Lynne Cheney in an op ed in the New York Times on December 21, 2004, related the story of Washington's crossing of the Delaware. The paper headlined the article, "A Revolutionary Christmas Story." But there was nothing revolutionary about her rendering of the attack on Trenton. Her account reflected the traditional narrative told to American children for generations. Defeated in New York, Washington had led the patriot army on a humiliating retreat to New Jersey and crossed over into Pennsylvania. There on Christmas night 1776 he led his ragtag army across the Delaware in a surprise attack on the Hessians occupying Trenton. Three different groups were scheduled to cross the ice-clogged river. Only one of the three made it. But that morning Washington succeeded in defeating the Hessions, representatives of the greatest military force operating in the world at that time.
Sounds like a children's story--and is in fact. Cheney tells the story in the book, When Washington crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.
Is it true? Not according to Joseph Ellis. In his recent bestseller, His Excellency: George Washington, Ellis, the Mount Holyoke historian, explains that the traditional account is deficient in several respects. Most importantly, Washington's troops, we now know, did not surprise the Hessians. Indeed, he relates, they had been expecting an attack for weeks. And that was the problem. On alert for weeks, they had become weary and vulnerable. When the attack finally came they were unprepared to meet it because of physical exhaustion.
Ellis does not entirely reject the traditional narrative. He goes out of his way, for instance, to explain that Washington actually stood up in the boat as he crossed the Delaware, though the crossing did not exactly take place as depicted in the famous painting by Emanuel Leutze. Leutze got the boats wrong. They were flat-bottomed and thus conducive to solders standing.
But the larger point of Ellis's exegesis is that the crossing employed a strategy of warfare that was wholly inadequate for the purpose of winning a war against a vastly superior force. Outnumbered by the British troops, Washington's army could succeed in the war only by adopting what was known as a Fabian Strategy, the strategy of winning by constantly withdrawing and wearing down the enemy. Named after the Roman consul who devised it to defeat Hannibal at Carthage during the Second Punic War. The Fabian Strategy was anathema to Washington's aggressive nature. He preferred direct attacks, if only because, suggests Ellis, it gave him a chance to demonstrate his manhood. But his war council prevailed on him to adopt the Fabian Strategy instead, arguing, correctly, that direct attacks on the British would end in the decimation of the Continental Army. Washington, in one of the noteworthy decisions of his career, agreed. Ellis notes that it was one in a series of decisions that demonstrated Washington's clear-headed self-discipline, a key to the success he was to enjoy both in the army and as president.
Paul Ferris, in a letter to the editor of the Guardian concerning the above story (12-1-04):
"A 'new theory' about Dylan Thomas says it wasn't drink that killed him but pneumonia potentiated by morphine, medically administered. This is a good explanation of what happened in November 1953 in New York, and I endorse it, having given it twice already in my biographies of Thomas (1977 and 1999).
No doubt the story of Thomas boasting about '18 straight whiskies,' and then succumbing to alcoholic poisoning will endure because it seems a suitable end for a poet. Meanwhile, the story of a man with a bad chest who was given the wrong injection will continue to be revealed at intervals, and fail to catch on."
I could elaborate but I'm sure you don't want me to.
Joanne Laucius, in the Ottawa Citizen (12-2-04):
George W. Bush' speechwriters got a bit of U.S. history wrong yesterday in his Halifax speech. ... In the speech at the historic Pier 21, where thousands of immigrants have entered Canada, the president urged "energetic defence" as an important duty. And he quoted Canada's wartime prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, to bolster his argument.
In the "early days" of the Second World War, when the U.S. was "still wrestling with isolationism," some Canadians were arguing that Canada was not being attacked and they weren't interested in fighting a distant war, said Mr. Bush.
Mr. King's response to this was that "to remain on the defensive is the surest way to bring war to Canada," Mr. Bush said in his speech.
Mr. Bush went on to quote Mr. King as saying Canada should protect itself against attack but, also, "we must go out and meet the enemy before he reaches our shores. We must defeat him before he attacks us, before our cities are laid to waste."
"Mackenzie King was correct then, and we must always remember the wisdom of the words today," Mr. Bush told his listeners.
But the problem was this: the King speech Mr. Bush quoted was made on April 7, 1942. Canada had been in the war since September 1939. The U.S. had also been in the war since Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and was therefore no longer isolationist.
A senior administration official in the White House said the point of the King quotation was that Canada entered the Second World War before the U.S.
"Canada was there when there was no direct threat," he said.
Mr. Bush used Mr. King's speech out of context, said political and military historian Desmond Morton.
Mr. King's Liberals had repeatedly promised that there would be no conscription for overseas service, which Quebecers strongly opposed. In 1942, a plebiscite was being held to ask Canadians to release the government from its promises. The King speech was aimed at persuading Canadians to give the government a "free hand in the discharge of its duty in carrying on the war." In the end, Quebec voted against conscription while the rest of the country was strongly in favour.
But taking history out of context is not unusual in political speeches, said Mr. Morton....
Steven Aftergood, in Secrecy News, from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy (Volume 2004, Issue No. 99 November 10, 2004):
The Bush Administration's policy of cutting taxes while launching a war in Iraq is extraordinary, but is it unprecedented? Not quite.
"It seems hard to believe," wrote historian Otto Friedrich in a history of Berlin in the 1920s, "but the incredible fact is that Imperial Germany's conservative finance officials never levied a single mark in extra taxes to pay the gigantic costs of World War I."
"The German government planned, apparently, to recover its expenses out of the reparations that the enemy would have to pay once Hindenburg and Ludendorff had captured Paris."
But as it turned out, it was France that ended up demanding reparations from Germany, with fateful consequences, not the other way around. (O. Friedrich, "Before the Deluge," 1995 edition, p. 60).
One recalls the illusory assurances of the Bush Administration that the rebuilding of Iraq would cost American taxpayers a grand total of
"You're not suggesting that the rebuilding of Iraq is gonna be done for $1.7 billion?" asked an incredulous Ted Koppel in a 2003 ABC News Nightline interview with Andrew Natsios, then-administrator of the Agency for International Development (AID).
"Well, in terms of the American taxpayers' contribution, I do, this is it for the US," Mr. Natsios replied.
"The rest of the rebuilding of Iraq will be done by other countries who have already made pledges, Britain, Germany, Norway, Japan, Canada, and Iraqi oil revenues, eventually in several years, when it's up and running and there's a new government that's been democratically elected, will finish the job with their own revenues. They're going to get in $20 billion a year in oil revenues. But the American part of this will be 1.7 billion. We have no plans for any further-on funding for this."
The transcript of this April 23, 2003 Nightline interview was quietly removed from the AID web site last year (as reported by the Washington Post on 12/18/03). But a copy is preserved here (thanks to BY):
Curt Cardwell has raised the question of the origin of the claim, supposedly by General Giap, that the anti-war protesters contributed to the success of the North Vietnamese in the war.
Ed Moise has already tackled this one [in a review of] Vo Nguyen Giap and Van Tien Dung, How We Won the War. Philadelphia: Recon Publications, 1976. 63 pp.
This book has been the subject of several unfounded rumors on the Internet. The first one began in the late 1990s. Supposedly, General Giap had written in How We Won the War that in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive of 1968, the Communist leaders in Vietnam had been ready to abandon the war, but that a broadcast by Walter Cronkite, declaring the Tet Offensive a Communist victory, persuaded them to change their minds and fight on. This rumor was entirely false. Giap had not mentioned Cronkite, and had not said the Communists had ever considered giving up on the war.
Several variants of this rumor appeared in 2004. In these, Giap is supposed to have credited either the American anti-war movement in general, or John Kerry's organization (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) in particular, for persuading the Communist leaders to change their minds and not give up on the war. Giap is sometimes said to have made this statement in How We Won the War, sometimes in an unnamed 1985 memoir. All versions of the rumor are false. Neither in How We Won the War, nor in any other book (the 1985 memoir is entirely imaginary), has Giap mentioned Kerry or Vietnam Veterans Against the War, or said that the Communist leaders had ever considered giving up on the war."
I understand that there is a 1985 memoir by Truong Nhu Tang (A Vietcong Memoir) that mentions the U.S. anti-war movement (thanks to Richard Jensen's online bibliography. It is possible that while the author, memoir and year are all wrong, the quotation may yet be authentic and merely misattributed.
As to the implications of such a link between Vietnam-era protesters and those agitated by the current situation in the world, it seems to me that the use of the quotation, inaccurately or not, is more about firing up conservatives, particularly those of Vietnam-era age, against John Kerry than about attacking those who are "anti-war protesters" (an ambiguous term) today.
In the New York Times on Tuesday, October 12, 2004, the following statement was made as the introduction to an article regarding an art exhibit in London:
It is tempting to imagine that Europeans' fear of putrid food led a Portuguese navigator to open the sea routes to India and, in the process, alter the history of Europe and Asia. It was almost that simple. After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, the Turks seized control of the overland trade routes from the East and Europe was suddenly short of the Asian spices needed to preserve its food.
Alas, the simple explanation is not the correct one. It is based on an old
myth debunked by A. H. Lybyer as long ago as 1915. In Lies My Teacher Told
Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, sociologist James
W. Loewen explains that it would have been counter-intuitive of the Turks to
close off the overland trade routes. Keeping the spice trade going offered them
an opportunity to make money.
The incentive to make money was a significant reason for navigators to take to the sea and find a more direct route to the luxury goods that Europeans desired. Loewen lists four factors that also contributed. First were advances in military technology. Second were the "new forms of social technology -- bureaucracy, double-entry book keeping, and mechanical printing," which helped the owners manage these ventures efficiently. A third factor was ideological; "amassing wealth and dominating other people came to be positively valued as the key means of winning esteem on earth and salvation in the hereafter." Lastly, according to Loewen, "Europe's readiness to embrace a 'new' continent was the particular nature of European Christianity."
Wolfgang Schivelbusch, author of Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants and Intoxicants, says profits were the driving force behnd the developing overseas spice trade. "The fifteenth century equivalent of today's quest for alternative fuel," he writes, "was a less costly trade route to the lands where spices grew, a route that would at once steer clear of toll restrictions and permit the transport of larger quantities of goods a whole generation of entrepreneurs and adventurers went in search of this route."
On the antiwar Right, it has been customary to attack the warmongering neoconservative clique for its Trotskyite origins. Certainly, the founding father of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, wrote in 1983 that he was proud to have been a member of the Fourth International in 1940. Other future leading lights of the neocon movement were also initially Trotskyites, like James Burnham and Max Kampelmanthe latter a conscientious objector during the war against Hitler, a status that Evron Kirkpatrick, husband of Jeane, used his influence to obtain for him. But there is at least one neoconservative commentator whose personal political odyssey began with a fascination not with Trotskyism, but instead with another famous political movement that grew up in the early decades of the 20th century: fascism. I refer to Michael Ledeen, leading neocon theoretician, expert on Machiavelli, holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, regular columnist for National Review and the principal cheerleader today for an extension of the war on terror to include regime change in Iran.
Ledeen has gained notoriety in recent months for the following paragraph in his latest book, The War Against the Terror Masters. In what reads like a prophetic approval of the policy of chaos now being visited on Iraq, Ledeen wrote,
Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existenceour existence, not our politicsthreatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.
This is not the first time Ledeen has written eloquently on his love for the
democratic revolution and creative destruction. In 1996, he
gave an extended account of his theory of revolution in his book, Freedom Betrayed
the title, one assumes, is a deliberate reference to Trotskys Revolution
Betrayed. Ledeen explains that America is a revolutionary force
because the American Revolution is the only revolution in history that has succeeded,
the French and Russian revolutions having quickly collapsed into terror. Consequently,
[O]ur revolutionary values are part of our genetic make-up.
drive the revolution because of what we represent: the most successful experiment
in human freedom.
We are an ideological nation, and our most successful
leaders are ideologues. Denouncing Bill Clinton as a counter-revolutionary
(!), Ledeen is especially eager to make one point: Of all the myths that
cloud our understanding, and therefore paralyze our will and action, the most
pernicious is that only the Left has a legitimate claim to the revolutionary tradition.
Ledeens conviction that the Right is as revolutionary as the Left derives from his youthful interest in Italian fascism. In 1975, Ledeen published an interview, in book form, with the Italian historian Renzo de Felice, a man he greatly admires. It caused a great controversy in Italy. Ledeen later made clear that he relished the ire of the left-wing establishment precisely because De Felice was challenging the conventional wisdom of Italian Marxist historiography, which had always insisted that fascism was a reactionary movement. What de Felice showed, by contrast, was that Italian fascism was both right-wing and revolutionary. Ledeen had himself argued this very point in his book, Universal Fascism, published in 1972. That work starts with the assertion that it is a mistake to explain the support of fascism by millions of Europeans solely because they had been hypnotized by the rhetoric of gifted orators and manipulated by skilful propagandists. It seems more plausible, Ledeen argued, to attempt to explain their enthusiasm by treating them as believers in the rightness of the fascist cause, which had a coherent ideological appeal to a great many people. For Ledeen, as for the lifelong fascist theoretician and practitioner, Giuseppe Bottai, that appeal lay in the fact that fascism was the Revolution of the 20th century....
Tom Bruscino, at his blog, taking Jimmy Carter to task for misstatements made about the Revolutionary War on Chris Matthews's show, "Hardball":
MATTHEWS: "Do you see any parallels between the fighting that we did on our side and the fighting that is going on in Iraq today?"
CARTER: "Well, one parallel is that the Revolutionary War more than any other war until recently has been the most bloody war we've fought."
Check these numbers on Casualties ....:
In Iraq we have lost roughly 1,000 troops in eighteen or nineteen months, 55-65 troops killed per month. The death percentage of total troops even in theater is well less than one percent, and the casualty rate is tiny, too.
So where is Carter wrong? oh yeah, just about everywhere. More Americans have been killed in action per month in every war except the Revolution and the war in Iraq.
This is the guy people think was one of our smartest presidents. I'm sorry,
that statement is so un-freaking-believably dumb that it should end any discussion
of how smart Jimmy Carter is. Throw out everything else, even an idiot should
know that the Civil War was more bloody than the Revolution, by any standard.
Mark Schatzker, at Slate.com (Oct. 6, 200):
For some people, renting Camelot on DVD just isn't enough. Neither is a trip to the museum, nor sitting down to read A Short History of the Middle Ages. These people want something closer to the real thing. So they visit a medieval-themed banquet to experience the food of that bygone era.
Since 1983, when its first "castle" opened in Kissimmee, Fla., Medieval Times Entertainment Inc. has served over 20 million diners. Today, the company operates eight restaurants across North America; the newest castle, in Hanover, Md., opened last year. Not to be outdone, Las Vegas' Excalibur Hotel & Casino serves about 10,000 rogues and wenches a week.
But there's one problem. Medieval-themed feasts aren't medieval. The vegetable soup (dragon tail soup), bland roast chicken (baby dragon), baked potato (dragon egg), and doughy desserts certainly seem pre-modern, not to mention pre-food-processor. It's like the food is the culinary equivalent of the classic stereotype that casts medieval people as belching, rugged simpletons. But throngs of bachelor partiers, group tourists, and amateur historians are being deceived about what it was like to chow down en masse during that long, dark period of history between the fall of the Roman Empire (fifth century) and the Renaissance (15th century).
Myth No. 1: Medieval food was bland.
Medieval chefs used spices as enthusiastically as the boy bands of today use hair products. Yes, medieval chefs did serve plain roasted meats, but they also served many meat dishes that featured thick, gooey sauces very heavily flavored with ingredients like ginger, sugar, vinegar, wine, raisins, mace, cloves, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, and honey. "Mawmenny," a typical dish, consisted of ground beef, pork, or mutton boiled in wine, which was then served in a wine-based sauce thickened with pounded chicken and almonds, then flavored with cloves, sugar, and more almonds (this time fried), and then festively colored with an indigo or red dye. Medieval food, in fact, was not unlike Indian food of today: sweet and acidic flavors combined, spices used by the handful. If anything, the concentrated, bold flavors would overwhelm the modern palate.
Popular interpretations of history are always laced with national mythology which is why they are often excellent illustrations not of the era they discuss but the time in which they are produced. The New York Times delivered a striking, and scary, example of this rule on Sunday, in the form of a four-page insert advertising a documentary called First Invasion: The War of 1812.
To be clear, I have not seen the documentary itself. It aired Sunday night in the U.S. on the History Channel, which is not available here thanks, as always, to the CRTC. But with three full pages of text, the insert is substantial enough -- even allowing for the puffery of advertising -- to warrant examination on its own.
It is a brilliant artifact, so evocative of this moment that I can see future historians poring over it to get the feel of America in 2004. It could not have been printed in the post-Vietnam years, nor the get-rich 1990s. No, it could only have been created in a time when American patriotism has swelled into the all-consuming ideology last seen during the Red Scare years -- a time when skepticism is suspicious, nuance smacks of liberal treason, and politicians are cheered for proclaiming that America, like the Blues Brothers, is on a mission from God.
Like all good advertising, the insert pounds its three themes as clearly and relentlessly as the drummer on a trireme. America is pure and righteous. The American spirit cannot be broken by the enemy. And -- just in case the title isn't quite blunt enough -- at a time of war against another alien foe that struck home, Americans should recall the first perfidious assault upon the nation.
In this version of events, the war began solely because the British were grasping imperialists who didn't accept American independence. They incited Indian attacks, seized American ships and press-ganged American sailors. Conquest and subjugation were imminent and so, driven by "duty, honour and the glory of a young country standing up for itself," President James Madison declared war.
Sadly, "America's first campaign, an attack on Canada, was a disaster." American forces were informal and ill-equipped "and even though most British forces were distracted by their war with Napoleon in France, those that were available clearly outnumbered and outclassed the Americans."
Then the British struck at the nation's heart: Washington D.C. Redcoats stood in the holy of holies, the White House, toasted the king and then torched the building. And many others.
"The burning of Washington could have broken America's will," the insert intones. But no. America "showed its character."
Brave defenders withstood a terrible bombardment in Baltimore, inspiring The Star Spangled Banner. And at the Battle of New Orleans Andrew Jackson -- "Old Hickory" -- licked the redcoats and "permanently won American's Independence."
Please note the capital "I" on Independence. This is History we're talking about. No less than God's Grand Design.
Now, this tale may not produce a lump in every throat. Some may quibble. Like Canadians, for instance. And liberals. Liberals are always quibbling. Just look at John Kerry. What a quibbler.
Historians, too, might toss in some treasonous nuance. Little things, such as the fact that the British flag prominently depicted in the insert is upside-down. And that the whole thesis -- which is a turbo-charged version of the mythology taught to American schoolchildren in generations past -- is drivel.
Britain was not "distracted" by Napoleon. It was locked in a death-struggle. North America was the distraction. And while British statesmen had contemptuously refused to treat the U.S. as a independent equal, they were not plotting to bring the colonies to heel. In fact, British forces in North America were perilously thin: At the time of the American invasion, there were just 4,500 soldiers in Upper Canada.
As for the sacking of Washington, it was explicitly carried out in retaliation for the American burning of York (Toronto) -- and even then only after the Americans refused an offer to settle the matter by paying reparations.
Napoleon's defeat strengthened the British hand, but there was still no appetite for conquest. "Half the people of England do not know that there is a war with America," a British editor told President Madison in 1814, "and those who did had forgotten it."
Historians might also quibble about the purity of American motives. "The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighbourhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching,"Thomas Jefferson boasted in 1812 to Madison, "and will give us experience for the attack on Halifax next, and the final expulsion of England from the American continent."
Many Americans saw Canada as the unfinished business of the revolution. War would finally clear out Britain and leave America a free hand to expand across the continent. This view was particularly popular in the South and West, the two regions which just happened to be (as political consultants would put it today) Madison's base.
The resolution of the war gave neither side cause to crow and claim victory.
The Americans finally accepted a continued British presence to their north.
And Britain fully acknowledged American independence....
The veterans organization that sparked controversy last month when it questioned John F. Kerry's military service in Vietnam plans to launch a new commercial today that equates Kerry with Vietnam War protester Jane Fonda and accuses the Democratic presidential nominee of secretly meeting with"enemy leaders" during the conflict.
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth said it will spend $1.3 million to air its advertisement in five battleground states and on national cable television networks over the next week. The ad, titled"Friends," makes no assertion of any direct link between Kerry and Fonda, but it suggests that their contacts with North Vietnamese leaders during the war were equally dishonorable.
Kerry's campaign said earlier this year that he met on the trip with Nguyen Thi Binh, then foreign minister of the PRG and a top negotiator at the talks. Kerry acknowledged in that testimony that even going to the peace talks as a private citizen was at the"borderline" of what was permissible under U.S. law, which forbids citizens from negotiating treaties with foreign governments. But his campaign said he never engaged in negotiations or attended any formal sessions of the talks.
"This is more trash from a group that's doing the Bush campaign's dirty work," Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said."Their charges are as credible as a supermarket rag."
In an interview yesterday, John O'Neill, an organizer of the Swift boat group and co-author of the anti-Kerry book"Unfit for Command," said it would be"unprecedented" for a future commander in chief to have met with enemy leaders."It would be like an American today meeting with the heads of al Qaeda," he said.
Historian Douglas Brinkley said Kerry's trip to Paris, after his honeymoon with his first wife, Julia Thorne, was part of Kerry's extensive fact-finding efforts on the war."He was on the fringes," said Brinkley, the author of"Tour of Duty," a book about Kerry's military service."But he was proud of it. . . . He wanted to make his own evaluation of the situation."
The Swift boat group's first ad gained widespread exposure last month through talk-radio programs, cable television talk shows and newspaper articles because of its assertions that Kerry had exaggerated his war record as the commander of a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam.
Some of the independent organization's assertions were refuted, and several links between it and President Bush's campaign subsequently came to light. But the media storm created by the ad put Kerry and his campaign on the defensive.
John Leo can't have the vaguest knowledge of history if he believes that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor destroyed"most of the U.S. fleet," leaving the Pacific Ocean"a Japanese pond."
The Navy offers this information on the attack. Visit that page, and you learn that there were more than 90 ships anchored at Pearl Harbor, and 21 were damaged or destroyed."American technological skill," the Navy site explains,"raised and repaired all but three of the ships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor." Among the three ships not recovered were the USS Oklahoma,"raised and considered too old to be worth repairing," and the"obsolete" USS Utah," considered not worth the effort." One hundred and eighty-eight aircraft were destroyed -- a serious loss, but nowhere near crippling to a nation with the industrial capacity of the United States.
Most significantly, the Navy reports, the"Japanese success was overwhelming, but it was not complete. They failed to damage any American aircraft carriers, which by a stroke of luck, had been absent from the harbor. They neglected to damage the shoreside facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which played an important role in the Allied victory in World War II."
After the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, an Army report explains, the Imperial Japanese Navy then"dispatched large forces to seize the Philippines, Malaya, and the Netherlands East Indies and prepar[ed] plans for new bases from which to strike Australia and India." And the U.S. military knew exactly what the Japanese Navy was doing, since the U.S. had broken Japan's codes. The only attack of any significance on the western United States was an attack on the Aleutian Islands, which was met -- to go back to the Navy report -- with task force of"5 cruisers, 14 destroyers, and 6 submarines." This was, you'll note on the Navy website, the task force assembled for one of the Pacific Fleet's second-priority missions.
Compare the description offered by the Navy and the Army to the picture painted by John Leo: the Pacific Fleet destroyed, the west coast undefended, and the Japanese Navy bent on attacking the west coast.
Pure, ahistorical, unsupported fantasy. Like everything else in Mr. Leo's column. A correction, and an apology, are warranted.
From the Associated Press (Sept. 3, 2004):
Austrian historians are ridiculing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for telling the Republican National Convention that he saw Soviet tanks in his homeland as a child and left a "Socialist" country when he moved away in 1968.
Recalling that the Soviets once occupied part of Austria in the aftermath of World War II, Schwarzenegger told the convention on Tuesday: "I saw tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes."
No way, historians say, challenging Schwarzenegger's knowledge of postwar history -- if not his enduring popularity among Austrians who admire him for rising from a penniless immigrant to the highest official in America's most populous state.
"It's a fact -- as a child he could not have seen a Soviet tank in Styria," the southeastern province where Schwarzenegger was born and raised, historian Stefan Karner told the Vienna newspaper Kurier.
Schwarzenegger, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born on July 30, 1947, when Styria and the neighboring province of Carinthia belonged to the British zone. At the time, postwar Austria was occupied by the four wartime allies, which also included the United States, the Soviet Union and France.
The Soviets already had left Styria in July 1945, less than three months after the end of the war, Karner noted.
"Let me tell you this: As a boy, I lived for many years across the street from where the Russians were based in Vienna -- and honestly, I never saw a Russian tank there," retiree Franz Nitsch said Friday. "He said it all on purpose -- and that's bad."
In his convention address, Schwarzenegger also said: "As a kid, I saw the Socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left" in 1955 and Austria regained its independence.
But Martin Polaschek, a law history scholar and vice rector of Graz University, told Kurier that Austria was governed by coalition governments, including the conservative People's Party and the Social Democratic Party. Between 1945 and 1970, all the nation's chancellors were conservatives -- not Socialists.
What's more, when Schwarzenegger left in 1968, Austria was run by a conservative government headed by People's Party Chancellor Josef Klaus, a staunch Roman Catholic and a sharp critic of both the Socialists as well as the Communists ruling in countries across the Iron Curtain.
Schwarzenegger "confuses a free country with a Socialist one," said
Polaschek, referring to East European Communist officials' routine descriptions
of their countries as Socialist....
Stephen Schwartz, at frontpagemag.com (Sept. 7, 2004):
Tim Noah is a columnist for Slate who apparently thinks of himself an expert on the history of Austria. Noah claims to have caught Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger in a “whopper.” In his keynote at the Republican convention, Arnold recalled the fear he experienced as a child in Austria, when a significant part of the country was under Soviet military occupation. “When I was a boy, the Soviets occupied part of Austria. I saw their tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes. I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector. Growing up, we were told, ‘Don't look the soldiers in the eye. Look straight ahead.’ It was a common belief that Soviet soldiers could take a man out of his own car and ship him off to the Soviet Union as slave labor. My family didn’t have a car – but one day we were in my uncle’s car. It was near dark as we came to a Soviet checkpoint. I was a little boy, I wasn't an action hero back then, and I remember how scared I was that the soldiers would pull my father or my uncle out of the car, and I'd never see him again. My family and so many others lived in fear of the Soviet boot. Today, the world no longer fears the Soviet Union and it is because of the United States of America! As a kid I saw the socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left. I love Austria and I love the Austrian people – but I always knew America was the place for me.”
Pretty unremarkable stuff, it would seem. But according to Noah, it’s a skein of lies. Citing an Austrian daily, Noah claims that Arnold and his family lived in an Austrian province governed by the British, not the Russians. Well, fine, but does that imply he never traveled, as he said, with his family to the Russian zone? Actually what Noah says is that Arnold “implied [his emphasis] having lived on an everyday basis with both the risk and the reality of encountering Soviet goons. Phrases like ‘Growing up, we were told’ and ‘I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector’ strongly suggest that Soviet soldiers were milling around Thal, the village where Young Arnold lived, or nearby Graz, the closest urban center. Which was impossible, because both were inside the British zone.”
But Arnold implied nothing of the kind. He stated, quite clearly, that his family took a trip to the Soviet zone. Noah, however, is persistent. “If, as Thompson says, Schwarzenegger was referring to a specific trip he took from Austria’s British zone to its Soviet zone—he would have been at most eight years old, since the Soviets left Austria for good by September 1955—why can’t we hear the details?”
We have heard the details. Why should Schwarzenegger be expected to describe down to the last roadstop a trip he took as a child? But the prosecutor in Tim Noah will not rest. “Schwarzenegger has told the Soviet tank story before (in his inaugural address and, earlier, in remarks to the California Republican convention), and every time he’s left vague the particular circumstances that brought him into contact with the Soviet military. As Schwarzenegger has noted many times, his family was poor. A trip from Thal, in Austria’s south, to the Soviet sector, in the north, would have left a deep impression.”
But it obviously did leave a deep impression, since he both remembered it and has spoken vividly about it. What is missing from his story? An account of the weather? Noah is also apparently a psychologist. “That the Schwarzenegger family would have wanted to take such a trip seems doubtful in the extreme.” Does it? Perhaps they were compelled to do so by some family matter. Is that outside the realm of possibility?
Not content with these ungrounded speculations, Noah also questions Arnold’s negative impressions of Austrian socialism (we hardly need to guess why): “There was and remains a big difference between European-style socialism and communism. The former boasts a long and proud tradition of anticommunism. That would have been especially true in Austria, where every chancellor between 1945 and 1970 was a conservative. The characteristic vice of Austrian conservatism isn’t softness on communism. It’s softness on Nazism.”
This characterization of Austrian socialism and of Austrian politics in general is one that any respectable historian, to say nothing of millions of Austrians, including Arnold, will immediately recognize as Beltway improvisation. In reality, the Austrian Socialist party was the most left-wing in Europe aside from the Norwegian and Spanish parties, giving rise to a specific variety of radical leftism known as “Austro-Marxism.” Noah’s generalizations about Austrian constitutionalism are uninformed. While it is true that from 1945 to 1966 the conservative Austrian People’s Party held the chancellorship, it ruled in a coalition with the Socialists. What this has to do with the veracity of Arnold’s remarks is a secret locked somewhere in the Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy of Timothy Noah’s mind. When Arnold describes Austria as a socialist state, he means the heir to that bureaucracy – a welfare state of the more pronounced European kind, which is exactly what Austria was and has remained since the second world war. Austria was also neutral in the Cold War, when the West confronted the most oppressive empire in history, and continued to be exploited by the Soviets as an espionage post.
If Noah really doubts the terror that the Soviet presence in Austria inspired after the second world war he should rent a movie called The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed, starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard, released in 1949. The film, considered one of the greatest classics of all time, brilliantly presents the brutality of the Soviet occupation officials and the fear of them experienced by ordinary Austrians. Perhaps Noah would regard all these Austrians as ex-Nazis.
To repeat Noah’s claim, “The characteristic vice of Austrian conservatism isn’t softness on communism. It's softness on Nazism.” This sweeping generalization comes at the end of a paragraph in which Austrian Socialism is essentially described as a subset of Austrian conservatism. Thus the entire Austrian body politic, left and right, is stained with a Nazi taint.
The absurdity of this stigma is revealed by an event that Noah has overlooked because it would conflict with his fantasy. Although it is hardly remembered today, on February 12, 1934 – the seventieth anniversary of which was marked this year in Austria –the Austrian Socialist party rose up in an armed insurrection against the conservative government of Engelbert Dollfuss. The worker rebellion was led by an armed leftist formation of tens of thousands, with the piquant title, in retrospect, of the “Republican Defense Corps.” The latter had been formed in the early 1920s to protect the socialist and labor movement against fascist attacks.
Beginning in 1933, the Dollfuss government emulated the Hitler regime by seeking to curtail the activities of the labor movement. The Republican Defense Corps was banned, and attempts were made to confiscate its weapons. In February 1934, with fascism clearly on the march in Europe – and while the French Communists, notably, maneuvered for an accommodation with the fascists in their own country – Austria exploded when police raided a Socialist office in Linz. Fighting began, and news reached Vienna, leading to a general strike.
Soon the uprising was general. The Austrian army responded by bombarding the Karl Marx Hof in Vienna, the famous Socialist-built housing project. Three hundred workers were killed and thousands injured in the insurrection, and its leaders were hanged by the Austrian state. The Austrian Communists played almost no role in the drama. Dollfuss was eventually murdered by the Nazis.
But the world was electrified: the Austrian Socialists were the first in Europe to offer armed resistance to fascism. Later, some of their leaders, who had been invited to the Soviet Union, were deposited in the gulag, which might possibly have contributed to anti-Stalinism in their ranks.
We will continue to hear slanders against Arnold, and against all Austrians, which seek to portray them as Nazis -- this was a prime theme of the Democrats’ campaign against Arnold in the California recall election. When such smears are attempted, one should think of the sacrifice of 1934, 70 years past, when the Socialists of Austria gave the rest of Europe a lesson in courage and freedom. They deserve to be remembered. Not so the facile allegations of Timothy Noah which are so much partisan hot air.
Mauren Dowd, in the NYT (Sept. 5, 2004):
...Trying to match John Kerry, who roused the base at his convention with a line bashing the House of Bush-House of Saud coziness, George W. Bush roused the base at his convention with a liberal-media-elite-bashing line.
Painting himself as the noble agent for "the transformational
power of liberty" abroad, he said "there have always been doubters"
when America uses its "strength"
to "advance freedom": "In 1946, 18 months after the fall of Berlin to Allied forces, a journalist in The New York Times wrote this: 'Germany is a land in an acute stage of economic, political and moral crisis. European capitals are frightened. In every military headquarters, one meets alarmed officials doing their utmost to deal with the consequences of the occupation policy that they admit has failed.' End quote. Maybe that same person's still around, writing editorials."
She isn't. Anne O'Hare McCormick, who died in 1954, was The Times's pioneering foreign affairs correspondent who covered the real Axis of Evil, interviewing Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Patton. She was hardly a left-wing radical or defeatist. In 1937, she became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and she was the first woman to be a member of The Times's editorial board.
The president distorted the columnist's dispatch. The "moral crisis" and failure she described were in the British and French sectors. She reported that the Americans were doing better because of their policy to "encourage initiative and develop self-government." She wanted the U.S. to commit more troops and stay the course - not cut and run.
Mr. Bush Swift-boated her....
Robert Kagan, in Newsday (Aug. 5, 2004):
[Robert Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.]
Someday, when the passions of this election have subsided, historians and analysts of American foreign policy may fasten on a remarkable passage in John Kerry's nomination speech."As president," Kerry declared,"I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation."
The statement received thunderous applause at the convention and, no doubt, the nodding approval of many Americans of all political leanings who watched on television.
Perhaps foreign audiences tuning in may have paused in their exultation over a possible Kerry victory in November to reflect with wonder on the incurable self-righteousness and nationalist innocence the Democratic candidate displayed. Who but an American politician, they might ask, could look back across the past 200 years and insist that the United States had never gone to war except when it"had to"?
The United States has sent forces into combat dozens of times over the past century and a half, and only twice, in World War II and in Afghanistan, has it arguably done so because it"had to." It did not"have to" go to war against Spain in 1898 (or Mexico in 1846). It did not"have to" send the Marines to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Nicaragua in the first three decades of the 20th century, nor fight a war against insurgents in the Philippines.
And what about the war Kerry himself fought in? Kerry cannot believe the Vietnam War was part of his alleged"time-honored tradition," or he wouldn't have thrown his ribbons away.
Then there were the wars of the post-Cold War 1990s. The United States did not"have to" go to war to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. No one knows that better than Kerry, who voted against the Persian Gulf War, despite its unanimous approval by the UN Security Council. Nor could anyone plausibly deny that the Clinton administration's interventions in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo were wars of choice. President Bill Clinton made the right choice in all three cases, but it was a choice.
Why is Kerry invoking an American"tradition" that does not exist? Perhaps he's distorting our history simply to cast the Bush administration and the war in Iraq in the harshest possible light. But maybe Kerry is not being cynical. Perhaps he is saying what he really believes and not what our policy has been, but what it should be.
The doctrine Kerry enunciated last Thursday night, after all, was the doctrine initially favored by the anti-war movement and the mainstream of the Democratic Party after the debacle of Vietnam."Come home, America" was the cry of those who believed America had corrupted both the world and itself in"wars of choice."...
Economist Mark Weisbrot, in his weekly column (July 27, 2004):
"Our economy since last summer has been growing at the fastest rate in 20 years" said President Bush in a speech last week. The word went out from on high, and soon it began to spread: the fastest-growing economy in 20 years! A very important discovery for this election season, with voters none too pleased about the state of the economy. During a TV talk show (CNBC's Morning Call) on which I appeared, this claim was repeated to me.
Is it true? Well if you pick the right three quarters -- the first quarter of this year and the second half of last year, to be exact -- it is technically true. Over these three quarters the economy grew by 5.4 percent, which is faster than any other 9-month period in the past 20 years. But not by much. For the last 9 months of 1999, for example, the economy grew by 5.1 percent.
But why take 9 months? If we look at the last year, it's not any record at all. Similarly for the last two years. And since the recession ended in the last quarter of 2001, the economy has grown by 3.6 percent. This not bad, but not particularly strong growth for a recovery from a recession -- when the economy usually grows at a much faster than normal rate.
In the same speech Mr. Bush also bragged about the 1.5 million jobs created since last August. This impressive-sounding number also depends on a careful selection of time period. If we look at Mr. Bush's whole presidential term, the economy is still down more than a million jobs. Even the 1.5 million jobs created during Mr. Bush's selected ten months are a weak performance, barely enough to keep pace with the growth of the labor force.
The economy from here on will have to do better than even Mr. Bush's "brag period," just for him to avoid the record achievement of being the first president since the Great Depression to preside over a net loss of jobs for the country....