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Historians, War, Responsibility debated at the AHA Business Meeting (Account by Inside Higher Ed)

Sometimes it’s not just what you are against, but how you are against it. On Saturday, every member who spoke at the business meeting of the American Historical Association expressed opposition to the war in Iraq and support for free speech.

But there was fairly intense debate on how to express those ideals. In the end, the association’s members at its business meeting backed a resolution calling on members to “do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.” Supporters said that the war is a national crisis that calls for a response from historians, but critics said that the association was risking its political stock by taking a stance that could appear to be dictating what professors should think about a controversial issue.

In an unusual move, however, the AHA’s Council, which reviews and typically accepts resolutions passed by the members, on Sunday ordered an e-mail vote of all members on the topic.....

In an interview Sunday, Arnita R. Jones, executive director of the AHA, said that there were two reasons the Council voted to accept the resolution conditional on a ratification vote by the full membership. One is that the anti-war resolution was not submitted early enough to be published in the AHA’s newsletter, so it was unclear whether all interested parties were aware of it. In addition, she said that the Council noted the “intrinsic importance” of the issue.

Jones said that in the seven years in which she has been executive director, the AHA Council has never previously sent a resolution to the full membership (which tops 14,000) for a vote in this way. She said that the Council was not motivated by a desire to block the resolution, and that she expected the resolution to be passed.

Applebaum, of Historians Against the War, said via e-mail Sunday that while his preference would have been for the Council to just approve the resolution and to take “a lead role,” he understood “why they opted for this additional step,” which he said could be useful.

“This resolution is important. It is a matter that should engage all members of our profession. The paper ballot will allow each and all to clarify the moral and ethical obligations of membership in the American Historical Association,” he said. “The notion that we can and should speak with a social voice — as other professions within and beyond the borders of the United States of America — is one that is worthwhile as well as important.”

Other leaders of Historians Against the War were more critical of the Council’s action. Marvin E. Gettleman, a professor emeritus of history at Brooklyn Polytechnic University, said that members of the group were discussing what to do, but that many were returning home from the meeting Sunday and were just learning what had happened. He said that he personally was disappointed and considered the Council’s action to be “anti-democratic.” He also noted that AHA leaders who were present when the resolution was discussed at the business meeting didn’t mention the possibility of sending the measure to the full membership.

Jones said that there was no timetable for the membership vote.

[This article also discusses other resolutions debated at the Business Meeting including one introduced by David Beito and Ralph Luker regarding speech codes.]

Read entire article at Scott Jaschik at the website of Inside Higher Ed