History People Are Talking About Archives 8-29-03 to 10-23-03History Being Talked About
James Barron, writing in the NYT (Sept. 17, 2003):
On the block where it happened, there were no "we will never forget" speeches, no candles or bronze plaques bolted to the wall that has never been repaired. All that was there yesterday was the noontime crowd, swirling by with lunch to be gulped, errands to be run and an afternoon of work waiting to be done. In other words, no one was paying much attention.
That was pretty much what the noontime crowd was doing on Sept. 16, 1920 -- 83 years ago yesterday -- when a bomb exploded there. And that was why, after the dead had been taken to the morgue and the injured to hospitals on that Thursday afternoon, there were so many descriptions of the bomb-laden cart that had been parked beneath a window of the J. P. Morgan & Company bank headquarters at 23 Wall Street.
In the aftermath, there were questions: What had the horse looked like? What had been painted on the cart? Some witnesses recalled the letters "D," "N" and "T," others the word "dynamite," others the word "DuPont." And what color was the smoke, anyway? Black, from dynamite? Yellow, from nitrogylcerine? Blue, from some other explosive? Among witnesses who survived the devastating hail of metal and glass, there was no consensus.
But the damage was clear. The fortresslike facade of the Morgan building was pocked with craters that remain deep enough to sink a palm into. The columns of what is now Federal Hall, across the street, were blackened. More than 30 people were killed and several hundred wounded, and the damage exceeded $2 million -- more than $18.4 million in 2003 dollars.
"The number of victims, large though it was, cannot convey the extent of the inferno produced by the explosion, the worst of its kind in American history," Paul Avrich, a professor of history at Queens College, wrote in reviewing the case more than a decade ago.
The investigators sniffing for clues long ago went from being detectives to historians. The police never charged anyone in the bombing, and it is a mostly forgotten moment in New York City history.
"Nobody remembers," said Beverly Gage, whose book "The Wall Street Explosion: Capitalism, Terrorism and the 1920 Bombing of New York," is to be published next year by Oxford University Press.
One reason is the speed with which the attack went from rating a banner headline to barely rating a footnote. "Wall Street's Wall Street," said Meg Ventrudo, the assistant director of the Museum of American Financial History. "Wall Street is more concerned with tomorrow's trades than yesterday's news."
And as Ms. Gage noted, "The Morgan bank from the first was rather self-conscious about wanting to get the whole thing over with and forgotten because it wasn't terribly good for business."
Daniel Pipes, writing in the NY Post (Sept. 18, 2003):
"'Intellectual thugs," huffed Rashid Khalidi, now of Columbia University."Cyber-stalking," whined Juan Cole of the University of Michigan."Crude McCarthyism" sniffed David Bartram of the University of Reading."Totalitarian" thundered Jenine Abboushi of New York University.
What so outrages these academic specialists on the Middle East? It's called Campus Watch (campus-watch.org), and it's a project I started a year ago today to"review and critique Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them."
Campus Watch provides peer review of a vital topic - think how many problems come out of the Middle East. Given the centrality of this region to current world politics, how the scholars fare is not a recondite matter but an issue of importance for our security and welfare.
Trouble is, Middle East studies have become an intellectual Enron. Scholars of the Middle East are:
- Incompetent: They consistently get the basics wrong. Militant Islam they portray as a democratizing force. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda they dismiss as irrelevant. The Palestinian Authority they predict to be democratic. So wrong so consistently are the academics that government officials have largely stopped asking them for advice.
- Adversarial: Many American scholars are hostile to U.S. national interests. Thus, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) board has recommended that its members"not seek or accept" U.S. government funded scholarships. That three specialists were recently indicted on terrorism charges caused no alarm among their colleagues.
- Intolerant: The field is hobbled by political uniformity and an unwillingness to permit alternate viewpoints. In one infamous case at Berkeley, the section leader of a course on Palestinian poetics made this bias explicit in the course catalog ("Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections").
- Apologetic: Specialists generally avoid subjects that reflect poorly on their region, such as repression in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Muslim anti-Semitism and chattel slavery in Sudan. The MESA president recently discouraged studying what he called"terrorology." Specialists sometimes actively deceive, for example, by denying that jihad historically has meant offensive warfare.
- Abusive: Specialists too often coerce students into regurgitating a party line and penalize freethinkers with lower grades.
Campus Watch seeks to remedy these problems with a two-pronged approach: offer specialists an informed, serious and constructive critique; and alert university stakeholders - students, alumni, trustees, parents of students, regents, government funders - to the failings of Middle East studies.
The professorate responded to Campus Watch's launch last Sept. 18 with furious allegations of"McCarthyism" and worse. This intense reaction to our work suggested that it (however reluctantly) heard our message. With time, the hysteria has subsided, replaced by an apparent resignation to our continued review of their scholarship and actions.
On its first anniversary, Campus Watch can claim to have had an impact. The U.S. House Subcommittee on Select Education held an unprecedented hearing on"questions of bias" in Middle Eastern and other area studies programs. At Columbia University, students, faculty and alumni have begun agitating against their institution's one-sided coverage of the Middle East. The University of Michigan shut down a Web site that disseminated the extreme Wahhabi version of Islam.
The Campus Watch staff lectured at 48 educational institutions during the past academic year, offering a rare break from one-sided presentations of the Middle East. Unhappily, our presence sometimes so inflamed the opposition that bodyguards, metal detectors and (in one memorable instance) mounted police were required to insure our right to speak. On the bright side, such furor prompted wide media coverage and useful debates about the Middle East and the need for diverse viewpoints.
Robert Matthews, writing in the London Telegraph (Sept. 14, 2003):
Discovering that some great historical figure had the scruples of a Mafia hit-man or the sexual morality of a rabbit is nothing new these days. While such revelations often ruin the reputation of run-of-the-mill celebrities, this is not always the case for great scientists, whose po-faced image often benefits from a whiff of scandal.
Many physicists still delight in exchanging anecdotes about the late, great American Nobel prizewinner Richard Feynman, who enjoyed breaking into safes and frequenting topless bars. Madame Curie made tabloid headlines in 1911 with an affair with a fellow physicist, and was told by a member of the Nobel Prize committee not to collect her award for the discovery of radium (she turned up anyway). Erwin Schrodinger, one of the founders of quantum theory, did his best work between sessions with his mistress in a skiing lodge.
There is only one form of behaviour that is still regarded as utterly beyond the pale in the scientific mind, and that is any form of flirtation with the occult. Even the likes of Sir Isaac Newton knew his reputation would take a severe beating if anyone learned of his fascination with matters spiritual and alchemical. In public, Newton insisted that he had no interest in putting forward the explanation of gravity, and focused purely on its mathematical description. Only centuries after his death did it emerge that Newton believed gravity to be a manifestation of God's all-pervading spirit.
The same sentiments hold sway today. Professor Brian Josephson of Trinity College, Cambridge, is widely regarded to have "cracked up" after winning the 1973 physics Nobel at the precocious age of 33, simply because he refuses to dismiss evidence for paranormal phenomena.
Clearly anyone who hopes to succeed in the world of science is best advised to keep their flaky ideas to themselves. Just how far some scientists have been prepared to go to avoid being labelled fruitcases is made clear by a paper in the current issue of Physics World by Dr Jeff Hughes, a scientific historian at the University of Manchester.
Cameron Mcwhirter, Bill Rankin, writing in the Atlanta Jurnal and Constitution (Sept. 14, 2003):
Fred Vinson, once the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, hasn't received much respect since he dropped dead of a heart attack in his Washington apartment 50 years ago.
Largely forgotten, the Kentucky Democrat has been labeled by the few court historians who mention him as an incompetent jurist and a Southern political hack reluctant to tamper with segregation. In fact, Vinson is noted more for his death than for his life, because his passing ushered in a new era for the high court.
His demise at 63 on Sept. 8, 1953, brought glee to his enemies. Fellow Justice Felix Frankfurter told a law clerk that the chief justice's passing was "the first indication I have ever had that there is a God."
Vinson doesn't even get much respect at his alma mater, Centre College in Danville, Ky. Members of Vinson's fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, carry his portrait, proudly called "Dead Fred," to every football game as a sort of creepy mascot.
Vinson's reputation has been overshadowed by that of his successor, Chief Justice Earl Warren, credited with uniting a fractious court and transforming U.S. civil rights and privacy laws. Only months after Vinson's passing, the court under Warren ruled unanimously in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, signaling the end of educational segregation. Under Vinson, the court had been divided on the case.
"The Age of Darkness was transformed into the Age of Progress," said Charles Ogletree, a Harvard University law professor who is writing a book about the Brown case.
But a small group of legal historians has set out to revise Vinson's bad rep. A biography and several histories of Vinson's court have come out in the past two years, and more are set for publication next year.
These scholars acknowledge that Vinson was not a great legal mind and admit that he was hesitant about abruptly ending segregation. But they argue that rulings by the Vinson court played a key role in unraveling prior court precedents buttressing segregation. Vinson paved the way, they argue, for the Brown ruling and other civil rights reforms.
"Vinson is a largely forgotten figure who was never given the credit he was due," said Robert George, a Princeton University law professor and constitutional scholar. "He is someone who deserves to be remembered."
Born in 1890 in Louisa, Ky., Vinson became a prominent politician in the state by the mid-1920s. He was elected to Congress from 1924 to 1929, then again from 1931 to 1938. Vinson was a quick study on tax law and budgets, a close ally of Harry Truman, then vice president, and a strong supporter of President Roosevelt's New Deal.
In 1938, Roosevelt nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where he served until 1943. In 1943, Roosevelt put Vinson in charge of the Office of Economic Stabilization, which ran the country's wartime economy. In 1945, President Truman made him treasury secretary. His ability take on various jobs for the Democratic administration earned him the moniker "Available Vinson." Truman, who regularly played cards with Vinson, called him "the man I depend on most."
In 1946, Truman nominated Vinson to become the nation's 13th chief justice.
"Vinson had a reputation, prior to coming to the court . . . of being able to bring people together," said Linda Gugin, co-author with James St. Clair of a biography of Vinson.
But from the beginning, the contentious, intellectual and highly educated justices such as Frankfurter looked down on Vinson.
"They did not have the respect for him that he would have needed," Gugin said. "They saw him as a crony of Truman."
St. Clair said Vinson had a mind for politics, not for jurisprudence.
"He had a favorite saying, 'Things go better when you don't get all hot and bothered,' " St. Clair said. "That worked well in Congress and the bureaucracy, but it didn't work at the court, obviously."
Dan Vergano, writing in USA Today (Sept. 15, 2003):
Hard as it might be to believe, Adolf Hitler wrote fan mail, finding time in the early 1930s to express his admiration of the American leaders of a vaguely scientific movement called eugenics.
In a new book, War Against the Weak, investigative reporter Edwin Black makes the case that 20th-century American proponents of eugenics -- the belief that controlled breeding can improve humanity -- had substantive ties to the architects of Hitler's racial extermination machine.
Black documents many links, such as the Hitler letters, between the American eugenicists and Nazi Germany prior to World War II, including how one prominent eugenicist's book, Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race, became Hitler's "bible."
Eugenics came into vogue in the early 20th century. With a name coined in 1883 by British anthropologist Francis Galton, who hoped to see arranged marriages improve mankind, the movement eventually led to racist laws, such as ones prohibiting miscegenation in many U.S. states and the sterilization of more than 60,000 mental and moral "defectives."
"It's startling how much Hitler idealized American eugenics," Black says. His book required two years of research by dozens of volunteers who culled records from about 110 archives, diaries of eugenicists, case records of their victims and research reports on removing the unfit from humanity. The research builds on Black's best-selling book, IBM and the Holocaust, which examined Nazi use of data-processing technology to fill concentration camps.
In War Against the Weak, Black lays bare the veins of collaboration between American eugenicists and Nazi scientists. There was financial support of genetic research and travel by Nazi doctors from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.) Laboratory, a leading genetics research institute. There was research collaboration and reports on the Nazi efforts in respected journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Black also describes:
* Biologist Charles Davenport, head of the Eugenics Record Office based at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He wrote eugenics textbooks widely used in universities and high schools and led drives for sterilization laws that eventually emerged in 33 states. He supported "racial hygiene" concepts.
* The lauding of eugenics by prominent Americans, including Alexander Graham Bell and Woodrow Wilson.
* The career of one Harvard-credentialed doctor, Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen, an original member of the Eugenics Research Association created in 1913, who ended up as a physician prisoner and SS collaborator at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Black says the labs and foundations he contacted, such as Cold Spring Harbor, were open to examining their past and are committed to legitimate scientific work today.
Science historian and geneticist Elof Carlson of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, argues that Black does not capture the scope of historical bigotry and global racism.
The author of last year's The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea, Carlson says that "liberals, left-wing ideologues, social reformers, people of good intentions, scholars, and totally innocent scientists all contributed to the eugenics movement" -- not just a few malevolent scientists. (Black does note that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was "a bigot if not a racist" who associated with eugenicists.) "Evil movements try to pick legitimate science to bolster their fanaticism," Carlson adds.
John Taylor, executive director of the Nixon Center (Sept. 11, 2003):
After Richard Nixon’s death in April 1994, his family and the friends responsible for his estate dared to hope that a better place in history could be secured by the same fragile loops of coated plastic that had strangled his Presidency. Historians concurred that the Nixon White House tapes, when cross-referenced with the documentary record of the Nixon years, would offer extraordinary insights into the dynamics of Presidential decision-making. Nearly a half-century of partisan score-settling that has typified commentary about Mr. Nixon ever since the Alger Hiss case would finally give way to a flood of theses, dissertations, and biographies by students and scholars less possessed than their forebears by the ideological passions of the Cold War and Vietnam eras.
We did not think it would happen overnight. We assumed that working journalists would first cull the tapes for profanity and racial and ethnic references by the President and his aides, all of them uttered during private conversations. At least that assumption proved correct. Yet we trusted that the tapes would be eventually used to illuminate his deft policy-making in Vietnam, foreign affairs, and domestic policy and also to provide new perspectives on the scandal that destroyed his Presidency.
In retrospect, we proved to be especially naïve when it came to Watergate. Journalists and prosecutors had pushed hard for the release of the tapes during 1973-74 so we could see what they revealed about Watergate. What we never anticipated was that a generation later, journalists and scriptwriters would ignore the tapes when what they revealed about Watergate proved to be inconsistent with the conventional wisdom.
For instance, in July PBS broadcast a documentary featuring a charge by former campaign aide Jeb Stuart Magruder that President Nixon had personally approved the Watergate break-in in a phone call on March 30, 1972. Since the President was in the White House that day, such a conversation would have been caught on tape. The tapes show that no such conversation took place. Mr. Magruder’s statement was contradicted by other evidence as well, including his own conflicting statements over the years. In their rush to promote and amplify Mr. Magruder’s explosive charge, the producers revealed none of the contradictory evidence.
President Nixon would not have been surprised. Yet for a little while, we had dared hope it would be otherwise. The former President had long resisted the release of his tapes on the grounds that the National Archives had not fulfilled its court-mandated obligation to return to him tapes of personal and family conversations. Two weeks after his death, President Nixon’s son-in-law Edward Cox reached out to executors and attorneys for the Nixon estate. The accolades recently heaped on the late President by his eulogists and even by some in the media suggested that the era of harsh anti-Nixon commentary was over, Mr. Cox said, which meant that the expensive court battles should end as well. He said while the President had been right to fight to protect his and his family’s privacy, it was time for his executors to cut a deal.
Mr. Cox’s suggestion was a relief to many on the late President’s battle-scarred legal team as well as to those of us working on his staff and at his library. It was tantalizing to think that an era was dawning when discerning scholars would patiently comb the files and tapes and write balanced accounts of the Nixon years. In July 1995, we reached an agreement with the National Archives setting a timetable for opening the thousands of hours of tape recordings. Eight years later, over half the tapes have been opened to scholars at the Nixon Project in College Park, Maryland. The archivists themselves control the pace of the openings. Their painstaking work is sometimes slowed by new declassification rules and other factors. The Nixon estate has not formally objected to the opening of a single second of tape. A few years ago we even agreed to permit the archivists to sell copies of the tapes to the public earlier than the July 1995 agreement had stipulated.
Yet the reading room at College Park is not clogged with listeners. Officials say about five people a week come in to listen to the tapes. Even for dedicated students of Presidential decision-making, taped conversations are sometimes too much of a good thing. Listening to and transcribing tapes is expensive and laborious. All 4,000 hours of Nixon tapes would fill about 480 500-page volumes, and that’s without any annotations. Our best source for accurate, thoughtfully annotated transcripts of important taped conversations from Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon White Houses is the project underway at University of Virginia’s Miller Center. Still, it will take experts many years to complete transcripts of relatively few selected conversations.
Yet even when transcripts are available, journalists with an interest in Watergate tend to overlook them unless they bolster the conventional wisdom. Our first disappointment came in 1997 with press coverage of the first book containing extensive transcripts of the newly-released Watergate tapes, Abuse of Power by Stanley Kutler of the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Kutler published selected transcripts that actually confirm President Nixon’s own account of his actions during Watergate. In suggestive, sometimes misleading annotations, Dr. Kutler tried his best to explain away his transcripts’ exculpatory flavor. The transcripts themselves ultimately received little if any notice from reporters and reviewers in spite of the insights they offered into the state of mind of a President overseeing a war in Vietnam, peace negotiations in Paris, and a political campaign at home.
To paraphrase Sen. Howard Baker’s famous question, the keys to understanding Watergate are what the President thought and when he thought it. Though critics ridiculed his assertion that he acquiesced in a limit on the Watergate investigation because of national security, the tapes show he was telling the truth. Some of the burglars had also worked on a team, called the Plumbers, that had investigated Daniel Ellsberg after he stole top-secret Vietnam files, the Pentagon Papers, and gave them to the newspapers. Mr. Nixon was dismayed to learn in the spring of 1973 that the team had performed a 1971 break-in at the office of Dr. Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, Louis Fielding. But in June 1972, when the Watergate break-in occurred, he was still operating on the assumption that the Ellsberg investigation had been above board. He thought Dr. Ellsberg had put American fighting men at risk, and he considered his right to investigate him inviolable, as well as unrelated to Watergate. So he blithely approved his White House counsel John Dean’s plan to limit the investigation – only to revoke the order two weeks later after the FBI complained.
The tapes for the rest of 1972 reveal that he thought the burglars should be accountable for Watergate but not for investigating Ellsberg – exactly the distinction he said he had kept in his mind all along. Again and again he counseled his aides to avoid a Watergate cover-up. On June 30, he said, “I think the best thing to do is cut your losses in such things, get the damn thing out.” On July 19, he said, “You know, I’d like to see this thing work out, but I’ve been through these. The worst thing a guy can do, the worst thing – there are two things and each is bad. One is to lie and the other one is to cover up.” On September 18, he said, “The cover-up is what hurts you, not the issue. It’s the cover-up that hurts.” On October 16, he tells chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, “I just want to know whether [Appointments Secretary Dwight] Chapin or you guys were involved in Watergate….I don’t want anybody to lie about Watergate, do you know what I mean?…If we are, we’ve got to admit it, you know what I mean, because I have said it and I’m out on
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