History People Are Talking About Archives 7-18-03 to 8-29-03History Being Talked About
Michael Beschloss, in the course of a review of Henry Kissinger's latest book, Crisis; in Newsweek (August 11, 2003):
As a memoirist, [Henry] Kissinger has enjoyed a formidable advantage. His books have been based on his papers and other materials. By his orders, these were secreted in the Library of Congress and were to be closed to outsiders until five years after his death. Although they were produced on government time and by government employees, Kissinger successfully argued that they were private and twice prevented the governments National Archives from examining them to decide whether they were or not.
Kissingers monopoly on this historical record has driven many scholars to distraction. Groups of lawyers, scholars, journalists and archivists have used pronunciamento, lawsuit and other crowbars in a usually vain effort to open Kissingers Library of Congress cache.
In 2001, a quarter century after his departure from government, Kissinger volunteered to let the National Archives begin processing 10,000 pages of documents from his State Department years for ultimate release. This collection includes the telephone transcripts that form the basis for Crisisonce dubbed the Dead Key Scrolls by columnist William Safire because Kissingers aides made them using a dead key extension on his phone system.
His Scrolls do not quite have the tantalizing aura of the Nixon tapes. Typed up by Kissingers staff for use in daily business, they lack the unpredictability and pungent language (I dont give a st about the lira!) that bring Nixonand the Kissinger of those years, when he appearsback to life. Still, since the revelation of Nixons secret taping system outraged the public, high U.S. officials have not systematically preserved their private conversations by taping them. Thus for the tumultuous years from the Watergate summer of 1973 through Jimmy Carters inauguration in 1977, we will probably get no more intimate source than Kissingers Scrolls.
It is not hard to imagine why Kissinger chose the Yom Kippur War and the Vietnam collapse as the subjects for this book. Both are dramatic turning points and show Kissinger to excellent advantage. Trumans Secretary of State Dean Acheson said that no man comes out of his own memorandum of conversation looking second best. The same may be said of Crisis. The leading man looms as a tower of sanity, cool and broad-minded, negotiating with wit, stamina and skill. He is surrounded by a cast of lesser characters ranging from the beleaguered Nixon, distracted by Watergate, to the last U.S. ambassador to Saigon, the emotional Graham Martin, who shows himself inclined to make himself into a human sacrifice as other Americans flee the North Vietnamese victors.
Kissinger has defended his and Nixons decisions on Vietnam in earlier volumes. In this new one, he manages to convey the difficulty with which, as the Viet Cong pushed for final victory, he had to balance conflicting demands from other U.S. officials, angry conservatives, angrier South Vietnamese allies and an impatient Congress.
Kissingers fellow Republicans have far more use today for Reagans Why Not Victory? strategy than for the Nixon-Kissinger detente with the Soviet Union. He may hope that they might reconsider after reading his you-are-there rendition of the Yom Kippur War, showing how his private collaborations with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin helped to prevent a superpower smash-up. Readers of this book should certainly recognize that Kissingers effective 1973 Mideast diplomacy was the forerunner of President Bushs current efforts to broker an Arab-Israeli peace.
More than anything else, Crisis recaptures the quality, now forgotten by many Americans, that made Super K in 1973 the most admired man in the country (according to the Gallup poll). Americans who worried about Nixons psychiatric balance during Watergate or Fords schooling to be president believed, through crisis after crisis, that they need not worry as long as Kissingers steady hand was on the tiller. As Kissinger faces the bar of history, he shows himself with this book shrewd enough to understand that whatever future critics may think about Cambodia, Christmas bombings or the ouster of the Chilean government, this quality will be one of the strongest arguments in his favor.
Radley Balko, writing for FoxNews (August 28, 2003):
One of the most powerful museums in Washington, D.C., is the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Its the one site I always recommend to people visiting the city, even though it takes a couple of days to shake off the malaise that settles in after youve seen it.
Its a fitting memorial that accurately documents and catalogues the horrors of the Holocaust, without much propagandizing. It allows history to stand on its own. The events as they happened are quite enough.
Its time we had a similar museum to memorialize the devastation wrought by communism (search).
Adolf Hitler (search) has become the embodiment of human evil, yet he wasnt the biggest killer of the last century. He didnt even come in second. He was third, behind two communists, Joseph Stalin (search) and Mao Tse-Tung (search).
According to the historian R.J. Rummel, Hitlers Nazis killed about 21million people between 1933 and 1945, (a figure that includes Roma gypsies, homosexuals, the handicapped, Poles, Russians, Jehova Witnesses and Germans, as well as six million Jews.) Stalin killed twice that many, and Mao killed just under 38 million. When you add in the murders attributable to Lenin (search), Pol Pot (search), Tito (search) and the remaining communist dictators of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America, communism claimed more than 100 million lives. These estimates vary, but its generally accepted now among historians that communism took far more lives than Nazism (search).
My aim here isnt to minimize the atrocities of the Holocaust. My point is that communism also killed millions -- perhaps hundreds of millions -- this last century; it enslaved, and continues to enslave, billions more.
And those are merely the costs we can estimate.
Far more speculative and difficult to measure are the ways in which communism killed human potential. The last century was the most productive in human history: We cured diseases, went to the moon, improved the human condition in almost every way imaginable. Think of what the human race might have accomplished had billions of us not been imprisoned by communism but been free to explore, stretch and reach our potential through competition, innovation and creativity.
Theres really no telling what we might have done.
Unfortunately, nearly 14 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall (search), the embers of communism havent yet flickered out. Anti-communists cannot invoke the Holocaust survivors cry of Never Again. They cant even cry, Not Right Now, At This Moment.
Right now, North Koreas communist regime (search) is imposing a famine on its own people, with resulting deaths estimated in the millions. Communist regimes continue to hold captive the people of China, Laos, Vietnam and Cuba. Human rights abuses abound in all five countries.
Yet communism is rarely regarded with the same enmity we hold for Nazism. In fact, communism today is downright trendy.
Most of us are justifiably revolted at the sight of a teenage kid wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a swastika (search). But glimpse the same kid in a shirt featuring a sickle and hammer, or a portrait of Che Guevara (search), and many of us will find him quaint, perhaps idealistic -- at the very worst, naïve and misguided. In New York City, you can get tipsy at the KGB Bar, a chic spot featuring Soviet-era symbolism and paraphernalia. Imagine what might become of the entrepreneur who tried to open a nightspot themed with Nazi regalia.
From the Guardian (August 28, 2003):
The sea of outsized sombreros, cartridge-filled bandoliers and scruffy peasants scurrying round the set of Zapata gives a thoroughly conventional first impression of Mexico's most expensive film yet. But it isn't long before hints appear of the dramatic makeover that Mexico's favourite moustachioed revolutionary hero is receiving. "Emiliano Zapata was not just a revolutionary political and military leader - he was a spiritual leader too." Writer, director and producer Alfonso Arau, on set in Cuautla, is holding forth on his reinvention of the Caudillo del Sur, the "Boss of the South". "My film is the story of a mythic hero, a predestined leader who passes through a series of tests that end with death that is his passage to eternal life."
Zapata's iconic status has risen globally since the Chiapas insurgency, led by the pipe-smoking sub-comandante Marcos, erupted in 1994. One of the great leaders of Mexico's 1910 revolution, Zapata was idolised as the only revolutionary who sought a wholesale transformation of society in the peasants' interests, before being tricked into an ambush and killed in 1919. His reputation helped make Zapata a key part of the revolutionary myth that was built up in the 1930s and used by the Institutional Revolutionary party to legitimise its claim on power for decades.
Arau's script includes a scene in which exploited, poverty-stricken Indians proclaim the baby Zapata as their saviour. In another, the full-grown guerrilla displays mysterious powers over his enemies' horses. A key moment has the warrior surrounded by fireflies, which then metamorphise into faithful followers.
Such artistic liberties, the director insists, are in the name of a greater truth he discovered through quizzing spiritual healers in Zapata's old stamping ground in the central Mexican state of Morelos. It is also here that the movie is being filmed, mostly in a crumbling hacienda and abandoned sugar mill where the real historical figure looked after horses before the 1910 revolution started.
"I found out that Zapata was a sacred warrior for his own people and that he was a shaman, a real shaman," says Arau. "Aside from the reality that we see, smell and touch, there are other parallel realities, and that's the one I am telling in this movie. I expect the historians are going to object."
He's right; they do. "The idea that Zapata was a spiritual leader is a complete misconception," says Harvard history professor John Womack Jr. Womack's 40-year-old biography is still the standard reference book on the life of the mixed-race leader of Mexico's most radical revolutionary faction, which fought on when the ideals of "land for the peasants who work it" were betrayed.
"Zapata was someone who was tough, reliable, trusted, practical and the logical person to choose as a leader," Womack says, adding that he also developed some very respectable skills as a guerrilla leader as the war went on. "The rest is fantasy."
From the Chronicle of Higher Education (August 28, 2003):
A glance at the fall issue of "Holocaust and Genocide Studies": How family history can obscure the past
Denial and silence about family members' involvement in the Holocaust are important but neglected parts of Germany's relationship with its past, says Katharina von Kellenbach, an associate professor of religious studies at St. Mary's College of Maryland. She explores the issue through her own family history.
When she was a child, her family would not discuss the Holocaust, even though information about it was presented in the news, at school, and in church. She eventually discovered that an uncle, Alfred Ebner, had been accused of killing 20,000 Jews during the Second World War. Her family insisted that the charge was not true. "The momentary glimpse of a murderer in my family's midst was gradually erased by the weight of silence and anxiety, and by my need to maintain amicable family relations," she writes.
While she lived in Germany, she says, she forgot or repressed the knowledge. It was only after immigrating to the United States and meeting Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their children that she remembered and followed up on her family's past. "The historical record shows that Ebner was directly responsible for the implementation of Nazi extermination policies," she writes: "Yet he was never convicted, and as far as I know, he never regretted his actions."
Even with the evidence in front of her, it was difficult for Ms. Kellenbach to believe and look into the charges, because her family had always spoken of her uncle as a victim of false allegations and postwar harassment, she says. "His status as a victim depended upon and sealed the erasure of the Holocaust," she writes, but it is the duty of younger generations "to resist these vanishing acts."
The article is not online. Information about the journal is available at http://www3.oup.co.uk/holgen/current
Brad Cameron, writing for the National Association of Scholars (August 26, 2003):
History professors who assign their students term papers on aspects of the Second World War, particularly with the Nazi concentration camps, sometimes find themselves handed bibliographies that include articles from the journal of the Institute of Historical Review. It is highly unlikely that any of these students have found these articles in any college or university library. They find them on the internet and recognize no difference between them and others they find elsewhere.
However, despite its innocuous title, the IHR is not a scholarly foundation, but a crank front organization providing apologetics for Nazi Germany and "research" denying the Holocaust. Early neo-Nazi internet sites often boldly proclaimed their purposes, even including swastikas. But the IHR is more discreet, reprinting articles by obscure imitators of David Irving. The site blandly presents itself as a gathering place for 'dissenting' scholars, with no aim beyond a search for truth. Anything more than a superficial look ought to reveal what it is really all about. Unfortunately, the internet is the classic venue of the superficial look, especially for students doing term papers.
That the IHR boasts of its "revisionism" is unlikely to provide them with much warning, because many history students of recent decades are much more likely to have been provided with plenty of arguments about the merits of revisionism itself than they are to have been given much of a foundation in the history that is supposedly in need of revising. Even before the recent postmodernist wave, history graduate faculties were already loaded with future professors who had not so much learned history as historiography, learning "American history," for example, mainly as a review of the various conceptual schemes of Charles Beard, Frederick Jackson Turner, and other such grand explainers, while often remaining very poorly informed about anything that actually happened in the United States between 1776 and the last quarter of the twentieth century.
During the 1960s, many of these students were taught far more about what was claimed by revisionists on the left, like William Appleman Williams and Gabriel Kolko, than they were about what presidents from Truman through to Reagan actually did, much less about the moves and countermoves of the leaders of the Soviet Union. Granted, some of their professors would also encourage them to revise these revisionists in turn. However, while this usually amounted to the rediscovery that the world of 1945 to 1980 was more like what it was commonly believed to be off university campuses than it was claimed to be on them, academia saw only a younger generation achieving its place in the sun by another ritual devouring of their elders.
This permanent relativism eventually laid the groundwork for a revisionism that would put the most daringly wrongheaded of past years to shame. Revisionists of the 1960s tried to select documents that would support otherwise improbable explanations of which forces had most importantly shaped the behaviour of past historical figures. The revisionists of this era need few documents, new or old, since they treat all accounts of the past as mere 'narratives' to be mangled and dismembered on their feminist/post-colonial/anti-racist/gender-sensitive Procrustean bed.
Even more alarming than the young academics who engage in this exercise are the academic administrators who watch over this solipsist nonsense with benign smiles. A surprising example can be found in the correspondence columns of the 11 August 2003 National Review. An earlier issue had reported, with understandable horror, that a Marine captain had presented a paper at the United States Naval Academy arguing that the Iwo Jima landing was a "racist" operation. The NR article about it drew a response from the academic dean and provost of the USNA. After some legitimate but irrelevant celebration of the Naval Academy in general, the dean declared:
The Academy's history department conducts regular discussions of scholarly works-in-progress by military and civilian faculty. In this crucible, ideas are challenged, assumptions questioned, factual support assessed, and clarity enhanced. Such was the discussion of this junior officer's draft treatise . . . All present recognized the preliminary nature of the paper, and the young officer is greatly offended that someone not even present misused his draft research to bolster preconceived notions.
This response recalls the kind of answers that the comic strip character "Dilbert" gets from his nincompoop boss when he dares to point out the obvious. The boss is not just scatterbrained; he keeps entirely missing the point at issue. Either the academic dean and provost of the USNA is being disingenuous, or he lives in the same fog as Dilbert's boss. No one knowing anything of the war in the Pacific would deny that there were elements of blanket anti-Japanese racial prejudice mixed in with the primarily justifiable motives with which the U. S. fought the war. But Iwo Jima was a battle, one of many that had to be fought to defeat Imperial Japan. Centering a paper on its "racist" aspects is comparable to studying the destructive effects of the Battle of the Atlantic on halibut stocks.
This kind of research is not instructive, but clever: a display of the student's familiarity with fashionable preoccupations, not the historical events on which these are brought to bear. The arrival of this subjectivism in an officer training school is positively frightening. The Naval Academy dean clearly needs to warm up his crucible, and to have his own preconceived notions given a new bolstering. What could arouse his alarm? A reinterpretation of D-Day as an attempt to widen the market for Coca-Cola? A study of MacArthur and Nimitz as closet queens, engaged in homoerotic rivalry? Or would he rejoice in these exciting prospects? I think we should be told.
A post by Larry Schweikart on Richard Jensen's conservative list (August 24, 2003):
Just this Friday, my history faculty voted unanimously, save moi who voted"nay," to eliminate a"Western Civilization" requirement in favor of a"global studies/world history" requirement. But wait . . . Not only did the faculty eliminate"Western Civ," but the new"global studies" course is"thematic," meaning that any"theme" covered over a 200-year period is an acceptable topic. Specifically, the faculty rebelled against" content," saying, in essence, students can't learn content anyway, and emphasized . . ."WAYS OF KNOWING." One interesting comment was that"everyone else" is moving in this direction and we didn't want to"lag behind." I noted that"leadership" is not lagging, it is leading. Does Mr. Summers agree with me? ("He wants to change the undergraduate curriculum so that students focus less on ''ways of knowing'' and more on actual knowledge.")
John Ray, writing in frontpagemag.com (August 27, 2003):
Like most college and university teachers in the social sciences and humanities, academic psychologists are overwhelmingly Leftist in their orientation. So it will be no surprise to hear that at least since the 1950's psychologists have been doing their best to find psychological maladjustment in conservatives. To anyone with a knowledge of history the results have been quite absurd (See here) but psychologists rarely seem to know much about history so that has not disturbed them.
I spent 20 years from 1970 to 1990 getting over 200 articles published in the academic journals of the social sciences which subjected the various politically relevant theories of psychologists to empirical test. The only test that psychologists normally give to their theories is to seek the opinions of their students on a variety of issues and present THAT as evidence about how the world works. My consistent strategy was to do the same sort of test among random samples of people in the community at large. I found that people in the community at large are not nearly as accommodating to the theories of psychologists as psychology students are!
My non-conformist behaviour in actually doing a serious test of these theories won me no kudos, however. I appear to have had far more articles on political psychology published in the academic journals than anyone else and so would therefore -- by conventional academic criteria -- normally be considered the No. 1 world expert on the subject but in fact my writings have always been comprehensively ignored. My findings did not produce the RIGHT CONCLUSIONS, you see. In fact my findings showed the theories concerned to be wrong in almost every respect.
So it was no surprise to me at all to read the latest effort in the long line of attempts by psychologists to discredit conservatives. The article "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition" was published recently by John Jost and his collaborators at Berkeley in The Psychological Bulletin -- one of the premier journals of academic psychology. The "powers that be" at Berkeley were so pleased with this article that they put out a press release that was designed to publicize the findings of the article as widely as possible.
The result was great derision from conservative political commentators. The study was so obviously one-eyed that it was very easy to deride. Their claim that Stalin was Right-wing, for instance must be some high-point of twisting the evidence. If the most prominent Communist of the 20th century was Right-wing, who on earth would be Left-wing? Black might as well be white. Here is what Jost and his crew actually said:
"There are also cases of left-wing ideologues who, once they are in power, steadfastly resist change, allegedly in the name of egalitarianism, such as Stalin or Khrushchev or Castro (see J. Martin, Scully, & Levitt, 1990). It is reasonable to suggest that some of these historical figures may be considered politically conservative"
It is hard to know where to start in commenting on this breathtaking statement. To say that the instigator of huge (and disastrous) changes in almost everything in Russian life resisted change is incomprehensible. And to call Communists of that era conservatives is equally perverse. One has to say that "conservative" obviously has a pretty strange meaning in the ivory towers of Berkeley. In their world even Stalin can be blamed on conservatism.
Apparently as an attempted explanation of their perverse definitions, they go on to say that the worldwide legion of Communist tyrants that they allude to are not typical of Leftists. The fact that Communists at their height controlled nearly half the world is not apparently enough to get them counted as typical Leftists.
Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University, writing smh.com.au (August 25, 2003):
Within 30 years of the British arrival in Tasmania, the near-extinction of the indigenous people had occurred. Ever since the 1830s, civilised opinion has regarded Tasmania as the site of one of the greatest tragedies in the history of British colonialism. At least in Australia, this view is presently under challenge. Late last year Keith Windschuttle published The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. It claimed that in the story of the empire, Tasmania was probably the place where "the least indigenous blood of all was deliberately shed".
Windschuttle claimed that in Tasmania only 118 Aborigines had been killed, a little over half the number of British settlers who had died violent deaths at Aboriginal hands. Such clashes arose, he claimed, not because, as all previous historians had believed, the Aborigines were defending their lands from intruders, but because of the pleasure these savage people took in the act of murder and because they had come to covet British "consumer goods".
Windschuttle attributed the large number of Aboriginal deaths, almost entirely, to introduced diseases, to the brutal disregard of Aboriginal men for their women, whom they wantonly sold into prostitution, and the maladaptation to their environment of a people so primitive that their survival for 35,000 years could rationally be explained only by a rather extended period of good luck.
The most unsettling aspect of the publication of Fabrication was the enthusiasm with which it was greeted by the right, including by the Prime Minister, who awarded Windschuttle a Centenary Medal for services to history. Geoffrey Blainey described Fabrication as "one of the most important and devastating books written on Australian history in recent years". There was clearly something about the song Windschuttle was singing that was both familiar and appealing to certain ears.
Following the reception of Fabrication two things seemed clear to me. If Windschuttle's interpretation of the dispossession came to be widely accepted, then all prospect for reconciliation - that is to say for a history which indigenous and non-indigenous Australians might share - was dead. And if the flaws in Windschuttle's interpretation were ever to be understood, it could only be through the publication of a non-polemical, scholarly book, written by those who knew, through their different expertise, that what Windschuttle had produced was not a genuine history, but plausible, counterfeit coin. Whitewash, which I edited and which was launched on Saturday at the
comments powered by Disqus
Eugene - 1/8/2004
- Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham on the AP Af-Am Studies Controversy
- 600 African American Studies Faculty Sign Open Letter in Defense of AP African American Studies
- Organization of American Historians Statement on AP African American Studies
- Historians on DeSantis and the Fight Over Black History
- How the Right Got Waco Wrong