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Historians Against the War Petition the Organization of American Historians (OAH)

The people behind the organization, Historians Against the War (HAW), are celebrating tonight. This afternoon the executive board of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) decided to establish a committee to investigate reports of repression involving historians. The OAH is holding its annual meeting in Boston.

The news was announced by HAW member Jesse Lemisch, a well-known Sixties radical, at a meeting sponsored by the OAH this evening to honor radical historian Howard Zinn. The meeting was held in the Old South Meeting House, where the Boston Tea Party was planned.

David Montgomery, past president of the OAH and a member of HAW, will head up the committee. The American Historical Association (AHA) will be asked to participate.

The OAH acted in response to a petition, now public for the first time, filed by HAW in February (see below). The petition urged the OAH "to investigate reports of repressive measures having an impact on historians' teaching, research, employment, and freedom of expression." The petition listed eight examples of repression, including the "flagging and rejection of grants in areas deemed politically sensitive" and the "surveillance of library use."

HAW has significant support among American historians. Last year the OAH executive board approved a resolution sponsored by HAW in support of the right of dissent. A similar resolution was approved in January by the Council of the American Historical Association. (See below.) A HAW petition opposing preemptive wars has garnered a thousand signers. Today the petition was signed by Eric Foner, past president of the OAH, and James Horton, incoming president of the OAH. The petition reads:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration's conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources. Believing that both the Iraqi people and the American people have the right to determine their own political and economic futures (with appropriate outside assistance), we call for the restoration of cherished freedoms in the United States and for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

HAW was founded in January 2003 to oppose the plan to invade Iraq. The organization held teach-ins across the country and demonstrated in anti-war rallies. After the war began in March 2003 HAW remained active. The group opposed alleged acts of American imperialism and rallied in support of the First Amendment. In July HAW campaigned for the" creation of an international provisional administration in Iraq, an immediate transfer of power from the occupation forces, expeditious withdrawal of US troops, and international action to guarantee democratic political and administrative control of Iraq by the peoples of Iraq."

HAW Petition

To: OAH Executive Board

From: Historians against the War

February 16, 2004

Both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association have taken cognizance of threats to freedom of speech, historical inquiry, and access to public records, which have materialized since the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . Both organizations have resolved to uphold those rights by unanimous votes at their respective business meetings and approval by the OAH Board and the AHA Council. Historians Against the War urges the OAH Executive Board to implement the Organization's resolution by establishing an ad hoc committee of historians to investigate reports of repressive measures having an impact on historians' teaching, research, employment, and freedom of expression.

Although the proposed ad hoc committee could not be expected to adjudicate specific academic freedom cases, it could and should collect and verify reports of actions by the government, officials of schools, colleges and universities, and self-designated groups dedicated to political surveillance, and report its findings periodically in the OAH Newsletter and in any other form the Executive Board deems appropriate.

We also urge the Executive Board to explore the possibility of joint action with the AHA and the sharing of information with other organizations concerned about freedom of expression.

Among the reported developments which have alarmed historians and which illustrate, but unfortunately do not exhaust, the matters into which the ad hoc committee might choose to inquire are the following:

Restrictions of research and surveillance of library use under the USAPATRIOT Act, the repeal of which has been advocated by a growing number of faculty senates

Reports of teachers, especially in high schools and community colleges, reprimanded or confronted with suspension or non-renewal for allowing students in their classrooms to express opposition to the occupation of Iraq

Reports of politicization of the grant process at the National Endowment for the Humanities, with flagging and rejection of grants in areas deemed politically sensitive

Exclusion, harassment, and demeaning treatment of foreign-born historians and students by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the State Department

Restriction of historians' access to government records, and new limits to enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act

Systematic denunciation of historians who have criticized government policy by Campus Watch, No Indoctrination, Students for Academic Freedom, and other groups

Hostile government scrutiny of foreign language and area studies programs and legislation, passed by the House, to establish an advisory board to review the curricula and faculty views in such programs as receive federal funds

Dismissals and refusals to employ faculty members allegedly on the basis of their views on foreign policy (Charges found plausible could be referred to the AAUP.)

This list is not intended to provide an agenda for the ad hoc committee, but rather to indicate some of the reported developments that prompted the OAH and the AHA to adopted their resolutions.

Sincerely yours,

David Montgomery Alan Dawley Jesse Lemisch


Resolutions of the OAH and the AHA

At the 2003 convention the OAH Executive Board approved this resolution, which was subsequently adopted at the business meeting:

In view of the threat to free speech in the current climate, the Organization of American Historians affirms the centrality of dissent in American history, the sanctity of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, and the necessity of open debate of public policy issues, including United States foreign policy, in order to maintain the health of this democracy.

The American Historical Association at its January 2004 convention adopted a similar resolution, though one that focused more sharply on the work of historians. The Council subsequently approved it:

In view of current efforts to restrict free speech in the name of national security, the American Historical Association affirms the sanctity of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the decisive importance of unfettered discussion in the pursuit of historical knowledge, the necessity for open debate of United States foreign policy and other public issues in order to safeguard the health of democracy and of our profession, and the need for open access to government records and archives.