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Media's Take on the News 4-25-03 to 5-30-03

Media's Take on the News




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What Palestinians Can Learn From a Turning Point in Zionist History (posted 5-30-03)

Ethan Bronner, writing in the NYT (May 30, 2003):

When Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, met last night and prepared to see President Bush next week, one of the biggest issues they discussed was ending the terrorism of renegade Palestinian groups. Mr. Abbas said that by next week he hoped to have a pact with Hamas, the main Palestinian Islamic party, to halt violence against Israelis.

Mr. Sharon and his aides say a cease-fire pact is not enough, however, that what is needed is to arrest and disarm the militants. What Israelis increasingly say is that the Palestinians need "their own Altalena." Little known to the outside world, the Altalena episode is frequently invoked because without some equivalent, the Palestinian state may never come to be.

In the final years of the British mandate in Palestine, there was not one Jewish militia but several, just as there are competing Palestinian groups today. The main one, the Haganah, was led by Mr. Ben-Gurion. A more violent and radical one, the Irgun Zvai Leumi, often called simply the Irgun, was led by Menachem Begin. The Irgun, along with an even more radical group, the Stern Gang, was responsible for a massacre of more than 200 Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin in April 1948.

A month later, after the British walked out of Palestine and Mr. Ben-Gurion declared the state of Israel, Arab armies attacked. On June 1, the Haganah and Irgun agreed to merge into the Israel Defense Forces, headed by Haganah commanders. The accord called on Irgun members to hand over arms and terminate separate activity, including arms purchases abroad.

But there remained the question of an old American Navy landing vessel bought by the Irgun's American supporters and renamed the Altalena. The ship, whose purchase had predated the June 1 agreement, was packed with 850 volunteers, 5,000 rifles, 3,000 bombs, 3 million cartridges and hundreds of tons of explosives.

Mr. Ben-Gurion wanted every soldier and bullet he could get and ordered the ship to dock. But Mr. Begin said the arms should go to Irgun troops. Mr. Ben-Gurion refused; at that point, Irgun men headed to the beach to unload the arms.

Mr. Ben-Gurion realized the challenge he faced. As he put it in his memoir, "I decided this must be the moment of truth. Either the government's authority would prevail and we could then proceed to consolidate our military force or the whole concept of nationhood would fall apart."

He ordered the Altalena shelled. Dan Kurzman, in his biography of Mr. Ben-Gurion, "Prophet of Fire," describes the old man sitting with his cabinet just before his decision, "his eyes inflamed from sleeplessness, his hair in even wilder disarray than usual," and saying, "The state can not exist until we have one army and control of that army."

After the volunteers disembarked, Mr. Begin boarded the ship, as did other Irgun fighters. The shelling began. When one hit and the Altalena burst into flames, Mr. Begin was hurled overboard by his men and carried ashore. The ship sank, along with most of its arms and more than a dozen Irgun members. Others were arrested, and the Irgun's independent activities were finally put to an end. "Blessed be the cannon that shelled that ship," Mr. Ben-Gurion declared, providing his political enemies on the right with a rallying cry against him for the next generation.

In his 1953 memoir, "The Revolt," Begin says he had known hunger and sorrow in his life but had wept only twice — once, out of joy, when the state was declared, and the second time, in grief, the night the Altalena was destroyed.

The point for the Palestinians is that until their radical militias are put out of action, those groups will always be in the position of spoilers. In 1996, the Palestinian Authority showed itself capable of confrontation, making widespread arrests of extremists in the wake of several suicide bombings. Thousands of militants were arrested. But most were eventually let go. The Palestinians must do it again and in a definitive manner. The Altalena is a symbol of that task because it involved genuine confrontation yet little loss of life. As Mr. Ben-Gurion wrote in his memoir:

"The incident caused near civil war among the Jews themselves. But in the eyes of the world we had affirmed ourselves as a nation. When the smoke cleared and the indignation died down, the population at large put itself squarely behind its government. The days of private armies were past, and, in the manner of every other well-organized state, we had the makings of a central command under government control."

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Bill Clinton: Presidents Should Get a Chance to Serve 3 Terms (posted 5-30-03)

David Stout, writing in the NYT (May 30, 2003):

The man once taught law, and he has personal experience with the workings of the Constitution, so perhaps his views deserve attention. He said it would be good if former presidents could return to the White House, even if they had already served two terms.

"For future generations, the 22nd Amendment should be modified," he said on Wednesday in a conversation with the historian Michael Beschloss at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. The man, William Jefferson Clinton, said he was not thinking about himself, of course.

Sure he was, the historian Douglas Brinkley of the University of New Orleans said today. The 22nd Amendment, enacted after Franklin D. Roosevelt became the only president elected to more than two terms, "has to drive someone like Bill Clinton crazy," Professor Brinkley said with a chuckle.

Professor Brinkley said Mr. Clinton is not just a physically fit man of 56 who has been put out to pasture. He is in withdrawal from "the ultimate power palace" of the White House who yearns to make up for his failures, and not just by party fund-raising or Jimmy Carter-style good deeds with hammer and saw.

Consider Andrew Johnson, the only other president to be impeached. Professor Brinkley noted that, after barely surviving his Senate trial and finishing Abraham Lincoln's second term under a cloud, Johnson went home to Tennessee, where he achieved a comeback as the only former president ever elected to the Senate.

But that path would seem closed for Bill Clinton. One of the senators from his new home state of New York is Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Clintons have had their troubles, but they may not want to campaign against each other. And it might be a stretch to ask New York voters to elect Clintons to both Senate seats.

Nevertheless, Professor Brinkley said, Mr. Clinton made "a reasonable argument."

"There may come a time when we have elected a president at age 45 or 50, and then 20 years later the country comes up with the same sort of problems the president faced before," Mr. Clinton said. "And the people would like to bring that man or woman back." He said he was not proposing that a president be elected to three or more consecutive terms, but that he be able to get elected again after an interim.

Professor Brinkley saw Mr. Clinton's point. "British prime ministers can come back," the historian said. "Why can't American presidents?"

They can't because of the 22nd Amendment, which took effect in 1951 and bars a person from being elected president more than twice. And despite Mr. Clinton's remarks, or because of them, there will be no rush to change it, historians said today.

"It will seem self-serving if there's an ex-president sitting around who might be affected," said Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor and presidential scholar at American University in Washington.

Professor Lichtman said that enacting a constitutional amendment, through a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the state legislatures, often takes several years. A colleague, James A. Thurber, said, "It would take a very popular president in his second term, like Reagan" to stir real momentum for a constitutional change. Professor Thurber is director of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.

Historians sometimes invoke images of the frail, cloak-wrapped Franklin Roosevelt shortly before his death in 1945 as an argument that a president should not serve more than two terms.

But the authors of the 22nd Amendment had pure politics as well as history in mind. In 1947, with new majorities in both houses and smarting from their years out of power, Republicans pushed the amendment through Congress. The measure took four years to gather the necessary support among the states.

Given the bitter partisanship in today's politics, Professor Lichtman, who is 56, said, "I do not expect to see another constitutional amendment in my lifetime."

Professor Brinkley also had a prediction: "The only way you'll ever see Bill Clinton in the White House again is in the role of First Man."

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Dick Morris on Sidney Blumenthal: A Second Term Is a Terrible Thing to Waste (posted 5-30-03)

Dick Morris, writing in frontpagemag.com (May 30, 2003):

A second term is a terrible thing for a president to waste. Sidney Blumenthal's new book makes clear how totally Bill Clinton wasted it. He was a one-term president who lived in the White House for eight years.

The Clinton Wars speaks not about the war on terror or the war on drugs or even the war on poverty. Instead, it’s about the wars that occupied Clinton in his second term: on Paula Jones, on Kenneth Starr, on the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt, on Matt Drudge, on Clinton's women and the war to get Hillary into the Senate.

For those who haven’t plumbed the depths of the Clintons' denial mechanisms and their obsession with petty revenge, Blumenthal’s book offers a road map into their distorted perceptions of reality. Like an account of a hallucination, he takes us into a world where Monica Lewinsky blackmails Clinton into sex, Whitewater is the epitome of innocence and Starr the personification of evil.

In Bill's and Hillary's world, no accusation is too ridiculous to make against their enemies, no transparent fraud of their own too obvious to attempt to conceal and no justified criticism too reasonable to resent. The roster of those who maliciously attack Clintons' virtue is so long that it makes President Nixon's enemies list seem trivial by comparison. Only the list of the Mikado’s Lord High Executioner is longer.

Hillary’s own book is due out next month. The platitudes that are likely to festoon the former First Lady/presidential wanabee’s book are not the real Hillary: Sidney's book is her true voice. In a world in which ghostwriters assist celebrity authors in their memoirs, this book is an odd role reversal. Here, Hillary is the ghost putting her prejudices, animosities, biases, resentments, fulminations, and paranoid mutterings in Sidney's mouth.

Hillary needed someone to affirm her credentials as a New York Yankee fan, so Blumenthal obliged. She wanted a benign description of her acceptance of the need to have a special prosecutor, so his book portrays her as philosophically accepting it. (By contrast, both George Stephanopoulous and I recall her obstinate refusal and tearful ranting against the appointment.) Mrs. Clinton needed to affirm that she was the author of It Takes A Village so Blumenthal attests to it, despite the fact that her ghost writer was paid $120,000. Hillary wants to grab some undeserved credit for the Irish peace process, so Blumenthal obligingly informs us that her "work" made it all possible.

Anything that needs doing, Blumenthal does in this book, like he did in the White House. This 800-page job application for a job in a Hillary White House shows his willingness to buy any line she hands out and treats it as gospel. One can imagine Sidney as her Bob Haldeman, sitting across the Oval Office desk, willing to do anything she wants, copying down her most delusional and paranoid proposals and seeing them through to full implementation.

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Zionists Are Facing Their Biggest Crisis in 100 Years (posted 5-29-03)

Michael Freund, writing in the Jerusalem Post (May 28, 2003):

As a result of this past Sunday's vote in the Israeli cabinet, Zionism now finds itself confronting the gravest identity crisis it has known in the past century.

Not since 1903, when the Sixth Zionist Congress indicated a willingness to consider Great Britain's proposal to create a Jewish national home in Uganda, has the movement come so perilously close to abandoning its ideological moorings.

Indeed, there is a lot of similarity between the Ugandan road map and its Palestinian equivalent, and a look at the former provides an intriguing clue as to how best to defeat the latter.

The Uganda plan was born precisely 100 years ago this past summer, when Theodor Herzl, father of political Zionism, was summoned to London for a meeting with British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain. Chamberlain had just returned from a visit to Africa and told Herzl that while he was there, "I saw a country for you: Uganda. On the coast it is hot, but in the interior the climate is excellent for Europeans - I thought to myself: that's just the country for Dr. Herzl."

Herzl, of course, was less than enthused by the idea. After all, Jews for generations had spent the previous 2,000 years longing for the hills of Zion, not the jungles of Kampala.

But after the British Foreign Office officially presented the proposal to him in August 1903, Herzl decided to bring the Uganda Project to a vote at the upcoming Zionist Congress, which was set to meet in Basel.

Herzl and his allies portrayed the plan as a temporary solution and an emergency measure, but many of the delegates were outraged, labeling it a betrayal, and a storm of protest quickly ensued.

Eyewitnesses described tumultuous scenes which "continued into the small hours of the morning." In the end, it was only due to the personal prestige which Herzl commanded that the Congress voted to send a committee to Uganda to investigate its viability as a possible Jewish national sanctuary.

In both instances, then, we find a superpower putting a plan on the table whose underlying principles run counter to everything Zionism stands for. In 1903, the idea would have meant forgoing the Land of Israel, while in 2003 it means dividing it.

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Writing a Constitution for Europe (posted 5-29-03)

George Parker, writing in the Financial Times (London) (May 29, 2003):

Valery Giscard d'Estaing likes to compare the work of his European Convention with that of the American founding fathers, authors of the 1787 US constitution.

But one big difference emerged yesterday. While James Madison and his colleagues in Philadelphia introduced the US constitution in a single sentence, the former French president needed six paragraphs to distil the values and aspirations of the European Union.

"Flowery and pretentious," was the verdict of Andrew Duff, a British member of the Giscard convention and normally an admirer of the former French president.

Mr Giscard d'Estaing has high aspirations for his long-awaited constitutional preamble: he says he wants it to be taught in schools.

But yesterday there was a critical reaction from many, who felt it either looked like it was written by a committee, or that it had too many lyrical Giscardian flourishes....

According to historians, Mr Giscard d'Estaing should have been more ruthless with the editing. The US constitution, whose preamble famously starts "We the people of the United States", is introduced in a single pithy sentence.

The French constitution, which includes a "dedication to the rights of man", has a short two-sentence introduction. Germany's is even more concise, beginning: "Conscious of their responsibility before God and Man."

"It strikes me that there are three key differences between the European draft and the US preamble, like the US constitution itself: brevity, generality and concreteness," said Andrew Moravcsik, professor of government at Harvard University. "The European version canvasses the past, the present and the future; it touches base with every possible ideal in a pluralistic society."

Mr Giscard d'Estaing's spokesman observed that the framers of the US constitution had one big advantage when it came to keeping things tight: "European history is a bit longer than American history at the time they wrote their preamble."

Larry Sidentop, a fellow of Keble College, Oxford, said he disliked the fact that while the US constitution is written as if by the people, Giscard's version appears to be addressed to Europe's citizens.

"It's not the people speaking, it's speaking to them," he said. "There's also a lack of conviction which comes through." Andrew Duff, once described by Giscard as his "Socrates" on the convention, believes that even the first sentence is contentious. "I'm not sure what the Chinese would make of the idea of Europe bringing forth civilisation," he said. "I think it's too long, and it's flowery and pretentious in both English and French."

Mr Duff and his colleagues on the 105-member convention have just three weeks to persuade Mr Giscard d'Estaing to change his draft text. But the grand old man of European politics is not going to lightly surrender the preamble, over which he has been mulling for the 16-month lifespan of the European Convention.

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Bush Faces the Challenges of FDR, Truman, and JFK Combined (posted 5-29-03)

Noemie Emery, writing in the Weekly Standard (June 2, 2003):

ALL THROUGH the Clinton administration and into the 2000 election, some said we had run out of history. It had been tapped out, like an overused resource. It had run dry, like a well. Then came September 11, and history came flooding back with a vengeance, swamping us all in a torrent of crisis and incident. We have so much history now that we have nowhere to put it. We have a history glut. Elected in peace, George W. Bush has become a war president, fighting hot wars and covert wars on terror, while trying to rebuild the Atlantic alliance and bring peace and order to the Middle East. He is making history more than he ever imagined, but he is also reliving it, in an unusual fusion of incidents. We are reliving not one but four past crises: [In 1938, when the League of Nations failed to stop German aggression. In 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In 1962, when the Soviets slipped missiles into Cuba, forcing Kennedy to threaten a preventive war to get them removed. And in 1946.]....

IN THE COURSE of the year 1946, President Harry S. Truman came to understand that the assumptions he'd held about the world when he'd become president one year before no longer applied to the world he was living in, and the alliances inherited from World War II would have to be wholly reconfigured. Between September 11, 2001, and March 2003, George W. Bush came to understand that the assumptions he had held about the world when he'd become president one year before no longer applied to the world he was leading, and that the world order would have to be reconstructed and remade. Truman found that the coalition that had won World WarII was no longer stable; that Russia was an enemy and China becoming one; and that the Western nations would have to rebuild their defeated Axis enemies as part of the new non-Communist bloc. Bush came to see that the alliance that had won the Cold War was splintering; that France and Germany were now at odds with the United States and Britain, which went to find allies among their former opponents, the once-captive Communist satellites. Both were surprised by the bad faith of their one-time war partners. Both were accused by their liberal critics of having started the quarrels themselves. ...

Truman and Bush both started from the simple desire to safeguard their country, and gradually moved to the final idea that the only way to fight communism and terror was to end the conditions that made them appealing. Truman understood that his postwar world would have no lasting security unless he turned Japan and Germany into stable democracies. Bush understands that his world can have no real security without bringing reform and order to the terror-spawning Middle East. The hardest job of the 20th century went to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the toughest decisions belonged to Harry S. Truman, who had to name, frame, and contain a wholly new form of trouble. Truman's problems, along with those of FDR and John Kennedy, now have all come to President Bush. ...

LET US NOT play up the strains of the present by running down those of the past. No president had a worse job than Franklin Roosevelt, a worse week than John Kennedy, a worse set of choices than Harry S. Truman, so many of which could have gone wrong. But no president other than Bush ever faced so many conflicting cross-pressures and strains. FDR joined a coalition when Pearl Harbor was bombed; he did not have to create one. Truman faced his worst moments only after containment and NATO were safely in place. Kennedy had no hostile Hans Blix to contend with, and the weapons he confronted were large enough to be photographed, and too large to be easily hidden or carted away.

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The Palestinians Have a State: Jordan (posted 5-29-03)

Rachel Neuwirth, Los Angeles-based analyst on the board of the American Jewish Congress, writing for a forthcoming issue of ChronWatch:

The creation of a second Arab/Palestinian state, run by the terrorist PLO, will cause a humanitarian crisis and economic disaster for both Jordan and Israel. If we are ever to achieve peace between Israel and the Arabs, we must know history and face reality: the Arab people who live in what is now Israel—including Judea, Samaria, and Gaza—and Jordan are one people.

The solution to the Middle East conflict lies in recognizing that 78% of historical Palestine is today called Jordan, and 80% of Jordan's population is (so-called) Palestinian. (See maps of historical Palestine: http://masada2000.org/historical.html.) The only rational conclusion is that there is already a state for the Palestinian Arabs: the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Dr. Kadri Toukan, a former Jordanian foreign minister, declared on December 9, 1970, that Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan.

Anwar Nusseibi, a former Jordanian defense minister, stated on October 3, 1970, ''The Jordanians are also Palestinians. This is one state; this is one people. The name is not important. The families living in Salt, Irbid, and Karak not only maintain family and matrimonial ties with the families in Nablus and Hebron, they are one people.''

Ahmad Shuqairy, the first president of the PLO, told the Palestine National Council in May of 1965 that, ''Our Jordanian brothers are actually Palestinians.''

Further, the Washington, D.C. website of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan says:

''The ... close historical and geographic relationship between Jordan and Palestine over the ages, together with ... the national affiliation and cultural position of Jordanians and Palestinians ... have endowed this relationship with a special and distinctive character. It is bolstered by the strong ties and deep common interests that exist between them'' (http://www.jordanembassyus.org/new/aboutjordan/nationalcharter.shtml#7).

This implies that King Abdullah of Jordan should have taken responsibility for the plight of his own people: the Arabs who live in Israel and the West Bank. Jordan still has enough land to absorb all the Palestinian Arabs who presently reside in the West Bank. Jordan has 35,000 sq. miles of contiguous land.

If President Bush wants to achieve peace, his road map must reflect the fact that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is, essentially, ARAB ''Palestine!''

As recent history has painfully taught us, Israel and Palestinian Arabs can never live peacefully together. Most Palestinian Arabs declare day and night that their goal is to destroy Israel. And many Israeli Arabs living in Israel have proven themselves to be disloyal to the Jewish state.

However, since the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, Israel and Jordan have lived side by side in relative peace. Only two states—the Jewish ''Palestinian'' state and Jordan, the Arab ''Palestinian'' state—are truly capable of finding a resolution to the so-called Palestinian dispute! Jordan and Israel are 95% of British Mandated Historical Palestine and were the only legitimate successors to the British Mandated Palestine

The separation of Arab and Jew is imperative for regional stability. Furthermore, the international funds that currently support the PLO ''thugocracy'' should be redirected to support Jordanian and Israeli diplomatic efforts toward achieving an equitable solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

Jordan should grant citizenship to all Arabs within Israel, including Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Those who want to locate elsewhere can do so (backed by international financial support, for a limited time). Those who choose to remain in (pre-'67) Israel will be given alien status, with no political rights, since Israel is the JEWISH ''Palestinian'' state.

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Bush and 9-11: The Movie (posted 5-29-03)

Doug Saunders, writing in the Globe and Mail (Canada) (May 29, 2003):

Trapped on the other side of the country aboard Air Force One, the President has lost his cool: "If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me! I'll be at home! Waiting for the bastard!"

His Secret Service chief seems taken aback. "But Mr. President . . ."

The President brusquely interrupts him. "Try Commander-in-Chief. Whose present command is: Take the President home!"

Was this George W. Bush's moment of resolve on Sept. 11, 2001? Well, not exactly. Actually, the scene took place this month, on a Toronto sound stage.

The histrionics, filmed for a two-hour TV movie to be broadcast this September, are as close as you can get to an official White House account of its activities at the outset of the war on terrorism.

Written and produced by a White House insider with the close co-operation of Mr. Bush and his top officials, The Big Dance represents an unusually close merger of Washington's ambitions and Hollywood's movie machinery.

A copy of the script obtained by The Globe and Mail reveals a prime-time drama starring a nearly infallible, heroic president with little or no dissension in his ranks and a penchant for delivering articulate, stirring, off-the-cuff addresses to colleagues.

That the whole thing was filmed in Canada and is eligible for financial aid from Canadian taxpayers, and that its loyal Republican writer-producer is a Canadian citizen best known for his adaptation of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, are ironies that will be lost on most of its American viewers when it airs on the Showtime network this fall....

Lionel Chetwynd, the film's creator, sees nothing untoward about his role as the semi-official White House apologist in Hollywood. For him, having a well-connected Republican create the movie was a way to get the official message around what he sees as an entertainment industry packed with liberals and Democrats.

"A feeding frenzy had started to develop around this story, and a lot of people who wanted to do this story had a very clear political agenda, very clear," Mr. Chetwynd said in an interview from his Los Angeles home yesterday.

"My own view of the administration is somewhat more sympathetic than, say, Alec Baldwin's. . . . In fact, I'm technically a member of the administration [Mr. Chetwynd sits on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities], so I let it be known that I was also interested in doing it. I threw myself on the mercies of my friend Karl Rove."

Mr. Rove is the President's chief political adviser, so this was not a typical Hollywood pitch. But then, Mr. Chetwynd is not a typical Hollywood writer-producer: He is founder of the Wednesday Morning Club, an organization for the movie colony's relatively small band of Republicans, and he led the White House's efforts to enlist Hollywood's support after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Chetwynd's script is based on lengthy interviews with Mr. Bush, Mr. Rove, top aide Andy Card, retiring White House press aide Ari Fleischer, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Republican officials in the White House and the Pentagon. He says every scene and line of dialogue was described to him by an insider or taken from credible reports.

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History for Dummies (posted 5-27-03)

An exchange among journalists posted on Poynteronline.org (May 21, 2003):

Ellen E. Heltzel The media capitalizes on the public's short attention span, so it tends to ignore this salient fact: Americans go nuts over the subject of history, especially their own. The spillover into the book market is huge.

Take the case of Kenneth C. Davis, who 13 years ago launched what would become a series with a book called "Don't Know Much About History." Davis aimed his book at Boomers like himself, putting life into material that, like the lima beans served in the cafeteria, was reduced to dull pulp back when he was in high school. Now, 1 1/2 million copies later, his book has just been revised and updated. In 1996, James Loewen had a hit and a prize winner with "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong." Then there's Richard Shenkman's title, "One-Night Stands with American History."

No question, we're talking history lite here, an attempt to both entertain and inform. The breezy view of history can lead to some ouchers, like this from the publisher's website describing "U.S. History for Dummies": "Get a grip on the legacy of slavery..." Get a grip? Even if seen from the perspective of your average pierced and tattooed 15-year-old, I wonder how such a serious and far-reaching topic can be understood in a quick take or two.

But hold on here. We journalists can't get too huffy about the reductive thinking required to pull off these kinds of books. That's what we do! The only difference is that we're catching the wave as it goes by instead of combing the archives. And here's my point: Even this version of history serves a purpose. Authors like Davis are telling tales that need to be told to an audience that hasn't the time nor the interest in conquering the typical door stoppers. And by virtue of their formats, the quickie versions tend to tackle history with an irony that's good for the soul. Don't we need a counterweight to the good guy-bad guy sensibilities that have resurfaced since 9/11? A plug nickel for your thoughts...

Margo Hammond I am not going to argue against anyone learning history, but I don't share your belief that Americans have much of an appetite for it. Ambrose Bierce's infamous comment ("War is God's way of teaching Americans geography") can be appled to history as well, I'm afraid. In a country that already is talking about '90s nostalgia, collective historical memory doesn't stretch back very far here. I also don't share your conviction that history lite always tackles history with a skeptical eye -- any more than the more ponderous versions do. Viewpoints and tone -- like your "get a grip on the legacy of slavery" -- vary greatly, depending on the author. Facts are not always neutral -- or at least are not always placed in a neutral context.

I do agree, though, that a compendium of facts can be useful -- but only as long as we recognize that it is incomplete. I worry that these "histories lite" leave the impression that history can be studied as a static, unchanging subject. Yes, there are facts that can be unearthed, but the interpretation of those facts is constantly up for debate.

Isn't there a middle ground between the heavy, unreadable history books churned out by scholars who are publishing rather than perishing and the quickie versions of history? To interest people in history, I would much rather recommend history books like David McCullough's "Truman" and "John Adams" that both inform and entertain. Or how about the recently-published "A Short History of Nearly Everything," Bill Bryson's not-so-short (515 pages), but very funny and enlightening history of science? Another recent favorite of mine is "George Washington's False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century" by Princeton historian Robert Darnton. It doesn't tell everything about that century, but with stories of a chevalier dueling in drag and Washington being inaugurated with one tooth in his mouth (a lower left bicuspid), it sure whets the appetite.

 

Ellen E. Heltzel First, the fact that Americans love history is indisputable. Check out "The Presence of the Past," a book by Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen that includes their extensive phone survey to find out just how much folks care about history, anyway. Sure, many are hazy on general facts and figures (much as I love the subject, I'm a bit fuzzy on these details myself -- which is why I keep a reference library). But history as it relates to their own past matters a lot to them.

As an historian, David McCullough is not "history lite," of course, but he's in a league of his own -- mainly because he's not a professional historian at all, but a good storyteller who builds his tales on solid research. (Ditto fellow bestselling authors and self-taught scholars Antonia Fraser and the late Barbara Tuchman.) And for all his strengths, McCullough has a weakness, which is a tendency to become too much an advocate for his subject; John Adams was not quite as stellar a fellow as McCullough made him seem, nor Jefferson quite the dandy. But back to the subject: McCullough is deep, not wide. Ken Davis is wide, not deep. Both serve their purpose. (As for Bill Bryson, he fills a niche closer to Davis on the continuum, synthesizing and summarizing information that most of us leave to the specialists.)

This brings us back to where I began: the dull mush of high school history. Sad to say, most middle and high school history teachers don't even have history degrees. And, according to Diane Ravitch in "The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn," history textbooks are so compromised by political wars over whose version to teach that American high school seniors score lower on U.S. history than they do on math, science, or reading. Consequently, Bush's "No Child Left Behind" plan is pouring $100 million into "remedial ed" -- not for students, but for teachers who need to "get a grip" (on slavery and everything else). In the meantime, teachers themselves use the "Don't Know Much" and "No More Lies" books because they bring the subject alive. No more lima beans!

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Iraqi Looting of Ancient Sites Goes on Under the Nose of US Soldiers (posted 5-27-03)

Iraqi officials here say that they asked American military leaders as early as a month ago to help protect major archaeological sites from looters, but that for the most part, their pleas were ignored and artwork and relics from ancient Babylon are still being stolen from many locations.

Marine officials said they had taken care to protect Babylon and a handful of other famous ruins from looters. But they also made it clear in the last few days that protecting archaeological treasures was merely one of many priorities, and not necessarily the top one.

On a visit Sunday, three sites near here were pocked with freshly dug holes and littered with hastily abandoned shovels, indicating looting in the last day or two. At one spot, about two dozen people ran off when they saw approaching trucks.

At Isan Bakhriat, site of the ancient city of Isin to the north of here, more than 100 looters were openly digging out and selling urns, sculptures and cuneiform tablets.

"It's happening at almost every site," said Tofiq Abed Muhammad, director of antiquities for the province of Samawa. "They are smart. They take the antiquities that they know have value, and they know how to get them out of the country."

The plundering of Iraqi archaeological sites is the second major wave of culture theft since American forces toppled the government of Saddam Hussein in early April.

The first wave came as American soldiers were seizing Baghdad, when looters broke into and largely gutted Iraq's national museums.

The archaeological lootings could amount to even larger losses over time. Archaeologists say the sites have been so disrupted that systematic historical research there may now be impossible.

Mr. Muhammad said his first request for help was to Lt. Col. Daniel O'Donahue, the commanding officer at a Marine base just outside Samawa.

"We told them we needed American soldiers at checkpoints, in combination with Iraqi guards," he said.

Colonel O'Donohue confirmed that he had discussed the issue. But he said marines were attending to more basic needs like securing enough water, food and medical care for people in the area.

 

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What We Can Learn from the Pearl Harbor Memorial (posted 5-26-03)

Sam Roberts, writing in the NYT (May 25, 2003):

Six decades after it was sunk by Japanese bombs at Pearl Harbor, the U.S.S. Arizona still cries black tears.

Every day, about a quart of oil bubbles up from somewhere inside the barely submerged battleship. In designing the Arizona memorial, nobody anticipated the leak — indeed, the National Park Service is seeking to protect the harbor from any environmental damage (the ship had been refueled shortly before the attack) without defiling the vessel, which still holds the remains of most of the 1,177 crewmen who died on board. And unless a park ranger points out the iridescent oil rings on the surface, they often float off into the bay unnoticed or unexplained.

But to the thousands of visitors each day who tour the memorial — including the museum exhibits at the visitor center, the stark concrete arched monument unveiled in the harbor on Memorial Day, 1962, and the white marble wall on which the victims' names are inscribed — it is those tears from a ship that still weeps for its crew and its country after 61 years that may provide the most poignant and enduring memory of Pearl Harbor.

The symbolism of this place — an evocative vision of naval disaster, not victory — and the unanticipated power of the battleship's unplanned oil leak are worth recalling as the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation advances plans for a World Trade Center memorial, itself a commemoration of disaster on 4.7 acres below street level and incorporating the slurry wall that holds back the Hudson River....

The bombings of Pearl Harbor and of the World Trade Center were both sneak attacks that punctured the myth of American invincibility.

"What I have always been struck by at the Arizona," says Professor Edward T. Linenthal of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, who has studied the site extensively, "is the uniqueness of the relic itself. It is in an active Navy base where, quite literally, the world changed. It is a historic site without any of the physical boundaries that demarcate sacred space at other battlefields.

"It is not unlike the challenge in downtown Manhattan," he said.

What distinguishes the Arizona from many war memorials is that most of the victims are still entombed here, largely because of the difficulty in recovering their bodies at the time. They were officially declared buried at sea.

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SARS Could Well Usher in an Age of Cleanliness (posted 5-26-2003)

Sunanda k. Datta-ray, writing in the Signapore Straits Times (May 27, 2003):

THE next time you hear children chanting 'Ring-a ring-a roses, Pocketful of posies, Hush-a, Hush-a, We all fall down!', remember the grim meaning behind their playfulness. The verse commemorates the 14th century bubonic plague epidemic when, as Boccaccio of The Decameron wrote, people 'ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise'.

The Black Death profoundly changed European living habits - for the better. Rare is the cloud without such a silver lining. Cancer explains the World Health Organisation's treaty against cigarette advertising. Recurring malaria in Calcutta prompted the authorities to drain marshland and build a smart new suburb.

When the tide of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) runs out, it should leave behind considerate and courteous people with cleaner habits.

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Why Deserters Are No Longer Court Martialed (posted 5-23-2003)

Paul Pringle, writing in the LA Times (May 20, 2003):

Officials say today's Army takes a passive, good-riddance approach to its runaways, who account for fewer than 1% of enlistees. Prosecutions and prison sentences have become rare.

Most of the several thousand deserters who bolt each year aren't even actively pursued. Of those who do wind up in custody, more than 90% are discharged as quickly as the paperwork can be processed.

"Hunt them down? No way," said Thomas, who sat in a wind-hammered bungalow as Humvees lumbered along the dusty roads outside. "I've never heard of a court-martial" for a deserter.

The Army has been a volunteer vocation since the end of the Vietnam War-era draft, so commanders have grown increasingly content to cut loose anyone unwilling to fight.

A similar attitude prevails in the Marine Corps and Navy, officials say, adding that it hasn't changed because of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We really don't look for deserters anymore," said Mark Raimondi, spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. "If folks don't want to stay around, we don't want them."

From the Revolutionary War on, deserters have been seen as the dirty laundry of the armed forces -- the mockers of code and honor, the drags on morale.

They come in varied shadings of character and motivation: lonesome 19-year-olds with a sick mom back home. Late-blooming conscientious objectors who signed up for the college benefits. Miscreants with an appetite for drugs and street violence. And the ones who simply got scared.

During the Vietnam War, especially in its early stages, the FBI helped the military track down deserters. Courts-martial were common.

Many Surrender

Now deserters are generally free to run until local civilian authorities happen to detain them -- often for traffic violations -- and warrant checks identify them as military fugitives. A large number turn themselves in. Others are given up by parents or spouses.

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James G. Blaine, Catholics and the U.S. Supreme Court (posted 5-23-2003)

David G. Savage, writing in the LAT (May 19, 2003):

If states pay for scholarships, textbooks and other types of aid that benefit private secular schools, does the U.S. Constitution require them to do the same for church-related or religious schools?

That question is before the Supreme Court in the latest twist in the long debate over religion and its relationship with the government. Last year, the high court said states may use taxpayers' money to pay for children to go to church-related schools. The 5-4 ruling upheld a voucher program in Ohio that gives low-income parents a stipend that they can use to send their child to a church-related school. The flow of public money to a parochial school did not violate the 1st Amendment's ban on an "establishment of religion," the court ruled.

Now, religious-rights advocates and voucher proponents are urging the justices to go a step further and rule that if states are supporting nonreligious private schools through scholarships, tuition aid or other means, they must also cover costs for those at religious schools....

The case arose in 1999, when the Legislature in Washington state offered "Promise Scholarships" to top high school graduates from low-income families.
Joshua Davey qualified for a scholarship and said he planned to study "pastoral ministries" at a small college run by the Assemblies of God. His aim was to become a minister, he said.

State officials, pointing to Washington's Constitution, said students studying theology did not qualify for this public aid. "Absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual," it says. However, "no public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction." Lawyers for the American Center on Law & Justice, a conservative religious-rights group based in Virginia Beach, Va., sued in federal court on Davey's behalf.

While a judge in Seattle sided with the state, the 9th Circuit in San Francisco ruled for Davey.

Lawyers for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group that has championed vouchers, hope the court will take the case and issue a ruling that voids the state constitutional bans on aid for religion.

These bans are "the remnants of 19th century religious bigotry ... and should be nullified," said Kevin Hasson, president of the Becket Fund.
In his view -- and that of several Supreme Court justices -- these state bans are the legacy of a largely forgotten but ugly chapter in American history.
In the late 19th century, James G. Blaine, the speaker of the House and a Republican presidential candidate, led a movement to bar the use of public money to support Catholic schools. "The public schools had a distinctly Protestant character. That's why a parallel, parochial system of Catholic schools developed," says Richard D. Komer, a lawyer for the Institute of Justice. Blaine was "riding an anti-Catholic animus."

Blaine's failed presidential campaign of 1884 is remembered by historians for a supporter's claim that the Democrats were the party of "rum, Romanism and rebellion." While Blaine's proposed federal constitutional amendment fell just short in Congress, 36 states adopted a version for their state constitutions. Until recently, these measures were seen as upholding the principle of separation of church and state. But two years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas denounced these state amendments as having a "shameful pedigree" of anti-Catholic "bigotry."

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Why is Roosevelt's birthplace honoring a pro-communist pol? (posted 5-23-2003)

Wall Street Journal editorial (May 23, 2003):

It's one of those fascinating "what ifs" of American history: What if Henry Wallace had still been vice president when Franklin Roosevelt was felled by a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945? Instead


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