incident widely covered and condemned in the Western press and in India’s own easily accessed English-language press. The anti Muslim mob destroyed the Babri mosque in a context in which millions of Muslims participate in Indian society with full civil rights. The ethnic cleansing of Pakistan’s Hindus, by contrast, has been continuous since 1948 so that the Hindu population of Pakistan, thought to have been between 15 and 24 percent in 1947, is now below 2 percent. The last remaining Temple in Lahore was destroyed last year. Systematic destruction of Hindu sites in Pakistan is ignored by Bevan, who reserved his criticism for India.
The problem of sources is equally dramatic in the section on Israel, where the author’s reliance on extreme critics of Israel – both Jewish and Palestinian – leads him to repeat an extensive series of bad facts. For example he asserts that Jewish graves are “sacred” and “safeguarded from development” while Muslim graves are “often either destroyed or buried.” In fact, graves of every faith are moved with some frequency in rapidly developing Israel, always with respectful reburial – the Antiquities Authority has guidelines covering the moving of human remains from construction sites. The moving of graves – whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish - is inevitably accompanied by a political uproar. Bevan did not invent the canard he repeats, but he is guilty in this and numerous other instances, of lazily repeating highly partisan falsehoods that reflect his failure to use a balanced array of sources or to check facts.
If the great strength of this book is that Bevan has assembled a massive array of instances of the destruction of buildings and districts of peculiar resonance to the identities of peoples and nations, the great weakness lies in the almost complete lack of theory. The book leaves the strong impression that the author is innocent of even an awareness of the existence of theoretical constructs enabling the disciplined examination of such questions as the legitimacy of bombing of civilian targets in defensive war, or how to weigh the duty to refrain from shelling important cultural property against the use of that property as a bunker from which to launch missiles. Such ignorance might be forgiven had Bevan refrained from making moral or ethical judgments and merely catalogued incidents of destruction. Instead, the book is studded with moral judgments of the most sweeping and scattershot kind. In place of reasoned consideration of jus in bello, we are given simplistic pronouncements that this or that action is “illegal,” a claim that “the aerial bombers of … Hamburg” should have been “sent for trial,” and a complaint that “The Germans once again got the blame” for the destruction of the University Library of Leuven when they attacked in 1940.
Bevan’s habit of punctuating his text by pairing for equal condemnation two actions that are ethically distinguishable is an additional serious shortcoming. Bevan equates the failure of the U.S. invasion force to anticipate the need to protect Iraqi cultural resources, with the Mahdi Army’s cynical use of the Imam Ali shrine as an armed base immune to attack. The decay of Rome and its buildings after the serial sackings by Visigoths and Ostrogoths left the city depopulated is equated with the methodical Roman obliteration of Jewish Jerusalem in the year 70. The 1948 Arab bombing of civilians on Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda shopping street (with no warnings issued) is equated with the 1946 Jewish bombing of the British military headquarters (with an evacuation warning issued.)
In the hands of a political theorist like Michael Walzer, the material that Bevan has diligently gathered could have provided a compelling study of the place of architectural destruction in the ethics of war. In Bevan’s hands, it is an uneven and morally confused but endlessly fascinating tour remarkable and complex landscapes of architecture and imagination.
And yet the book is worth reading, because Bevan uses vivid narrative detail to bring to our attention the important insight that “the destruction of the cultural artifacts of an enemy people or nation” can be a kind of analog to genocide or ethnic cleansing. Bevan demands that attention be paid to “The active and often systematic destruction of particular building types or architectural traditions that happens in conflicts where the erasure of the memories, history and identity attached to architecture and place – enforced forgetting – is the goal itself. These buildings are not attacked because they are in the path of a military objective: to their destroyers they are the objective.”
SOURCE: H-Childhood ()
The ratification of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 represented "two revolutions," according to Patrick J. McGuinn, author of No Child Left Behind and the Transformation of Federal Education Policy, 1965-2005: the Republican embrace of education policy at the federal level, which they had historically opposed in favor of local control, and the acceptance by Democrats of national testing and accountability measures, which they had rejected since first implementing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965. How this once unimaginable turnabout transpired is the subject of McGuinn's meticulous account of the coming of NCLB and the accompanying paradigm shift in American education policy.
McGuinn frames his analysis by providing a useful synopsis of the only significant federal initiatives in primary and secondary education prior to 1965. Two events during the 1950s exposed the central conundrum of public education reform in the United States, namely, how to reconcile the often competing aims of equity and excellence. Brown v. the Board of Education (1954, 1956), however ineffectual, instituted a legal remedy to the historic failure to provide access for children of color to schools of acceptable quality across the nation. Four years later, in the wake of the Soviets' launching of Sputnik, the National Defense Education Act (1958) funded states to improve math, science, and foreign-language training to keep the United States competitive in the race for superiority in arms and technology. Even so, the total sum spent on education by the federal government by 1960 (less than $1 billion) was a drop in the bucket compared to what was spent at the end of the century (more than $22 billion).
A decade after the first Brown decision and on the heels of the Civil Rights Act (1964), Lyndon B. Johnson initiated a new era in education reform by orchestrating the swift passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Johnson's bill, approved just three months after it was introduced into Congress, was a patchwork of compromises but funneled money to the states to aid the nation's "educationally deprived"-- children whose families earned less than $2,000 a year. By erecting what McGuinn calls the "equity regime" of federal education policy, Johnson's intervention ensured the flow of federal dollars to needy school districts for nearly four decades to redress "what was increasingly seen as an educational crisis among poor and minority children" (p. 31). Though devoted to eradicating the racial and social injustices perpetuated by appallingly inadequate schooling, federal education policymaking under ESEA, observes McGuinn, was "closed and consensual … dominated by a few groups, with little public input, and bipartisan support for the limited ends and means of federal policy. As a result," he concludes, "efforts to substantially expand or reform the federal role during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were defeated" (p. 207).
In McGuinn's estimation ESEA contained two profound flaws: the first and most conspicuous was that it increased federal funding without any accountability for the performance of the schools that benefited from it. The second was that by targeting schools in the most hard-pressed districts but failing to support public schooling in general, ESEA undermined potential widespread support for a federal role in education policymaking. Collaterally, it inhibited further school reform by entrenching interest groups within the Democratic party, which in turn aroused a vituperative, intransigent response by Republicans for decades.
Between 1960 and 1985 total federal spending on education as a ratio of public school budgets grew from 8 to 16 percent and state spending climbed from 41 to 55 percent. Meanwhile, the local share of education expenditures plummeted from 51 to 31 percent. As a consequence of such redistributions and increasing federal regulation, says McGuinn, state educational agencies were regarded by the early 1980s as having been "colonized" by the federal government. ESEA, he argues, "had facilitated the centralization, bureaucratization, and judicialization of education policymaking…. [effectively demonstrating] … that the federal government needed to defend the worst off or most vulnerable [children] from local majorities or inequities in the larger state and local systems" (p. 39). Federal education policy was equated with inflexibility, regulation, and judicial meddling, even as student performance in all areas sank with no effort to gauge the academic progress of students receiving federal support. This, in turn, he says, "fueled the growing perception … that federal education policy … had become more about providing entitlements and protecting rights than about enhancing opportunity or demanding responsibility" (p. 39).
The release of A Nation at Risk (1983) soon after Ronald Reagan took office only confirmed the popular suspicion that public schools were failing not just America's disadvantaged but all of its children in spite of growing federal support. A Nation at Risk concluded dramatically that America's public schools were leaving the United States dangerously weak in the face of international economic competition and Soviet military might. Its authors, commissioned by Carter's Secretary of Education, Terrell Bell, asserted that while "education had been a state issue, the dire performance of American students had become a national problem" (p. 41).
Reagan had vowed to eliminate the federal role in education, abolish the Department of Education, expand school choice, support school vouchers and offer tuition-tax credits for private schooling. While none of his initiatives succeeded, he did succeed in drawing attention to the downward spiral of the nation's public schools and drew the battle lines between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats on the federal role in education until the end of the century. As education gained prominence in the national political arena, liberal Democrats and teachers unions in particular (which were the single largest campaign contributors to the Democratic Party) strenuously objected to school choice initiatives and accountability measures. The Republicans, similarly, were captive to religious and states' rights advocates, the donor base of the party which had for decades staunchly opposed federal influence on education, teachers unions, spending hikes, and the existence of the U.S. Department of Education.
George H.W. Bush continued Reagan's assault on teachers unions as an impediment to the improvement of public education. Like Reagan, he endorsed vouchers as a form of relief for children in impoverished school districts and brought increased attention to education as a national issue. Unlike Reagan and the Republican Right, however, Bush envisioned a federal role for school reform and just as important, he began a national conversation about standards and accountability. Yet as education rose on the national electoral agenda, because Republicans were viewed increasingly as a drag on necessary education reform rather than as a creative force for change, Bush paid politically.
Enter Bill Clinton, who ran as a political outsider--a "New Democrat"--who advocated more spending for public education, more federal responsibility for school reform as well as accountability measures. In effect, says McGuinn, he "triangulated" liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. By insisting on a "new policy regime built on using the federal government to promote school improvement and increased student achievement through choice, standards, assessments, accountability, and additional spending," he was able to attract the growing moderate and independent vote to defeat Bush in 1992 (p. 128). By 1996, as education became a top issue in the presidential election, the Republicans and Clinton's challenger, Bob Dole, were seen not merely as critics of the Democrats' education policies but generally as "anti-education."
The result, McGuinn shows, was a defeat that the Republican Party leadership would not soon forget. Post-election analysis demonstrated that the "gender gap" had decisively served Clinton's bid for reelection and that the women's vote had turned on education: 52 percent of women voters indicated that education was "extremely important" to them. To retake the presidency in the next election the Republicans would have to close that gap. To do so the Republican leadership concluded that it would have to change its image with female voters. In the words of Texas Governor George W. Bush, the party must begin to "put a compassionate face on a conservative philosophy … the message to women … is that we care about people." Clinton, Bush surmised, "stole the education issue and it affected the women's vote" (p. 129).
Two years after his reelection Clinton called for a reduction of class sizes by the hiring of 100,000 new teachers, new school construction, the funding of after-school programs in America's inner cities, and an end to "social promotion" (the promotion of students from grade to grade regardless of subject mastery). Throughout his presidency he wrestled with his party's liberal wing to try to impose national educational standards, testing, and accountability measures, all of which faltered. But significantly, at the end of his second term he concluded that "education investment without accountability can be a real waste of money," and that "accountability without investment can be a real waste of effort." His efforts to establish accountability measures were a notable failure at the national level but not at the state level, according to McGuinn, which, he points out, "helped build momentum for these reforms among educational reformers and the public at large" (p. 145).
By the time of the 2000 presidential election education assumed center stage as "the most important problem facing [the] … country today" (p. 149). The parties had converged on the role of the federal government in education, and according to House Education Committee staffer Alex Nock, accountability measures were no longer contested, as "'standards-based reform had been around at the national level for 7-8 years and at the state level for well over a decade'" (p. 145). After Bush's slim victory in the presidential election, one in which the two parties' education platforms were "remarkably similar," says McGuinn, No Child Left Behind, though not a fait accompli, enjoyed broad public support that ultimately ensured its passage. The result was a "new policy regime." Whereas the old one was premised exclusively on the need to promote equity and access for disadvantaged students, the new "accountability regime," in McGuinn's view, is "centered on the … goal of improving education for all students … and to do so by reducing federal influence over process and inputs while replacing it with increased accountability for school performance" (p. 194).
McGuinn is a political scientist by training, if not wholly by temperament. He is ardent in his belief that history's long perspective offers a vantage point on change that ordinarily eludes model-building theorists of American political culture. In No Child Left Behind he gives us a detailed and unusually compelling account of school reform discourse over the last fifty years. His second chapter offers what he calls an "integrative" solution to political science approaches that currently divide scholars of American politics into schools that explain how policy becomes vulnerable, or remains resistant, to change at any given time. The "stasis school" emphasizes the difficulty of change once a policy regime is established. It contains interest groups that work with politicians to maintain the status quo--a task made easier by the "generally inattentive nature of the American public" (p. 13). The "dynamic school" of policy change, on the other hand, puts greater stock in the sensitivity of elected officials to their constituencies. "Electoral competition ensures that existing policy approaches will be frequently challenged and that political leaders will seek public support for the creation of new policies or the reform of existing ones" (p. 15). McGuinn offers a third way: "one that synthesizes the insights of both the stasis and dynamic approaches and incorporates the institutional insights of political science with the ideational and group focus of sociology and the longer temporal reach of historians" (p. 15). Whether he succeeds at this I leave to policymakers and political scientists.
Does it succeed as history? Yes and, partly, no. It is essential reading both as a summary of school reform over the last half century and as a blow-by-blow narrative of the politics of education policy at the national level since 1965. His research is rich in survey data, and his interpretations are greatly amplified by the use of interviews with key political figures and behind-the-scenes players from the Reagan administration forward. In the end he concludes that because interest groups dictated the agendas of the Democrats and Republicans during the "equity regime," education policy was change-resistant for decades even while federal funding increased. But interest-group influence could only be sustained so long as education "had low public visibility … and when it played only a minor role in national politics" (p. 208). By 2000 an era of party parity coincided with the dawning conviction that America's public schools were "broken." In moments of heightened public concern, as in the case of the crisis in public schooling, he theorizes, interest groups have relatively less influence over policymaking as elected officials "became more interested in how the issue would help (or harm) them with voters than they are with satisfying the demands of their allied interest groups" (p. 207).
While this political "convergence" over education policy as McGuinn describes it, holds appeal for historians of school reform, more interesting to this historian is how Americans came to the realization that their public schools were "broken." As he notes when he quotes historian Carl Kaestle, schools have always had their critics, but sweeping reforms have only succeeded in the wake of a crisis of confidence when a consensus emerged that change was necessary (p. 21). And Americans were fast becoming aware that secondary schooling was the weak link in the American public school system as early as the 1950s.
A number of causes, some distal and others proximate, resulted in popular disillusionment with public secondary schooling during the latter half of the twentieth century. Recall, first, that until Brown v. the Board of Education schooling for African Americans (and Mexican Americans) didn't even enter into the consciousness of anyone who thought about the quality of American education. Absorbing students of color into the public school system after decades of neglect was a major challenge at all levels of education. High school as a mass institution, moreover, had only been realized two decades earlier, so the problems of "warehousing" indifferent students, social promotion, vocational training, and attempts to engage students in extracurricular activities were relatively unfamiliar to educators by the time the National Defense Education Act placed renewed stress on pedagogical "excellence" in areas of technical competence. And until about 1960 young males could still find steady, rewarding employment in industrial occupations that afforded a decent living over their lifetimes. After World War Two even as it was becoming desirable to have a high school diploma to work one's way up the occupational ladder in many realms of manual labor, by the 1960s the industrial sector of the U.S. economy was in severe decline. Until World War Two education was as much a "public good" as a "private good": by expanding higher education the G.I. Bill unleashed a credentials race that only intensified the focus on secondary schooling as preparation for entry into college and the promise of the stability and prestige of salaried employment. Thereafter, the relevance of individual grade attainment to upward social mobility was a critical factor in the scrutiny applied to the "performance" of America's schools. The traditional functions of public schools as moral educators and as molders of future citizens retreated in direct proportion to the expanding place of education as a platform for individual upward mobility.
Sputnik marked the moment when universal education throughout much of the world would mean increased economic competition for the United States after the brief respite of postwar prosperity. Later, the end of the Cold War, in its turn, brought globalization and more prosperity. But with the "peace dividend" came further comparisons between the performance of children in the United States in math and science with their peers across the globe and more worries about the long-term implications of inferior public school performance. (That the entry of the "baby boom echo" into America's schools coincided with the spike in the electorate's concern about the state of public schooling in 1990 is no accident; see fig. 10.1). In short, McGuinn has offered an invaluable book, but it is only one-half of the picture of the history of education policy. The other half resides in the reasons for Americans' ongoing confrontations with the shortcomings of a "system" of popular schooling that has been anything but systematic in its purpose and organization until its cracks were first exposed by Brown and Sputnik.
SOURCE: NYT Book Review ()
Gertrude Bell was precisely the kind of colonial administrator the Americans desperately needed in 2003. Fluent in Arabic and Persian, she had spent almost a decade before World War I crisscrossing the desert, making maps and gaining the trust of tribal leaders and kings. She knew the Mesopotamian region and its people so intimately that one prominent Iraqi sheik, asked about the geographical boundaries of his tribe, told his questioner to ask Bell.
The British government hired her soon after the First World War started, recognizing that she could help turn the Arabs against Ottoman Turkey, Germany’s ally. She did far more than that. After working in Cairo with T. E. Lawrence, whose vainglorious legend she never shared, Bell virtually created modern Iraq. She drafted its borders, corralled its reluctant tribal chiefs and trained Faisal (who had never been there) to be its first king. She came to be known as Umm al Mu’mineen, or Mother of the Faithful.
Georgina Howell, a British journalist, has produced a breathless, somewhat worshipful biography of Bell. It contains almost no mention of Iraq’s recent troubles, and relegates Bell’s work in Iraq to the last third of the book — a surprising decision, given the country’s prominence in her life (and in today’s headlines). This may be because other writers have focused heavily on Bell’s Baghdad years, most notably Janet Wallach in her excellent 1996 biography, “Desert Queen.”...
When it comes to Iraq, Howell accepts Bell’s own views too readily, both about herself and about the broader British imperial mission. At one point Howell refers in passing to “the peculiarly British notion of public service free of corruption” as if it were an unmixed gift to subject peoples.
Howell does not ask, for instance, whether Bell’s peremptory dismissal of religious leaders was wise (“How I do hate Islam!” she wrote in 1921). She favored the more secular Sunni Arabs and helped reinforce their domination over the more numerous Shiites. She argued strenuously against an independent Kurdistan. All these things could be said to have helped forge an inherently unstable polity, leading to bloodshed and war and Iraq’s present disintegration.
Still, Bell’s achievement as a nation builder was extraordinary, especially compared with the American example of the past few years. When she killed herself with sleeping pills in Baghdad in 1926, days before the inauguration of Faisal’s government, it was not because she had failed. Her work was done, the king no longer needed her and she had fallen into a deep depression. The monarchy she helped build lasted until 1958, longer than some of its creators ever expected.