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“AMERICAN HEROES. Probably most of the people in this book would have disclaimed or disdained the title,” the 93-year old Edmund Morgan writes at the start of this brief anthology of essays that span from 1937 to the present. I would add that probably most academic historians of the last century would disclaim or disdain the title in another sense: it has long been an article of faith in the profession that self-respecting scholars do not “do” heroes. Indeed, coming from anyone else, such a title would seem to broadcast a lack of intellectual seriousness. But no one could ever credibly make that charge of Morgan, the quintessential historian’s historian, author of the magisterial American Slavery, American Freedom (1975) and other landmark books. To read these essays is to be reminded not only of just how fertile and graceful a career Morgan has had, but to understand what he and the great historians of his generation accomplished.
To some extent, Morgan’s title is a bit misleading, because not all the pieces (most of which were published in limited-circulation journals) are celebratory, and even those figures Morgan does admire are contextualized with his customary sense of lightly worn wit and irony. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin are here, naturally. But so are people like Giles Cory and Mary Easty, two accused Salem witches whose fatal refusal to “admit” their crime affirmed the greatness of Puritanism in its darkest hour. This is new material, but the longtime Yale historian also has older pieces here on Anne Hutchinson (who he does not regard as heroic) and another on Puritan heiress Anna Keayne, which, along with a haunting essay on Native Americans, demonstrates that his interest in women and Indians dates back to the thirties and forties, as his unselfconscious use of the term “Asiatic” reminds us.
Perhaps the most prescient of these pieces is the 1959 essay “Dangerous Books,” in which Morgan takes note of the Cold War-era anxiety about American education but questions whether a better knowledge of history will actually make young Americans of the future any more pious than the Jacobin-leaning students of the maverick 18th century Yale president Ezra Stiles (subject of an admiring revisionist essay in comparison with his successor Timothy Dwight later in the book). “If necessity is the mother of invention, curiosity is surely the father of it, and invention is heresy by another name,” Morgan notes with typical grace, later adding that “I am not sure that the effect of wider knowledge will be what some of its advocates suppose.” Many of the next generation of New Left historians would no doubt nod in amusement.
Yet even as Morgan recognizes the power and value of a radical vision – most obvious in his treatment of William Penn – this book makes clear that in both form and content the hallmark of his work is moderation, discipline, restraint. What links the Franklins, Washingtons, Corys and Eastys of American history is at least as much a matter of what they won’t do as what they will. Conversely, the limitations of a figure like Christopher Columbus (topic of another new essay) is precisely a matter of what they allow themselves and others to do. Morgan understands the severity in the vision of John Winthrop (the subject of Morgan’s classic 1954 biography) and Michael Wigglesworth, but he honors their sense of self-aware struggle to do right as God gave them to see the right. He can be every bit as mocking of Cotton Mather as Mather’s contemporaries were; Morgan notes at one point that a girl accused of witchcraft who came to live with the Puritan divine recovered notably quickly “to escape the prayers of that pompous egotist.” But whether in gentle praise or cutting criticism, Morgan’s utter immersion in the world of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is so palpable as to be a gift to those who experience it through him.
The final piece in this collection is a 1964 tribute to the great Puritan historian Perry Miller, who mentored Morgan at Harvard before his death the previous year. Morgan’s debt to Miller is beyond doubt. But in reading this survey of Morgan’s work, one thinks less of Morgan’s influences than his exact contemporary Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) and the slightly older C Vann Woodward (1908-1999). These historians tilled different fields than Morgan. But all three of them wrote sturdy, gleaming prose that remains more readable than virtually any U.S. history produced since. If you studied the American Revolution in college in the last half-century, you’re probably familiar with Morgan’s little 1956 volume The Birth of the Republic, surely the finest book of its kind ever written for students and still widely in use. You probably read that one because your professor chose it. But you owe it to yourself to read American Heroes and remember the pure pleasure great history by a consummate artist affords.
I’m one of the people for whom Robert Sullivan wrote this book. Every year, the entire tenth grade of the school where I teach makes a somewhat misnamed “Boston trip” (we spend about as much time in Salem and Concord as we do Boston), part of which involves a pilgrimage to Walden Pond. As my students are sent by their English teachers to walk the perimeter and take notes about what they find there, I merrily instruct them to make sure they have their Transcendental moment before the bus is supposed to leave fifty minutes later. In conversation with them, I never fail to observe that Mr. Simplicity with his cabin in the woods would go home regularly to have his mother wash his laundry. Thoreau has always struck me as the quintessential environmentalist, the proverbial crusader who loves trees more than people (unless those people are frightening vigilantes like John Brown or utterly impractical tax resisters like Thoreau himself), and that I serve a bona fide pedagogical purpose with my insistent irreverence. Dear old Henry wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m not going to do that anymore –- or, at any rate, I’m not going to do it with quite as clear a conscience. As Sullivan points out, people like me (and I suspect he’s right in his suspicion that there are many) are smug about Thoreau’s smugness. “He worships nature, monk-like, while we carry on at home, ministering to the demands of the non-natural world,” Sullivan writes of our view of Thoreau. “He tends the pure garden of Mother Earth, while we trudge through fields of the mundane. There’s even an element of jealousy: while he gets to live in the cabin in the woods, we stay at home and go to work. We have to make a living.” We can’t afford to be like Thoreau, we tell ourselves; his thrift is actually a kind of extravagance.
Sullivan’s critique of this critique is two-fold. The first is in effect to accept many of the charges leveled at Thoreau and turn them on their head. To point out, for example, that Walden Pond, a short walk from a bustling village, was hardly an exotic wilderness, is not a fact that discredits Thoreau’s experiment but something that was very much the point of his desire for a truly integrated life. To call him out on his foolish inconsistencies is a little like calling a congregation of churchgoers a bunch of hypocrites. As for Thoreau living a life of extravagance, he literally welcomed the idea: ever the etymological maven, he cherished a notion of himself as an extra vagrant.
But the other half of Sullivan’s argument is to directly rebut the charge of Thoreau as a cranky loner. He was not. That we think so, Sullivan says, is as often as not a perception of his cranky contemporaries, most notably Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, much more likely to talk the talk than walk the walk of his own philosophy, conflated Thoreau’s iconoclasm with unsociability. We forget that the lifelong bachelor had a hand in raising Emerson’s own children (the sage of Concord loved the idea of family life when he was on tour more than when he was actually at home), and that Thoreau was as comfortable with farmers and mechanics as he was Boston Brahmins. And he was as comfortable refining the process by which he manufactured pencils for the family business as he was cataloging the fate of seeds.
Perhaps the most effective aspect of this defense of Thoreau is Sullivan’s careful attempt to situate Thoreau in the economic and political climate of the antebellum decades. We tend to forget, for example, that the long downturn that followed the Panic of 1837 made social experiments like Brook Farm and Thoreau’s own cabin less a matter of bohemian sentiment than a search for a fiscally viable way of life. Far from isolated from the shifting social tides of his time, this quintessential Yankee had protracted contact and often careful observations about the Irish immigrants who surged onto New England’s shores. And that when Thoreau took on big political issues like abolition in the 1850s, he did not as an abstract dreamer but as a sharp critic willing to point fingers close to home (one more reason why he may be remembered as an irascible rascal). Like many of his contemporaries, Thoreau protested the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which legalized the spread of slavery into new territory. But he was at least as angry about the indifference to the fate of the fugitive slave Anthony Burns in Boston as he was the future prospects of Kansas. As he noted of an anti-slavery meeting he describes in his famous address “Slavery in Massachusetts, “I had thought that the house was on fire, and not the prairie ... There is not one slave in Nebraska; there are perhaps a million slaves in Massachusetts.”
It’s important to note that Sullivan is hardly the first person to make these or other points in defense of Thoreau. But he does so with pithy –- yet tangy –- prose worthy of his subject. “To imagine Thoreau and his writing without considering the economy is a little like thinking about The Grapes of Wrath without considering the Great Depression,” he asserts. Sullivan distills the political vision of works like “Civil Disobedience” into a series of declarations: “Stick together! Join the club and pay the dues [well, maybe not all the dues], and don’t abandon the ship, even if you have to get arrested and thrown in the brig to save it, even if you feel undervalued ... Send the telegraph message but have something to say. Use text messaging, but for more than delivering the news that, as the narrator of Walden jokes, ‘Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.’”
Actually, such willful anachronisms go to the heart of what’s original and compelling here. Sullivan, himself a freelance writer (as well as the author of Thoreauvian books like Rats and The Meadowlands) is acutely aware that Thoreau was, too, and that this consciousness really can explain a lot. “A literary stunt is a thing that happens all the time today in publishing circles: a writer living in a particular way –- or partaking in a particular community or ritual or what have you -– in order to ultimately report on the event or place or people,” he writes of the circumstances that led to Walden. “It is an essentially artificial experiment undertaken with an interest in making money on publication or putting forward a not-so-artificial argument (optional) or, in some case, both.” A garden wasn’t the only place Thoreau made his living.
After finishing The Thoreau You Know I went looking for my annotated Modern Library of Thoreau’s writings from my college days, and was distressed that I couldn’t find it. So I had to browse him again fresh, online. And when I did, I remembered why it was that I’ve used Thoreau’s sentences as epigrams for two of my books. Like many of the Transcendentalists, his work is easy to mock as vague, even meaningless, from a distance, and yet it takes on a tensile vitality when you come up against it. He’ll never be on of my favorites (I’m one who finds Whitman’s embrace irresistible, as apparently did Thoreau.) But next time I’m at the pond, I’ll give Thoreau his due (which is likely as not to mean that I'll keep my mouth shut). I might even pick up some trash I find in the parking lot as I walk back to the bus.
Few who have seen the film Crossfire (RKO, 1947) can forget Robert Ryan’s terrifying portrayal of a homicidal ex-GI who coldly kills a Jew “just because he is a Jew.” Yet, in the sixty-two years since its release, the film has slipped into obscurity. Despite excellent box office receipts and nominations for five of that year’s Academy Awards, Crossfire was overshadowed by Elia Kazan’s Oscar-winning Gentleman’s Agreement, a far more genteel treatment of the same subject released later that year.
Crossfire’s disappearance from our collective radar screen is largely what this superb study by historian Jennifer E. Langdon is about. As Langdon makes clear, this vivid, and for the time shocking, cinematic exposé of anti-Semitism latent in American culture, deserves far more historical attention than it has gotten, as does RKO producer Adrian Scott, the primary creative force behind it,. The main reasons why it did not receive that attention were the political affiliations of its creators and the “un-American” perspective they wove into the film: Scott and Eddie Dmytryk, his director for the project, were Communists, two of the infamous Hollywood Ten, scriptwriters, directors and producers convicted, imprisoned and then blacklisted for “unfriendly” testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in the early days of McCarthyism.
Scott (who died in 1973 at the age of 61) had the ability (rare among Hollywood producers) to collaborate with directors and script writers (he was one himself) on distinctive and innovative projects. Among the works he produced with Dmytryk and his friend, writer John Paxton, were the noir classic Murder My Sweet (RKO 1945) and the anti-fascist revenge thriller Cornered (RKO 1945), both of which helped make RKO studios one of the main centers for the production of film noir as a distinctively American cinematic style. By the spring of 1947, when filming for Crossfire was done, Scott was a rising star at the studio and in the film world generally, a hands-on producer who could turn out critically acclaimed and popular films on tight schedules and low budgets.
Politically, Scott followed a trajectory typical during the Popular Front period (1934-1939), moving from New Deal liberalism into anti-fascist organizations in the late 1930s and from there into the Communist Party, considered by many progressives the political vanguard in the fight against fascism at home and abroad. Like most Communists of the Popular Front and war periods, during which the party stood firmly behind the New Deal, Scott adhered to an “abiding faith in the American democratic tradition.” “Scott may have been a Communist,” Langdon points out, “but he had great faith in the power of the liberal state to transform the lives of ordinary citizens.” His faith, however, did not lead him to be complacent about the United States, which he envisioned slipping under the tide of a resurgent fascism, as did many Party members after the war, when demobilization, economic uncertainty and right-wing backlash threatened FDR’s reforms. In some sense, their fears were justified. Scott was targeted by the FBI as early as 1943 when it raided Hollywood Party headquarters, netting membership lists for much of the film community. From that moment forward, Scott’s fate was more or less sealed.
Despite her desire to elevate Scott’s prominence in cinematic history, Langdon has not written a conventional biography. Instead she has woven a story of intrigue and betrayal, political drama and personal tragedy out of a detailed study of one person’s critical and creative contribution to a pivotal moment in American cultural history. In keeping with recent trends in cinema studies, Langdon explores complex relationships among the system of film production, audience reception and the larger culture context of which filmmaker, studio and audience were a part. At the heart is Langdon’s study of how Scott, Dmytryk, Paxton and the studio adapted Crossfire to the screen from The Brick Foxhole, Richard Brooks’ dark 1945 novel about homophobic violence in the military. Her analysis, a tour de force, reconstructs the artistic, business and political deliberations that went into the making of the film, including script revisions, intra-studio memos, test screenings, audience surveys, and the efforts by the American Jewish Committee to torpedo the film (for being inflammatory) and the Anti-Defamation League to keep it afloat.
Langdon clearly shows Scott’s “belief that rising anti-Semitism was a harbinger of fascism in America,” a secondary theme in Brooks’ novel, as the driving force behind the film. With the exception of Dore Schary, the executive overseeing the Crossfire project, and a few others, Hollywood was not sure it was ready for a full-blown exposé of the sort Scott conceived – certainly not one as violent and palpable as Crossfire turned out to be. Hollywood’s (and later HUAC’s) problem with the film’s “subversive potential” centered on the fact that it raised any troubling (and for anti-communists, “un-American”) questions at all about American bigotry, whether directed against Jews, gays or anyone else.
In general, as Langdon makes clear, Hollywood in 1947 had little interest in opening access to the silver screen for creative artists to address political and other controversies. So much was evident to Scott from his experience producing Cornered, which studio execs subjected to the worst kind of reshaping at all stages of its production. In fact, the studio, the Production Code Administration (Hollywood’s internal censorship board) and even the State Department shaped Hollywood’s output far more decisively than Communists (if they did at all) as a medium for political messages. “[A]s the case of Cornered makes quite clear,” Langdon writes, “artistic freedom was not exactly a top priority within the Hollywood studio system, and ultimately, it was the studio executives – and not Party functionaries like [Communist scriptwriter John Howard] Lawson (however doctrinaire or threatening he might have been) – who held the real power to enforce ‘political correctness’ in Hollywood filmmaking.”
Langdon’s study of the intricacies of Hollywood production reveals a daily drama of duplicity and betrayal ultimately leading to the final act at the HUAC hearings in the fall of 1947, when the demise of Scott and others was staged (abetted by execs like Schary) by New Jersey Congressman and right-wing extremist J. Parnell Thomas and the openly anti-Semitic racist from Mississippi, John E. Rankin. At that moment, she asserts, one “Americanism” triumphed over another, replacing the pluralistic and egalitarian “imagined community” of the New Deal and the Popular Front with the “older, xenophobic, anti-radical, antimodernist tradition” championed by Republican empire-builders and Dixiecrats through the 1950s. In this broader historical register, Langdon’s argument weakens, especially in the sketchy application of Benedict Anderson’s political anthropology. However, her detailed study of film production and politics is simply marvelous and well worth the read.
One additional note is needed about Langdon’s project. As a dissertation it received the American Historical Association’s Gutenberg Prize, leading to publication in book form by Columbia University press and to web publication at Gutenberg-e (http://www.gutenberg-e.org/Langdon). One can freely access the full text of the study along with digitized versions of several documents cited in the footnotes.
SOURCE: Providence Sunday Journal ()
Whether you have strong opinions about such cases or just wonder what all the fuss is about, Matthew Finkin and Robert Post’s book is important reading. Simply put, this is the best volume we have on academic freedom (far superior to the other recent entry in the field, Stanley Fish’s Save the World on Your Own Time, whose arguments, while often parallel to Finkin and Post’s, are marred by rhetorical excess—the title is just one example--and a peculiarly cramped vision of best practices in teaching).
Finkin and Post are both law professors (Finkin at Illinois, Post at Yale), but, as they say, they “address professional understandings of academic freedom, rather than the constitutional law of academic freedom.” This focus is entirely appropriate because—remarkably—those “professional understandings” have become so persuasive and pervasive that today virtually every college and university worthy of the name endorses them.
This development was far from inevitable, as Finkin and Post point out. At the end of the 19th century, when the idea of academic freedom arrived from Germany, professors were often seen by university trustees as just one more group of employees, subject to dismissal at will. Professor Edward Ross, for instance, found himself out on the street when his views on municipal ownership of streetcars and Chinese immigration irritated Stanford’s surviving Founder, Jane Stanford.
In response to such incidents, in 1915 a small group of scholars, including John Dewey, founded the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), complete with Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, which asserted that scholars are not employees like any other, but keepers of the public trust--like judges, for example—and so are not subject to arbitrary removal from office. “In essence,” Finkin and Post say, “academic freedom consists of the freedom to pursue the scholarly profession according to the standards of that profession” in research and publication, in the classroom, and in speech both on and off campus.
The scope and limits of such freedoms are not always self-evident, and the AAUP has clarified and qualified its stance on all of them. Today, its 1940 Statement and subsequent interpretations have been endorsed by about 200 scholarly organizations and higher education associations, so that institutional commitment to academic freedom, at least theoretically, and despite its contested meanings, has become virtually universal in this country.
The reason for such unanimity: this American version of academic freedom works—for scholars, for students, and, ultimately, “for the common good.” In research, teaching, and service, American universities are an American success story, and academic freedom is the oxygen in the air they breathe. Finkin and Post’s clearly written, carefully reasoned book is essential for understanding how and why this is so.
SOURCE: Special to HNN ()
Ryszard Kapuscinski, Travels With Herodotus. Translated by Klara Glowczewska (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
Justin Marozzi, The Way of Herodotus: Travels With the Man Who Invented History (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2008)
Herodotus is enjoying, or enduring, a great deal of attention these days, owing mostly to what The Historieshas to say about what Anthony Pagden has called “The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West.” More people than have read that book have seen 300, the simple-minded and extremely violent movie about the Battle of Thermopylae, which some have seen as an allegory and endorsement of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. Herodotus does speak to the historical present; he does tell the history of the Persian Wars, which were understood at that time as a struggle between a despotic eastern empire and independent western states. But his Histories, that is, his researches or inquiries, have far more to them than the cut and thrust of the actual battles; and these two books will remind Herodotean readers of that.
At the end of Book 1 ofThe Histories, the Persian King Cyrus has died in battle while trying to conquer the far-away Massagetae. He has been succeeded by his son Cambyses, who as Book 2 begins is about to undertake the invasion of Egypt. But rather than carry on with an account of this campaign, Herodotus digresses, and tells us all about Egypt – the Nile, the pyramids, the political history, religious practices, and other customs unlike those of the Greeks. He went there himself, and spoke with everyone who would speak with him. He was obviously very interested in the Egyptians. He doesn’t get back to Cambyses until Book 3; but in the meantime he has presented to his readers a very compelling contrast between two ways in which a person, or a people, might encounter another – conquest, or inquiry.
Herodotus is often called The Father of History, where history means inquiry; but it is as the world’s first travel writer that he has inspired Kapuscinski and Marozzi. Kapuscinski was a Polish journalist who died just before the English translation of this, his last book, was published. He began his career in the mid-fifties, when his editor sent him on his first international assignment after giving him a copy ofThe Histories, which had just appeared for the first time in a Polish translation. He then took the book wherever he went. Like Herodotus himself, Kapuscinski tells us of his travels without telling us any more than that about why he is undertaking them. We hear nothing of the journalism he must have done; but we see him reading The Histories in various places, and it is clear that his sensibility and perspective have been strongly informed by Herodotus. Marozzi is a young English journalist with an academic background in History and an active career in security consulting and strategic studies. He studied under Paul Cartledge at Cambridge (though he didn’t read Herodotus until later), and grabbed for his travels “the highly accessible – and portable – Penguin Classics edition of The Histories” (xi). But the Herodotean influence is very much the same, and very much in evidence.
At the time when Kapuscinski began his travels with Herodotus, the Cold War was the current struggle between East and West. The Histories had only just appeared in a Polish translation, because the communist authorities had only just permitted it to appear. The “Iron Curtain” that formed the border between eastern and western Europe is in some ways comparable to the Hellespont of Herodotus’ time; but historical inquiry always complicates such comparisons. Kapuscinski comes from the eastern side of the historic divide, and knows very little about the western; but for some reason he becomes interested in “crossing the border.” At first he wants only to go to Czechoslovakia, though even this is considered irregular. But then, a typically inexplicable decision is made to send him across all sorts of borders, to India.
Kapuscinski’s sense of the significance of “crossing borders” is obviously informed by his experience of Stalinism and post-Stalinism, and as obviously informs his understanding of Herodotus. Herodotus had come from Halicarnassus, a Greek city on the eastern side of the Aegean; he was a Persian subject but a very cosmopolitan one. As a Herodotean traveler, Kapuscinski crosses borders and finds not just the opposite side but the varieties of otherness. India was an unaligned nation during the Cold War and one that Herodotus may or may not have visited, though his inquiries did find both definite strangeness and indefinite spaces there. To get to India, Kapuscinski must first fly to Italy – he must go west to get to the east. He flies in an American-made plane, and meets an Italian journalist who has already crossed the border in the other direction – and who speaks both Polish and Italian. Kapuscinski speaks only Polish, rather as Herodotus was thought to have known only Greek. But where Herodotus seems to have found Greek speakers wherever he went, Kapuscinski finds that he needs to learn English, since English was then, as Greek had once been, the language that crossed the most borders. Language, then, complicates Kapuscinski’s travels in a way that it did not Herodotus’ Histories. “Language struck me,” Kapuscinski writes, “as something material, something with a physical dimension, a wall rising up in the middle of the road and preventing my going further, closing off the world, making it unattainable” (20). Having been thus struck by language, and having begun to learn English alongside his inquiries, he finds that “I approached India not through images, sounds, and smells, but through words.” He “noticed, too, the relationship between naming and being” which gave him the words for the images, sounds, and smells. He “understood, in short, that the more words I knew, the richer, fuller, and more variegated would be the world that opened before me, and which I could capture” (21). Having said that, though, Kapuscinski carries on with his travel writing, in which he is well served by his English translator. For Marozzi, the crossing of borders and translation of languages do not figure or signify as they do for Kapuscinski; but if Kapuscinski’s travels are more linguistically complicated, Marozzi’s are more inquisitively implicated.
Marozzi introduces his travels with the man who invented History with an introduction to his reading of The Histories. That reading begins, as so many others have done, with the Prologue in which Herodotus of Halicarnassus tells us what he is going to do and why. Though Marozzi does not do an academic reading, his academic background is evident in his discussion of Herodotean historiography; and though his reading is less earnest than Kapuscinski’s, it is also more purposeful. Kapuscinski reads Herodotus’ Prologue only on page 74 of his Travels, and then only as a respite from his reportage. Marozzi’s angle takes in the beginning of History; Kapuscinski’s the end of memory. Both readings are generally, but not simply, consistent with the current understanding of Herodotus as the historian of the struggle between freedom and despotism. Marozzi’s actual travels begin in Bodrum, the city in Turkey that was once Halicarnassus, and in which he does not merely inquire like Herodotus but inquires after him. The modern borders between Turkey and Greece in some ways line up with the ones that existed in antiquity, but in other ways have been very much reconfigured by history. Marozzi’s Herodotean inquiries find that the father of history has been pretty much forgotten in Bodrum. One person he speaks to, who regrets that no one is interested in Herodotus anymore, also insists that he wasn’t a Greek but rather a Carian. Marozzi corrects that misapprehension for his readers, much as Herodotus does when he says that he reports what people tell him, but doesn’t always believe it. And as Herodotus no doubt had to look hard for people who could tell him what he wanted to know, and had to make inquiries that got below the surfaces of the places he visited, so Marozzi finds a museum director who is superintending an excavation of an ancient sunken ship; and this leads to inquiries which Herodotus obviously couldn’t have made for himself, but which would have as obviously interested him very much.
Marozzi also makes his Herodotean way to Iraq, where at the surface of the ancient history a war is going on. As always, history is being both made and destroyed; the people who are living it are typically ignorant of it. But, as always, critical inquiry can discern and discover much. “All the elements of the war in Iraq carried an unmistakably Herodotean echo,” Marozzi writes: “they sounded the enduring themes of empire, imperial over-reach, the sensible limits of power, cultural confrontation and the clash of civilizations, democracy versus dictatorship, West versus East, religion, greed, hubris and its consequences” (71). In one of many close readings of apposite episodes, Marozzi tells of the wise advice the Persian King Xerxes received from his uncle Artabanus, when Xerxes was determined to invade and conquer Greece. Artabanus reminds him of his father Darius’ failed invasion of Scythia, and of what God thinks and does about those who exhibit hubris. Xerxes, in the end, doesn’t take the wise advice, and the rest, as they say, is history, with its inevitable application to Bush Administration policy. Marozzi goes on to consider just what history has to say about such events and developments. We hear from academic historians and active-duty servicemen who tell us what is going on and what it means. We catch up with King Cambyses, who, having invaded and taken over Egypt, behaves so outrageously that Herodotus concludes he must be mad. Marozzi concludes that “Herodotus’ message is even more timely and relevant today than it was two-and-a-half millennia ago. But it goes unheeded, as it always has and as it always will, because history teaches us that we do not learn from history” (95).
Marozzi undertakes his travels with Herodotus precisely so that he can write this timely book; Kapuscinski only happened to have Herodotus with him as he undertook journalistic work that he would have done even without him, and his book reads more as a memoir of a long career. Marozzi travels where Herodotus had traveled, to see what could be seen and say what could be said about those places early in the 21st century; to inquire like Herodotus and to find Herodotus in his inquiries. Kapuscinski traveled where Herodotus had not – not only to India but also to Africa – and brought Herodotus along to read in his free time. Though the Herodotean influence is much in evidence, it is also more incidental and impressionistic. And though both authors note that, for all his interesting inquiries, we know very little about Herodotus himself, both also admit that they came to consider Herodotus himself, and not just his Histories, as their traveling companion.
SOURCE: Special to HNN ()
The Haynes/Klehr/Vassiliev (hereafter Haynes) volume contains a great deal of highly valuable scholarship within a massive tome consisting of over 40 pages of prefatory matter, 550 pages of main text and 90 pages of footnotes. Despite raising massive and extremely troubling methodological, historiographical and, sometimes, judgmental questions, it is unquestionably a major contribution. In general, this reviewer finds it convincing, and certainly a book which anyone interested in the post-World War II Red Scare cannot ignore.
Some disclosure is required here: I have a very slight acquaintance with co-author Harvey Klehr, who recently did me a great kindness by loaning me some research materials, even though he surely knew that my political views and scholarship are probably often at odds with his. I also have a very modest, but less slight, acquaintanceship with Ellen Schrecker, perhaps the most prominent historian of the post-World War II Red Scare, with whom Klehr and Haynes have been involved in a sort of academic cold war for many years. In an earlier joint book, Early Cold War Spies (Cambridge University Press, 2006), which in general I find quite reliable, Klehr and Haynes let their ideological bias and personal pique explode--rather than “peak” through--when (on page 22) they ridiculously declared that Schrecker’s leading study Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, Princeton University Press, 1999, was a “broad academic denunciation of any form of opposition to communism,” which are all “conflate[d]” with “McCarthyism.” My own published views and interpretations are sometimes “conflated” with Schrecker’s and are unquestionably far closer to hers than those of Haynes and Klehr, who have written about half-dozen studies of Russian espionage in pre-Cold War America and are certainly the pre-eminent authorities on the subject.
The Haynes volume ultimately amounts to an extended version of “naming names,” with its primary source the second hand account of a former KGB agent (co-author Vassiliev) of his admittedly limited, selected, exclusive and purchased access to alleged KGB records, which were never viewed by his co-authors and are not available to other scholars. On the basis of this second-hand account of access to alleged documents created by the KGB, an organization controlled by the duplicitous, paranoid, murderous Stalinist regime that is the primary target of the well-deserved opprobrium of conservative defenders of American cold war policy and at least some aspects of the post-World War II Red Scare, scores of Americans are effectively “tried” and “convicted” of espionage by the authors, without any possibility of responding to the alleged evidence against them or of cross-examining their generally nameless accusers, especially because in almost all cases everyone involved is dead.
Haynes and Klehr report that they have carefully cross-checked the Vassiliev material against other records (notably the famous “Venona” intercepts of Russian intelligence communications during the 1940s) and they have made the Vassiliev notes available to other scholars. In general I find that this book has an aura of verisimilitude about it and, with some screaming exceptions, I find the authors’ judgments reasonable. Thus, they quite reasonably conclude, for example, on the basis of the Vassiliev material along with the Venona documents, that both Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg were unquestionably espionage agents (Rosenberg’s co-defendant Morton Sobell confessed in 2008 that he and Rosenberg were indeed Soviet agents after years of denying it), while J. Robert Oppenheimer was not, despite numerous attempts by the KGB to recruit him. However, in a few cases they have wildly or irresponsibly leapt without adequate evidence or looking.
Readers should probably verify, but not necessarily trust. Although I found most parts of it believable, I had to continually hold my nose while reading the Haynes book. Espionage is, needless to say, a rather serious charge to level against someone, and to level it against dead people who obviously cannot defend themselves, on the basis of evidence which is usually from nameless people who cannot therefore be questioned even in the unlikely prospect that they are not dead themselves, is very troublesome. It’s even more troublesome because, even if one assumes that the Vassiliev notes --- which are by far the major basis for the Haynes book ---- accurately reflect the KGB records that he was given selective access to, they are not available for independent examination and the records themselves, like so much FBI material, could well be a mix of accurate information, half-truths and utter fantasy, especially since Stalin’s police state practically required KGB agents to report spectacular achievements if they wanted to save their jobs and perhaps even their lives.
Moreover, in the vast majority of instances the alleged KGB records allegedly accessed by Vassiliev (I keep using alleged because even though I believe he did access KGB records, who knows for sure?) refer to alleged American espionage agents by code names and deciphering their real identities is ultimately at the heart of the Haynes book. As already indicated, I think Haynes and Klehr are generally reputable and responsible scholars. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that some of their book is simply far too confident and cocksure, given the chaotic and often stupid nature of KGB activities and records as reported by Vassiliev. Aside from the repeated use of bad detective story/juvenile passwords and exchanges by which KGB and American espionage agents supposedly identified themselves to each other, in case after case the Haynes authors conclude that the same alleged American espionage agent was identified by different cover names and that the same cover names were used for more than one agent. In some instances they report that neither they nor the FBI could determine who the coded names referred to, while in others they declare that the FBI (in its Venona materials) misidentified the cover names while they have got them right or that they have identified the “real” persons although the FBI could not. Just to further confuse things, in many cases the Haynes authors report that the targets of failed KGB recruitment efforts (including Oppenheimer, Walter Lippmann and Ernest Hemmingway) were nonetheless assigned cover names and that individual KGB agents (and who knows who the sources for most of the Vassiliev reports were?) fabricated at least one alleged American agent.
According to my count (and to the authors’ credit, they provide plenty of evidence that can be used against them), in about three dozen cases the same alleged American espionage agent was given, at one time or another, more than one cover name, while in a dozen instances the same cover name was used, at one time or another, for more than one agent. Thus, the Haynes authors recount that cover names “Mary” and “Jack” were each used for three different agents, that Lippmann and Oppenheimer were assigned the same cover names as actual agents, and that Hiss and admitted spy Klaus Fuchs were each assigned at least three different cover names. Thus, Hiss was reportedly designated as “Jurist,” “Ales,” and “Leonard,” while “Jurist” was also used (along with “Richard” and “Reed”) for Harry Dexter White, even though Hiss and White are identified as Soviet agents operating during roughly the same periods--and both “Richard” and “Reed” are also reported to have been used for yet other agents!
If, despite all of these instances that are likely to make careful readers (and very careful reading is required here!) somewhat dubious of the self-certain undertone of the Haynes authors, in some cases their judgment seems highly doubtful or even outrageously irresponsible. Thus severe doubts have been raised in other early reviews of this book about the extremely thin evidence used to “convict” famed journalist I. F. Stone of espionage, which seems to be the only instance in which the Haynes judgments have thus far been subjected to searching scrutiny (the Stone material also appears in the May, 2009 issue of Commentary under the title “I. F. Stone, Soviet Agent--Case Closed” but is severely criticized as thin to non-existent in the June 5 American Prospect and the May 25 and June 22 issues of The Nation).
Moreover, there are several instances in which people are named or smeared based on fleeting references in one alleged KGB document reported by Vassiliev, or even on the basis of nothing whatsoever. I have chosen not to repeat the specific names in most such instances (such as the completely irrelevant--regarding possible espionage--passage in which the wife of a named prominent American general is reported to have cheated “with gusto” on her husband). But, to give one egregious example: in the same chapter which “convicts” Stone, entitled “The Journalist Spies,” it is clearly suggested, if not quite stated, that the deceased left-wing journalist George Seldes, the longtime editor of the independent newsletter “In Fact,” was an espionage agent, yet absolutely no evidence or examples of any kind are produced to support this.
One of the more bizarre targets of Soviet espionage reported on by Haynes involves massive spying on the American Socialist Workers (“Trotskyist”) Party (SWP). The authors report (pp. 480-81):
“By 1942, the American Trotskyist movement, never a significant force, was in dire straights. . . . [It] never amounted to more than a few thousand members, had minimal financial resources, and had only a minor role in the trade union movement. Yet even where the KBG lacked enough officers to service valuable political and technical spies, it dispatched additional personnel to America to recruit and supervise sources and agents aimed at this weak threat. It devoted considerable resources to neutralizing and destroying it, sending in infiltrators to report on its activities, steal its documents, coerce its members, and harass its activists.”
This all seems true, and truly bizarre, but it also seems bizarre that the Haynes authors fail to point out that the FBI was engaged in the same activities against the SWP, which appeared to increase even as the group faded into total obscurity during the 1950s, eventually leading to a widely publicized lawsuit won by the SWP in 1986 in which the FBI conceded that, over the years, it had infiltrated the SWP with 1,300 informers, including 40 who held SWP offices, and burglarized SWP offices on almost 200 occasions.
In the end, what is the significance of the Haynes book? Clearly they establish that the American federal government was infiltrated by a large number of espionage agents controlled by the KGB during the pre-Cold War period, the vast majority of whom were American Communist Party members or intense sympathizers (on the other hand, well over 99% of CP members had no involvement in or knowledge of espionage activities, and the vast majority were not the mindless Russian-controlled automatons as so often portrayed--as they demonstrated by quitting the Party in droves out of boredom, disgust at the Party’s ideological dogmatism, revulsion at revelations about the Stalinist dictatorship, lack of time for the CP’s incessant demands or well-founded fears about American government repression of dissidents).
But there is nothing really fundamentally new about the revelations in the Haynes book or other recent publications on similar topics, since by 1950 anyone reading the newspapers knew plenty about widespread Russian espionage in the U.S. (due to the massively-publicized confessions and/or convictions of Elizabeth Bentley, Whittaker Chambers, Klaus Fuchs, Nathan Silvermaster, Henry Wadleigh, Harry Gold, David and Ruth Greenglass, and Igor Gouzenko, plus the case of Judith Coplon and others who have faded into history). Haynes and Klehr were nonetheless accurate in suggesting in their Early Cold War Spies book that, to a considerable extent, these early pre-WWII revelations became effectively “forgotten” due to the scholarly focus on the excesses of the post-World War II Red Scare during the four decades or so after 1955. Certainly the Haynes authors (and others), in this and earlier books, have filled in many blanks and connected many dots, and probably the Yale University Press release accompanying the publication of Spies is correct in claiming that the new book “provides the most complete account yet written of Soviet espionage in America in the 1930s and ‘40s.” But I’m still holding my nose.