Should Professors Air Their Views on Controversial Subjects in the Classroom?


Mr. Palaima is a professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin.

I have been teaching ancient Greek history to more than forty students this semester. We have often seen analogies with contemporary issues. This is understandable. Herodotus, the acknowledged father of Western history, traces the conflict between the Greek independent city-state cultures and eastern imperial kingly cultures that culminated in the Persian Wars (490-479 B.C.E.). He stresses significant cultural differences between East and West that affect events.

Recently, the general secretary of the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan, the largest of Pakistan's religious parties, declared that "Western civilization is based on falsehoods and denials of the basic truth." He was then asked whether given that "there are so many contradictions between the West and the Muslim world . . . there (is) any chance of reconciliation and dialogue between the two civilizations?" His answer: "There is none. The basic concepts of both civilizations are in total contrast with each other."

Some of our future leaders had best be examining the principles and origins of western civilization in a meaningful way, testing such radical claims and realizing that the problems now seen in Iraq have long and untidy histories.

Thucydides, founder of scientific history, wrote his account of the terrible war that engulfed the Athenian empire and the whole known world as a case study in how human beings and human societies react to the stresses of war. One prominent Thucydides scholar is Donald Kagan. Kagan and his son Robert have used their views of history in support of White House policies on Afghanistan and Iraq. This continues the keen interest of the U.S. State Department in Thucydides at the outset of the Cold War.

If even ancient history and classical scholars are relevant to the most important issues confronting us as U.S. citizens, it is likely that professors and students in many courses will confront such issues. What should they do?

This question comes up now because of the recent story about the Young Conservatives of Texas at the University of Texas at Austin publishing a watch list of 10 professors, nine of them "liberal," for attempting to "indoctrinate" students in the classroom. Heading the list was journalism professor Robert Jensen.

Jensen believes in confrontational politics. His letter in the Houston Chronicle just after 9/11 raised a storm of protest and drew a response from UT President Larry Faulkner. The current head of the Young Conservatives, Austin Kinghorn, was a student of Jensen's at that time and felt that in his class "[t]here was no opposing view presented."

Professors have a professional obligation not only to "profess" our technical subjects, but to signpost where and how these subjects are meaningful to our lives and to human society. Some will do this in a balanced way that promotes discussion and allows for varying perspectives. Others will be more radical and categorical, and that includes both conservatives and liberals. I think it is incumbent on us not to avoid controversial topics but to develop whatever perspectives our particular course specialties offer.

That being said, professors hold lots of power over students in a classroom. Professors must then try to be honest, yet restrained. Students themselves have to muster the personal courage to express opposing views. If Kinghorn did not speak up in opposition to Jensen's views, got his A, went away and later watch-listed Jensen, he will not appear in the next edition of "Profiles in Courage."

And Jensen strikes me as disingenuous. He uses confrontation and provocation as political tools, but then complains that the response he evokes and the atmosphere he creates "make people a little nervous and there's a self-censorship effect."

Everyone should read chapter five of David Maraniss's acclaimed book They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967. The president of University of Wisconsin-Madison, when confronted with the idea that there were too many radicals on campus, replied: "Our image . . . is that we are one of the great universities, high in quality, strong (very strong) in freedom of expression, a university at which we crush neither students nor faculty; . . . a university that has always considered itself strong enough to tolerate some dissenters and non-conformists . . . It is a tradition of which we are all very proud. We could hardly change the `image' without changing the institution, could we?"

It strikes me that this is the image faculty and students and our president should foster at UT-Austin.

This article was first published in the Austin American-Statesman and is reprinted with permission of the author.

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More Comments:

Brian Page - 1/31/2005

Sorry I disagree with you. I think in hindsight that not only was Don Kagan right, but if you read his ideas about Iraq, they too are coming true. Like a modern Cassandra wouldn't you say? Maybe, you wouldn't.

Peter N Kirstein - 7/19/2004

Professors have the right to assign topics to students in an English composition course. That is indisputable. Your charge that the outcomes of their research should conform to their instructor's ideology is without evidence and foundation. The instructor is also entitled to articulate and advocate a position on the environment in her class as long as it is germane to the course objectives and topic.

I would imagine had the instructor required each student to undertake a research paper on the Presidential Seal, you would not have objected.

Peter N. Kirstein

Peter N. Kirstein - 7/19/2004

I meant the word "conducting" and not "carrying"

Peter N. Kirstein - 7/19/2004

I meant the word "conducting" and not "carrying"

Peter N. Kirstein - 7/19/2004

I meant the word "conducting" and not "carrying"

Peter N. Kirstein - 7/19/2004

I meant the word "conducting" and not "carrying." I regret the error.

Peter N. Kirstein - 7/19/2004

I meant the word "conducting" and not "carrying." I regret the error.

Josh Greenland - 7/19/2004

"If you wish to see more of my views on this, kindly consult.
http://www.sxu.edu/~kirstein/ "

I did, and I noticed a link to an article about you that concerned the JFK assassination. Unfortunately, that link points to a completely unrelated article.

Peter N Kirstein - 12/26/2003

The charge of “indoctrination” is most familiar to me. It seems to emanate from those who have a differing perspective on the purpose of teaching or frankly of progress. I have used the term, in a recent HNN piece, to describe the mandatory recitation—or at least rendering—of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. I think your use of the term asserts, without substantiation, that professors generally stifle voices in the classroom. I believe my application of the concept, in terms of the Pledge, is accurate because there is a state-sponsored compulsion of patriotic speech that is not dissimilar to a catechism.

Teaching is a moral act and I believe it is an approach that is both valid and noble. If it “challenges” and “undermines” conventional wisdom, then so be it. If it challenges the “ideals” of the US, then fine. I do not construe my mission as buttressing or supporting this country—although I believe nontraditional, radical teaching may indeed contribute to the latter— but to teach in a critical manner so that students, will have significant skills of analysis, to decide what components of our past require opposition and/or reaffirmation. Many of our “ideals” were products of racism, sexism and imperialism and I believe students have the right to know that. Yet I believe the above can result from a heuristic approach that does not preclude student outcomes or suppress differing views and opinions.

Professors are not preachers but they are not mere dispensers of facts and figures either. Controversy and revisionism are pivotal in developing an American democracy and the capacity to question and challenge our failings and shortcomings.

Peter N Kirstein

V F Safral - 12/26/2003

Are you in denial? Is it not true that the vast majority of the professoriate is involved, like you, in indoctrinating their students in the spirit of race, class and gender? Is there not a gap in the worldview of academicians and those of true, real Americans who work each day, come home tired and support their country and history?

Is it not accurate, quoting from various things you have written, that you see "teaching as a moral act," and as a vehicle to propagate and effectuate policies and practices to challenge if not undermine the ideals of this country?

Peter N Kirstein - 12/26/2003

To Mr Greenland,

Not necessarily although I see your point. I think many professors recognize that teaching is a different exercise than an extramural utterance. The latter is, if you will, an editorial in which one is clearly attempting to influence and sway an audience with a point of view.
The former, teaching, may contain elements of the latter but success is dependent upon the airing of different views and the fostering of an environment in which lively exchanges ensue. Professors who succeed in doing this know that the classroom should be a marketplace of ideas. Professors I think recognize that they can have it both ways: Articulate strongly their opinions in class and motivate students to challenge and assert their own views.

In terms of evaluating written assignments, the ideology of the students, at least for me, is of little consequence in terms of evaluation. I know in advance that students may try to "please" me with certain viewpoints. They know in advance that I have given them a rather detailed outline on how to organize, research and write their assignments. I think students of mine would be more chary in NOT expressing an opinion, than avoiding any for purposes of safety.

Yes I concede some professors may be partial to evaluating papers that are partial to their viewpoints. It may be a human response and to say this does not happen would be incorrect. Yet most professors are aware that student work must be based upon performance and not one's political or ideological position.

Peter N Kirstein - 12/25/2003

Mr Greenland,

I was referring to my various utterances in The Weekly Standard, American Legion, Frontpage.mag and recent lectures on the issue of dissent and academic freedom.

The JFK piece is somewhat tangential to the issues above as are other aspects of my website.

Thanks for looking anyway.


Peter N Kirstein - 12/24/2003

Mr or Ms Safral,

Few professors avoid bringing their ethos and ideology into the classroom. It is part of being human and part of “professing.” AAUP guidelines encourage controversy and expressly allow professors to articulate and adopt a normative position on issues that are germane to their course and their teaching.

Your second statement is in part unexceptionable. Yet the above posting advanced no factual argumentation that the assignment on the environment violated the academic freedom of students. One of the difficulties that academia faces is maintaining its principled values despite pressure from elements of a more conservative and frankly less-inquisitive public that sees higher education as a disciplined exercise in fostering patriotism and unquestioned obedience to “American values.”

I assure you it is a battle that I relish and am fully capable of winning in terms of my own rights and career.

If you wish to see more of my views on this, kindly consult.

Peter N Kirstein

V F Safral - 12/24/2003

Professor Kirstein, is it your opinion that professors can bring their ideology into the classroom and embed that into their teaching? Are you not on thin ice here?

If a professor is requiring students to write about the environment in a leftist, green manner that is violative of student choice, then that sir is grounds for dismissal and "disbarment."

Peter N. Kirstein - 12/24/2003

I meant the word "conducting" and not carrying.

Peter N Kirstein - 12/24/2003

Professors should not be excoriated for carrying an appropriate and pedagogically sound practice: assigning topics for a written assignment.

Your charge of instructor bias is baseless since it is neither based on observation nor fact.

I question whether your criticism would be as adamant had the assigned research topic been, "the origins of the American flag."

Peter N Kirstein

Ralph E. Luker - 12/24/2003

Mr. Suit, Did it occur to you that you do not see ad hominem attack or inappropriate discourse because it has been deleted? You think the willingness of others to participate in these discussions is a "secondary"? So much for your own vaunted commitment to free speech.

Grammarian - 12/23/2003


Hal Sparks - 12/23/2003

Oh, Mr Luker I hope you share this with Rick. Censorship in order to entice the offended to participate on HNN is insufficient. While I concur that theoretically a "scholarly" discourse would induce scholars to participate more avidly, this is the Internet and not a closed society limited to PhD in history.

The place to do the screening is primarily with the articles. The issue of whether some will be dissuaded from participation is secondary.

I do think however that the vast majority of the respondents are well within acceptable discourse. I do not see vile language; I do not see ad hominem attacks; I do not see inappropriate discourse that is pervasive or significant.

Jefferson Davis was a Kentuckian who served his nations with honor.

F.H. Thomas - 12/23/2003

...to which I would add a small point:

Thucidides, with all of his infuriating lack of detail regarding economics and culture as causus belli, nonetheless has another lesson for modern historians which he uniquely makes, ie that war is often caused by poorly written history, done by historians who wish more to placate the powers that be rather than to tell what they truly believe. I believe that he said that history should not be for the "momentary adulation of the crowd", but as a "...thing of value for all generations".

Given the 25 years of internecine murder and mayhem he saw and wrote about, one is still arrested by his statement, and its implications for modern historians.

F.H. Thomas - 12/23/2003

... requires a dropping of defenses, and makes one ever a target here, even where supporting assertions are reasonably made.

Yet such statements are often the most worthwhile. If one cannot integrate his detail knowledge into a larger understanding, one cannot claim intellectual descent from such great intellectual movements as the Islamic Renaissance, the flowering of Attic Greek civilization, or the European Enlightenment, which were all about creating a "greater understanding" working from the detail which we observe in the world.

Frances Hutcheson supposedly said to his two top students David Hume and Adam Smith, "...ground thy arguments well, and let them proceed where they may". It seems to me that professors should worry more about how well-grounded their arguments are, and less about where they "proceed". The desire to be politically conformist is a strong one, but does not move things forward.

My hope for the professors who (very well) taught my three children through college was that they be both wise and also intellectually open with their young charges. We need a new groups of brilliant young intellects, not a retread of the previous ones, and I am not sure that the cautious approach of this otherwise fine article will achieve that.

Josh Greenland - 12/23/2003

David, I'd like to know what country that was.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/23/2003

Mr. Sparks, I've been an admirer of my fellow Kentuckian, Muhammed Ali, since long before he went by that name. Cassius Clay was an honorable Kentucky name, but by whatever name he is a remarkable person.
But that aside, perhaps I took your mockery too seriously. I'm sorry if I disappointed you, but there simply is too much personal abuse going on on these comment boards for the boards to function well as serious discussion. The fact is that I am inclined to agree with you on the matters of substance you mention above. I do believe, however, that there are limits of engaging speech and mere name calling crosses the line. It is pretty obvious to most of us when someone pushes the envelop on name calling. The posts which are deleted on HNN are from people who have repeatedly and egregiously done so. You may, in the name of free speech, come to their defense -- but I can tell you that they drive many intelligent potential contributors away from these boards because they simply will not be contaminated by the wretched personal attacks. In effect, yes, then -- censorship in the name of free speech -- censor offensive speech so that those who don't engage in it are free to comment here.

Vietnam Vic - 12/22/2003

While I concur that Vietnam has removed essentially any moral authority that the US uses to denounce terrorism. I also concur that it was a war similar to the Nazi excesses during the 1930s and perhaps the 1940s, I would not be too harsh with those who served at least as a social class. I alos would not denounce all those who served in the Wehrmacht or those pulverized by the USAF in Iraq. Soldiers are tools of the state and their wars serve other interests.

I agree that Vietnam Vets such as Senators McCain and Kerry are elevated to a status that that war should deny them however.

Hal Sparks - 12/22/2003

You're a good person Ralph. The greatest Kentuckian I ever saw was Muhammad Ali. No what I meant by cowards were those who use overwhelming force against less-armed adversaries.

And those who believe that only the left are biased in the classroom. I never even remotely used a pejorative tone against Mr Luker, yet I felt a little disappointed when I saw that thread in which Mr Luker appeared to speaking for HNN in his criticism of the egregious postings of Homer Simpson.

Josh Greenland - 12/22/2003

I'd think it would be tough as a professor to deal with ideas one disagrees with strongly in the classroom, or when they show up in papers that one is grading. I think it's easier for anyone to find fault with expression that one disagrees with, because one would tend to scrutinize it more critically, and to miss faults in expression that one agrees with. I think one would have to be very sophisticated, fair or wise to do well in such situations.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/22/2003


Michael Green - 12/21/2003

Sadly, too many on the left (as I place myself) and the right have long since closed their minds to what others say. In the classroom, this is a crime. Our duty is to help our students think--not make them think one way or the other. As a history professor, I consider it a duty to discuss contemporary events and issues in the context of what came before and vice versa--and to do it with respect for and openness to other points of view, as long as they conform with the facts.

Josh Greenland - 12/20/2003

"I personally never saw coercion during my education, but my education was in engineering."

How funny, I haven't thought about the following for years, but your post triggered this:

When I was in college, I considered getting a history degree. I certainly had the interest, but decided to go for computer science instead, because that's like engineering, things in CS are true or they aren't, and they aren't controversial for political reasons.

I just didn't want to get stuck in history classes having to deal with establishment history, and being at odds with the person who was teaching and grading me. I didn't want to have to fight pro-US imperialist history, rabid anti-communist history, history that pretended fascism ceased to exist in 1945, and that claimed falsely that there was no conspiracy to murder a recent president, no ongoing conspiracy to keep it covered up, and no secret milieu capable keeping the coverup going. Or worse yet, fight a thesis advisor on this stuff! I decided early that I was not going to study history in a US university for those reasons. I could learn history on my own.

John Brown - 12/19/2003

"it seems to me that anyone moronic enough to waste $130,000 and four years of their life obtaining a History degree is probably beyond hope anyway -- that 'intellectual coercion' of such a hopeless dimwit is unavoidable"

Wow, Mr. Williams, it's hard to imagine a more offensive statement on a history list. Why don't you go back to driving trains?

Don Williams - 12/19/2003

Somehow it never occurs to some posters here that people in academia may be "liberal" because (a) they are often intelligent, well informed individuals who see past the intense propaganda put out by monied interests in the US (b) they are trained to subject information to intense scrutiny and questioning -- which also tends to reveal the deceit and one-sided misleading presentations so common in the corporate-owned US news media (c) if they see their students misled by the corporate bullshit that so many citizens swallow without questioning, they have an instinct to urge their students to look beyond surface appearances --to apply critical analysis to life and realize that TV personnel are not paid high salaries for telling the truth -- that advertisers have a hell of a lot more influence over news organizations than do passive consumers and finally (d) People in academia are less vulnerable to economic retaliation and coercion than are people in commercial trade -- where employment is "at will" and a person's career advancement can be frozen on a whim.

( Dave Livington's ode to the joys of small town living, for example, failed to note that jobs in such towns are often few,low paying, and insecure. Most such towns are "company towns" --i.e., they have only one business which brings in money from outside. All other businesses in the town depend upon that dominant business -- either directly (as suppliers) or indirectly (providing services or products to the employees of the dominent business.) The owners of the dominant business have enormous political and economic influence --someone who offends them often has to sell their home (in an illiquid real estate market) and leave. This holds whether we are talking about a textile mill in North Carolina, a coal mine in West Virginia, or a chemical plant in Tennessee.

As a result, a coercive, faux public morality is enforced upon people in those small towns --enforced ,for example, by policemen, managers, and preachers subservient to "the powers that be". A cheerful hypocrisy and covert social life sponsored by some strong individuals is the only thing which relieves the dreary boredom of such places. )

It is absurd to suggest that education can be free wheeling and unconstrained in its search for truth re the history of the Middle Ages, but that that same intense focus on truth should not be applied to modern day political issues which directly affect students, professors, and other citizens of the Republic.

On the other hand, there have been criticisms that US academia is becoming as intellectually coercive and stifling as small towns -- that "political correctness" is institutionalized at some universities and that tenure, promotions etc. depend more upon pandering to the prejudices of the faculty than upon real scholarship. It is bad enough if such pressures are applied to associate professors -- it is even worse if they are applied to

I personally think that test questions should always be about facts --not opinions -- and that a student's grade should never be based upon him giving lip service to a particular interpretation or opinion.

I personally never saw coercion during my education, but my education was in engineering. No faculty member seemed interested in promoting any particular political dogma ( with the possible exception of whether electrons spin to the right or to the left) but that is the nature of the discipline. Plus engineering, mathematics, computer science, and the physical sciences seem to have a low receptivity to bullshit, muddied thinking, sophistry, and emotional handwaving. The world of nature is indifferent to human emotions -- and a device either works correctly or it doesn't. As anyone who has ever written a computer program knows, you cannot bullshit, con, or deceive a computer.

I also suspect that Foucaultian postmodernism hasn't received a warm welcome in Schools of Business -- and is looked upon with amused contempt by the hardened sophists in Schools of Law.

There are the schools of liberal arts, of course. However, it seems to me that anyone moronic enough to waste $130,000 and four years of their life obtaining a History degree is probably beyond hope anyway -- that "intellectual coercion" of such a hopeless dimwit is unavoidable.

John Brown - 12/18/2003

Unfortunately, probably every university has professors who use the classroom rather than a psychiatrist's couch as a place to work out their personal problems. Many of these are narcissists who would be shocked to learn that not all their students love them or think they're the greatest teachers in the world. THey truly believe that their students agree with them and that they're "making a difference," and would be shocked to hear their students didn't feel free to express themselves.

On the other hand, lots of students are immature and underconfident, afraid to speak up, and prone to let their resentments smolder rather than voicing objections. Teachers can't always know that even though they try to bring everyone into the discussion.

Insofar as possible, I think students should have no idea of a professor's politics, not from the classroom, anyway. A very limited exception would be making clear that racist comments, etc., will not be permitted. Fortunately, however, in my experience this is rarely necessary.

Josh Greenland - 12/18/2003

I'm sure they're a minority, but there does seem to be a statistically significant number of professors who are outspoken in their opinions. I think most students would find this intimidating, and would either feel compelled to rebel, with a lot of unnecessary stress and unhappiness, or would learn to kiss up to the teacher, and become the kind of conniving backstabbing social climbers that I'm sure most of us would not like to see our children become.

I'm sure there are a few instructors who are opinionated who are skilled enough to allow freedom of opinion in their classrooms, but I think that would be a difficult balancing act. I agree that most instructors should keep their political and social opinions under wraps as much as is reasonably possible while teaching.

NYGuy - 12/18/2003


Appreaciate your response.

I have a great deal of experience dealing with global matters, but as you say predicting the future is difficult and often wrong. However, as analysts we should at least consider other possibilities and that is what I present.

I think the difference between the space program and the current world conditions is that we have moved the Mid east into a position that will effect millions of people immediately and I don't believe we can ever return. While the Palestine/Israel issue dominated the politics of the Mid-East for decades the current situation is one where outside forces are now dominating the politics of the politics of the area, not only because of the US and Europeans but by greater interaction within the community. Therefore we now have a better balance of forces that could stabilize the area.

I think the world may be moving closer to using "moral suasiion" in our politcs than they have in the past. That is why I believe that Bush's not emphasizing high level interaction with North Korea, Palestine/Israel, Iran and other countries is a good idea. This keeps the individual countries in perspective and prevents them from getting inflated ideas of their importance and enables them to work out their problems locally where they belong.

Now just about every country has big stakes in stopping terrorism and that is why these hot spots are not getting out of control as some have predicted.

The Japanese have a saying, "The peg that stands out gets banged down." That is now the attitude of the world politicians about WMD and rogue nations. They are not going to let them be spoilers because these countries now have a lot more to lose.

Perhaps it is possible we will go back to the old ways. But from my perspective we have reached a "Defining point in history" and there is no turning back.

DRJ - 12/18/2003

I disdain getting into a protracted tit for tat conversation about the most arcane details of academia. The class i spoke of was a basic intro to composition 101 which almost every college in the country requires. No it had nothing to do with evironmental studies. That is not the point i was trying to make anyway. My basic points are: 1)Students are not mindless blotters for profs ideas(they know an idiot or an ideologue when they hear one);2)It is difficult for anyone to teach without giving a personal opinion from time to time;3)That being said,give the opinion and then go on and teach the subject matter. Do not rob the student of knowledge and the parent of money so that personal demons may be exorcised. Give the opinion if you must...then teach the subject matter.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/18/2003

DJR: You forgot to tell us whether the course your son took was a composition section of an Environmental Studies program mandated by a "writing across the curriculum" requirement. If so, I don't see that your complaint about the required subject matter for each paper is a legitimate one.

DRJ - 12/18/2003

When my oldest son was a freshman at Indiana University he took a 101 level composition class as does almost every freshman at every university. The problem with this class is that the professor insisted that every paper they submitted have some bearing on environmental policy. Not only was the subject always the same,but it was well understood that the position espoused should be that of the professor. This class was not about composition. It was about indoctrination. Having once been a student myself,i do not believe that most students admire their radical profs whether they be leftists or rightists. It is simply a waste of time and money and a neglect of duties to use the teachers platform to pontificate about subjects not germane to the subject matter. By all means,teachers,express your opinions if you must; then shut up and teach the subject matter.

Kent Hartmann - 12/18/2003

You were blessed to have such a Mayberry existence. Yet small towns can be suffocating, gossip-ridden, small-minded places just as often. The Reaganite rhetoric played so effectively on this mythical Norman Rockwell America, idealizing local leaders over federal bureaucrats. Yet haven't you run into small time, foot dragging, power mad local bureaucrats? I get at least you can know them by name...

Kent Hartmann - 12/18/2003

I'm not at all saying NYGuy should not post - that would be totalitarian - and I'm also not saying he contributes nothing. And for all I know he is one helluva a nice guy. He just seems to represent a consistent worldview (again, like many on the other side of the spectrum) that is unmoved by anything ever written here - unlike more reflective folks like Chamberlain and Luker. Like Heuisler, he's in it for the fight, to put up his dukes against the liberal grunge he sees so evident.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/18/2003

Your comment on Iraq as a turning point led me to think about other "turning points" identified in my lifetime.

I remember--and I suspect you do to--when the moon landing was considered a great turning point. This was what made the movie, "2001" so potent in its time: the sense that the things it portrayed in the center section--Pan Am flights to new space stations, video pay phones, a colonized moon--were beginning to happen right then.

Of course things did not turn out that way. Without the Cold War/space race motivation, economics came to the front, and economics demands cheaper ways to get into space than what we have now. As a result the moon landing can seem less of a turning point than an aberration, a magnificent stunt.

Of course, in a hundred years that may change again. The development of some new launch technology--or a new-found necessity to say "screw conomics, we're going anyway"--and the moon landing may become a turning point again: the point at which we knew from experience that we could go out into space.

None of this disproves or proves your point about Bush and Iraq, of course. Some turning points are identified when they occur--the Atom Bomb, the fall of the Berlin Wall. As you know, I have serious doubts, but perhaps you are ahead of me on this curve.

I bring the moon landing up simply as a reminder that to a large extent the actions of the future will define the turning points in our lifetime.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/18/2003

Mr. Sparks, You'll pardon me if I still don't understand your point. Is it that you object to not being censored here? Who and where are the cowards to whom you refer? Or is your closing line -- not an accusation -- but an urging that one should love cowards? If it is an accusation, what is it that makes you brave such that you claim the right to call others cowards? I usually defend my fellow Kentuckians' freedom of speech. Yours has not been impeded.

Caleb - 12/17/2003

Let me save you some time, the other spy was Caleb :)

I appriciate your story, I think it adds to this web-site to get to know some of the people with whom we debate week after week. Thank you for sharing it with us.

NYGuy - 12/17/2003


I don't think we are far apart. The partisanship on this board makes it difficult to meet on middle ground. Frankly I enjoy people who believe in something and are spirited.

As I said I do really enjoy history, but don't take too kindly to those who say I have a PhD and we have all the answers or who are clever and try to use history for a backdrop to their political propanda not as a structured force that can be used to reach a sensible conclusion.

You and Dave can make fun of my technology arguments but one has to understand these rapid changes to come to reasonable conclusions in this century. I don't base my arguments on this premise to say only I am right. I do it to try to present a different perspective and then be right. :)

When I say the capture of Saddam is a defining moment in history it is because the middle east will never be able to go back to their old ways again. We already see the desire of people in the area and in many other countries such as China, India, Iran etc. to come into the 21st century and utilize technology and the rapid increase in communiations through computers, wireless phones, and other communication devices to learn about the world.

Bush has had a grand success in his fight on terror and we see Europe coming back on board, we see Asian countries succeeding in calming terrorism attacks. Countries with the largest populations in the world such as China, India and Pakistan are rapidly adopting to the new technology. Today we are using India to provide service employees to anwer US questions about bank statements, insurance, etc. China is becoming a major trading partner and industrial manufacturer. North Korea, Iran and Israel/Palestine are relatively calm since the US has not been the focal point of these disputes but has brought in our allies to create peace with these rogue states.

Yes this is a defining moment in history and I am only trying to enlighten historians to this fact so they can learn while the changes are going on and not have to wait 10-15 years to read about it in a book.

Enjoy your posts as well as Dave's.


Dave Livingston - 12/17/2003


Right offhand I don't recollect who the other spy was, but it won't be difficult to look up. Will do so one of these days soon.

Whilst on religion, I'd like to put in a good word for Jimmy Swaggert. Despite his problems he earned from me a mite of respect when once he wrote, more or less, "I'm anti-Catholic, but I don't know why." After a fashion he was saying his anti-Catholicism was culturalluy inherited, which doubtlessly is true.

It is fasinating how Protestant antsgonisms dating from Elizabetian England still permenate pockets of old stock America. Indeed, anti-Catholicism was strong in that little town in which I grew up, but the only reasonm I can recall given to justify the anti-Catholicism was the arrogance of the Pope in dividing the New World between Spain & Portugual. Talk about holding a grudge, eh? And in those days neither religion
nor Christianity were taboo subjects in the punblic schools, dominated by Protestants, of course.

Wouldn't the ACLU have a hissy-fit if a kid's 3rd grade teacher did as did mine? One day she approached my parents asking if it'd be O.K. if she took me to church with her. My folks, more or less areligious, my father a fallen away Quaker, said "Yes, it would be O.K." That was my introduction to Christianity & I took to it as a fish to water. I've never lost my faith in the meanwhile, albeit I've wobbled a time or three and failed all too frequently to live my life as I think Jesus thinks I should.

Nonetheless, I believe firmly that I live today, survived being seriously WIZA, only because He or one of His agents, which amounts to the same thing, intervened when I was hit during that last-for-me firefight. Otherwise, it's a very thought, this body of mine would have been moldering in the grave these past thirty-four years, come 22 January. Just think of all the pretty girls I wouldn't have seen, all the books I wouldn't have read... Nor would I have encountered the folks via HNN. Good golly! How terrible. :-)))

I suspect, but don't know for certain, of course, that one reason He chose to permit me to live was neither tour in 'Nam did I do anything evil. Ornery is a different category, no?

Dave Livingston - 12/17/2003


Doubtlessly you are correct it was because of the de-segregation aggression of the national gov't that caused much of the South to first turn its back on the Democratic Party, increasingly captured by radical social busybodies in Northern cities. Indeed a day or so ago I was recollecting when my old outit, the 101st, was sent into Little Rock with mounted bayonets.

But that doesn't detract from the fact that I grew up in a small town, think Andy Griffith, in southeastern Kansas where there was no race problem. But that might have had a little something to do with the formation of the town's poulace: all White, except for one colored family, one retired old Colored man & one Indian family, Commanche or Kiowa, I'd guess. Of the Whites perhaps 85% were Protestant Christian of one sort or another, 15% or so were & are Catholic. In any event, there were in the town two well-attended Colored churches. Plainly, the Colored folks felt comfortable there. Why shouldn't they? I knew no-one who expressed racial antagonism, no-one who would have bothered the Colored folks in any way, shape or form.

The town butcher was a Lebanonese (whether Caanite or Arab, I've no idea or concern) immigrant, Marionite Catholic. A nephew of his was one of our town's doctors and one of his sons became the town's only dentist. His younger daughter was the second prettiest girl in town my high school days.

Dave Livingston - 12/17/2003


Sorry if I came across beligerent. Indeed, truthfulness is demanded in small communities for a number of reasons, among which are, as one as a child quickly learns, lies are difficult maintain where people are few. For instance, if one were to brag, "My uncle George is a linebacker with the Chicago Bears" and to receive in respone the mocking laughter of one's peers while they said, "Baloney! Your uncle Fred is the drunk down at Sam's poolhall." Get burned thataway a trime or two, one tends to resist telling whoppers.

Anbother reason why lies are socially unacceptable in small vcommunities is that once-in-a-while a satisfactory resolution situation involving a threat to life limb or to property hangs upon the conveiance of clear and accurate information. This can be crucial in places where people fend for themselves instead of resorting to, perhaps non-existent, government agencies for assistance. This too is part of the reason justice dtill can be rough, informal and decisive in the boonies. Generally out here one doesn't wait until someone asks for help, if one sees one may assist someone else in trouble, whether sitting by someone's bedside when they are ill, dusting off one's rifle or shotgun if that seems necessary.
Of course because a higher percentage of country boys and lads from smalltowns serve in the armed forces and are much more likely to be hunters firearms are nothing to fret about, they are merely specialized tools. Most everyone hereabouts, for instance,owns a gun or two, including a retired parish priest

Perhaps that is part of the reason there are fewer burglaries per capita out here than in town. As study after study has demonstrated, the bad guys are reluctant to enter a house were they might get shot. And this clearly is why while 50% of the burgaries in the U.K. occur while people are at home, but here in the U.S. only 13% of burgaries occur while people are home.

dave Livingston - 12/17/2003


It is a proofreader for which you pine? Trying to put me, one who hamfistedly frequently makes typos, to shame? Didn't you notice the results of a study recently released in the U.K. in which it was said spelling need not be exact to convey information clearly. It went on to say something to the effect that if one types a word the for which the first & last letters are correct, what's in between doesn't much matter, the desired message is usually conveyed.

After all, why become uptight about spelling? The purpose of language is to convey information, no? As long as pecking does that, so what's the big deal about typos? Which in a backhanded way reminds me of of an amusing instance involving language. When my unit left the States for 'Nam, my second visit to exotic Indochina, in March, 1970 the word uptight meant shipshape or in good order. But once in hospital back here in the States in February, 1970 the meaning of the word was in transition to meaning tense or nervous.

The discovery of the change in meaning wasn't a particularly happy event. As family members will of one in a hospital bed, they kept asking me, "How are you doing?" I kept replying "I'm O.K., I'm uptight." Finmally, from the looks OI received, it dawned upon me to ask a medic, "Dpoesn't the word uptight mean shipdhape?" The medic replyed, "Sometimes." Sometimes? Eh?

Mind, I'm not attempting with mention above of the results of the study to justify my hasty &/or slapdash carelessness in frequently making typos, but still I take some solace from having read the results of it and perhaps so should you. No? If anyone will disagree with the conclusion of the study, it probably will be NY Guy, once (still?) an editor (of Science Fiction?) BTW, I too am a strong fan of SciFi, no surprise because once a soldier one of my preferences is military SciFi.

Even so, I was charmed to note in a novel published in '88 read recently, eight years before Al Gore invented the internet, the author predicted a system quite similar to the internet, which he the infosystem.

Caleb - 12/17/2003

"In recent years I've been struck by the number of people of a Leftist bent, folks who deny that there is objective truth or absolute values and disavow Christian truth who screech that Bush or another conservastive is a liar."

How can someone who denies that there is an objective truth call Bush a liar? Most liberals I know are Christians, who believe in objective truth and still think Bush is a liar.

"Clearly, these folks live in urban areas, they'd not be tolerated in smalltown or rural America, where liars are quickly found out and ostracized from intercourse within the community."

Bush got by pretty well, didn't he? And if you know your political history, you should know that the rural America was staunchly Democratic, and New-Deal folks, until de-segregation. When LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he looked up to one of his aids, and said "We just lost the South." He was right.

Hal Sparks - 12/17/2003

Ma'am. It's an honorable because the word honorable begins with a vowel sound.

But don't be critical of President Reagan. He was right to call Vietnam an honorable cause! After all, it was part of the Cold War and the battle to defeat Godless Atheistic communism. Saddam is evil and should be executed; yet LBJ and Nixon deserve their presidential libraries.

Z - 12/17/2003

Whoaa! Vietan was a honourable war. Ronald Reagan said it was!

Hal Sparks - 12/17/2003

If Dave Livingston, Vietnam veteran and adorer of that war, had his way, all leftist professors would be cashiered and remanded to custody.

Dave, proud of serving in Vietnam? Did you ever meet War Criminal and Coward J. McCAin as he was dropping bombs high in the sky? Wow, we owe a debt to the proud and brave Vets of that war dont' we. Butchers, cowards, charlie=killers.

Shame on you and those who served.

Don Williams - 12/17/2003

You speak of that as if it were a punishment, instead of being a blessing.

Don Williams - 12/17/2003

In his history "The Twelve Caesars", Suetonius has two references to Christus. In section 25 of his chapter on the Emperor Claudius
(reigned 41-54 AD), Suetonius notes:

"Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus,he [Claudius] expelled them from the city."

In section 16 on his chapter on the Emperor Nero, Suetonius notes that "Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief".

The Jewish historian Josephus(37-94 AD), who lived in Rome, also mentioned Christ in his "Antiquities of the Jews".

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/17/2003

Oh, for a proofreader!

Don Williams - 12/17/2003

In Book V of his Histories , Tacitus writes of Titus's seige of Jerusalem. As background, he sketches a history of the Jews, including the leader "Moyses".

Tacitus's depiction is rather uncomplimentary overall -- he indicates that historical writers in his time assert that Jews were expelled from Egypt because of widespread leprosy, that that is why they abstain from eating swine (from which they caught the leprosy), that they wandered in the desert almost dying of thirst until "Moyses" found a spring by following wild asses, and that Moyses created the Jewish religion in order to cement his authority over them. See an online copy of Book V at http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/t/t1h/hist5.html .

Dave Livingston - 12/17/2003

In recent years I've been struck by the number of people of a Leftist bent, folks who deny that there is objective truth or absolute values and disavow Christian truth who screech that Bush or another conservastive is a liar.

Clearly, these folks live in urban areas, they'd not be tolerated in smalltown or rural America, where liars are quickly found out and ostracized from intercourse within the community.

Don Williams - 12/17/2003

At one point, Reagan was spending almost 7.5% of the US GDP on national defense. During that same time, the second and third largest economies --Japan and Germany --were only spending 1% and 3% of their GDP on defense , even though they were only miles from the alleged "Evil Empire".

During the confirmation hearings of CIA Director Robert Gates, former CIA analysts testified that Gates helped Reagan lie to Congress about the size of the Soviet Union's economy --in order to convince Congress that the Soviet capabilities were far greater than they actually were.

The Reagan defense buildup was more about shoveling huge sums of money to defense contractors --including the Aerospace division of his former employer General Electric -- than in defending the nation against a real threat. As a result, the debt burden on the US taxpayer exploded from roughly $750 million to $4 Billion -- as a result of which US workers have to pay hundreds of $billions/year in interest payments to the wealthy.

Because of Reagan's deceit, Millions die before their time due to lack of health care. Millions more live their lives in deep misery and poverty because they never had a chance to get a useful education. Thousands die of violent crime because of a lack of opportunity and police protection.

One consolation is that Reagan is an old man and will die soon. I hope his soul screams in hell for all eternity.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/17/2003

Thank you for elaborating on your beliefs in this matter. They make sense to me.

You also make a good point about the difficulty of looking forward through technological transformation and predicting anything. In fact, I don't think history (or anything else save divine revelation) offers a sure glimpse of the future.

I do think that looking back at past transformations offers a perspective, or platform perhaps, for understanding the transformations of the present and near future.

I think such platforms are something that historians can and should offer.

But certainly there are other perspectives, other platforms, to ours. I'm fond of science fiction myself in that regard. Few sf writers predict with any precision--but within the the fiction there are imaginative glimpses of how the new changes human life.

Don Williams - 12/17/2003

In his Annals of Imperial Rome, historian and one time Senator P.
Cornelius Tacitus writes (Book 15, section 44, Church/Brodribb translation) that Nero was widely suspected of setting the great fire which burned much of central Rome -- allegedly to clear space for a huge mansion he subsequently built. Tacitus goes on to explain how Nero tried to divert suspicion onto the Christians:

" Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed."

Note: Tacitus wrote the Annals circa 116 AD . Jesus' execution--
in the reign of Emperor Tiberius -- was circa 35 AD so Tiberius was writing about events occurring roughly 20 years before he was born. However, Tacitus was a Roman Senator, had access to the Imperial archives, and is considered the major Roman historian.

For online copy of Tacitus' famous Annals, see http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/t/t1a/ . The text I quote above is here: http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/t/t1a/annals12.html

NYGuy - 12/16/2003

You don’t have to study history to know that someone who brutalizes and murders thousands of people is a bad person. And if history were relevant we would not have recurring instances of such acts.

But, that is not to say that history has no meaning. I love history and am thankful for those history professors who do unbiased research of the past and publish their works. In addition my son was a history major and a top student in his class. So you see I do like history and historians.

But, as used on these boards there are those who claim clairvoyance since they have a history degree and therefore can construct meaningful historical analyses, which prove a particular political point of view. I just don’t think history alone has much predictive value. To deal with the future one must understand not only history but also the changes that are reshaping the world.

I have emphasized that we are in the early stages of a major technology revolution and I don’t sense many have any understanding of these powerful forces. One of the rough rules for this period is that technology doubles every 18 months. This dynamic growth is making the world smaller and bringing people together in new and different ways. Understanding these changes leads to different conclusions than many on this board have espoused and what one would not find in history. When these changes are taken into account we begin to understand that Bush’s leadership has created a defining moment in the history of the world with his war on terror.

No one that I know has been able to predict accurately the past two years despite their vast historical knowledge. If anything their history has taught them that we are in another quagmire and we have forgotten the lessons of the past. I believe in the next several months we will understand even better how wrong these projections were and how smart Bush is.

If I have missed any of the correct projections from history I would be happy to review them.

There have been many meaningful posts on this board, which I appreciate. But, I don’t accept the idea that being a historian gives one any great advantage in predicting current events for the simple reason that so many have political bias which influences their conclusions.

NYGuy - 12/16/2003


But on any given issue, you can pretty much predict ahead of time what NYGuy will have to say about it.


You are absolutely right on this point and I will continue to be predictable until I am wrong. Hope your paying attention and learning something.

Caleb - 12/16/2003

"Once I read a Protestant Fundamentalist type to complain, "Haven't the Catholics had the Vatican long enough? Isn't it about our turn to have it?" Talk about a lack of appreciation of history, can you top that?"

Haha, I like that!

(Speaking of religion, when Moses sent spies to the land of Cannan, they all returned saying that the Cannanites were too powerful and that they should return to Egypt, where it was safe. Only 2 of the spies expressed complete faith that, with God's help, they would be victorious, one was Joshua, any idea who the other was?)

NYGuy - 12/16/2003


You don't know what a good education is. When I went to school the professors were in the classroom teaching and the students were out in the street protesting.

Today the teachers are out protesting and the students are paying $20-30,000 per year to get educated.

You can have what ever it is you are learning today.

Dave Livingston - 12/16/2003

:) Caleb,

You're a tad mistaken. It is recorded in Gospel he took a stick & wrote, scratched, in the ground. How much further "down" may one get than the dirt beneath us. But if you mean on papyrus or sheepskin, perhaps he did or didn't outside of school, re: the Q Document.

Anyway, don't fret about stepping on my toes re: discussion of the faith. Hopefully, I'm confident enough in my faith to not feel threatened by reasonable discussion. Indeed, religion is IMO a lot of fun. Too, one of the absolutely funniest things I ever read concerned the faith. Once I read a Protestant Fundamentalist type to complain, "Haven't the Catholics had the Vatican long enough? Isn't it about our turn to have it?" Talk about a lack of appreciation of history, can you top that?

Caleb - 12/16/2003

I hate to step on anyone's toes here but there seems just as mutch evidence about Jesus than about Aristotle, and Jesus never even wrote anything down! What we call the bible was written by the people who never even met the man but were followers of HIS followers.

I am content to be believe that both men existed and said what they are thought to have said but from a purely empirical perspective, the evidence seems doubtful. Again, from an empirical perspective, I am highly doubtful of Moses, Adam, or Eve, but that is a whole new can of worms.

To try to be fair, did Moses exist? IMHO, yes, but Adam & Eve are an allegory.

Dave Livingston - 12/16/2003

Well, pardopn me, I reckon Kagan knows a mite more about our armed forces than Don Williams ever will. And from the perspective of a veteran who natters with both active duty and with retired & former G.I.s via this medium virtually every day IMO Kagan is right on the mark.

Three things at least that Don doesn't take into account in his objection to Kagan's essay are 1) our economy is so huge we can far more easily afford a larger defense budget, our expenditure on defense as a percentage of G.N.P. is, the last I recall reading, a mere 6%. 2) Our European allies are allies today, but will they be allies in a decade? And the Europeans have much larger percentages of their populations that are elderly folk, who demand that money otherwise spent on defense is spent on benefits for themselves. 3) the U.S. is not en danger of land assault today, but who knows what tomorrow, ten years will bring? In other words, a nation's armed forces are not created in a year's time by the wave of a magic wand.

Western Europe and Japan have grown rich in part because for fifty years they've let us carry a hugely disproporionate share of the defense load.

Evidently, Don wants us to disarm because there is no barbarian, other than al-qaeda, at the gates just this minute. Ah come on, grow up, will you? In light of 9/11 try to tell us the world cannot hold any nasty surprises. Better prepared than sorry is a clichebecause it reflects reality.

Yes, believe it or not, our armed forces are over-stretched. Units rotating back from Iraq barely have time to refit before they go back there, which is why several Congressmen are insisting, despite the reluctance of Rumsfeld, that our axtive duty forces be enlarged.

Dabve Livingston - 12/16/2003

Ooops, Yes, it was Socrates whom I had back there in a dank corner in mind. I was too busy being clever to get my ducks (facts) in order. Ah well, tomorrow's another day.

Can't blamr the weather, it is a beautiful sunny day out, especially appreciated after yesterday's snowstorm--whoee, we get some humdingers here at 7,560' above sea level. Y'all are welcome here for the next one, but byob. The pantry & freezers are, as always,full.

Dave Livingston - 12/16/2003


Doesn't matter for the sake of discussion about his thoughts if a person said to have been an historical figure didn't exist? That's one I'll need to mull for a while. But it reminds me of the old saw about Shakesphere's plays not having been written by him, but by another man named Will Shakespere.

One reason I chose to rattle Williams' cage about the perhaps never existed Aristole is that not long ago someone claimed there is little evidence that Christ Jesus existed. The point is, there is a whale of a lot more evidence that Christ existed than did Aristole. Again, the only evidence we have that Aristole existed is the unsupported word of one of supposed former students. Nonethelrss, some secular types blithely presume to say Christ Jesus did not exist, but Aristole did.

To try to be fair, did Moses exist? IMHO, yes, but Adam & Eve are an allegory.

Don Williams - 12/16/2003

The only proof I have for the existence of either is their writing.

By the way, I think the person Dave Livingston really has in mind is Socrates -- whose ideas we know of largely from Plato.

However, I would note that Aristophanes made Socrates the butt of his humor in the comedy "Clouds" -- something unlikely to have been done if Socrates was merely a phantom.

Dave Livingston - 12/16/2003

Despite NY Guys' reservations, the study of history has relevance for today, or at least the armed forces think so--military history being deemed of immense importance. Moreover, here's a real-life story about a passing knowlesdge of history proving to be life-saving: In 1980 there was a coup, essentially a revolution, in a small country. The coup was mounted by an army sergeant, but the intllectual brain behind the coup was a former university professor (with a Ph.d from an American university).

The former professor took an important cabinet position in the new government. An old friend of the professor, a foreigner and sometime student of history repeatedily urged his old friend to leasve the country because the violent coup so resembled in the sometime student of history's understanding what had happened subsequent to the successful revolutions in zFrance and Russia, to wit: an eventual bloody falling out amongst the revolutionaires.

Finally the professor to the considerable surprise of many ofd his fellow revolutionaires quit his powerful (& well-paying, under the table) cabinet position, taking instead his country's position of ambassador to a country in Europe. Barely seven months after taking the ambassadorship, there indeed was a terribly bloody falling out among the revolutionaires resulting in slaughters in the streets and executions on the beaches.

Although the professor is much more intelligent and ambitious than his old friend, the foreigner & hit & miss student of history he feels somewhat obligated to that old friend for his persistence in urging him to quit his native land. Too, an professional historian has informed the onetime student of history that his logic in urging his friend to quit his native land because he saw a parallel, which proved to be accurate, between the events following the revolutions in France & Russia.

What do you think? Was the logic faulty? Or was the accurate foretelling of what was to ( & did)come in that dinky third-world nation sufficient proof that the logic was good?

Once more, this above is a true story. Now tell me that history is of no value...a knowledge of it led directly to preserving a man"s (& probably his family's, although his older brother was murdered during the falling out) life.

Jake Lee - 12/16/2003

Given the vast multitude of his often ill-informed and prejudiced comments here, it is indeed too bad that the so-called "NYGuy" did not get a decent education back in the days when "they made students like they used to".

Caleb - 12/16/2003

I hate to nitpick, but it doesn't matter if Aristotle existed or not. The name refers more to the thoughts and ideas expressed rather than the person. I don't think the person known as Shakespere wrote the plays ascribed to him, but I still refer to them as "Shakespere." Same goes with Jesus, and other bibilical figures.

As far as I am concerned, it is perfectly acceptable to cite Aristotle as an authority, not because of who he is, but because of the ideas and literature associated with his name, that is what is important.

Dave Livingston - 12/16/2003

The dangers of hubris and overweening arrogance are very real ones to be guarded against, but to suggest we throw up our hands and meekly surrender to militant Islamism is cowardly and unacceptable, it is on a par of having abided by the bleats of the unlateral disarmament types during the Cold War. Had we done so, the U.S. today would be a set of Soviet controlled satrapys. This is the same sort of cowardice that led many young Americans to succeumb to Soviet propaganda and to oppose the Viet-Nam War.

The fact is the U.S. economy is an unnsurpassed powerhouse that can easily afford to spend what it does on defense, a defense spending that exceeds the next 9 nations' defense budgets altogether. It is folly to ignore the opportunities we have to press our interests at this moment in history.

Williams implies that our armed forces are recruited from otherwise unemployable lower class uneducated types. This is untrue. At present, despite an economy creating jobs, job competition for the armed forces, the armed forces have little difficulty in filling their ranks--whether or the Left approves. Moreover, presently the armed forces feel they may be selective. For instance, a high school diploma is a requirement for enlistment. Our increasingly high technology dependent armed forces can ill afford illerates.

Dave Livingston - 12/16/2003

Error. Aristole may not have existed. The only evidence we have that he may have is the unsupported word of one of his supposed students, Plato. because Aristole may be an ahistorical figure, may not have existed, why refer to him as an authority? It is illogical to do so.

Don Williams - 12/16/2003

1) I think the lessons of history lie not so much in the idea that history repeats itself but rather that History can alert us to developing patterns that we might no otherwise see because our vision is so narrowly focused on the details of the present.
Thucydides wrote his History of the Peloponnesian War --the account of the disasterous 25 year long conflict between the Sparta and Athens (actually, between the two great confederacies led by those cities.)

2) Basically, Athens led the Greek city states in opposing and defeating the massive invasion of Greece by Persia -- an invasion triggered in part by Athen's expansion to the west and her support for some rebellions of cities on the Syrian coast.
During the Persian war, Athens suggested to smaller city states (on the islands west and south of her ) that it would be more efficient for them to simply pay taxes to Athens to support the common defense instead of trying to build up their own fleets --
a proposal to which the lesser states agreed.

3) During this war, many lower class Athenians had found work rowing in the Athenian fleet. After the defeat of Xerxes and the end of the war, peace resulted in a large mass of unemployed Athenians -- a major political problem for the democracy which had partially replaced the Greek aristocracy. In response, Pericles mounted a massive public works project --the building of the Partheon. To pay for this enormously expensive project, Athens continued to demand taxes from her allies -- and sent her
fleet to lay waste island city states who refused. Smaller city states who had seen Athens as their rescuer from Persian tyranny discovered that they had merely exchanged one tyrant for another.

4) The relevance to today's world should be obvious: France and Germany who saw the USA as their savior from the threat of the Soviet Union must now be wondering if they face a new tyrant -- and if they were wise to let their military forces decline while the USA built a huge military during the Cold War.

It also shows that claims by Richard Perle and other Neocons that democracies are inherently benign are false -- any nation has a wealthy ruling class which has business interests which it promotes , including the takeover of foreign assets if they are lightly defended.

5) Thucydides recounts how the Peloponnesian War was triggered by the fear other Greek city states felt at Athens' imperialism. He chronicles the enormous waste of that war and of how Athens was eventually defeated and plunged into helpless poverty. As a result, Athens went from being a prosperous,secure nation to being the subject of other outside powers --Sparta, Rome, the Turks -- for the next 2400 years.

The lesson for George Bush and the American voters --the dangers of hubris and overreach -- should be

Don Williams - 12/16/2003

I think the value of history is that it serves as our historical experience. As Jared Diamond pointed out in "Guns, Germs, and Steel", anyone can make up a political, economical, or social theory -- but we cannot construct human societies to test those theories. Hence, the experience of past human societies is the closest means we have to test and verify theories.

The use of history to test and modify political theory dates back at least to Aristotle and Plato. An elaboration of their ideas was developed by the Greek Polybius circa 120 BC , was plagarized by Machiavelli in his Discourses, and had great influence on the design of the US Constitution. Polybius noted that all governments fall into one of three groups -- Rule by the One, the Few, or the Many -- that each has its merits, that all three tend to become corrupt in time due to self-interest and sloth on the part of the rulers' successors, and that the most stable and benign government tends to be a "mixed government" which has elements of all three forms so as to have a system of checks and balances.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/16/2003

I agree with you on the classroom.

But openness can't simply exist. That is, we can't simply assume that studeents feel free to express different interpretations just because we know that we won't shoot them down.

The existence of that freedom must be expressed. I do it (if anyone is curious) in various ways in my US since 1877 course.

1.By making a point of offering alternate interpretations at a number of different points in my courses and not simply in the present.

2. By letting them know that as we enter my lifetime in a course that my interpretation will be shaped in part by my life experience. Thus anytime I share that experience it is in the context of a warning about potential bias as well as in the context of myself as a witness.

3. By being conscientious about providing strong arguments for positions that I have opposed.

4. My hope is that by doing these things that I will make clear that the class is open to different interpretations by demonstration and not simply by dogma.

Does this work perfectly? No. I'm human. I can catch and rectify a big slip, but the little ones are harder. Quite honestly, I think I may have had more little slips this fall than usual.

But I think, in the end, it is better to address the questions of perspective, bias, and honesty in a direct fashion in the clas room, and I don't see how one can avoid sharing--and evaluating--one's own perspective in that process. Even at the risk of some mistakes.

Caleb - 12/16/2003

I think we all agree that history can have major lessons for the present... NYGuy has said as much in other articles when he talks about Hitler and WWII as compared to Saddam Huusein and Iraq.

The question then is what should teacher do about it? Ignore contemporary debate and stick with history? For myself, I leave that the individual teacher but have no problem with teachers who draw contemporary implications for history so long as open dialogue and debate is free to present alternate conclusions.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/16/2003

I have no problem with NY Guy posting here. And I have found some of his posts provocative in the best sense of the term.

What I have a problem with is his dissing the importance of history in one message while asserting a particular perspective the next.

To rephrase my question, if we can't learn much from history, why bother to debate it? I can think of some interesting answers to that question, but I would like to know his.

Don Williams - 12/16/2003

The URL for the Donald Kagan article is

Don Williams - 12/16/2003

An example of Donald Kagan's thinking can be see in his October 2002 article published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

1) Consider Kagan's ridiculous argument:
"The Clinton administration had cut the defense forces that had so brilliantly won the Gulf War to the point that even their military leaders were complaining of their inability to carry out the national defense strategy, and the Republicans in Congress joined in the effort. Our military forces were inadequate in size, equipment and training. They were underpaid and overstretched. The combination of shortcomings was damaging morale to the point that we were losing badly needed, well-trained and experienced men and women and finding it hard to recruit replacements. All this damaged our readiness to meet challenges now. Developments in communications technology have produced a revolution in military affairs that will make our current weapons and ways of fighting obsolete in the foreseeable future. Our current level of spending devoted to transforming our military is inadequate to meet its demands, too. A failed mission."

3) The FACTS are as follows:
a) The US spends more on defense than the next 23 largest military powers COMBINED. This is especially stupid given that
most of those major powers -- Japan and NATO countries --are our ALLIES. See http://www.cdi.org/program/document.cfm?DocumentID=1040&StartRow=1&ListRows=10&appendURL=&Orderby=D.DateLastUpdated&ProgramID=15&from_page=index.cfm
or go to here and click on "Last of the Big Time Spenders " link near the bottom: http://www.cdi.org/program/index.cfm?ProgramID=15

This was as true of the Clintonian budgets -- in the range of $325 billion/year --as of the Bushian $400 billion/year budget

b)James Dunnigan has developed war games for the Pentagon. On his http://www.Strategypage.com site (and in several editions of his book "How to Make War") he has given estimates of the military strength of most nations. Suffice it to say that the United States is enormously more powerful than any potential enemy or combination of existing enemies. See

The United States has a combat land power of 2488 and an efficiency rate of 93% (reflecting leadership,competence, morale,etc.) giving a total rating of 2488 x .93 or 2314.
The next largest military power on the two American continents,Brazil, only has a combat land power of 94 and an efficiency rating of .33 giving a total power rating of
31. Clearly, from the rating of "DEFENSE", the US is in no danger of land attack.

Nor is the US in danger of being attacked from across the two large oceans -- there is no Navy left in the world that comes remotely close to challenging the US fleets. I don't have a link but look in James Dunnigan's book "How to Make War" and look at the power ratings of World Naval Forces.

This brings up a further point-- the United States is the only nation with the ability to project major power very far outside of it's borders. During the Cold War, Russia could threaten an invasion of Western Europe, but I think that's unlikely now given the power of Germany and France. China is hemmed in by mountains and desert. I see no country that could remotely project power to the continental US.

Even on the Eurasian continent, the most powerful potential competitors are greatly outclassed by the US and its allies.
If you look at the world's 10 most powerful armies, you see
mostly the US and its NATO allies (UK,France, Germany) --
see http://www.strategypage.com/messageboards/messages/30-2212.asp

China's army has a land power rating of 827, an efficiency
(total quality) rating of 32 percent yielding a total power of
only 265 (vs the US 2314). See http://www.strategypage.com/fyeo/howtomakewar/databases/armies/ea.asp

Similar values for Russia are 369, 40%, and 148.

What can be threatened are foreign investments of the US richest individuals (e.g, a North Korean nuke could make life interesting for IBM Japan). But I see no reason why 90% of Americans, some of them tossed out on the street by factory closings ordered by those rich investors, should pay --in blood and in taxes --for the protection of foreign investments.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, for example, might relieve the high unemployment among hundreds of thousands of American programmers
-- and teach US corporations the pitfalls of outsourcing.

Kent Hartmann - 12/16/2003

I agree with Don, not NYGuy.

NYGuy: "They don't make students like they did when I was young."

This is his whole shtick - dreams of a golden age when everyone worked hard, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, immigrants overcame their adversities, all in spite of namby pamby intellectual faculty-types who don't live in the "real world" like he does. He would rather be confirmed in his myths (used not in sense of falsehood but in sense of stories to convey deeper meaning) than be challenged by new evidence. Now there are other folks on the other side of the political spectrum who do this as well - clearly. But on any given issue, you can pretty much predict ahead of time what NYGuy will have to say about it.

Don Williams - 12/16/2003

History -- and many other professions --need people who challenge
the value of what is provided. Sceptics are useful.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/16/2003

If you see nothing relevant about history, then why do you waste your time posting here?

NYGuy - 12/16/2003

This is a topic that has been discussed many times on this board and several articles have tried to adopt the past to the current situation without success.

If someone is on an equal footing with the teacher, then there is no reason for him to be in his/her class and perhaps we should just give tests and let students get credits without taking classes.

Meanwhile the claim by the author:

"If even ancient history and classical scholars are relevant to the most important issues confronting us as U.S. citizens, it is likely that professors and students in many courses will confront such issues. What should they do?

is arrived at by a major leap of poorly supported logic. Any usefulness of history is minimal compared to other topics, particularly in the 21st Century.

Then the article resorts to the poor victim status for Professors which does not carry the day.

"That being said, professors hold lots of power over students in a classroom. Professors must then try to be honest, yet restrained. Students themselves have to muster the personal courage to express opposing views. If Kinghorn did not speak up in opposition to Jensen's views, got his A, went away and later watch-listed Jensen, he will not appear in the next edition of "Profiles in Courage."

Now I understand, if the student is not a scholar in history he does not belong in the class and should not take the course seeking knowledge. And if he is a scholar in the subject he is a coward for not speaking up.

Now I am beginning to understand why students pay $20-30,000 a year to go to college.

Of course most of todays students are cowards because they meekly submit, fearful a low grade will prevent them from getting into graduate or professionals schools.

They don't make students like they did when I was young.