Historians' Petition on War with Iraq: Breaking News


The entries on this page are listed in reverse chronological order. As we learn of breaking news, this page will be updated.

Full coverage of the Historians' Petition: Click here.

10-2-02 5:30 pm PST

Joyce Appleby issued the following statement:"Members of Congress are now listening to constituents who telephone them; the House information number is (202) 224-3121. Historians might emphasize how unusual it is for the United States to make a pre-emptive strike."

9-20-02 9:30 am PST

Joyce Appleby issued the following statement:"We urge all of you who signed the American historians petition to take one more critical step. Call your representatives and senators now that the debate before Congress has entered a crucial stage. Whatever your opinion, let them hear it."

9-17-02 noon, PST

Nine historians, led by Joyce Appleby, met on capital hill today to present the historians' petition to Congress at a media event arranged by Congressman Robert Filner (D-CA). Four members of Congress appeared including Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). The media contingent included ABC News and NPR.

The nine historians included: Ira Berlin (University of Maryland), Roy Rosenzweig (George Mason University), Michael Johnson (Johns Hopkins), Barbara Clark Smith (National Museum of History), James Banner (History News Service), Linn Shapiro (independent historian), David De Leon (Howard University), Susan Armitage (Washington State University).

In the afternoon Appleby and others in the delegation distributed copies of the petition to the offices of various members. (Members are returning to work today following a long 4-day weekend.)

The event was staged to coincide with Constitution Day, which is held on the day the Constitution was signed in 1787.

Appleby encourages historians to write Congress in support of the petition.

This morning the Los Angeles Timespublished an op ed by Appleby and Ellen Carol Dubois in support of the petition. Appleby told HNN that the paper considered pulling the piece after Iraq announced it would allow inspectors from the United Nations to return. She said she wasn't sure the piece would run until she saw it in the paper this morning.

The article begins:

The constitutional issue raised by the possibility of invading Iraq without congressional approval has not been put to rest, although the crisis may be forestalled by Iraq's agreement Monday to readmit U.N. arms inspectors.

The question remains: Is it possible to amend the Constitution through an act of collective forgetfulness?


On Tuesday September 17 the Historians' Petition on Iraq was featured in a TomPaine.com advertisement on the op-ed page of the NYT. 9-15-02

The San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial written by Ruth Rosen in support of the historians' petition on war with Iraq. Rosen observed:

Many Americans apparently do not remember who has the power to declare war."It is striking," Appleby told me,"that after a half century of the Cold War's covert operations and proxy wars that few remember that the Constitution unequivocally gives the war-making powers to Congress."

It's not that this country never declares war. But ever since the end of World War II, we've only declared war on intractable social problems such as poverty and drugs, not when actual military force is used.


The New York Post published an article by historian Ronald Radosh critical of the historians' petition. The article noted:

Appleby and her colleagues are, it seems, living in a dream world - one in which the evil United States is oppressing every nation, and those resisting its grasp are simply opponents of a new imperialism.

Sorry, Ms Appleby. This historian does not buy your arguments. As Larry Miller wrote in The Weekly Standard last Jan. 14,"No matter what your daughter's political science professor says, we didn't start this." Change that to your son or daughter's historian.

Sean Wilentz, a signer of the historians' petition, objected to Mr. Radosh's characterization of Ms. Appleby's position. Mr. Wilentz emailed Mr. Radosh with his objections. Mr. Radosh subsequently included Mr. Wilentz's email in a mailing to HNN.

I have no idea what Joyce's views on going to war with Iraq are, or what she expects, wistfully or otherwise, will be the outcome of that vote. That's all beside the point. I, for one, fully expect that Congress will vote to go ahead. Fine. I have no problem in trying forceably to curtail weapons of mass destruction. But when Bush through Fleischer announced he's going ahead without Congress, I was alarmed. Even if one is a fervert Bush supporter -- which obviously I'm not either -- to lead the country into this kind of war without Congressional approval would be politically dangerous (for Bush) as well as constitutionally dubious. You've read much more into the thing I signed than is there, I think -- and to link it with the moron anti-war left is unfair and misleading.

Joyce Appleby, one of the two organizers of the historians' petition on Iraq, appeared Friday 9-13-02 on the PBS show, the Newshour.


On Tuesday September 17, the historians' petition to Congress will be the subject of a quarter page ad on the op-ed page of the New York Times. This"op-ad" will be sponsored by TomPaine.com, a public interest journal published by John Moyers. TomPaine regularly runs ads in the NYT on behalf of public causes. A typical quarter-page ad on the op-ed page of the NYT costs more than $20,000.

Moyers delayed a decision to run the ad after President Bush suddenly announced that he wanted to get Congress's approval in advance of taking action in Iraq. Moyers decided to go ahead after Joyce Appleby convinced him that the president's reversal was less significant than it appeared.

"Why should conservatives and liberals join together to oppose President Bush's willingness 'to consult' Congress about his plans to attack Iraq?" Appleby asked."Because he's flouting the Constitution of the United States which explicitly gives to Congress, not the president, the power to declare war."

The historians' petition will be presented to Congress on Tuesday September 17, as previously reported on HNN. A small delegation of historians will make the presentation, including Appleby, Ira Berlin and Roy Rosenzweig.

(Disclosure: The editor of HNN formerly edited TomPaine.com.)

As of September 13, nearly 1,300 historians had signed this petition. All fifty states are represented.


In the 9-11 edition of Newsweek Joyce Appleby, was critical of the Bush administration's purported Cold War outlook.

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More Comments:

Glenn Williams - 8/21/2003

I entered History as a second career following 21 years of active military service. This petition bothers me, and I wish to distance myself from it. I also disagree with the stance of colleagues who describe Operation Iraqi Freedom simplistically as a "pre-emptive" war.

When coalition forces ejected the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait in 1991, the terms of the "cease fire" - a temporary armistice NOT a peace treaty - provided for the destruction of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in return for our not annihilating his army or destroying his political structure. The war, in essence, was only on a 12-year pause, during which the Iraqi dictator chose to ignore the obligation to which he agreed. Since then, Saddam Hussein was aiding and abetting terrorists in their world-wide war against the U.S. and other "infidels," practicing "ethnic cleansing," and preparing more deadly and sinister weapons. To fight him now rather than after he unleashed these terror weapons, used them for blackmail, or caused another, and possibly greater, environmental catastrophe by dumping oil in the sea or on the desert floor, was the lesser of two evils.

Let us not forget that Bill Clinton as president said the following based on the same intelligence information that President Bush is now being criticized for citing:

"If Saddam Hussein fails to comply, and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop his program of weapons of mass destruction ... He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction ... If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow ... They will be all the more lethal if we allow them to build arsenals of NUCLEAR, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. We simply cannot allow that to happen. There is NO MORE CLEAR EXAMPLE OF THIS THREAT THAN SADDAM HUSSEIN ... Some day, I guarantee you, he'll use that arsenal."

Aside from launching a few "pre-emptive" cruse missile and air strikes, Clinton just chose "some ambiguous third route."

Henry Halsted - 4/4/2003

I would like Histort New Network article on Iraq History.

Ronald Best - 9/19/2002

I believe the historians' petition to Congress has been overtaken by events. Support in Congress for war with Iraq appears to be in favor of ending this threat to the U. S. and our Allies.

James M. Coughlin - 9/19/2002

Why do I get that sinking feeling that we really DON'T truly KNOW the Bush Administration's MOTIVES?

Why are they so FOCUSED on a country and regime that has been silent for 8 years and not caused a bit of a stir?

Where should the administration focus it's INTENTION? Our protection (if that is the argument) lies more in economic, social, medical, and environmental security than it does to a perceived threat from Iraq.

Here's the analog. If I thought my neighbor - a Hell's Angel Biker - was a threat to me and my family. Do I have the right to go kick him out of his house or my neighborhood by force? NO!

What if the neigbor were a convicted felon that served several years for 2nd degree murder? Would I have the RIGHT to kick him out because I THOUGHT he might do something? NO!

If we take away people's liberties to be free (domestically or globally) for the sake of protecting our safety. We have neither freedom nor safety for the government we asked to protect us now becomes our oppressor.

No WAR. No WAR on Drugs, Sex, Terrorism or IRAQ.

Timothy Kneeland - 9/19/2002

I am uncomfortable when historical elites such as Joyce Appleby prepare documents carrying the lable the "Historians' Petition". Intentionally or not, this implies that it speaks for all historians on this issue. Although I applaud the civic mindedness of my colleagues who hold a place in the power structure of the historical profession, I think it presumptuous for them to speak for those of us in the rank and file who may disagree with their conclusions regarding the Constitution on this specific crisis, or may disagree with the idea of petitioning anyone, or may just be rankled by the idea that someone is putting words in our mouth.

I am amazed that with all the talk of postmodernism and perspectivalism in the writing of history, how none of that seems to create an epistemological humility when it comes to contemporary politics. There is not now, nor has there been, one historical view on the Constitution. Even when its clearly written that congress has the power to declare war (Article I section 8) because we must ground all such discussions in the context of what is meant by "war". Nor is it "clear" that the Constitution as a living document has not been altered by the practice of the last fifty years to the extent that we now interpret the declaration of war differently than we did in 1945. Perhaps these are the ideas which "Historians" should be tackling rather than attempting to make policy because of our putative position as experts on the Constitution.