Vernon Bogdanor reviews Peter Conrad's Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries for the New Statesman, 5 December.
Mark Polizzotti, "Patabiographical," bookforum, Dec/Jan, reviews Alastair Brotchie's new biography of the French playwright, Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life.
Franklin Foer, "Macho Pointy-Head," The Book, 30 December, reviews Daniel Ruddy, ed., Theodore Roosevelt's History of the United States: His Own Words.
Alec Ash interviews "Rana Mitter on 100 Years of Modern China," The Browser, 13 December, for the Oxford historian's recommendation of five essential books on the subject.
Chet Raymo, "The Secret Life of Heddy Lamarr," Globe and Mail, 9 December, Barbara Spindell for the Barnes and Noble Review, 9 December, and Dwight Garner, "Glamour and Munitions: A Screen Siren's Wartime Ingenuity," NYT, 13 December, review Richard Rhodes's Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr.
Christopher Byrd, "Our Country, Our Critic," Democracy, Winter, reviews Richard M. Cook, ed., Alfred Kazin's Journals.
Three of the nine finalists for 3 Quarks Daily's Politics and Social Science Prize: 2011 are of particular interest to historians:
Ruchira, "The mideast uprisings: a lesson for strong men, mad men and counterfactual historians," Accidental Blogger, 23 February.
Corey Robin, "Revolutionaries of the Right: The Deep Roots of Conservative Radicalism," Corey Robin, 27 September.
Andrew Hartman, "‘When the Zulus Produce a Tolstoy We Will Read Him': Charles Taylor and the Politics of Recognition," U. S. Intellectual History, 2 June.
1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners of the competition will be decided by its judge, Stephen M. Walt.
The introduction to Jeff Swift's "Cascades and the Political Blogosphere," First Monday, 5 December, tracks the growing influence of Aaron Bady's zunguzungu. Aaron won a Cliopatria Award in 2008 for Best Writer and was subsequently one of our colleagues at Cliopatria. His "‘The Grass Is Closed': What I Have Learned About Power from the Police, Chancellor Birgeneau, and Occupy Cal," is a semifinalist for 3 Quarks Daily's Politics and Social Science Prize for 2011.
Mike Dash, "Emperor Wang Mang: China's First Socialist?" Past Imperfect, 9 December, looks at a Chinese emperor who proposed revolutionary reforms, provoked rebellion, and died a terrible death.
Caleb Crain, "iPhone vs. The Police," New Yorker, 7 December, draws on Randolph Roth's American Homicide and Douglas W. Allen's The Institutional Revolution: Measurement and the Economic Emergence of the Modern World to explain the emergence of police forces in an industrial world.
Ta-Nahisi Coates considers "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" Atlantic Monthly, ca 7 December.
Alec Ash interviews "Anna Reid on the Siege of Leningrad," The Browser, 11 December, for her recommendation of five essential books on the subject. Murray Polner reviews Reid's Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 for HNN.
Josh Rothman reviews Jean-Louis Cohen's Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War for Brainiac, 6 December.
Philip Hensher reviews George Craig, et al., eds., The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 2, 1941-1956 for the Guardian, 9 December.
Barry Gewen, "Isms," The Book, 12 December, reviews Ned O'Gorman's Spirits of the Cold War: Contesting Worldviews in the Classical Age of American Security Strategy.
The legal blog Letters Blogatory has a post (a few days old, but I just noticed it) on the newest development regarding the Boston College subpoena. Blogger Ted Folkman, a lawyer who does this kind of thing for a living, isn't impressed with the latest: "I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again, but the effort to intervene here seems to me to be clearly unfounded. That’s not to say that I think that BC’s position lacks merit. As I’ve written before, I think the case is up for grabs given the lack of First Circuit precedent cited by the parties."
Norman Stone, "A Very English Controversialist," WSJ, 10 December, reviews Adam Sisman's An Honourable Englishman: The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper.
David Margolick, "The African-American Experience," NYT, 9 December, reviews Henry Louis Gates's Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008. Isn't it time to admit that Skip is a trickster and we been tricked?
Ben MacIntyre, "The Risks and Rewards of Exploring the Nile," NYT, 9 December, reviews Tim Jeal's Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure.
Julia Frey reviews Steven Naifeh's and Gregory White Smith's Van Gogh: The Life for the Washington Post, 9 December.
Jacob Heilbrunn reviews John Lewis Gaddis's George Kennan: An American Life for the Daily Beast, 9 December. Geoffrey Kabaservice, "William F. Buckley Jr.: Right Man, Right Time," NYT, 9 December, reviews Carl T. Bogus's Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism. Bogus, "God and man and William F. Buckley," LAT, 27 November, considers the importance of Buckley's God and Man at Yale.
[Cross-posted at Airminded.]
Just a brief note on a conference I attended earlier this week at Monash University,'The Pacific War 1941-45: Heritage, Legacies & Culture'. I wasn't presenting, just listening; in fact I only decided to go at the very last minute, mainly on the basis that it seemed silly not to given that it was held in my own town!
And I'm glad I did go. Although the area is just outside my own (same war, different theatre) there were plenty of interesting comparisons and contrasts to be made. For example, there was a paper by Jan McLeod (Newcastle) analysing one air raid, the Japanese bombing of an Australian army hospital at Soputa in Papua in 1942. The following year the incident was studied by a retired judge to see if it should be referred to the United Nations Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes. Despite understandably heated emotions, it was decided not to since the hospital was situated right next to a valid target, 7th Division HQ, and a road carrying supplies to forward areas went straight past it. Now I want to know if anyone in Britain debated referring the Blitz or portions thereof to the Commission. (Goering was tried at Nuremberg, of course, but the tribunal's judgement makes no reference to aerial bombardment at all, save his threat to Hacha in May 1939 to bomb Prague if Czechoslovakia resisted German occupation.) Richard Waterhouse (Sydney) gave an overview of his research into the mood in Australia in the months following the start of the Japanese offensive. Initially it was fairly complacent thanks to the confidence in Fortress Singapore, but as the Japanese advance began to seem irresistible and the prospect of bombing and invasion opened up, signs panic began to appear. In fact, what he described reminded me very much of the Sudeten crisis in Britain a few years before: people fleeing the cities, trenches being dug in public spaces. Maybe somebody needs to look at such panics from a transnational perspective...
As always, one of the best things about going to conferences is being able to put faces to names, such as Ken Inglis and Joan Beaumont (ANU): big names in Australian military history. (I found Joan's talk, on Thai memorialisation of the Thai-Burma railway, one of the most interesting of the conference.) I'd already met Jay Winter (Yale) -- not that he'd remember me! -- at Exeter; he was very kind about my book news. And of course it's good to meet other 'early career researchers', as the official jargon goes here in Australia (shout out to Elizabeth Roberts, Lachlan Grant, and Adrian Threlfall goes here). It's starting to feel a bit odd though, turning up to conferences and having to explain to everyone I talk to that I'm an independent historian (and looking for work... slightly hysterical laugh goes here); I always seem to be the only one doing that, except for people at the other end of their careers, who have retired but are still researching and writing. It's just me, nobody made me feel in the slightest unwelcome, but I worry about it.
To get back to the history: the conference wasn't only about memory, but that seemed to me to be the largest thread running through it. My sense is that Australian historians are as interested in the memory of war as their British counterparts, but have perhaps been more interested in official forms of memory such as war memorials. (Aside from Jay's keynote, for example, there wasn't anything on films; though I was pleased to hear Paula Hamilton (UTS) in her own keynote mention the importance now of computer games in forming ideas about war.) And of course we remember different things here: POW means Changi not Colditz; Janet Watson's (Connecticut) keynote showed that V-J day commemorations in Britain in 1985 and 1995 were very much tacked on to V-E day ones, and in fact barely discussed at all due to the difficult issues involved; in Australia we tend to ignore our role in the war against Germany and Italy and focus on the one against Japan, meaning that Kokoda comes to rival Gallipoli and subjects like Australian participation in area bombing are completely ignored (as Bruce Scates (Monash) noted in passing -- it's not just me!) The upcoming series of 70th anniversaries will be very interesting to watch.
Sophie Roell interviews "Mike Dash on Hidden History," The Browser, 7 December, for his recommendation of five remarkable books illustrating Dash's claim that the most interesting history is textbook-marginal.
Ingrid D. Rowland, "The Crass, Beautiful Eternal City," NYRB, 22 December, reviews Robert Hughes's Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History. Tony Perrottet, "The Secret City," Slate, 5-8 December, is a series on secrets of Vatican City.
Malise Ruthven, "The Revolutionary Shias," NYRB, 22 December, reviews Hamid Dabashi's Shi'ism: A Religion of Protest.
Ferdinand Mount, "The extraordinary life of Lord Castlebrag," TLS, 7 December, reviews John Bew's Castlereagh: Enlightenment, war and tyranny. Richard Drayton reviews Richard Gott's Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt for the Guardian, 7 December.
Nathaniel Stein for the New Yorker, 29 November, and Julia M. Klein, "The Best of Dickens's Life and Times," WSJ, 8 December, review "Charles Dickens at 200," an exhibit at Manhattan's Morgan Library & Museum.
Matthew Price, "Mallory expedition: death on Everest," The National, 8 December, reviews Wade Davis's Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.
Walter Russell Mead, "The Age of Hamilton," Via Meadia, 6 December, argues for "a revival of the Jeffersonian element in American political thought and practice."
In Richard Vinen, "Bring the Iron Lady Back," NYT, 7 December, the King's College historian and author of Thatcher's Britain: The Politics and Social Upheaval of the 1980s calls for a revival of Thatcher's conservative leadership.
The Navy Times notes that Pearl Harbor survivors are returning to their dead shipmates, decades later:
On Tuesday, seven decades after dozens of fellow sailors were killed when the Utah sank on Dec. 7, 1941, Navy divers took a small urn containing [Graham Soucy's] ashes and put it in a porthole of the ship. The ceremony is one of five memorials being held this week for service members who lived through the assault and want their remains placed in Pearl Harbor, out of pride and affinity for those they left behind.
I don't know of another battle site where people are returning to be buried, though it's not something I've researched. "Pearl Harbor interment and ash scattering ceremonies began in the late 1980s and started growing in number as more survivors heard about them." Now, the article says, 265 survivors are interred there. In Soucy's case, his ashes were split, with some going to Pearl and some being buried in a plot at home to be shared with his wife. Both family, if of a different sort.
WDBJ TV has local livestream news from Blacksburg, Virginia. About noon today, two persons, including a police officer, were killed by an unknown shooter, who remains at large. The campus is on lockdown and final exams are postponed.
George Lakoff isn't a historian. But that excuse only goes so far.
Lakoff's endlessly simpleminded political noodling disappears whole vast swaths of history, entire conceptual categories, and every thin final molecule of nuance from human existence. His writing couldn't be more of a cartoon if Snoopy showed up and got into a dogfight with the Red Baron. (Is this a Berkeley thing? How can one campus have George Lakoff and John Yoo and Robert Reich? Practical joke, or cosmic accident?) Speaking of cartoons, Lakoff says things about the origins of his political conceptions that no self-aware being could utter without blushing the color of a fire engine.
Look at this bizarre and drifting conception of "the Public" from a recent blog post Lakoff coughed up on a blog hosted by UCLA:
All the hundreds of the occupiers’ legitimate complaints and important policy suggestions follow from a simple general moral principle: American democracy is about citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that care.
The idea is simple but a lot follows from it: a government that protects and empowers everyone equally, a government of the Public — public roads and buildings, school and universities, research and innovation, public health and health care, safety nets, access to justice in the courts, enforcement of worker rights, and practical necessities like sewers, power grids, clean air and water, public safety including safe food, drugs, and other products, public parks and recreational facilities, public oversight of the economy — fiscal and trade policy, banking, the stock market — and especially the preservation of nature in the interest of all.
The Public has been what has made Americans free — and has underwritten American wealth. No one makes it on his or her own. Private success depends on a robust Public.
The rationale for the Occupy movement is that all of this has been under successful attack by the right wing, which has an opposing principle, that democracy is about citizens only taking care of themselves, about personal and not social responsibility. According to right-wing morality, the successful are by definition the moral; the one percent are taken to be the most moral. The country and the world should be ruled by such a “moral” hierarchy. Except for national security, the Public should disappear through lack of funding.
So Lakoff begins with a "government of the Public" (emphasis added), constituted from the will of and serving the whole body of "citizens caring for one another." The "Public," here, is something very much like civil society by another name. Isn't that a fair reading? Not a dozen sentences later, though, "the Public" can "disappear through lack of funding." Civil society can cease to exist if you don't send it a check drawn on the Treasury? In between these two competing notions of "the Public," we have a "robust Public" that creates private success. The public sector? Or the "public" that creates it and calls upon it?
A professional linguist, who writes about the importance of calculated political framing, muddles the definition that sits at precisely the very center of his argument: government is of the public, and government is the public, and the public ceases to exist if it's defunded, which appears to suggest that government calls civil society into being and can also switch it off with the merest appropriations bill. I'm sorry, society, we pulled your funding for FY 2013. Please cease to exist on or before 30 June.
But then here comes Lakoff with another post at my favorite cartoon syndication site, explaining what Good People want and Bad People hate (until a house falls on the bad people, and they melt):
Progressives need to be both thinking and talking about their view of a moral democracy, about how a robust public is necessary for private success, about all that the public gives us, about the benefits of health, about a Market for All not a Greed Market, about regulation as protection, about revenue and investment, about corporations that keep wages low when profits are high, about how most of the rich earn a lot of their money without making anything or serving anyone, about how corporations govern your life for their profit not yours, about real food, about corporate and military waste, about the moral and social role of unions, about how global warming causes the increasingly monstrous effects of weather disasters, about how to save and preserve nature.
Lakoff frames his discussion as Left versus Right, a clear set of distinctions between precisely binary choices. So let's only reference sources from the Left: Would Gabriel Kolko agree with the concept of "regulation as protection," or would he maybe complicate it a bit? Would William Appleman Williams agree that the "moral democracy" of a "robust public" -- that word again, whatever Lakoff means by it this time -- provides for unambiguously just and decent outcomes?
Anyway, yes: If Lakoff wants to argue that "a robust public is necessary for private success," I encourage him to jump on a BART train and go make that argument in front of Leland Stanford's mansion. Or Henry Kaiser's house. I agree with you, George, but I don't mean it as a prescription.
If you start by framing the world in terms of "Left" and "Right," or whatever variation on that binary choice you use, then you're already forcing complications out of the frame. Poke at anything Lakoff writes, it gives way like it was never there. I am, again, disappointed by the thinness of argument from what currently passes for public intellectuals. If people at the dance think George Lakoff has great moves, I'd rather just hang out in the parking lot.
ADDED LATER: See also.
[cross-posted at The Edge of the American West]
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
It is a "date which will live in infamy" as Roosevelt said, but not much longer in living memory:
The 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack will be the last one marked by the survivors’ association. With a concession to the reality of time — of age, of deteriorating health and death — the association will disband on Dec. 31…Harry R. Kerr, the director of the Southeast chapter, said there weren’t enough survivors left to keep the organization running. “We just ran out of gas, that’s what it amounted to,” he said from his home in Atlanta, after deciding not to come this year. “We felt we ran a good course for 70 years. Fought a good fight. We have no place to recruit people anymore: Dec. 7 only happened on one day in 1941.”
This is not unusual: wars, spectacular events, and catastrophes bring the survivors together to bond, frequently in organizations devoted to the memory of the event. Those survivors have finite lifespans, however, and when they pass, so too do the organizations. The Boxer Rebellion (obligatory self-aggrandizement) witnessed the creation of the Military Order of the Dragon, an association of those veterans--from a range of western countries--who had fought in China in 1900. They had reunions and a newsletter throughout the first half of the 20th century. The order published a book in 1912. But by the 1950s, the membership was dying off, and the newsletter put out the following in 1952:
Activity…has taken a drop the past few years. The average age of Mandarins [the title they gave veterans] is between 75-78 years….Before long, though, the Hereditary 'Chinos'--sons, daughters, and down the line--will have to take over.
They didn't, not having the connection to the events that their spouses and parents did. Thus, too, with the Pearl Harbor veterans, and so December 7th, its memories fading, is handed finally over to history for care and safekeeping.
 Military History Institute, Spanish American War Veterans Survey 42/12, McKinney, Lewis.
Charles Moore, "A gentleman and a scholar, or just a good story?" Telegraph, 12 July 2010, and Dwight Garner, "A Reputation Staked, and Shattered, on the Forged Diaries of Hitler," NYT, 6 December, review Adam Sisman's An Honourable Gentleman: The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Dan Hofstadter, "The Heirloom City," WSJ, 3 December, reviews R. J. B. Bosworth's Whispering City: Rome and Its Histories, Robert Hughes's Rome: A Cultural, Visual, And Personal History, and Franco Mormando's Bernini: His Life and His Rome.
Hugh Thompson, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," WSJ, 3 December, reviews Gerard Helferich's Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya and Bill Yenne's Cities of Gold: Legendary Kingdoms, Quixotic Quests, and Fantastic New World Wealth.
Edward Rothstein, "The South Reinterprets Its ‘Lost Cause'," NYT, 5 December, visits Richmond's Virginia Historical Society and its Museum of the Confederacy.
Nicholas Thompson, "Ideas Man: The Legacy of George F. Kennan," Foreign Affairs, 6 December, reviews John Lewis Gaddis's George F. Kennan: An American Life.
Simon Schama, "Why America Should Care About the Collapse of European Unity," Daily Beast, 5 December, argues that we might have learned from past experience that Europe's health is the health of nations.
Today, Cliopatria celebrates her eighth birthday! Thanks to History News Network and to all the historians and well-informed lay people who brought us to this time and place.
Nadine Orenstein, "The Challenge of Interpreting Caricatures and Satires," Now at the Met, 9 November, reflects on her experience curating "Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire From Leonardo to Levine," an exhibit at Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum. "The History of Caricature," NYT, 2 December, reviews the exhibition's catalogue, Constance C. McPhee's and Orenstein's Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire From Leonardo to Levine.
Adrian Tinniswood, "Vile Bodies," Literary Review, Dec/Jan, reviews Anne Somerset's Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion.
O. A. Westad, "Cold Hands, Warm Heart," Literary Review, Dec/Jan, reviews Frank Costigliola's Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War.
Frank Dikötter, "The Tenacity of Hope," Literary Review, Dec/Jan, reviews Liao Yiwu's God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China. Translated by Wenguang Huang.
Finally, Adam Hochschild, "What Gingrich Didn't Learn in Congo," NYT, 4 December, finds unexpected problems in Gingrich's Tulane history dissertation.
(*Knock on Wood)
Below, a brief filed in federal court today by lawyers for two of Boston College's Belfast Project researchers, who were responsible for conducting oral history interviews with former members of paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland. The Department of Justice continues to pursue subpoenas for materials from confidential interviews with former members of the Provisional IRA, acting on a request from the government of the United Kingdom (which almost certainly originated in the PSNI). Most recently, the DOJ had asked a judge to refuse to allow BC's researchers to join the discussion before the court. This new brief continues the argument for that intervention, and is important for the claims it makes about the legal rights of individuals following requests made by foreign governments under the terms of mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs).
Again, I'm no longer providing detailed background for what has become a very long series of posts, on the assumption that anyone who cares has been following the story for a while. But go back and take another look at the government brief that prompted this reply. The DOJ, I wrote, was arguing for a position that MLATs effectively create "legal proceedings with secret origins, undeclared purposes, and no right to challenge, limit, or appeal them." A foreign government makes a request; the DOJ decides to honor it; the end.
The brief below makes detailed arguments about federal statutes and case law that I won't claim to understand or to analyze. But the heart of the argument is that the DOJ has unreasonably invented a set of legal standards that shield it from scrutiny, and that cannot be found in the treaty that governs the matter: "The US-UK MLAT neither extinguishes the Intervenors’ rights under domestic law, nor permits the Government to circumvent the Federal Rules in its pursuit of a Subpoena."
This argument continues to be important for many reasons, not the least of which is the DOJ's outrageous claims about executive power that cannot be limited or reviewed.
Related, a quick note about another source for information: Letters Blogatory, a legal blog focused on international judicial assistance, has created a page just for updates on the Belfast Project subpoenas.
Today's brief follows.
Francine Prose, "Robert Hughes Tours Rome," NYT, 2 December, reviews Hughes's Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History. Géza Vermès, "Jews, Christians and Judaeo-Christians," Standpoint, December, traces the early history of Christian Jews or Jewish Christianity.
Christopher Benfey, "Revisiting Camelot," NYT, 2 December, reviews Peter Ackroyd's The Death of King Arthur: Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur". Alida Becker, "The Archaeologist as Titan," NYT, 2 December, reviews Ivor Noël Hume's Belzoni: The Giant Archaeologists Love to Hate.
Brooke Allen, "Italy's Fragile Union," NYT, 2 December, reviews David Gilmour's The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples. Diana Preston reviews Tim Jeal's Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure for the Washington Post, 2 December. Thomas L. Jeffers reviews Rosamund Bartlett's Tolstoy: A Russian Life for the Washington Post, 2 December.
Richard J. Evans, "The Road to Slaughter," Tablet, 5 December, reviews Sean McMeekins's The Russian Origins of the First World War. Gerard DeGroot reviews Peter Englund's The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War for the Washington Post, 2 December. Holly Morris, "The Lure of Everest," NYT, 2 December, reviews Wade Davis's Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.
Beverly Gage reviews Jim Newton's Eisenhower: The White House Years for the Washington Post, 2 December.
Nandini Ramachandran, "Frontiers of the Imagination," Sunday Guardian, 4 December, reviews Manan Ahmed's Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination.
Finally, farewell to the distinguished American labor historian, David Montgomery.
Middle Stuff: Blair Worden reviews Thomas Penn's Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England for the Guardian, 25 November. Jed Perl, "The Discoverer," The Book, 1 December, reviews Weston Naef's and Christine Hult-Lewis's Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs.
Later Stuff: Joanna Bourke, "Pity and War Histories," TLS, 30 November, reviews Peter Englund's The Beauty and the Sorrow: An intimate history of the First World War and Max Hastings's All Hell Let Loose: The world at war 1939–45. Matt Novak, "'A Robot Has Shot Its Master': The 1930s hysteria about machines taking jobs and killing people," Slate, 30 November, finds mechanization a threat in the Great Depression. William Giraldi reviews Adam Kirsch's Why Trilling Matters for the Daily Beast, 1 December.
Last Things: Romy Oltuski, "Famous Authors' Harshest Rejection Letters," FlavorWire, 17 November, may salve the wounds inflicted on you by meatheads in editorial offices. Jan Swafford, "Last Notes: the wild, sublime music that composers write on their deathbeds," Slate, 29 November, looks at musicians' last compositions. Finally, congratulations to Siddhartha Mukherjee. His book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, has overcome the challenge from four novels to win the Guardian's First Book Prize for 2011.
The day after I wrote a post here wondering about the decline of a localist, communitarian left in the United States -- the day after I asked why American progressive political argument is "stuck on massive" -- former SEIU president and Columbia Business School senior fellow Andy Stern has an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the U.S. should learn from "China's Superior Economic Model." They have five-year plans! They just released their twelfth central plan for the economy, and the People's Economy is Surging Forward to Eternal Victory As Every Heart Swells With Joy for the Heroic Project of Industrial Development:
"The aims: a 7% annual economic growth rate; a $640 billion investment in renewable energy; construction of six million homes; and expanding next-generation IT, clean-energy vehicles, biotechnology, high-end manufacturing and environmental protection—all while promoting social equity and rural development... While we debate, Team China rolls on. Our delegation witnessed China's people-oriented development in Chongqing, a city of 32 million in Western China, which is led by an aggressive and popular Communist Party leader—Bo Xilai. A skyline of cranes are building roughly 1.5 million square feet of usable floor space daily—including, our delegation was told, 700,000 units of public housing annually... Meanwhile, the Chinese government can boast that it has established in Western China an economic zone for cloud computing and automotive and aerospace production resulting in 12.5% annual growth and 49% growth in annual tax revenue, with wages rising more than 10% a year."
Because never in history have the PRC's five-year plans been unrealistic. Never once has Chinese central planning caused unintended consequences. Five-year plans work every time, end of story. The economic zone in western China will have 12.5% annual growth, and wages will rise 10% every year, because the plans say so. Hey, why don't WE have backyard iron smelters? Why won't OUR government invest in renewable energy?
Words fail. How little would you have to know -- about history as about current events -- to write this pornographically ignorant trash? The yearning for the massive centralization of power is unmistakable, inexplicable, ahistorical, and unforgivable.
Welcome to the December 1, 2011 edition of the Military History Carnival, covering the last three months of military history web goodness. This is MHC #29. Previous editions can be found here.
Many thanks to all the nominators. This is the largest MHC in quite a while.
Scott Manning presents The Strategic Importance of Stirling posted at Historian on the Warpath, saying, "This article looks at the strategic importance of Stirling to understand why Wallace and Murray decided to confront the invading English there in 1297."
Averrones presents "They shot at the skies": soldiers and firearms of 16th century posted at Sellswords, mercenaries and condottieri.
Nesher presents French Built Fake Paris to Fool German Bombers during WWI posted at Best Hoaxes and Pranks.
Drew Lindsay submitted "Rogers' Rangers Ice Capade," saying: "Eliot Cohen on the disastrous 1758 battle that fueled the legend of the pioneers of American special forces."
Andrew Heaton presents Why they Put Potatoes on Frederick the Great's Grave posted at MightyHeaton.com, saying, "An amusing article on why Frederick the Great, the brilliant Prussian strategist, is honored by contemporary Germans placing potatoes on top of his grave."
Drew Lindsay submitted "John Brown's Blood Oath" saying: "Tony Horwitz traces the abolitionist's first campaigns of war and terror when he formed a Northern army to fight proslavery forces in Kansas."
Ottens presents We Used to Fight "Wars of Whim" All The Time posted at Atlantic Sentinel, saying, "Libya is not the exception to the history of European warfare. Carefully prepared interventions and conflicts are."
World War I
World War II
Adam Randazzo presents September 1944 – Ph. M. Baker treating wounded German captive | John Baker's Warbook posted at John Baker's Warbook, saying, "Pictures from the United States Coast Guard USS Duane during WWII"
David Lippman submitted "September 1 & 2, 1939," saying: "I have added a new segment to my series on World War II, September 1 and 2, 1939."
Navy One presents Meeting Colonel Chesty Puller, USMC | posted at The Mellow Jihadi, saying, "A post on the humorous interaction between a husband and his wife's grandmother, who used to talk to Chesty Puller, legend of Marine Corps lore."
Brett Holman presents The Personal Side of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory posted at Thoughts on Military History.
Jonathan Beard submitted "Arctic Convoys: The Worst Journey in the World."
Craig Swain presents Continental Air Defense- The DEW Line | Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid posted at Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid, saying, "Part of a series discussing cold war era US Air Defense."
Craig Swain presents Continental Air Defense- The Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) posted at Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid, saying, "Another part of a series on Cold War era US Air Defense - this one focuses on SAGE."
Drew Lindsay submitted "How Richard Nixon Almost Won Vietnam," saying: "The 1972 Battle of An Loc proved that the...
The New York Times featured an interesting exchange on presidential history between columnist Ross Douthat and historian Robert Dallek. The debate provides a good example of why a columnist might want to avoid taking on a historian of Dallek’s caliber.
Douthat’s Sunday column identified what he deemed three false pretenses about JFK: (1) that“Kennedy was a very good president, and might have been a great one if he’d lived”; (2) that “Kennedy would have kept us out of Vietnam”; and (3) that “Kennedy was a martyr to right-wing unreason.”
The third pretense is clearly false, though its prevalence is dubious (Douthat cites a recent Frank Rich column) and it’s also clear that Kennedy’s presidency featured a surge of “right-wing unreason,” especially in the South and Southwest. Dallek’s response ignores it, and focuses instead on the first two claims.
Douthat’s contention that as “the war’s architects were all Kennedy people,” it “was the Whiz Kids’ mix of messianism and technocratic confidence, not Oswald’s fatal bullet, that sent so many Americans to die in Indochina” is true but an incomplete analysis. As Dallek counters, “neither [Kennedy] nor anyone else knew what he would have done [regarding Vietnam], though he was highly skeptical about sending large numbers of ground troops to fight there. As both Robert S. McNamara and McGeorge Bundy told me, President Kennedy would have acted differently from L.B.J.”
The transition from Kennedy to Johnson was undoubtedly significant, in that Johnson used his national security advisors much differently than Kennedy had; LBJ tended to rely on a smaller circle of figures, and was considerably more deferential to their viewpoints than Kennedy had been. Both patterns made Johnson more likely to have escalated than Kennedy might have been. But Douthat’s argument is at least plausible that a second-term President Kennedy would have botched Vietnam.
The columnist is on much less solid ground in his discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which he portrays as a negative for Kennedy—viewed by some, he notes, as “a serial blunderer in foreign policy, who barely avoided a nuclear war that his own brinksmanship had pushed us toward.” This viewpoint, to put it mildly, isn’t the consensus interpretation of JFK’s foreign policy, but it does find some currency in left-leaning or hard-line revisionist scholarship that Douthat doesn’t seem to embrace in any other context. As Dallek responds, Kennedy handled that missile crisis “more than effectively,” and “was particularly wise in restraining his reckless military chiefs then and throughout his thousand days.” The recordings of the Cuban Missile Crisis debates badly weaken Douthat’s argument, but he doesn’t mention them.
The most significant problem with Douthat’s column, however, comes in its tendency toward unsupported overstatement. He comments, for instance, on Kennedy’s “medical problems that arguably made him unfit for the presidency.” Dallek observes that Kennedy undeniably had medical problems that he hid from the public, but strongly denies the allegation that these difficulties made the Presdient unfit for service.
Most problematic, however, is Douthat’s framing of how “serious historians” evaluate JFK: “the kindest interpretation of Kennedy’s presidency is that he was a mediocrity whose death left his final grade as ‘incomplete.’ The harsher view would deem him a near disaster.”
Yet for an example of the “harsher view,” Douthat cites not a historian but essayist Christopher Hitchens. And Douthat’s assertion that the “kindest view of Kennedy’s presidency is that he was a mediocrity” was starkly contradicted by the C-SPAN survey of presidential leadership. The 2009 survey, which included dozens of presidential scholars, ranked Kennedy sixth, behind Lincoln, Washington, the two Roosevelts, and Truman. In the 2000 survey, JFK’s ranking was eighth.
Perhaps Douthat believes that any President ranked below the top five is a mediocrity. In that case, I’ll be looking forward to his column on the mediocrity of Ronald Reagan (10th in 2009, 11th in 2000).
I’m not a particular fan of Kennedy’s presidency, and if I had participated in the 2009 poll, I would have ranked him lower than 6th. But it’s unfortunate to see the historical consensus misrepresented in the Times.
Wendell Berry is one of the critical figures of the environmentalist left, a fierce critic of the Vietnam War with a long personal history of direct action in environmental causes. A complicated figure, Berry has looked outside the boundaries of a supposedly binary politics, discovering (for example) conservative instincts in the New Left. He has also repeatedly expressed his appreciation for the Amish, who center their lives on families and communities, withdrawing as much as possible from "our intrusive, inhuman, indifferent, clumsy, expensive institutions." This insistence on community over large institutions is something close to Berry's political bottom line; as a biographer puts it, "Berry scorned the massive state."
I've been thinking about Wendell Berry this week because I'm reading Eric Miller's magnificent biography of Christopher Lasch, required reading for any animal that walks upright and uses tools. Lasch shared many of Berry's concerns, not only about environmental limits on corporate capitalism but also about the scale of our politics. As Lasch wrote, "[A]ny vision of socialism which does not confront the need for a drastic scaling down of institutions, for the need to combine planning with as much regional and local control as possible, does not have much to offer Americans in the twentieth century and has little chance of attracting a following."
Maybe I'm blending some political traditions, here, but it seems to me that Berry and Lasch represent an enormously important American political tradition, a populist left that sought what we would now call social justice and economic equity in local action and the protections of community. And it seems that this long cultural and political line has simply vanished. Front Porch Republic is a conservative website; good progressives call for federal control of healthcare and... well, everything else. To oppose central control of medicine, the economy, education, energy, and the lightbulb in your living room is to be "anti-government," the most troglodytic thing imaginable. It's like being against oxygen, and where in your cave do you keep your wooden club, teabagger?
Here's Robert Reich decrying policy "smallness" and demanding -- this is my least-favorite phrase in the English language, and always makes me picture a party rally at Nuremberg -- "bold alternatives": "The nation needs a real jobs plan, one of sufficient size and scope to do the job -- including a WPA and a Civilian Conservation Corps, to put the millions of long-term unemployed and young unemployed to work rebuilding America... And what about really raising taxes on the rich to finance what the nation should be doing to create a world-class workforce with world-class wages?"
Or watch Paul Krugman declare that the federal government should massively increase its spending, because "we have five or six trillion dollars to play with, here."
Because nothing says fairness like the massive concentration of economic power in a centralized political regime that plays with trillions of dollars. No way that kind of political and economic system could ever be rigged to benefit the wealthy and turn into an oligarchy. It's, like, unpossible -- bigger government is bigger fairness. QED.
Where, when, why, and how did this renunciation happen? When did the American left, such as it is, abandon scale as a worthy topic? As a historical matter, where can we locate the demise of "small is beautiful" liberal politics? Why is the argument for a devolution of power right wing? Why is the dial on American "progressive" politics stuck on the "massive" setting? None of this just happened. It's a development with roots, and with dire effects.