Column: Official History





Mr. Carpenter is working on a book about American demagoguery. He is a columnist for HNN.

In two speeches on September 17 Mr. Bush announced his administration's determination to strengthen purportedly, the teaching of American history in elementary, secondary, and higher educational institutions. He did not hide the underlying reason for this call to educational arms, saying right up front that "our children ... are seeing Americans fight for our country," thus "they also must know why their country is worth fighting for."

Aside from the questionable implication that America is already engaged in a hot war for survival, no one could find reasonable doubt that it's a nice thing to have historically informed citizens. The problem with the president's trumpeted educational initiatives--such as an upcoming White House forum to discuss federal "policies" for teaching history--is that the past in the hands of politicians quickly sours into self-serving propaganda. It is no coincidence, obviously, that W's professed love of history has transubstantiated from academic apathy only in the midst of the greatest propagandistic shell game ever mounted by a presidential administration. Somewhere in all those (carefully chosen) history books on Karl Rove's and Lynne Cheney's shelves are imprimaturs aplenty for military incursion in the absence of a national security threat.

Conscripting history into the forces of nationalist propaganda is nothing new in America, of course. The revolutionary founding fathers were no strangers to spinning English parliamentary history; Republicans and Democrats of the early 1860s interpreted differently the historical meaning of virtuous Americanism; William McKinley literally couldn't find the Philippine Islands on the Oval Office globe but readily discerned America's historic mission to conquer them; the nation's only historian-president, Woodrow Wilson, more than passively permitted history's manipulation during the Great War; and so on, and so on. Yet past sins committed against historical probity don't excuse current ones, any more than murderers are excused because murder is nothing new under the sun.

In his prepared remarks the president unintentionally revealed the danger and downright silliness of promoting anything akin to official history in an open society, something he pledged to do "at the federal level." (Resolved: we may now dismiss the once-uncompromising conservative principle that centralized government is naturally oppressive and always wrongheaded--at least when it comes to citizen-reeducation.) Suggesting that he knew better, for example, W disclosed with all due grief that "28 percent of eighth graders do not know the reason why the Civil War was fought."

I've got news for you, Mr. President. Professional historians do not know The Reason why the Civil War was fought. While for decades the overarching issue had been slavery and its expansion into Western territories, dedicated abolitionists were but a minority--and a statistically insignificant one at that. Just one thing is for sure: the events of April 1861 did not erupt because of Abraham Lincoln's determination to abolish the vile institution. That came nearly 2 years later, and only after the decision was politically safe. Is this the "real history" W has in mind? That's doubtful, if for no other reason because it lacks the "moral clarity" he's so fond of. While deference to vague notions of national morality often dictates political rhetoric, in the exploration of history, more often than not, it's a reality-killer.

Mr. Bush also mused that our children should know about, as he put it with authority, "the nearly impossible victory of the Revolutionary War." One doubts that the presidentially ordained version would include colonists' resolute commitment to guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics in breaking the back of the world's greatest military power, which, in retrospect, severely mitigated the near impossibility of an upstart-American victory. Two-hundred years later in Southeast Asia we relived that lesson in reverse, but that probably should be left unsaid in State-approved textbooks as well. It does so muddle things, don't you know. And, of course, the president wants "our children to know about America's liberation of Europe during World War II." With independent perseverance they may also discover the Russians, among others, had a little something to do with crushing Nazism. But once again moral clarity would be threatened by official acknowledgement. Communism was, in all cases and at all times, immoral and evil, thus its war efforts could not have matched ours.

Some of the president's other historical insights were just as profoundly disturbed, and disturbing--sheer Orwellian oddities he would like the federal government to sponsor in a classroom near you. For instance, America has earned enemies only "because there are people in the world that hate the fact that we love freedom." It's that simple. Forget past imperialist ventures; forget the not infrequent support of corrupt and dictatorial regimes; forget the sanctioning of egregious maldistribution of Third-World wealth for the benefit of U.S.-based corporations. A lot of folks out there simply don't like us because we love freedom. Now there's something any eighth-grade Johnnie can understand. And oh, what a beautiful understanding when called into jingoistic service by the president because a foreign cutthroat who hates freedom once "tried to kill my dad." On the eve of invasion we finally hear the administration's authentic historical justification.

Honest history may not be pretty, but top-down propagandistic history for the sake of feel-good nationalism and chest-pounding militarism is even uglier. Allow this administration--any administration, for that matter--to define the debate over appropriate classroom history and the profession will degenerate as rapidly as stem cell research. Self-respecting academics should treat the White House's history "policy" forum like the furtive dog of an idea it is.



© Copyright 2002 P. M. Carpenter

Mr. Carpenter's column is published weekly by History News Network and buzzflash.com.


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Steve Zakaluk - 12/21/2002

Is "Jim Boisi", James Orlando Boisi ?


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Bill Heuisler - 10/6/2002

Mr. Catsam, Please explain how non-Marxist historians "benefited a great deal" from exposure to the dialectic of zero-sum-envy where individual is burnt-offering, government is god and God is deceased. Too simplistic? Okay. But, as you say, it's difficult to separate Marxism from Marxist. Why waste time? Why cull maggots from the rotted flesh of Frankenstein?
Bill Heuisler


Derek Catsam - 10/6/2002

It might be worth pointing out, from an historiographical vantage point, that Marxist historiography is not the same as Marxism, and that embracing the tenets of Marxist historiography does not necessarily make one a Marxist either. They are different things. Obviously there is a great deal of overlap between the two, and much of it either way is piffle, but a great number of non Marxist (in either manifestation) historians have benefited a great deal from some of the ideas of dialectical materialism that marxist scholars have introduced.


Bill Heuisler - 10/4/2002

Mr. Puglisi,
On October 2, 2002 you wrote, "I follow the Marxist school of thought on history most of the time...I have a BA ...and MA in Labor and Radical history...".
You argue from a Marxist viewpoint, chose a Marxist education and brought up Marxism in your first defense of Carpenter.
Today you deny being a Marxist and object strongly to discussion of Marxism. Milton described your unfortunate situation, "With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout, confusion worse confounded.
Bill Heuisler


Alec Lloyd - 10/4/2002

Mr. Puglisi, I assure you that I don’t consider your pockets blood-stained. Indeed, I commend you on your entreprenurial spirit.

My point was that a Marxist WOULD consider your pockets blood-stained (from your exploited workers) and denounce you for keeping more than you “need.”

As I am not a Marxist, I don’t think so. That is, incidentally, why I don’t set a great deal of store by what Marxist historians have to say. Anyone who thinks a job-creator is “oppressing” his workers has a compromised world-view.


Paul Puglisi - 10/4/2002

Mr. Lloyd, now I know you don't read my or anyone else's post. I never said and I even reiterated that I am not a marxist. Never said I was a marist. You have labeled me a marxist.
As for my business practices. My employees are well off. They own what they own. And likeI said you don't read to closely. I said some of my profits. I return the balance of the profits into the company to make more money. Plus I draw a salary. That is how I won what I own. Which may I add is more that just the three houses and cars.
For my "blood stained pockets" as you say, where did the blood come from? do you know what I do? Do you know my background? where I live, what I believe in ? Am I a religious man? Athiestic? Jew?, Christian? Muslim? Well since you don't know than your comments about my blood stained are inappropriate and shows that instead of scholarly debate on a subject you would rather sling epithets. This seems to be a constant theme in most of your posts on this site. Avoid the subject and spout off on anyting but the points made by the previous post.
So let's hear more of your ranting. Maybe you can start labeling my a capitalist pig now? Or maybe a Facist? Or communist? Anarchist? Take your pick.
One last time now, I neved said I was a marxist, never said the Slavery was not a reason of teh Civil War, did not say that marxit interpretations of history was the onyl way. did not say thtat marxism expalins the rise of Isalm in teh middel east. If you think that I did then repsond to my posts, to specific statements, and not just spout off about anything that remotely might pertain to the discussion.


Alec Lloyd - 10/4/2002

If you farm all profit back to your workers, how can you own three houses and three cars? Do your employees own three houses and three cars as well? Then you are not a true Marxist, you are merely a capitalist mouthing Marxist slogans to keep the proletariat subdued whilst you line your own blood-stained pockets.

It is one of the curiosities of Marxism that it tends to attrack well-off people, often among the super-rich. I don’t know if this a way to assuage guilt (“yes, I’m rich, but I feel for the working class”) or sheer crass opportunism (“don’t hate me, I’m really on your side” like Albert Gore, Jr. and his “people vs. powerful”).

You’re trying to lump me and Mr. Heuisler into the same post, but it doesn’t quite work. I never quoted Marx.


Bill Heuisler - 10/3/2002

Your effervescent enthusiasm makes debate nearly pleasant. We would probably get along just fine over a few San Miguel Darks. Disagreement grows, however, but now over context.
The original post defended a Leftist, America-hating status quo and criticized nationalism and militarism in college history. All W proposes is more patriotism and love of country. The fact the President's sentiments are subject to such rancor shows how far self-loathing has permeated the American Left.
Now to context. While not speaking for the estimable Mr Lloyd, he might agree that we do not resist your every point because of space and because larger issues overwhelm finer distinctions.
You admit Marxism and Nationalism are opposites. I question the intrinsic worth of Marxism, thereby defending Nationalism.
Carpenter insults W's intelligence (again) by deliberately misunderstanding a question to High School Grads on the Civil War and proceeds with specious conjecture on the unintelligable nature of Civil War history to make his ad hominum point.
The Civil War became an issue to expose gratuitous libel.
Marx is quoted to make a point. You correct the quote, but the correction simply improves my argument. Why dispute?
The fact you feel we have insufficiently challenged the original post - or your defense - means either we are not up to the task, or, perhaps, you have not fully understood our positions.
Best wishes, Bill Heuisler


Paul Puglisi - 10/3/2002

"So the explosive growth of Islam in the Seventh Century was driven by economic forces?"
Mr. Lloyd show me where I said this or even hinted at it.
" Thus the whole “poverty is the root cause of terrorism” argument falls on its face every time it is trotted out."
Show me where I said this. Or hinted at it. Or where in any of my posts did I even discuss terrorism and its roots.
"Marxists make lousy historians because they see everything through a monetary prism and deny the fundamental nature of humanity."
And what is the fundimental nature of humanity? That we are essential good people? If we are essentially good people how come there are wars?
Money and power and the accumulation or both is central to a lo tof what has gone on in history. Both the good and bad.
And for teh last time when did I ever say I was a marxist? Or that I subsribe to all theri ideals? Or agree with all their ideals? Is it hard to understand that someone can agree with one ideal but oppose some of it at the same time? Or is it easier to just lump that person into one category.

And what the hell does Bruce Catton have to do with anything? And what does he have to do with the failure ot the bastardized Stalinist version of communism? The Greek Republic failed does that negate the years of scholarship that Plato and Socrates and Thucydides brought us?
"As a side benefit, he will remind a new generation of what is good and great about America and why it is worth defending. Or is that too horrible to contemplate?"
There is more than Catton that will show the future generations about how American is. Both good and bad. And I hope that the next generation will rely more on Primary sources that the regurgitation of history by historians.
Oh and if its easier for you to label me a Marxist or leftist or whatever., Fine. You could read my response to Mr. Heuisler and you'll seeI am far from your typical Marxist. And I know its easier for you to do that becuase if you can put a label on it you can spout nonsense like this, "The irony in this specific case is that Marxists love state intervention in education, but now are horrified that the other side has embraced their tactics. “But wait,” they are saying, “We OWN the state educational apparatus. You can’t use it to your end, that’s thought control.” Of course when YOU design the standards and force kids to read Rosa Luxembourg why that’s okay."
I have never said I was a leftist, Marxist, wanted state control of schools, want the republicans dead, GW out of office, or any other statement that may make you want to place me in a group.
And one last hing again. You posed the question about terroists blwoing up the temple mount. I reposnded to that tongue in cheek and even stated that much afterward. But then again you will read a paragraph or two then skim the rest and spout somethign else irrelevent to the discussion.


Paul Puglisi - 10/3/2002

"The ruminations of Marx's poverty-warped, envious mind have birthed zealous murders of millions. Kulaks to Cambodians, oceans of innocent blood should surely, finally, quench enthusiasm for this terrible creed. "
First, I did not start teh debate on marxism or Marx as a viable social or economic ideology. Do I subscribe ot it? Not all of it, just like O don't subscribe to everything that capitalism stands for. Whish I bet you don't either. I don't think you would be for poor wokring environments, salve wages, no wrokers compensation etc. But Capital in America as well as other countries during industrialization did not mind losing a few workers to death or dismemberment or minded that the bottom line was not depleted by payroll.
Second, since I have posted my responses to other's posintg I have stuck, more or less, to the central theme of the original article and how politicians and I add anyone for that matter can use history as a vehicle to forward their own personal politics. I used examples, I could have used any other school of historical interpretation to make a poit but since most of my research centers arounf labor history at the turn of the century US and Radical history in teh United State and abroad, a marxist intrepretation provided a stark contrast as to how history can be used. Am I a MArxist? No. I own a succesful business. I make a lot of money I own three houses and three cars. So I am far from a marxist. But on teh other hand a portion of the profits at the end of the year in my business get evenly distributed to my "labor" becuase I know without them I have now profits. Before you go " I bet you keep the other portion" I don't. That other portion goes back into the business to help us grow. But I digress. My main point since teh beginning has been that historians cannot be objective, that is what I have been taught through out my career as a student and part time historian but we are supposed to try as hard as we can not to be too blantently biased. That is what peer review is about. Your peers critique your work and find flaws. If a historian is blatent in his bias it will come out in the critique. I never said marxist interpretation is the be all end all. Niether is the nationalist school.
I love debate and you and Mr. Lloyd offer some insights that I have also thought about and I have actually been arguing the same lines as you have both aargues. But when most people see the words Marxism, Communism. Facisim etc. they neglect to discuss the points made by the author and begin a diatribe on how (place your -ism here) doesn/twork never worked and will never work and He killed so many and they killed so many and it is a laughable ideology. Most on the "left"
think the same about those on the "right"
You are guilty of it. Re-read my post before this that corrects your quote from Marx and the one I responded to Mr. Lloyd. teh re read your posts. Did you repond to my points I made in the post or did you spout out about Marx and how his "poverty-warped, envious mind have birthed zealous murders of millions." or ". . . but scholars defending Marxism must be asked why such passionate industry is harnessed to such resolutely unworthy results." As must as I like debate, and I do love it so. Debate with those that do not attack points made by previous postings but rather make generalizations about whatever they want to as long as it uses some of the same words the original poster used that they are responding too. Notice how you and Mr. Lloyd latch onto certain words in a post and neglect the repond to the entire piece?
With that said, take the time a reread all the posts try to see what I am saying and if it is difficult try to replace the words marxist school with conservative school. (That is different that the nationalist school).


Bill Heuisler - 10/3/2002

Mr. Puglisi, your sincerity and devotion cannot be gainsayed, but scholars defending Marxism must be asked why such passionate industry is harnessed to such resolutely unworthy results. The ruminations of Marx's poverty-warped, envious mind have birthed zealous murders of millions. Kulaks to Cambodians, oceans of innocent blood should surely, finally, quench enthusiasm for this terrible creed.
Bill Heuisler


Jim Boisi - 10/3/2002

First off Wilson was a Political Scientist! Secondly, criticizing the President for ' propagandistic history' that doesn't realize its problematic nature is naive at best . How much history is taught at prep schools and universities that presumes a liberal ideology? How much history is taught at leading universities that tries to understand the past on its own terms, not ours ? Is any of this going on at Harvard's dept. of Aftican American Studies? Any ideology can find imprimaturs amidst historians! Try Remini on St. Andy Jackson or Lerone Bennet on Lincoln,Garry Wills on Jefferson! Read Schlesinger's "Distuniting of America"! Grow up and stop the whining!!


Chris Messner - 10/3/2002

Nationalists extrude the ideal that America can do know wrong," look at our wonderful history of democracy, equal rights, freedom. But don't look under the rug."

Is this statement not potentially true of individuals defending any school of thought? Surely the communists did this during the Soviet era, just as the Fascists drew on "Aryan" and Roman history and lineage while obfuscating the negatives.

"And that supports Mr. Carpenter's point that politicians use history to forward their own dogmatic beliefs. "

Again, this is found elsewhere, the most current example being Prof. Bellesiles twisting and omitting his way to a gunless American society prior to the Civil War, to advance a weak 2nd Amendment and an impetus for gun control now. And mainstream historians went along to advance the PC dogma. Academia, as of late, has politicized history much further than politicians have done in the past. So the point Mr. Carpenter makes does not apply to politicians only, to the detriment of the educational system among other areas.

" Ask this question to a Sioux about being a greatest manifestation of human freedom in history I bet he might not agree. Or ask anyone that is under the poverty line itfindividual capitalism helped them. I agree that our form of government is incredible becuase of the wisdom of our founders to allow it to change and transform itself has the years roll on. I think the Constitution and the common law that we sprang from allows freedom for the individual to be preserved. But making a blanket statement that the US is the greatest neglects to look a little deeper into our history. We are a good example of what a republic can be but we can be a far better. But we have had some black days in our past where I wouldn't say we were the greatest."

Now we delve into perspectives, and the line blurs. But I think you have made too complex an issue of a simple point, one that you seem to agree with in a way. Yes, our government and ancestors made mistakes, some small, some great, and in hindsight some horrific. But what government, in the history of humankind, has not? What government in the history of humankind has expressed its guilt of these issues as openly, has allowed dissent of its policies as openly? The Sioux whose perspective you address has a right to lodge grievances, that alone is advancement over many other governments, where minority peoples are quashed or exterminated outright, like the Kurds (the treatment of the native peoples in this land is probably, at least IMHO, the biggest black eye in our history, but that is a different topic). With all its faults, with all its tragedies, (and again from my perspective) this government has been the greatest manifestation of self-government in the history of humankind, and hopefully we and our progeny will continue to strive to maintain and improve its record. It seems in this day we cannot make such statements, without immediately stating 'but of course the native americans, but of course slavery, but of course Japanese internment...'; certainly we need to educate the next generation on these issues, and make sure the lesson of past transgressions is learned well so to not allow such things again. But that should not prevent us from expressing pride in our system. Poverty is a worldwide issue, and I confess I have not experienced it. But a person in poverty under this system has a better chance to overcome it than in any system anywhere else currently existing. It's unfortunate that this country, which gives so much out (yes, the standard reply is not enough, but please show which countries do more or a higher percentage), to see so much of it disappear down the rabbit hole of dictators and tyrants (or their wives living in Paris and educating their children in western ways while the people of their country struggle to live and yearn to die), only then to get blasted because more aid should be sent. Recognize the faults, and remember, but don't disparage pride in a system that has been better, overall, than anything else seen to this day. The American nationalist and the American Marxist, the American religionist (is that a word?) and the American nativist, all can take pride that the system they live in, work for, or struggle with allows them the equal right to do those actions.(and no ashcroft jokes, please, if you truly believe the black helicopters are on the way to pick you up go try changing Saudi attitudes towards women and homosexuals and see what oppression really is).

Chris




Alec Lloyd - 10/3/2002

So the explosive growth of Islam in the Seventh Century was driven by economic forces?

Once again, Marxists are blind to the full range of colors around them. Sophisticates love to claim that conservatives see a black and white world when in fact it is Marxists who ignore anything but economics as a historical motive.

Thus the whole “poverty is the root cause of terrorism” argument falls on its face every time it is trotted out. Osama Bin Laden had (note past tense) more in common with Ernst Stavro Blofeld than Ho Chi Minh. Al-Qaeda isn’t a peoples’ liberation army, it is a supersecret terror organization, run by plutocrats and manned by upper- and middle-class leaders with every educational opportunity. They want the Eschaton, not a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Marxists are blind to this, thinking that you can collectivize your way out of religious and ethnic strife. The only people to do that successfully resorted to genocide in order to silence the opposition (see Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.).

Marxists make lousy historians because they see everything through a monetary prism and deny the fundamental nature of humanity. Only by using big words and fancy analyses can they make sense of any historical event, and often have to ignore or “reinterpret” (meaning “rewrite”) contemporary accounts to do so.

The irony in this specific case is that Marxists love state intervention in education, but now are horrified that the other side has embraced their tactics. “But wait,” they are saying, “We OWN the state educational apparatus. You can’t use it to your end, that’s thought control.” Of course when YOU design the standards and force kids to read Rosa Luxembourg why that’s okay. The thought that Bruce Catton might replace Engles and Fanon horrifies you. Tough beans.

Catton writes better than any of ‘em and would do the kids some good. He also uses footnotes and hasn’t been utterly discredited by 80 years of failed socialist experiements.

As a side benefit, he will remind a new generation of what is good and great about America and why it is worth defending. Or is that too horrible to contemplate?


Paul Puglisi - 10/2/2002

Mr. Heuisler if you are going to quote Karl Marx at least get it right you wrote "Philosophers have previously tried to explain the world, our task is to change it." Marx wrote, "The philosphers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." What marx was saying in this quote has nothing to do with history. it has everything to do with taking an active part in changing your world. PLain and simple. He was essentially saying that you can speak of change all you want but th epoint is really to act. Marx also said "It is the task fo history, therefore, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world." Here he is advocating that historians, together, must find the truth. Many interpretations of history exist.
Your wrote, "Marxists extrude history through dogma to defend results.:" this can be said about any school of history. Be it Nationalistic. marxist, conservative, revisionist, etc.. And that supports Mr. Carpenter's point that politicians use history to forward their own dogmatic beliefs. Nationalists extrude the ideal that America can do know wrong,"look at our wonderful history of democracy, equal rights, freedom. But don't look under the rug."
After reading agin your response I can see how you are not differentiating the difference between a Marxist, one who follows the ideals of marxism as a political and economic systems. And the marxist shool of history in which the interpretation of history, using primary sources and secondary sources, is interpreted as a struggle between classes in which economics plays an important role in the events in history.
And yes historians relate and explain, and yes Marxist and Republicans and Democrats and Communists and Anarchists "proslytize and adjure." as you say. Historians come from all background contrary to what you might believe and looking at history through a economic point of view is one in many ways to get a better idea of what happened.
Lastly, you wrote,"The United States is the Greatest manifestation of human freedom in history. Individualist Capitalism is the dynamo of individual liberty based on individual rights and responsibilities. Trying to fit a collectivist collar around the burgeoning liberation of Western Man can only lead to frustrated hatred." Ask this question to a Sioux about being a greatest manifestion of human freedom in history I bet he might not agree. Or ask anyone that is under the poverty line itfindividual capitalism helped them. I agree that our form of government is incredible becuase of the wisdom of our founders to allow it to change and transform itself has the years roll on. I think the Constitution and the common law that we sprang from allows freedom for the individual to be preserved. But making a blanket statement that the US is the greatest neglects to look a little deeper into our history. We are a goo dexample of what a republic can be but we can be a far better. But we have had some black days in our past where I wouldn't say we were the greatest.
And I never stated that I am trying to put a collective collar ,as you put it, on Western man. I have argues that history in the wrong hands is dangerous.


Paul Puglisi - 10/2/2002

Mr. Heuisler if you are going to quote Karl Marx at least get it right you wrote "Philosophers have previously tried to explain the world, our task is to change it." Marx wrote, "The philosphers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." What marx was saying in this quote has nothing to do with history. it has everything to do with taking an active part in changing your world. PLain and simple. He was essentially saying that you can speak of change all you want but th epoint is really to act. Marx also said "It is the task fo history, therefore, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world." Here he is advocating that historians, together, must find the truth. Many interpretations of history exist.
Your wrote, "Marxists extrude history through dogma to defend results.:" this can be said about any school of history. Be it Nationalistic. marxist, conservative, revisionist, etc.. And that supports Mr. Carpenter's point that politicians use history to forward their own dogmatic beliefs. Nationalists extrude the ideal that America can do know wrong,"look at our wonderful history of democracy, equal rights, freedom. But don't look under the rug."
After reading agin your response I can see how you are not differentiating the difference between a Marxist, one who follows the ideals of marxism as a political and economic systems. And the marxist shool of history in which the interpretation of history, using primary sources and secondary sources, is interpreted as a struggle between classes in which economics plays an important role in the events in history.
And yes historians relate and explain, and yes Marxist and Republicans and Democrats and Communists and Anarchists "proslytize and adjure." as you say. Historians come from all background contrary to what you might believe and looking at history through a economic point of view is one in many ways to get a better idea of what happened.
Lastly, you wrote,"The United States is the Greatest manifestation of human freedom in history. Individualist Capitalism is the dynamo of individual liberty based on individual rights and responsibilities. Trying to fit a collectivist collar around the burgeoning liberation of Western Man can only lead to frustrated hatred." Ask this question to a Sioux about being a greatest manifestion of human freedom in history I bet he might not agree. Or ask anyone that is under the poverty line itfindividual capitalism helped them. I agree that our form of government is incredible becuase of the wisdom of our founders to allow it to change and transform itself has the years roll on. I think the Constitution and the common law that we sprang from allows freedom for the individual to be preserved. But making a blanket statement that the US is the greatest neglects to look a little deeper into our history. We are a goo dexample of what a republic can be but we can be a far better. But we have had some black days in our past where I wouldn't say we were the greatest.
And I never stated that I am trying to put a collective collar ,as you put it, on Western man. I have argues that history in the wrong hands is dangerous.


Richard Lester - 10/2/2002




While I don't doubt that George Washington said what you say he did, I think you may be crediting him with too much farsightedness on the issue of slavery. In general, the framers of the Constitution assumed that slavery would ultimately become economically unfeasible and therefore that they could avoid dealing with the issue. They didn't anticipate Eli Whitney and the cotton gin.

On the Soviet Union and World War II, I read Mr. Carpenter's article much differently. I thought he was just saying that no matter what you think of Stalinism it was the Soviet Union which turned the tide of World War II. That's very difficult to deny and I don't think anything you say in your posting really undercuts that point.It does seem to me to be a serious historical error to suggest that it was all the American war effort which defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. What the Soviet role does indicate is that it's often difficult to reduce historical events, even conflicts with the general moral clarity of World War II, to black and white issues of good and evil. There's often more shades of gray than George W. Bush and his advisors on historical issues would admit.


Richard Lester - 10/2/2002





I'm truly puzzled by the implication of some of the postings here that slavery could be the cause of the Civil War only if Lincoln had been an abolitionist and had made ending slavery the goal of the war from the start. I'm equally puzzled by the implication of some postings that conservatives think slavery was the cause of the Civil War and liberals and Marxists don't.

My understanding is that historians like Eric Foner who argue that slavery was the cause of the Civil War are essentially saying that it was tensions between the North and the South over the expansion of slavery which led to the South's secession. That doesn't depend on arguing that Lincoln intended to abolish slavery completely when he became President. Clearly, he didn't intend to do this, only to limit the westward expansion of slavery (but that was enough for the South to secede over the issue).

The main alternative view is the Michael Holt view which argues that it was a collapse of the political party system brought about by other local issues such as temperance which precipitated the crisis leading to the Civil War. However, even that view suggests that the problem ultimately was that the political party system could no longer contain tensions over the issue of the expansion of slavery.

As for the politics of the issue, somehow I never thought that the historians who emphasized slavery as the cause of the Civil War were that conservative. In fact, there's a lot of conservatives who seem to want to avoid discussing the role of slavery in American history entirely, much less slavery as the cause of the Civil War.

I'd agree with Mr. Carpenter and some of the postings that there's numerous interpretations of any given historical event, however. It just seems that in debating historical interpretations we shouldn't spend all of our time setting up straw men and knocking them down.


Bill Heuisler - 10/2/2002

Mr. Puglisi, understanding Marxism is to read modern history.
But Marxist history is oxymoron; Marxists extrude history through dogma to defend results. Marxists are to history what kisses are to marriage: trivial attempts at metamorphosis.

Marxism combines Hegel's anti-religous theme with alienation of man under Capitalism wrapped around materialist conceptions of history - coexisting in abstract, but failing in actuality. Marx said, "Philosophers have previously tried to explain the world, our task is to change it." Exactly my point, Mr. "historian".
Historians relate and explain, Marxists proslytize and adjure.

The United States is the Greatest manifestation of human freedom in history. Individualist Capitalism is the dynamo of individual liberty based on individual rights and responsibilities. Trying to fit a collectivist collar around the burgeoning liberation of Western Man can only lead to frustrated hatred. Get over it.
Bill Heuisler


Paul Puglisi - 10/2/2002

I agree that the"Left" and the "right" spew names at each other when the free exchange of ideas in debate has dwindled. I try not to do this but sometimes, as with many, the bood boils and insults abound.

As for a nut case blowing up the Temple Mount? What ind of nut case and where did he come from and how did he grow up? If it were to happen marxist historians could aruge that the repression of the Palestanian people during the occupation forced them into proverty conditions and that attacking such a symbol as the Temple Mount would be striking a bow against the Ruling upper class. But since this hasn't happened we can only play what if. And that to an historian is best done tongue-in-cheek.


Alec Lloyd - 10/2/2002

Mr. Puglisi wrote:

“Its easy for someone to label a dissenter a traitor, commie, self hater, un-american, socialist, scream at them to go live somewhere elsse if you don't like this country etc. etc.”

Might I add it is just as easy to call them stupid or fascist, which is what Mr. Carpenter does in every column. Anyone who disagrees with him is either a moron, a zealot or in the pocket of Big Business. Is it any wonder that he reaps the fruit of his own hateful and shallow language?

As far as the inadequacy of Marxism as a way of studying history, its primary focus ignores the religious and cultural aspects of history. Everything doesn’t boil down to economics. Should some nut case dynamite the Temple Mount, I guarentee you, the last thing people will be thinking about is money.


Paul Puglisi - 10/2/2002

"Conforming history to Marx is as ridiculous as publishing Shakespeare in Classsic Comics" shows that you, Mr. Heuisler may not be understanding what the marxist school of thought on history interpretation includes. Most of teh School of Marxist history tends to attribute class struggle as the major catalyst in history. marxits historians tend to see that most evenst in history can be attributed to the struggle of the working class against the upper classes , or as the upper class's repression of the working class. being a Marxist historian does not mean that one does not love his country. That assumption is usually made by people who think Marxism is what the Soviet Union was during Stalin and afterwards(hint: it wasn't marxism but some bastardized version that even Lenin saw as evil and insane) and not an ideology that the differences between the working class (which most of us belong to) and teh upper or ruling class shape history. Am I a socialist? Maybe I think Marx had some good Ideas, then again I think Bakunin had some good ideas too, and so did Kropotkin. Socialism and democracy are not exclusive of each other. Now acusing me of hating my country has nothing to do with how I interpret history. I don't hate my country, I hate want my country does sometimes and I oppose it when I can. Jsut like I bet you do when our country does somethign that is contrary to what you beleive. I can even guess that you are one during the Clinton years that opposed everything that Clinton did or said. Did you hate your country then? Now you did waht every American citizen does, they exercisse their right under the Constitution to oppose their government's actions and bring their representatives to task when policy opposes their view points.
Its easy for someone to label a dissenter a traitor, commie, self hater, un-american, socialist, scream at them to go live somewhere elsse if you don't like this country etc. etc. What those fail to realize is that we all love this country the same and that we as dissenters are trying to build this country stronger and wiser and more just and more free just as much as you, Mr. Heuisler. I dissent when any politician opposes my views be it Democrat or Republican. I agree with both side some times and with neither most of the time.
Now I did take Mr. Messner to task on not attacking the central point of the article becuase the article was using examples to support the arguement. Mr. Carpenter could have used any number of events to make his point. THe article was about how politicians distort history to reach their own goals. All politicians do it and have being doing it since the Greeks. Ever read Pericles' speech in Thucydides? LIke I stated before the debate on teh casues of teh Civil War fill stacks at the librairs and theri is still no single Reason. A complex issue demands a comlex Reason. Doing anything less would demean its importance in our National identity,
As for "Marxists almost never plumb to literate depths, they depend on ad hominum scorn and the sniggers of idiots." Nationalists almost never plumb any further than "rah-rah USA! We're great! We can do nothing wrong. Everyone should listen to us becasue we know best damn your years of past culture and history." they depend on jingoism and some mandate from god. At least marxit thought trys to dive a little deeper and find out the root casue of historical events. But as every school of thought has its positives, the negatives are also there. That is why as historians we rely on Source material and we construct our arguments and ideas around these primary sources. And as I stated those ideas reflect your background.
For your analysis on the causes of the Civil War I will agree with you. Cultural differneces were a part of the cuase as wells as political, social, economic and ideological. Like I keep saying, the more complex the question the more complex the answer. And Lincoln emancipating the slaves was pruely political. He was indiffernt to their plight. If he was concerend why did he emancipate those Slaves in the southern states only? He needed to get a small but vocal movement behind him. He needed to retain support for the war so makeing it a crusade against slavery was ideally suited. Remember at the time the Union forces were losing battle after battle to a smaller under armed opponent. Lincoln took advantage of a psuedo-victory to proclaim the emancipation. There were crumblings troughout the north that the war was too costly to keep waging and to let the south go on its way.


Bill Heuisler - 10/2/2002

Carpenter's and Puglisi's derision of Mr. Messner sullies a plausable argument on roots of the Civil War. Hatred muddies scholarship and apparently provides convenient refuge for substandard scholars. For instance, conforming history to Marx is as ridiculous as publishing Shakespeare in Classic Comics.

Among other informed treatments, Fischer's "Albion's Seed" and Phillip's "The Cousin's Wars" promote a premise that the Civil War was cultural as well as political. Draft riots in New York were as much a response to the Emancipation Proclamation as to conscription. There was widespread grumbling about the black regiments in the Union Army and many Union soldiers distrusted Abolitionists. Further, Lincoln's decision on Emancipation was geopolitical as much as partisan or ideological. In my opinion, slavery was catalyst and ongoing political fodder for a larger, more deep-seated cultural divide.

Carpenter and Puglisi didn't bother to consider these arguments. Marxists almost never plumb to literate depths, they depend on ad hominum scorn and the sniggers of idiots. Don't be offended, Mr. Messner. It must be horrible for them to hate their country so, but then, all they have is hatred.
Bill Heuisler


Paul Puglisi - 10/2/2002

Liek I stated with some time and good primary sources you can make a strong case for the origins of the Amercian Civil War go back to the English Civil War. Bernard Bailyn's "Ideological Orgins of the American revolution" shows us the the American political philosophy dd not develop in a vacuum. It showed that most of the founders, if not all, subscribed to the ideological ideas of European thinkers that promoted equality and democracy. i.e Rousseau. Bailyn ties English political philosphies of liberty and freedom and rights of man to how we developed our arguments for beoming our own nation. Some historians even argue that most of the founding fathers wanted to be treatd as equal englishmen and not completly split from the empire. These ideologies stem from teh arguments during the time prior to the English Civil War when parliment (representing the people) believed that King Charles I was overstepping his boundds as monarch. In fact he did over step his bounds by declaring that he would rule by divine rite without parliment. Parlinment shouted the same thing our founders did in the 1770s "no taxation without representation" being the main one. Parliment believed that it legitimized the King's decision by giving support when teh King made laws or decrees. Bu tParliment always believed that it was the only body of governemtn that could rightfully represent the people's interest. When King Charles essentially disbanded parliment and tries to diminsh its power Parliment reacted.
The colonists 100 years later knew the history of the country they belinged too and even reacted similar ways towards King George. Ever notice when you read histories of the Revolution the colonist blame the King and never parliment? They knew that they could possibly win parliment's support if they balmed the King for over stepping his bounds. Look at teh Declaration of INdependance. Get past the preamable, which rehashes most democratic political though of Europe at the time and get to the important parts it becomes a laundry list of grievances against the King, not Parliment. That is what is revolutionary about that document is that the founders were making a plea to the Continent and Parliment that they were being wronged as Englishmen by the King. Of course Parliment didn't support the colonies, they made too much money to allow the colonies to self govern or split from the empire.

The South had always seen themselves as the inheritors of the founders ideology. No strong central government, more States rights, less Congress and more State Legislatures. When the SOuth saw the Federal government begin to consolidate power and impose tariffs and dictate what would be slave and free States they saw a king like Figur ein Lincoln when he was elected. Now let me reiterate, I did not say that slavery was not a cause, just not The Cause or Reason. To simplfy the reason of such a complex issue would not do it justice.
So the South sees that their rights as free American Citizens were being taken away they focused on their grievences against Linoln. They had time prior to his election to blame Congress but they did not take action until Lincoln had taken power.
The South's and even the North's ideologies go back to the founders who in turn get theirs from England. Remember there is really no such thing as an American political philosphy per se. If is a congolmeration of many of the good things that English democracy and many of the great democratic thinkers in Europe. American did not grow up or out of a vacuum. We came from a political history that was rich with debate and precedence from England. What England went through prior to the founding of the colonies and during affected our political ideals. When we split we were just as English as those across the pond. But we had incorporated the "frontier spirit" and "freedom" of carving out a civilization in the wilderness so that too affected out ideals.
Excuse my typos and misspellings. I am trying to get this out before I get off lunch. This idea of how the English Civil war affteced the Colonies is a toic that not many English or American historians ahve yet tackled. But Like Bailyn's "ideological origins" it might give us a better perspective of where we come from.


Sean Brennan - 10/2/2002


To Mr. Messner-

I believe that you have given Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Puglisi far too much credit. Mr. Carpenter is flat-out wrong to assert that political sponsorship of historical research always leads to politcal propaganda. If that argument is taken to its logical conclusion then any time a university receives a government aid to promote historical research then it will automatically lead to right-wing propaganda. This is a ridiculous argument if one looks at the historical research coming from state-sponsored schools such as UC-Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin,etc. In addition, political leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill were also accomplished historians, not producers of mindless propaganda.

Furthermore, Mr.Carpenter does not write from a "liberal" perspective, as you would term it. The classical liberalism of John Stuart Mill, with its respect for reason, logic, natural law, and open debate, the liberalism carried on by Truman and John F. Kennedy, is utterly absent from Mr. Carpenter and his fellow Neo-Marxists. For them, there is only one absolute, the United States, especially the Republican party, is the ultimate engine of evil, and all who hate America, including Stalin, Mao, and Saddam could not possibly be as bad. All other considerations are absent to this point. If you need any further evidence, look at Mr.Carpenter's repsonse to your posting, which was nothing but a string of vicious insults towards yourself, Mr. Bush, and Lynne Chenney.

In order for a Republic such as America to surivive, its citizens must have a sense of civic virtue and pride in the accomplishments of their country combined with an awareness of its past mistakes. There is nothing wrong with the teaching of history towards this goal, as George Bush as advocated, indeed, America's future as a republic depends upon it.

Finally, do not let intolerant post-modern Marxists such as Mr.Carpenter bother you, the bitterness and hatred they display is usually evidence that no one outside their academic circles cares about what they think or write.


Chris Messner - 10/2/2002

Mr. Puglisi,

Thank you for your comments, it is good to get different perspectives.

You are right in thinking that I do not follow the Marxist school of thought, while I have read much on the subject I have felt it to be a discredited line of political thinking. (disclosure complete).

As to my historical background of the civil war, well, I would have to admit it is not formal per se. It only consists of reading everything I can get my hands on (for the era, from the Mexican War timeframe to the end of reconstruction), visiting every battle site possible to gain perspective on the tactics, visiting the homes and museums of the men who shaped the era (Polk, Calhoun, Davis and Douglas to name a few), participating in civil war reenacting to the point of making my own gear to the last possible detail, reading the letters of those who fought and died in the war, visiting state archives and researching personal and regimental histories, and sharing my mother's great interest in Abraham Lincoln. I do apologize if this is not good enough to respond to your comments. I would, however, ask you to enlighten me as to how the circumstances that date back to the English Civil War (other than the south's romantic view of themselves as the heirs of the Cavalier's of King Charles) would have still led to war, had slavery not occurred in the south, or had it been eliminated at the acceptance of the Constitution.

Thank you again,

Chris


Chris Messner - 10/2/2002

Mr. Carpenter,

Thank you for your response, I do appreciate a direct response from the author of an article to which I've responded.

So Mr. Bush and Mrs. Cheney would delight in my propaganda, as you say. Do you believe they agree with my prospective on Ho Chi Minh, for instance? I had thought that this point might demonstrate perhaps some level of freethinking on my part, but since I disagreed with you I have been dumped into the dustbin of right wing propaganda. Oh well, I'm sure I have distinguished company.

My point was to demonstrate that, no matter Bush's expertise or lack thereof, the points you raised in criticizing his speech were weak at best. Slavery has always been the reason for the war, despite many attempts at raising the side effects of slavery to the top of the 'consensus'. As I showed, even notaries as George Washington, 60 plus years before the war, recognized it as the issue that would split the country if not resolved quickly. Historians have debated the local issues, and the compromises on the national scale, the political decisions, but The Reason for the war has always been, and will always be, slavery. The problem Bush referred to is the non-historical 'education' many receive today, in which slavery is taught to them as a secondary issue. Its only one point in his speech, but not the ideal one for you to try to criticize. How can we discuss a person's knowledge of the various economic and political issues that led to the war, when we know the person doesn't know that slavery led to all these actions, and drove them to the bloody conflict?

As to the other items I took issue with, well that is my perspective. Lump me with Bush as you will, I will choose my own path. (personally, I wish we could return to the presidency, and political positions of all kinds, being a reluctant short term obligation of those suited to serve the country, rather than a lifelong career of the privileged on both sides of the aisle, as it was in Washington's day).

As to history in the hands of the politicians, unfortunately too many historians of late have assumed political airs, the results of which, for instance the unfortunate Professor Bellesiles, have been devastating to the 'authentic professional' historian. And I may point out that the freethinking that first exposed several of these cases came from the 'self-inflated, pretentious, pseudointellectual' amateur historians (if I may borrow a partial description from you), not from the peer reviews that should have caught it.

I know you write from a liberal perspective, and I understand your loathing of the man (I admit, he's certainly not the sharpest knife ever to hold the office, but I also admit he was the lesser of evils IMHO). But criticize his historical points accurately, don't take a simple point in a political speech and overblow it.

Thank you for your reply,

Chris


Paul Puglisi - 10/2/2002

I agree with Mr. Carpenter on this point. His article centers arounda arguement that history in teh wrong hands on either side of the politcal spectrum can be a dangerous thing. He has shown that history in the hands of politicians becomes a farce, a shadow of itself, where only the arguments that support the politicians agenda are emphisized.
Mr. Carpenter uses examples as support for his arguemtn. He did not write this article to argue the merits of one interpretation of the casues of th eAmerican Civil War. There are volumes in your local library that already serve this purpose.
NOw it Mr Messner is a student of history and has had classes in either Historical methods or historiography he will know that diferent schools of history exist and this his narrow interpretation of the American Civil War, Russia's invovlment in WWII etc. will be supported by the Nationalist school of thought by opposed by the Marxist school of thought. I could even make a case that the American Civil War has its roots in teh English Civil War from the 1600s. It would take a round about arguement based soley on conjecture and ideologies present in England that transfer to teh Colonies prior to the American Revolution but I think with some time and the right sources I could do that. Just to let Mr. Messner know where I am coming from: I follow the marxist school of thought on history most of the time being as how I have a BA (from Gettysburg College) and MA (from Monmouth University) in labor and radical history.
Mr. Carpenter makes some fine points about politicians and history that even the AHA argue constantly about during the National Historical standards debate .
Last but not least Mr. Messner I do not know your credentials but after reading your response I can guess your historical background consists of reading Stephen Ambrose's "rah-rah USA" history and maybe one or two books by Shelby Foote (because they aren't boring or analytical) and possibly a 100 level history survey in college. SO why don't pick up some other history books and read. You will see that slavery is not the only Reason for the Civil War.


PM Carpenter - 10/2/2002

I believe Mr. Messner missed the reason behind my capitalization of "The Reason" why the Civil War was fought. It suggested honest epistemological doubts among less all-knowing historians. True, the consensus today is that slavery was the reason, but it wasn't that long ago that the consensus was anything but slavery. In time, the consensus will change again. It always does, which is what makes authentic professional history an exciting exploration of ideas and true debate among open-minded intellectuals rather than an exercise in bowing to self-inflated, pretentious, pseudointellectual authoritarians and preconceived thoughts arrived at from the works of others. At least a little original thought is a nice thing from time to time.

As for the rest of Mr. Messner's comments, he pontificated widely but did not address the primary point of the article: that history in the hands of politicians invariably leads to false propaganda. Such obtuseness and avoidance are typical of conservative apologists. They go for the jugular every time, but never address the pertinent point at hand.

Self-assured propaganda and historical certainty are in your blood, mr. Messner. Your intellectual brother, Mr. Bush, would be proud of you, and I'm sure Lynne Cheney would get a little orgasmic twinge from your overblown patriotic and one-sided simplicity as well. But once the plutocratic revolution is completed, you'd better stand straight, then properly bow, and pose no real historical questions. There will be only official government positions.


Chris Messner - 10/1/2002

"I've got news for you, Mr. President. Professional historians do not know The Reason why the Civil War was fought"

Gee, all those books, all those shows, Ken Burns, etc., and Mr. Carpenter states we don't know the reason why the Civil War was fought. How about this for "The Reason" - SLAVERY?

Now comes the whirlwind. Yes, Lincoln did not go in to end slavery, only to save the union. Yes, most Southerners that fought the war testified that they fought for states rights, and did not own slaves. Yes, the northerners of that time, for the vast majority, had no problem with slavery. Yes, the south had decided that, after dominating the presidency and government for years, they weren't going to allow the north to control them because the north's immigration and expansion had led to the north asserting itself in government. But surprisingly, in all the "causes" advanced as to why the war came, the root issue remains slavery.

The southern delegates got the 3/5ths compromise to count slaves for representation, but not as human beings, in order to guarantee their control in government. They elected the president for the first part of the 19th century (northerner or southerner, the president still had to bend on most issues Southern); they dominated Congress. But slavery had an unusual side effect, it stagnanted economic growth in industry in the south. The northern cities boomed in industry, and the call for labor brought wide immigration. As the north's population expanded, so did its ability to change the political landscape. As the north flexed its political muscles, the south saw its control slipping away, and secession followed.

Take slavery away from the nation's history, and the Civil War would not have happened. The "gentlemen planters" who had time to discuss state's rights and debate the merits of a Southern aristocratic background over that of the urban northerner would have had to pitch in and work; or at least closely manage their holdings. The Mexican War, a southern first step in expanding slavery into the western states and central america, might have resolved quite differently. Yes, regional and local conflicts would still potentially have happened, but secession would not have.

Such notaries as George Washington recognized this, stating:
"… No man desires more heartily than I do [the end of slavery]. Not only do I pray for it on the score of human dignity, but I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union." [And by the way, GW made clear that if slavery caused a break up of the union, he would cast his lot with the North!]

But apparently official historians can't recognize that slavery, and the compromises it forced in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and various state compromises is the root issue of all issues on why we fought the Civil War.

As to the 'terrorist tactics' of our founding fathers, I don't recall Washington ordering the killing of non-combatants, or Congress authoizing the murder of non-military civilians, or sending suicide murderers to London. In the south, both sides committed atrocities against the other, more clan feuds than military campaigns, but certainly not one-sided. Please don't try to link the Palestinian homicide bomber to the American minuteman. I would (I know its surprising) agree that Ho Chi Minh was more patriot that socialist, I think that was our biggest loss (he modelled his Declaration after ours and admired the US until we chose to overlook his nationalism and focus on his socialism, at a time when Europe was moving to socialism lite).

As the the Russians in WWII, yes they bore the brunt of Hitler during the middle of the war, but they also received massive aid from the US during this time, and Stalin had done all he could in maximizing his losses, by purging his best men as risks to his power, by installing cronies in power positions, and by dealing with the devil himself in splitting Poland.

"Communism was, in all cases and at all times, immoral and evil, thus its war efforts could not have matched ours."

Its war effort was prodigious, but that does not make Communism any less evil. We allied with Stalin out of need (lesser of evils) and must recognize that, but that does not excuse the evil that Russian communism was. That Mr. Carpenter lives in a country that rightly allows him to spew the nonsense he does, demonstrates the benefits of a democratic republic over that of the communistic state. If Mr. Carpenter wishes to continue to be what Lenin called a "useful idiot", he may do so.


Chris


Mitch Mitchell - 10/1/2002

Thank you for your perceptive, insightful, erudite column. Now, if George W. could read, and understand it, but, alas, I ask for miracles.

I'm certain we'll survive this clown, but why do Americans continue to elect such low-caliber "leaders" to local, state and national office? If we elect the leaders we deserve, are we really this bad!?!

May I have your permission to put your column on my web page? Your positive response would be most appreciated.

Regards,
Mitch