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SOURCE: Weekly Standard ()
THERE ARE THOSE WHO DATE the death of classics in America to a pleasant spring day in 1833, when President Andrew Jackson did not deliver the usual highly polished Latin oration at Harvard's degree ceremony, but instead rattled off the little Latin he knew: "Ex post facto; e pluribus unum; sic semper tyrannis; quid pro quo," he is supposed to have said, striking a blow for the common man and becoming persona non grata among the learned classes.
The story isn't true--he spoke briefly in English--but there is some truth in it all the same. By and large, Americans hate pomposity and prize practicality, and the image of Old Hickory cutting feckless Ivy League elitists down to size with a sneer accounts for the story's popularity.
There's more to it, though. While the Founding Fathers had been steeped in classical culture, and were deeply conversant with the thought and languages of ancient Greece and Rome, by the time Jackson came on the scene 50 years later, the nation was talking and acting in a radically different fashion. While the reverence for classical education would remain in place in the century to come, reverence is not the same thing as relevance. Looking to the ancient world, the new nation increasingly saw little with which to concern itself.
This story of America's disenchantment with the study of classics is the theme of Lee T. Pearcy's The Grammar of Our Civility and, as a story really about what Americans think of themselves, it is very compelling indeed. classics, as it had been studied from time immemorial in Europe, was always the elitist preserve of the self-defined ruling classes. There was no reason that Americans might not excel in such study but for the nagging suspicion that, since "all men are created equal," such elitism was somehow out of place in a democracy.
Nevertheless, in a republic whose monumental emblems include such neoclassical buildings as the Supreme Court, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument--in which the architecture itself consciously binds the newest of republics, the United States, with the oldest, Rome, and overtly alludes to the classical Greek democratic ideals that underlie the American experiment--in this republic, Washington does indeed have something to do with Athens. In the "secret history" told by Pearcy, we read how our culture, like Andrew Jackson, has not just denied classics its place at the podium, but has even unceremoniously pushed it off the platform.
While not rushing to restore classics to its former position, the author of The Grammar of Our Civility argues that Latin and Greek should at least have a seat on the stage. But the "pragmatic classicism" that Pearcy envisions at the end of his book, while stirring, may ultimately be more closely connected with the problem than the cure. Pearcy's solution to the predicament of classics in America includes the development and implementation (albeit without specifics) of schools of "classical liberal education" at the primary and secondary levels akin to what is already widely practiced in the United States. Even if this recommended reform falls into the nihil novum sub sole category, it is welcome to see the idea in print.
More exciting yet is his suggestion of the creation of classical liberal arts schools in colleges and universities on the analogy of business and education "schools." As one among many options, these faculties would give takers, neophyte and veteran alike, a classical liberal arts education and culminate a seamless system from kindergarten to the senior year of college.
The problem comes before he makes the case for this newly formed American classicism, however. In a lengthy third chapter, Pearcy considers a number of counterarguments to the study of the "dead languages." To begin with, he argues, they are inextricably impractical and elitist, and so at odds with the fundamental spirit of American culture. Latin is, in this view, "a language whose historical users shaped it as an instrument of civic domination," and so of use only to an elite that no longer exists.
This perception of impractical elitism is something that all but the most oblivious American classicists feel at times. The intellectual self-discipline required for any amount of study in classics, especially in the doorkeeping courses of elementary Greek and Latin, is admittedly rigid. This is not a branch of study for those seeking easy validation of their intellectual abilities. Couple that with the lack of immediate applicability in meeting the needs of modern American economic and social life, and we see why classics seems more elitist than ever.
But is that perception accurate? Here Pearcy is too quick to concede the argument: Classical curricula--once, yes, the private domain of the cultural elite--are today widely available in all manner of institutions in a higher education system that boasts the widest accessibility in the world. And according to the College Board's online analysis of last year's SAT, Latin students scored far higher on the SATs than those studying any other language, averaging a score of 681 Verbal / 675 Math. That's better than the scores of those studying French (643V/ 639M), German (637V/652M), Hebrew (620V/646M), Spanish (573V/585M), and Chinese (546V/667M).
In fact, Latin students have been outstripping students of all other languages on the SATs since at least 1996, the College Board's oldest online record, and the trend probably extends much further back than that. But no matter. The conclusion to draw from the data is clear enough: If you want not just high but the highest scores on the SATs, start studying Latin as soon as possible. That's not elitism speaking; that's good old-fashioned pragmatism of the sort that, all pretensions aside, Americans looking to get ahead have always embraced.
PEARCY LIKEWISE ALLOWS the argument that, because, in our postmodern age "it is possible to live at last as an educated person without privileging Latin and Greek," the discipline is clearly on the verge of extinction. That may be so, but, while the bell has been tolling for classics since before the Middle Ages, oddly enough, obituaries on "the death of classics" have become something of a growth industry.
In 1998 Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath issued their impassioned Who Killed Homer?, which hurled accusations at professional classicists and their all-too-often leaden academic prose, and followed this up with 2001's Bonfire of the Humanities. That same year spawned Page duBois's Trojan Horses: Saving the Classics from Conservatives, a rejoinder to Hanson and Heath which nonetheless conceded the discipline's loss of vitality. More recently, Professor James O'Donnell, provost of Georgetown, delivered the 2004 presidential address to the national classics conference, the American Philological Association, and noted that "the old story [of classics] won't work any longer," although he conceded that it "will always deserve to be taught, even if it must then be untaught." It is interesting that, though O'Donnell had come to bury classics, he instead simply asked it to commit suttee.
But the most pernicious argument Pearcy entertains is in many ways the most fashionable. The real feather in the cap of the case against classics--that it teaches lies about the world--is so much a caricature of itself as to refuse being taken seriously.
"[The fictions of grammar] teach . . . an image of the world that cannot any longer be believed," he writes. If you haven't yet had the pleasure, journey with us for a moment to the postmodern world. Here, nothing is real, and every statement is a violent construct imposed on the Other by our willful ego. In this deconstructed realm, to say that Cicero was murdered in 43 b.c., or that the genitive singular of the Latin second declension always ends in -i, is not to speak truthfully, but to enter into the "fiction of grammar."
Or as Pearcy puts it: "Those who study Classics are led to believe in the reality of Socrates or Aeneas and in the truth or falsehood of statements about them. These beliefs are as harmful to us as the belief in the objective reality of our predications."
Funny thing is, you'll notice that doesn't change the fact that the sun always rises in the east, which means it's morning. And when the day is ended, all but the steepest skeptic must accept the truth of facts and their meanings merely for survival. Like it or not, had you been in Rome to see dawn and dusk on December 7, 43 b.c., you would have also witnessed the head and hands of Cicero mounted on the rostra--a signal, even if you weren't ready to accept it, that the Roman Republic had expired.
Unfortunately, Pearcy's concession to the postmodernists comes back to roost, and in a way that can only smother the brood. His concession saves the classics only by appeasing postmodernism, "reconstructing" classical education to make it about "negotiating the self against society." (A word to the uninitiated: That's Foucauldian for "rising above the externally imposed determiners of your material circumstances.") If we've learned anything since the Renaissance, so Pearcy argues, it's that classics is less about the classics--the works of Homer, Virgil, and Ovid--than it is about what students, teachers, and scholars do with them as expressions of themselves.
The texts, artifacts, and monuments of ancient Greece and Rome thus become empty vessels. We lend them meaning, and in so doing, "negotiate" ourselves "against society." Ah, but there's more. So Pearcy: The "self" of classical-era humans and littérateurs "is indeterminate, unstable, and almost infinitely negotiable against multiple ideas of what is given by nature." Thus the new American classical education is not only justified in taking, but even required to take, the classical literary inheritance as a workshop in self-negotiation.
If texts are so devoid of meaning, how do we know whether authors were negotiating themselves against society? And aren't there better and more efficient ways to learn how to negotiate oneself against society than by reading classical literature? A four-year stint in a theory-driven literature department comes to mind. What, then, can possibly justify the continued use of rigorous grammatical training and the slow reading of classical texts?
It's not that there's no justification. It's just that using the lever Pearcy chooses to pull to reactivate classical education in America has its own perils. You'd think we'd be happy to have any suggestion to help classics thrive; but we are loath, in the words of Livy, to use "a medicine that is worse than the disease." In fact, classical education has its own internal raison d'être, and we're better off arguing for that than grasping at the straws of an ultimately nihilistic perspective whose collapse will bring down itself and all hitched to it.
Because it helps us know ourselves, our world, and our place in it more completely, a classical education never ceases to be relevant and can gain very different significance upon successive readings. But this does not mean that the text is an empty vessel or that the reading of texts is primarily about projecting ourselves on a blank movie screen. Sane critics have long known this. What makes a piece of literature a classic is its imperviousness to a finalizing interpretation.
Danielle Steel's novels are not classical literature precisely because their meaning is transparent and simplistic. Homer, conversely, lacks this transparency. He's not devoid of a message; it's just that one can read and reread Homer with successively more profound and different insights into the matters he raises. The Iliad cannot be reduced, as one flaccid student recently put it, to "Achilles is a big crybaby." Rather, tangled up in the beauty of Homer's language and the rawness of the struggle for life are the perennial questions of honor, rage, and the quest for a life that on death's cusp can be said to have been worth living.
In the end, the classical literary tradition amounts to more than a collection of mottoes for politicians to string together, or a tabula rasa against which postmodernists can negotiate themselves. Academic trends come and go, but somehow the classics endure.
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com & The Nation ()
The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. By Peter Beinart. HarperCollins. 288 pp. $25.95.
Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq. By Stephen Kinzer. Times. 384 pp. $27.50.
[This column, which will appear in the July 17/24 issue of The Nation Magazine, is posted here with the kind permission of the editors of that magazine.]
When it comes to foreign policy, the fundamental divide in American politics today is not between left and right but between those who subscribe to the myth of the"American Century" and those who do not. Peter Beinart is a true believer. In his eyes America's purpose today remains precisely what it has always been: to confront and destroy the enemies of freedom at home and abroad. In The Good Fight, he summons liberals to recover their crusading spirit and to"put anti-totalitarianism at the center of their hopes for a better country and a better world." Liberalism must become once again what it was in its heyday:"a fighting faith."
A fighting faith requires"a narrative of national greatness." To win elections, good ideas and qualified candidates won't suffice."Liberals can churn out policy papers and nominate war heroes," Beinart writes,"but without their own narrative of American greatness, it will do them little good, either in gaining power or in wielding it." Here, according to Beinart, lies the genius of Republicans, whether in the era of Ronald Reagan or in the age of George W. Bush:"They have a usable past." Celebrating American virtue and righteousness plays well at the polls. To compete effectively Democrats will have to invent their own uplifting version of history --"invent" being the operative term, since for Beinart facts as such are incidental to the process."Empiricism," he suggests,"is no match for a narrative of the present based on a memory of the past."
The remembering that transforms the past into parable is necessarily selective. Indeed, what you leave out is as important as what you include. This is where Beinart takes present-day liberals to task. Ever since the 1960s they have shown a penchant for getting history backward, forgetting what matters (like standing up to Hitler and Stalin) and obsessing about what ought to be forgotten (like Vietnam)."Before today's progressives can conquer their ideological weakness," he writes,"they must conquer their ideological amnesia. What they need to remember, above all, is the cold war." In short, today's liberals ought to take their cues from the hawkish Democrats of yesteryear who led the epic battle against Communism. That struggle defined the second half of the twentieth century; with totalitarianism now having reconstituted itself in the guise of"jihadist terrorism," the struggle continues and, as Beinart sees it, promises to define the twenty-first century as well.
Beinart devotes much of The Good Fight to constructing this narrative of an anti-totalitarian crusade running from World War II to the present. In his telling of the tale, as long as steely liberals like Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy were at the helm, heeding the counsel of tough-minded liberal intellectuals like Reinhold Niebuhr and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the crusade proceeded swimmingly. When liberals lost their nerve, however, and conservatives came to power, things went awry.
Sustaining this thesis requires an extraordinary combination of omissions and contortions on Beinart's part. Readers will learn, for example, that Kennedy was a visionary statesman who instituted the Alliance for Progress and created the Peace Corps. They won't learn anything about the Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose, or U.S. complicity in the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem. Nor will they get any assessment of what Kennedy's ostensibly progressive foreign policy initiatives actually accomplished. (Answer: not much.)
Readers will learn further about the unfortunate tendency of conservatives -- in contrast to sophisticated, worldly liberals -- to see things in terms of black and white. Beinart offers up John Foster Dulles, who"painted the cold war as a quasi-religious struggle between good and evil," as a prime offender. Yet he ignores a mountain of evidence, starting with the Truman administration's NSC-68, suggesting that liberals were equally susceptible to Manichean -- indeed, apocalyptic -- views. As for Dulles, Beinart rather conveniently overlooks the fact that the very pragmatic Dwight Eisenhower kept his Secretary of State on a short leash. Dulles preached good and evil; more often than not, Ike discounted the preaching and opted for prudence.
According to the Republican version of the American Century, Ronald Reagan all but single-handedly brought about the collapse of Communism. Not so, insists Beinart. Just as liberals framed the cold war in the 1940s, so too they saved the day in the 1980s by preventing reckless right-wingers from abandoning that frame. Credit for turning back the forces of totalitarianism in Central America goes to those hardheaded liberal Democrats in Congress who repaired the flaws in the Reagan Doctrine, thereby subverting the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and keeping El Salvador from slipping into the Communist orbit.
This imaginative, if largely spurious, depiction of postwar history serves Beinart's larger purpose in two ways. First, by revalidating antitotalitarianism as the era's overarching theme, Beinart promotes it as the idea that ought to define U.S. policy in the aftermath of 9/11 as well. Second, by portraying hawkish liberals as heroes, doves as fools, and conservatives as knaves, he suggests that restoring the fortunes of today's Democratic Party ought to be a piece of cake: All liberals need to do is to reject the wimpy anti-imperialism of Howard Dean and Michael Moore and embrace the muscular principles that inspired the Americans for Democratic Action back in the late 1940s.
To legitimate this fraud and to wrap anti-totalitarian liberalism in a mantle of moral superiority, Beinart shanghais Reinhold Niebuhr and subjects the great Protestant theologian to ritual abuse. In essence, he uses Niebuhr much as Jerry Falwell uses Jesus Christ, and just as shamelessly: citing him as an unimpeachable authority and claiming his endorsement, thereby pre-empting any further discussion.
To establish his Niebuhrean credentials, Beinart sprinkles The Good Fight with references to"guilt,""moral fallibility" and"limits." Yet whereas the real Niebuhr's message was a cautionary one, Beinart-channeling-Niebuhr emits portentous exhortations. Like a third-rate stump speech, the results don't necessarily parse, but they do manage to sound awfully important. Thus Beinart lets it be known that"only when America recognizes that it is not inherently good can it become great." Then there's this chin stroker:"America must shed its moral innocence to act meaningfully in the world." Or better still:"America's challenge lies not in recognizing our moral superiority, but in demonstrating it."
The real Niebuhr worried less about Americans demonstrating their moral superiority than about whether they would forgo temptations of moral irresponsibility. But then, the real Niebuhr did not conceive of history as a narrative of national greatness. Rather than bend the past to suit a particular agenda, liberal or otherwise, he viewed it as beyond our understanding and fraught with paradox."The whole drama of history," he wrote,"is enacted in a frame of meaning too large for human comprehension or management."
No such humility constrains Beinart. He not only comprehends history but insists with all the fervor of William Kristol that the United States has the capacity and duty to manage it. After all, when the first phase of the American Century ended in 1989, it rendered a definitive verdict:"The core reality was that the United States had vanquished its chief ideological competitor and military rival, leaving it in a position of astonishing strength." Victory in the cold war imposed obligations; Americans were called upon to use that strength to carry on the work of liberating humankind. Today, when in Beinart's estimate"U.S. military and economic influence knows few bounds," he believes it is incumbent upon policy-makers to redouble American efforts to spread the blessings of freedom and equality across the Muslim world.
Writing in the early days of the cold war, Niebuhr had urged"a sense of modesty about the virtue, wisdom, and power available to us for the resolution of [history's] perplexities." Were he in our midst today, he would likely align himself with those dissidents on the left and the right who reject the conceits of the American Century and who view as profoundly dangerous the claims of both neoliberals and neoconservatives to understand history's purpose and destination. The beginning of wisdom, Niebuhr counseled, lies in recognizing that history cannot be coerced.
Beinart is by no means alone in believing otherwise. Generations of American statesmen have pushed and prodded history this way and that. Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow surveys some of the results of their handiwork.
Unlike Beinart, Kinzer does not buy into the myth of an American Century in which the forces of freedom fought those of totalitarianism. His alternative version of that century, running from the 1890s to the present day, recounts the generally sorry record of US efforts to subvert and overthrow foreign governments that failed to meet with American approval. His new book catalogues fourteen such episodes, beginning with the"revolution" concocted by wealthy American planters in 1893 to depose Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani and culminating with George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq 110 years later.
A longtime foreign correspondent with the New York Times, Kinzer does not provide a lot that's new. Relying on secondary sources, Overthrow recycles and repackages material that will be familiar to the historically literate. But by collecting these stories in a single volume, Kinzer performs a useful service. Overthrow makes it abundantly clear that far from being some innovation devised in the aftermath of 9/11,"regime change" has long been a mainstay of American statecraft.
When targeting some offending potentate for retirement, Kinzer notes, Washington has seldom if ever acted for altruistic reasons."Every time the United States has set out to overthrow a foreign government, its leaders have insisted that they are acting not to expand American power but to help people who are suffering." In reality, however, the suffering of the oppressed has never figured as more than an afterthought."What distinguishes Americans from citizens of past empires," writes Kinzer,"is their eagerness to persuade themselves that they are acting out of humanitarian motives." But Kinzer recognizes this as poppycock; like any great power, the United States has set its policy according to self-interest. Whether in Latin America, the Asia-Pacific or the Persian Gulf, the United States has seen regime change as a means for improving economic access, shoring up political stability and enhancing American control.
Kinzer is especially good at tallying up what he calls the"terrible unintended consequences" that frequently ensue when the United States overthrows a government that has fallen out of Washington's favor. Bush's removal of Saddam Hussein is by no means the first such enterprise to produce something other than the tidy outcome envisioned by its architects. A couple of decades of mucking around in Nicaragua yielded the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. U.S. promotion of the 1953 coup to remove Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran's nationalist prime minister, fueled anti-American resentment that eventually found expression in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The pursuit of Fidel Castro in 1961 paved the way for the missile crisis a year later. The toppling of South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 gave rise to chaos. And so it has gone.
Most instructive of all, however, are the ironic consequences stemming from America's success in ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan. In retrospect, the results of regime change there serve as a sort of cosmic affirmation of Niebuhr's entire worldview. Of Afghanistan in the years following the Soviet withdrawal, truly it can be said, as Niebuhr wrote,"The paths of progress… proved to be more devious and unpredictable than the putative managers of history could understand."
Those, like Peter Beinart, who are gung-ho to wage their war against jihadist terror dare not contemplate present-day Afghanistan too deeply. Their depiction of the war as a contest that pits freedom against totalitarianism becomes plausible only if they ignore the actual history giving rise to the conflict. Much of that history occurred in the period enshrined as the American Century, but precious little of it had anything to do with promoting freedom. As experienced by Muslims, the American Century was marked by imperialism and intervention, manipulation and betrayal, Israel and oil. It goes without saying that in Beinart's account none of these matters qualify as relevant.
The Good Fight began life as an essay that appeared in The New Republic when Beinart edited that magazine. According to press reports, he received a handsome $600,000 advance to expand his essay into a book. The result can only be called a major disappointment: The Good Fight is insipid, pretentious and poorly written. At points it verges on incoherence. As history, it is meretricious. As policy prescription, it is wrongheaded. Beinart has perpetrated his fraud twice over.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Copyright 2006 Andrew J. Bacevich
Dellinger’s father’s family arrived in the American colonies before 1776. His father, a friend of Calvin Coolidge and a strikebreaker in the 1919 Boston police strike, was a prosperous, conservative well-connected attorney. Yet he was the same time a defender of the Catholic minority and the poor and eventually a supporter of his son’s lifework. At Yale, the younger Dellinger was a classmate and friend of Walt Rostow, then a left-winger, whose political counsel Dellinger alleges in his autobiography From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter he rejected because it “lacked my spiritual emphasis.” Both men would spend the rest of their lives consumed with their college-age dispute over who was and wasn’t a communist supporter.
Awarded a Henry Fellowship, he traveled to Italy to visit St. Francis of Assisi’s hometown and afterwards to England to study philosophy at Oxford, where Rostow was also enrolled as a Rhodes Scholar. Visiting Germany on two occasions he was appalled at American business interests cooperating with Nazi Germany and horrified at the savage treatment being meted out to Jews, which was news to most Americans but which he publicly condemned upon his return home.
Following World War I’s savage and pointless massacres and its ensuing memories of unparalled death and destruction, pacifism and Christian radicalism’s message of peace and concern for the most vulnerable among us held sway in many Christian seminaries. After his European stay, he enrolled at the Union Theological Seminary apparently hoping to become a Congregationalist minister. There he turned to the writings of Tolstoy and Gandhi, among others. But he was always more activist than theoretician. He and several friends joined a commune in Newark to help feed and clothe poor blacks trapped by the Great Depression and protested local businesses refusing to hire black people. Then, he and seven seminarians refused as a matter of conscience to register for the draft in October 1940 though all could have been exempted as ministerial students. Expelled from Union and damned, they were sent to federal prison. His opposition to conscription and war never ceased, for which he was often imprisoned by a powerful, unforgiving state. His was a lifelong commitment when he might have settled for a quiet, conforming life in a bucolic New England church.
Most famously, Dellinger helped plan and was indicted along with seven others for the Chicago riots instigated by antiwar demonstrators or Mayor Richard Daley and his police (take your pick). There, at age 54, in a trial reported around the world, the “Chicago Seven” went on trial before a feckless judge. It was a time when names like King, the Berrigan brothers, J. Edgar Hoover and yet another ill-defined and entirely unnecessary war hovered over the country and it sometimes seemed that the country was either on the verge of a nervous breakdown or a populist upheaval. Dellinger, a proponent of direct nonviolent protest, was not one to turn his cheek. He could be hard and tough, and had critics even among antiwar people as well as ex- leftists who turned right in subsequent years. As Hunt, who teaches United States history at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, explains, after Chicago, Dellinger may have ironically hurt the peace movement by refusing “ to condemn the radical left’s calls for violent self-defense against authorities [which] placed him at odds with more orthodox pacifist pacifists” and thereby watering down the pacifist theme of opposition to the nation’s embrace of the military-industrial connection and its continual inclination to go to war.
But pacifist groups never had sufficient influence, money, numbers and power to convince their fellow Americans that nonviolence had a better chance of preventing war. Moreover, while certainly not Dellinger’s responsibility, the widespread postwar retreat by formerly antiwar protestors from commitment and organization in favor of the pursuit of narrow special interest politics created a vacuum which only helped conservative and neoconservative empire-builders to grasp the reins of authority and eventfully lead us into places like Central America and Iraq.
Was there any third way between pacifism and bellicose foreign policies, which might successfully reach out to Americans who despised the Vietnam War, its pro-war politicians and pundits, the draft, but were not absolute pacifists? Was there, indeed, is there, another way to conduct U.S. diplomacy other than rather than amassing ever more “enemies” and bullying and attacking weaker nations?
There is an ingrained American arrogance among many Americans who believe
Uncle Sam has the right to do whatever it pleases so long as it is clothed in words
like liberty and freedom and the “war against terrorism.” The modest and self-
effacing Dellinger’s legacy, however, is quite different. Though he obviously
admired Dellinger, Andrew Hunt’s searching portrait
avoids hero-worship. And his conclusion is certainly justified:” Because of his
refusal to veer away from his humanistic revolutionary
outlook, his rejection of power, and his willingness to live in poverty or prison until
he achieved his goals, Dellinger emerged as one of the leading figures of dissent in
In a world threatened with nuclear warfare, terrorism, ethnic and religious fanaticism, and dangerous and repressive governments, Hunt's"David Dellinger" is a noteworthy reminder that we could do a lot worse than study and perhaps take to heart some of Dellinger’s lifework.
It was his mother, Jenny Persily, who set him straight. “Rise with, not from, your class,” she would tell him.
Never forgetting, this was Sigal’s mother’s credo in A Woman of Uncertain Character. Jennie was an unwed mother at 31 raising an only child. The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, she was a dedicated pacifist and socialist who, like his often absent father Leo Sigal, a craftsman in a job which no longer exists-- "quality shirt ironing and finishing" --- doubled as union organizers when labor's muscle came to be almost if not quite equal in power to corporations outside the South, rather than as they are today, struggling for new members.
His parents were also anti-communist. “For Jennie and Leo, the Stalinists were gangsters who betrayed the American union movement with their slippery shenanigans and secretive agendas.” Leo carried a weapon while Jennie lectured and hectored workers to “awake and sing”—a la the Clifford Odets' play reflecting those troubled years—and waited patiently for Leo (and other men) to show up as he did from time to time. Leo, however, had another, legal family. Even so, Jennie as portrayed by her son, was a proud woman and mother, and her models were all hell-raisers: Emma Goldman and her lover Alexander Berkman, who once tried to kill Carnegie Steel’s Henry Frick, as well as John Reed, Clarence Darrow and Upton Sinclair. Both she and Leo battled company-hired mobsters, yellow dog union goons, scabs, communist thugs and the cops. Justice for working people, lovemaking and organizing was their creed. If they were alive today no doubt they’d be horrified about the many millions of Americans who don’t take a stand in defense of their civic and economic rights.
Left alone to raise her son, Jennie worked in garment factories to support Clancy. While organizing she dragged him to different cities and towns. Once, in Chattanooga, while the local racist newspapers were sensationalizing the Scottsboro trial in neighboring Alabama, she tried to get black women workers to join a union and was promptly escorted out of town, young Clancy in tow.
Unlike his parents, Sigal joined the Communist Party at 15 for reasons he doesn’t quite explain other than to say it was to rile his mother and presumably assert his independence. Was it a deliberate affront to his anti-Communist parents? Did he believe Moscow’s authoritarianism to be more effective in rescuing the nation from economic disaster or Hitler?
Many then honestly believed in the fiction that only Communists had the guts and programs capable of resisting the bosses and fascism. Communists, of course, were more acceptable than Republicans, especially during the Second World War when the Red Army destroyed the German armies and thereby helped save the West from surrender or defeat.
Yet in his native Chicago’s Jewish neighborhood, while every shade of socialism had its supporters, most clearly loved and voted repeatedly for FDR.
Sigal’s unflinching interpretation is more than a mere tribute to a strong and resourceful mother. It’s also a political and historical recollection how she and others were forced to fend for themselves and their larger communities during the awful years of the Great Depression, the rise of communism and fascism, the wars at home and abroad, the bitter unresolved conflicts between labor and capital, and the emergence of McCarthy, McCarran, and HUAC and their ilk. Once when FBI agents came calling to ask about Clancy’s politics, Jennie asked her pal, the Los Angeles police chief’s mom, to get them to lay off her boy. Which they did.
When he left Chicago after his army discharge he moved west to study at UCLA and then worked as a lowly employee in one of Hollywood’s film factories. In “Hollywood During the Great Fear,” a piece he wrote at my request years after his return to the U.S. for Present Tense, a magazine I edited, he portrayed himself as an insignificant cog in Harry Cohn’s Columbia studio. Told--no, ordered-- to sign a loyalty oath, he demurred. A “bureaucratic monster” had emerged, he wrote, which included those who did the firing of studio employees and those who told them who to fire. Sigal was denounced as a subversive by mercenary red-hunters with information fed them by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. He refused to sign, and one of Cohn’s executives demanded of him, “Who are you to step out of line?” demanded a studio executive pointing to his personal safe. “Right in there I have affidavits from Judy Holliday, Aldo Ray, Rita Hayworth.” Sigal, a Hollywood nobody, still balked and was blacklisted. (Ironically, he recently was the main screenwriter for the film Frida, the biopic of the painter Frida Kahler).
Out of work with no job prospects, and taking a leaf from his peripatetic parents, Sigal left for England, but fortunately with a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship in his pocket. He went on to write his classic work of McCarthy’s America, Going Away, in which he described visiting silent radicals terrified lest they alert the new Torqumadas prowling the nation.
More than all else he wants his ten-year-old son to know about Jennie. People like his parents, Sigal muses, “are indispensable to the health of the nation because without them very little good would be accomplished: they have what it takes to go against the currents of ignorance, superstition, ugliness and injustice,” characteristics not unknown in our past and present. If nothing else they could not remain passive observers. Sigal’s forceful memoir imparts a crucial lesson his son will do well to remember all his life.
SOURCE: frontpagemag.com ()
By Giles Milton.
Picador, $15, 336 pp.
The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805
By Richard Zacks.
Hyperion, $15.95, 454 pp.
Stop me if you've heard this one:
A totalitarian dictator of a Muslim nation kills hundreds of thousands while spending his nation's resources building a palace of mind-boggling size.
European powers toady to a Muslim tyrant who projects his power in provocative ways, preferring to pay him off and do business rather than take action against him - even though they have enough military power to do so.
The American president authorizes a mission to install a friendly government in a hostile Muslim country.
Sleazy French agents undermine the mission and warn the dictator.
An American diplomat whose marriage keeps him well connected scorns the idea that a government friendly to America can be established – or a military mission can succeed – then sets about to cause appeasement and containment.
Marines are left hanging without support in unfriendly territory after a spectacular military success.
Americans take the lead in stopping nation-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East, while the Europeans maintain a safe distance, becoming involved only in mop-up operations and peace negotiations.
If you suppose this scenario was taken from recent headlines, think again. Some are the main elements of a nearly 300-year old story, others from America's first shooting war during the Thomas Jefferson administration.
Two instant classics of popular history, Giles Milton's White Gold and Richard Zacks' The Pirate Coast, new in paperback this month, cover this dramatic era in our national past.
Many readers may be surprised to learn the West's battle against militant Islam did not end with the Crusades and not resume until the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. If anything, the century and a half of relative peace between Islamic states and the West that ended in the latter half of the 20th Century was the exception, not the rule.
When Bill Clinton and others justify Arab hatred for the West by hearkening back to the Crusades, they are exercising a selective memory. What they never mention is that, long after the Crusades, Arab pirates sanctioned by North African states kidnapped, murdered, plundered and enslaved Europeans for at least 200 years. Nor, when excoriating America’s tainted history of slavery, do they note that while Western countries were developing modern economies and evolving from mercantilism to capitalism, which ultimately would make their involvement slavery obsolete, slaves continued to be an essential element of the Muslim system. In the 17th and 18th centuries, sea-going raiders from Islamic Mediterranean countries captured and enslaved about 1 million Europeans.
To get European slaves, Arab raiders had to sail great distances and raid the coasts of Britain, France and Spain – countries with established navies and central governments. And while tribal leaders in Africa regularly handed their own people or neighbors captured in war to slavers, no such cooperation existed in European countries. English mayors, for example, were not selling captive Scotsmen they had captured in tribal warfare.
In White Gold, Giles Milton, author of the best-selling historical adventure Nathaniel's Nutmeg, continues his method of illuminating how little-known personages and events had a big effect on history. Like his other books, White Gold is gory, spectacular and enormously entertaining.
After giving a brief overview of the Islamic slave traders' war on Christendom in the 17th and 18th centuries, Milton uses the story of Thomas Pellow to give us a slave's-eye view of the situation. Pellow was an 11-year-old cabin boy when corsairs on a commercial trip to the Mediterranean seized his uncle’s ship in 1716.
The crew was given to King Moulay Ismail of Morocco, who ended the slave trade in his country in a unique way - by demanding all the slaves for himself. Ismail, a brutal and cunning tyrant, established a degree of totalitarianism based on terror that would be unequaled until modern communications technology gave Hitler, Stalin and Mao the ability to control the lives of vast populations.
In his great book, Fear No Evil, Soviet dissident (now Israeli statesman) Natan Sharanski discusses how he and the other dissidents referred to the Gulag as the "Inner Zone" and the rest of the USSR as merely the "Outer Zone" of a continental concentration camp. In White Gold, a European slave makes a similar observation about Morocco – that the rest of the populace was almost enslaved as they were.
Ismail's brand of slavery, however, makes Roots look like Gone with the Wind. He worked his captives to death, mostly constructing a horizontal Tower of Babel stretching a mind-boggling 300 miles that served as a palace.
Although they were in top shape at the time of their capture, Thomas's uncle and most of the crew were worked to death within a few years. Thomas, however, was an uncommonly bright and plucky young lad, and he caught the favor of the tyrant. After being tortured brutally for months, he "converted" to Islam and eventually was rewarded with a position of some importance in Ismail's army.
Despite his privileged life as a top soldier—and becoming a loving husband and father—Pellow spent every day of his 23 years in captivity looking for an opportunity to escape. When he did, he was one of the longest-surviving captives ever to return to England. In an ultimate act of irony, one of his descendants in 1816 accepted the surrender of the dey of Algiers, which ended the white slave trade.
Richard Zacks – whose previous book, Pirate Hunter, will convince you that Captain Kidd was a framed hero, not a murderous buccaneer – takes on the story of Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates in The Pirate Coast. This is mostly the story of William Eaton, whose exploits put "the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Corps hymn.
An idealistic veteran of the Revolutionary War veteran, Eaton, as consul to Tripoli, was offended by America’s kowtow to the Barbary Pirates and pay extortion as the price of doing business in the trade-rich Mediterranean.
With great fanfare, President Jefferson sent the pride of the U.S. Navy, the Philadelphia, to the Mediterranean to strike a blow for freedom of the seas. When Capt. William Bainbridge embarrassingly ran the Philadelphia aground in Tripoli Bay while pursuing pirates, he and his crew of over 300 were held hostage for ransom. Bainbridge – later decorated for his role in the affair during the political scramble for cover – still holds the U.S. Navy's record for cowardice. He surrendered not one but two ships in his career with hardly a shot being fired.
Eaton lobbied Jefferson for months for the chance to do something about the U.S. captives. Then he spent several more months seeking the exiled Prince Hamet in Egypt, before finally mounting an army for the mission to install Hamet on his brother's throne in Tripoli.
Meanwhile, the top U.S. diplomat in the region, Tobias Lear – who wed and outlived one niece of George Washington, then married another one – does everything he can to undercut the mission. Jefferson, the revolutionary with a wide streak of pacifism and a grave mistrust of standing armies, listens to Lear and begins backing away from Eaton's objective.
Eaton, however, bulled ahead with his mission against all odds. Accompanied by only eight US Marines, he gathered a rag-tag army pledged to Hamet. While neither nuanced nor diplomatic, Eaton kept his multicultural force together through a brutal 500-mile journey across the Libyan desert by sheer will. But just as ultimate military success was in his reach, Lear -with Jefferson's consent- treacherously pulled it from his grasp.
Ironically, it was Eaton's own partial success along with some feats of daring by Stephen Decatur to scuttle the Philadelphia before it could be used by the Enemy that took the pressure off Jefferson to act, and led to America's first cut and run Jack Murtha-like action.
Feeling betrayed and morally indignant over how Hamet and the Arabs who fought for their liberty were sold out, Eaton was surprised when he returned home to find himself feted as the toast of the nation. Ultimately, however, he could neither play nice nor resist using his new platform to go after Jefferson and expose the truth about the Tripoli mission and the President's role.
The Pirate Coast is a superb historical narrative with flawed heroes, a near-demigod with feet of clay, cynics who scoff at the bravery of their betters, and ordinary people spurred to do great things in the pursuit of liberty. Along with White Gold it provides a great summer read while also providing historical perspective on the Middle East and America's first war against militant Islam.
There have been so many books written about Winston Churchill (almost as many as he wrote himself) that any review of any new one should probably begin by considering what it adds to the tale or clarifies in the telling.
Martin Gilbert has himself produced six volumes of biography, and put together as many volumes of documents. He has distilled his Official Biography into A Life of about a thousand pages for the general reader, and has written In Search of Churchill about his life’s work on the great man. He has, like Churchill, written histories of both World Wars, though not nearly as voluminously. The story of Churchill and America in the time of the Second World War has been recently retold by Jon Meacham, in his Franklin and Winston, which notes rather than narrates the distasteful implications of John Charmley’s revisionist history of the “special relationship.” Any account of Churchill’s ideas about and dealings with the United States will necessarily center on the wartime alliance of the two Powers and the working relationship of their leaders. Gilbert re-covers this ground in fine narrative form and with formidable documentary substance. His account does not have the intimacy of Meacham’s or the hostility of Charmley’s. It does not rehash but rather refines the official biographical treatment of Churchill and America, for readers who would like, in a single volume of half a thousand pages, to read not just another account but a rich history of the complex and intense relationship of the semi-American Englishman with the other, younger, but ultimately more powerful English-speaking nation.
Churchill’s mother was Jennie Jerome, the daughter of the American financier Leonard Jerome. His father, Randolph, was the second son of the eighth Duke of Marlborough. We do not hear much about Churchill’s parents in this book, though; nor much about their Anglo-American influences upon their son’s formation. His personal relationships with them, and theirs with him, may be read about in Gilbert’s Life or in Roy Jenkins’ Churchill, another worthy biography. But we do read here about young Winston’s interest in American history and politics, and there is much more here than in the Life about the influencial friendship of the American politician Bourke Cockran, who was an influence in particular upon Churchill’s oratorical style.
There are detailed accounts of Churchill’s visits to America, and many of the details come from Churchill’s own observations and correspondence. His first visit was in 1895, when he was en route to Cuba to observe as a journalist an uprising against the Spanish colonial authorities. He spent just a week in New York, and was very though not uncritically impressed. His next visit, beginning in late 1900, followed his adventures in the Boer War and his election to Parliament, and was a two-month lecture tour of the east coast, Midwest, and major Canadian cities. He spoke about the historical and cultural kinship of the English and American peoples, speaking of them most often, and ever after, as “the English-speaking peoples.” He made a good deal of money from his speaking and writing, though he would not return until 1929.
As First Lord of the Admiralty at the beginning of the First World War, and as Minister of Munitions at the end; dealing first with a neutral and then with an allied United States, Churchill exercised instincts and implemented policies that anticipated his conduct of Anglo-American relations during the Second World War. In both cases he was eager for America to enter the war, but understanding of what that would take. He also appreciated not only the number of soldiers America could send into the line, but the productive capacity it could mobilize in the larger cause. And he saw the wartime alliance as just one aspect of the Anglo-American unanimity that would be the foundation of the postwar peace—and so he was very disappointed at what he considered America’s failure to take its place in the League of Nations, and would be as determined to keep the UK and US the most United of the Nations that confronted the next threat to world peace.
Back in America at the beginning of the Great Depression (he was, in fact, in New York when the stock market crashed), and having in the meantime been Chancellor of the Exchequer for five years, Churchill was able to observe and reflect upon both the effects of the crisis and the underlying strength of the American economy and citizenry. He had himself lost a good deal of money, but his speeches and articles earned him a good deal more, which he reinvested in America. He approved of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and during the 1930s continued to speak and write about the “Union of Spirit” that unified the English-speaking peoples. At the same time, Churchill said and wrote so much, and Gilbert has such a command of the documents, that it does become and remain clear that Churchill did not hesitate to express disagreement with American policies, when he did disagree with them; and did not flinch from a defense of British interests, where he thought they were in conflict with the American.
It was certainly in the interest of Britain for America to enter the Second World War, or at least for it to aid Britain as much as it could short of official belligerence toward Germany. Churchill’s correspondence with President Roosevelt began when he resumed his post at the Admiralty on the day Britain declared war; and it intensified when he became Prime Minister, on the day Germany began its attack on the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. These communications show both the weakness and the strength Churchill brought to this phase of his relations with America. On the one hand, Britain was in almost desperate need of war supplies of all kinds; on the other hand, Churchill’s appeals for aid were made with all his rhetorical force -- with his characteristically acute analysis of unfolding events, and with his long-cultivated and nearly comprehensive sense of history. And, again, the archives contain so many other memoranda, minutes, and reminiscences, that there is also plenty of evidence of Churchill’s annoyance with “those bloody Yankees” and his determination to “drag them” into the war.
Before America did enter the war, but when it had begun to send help, Churchill’s telegrams to and from the American President were complemented and augmented by his close working and personal relationships with Roosevelt’s adviser Harry Hopkins, his Ambassador Gil Winant, and Lend-Lease Administrator Averell Harriman. America had still not entered the war when Roosevelt and Churchill met for the first of ten meetings they would have before Roosevelt’s death less than a month before the end of the war in Europe. This book gives the standard, straightforward, but dramatic account of the course of the war from the perspective of the Prime Minister and with his preoccupation with his American ally. But Gilbert does not just recycle old material. He notes, for example, that it is now believed that Churchill did not suffer a mild heart attack during his first visit to Washington in December of 1941. He does, however, introduce Henry Wallace, who was critical of the racialist implications of Churchill’s “English-speaking” talk, as Roosevelt’s third Vice President. Wallace was in fact his second Vice President, and served during his third term.
Gilbert carries on his narrative with an account of his relations with Roosevelt’s third Vice President and successor, Harry Truman, which features the “Iron Curtain” speech and its aftermath. Churchill was by then out of office, but as Elder Statesman was perhaps in a better position to continue to cultivate the special relationship between Britain and the United States. Being out of office, Churchill was also at leisure to write his war memoirs, and in his account of this – a more detailed account of which is now available in David Reynolds’ In Command of History -- Gilbert revisits such controversial topics as Churchill’s commitment to the cross-channel invasion and his predilection for prodding at the “soft underbelly” of the enemy. Back in office, Churchill reestablished and recast his relationship with Dwight Eisenhower, and made his final attempts to work with the United States to avoid war with the Soviet Union. The narrative ends with Churchill’s receiving his honorary American citizenship. Gilbert quotes President Kennedy’s remark that “he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” He was invoking the moment for which Churchill will always be best known by Americans, but suggesting at the same time what most probably and profoundly motivated his affinity and affection for America.
A blend of fact and fiction, alive with an interesting delineation of characters, Dissidence is a haunting and grave examination of an event that has become an indelible part of the American psyche. That Mark Pizzimenti decided to treat the JFK assassination in a "fictionalized" manner gives him great latitude to combine well documented facts with the novelist's own creative talents and an ability to enter the mind of Oswald. The result is a stark portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Pizzimenti centers his narrative around Oswald and he uses real characters to give his book the feel of an historical account while at the same time he introduces suspense to the story that only a novel can provide. Although the reader is well aware of what is to come, Pizzimenti builds up the suspense by his unusual literary style; a style that keeps the story at a steady pace.
His chapters that deal with Oswald's early life are insightful and Pizzimenti manages to get inside Oswald's distorted personality which was the result of motherly neglect. Later in the book Oswald is presented as a confused and misguided individual, with big political ambitions but little direction and with no clear goals. The story takes the reader through Oswald's service in the military, his defection to Russia, a rocky marriage and a life destined to failure. This fictional Oswald, true to the real life assassin, is an insightful portrait.
Pizzimenti shows Oswald moving inexorably toward the day that became the central event of 1960s America. He has also developed each of the characters who cross Oswald's path to a point that their actions and the scenario that the author presents are completely believable. Particularly impressive is the way the author developed some of the subsidiary characters such as Marina Oswald and Oswald's mother, Marguerite. He completely defines Marguerite's character and all her misconceptions, her self-centered nature and her manipulation and cunningness. Pizzimenti's character development succeeds in showing the reader how Oswald and his mother, two misguided individuals, might be better understood. He also makes the other real individuals in the JFK assassination story, people like George De Mohrenschildt, into portraits which are involving and absorbing.
It is a measure of his success that while reading, one must keep reminding oneself that this is, indeed, a novel making no claim to literal truth.
Thankfully, Pizzimenti avoids falling into the conspiracy theory trap. For verifiable facts he puts his trust in the works of Gerald Posner et al who have managed to relegate the conspiracy - minded fantasies to sideshow status.
One of its themes which I greatly appreciated is the banality of evil - while planning to assassinate the president, Oswald also deals with his day to day problems, such as playing with his children and the children of neighbors, worrying about his efforts to secure employment etc. From this perspective the book is fascinating.
Pizzimenti has succeeded in making us aware, once again, of a central fact in this tragic story - that there are among us isolated misfits like Oswald who deliriously inflate their own importance and who, by a single act of violence, can insure their place in history.
Pizzimenti sees it as his task not to try to furnish factual answers to each component of the complex story of the JFK assassination, but only to present a psychological portrait of Oswald in which the reader will more fully understand why he decided to kill President Kennedy.
The journey itself, which Philbrick describes in some detail, serves merely as a springboard for his account of a broader and more significant tale. Mayflower is not so much an account of a trip across the sea but of a journey into another world which began as the Pilgrims scouted Cape Cod during the winter of 1620—a journey which reached a tragic end some fifty-six years later in the sanguinary struggle known as King Philip’s War. It is about the Pilgrim encounter with the native inhabitants of the region of North America that Captain John Smith of Jamestown had named New England a half dozen years earlier.
The encounter began as the hungry Pilgrims stole a cache of apparently abandoned Indian corn while exploring Cape Cod, before settling across the bay at Plymouth. For several weeks, the native inhabitants kept a watchful eye on the new arrivals from a safe distance. They had encountered Europeans before and had learned to be cautious. One English sea captain, Edward Harlow had abducted half a dozen Indians and killed several more in 1611. Three years later, Thomas Hunt, another English seaman had kidnapped as many Indians as he could in order to sell them into slavery in Spain. But these newcomers seemed different. They had brought their women and children with them and, rather than attempting to trade with the natives or pillage their valuables, they kept to themselves and began to build shelters. Unlike their predecessors they planned to stay.
Among those who watched the newcomers was a local sachem who had been abducted and taken to England several years earlier. Tisquantum, or Squanto, whose name can be roughly translated as “Satan,” had escaped and returned to his native land. As he observed the Pilgrims, he was primarily interested in how he might take advantage of them to regain the power and position he had lost during his captivity. Another who watched warily was Massasoit, the sachem of the Pokanokets, the people native to the region.
What the Pilgrims did not know at the time, but soon discovered, was that relations among the local tribes were governed by a delicate balance of power—not unlike that which prevailed in Europe at the time: it was one which they were about to alter. That balance had shifted dramatically against Massasoit and his people just a few years earlier, as epidemic disease introduced by European fishermen had decimated the Pokanokets while leaving their neighboring rivals the Narragansetts relatively unscathed. As the Pilgrims led by John Carver struggled to survive, Massasoit had to decide whether they were a danger to be eliminated or a potential ally to be welcomed. At this point Squanto persuaded Massasoit not to attack the settlers, but to add their weight to his side of New England’s balance of power. He did this, according to Philbrick, by arguing that the Englishmen possessed not only muskets and cannons, but the “seventeenth-century equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction: the plague,” which he said the Pilgrims stored in their barrels of gunpowder. It would be foolhardy, Squanto argued, for Massasoit to attack such a powerful foe, especially when he might enlist them in his own cause against his neighbors the Narragansetts. Persuaded by this logic, Massasoit welcomed the Pilgrims. Unaware of these various stratagems, they were pleased to form an alliance with any tribe in the region which might protect them against other hostile tribes. What they did not yet realize was that by forming an alliance with the Pokanokets they were placing themselves in jeopardy by aligning themselves with a weak tribe and potentially provoking the more powerful Narragansetts. Meanwhile, Squanto made himself indispensable to the new alliance since only he could converse fluently with both the English and the Pokanokets. But as Philbrick makes clear, he had his own purposes.
Eventually Squanto, in his effort to regain power, attempted to provoke the Englishmen to attack Massasoit by telling them that the Pokanokets and the Narragansetts had banded together to attack Plymouth, but his treachery was exposed and war was avoided. The incident revealed how vulnerable the settlers were to manipulation and how badly the Plymouth colony was in need of accurate intelligence. Squanto had betrayed both the Pilgrims and Massasoit. The latter wanted Squanto’s head, but the Pilgrim leader William Bradford, who had replaced Carver, remained loyal to his friend even though it placed the alliance in jeopardy. Eventually the incident faded away, but Massasoit never forgot. When Squanto suddenly fell ill and died, Bradford assumed it was the result of natural causes, but Philbrick suspects that the Pokanoket chief had achieved his revenge.
The Pilgrims were the junior partners in this alliance. But within a generation this relationship had undergone a reversal. Still, under the leadership of Massasoit and Bradford the Pilgrims and the Pokanokets remained at peace for a generation. It was a peace cemented, as Philbrick explains by the Plymouth diplomat Edward Winslow who, upon finding Massasoit dying of typhus, nursed him back to health. When he recovered Massasoit announced to his people that “Now I see the English are my friends and love me. . . . whilst I live I will never forget the kindness they have showed me.” But it was a personal relationship which did not long survive his passing many years later. Massasoit’s son Metacomet, who changed his name to Philip responded to reduced revenue caused by the decline of the fur trade upon which the Pokanokets had depended, by selling land in great swaths to the English. When this strategy backfired and the Pokanokets were hemmed in by the English on the one side and rivals such as the Narragansetts on the other, Philip lashed out in a series of raids against Pilgrim settlements which escalated into King Philip’s War of 1675-76.
Philbrick ends his account of the Pilgrim’s “errand into the wilderness,” with King Philip’s War which he sees as the tragic point at which half a century of relative comity between the settlers at Plymouth and the native inhabitants gave way to over two centuries of hatred between whites and Indians. It was he says, “one of the most horrendous wars ever fought in North America,” one which, in terms of proportionate casualties was far worse than even the Civil War. As he explains, during the latter conflict the rate of casualties was between four and five percent, but during King Philip’s War, Plymouth’s casualty rate was almost twice as high. But he contends that even these “losses appear almost inconsequential when compared to those of the Indians.” Reckoning the total losses, by calculations which are not entirely clear, at “somewhere between 60 and 80 percent,” Philbrick argues that “Philip’s local squabble with Plymouth Colony had mutated into a regionwide war that, on a percentage basis, had done nearly as much as the plagues of 1616-1619 to decimate New England’s Native population.”
In the course of discussing the war Philbrick describes numerous events, which, although they took place over three hundred years ago, have a modern ring. There is butchery of the worst kind; beheading, quartering, and of course scalping—which was apparently quite common among the Indians of New England. There are spies, and there are preemptive attacks. Among other things he retells the story of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity and how her account of it,The Sovereignty and Goodness of God . . . , became America’s first bestseller.
Philbrick is particularly impressed by the military innovations of Benjamin Church who he contends, emerged as the archetype of the American frontiersman: “a roughneck intermediary between civilization and savagery . . . ,” a man who “forged an identity that was part Pilgrim, part mariner, part Indian, and altogether his own.” The military significance of Church is that he taught Americans to fight like Indians. In short, as Philbrick suggests, he is the predecessor of historical figures like Daniel Boone, and Davy Crockett and fictional ones like Natty Bumpoo and Rambo.
In a contemporary allusion, Philbrick concludes that “There are two possible responses to a world suddenly gripped by terror and contention.” In a reference to Samuel Mosley, an Indian fighter renowned for his savagery, he says, “There is the Mosely way: get mad and get even. . . . . Then there is the Church way. Instead of loathing the enemy, try to learn as much as possible from him; instead of killing him, try to bring him around to your way of thinking. First and foremost, treat him like a human being.” Sounds like advice from the first generation of American fighting men to the most recent generation of American soldiers.
SOURCE: Legal Times ()
And in Closed Chambers: The Rise, Fall, and Future of the Modern Supreme Court, Edward Lazarus, a former law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun, provided a behind-the-scenes account of the Court during his clerkship year (1988-1989). The book’s release in 1998 was accompanied by howls of outrage from those who insisted that Lazarus had violated the code of confidentiality.
In the new Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk, Todd Peppers provides a thorough, balanced account. Courtiers is not as scandalous as The Brethren nor as controversial as Closed Chambers. Peppers, an academic, aims to be comprehensive in describing the evolution of the Supreme Court law clerk from stenographer to legal assistant to law firm associate. This book will be most appealing to aficionados -- aficionados—
historians of the Supreme Court and readers of the equivalent of baseball box scores for law clerks. Although current Supreme Court law clerks have more substantive responsibilities than their predecessors, Peppers rejects the notion, popularized in The Brethren and Closed Chambers, that clerks shape the development of the law or unduly influence how the justices vote. He believes that not only are the justices intellectually capable and accomplished, but they are certainly more knowledgeable about the law and more experienced in making decisions than the novices they hire. More likely, Peppers says, a law clerk may influence a justice’s decision by providing an extra set of eyes and ears. A clerk may call attention to overlooked information in the record or provide stylistic revisions to a written decision. Peppers also details the clerks’ responsibilities in each justice’s chambers, although the repeated discussion of each justice’s practices with respect to cert petitions becomes a bit tiresome.
Nevertheless, his focus on the relationship between justice and clerk provides insight into the personalities of a number of justices....