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Wellesley College’s leafy, green campus just outside Boston seems an unlikely setting for an academic blood feud, but for almost two decades, beginning in the early 1990s, it has been just that. When classicist Mary Lefkowitz challenged the historical accuracy of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena (which argued that ancient Greek culture had African—especially Egyptian—roots) and other Afrocentric works that claimed western civilization had basically been stolen from Africa, she found herself at the center of a firestorm that still smolders today. She was denounced as a racist in person and in print and even subjected to an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit for slander by her colleague and chief antagonist, Prof. Anthony Martin, himself a tenured professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley.
Now that she has retired, Lefkowitz is publishing this memoir of the battles she fought, on campus and off, to remind us of how important it is to keep our view of the ancient world (indeed, the entire past) grounded in historical evidence. Her wounds are still fresh, and her narrative sometimes seems (understandably) defensive and even occasionally bewildered, as if she has still not fully absorbed how a college she thought she knew, where she had been an undergraduate and then taught for decades, could turn into snake pit. So her book arrives armor-clad, published by Yale University Press, with laudatory blurbs from heavyweights Stanley Katz (former president of the American Council of Learned Societies), the University of Chicago’s Martha Nussbaum, and Yale’s Donald Kagan.
It also comes with an entirely neutral cover and less-than-provocative title, an indication of at least one hard lesson learned. When Lefkowitz reviewed Black Athena and other Afrocentric books in lengthy 1992 essay for The New Republic, the magazine’s cover was memorable: in Lefkowitz’s words, it “showed in garish black and white and purple a picture of a bust of an ancient philosopher wearing a Malcolm X cap.” Lefkowitz was surprised and shocked. “I was not consulted about the magazine’s cover design,” she says, and adds, “It seemed to me, then as now, no more than a rather tasteless joke.” Certainly it had the potential of placing her review in a more provocative light than she had expected or intended.
Despite the unfortunate magazine cover, and despite the fact that her article appeared at the height of the “Culture Wars,” Lefkowitz thought that her carefully documented historical argument would carry the day. How could she doubt it? She had the facts. For instance, when dissecting Dr. Yosef A. A. ben-Jochannan’s Africa: Mother of Western Civilization, she could point out that Aristotle could hardly have stolen his ideas from the Egyptian library at Alexandria because Aristotle had died well before the library was built. So she was surprised when some Afrocentrists counter-attacked by arguing that her facts were not facts at all, but “opinions,” even “lies.”
Lefkowitz’s most vocal critic was right on her own campus. Martin “devoted a long section of the spring 1992 Africana Studies Newsletter to an attack” on Lefkowitz and rallied some students to his cause. In 1993, he sought a wider audience, aimed at more targets, and published The Jewish Onslaught: Dispatches from the Wellesley Battlefront. Described in the Boston Globe as “an almost hysterical string of examples, from centuries-old Talmudic ideas to the presence of Jewish newscasters such as Ted Koppel, Mike Wallace, and Barbara Walters as proof of Jewish oppression,” the book even repeated the threadbare accusation that Jews had been the primary operators of the slave trade. He denounced African-American scholars who opposed his views: Henry Louis Gates, he said, was “America’s most notorious Judeophile.”
Shaken but undeterred, Lefkowitz expanded her critique of the “Stolen Legacy” thesis into a book, Not Out of Africa, which was published in 1996. Her arguments were the same ones she had advanced in The New Republic—and, unfortunately, so was the book’s cover! “At the last minute,” she says, instead of a cover featuring the statute known as the Venus de Milo, “Basic Books substituted the old New Republic cover, showing a bust of a Greek philosopher wearing a Malcolm X cap, with highlights in purple.”
At this point one wonders whether Lefkowitz is the unluckiest or the most naïve academic alive. By 1996 she had not only been blindsided by The New Republic’s cover decision, but also was in the midst of her (ultimately successful, but nevertheless stressful) defense against Martin’s libel suit. (The lawsuit was really no surprise: Martin had already sued several undergraduates for libel, and Wellesley College itself.) Not to blame the victim here, but shouldn’t she have been savvy enough to have her literary agent or lawyer make sure that her contract with Basic Books included the right to say what went on the cover?
Since Martin’s lawsuit was dismissed in 1999, Lefkowitz has kept fighting the good fight against bad history. Now professor emerita at Wellesley (Martin has retired, too), she writes History Lesson as a cautionary tale, and a valuable, sobering one it is. Her disproving of the Afrocentrists’ main myths is exhaustive and persuasive, the product of a careful historical intelligence at work. And one can only share her outrage when such myths are defended, not by historical method, but by scurrilous attacks, frequently anti-Semitic ones, on the critics.
At the same time, one comes away wishing that some important aspects to this story had gotten more attention. There are issues of professionalism and civility, even of academic freedom, here that cry out for consideration. Martin loudly intimidated faculty and even students who he thought had insulted him (berating at least one student so nastily that she left school), told other students that he and his ideas were the target of a racist conspiracy and encouraged them to confront his enemies, published personal attacks on colleagues, and, when all else failed, sued.
Lefkowitz meticulously details all of this, but her explanation for how he got away with is too…well…academic: she lays it at the feet of postmodernism, criticizing its relativism and willingness to say that ideas are nothing but expressions of power and self-interest. But she doesn’t really show Martin and the others employing postmodernist arguments; she shows them using bad history. And although she does not spell out a particularly nuanced theory of how historians know what they know, her main argument requires no more than this: “Ancient historians rarely have all the facts at their disposal that they would like to have. But nonetheless we did know SOMETHING.”
So this reader, at least, wishes she had spent a little more time talking about other people and events on that leafy, green campus. Why did President Nan Keohane, Provost Dale Rogers Marshall, and other senior administrators do little, if anything, to mitigate the unprofessional and uncivil behavior that occurred on their watch? (When Lefkowitz got the summons for Martin’s lawsuit, Dean of the College Nancy Kolodny told her, “It’s your problem. The college can’t help you.”) Were they genuinely ambivalent, or were they afraid of what being tarred as “racists” would do to their careers? (They avoided that problem: Keohane went on to the presidency at Duke; Marshall, to Wheaton College in Massachusetts.)
Finally, what did the faculty make of all this? They, after all, have the most at stake. Presidents and students come and go, but a faculty’s reputation for teaching and research are a college’s foundation stones. Did they think Martin’s Afrocentrism might have something to it? This seems unlikely—Wellesley’s History Department decided not to count courses in Africana Studies toward the history major. So on what basis was he allowed to continue not only to teach, but also to berate his opponents in the most personal terms? Where is the line between acceptable and unacceptable ideas? Would they give tenure to an anti-evolutionary biologist? Where do they draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior—or do they draw it at all?
Lefkowitz’s story occupies only 160 pages of text, so she could have gone into such issues without making her book too long. I wish she had decided to do so, because nobody has more experience standing at the on-campus intersection of politics and education, race and history, than she does.
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com ()
The RAND Corporation of Santa Monica, California, was set up immediately after World War II by the U.S. Army Air Corps (soon to become the U.S. Air Force). The Air Force generals who had the idea were trying to perpetuate the wartime relationship that had developed between the scientific and intellectual communities and the American military, as exemplified by the Manhattan Project to develop and build the atomic bomb.
Soon enough, however, RAND became a key institutional building block of the Cold War American empire. As the premier think tank for the U.S.'s role as hegemon of the Western world, RAND was instrumental in giving that empire the militaristic cast it retains to this day and in hugely enlarging official demands for atomic bombs, nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers. Without RAND, our military-industrial complex, as well as our democracy, would look quite different.
Alex Abella, the author of Soldiers of Reason, is a Cuban-American living in Los Angeles who has written several well-received action and adventure novels set in Cuba and a less successful nonfiction account of attempted Nazi sabotage within the United States during World War II. The publisher of his latest book claims that it is"the first history of the shadowy think tank that reshaped the modern world." Such a history is long overdue. Unfortunately, this book does not exhaust the demand. We still need a less hagiographic, more critical, more penetrating analysis of RAND's peculiar contributions to the modern world.
Abella has nonetheless made a valiant, often revealing and original effort to uncover RAND's internal struggles -- not least of which involved the decision of analyst Daniel Ellsberg, in 1971, to leak the Department of Defense's top secret history of the Vietnam War, known as The Pentagon Papers to Congress and the press. But Abella's book is profoundly schizophrenic. On the one hand, the author is breathlessly captivated by RAND's fast-talking economists, mathematicians, and thinkers-about-the-unthinkable; on the other hand, he agrees with Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis's assessment in his book, The Cold War: A New History, that, in promoting the interests of the Air Force, RAND concocted an"unnecessary Cold War" that gave the dying Soviet empire an extra 30 years of life.
We need a study that really lives up to Abella's subtitle and takes a more jaundiced view of RAND's geniuses, Nobel prize winners, egghead gourmands and wine connoisseurs, Laurel Canyon swimming pool parties, and self-professed saviors of the Western world. It is likely that, after the American empire has gone the way of all previous empires, the RAND Corporation will be more accurately seen as a handmaiden of the government that was always super-cautious about speaking truth to power. Meanwhile, Soldiers of Reason is a serviceable, if often overwrought, guide to how strategy has been formulated in the post-World War II American empire.
The Air Force Creates a Think Tank
RAND was the brainchild of General H. H."Hap" Arnold, chief of staff of the Army Air Corps from 1941 until it became the Air Force in 1947, and his chief wartime scientific adviser, the aeronautical engineer Theodore von Kármán. In the beginning, RAND was a free-standing division within the Douglas Aircraft Company which, after 1967, merged with McDonnell Aviation to form the McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Corporation and, after 1997, was absorbed by Boeing. Its first head was Franklin R. Collbohm, a Douglas engineer and test pilot.
In May 1948, RAND was incorporated as a not-for-profit entity independent of Douglas, but it continued to receive the bulk of its funding from the Air Force. The think tank did, however, begin to accept extensive support from the Ford Foundation, marking it as a quintessential member of the American establishment.
Collbohm stayed on as chief executive officer until 1966, when he was forced out in the disputes then raging within the Pentagon between the Air Force and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. McNamara's"whiz kids" were Defense intellectuals, many of whom had worked at RAND and were determined to restructure the armed forces to cut costs and curb interservice rivalries. Always loyal to the Air Force and hostile to the whiz kids, Collbohm was replaced by Henry S. Rowan, an MIT-educated engineer turned economist and strategist who was himself forced to resign during the Ellsberg-Pentagon Papers scandal.
Collbohm and other pioneer managers at Douglas gave RAND its commitment to interdisciplinary work and limited its product to written reports, avoiding applied or laboratory research, or actual manufacturing. RAND's golden age of creativity lasted from approximately 1950 to 1970. During that period its theorists worked diligently on such new analytical techniques and inventions as systems analysis, game theory, reconnaissance satellites, the Internet, advanced computers, digital communications, missile defense, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. During the 1970s, RAND began to turn to projects in the civilian world, such as health financing systems, insurance, and urban governance.
Much of RAND's work was always ideological, designed to support the American values of individualism and personal gratification as well as to counter Marxism, but its ideological bent was disguised in statistics and equations, which allegedly made its analyses"rational" and"scientific." Abella writes:
"If a subject could not be measured, ranged, or classified, it was of little consequence in systems analysis, for it was not rational. Numbers were all -- the human factor was a mere adjunct to the empirical."
In my opinion, Abella here confuses numerical with empirical. Most RAND analyses were formal, deductive, and mathematical but rarely based on concrete research into actually functioning societies. RAND never devoted itself to the ethnographic and linguistic knowledge necessary to do truly empirical research on societies that its administrators and researchers, in any case, thought they already understood.
For example, RAND's research conclusions on the Third World, limited war, and counterinsurgency during the Vietnam War were notably wrong-headed. It argued that the United States should support"military modernization" in underdeveloped countries, that military takeovers and military rule were good things, that we could work with military officers in other countries, where democracy was best honored in the breach. The result was that virtually every government in East Asia during the 1960s and 1970s was a U.S.-backed military dictatorship, including South Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan.
It is also important to note that RAND's analytical errors were not just those of commission -- excessive mathematical reductionism -- but also of omission. As Abella notes,"In spite of the collective brilliance of RAND there would be one area of science that would forever elude it, one whose absence would time and again expose the organization to peril: the knowledge of the human psyche."
Following the axioms of mathematical economics, RAND researchers tended to lump all human motives under what the Canadian political scientist C. B. Macpherson called"possessive individualism" and not to analyze them further. Therefore, they often misunderstood mass political movements, failing to appreciate the strength of organizations like the Vietcong and its resistance to the RAND-conceived Vietnam War strategy of"escalated" bombing of military and civilian targets.
Similarly, RAND researchers saw Soviet motives in the blackest, most unnuanced terms, leading them to oppose the détente that President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger sought and, in the 1980s, vastly to overestimate the Soviet threat. Abella observes,"For a place where thinking the unthinkable was supposed to be the common coin, strangely enough there was virtually no internal RAND debate on the nature of the Soviet Union or on the validity of existing American policies to contain it. RANDites took their cues from the military's top echelons." A typical RAND product of those years was Nathan Leites's The Operational Code of the Politburo (1951), a fairly mechanistic study of Soviet military strategy and doctrine and the organization and operation of the Soviet economy.
Collbohm and his colleagues recruited a truly glittering array of intellectuals for RAND, even if skewed toward mathematical economists rather than people with historical knowledge or extensive experience in other countries. Among the notables who worked for the think tank were the economists and mathematicians Kenneth Arrow, a pioneer of game theory; John Forbes Nash, Jr., later the subject of the Hollywood film A Beautiful Mind (2001); Herbert Simon, an authority on bureaucratic organization; Paul Samuelson, author of Foundations of Economic Analysis (1947); and Edmund Phelps, a specialist on economic growth. Each one became a Nobel Laureate in economics.
Other major figures were Bruno Augenstein who, according to Abella, made what is"arguably RAND's greatest known -- which is to say declassified -- contribution to American national security: . . .the development of the ICBM as a weapon of war" (he invented the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle, or MIRV); Paul Baran who, in studying communications systems that could survive a nuclear attack, made major contributions to the development of the Internet and digital circuits; and Charles Hitch, head of RAND's Economics Division from 1948 to 1961 and president of the University of California from 1967 to 1975.
Among more ordinary mortals, workers in the vineyard, and hangers-on at RAND were Donald Rumsfeld, a trustee of the Rand Corporation from 1977 to 2001; Condoleezza Rice, a trustee from 1991 to 1997; Francis Fukuyama, a RAND researcher from 1979 to 1980 and again from 1983 to 1989, as well as the author of the thesis that history ended when the United States outlasted the Soviet Union; Zalmay Khalilzad, the second President Bush's ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations; and Samuel Cohen, inventor of the neutron bomb (although the French military perfected its tactical use).
Thinking the Unthinkable
The most notorious of RAND's writers and theorists were the nuclear war strategists, all of whom were often quoted in newspapers and some of whom were caricatured in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. (One of them, Herman Kahn, demanded royalties from Kubrick, to which Kubrick responded,"That's not the way it works Herman.") RAND'S group of nuclear war strategists was dominated by Bernard Brodie, one of the earliest analysts of nuclear deterrence and author of Strategy in the Missile Age (1959); Thomas Schelling, a pioneer in the study of strategic bargaining, Nobel Laureate in economics, and author of The Strategy of Conflict (1960); James Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense from 1973 to 1975, who was fired by President Ford for insubordination; Kahn, author of On Thermonuclear War (1960); and last but not least, Albert Wohlstetter, easily the best known of all RAND researchers.
Abella calls Wohlstetter"the leading intellectual figure at RAND," and describes him as"self-assured to the point of arrogance." Wohlstetter, he adds,"personified the imperial ethos of the mandarins who made America the center of power and culture in the postwar Western world."
While Abella does an excellent job ferreting out details of Wohlstetter's background, his treatment comes across as a virtual paean to the man, including Wohlstetter's late-in-life turn to the political right and his support for the neoconservatives. Abella believes that Wohlstetter's"basing study," which made both RAND and him famous (and which I discuss below)," changed history."
Starting in 1967, I was, for a few years -- my records are imprecise on this point -- a consultant for RAND (although it did not consult me often) and became personally acquainted with Albert Wohlstetter. In 1967, he and I attended a meeting in New Delhi of the Institute of Strategic Studies to help promote the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was being opened for signature in 1968, and would be in force from 1970. There, Wohlstetter gave a display of his well-known arrogance by announcing to the delegates that he did not believe India, as a civilization,"deserved an atom bomb." As I looked at the smoldering faces of Indian scientists and strategists around the room, I knew right then and there that India would join the nuclear club, which it did in 1974. (India remains one of four major nations that have not signed the NPT. The others are North Korea, which ratified the treaty but subsequently withdrew, Israel, and Pakistan. Some 189 nations have signed and ratified it.) My last contact with Wohlstetter was late in his life -- he died in 1997 at the age of 83 -- when he telephoned me to complain that I was too"soft" on the threats of communism and the former Soviet Union.
Albert Wohlstetter was born and raised in Manhattan and studied mathematics at the City College of New York and Columbia University. Like many others of that generation, he was very much on the left and, according to research by Abella, was briefly a member of a communist splinter group, the League for a Revolutionary Workers Party. He avoided being ruined in later years by Senator Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI because, as Daniel Ellsberg told Abella, the evidence had disappeared. In 1934, the leader of the group was moving the Party's records to new offices and had rented a horse-drawn cart to do so. At a Manhattan intersection, the horse died, and the leader promptly fled the scene, leaving all the records to be picked up and disposed of by the New York City sanitation department.
After World War II, Wohlstetter moved to Southern California, and his wife Roberta began work on her pathbreaking RAND study, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962), exploring why the U.S. had missed all the signs that a Japanese"surprise attack" was imminent. In 1951, he was recruited by Charles Hitch for RAND's Mathematics Division, where he worked on methodological studies in mathematical logic until Hitch posed a question to him:"How should you base the Strategic Air Command?"
Wohlstetter then became intrigued by the many issues involved in providing airbases for Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers, the country's primary retaliatory force in case of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. What he came up with was a comprehensive and theoretically sophisticated basing study. It ran directly counter to the ideas of General Curtis LeMay, then the head of SAC, who, in 1945, had encouraged the creation of RAND and was often spoken of as its"Godfather."
In 1951, there were a total of 32 SAC bases in Europe and Asia, all located close to the borders of the Soviet Union. Wohlstetter's team discovered that they were, for all intents and purposes, undefended -- the bombers parked out in the open, without fortified hangars -- and that SAC's radar defenses could easily be circumvented by low-flying Soviet bombers. RAND calculated that the USSR would need"only" 120 tactical nuclear bombs of 40 kilotons each to destroy up to 85% of SAC's European-based fleet. LeMay, who had long favored a preemptive attack on the Soviet Union, claimed he did not care. He reasoned that the loss of his bombers would only mean that -- even in the wake of a devastating nuclear attack -- they could be replaced with newer, more modern aircraft. He also believed that the appropriate retaliatory strategy for the United States involved what he called a"Sunday punch," massive retaliation using all available American nuclear weapons. According to Abella, SAC planners proposed annihilating three-quarters of the population in each of 188 Russian cities. Total casualties would be in excess of 77 million people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe alone.
Wohlstetter's answer to this holocaust was to start thinking about how a country might actually wage a nuclear war. He is credited with coming up with a number of concepts, all now accepted U.S. military doctrine. One is"second-strike capability," meaning a capacity to retaliate even after a nuclear attack, which is considered the ultimate deterrent against an enemy nation launching a first-strike. Another is"fail-safe procedures," or the ability to recall nuclear bombers after they have been dispatched on their missions, thereby providing some protection against accidental war. Wohlstetter also championed the idea that all retaliatory bombers should be based in the continental United States and able to carry out their missions via aerial refueling, although he did not advocate closing overseas military bases or shrinking the perimeters of the American empire. To do so, he contended, would be to abandon territory and countries to Soviet expansionism.
Wohlstetter's ideas put an end to the strategy of terror attacks on Soviet cities in favor of a" counter-force strategy" that targeted Soviet military installations. He also promoted the dispersal and"hardening" of SAC bases to make them less susceptible to preemptive attacks and strongly supported using high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft such as the U-2 and orbiting satellites to acquire accurate intelligence on Soviet bomber and missile strength.
In selling these ideas Wohlstetter had to do an end-run around SAC's LeMay and go directly to the Air Force chief of staff. In late 1952 and 1953, he and his team gave some 92 briefings to high-ranking Air Force officers in Washington DC. By October 1953, the Air Force had accepted most of Wohlstetter's recommendations.
Abella believes that most of us are alive today because of Wohlstetter's intellectually and politically difficult project to prevent a possible nuclear first strike by the Soviet Union. He writes:
"Wohlstetter's triumphs with the basing study and fail-safe not only earned him the respect and admiration of fellow analysts at RAND but also gained him entry to the top strata of government that very few military analysts enjoyed. His work had pointed out a fatal deficiency in the nation's war plans, and he had saved the Air Force several billion dollars in potential losses."
A few years later, Wohlstetter wrote an updated version of the basing study and personally briefed Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson on it, with General Thomas D. White, the Air Force chief of staff, and General Nathan Twining, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in attendance.
Despite these achievements in toning down the official Air Force doctrine of"mutually assured destruction" (MAD), few at RAND were pleased by Wohlstetter's eminence. Bernard Brodie had always resented his influence and was forever plotting to bring him down. Still, Wohlstetter was popular compared to Herman Kahn. All the nuclear strategists were irritated by Kahn who, ultimately, left RAND and created his own think tank, the Hudson Institute, with a million-dollar grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
RAND chief Frank Collbohm opposed Wohlstetter because his ideas ran counter to those of the Air Force, not to speak of the fact that he had backed John F. Kennedy instead of Richard Nixon for president in 1960 and then compounded his sin by backing Robert McNamara for secretary of defense over the objections of the high command. Worse yet, Wohlstetter had criticized the stultifying environment that had begun to envelop RAND.
In 1963, in a fit of pique and resentment fueled by Bernard Brodie, Collbohm called in Wohlstetter and asked for his resignation. When Wohlstetter refused, Collbohm fired him.
Wohlstetter went on to accept an appointment as a tenured professor of political science at the University of Chicago. From this secure position, he launched vitriolic campaigns against whatever administration was in office"for its obsession with Vietnam at the expense of the current Soviet threat." He, in turn, continued to vastly overstate the threat of Soviet power and enthusiastically backed every movement that came along calling for stepped up war preparations against the USSR -- from members of the Committee on the Present Danger between 1972 to 1981 to the neoconservatives in the 1990s and 2000s.
Naturally, he supported the creation of"Team B" when George H. W. Bush was head of the CIA in 1976. Team B consisted of a group of anti-Soviet professors and polemicists who were convinced that the CIA was"far too forgiving of the Soviet Union." With that in mind, they were authorized to review all the intelligence that lay behind the CIA's National Intelligence Estimates on Soviet military strength. Actually, Team B and similar right-wing ad hoc policy committees had their evidence exactly backwards: By the late 1970s and 1980s, the fatal sclerosis of the Soviet economy was well underway. But Team B set the stage for the Reagan administration to do what it most wanted to do, expend massive sums on arms; in return, Ronald Reagan bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wohlstetter in November 1985.
Wohlstetter's activism on behalf of American imperialism and militarism lasted well into the 1990s. According to Abella, the rise to prominence of Ahmed Chalabi -- the Iraqi exile and endless source of false intelligence to the Pentagon --"in Washington circles came about at the instigation of Albert Wohlstetter, who met Chalabi in Paul Wolfowitz's office." (In the incestuous world of the neocons, Wolfowitz had been Wohlstetter's student at the University of Chicago.) In short, it is not accidental that the American Enterprise Institute, the current chief institutional manifestation of neoconservative thought in Washington, named its auditorium the"Wohlstetter Conference Center." Albert Wohlstetter's legacy is, to say the least, ambiguous.
Needless to say, there is much more to RAND's work than the strategic thought of Albert Wohlstetter, and Abella's book is an introduction to the broad range of ideas RAND has espoused -- from"rational choice theory" (explaining all human behavior in terms of self-interest) to the systematic execution of Vietnamese in the CIA's Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War. As an institution, the RAND Corporation remains one of the most potent and complex purveyors of American imperialism. A full assessment of its influence, both positive and sinister, must await the elimination of the secrecy surrounding its activities and further historical and biographical analysis of the many people who worked there.
The RAND Corporation is surely one of the world's most unusual, Cold War-bred private organizations in the field of international relations. While it has attracted and supported some of the most distinguished analysts of war and weaponry, it has not stood for the highest standards of intellectual inquiry and debate. While RAND has an unparalleled record of providing unbiased, unblinking analyses of technical and carefully limited problems involved in waging contemporary war, its record of advice on cardinal policies involving war and peace, the protection of civilians in wartime, arms races, and decisions to resort to armed force has been abysmal.
For example, Abella credits RAND with" creating the discipline of terrorist studies," but its analysts seem never to have noticed the phenomenon of state terrorism as it was practiced in the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America by American-backed military dictatorships. Similarly, admirers of Albert Wohlstetter's reformulations of nuclear war ignore the fact that these led to a" constant escalation of the nuclear arms race." By 1967, the U.S. possessed a stockpile of 32,500 atomic and hydrogen bombs.
In Vietnam, RAND invented the theories that led two administrations to military escalation against North Vietnam -- and even after the think tank's strategy had obviously failed and the secretary of defense had disowned it, RAND never publicly acknowledged that it had been wrong. Abella comments,"RAND found itself bound by the power of the purse wielded by its patron, whether it be the Air Force or the Office of the Secretary of Defense." And it has always relied on classifying its research to protect itself, even when no military secrets were involved.
In my opinion, these issues come to a head over one of RAND's most unusual initiatives -- its creation of an in-house, fully accredited graduate school of public policy that offers Ph.D. degrees to American and foreign students. Founded in 1970 as the RAND Graduate Institute and today known as the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School (PRGS), it had, by January 2006, awarded over 180 Ph.D.s in microeconomics, statistics, and econometrics, social and behavioral sciences, and operations research. Its faculty numbers 54 professors drawn principally from the staffs of RAND's research units, and it has an annual student body of approximately 900. In addition to coursework, qualifying examinations, and a dissertation, PRGS students are required to spend 400 days working on RAND projects. How RAND and the Air Force can classify the research projects of foreign and American interns is unclear; nor does it seem appropriate for an open university to allow dissertation research, which will ultimately be available to the general public, to be done in the hothouse atmosphere of a secret strategic institute.
Perhaps the greatest act of political and moral courage involving RAND was Daniel Ellsberg's release to the public of the secret record of lying by every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Lyndon Johnson about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. However, RAND itself was and remains adamantly hostile to what Ellsberg did.
Abella reports that Charles Wolf, Jr., the chairman of RAND's Economics Department from 1967 to 1982 and the first dean of the RAND Graduate School from 1970 to 1997,"dripped venom when interviewed about the [Ellsberg] incident more than thirty years after the fact." Such behavior suggests that secrecy and toeing the line are far more important at RAND than independent intellectual inquiry and that the products of its research should be viewed with great skepticism and care.
Alex Abella: Are We the Bastard Children of RAND?
SOURCE: H-Net ()
James A. Colaiaco. Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 247 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $16.95 (paper), ISBN 1-4039-8072-1.
Reviewed for H-SHEAR by Richard S. Newman, Department of History, Rochester Institute of Technology
In a century of great oratory, Frederick Douglass stood out. Tall and commanding with nothing less than perfect pitch (to tell from those who heard him speak), Douglass gave some of the most memorable speeches of the Civil War era. His first major address to the New England Antislavery Society, given only a few years after he escaped bondage, even had veterans of the movement hating slavery anew. Following the Civil War, Douglass captured Abraham Lincoln's place in American reform history as perhaps few other contemporaries could. And then there is his most famous speech: "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Everyone, from academic specialists to grade school kids, now reads Douglass's brilliant address, which his biographer William S. McFeely has labeled "perhaps the greatest antislavery speech ever." Originally delivered in Rochester's majestic Corinthian Hall on July 5, 1852--and presented by the Rochester Sewing Antislavery Society--the Fourth of July speech scales the heights of American oratory in a way that only masters of the form--Edward Everett, Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, and Sojourner Truth--could reach. It is a masterpiece.
Strangely, Douglass's Fourth of July speech has not been the subject of a full-length, modern study--something akin to the "speeches that changed America" genre that has become fashionable since the publication of Gary Wills's _Lincoln at Gettysburg_ (1992). We have books on nearly all of Lincoln's major addresses, not to mention studies of black orators, like David Walker and Martin Luther King Jr. We have examinations of Native American speakers, abolitionist rhetoricians, and progressive writers. But Douglass's Fourth of July speech has waited patiently for its great critic.
James A. Colaiaco, a master teacher of great books at New York University, in his _Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July_, offers the fullest and, in many ways, most compelling examination of the black orator's speech. Colaiaco, who has studied the rhetoric of Socrates and King, heaps praise on Douglass as a speaker par excellence. Though "best known for his three inspiring autobiographies," he asserts, Douglass's "greatest legacy to America is his oratory, forged in the crucible of the battle against slavery" (p. 2). For Colaiaco, Douglass was both a master rhetorician and an intuitive speaker--someone who knew exactly how to pull along an audience by conjuring memorable images, marshaling grand ideas, and bending phrases just so.
Colaiaco's book contains seven tightly woven chapters, each examining a specific part of, or theme in, Douglass's speech. After setting the immediate context that gave rise to Douglass's famous words--"some 500 to 600 people filed into Corinthian Hall" to hear him hold forth for nearly two hours--and covering his rise in abolitionists circles, Colaiaco spends three chapters on Douglass's speech itself (p. 7). As anyone who has read the entire address knows, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" is far from a short epistle about racial equality. It is a complex and often serpentine oration (and then printed text) that requires multiple hearings or readings to master. It is a measure of how far we have come from Douglass's world that most reproductions of the speech begin roughly one-third or halfway through (though Douglass excerpted the speech himself!). Colaiaco's study is all the more welcome because he takes the time to examine each main section of the essay, fleshing out its political, historical, and rhetorical meanings. For those who want to look like heroes in front of a class of undergraduates trying to grapple with the intricacies of Douglass's address, there is no better book.
"Narrating America's Revolutionary Past," the first of his chapters focusing on the oration's main themes, treats Douglass's invocation and opening paragraphs. Douglass praised the founders for undertaking a revolution based on freedom. Who would not honor the glorious Fourth, he basically stated? But, Colaiaco points out that Douglass "introduce[d] dissonant notes early, foreshadowing the blistering attack to come" (p. 33). Pronouns indicate Douglass's true mindset: the Fourth of July was actually a segregated day--"your holiday," as he informed his largely white audience, "not mine." This rhetorical technique carried into Douglass's use of "reversals" later in the speech, where he turned on his audience and noted the vast difference between white and black perceptions of this festive day, between America's grand rhetoric and its base reality of racial injustice. Yet, Douglass reversed himself again, offering hope--a plea, really--that America might change. "Like the great Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, to whom he is often compared," Colaiaco writes, "Douglass would vehemently condemn the nation for its injustice and hypocrisy while at the same time stressing the possibility of redemption" (p. 34).
From the outset, Colaiaco claims, Douglass was interested in creating a usable history for fellow abolitionists. He "invoked the rhetoric of the American Revolution for the antislavery movement," noting the "dangerousness" of being a patriot in the 1770s and an abolitionist in the 1850s (p. 38). Douglass also skillfully appropriated the Declaration of Independence as an "abolitionist manifesto" (p. 40). Here, Colaiaco goes deeper into Douglass's appreciation of natural law--the belief in a higher moral order that guides the construction and interpretation of common law, constitutions, and broader political discourses--than most scholars, arguing that Douglass, like John Quincy Adams before him and Lincoln after him, believed that the Declaration of Independence undergirded the entire experiment in Republican liberty. For Colaiaco, Douglass used the insights of natural law to turn Corinthian Hall into a courtroom where America would be put on trial for betraying its bold moral foundation. In other words, Douglass praised America to then bury and resurrect it.
"Denouncing America's Present" takes the reader into the heart of Douglass's speech. After prattling on about the virtues of the founders, Douglass whirled around to confront his listeners. "Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?" With these "hammer-like rhetorical questions," in Colaiaco's nice phrasing, Douglass shifted his critique into high gear and put his white audience on the defensive. From this moment onward, Colaiaco comments, "scathing criticism dominate[d] ... his oration" (p. 52). Seeking not to conciliate either slaveholders or Northern reformers (who might have felt ennobled by asking the black abolitionist to speak), Douglass expressed incredulity that he must argue for black humanity and equality. According to Colaiaco, Douglass relied on a rhetorical technique known as "_prosopopoeia_," or "speaking in the voice of someone not present" (in this case, enslaved people), to express his frustration with the slaveholding United States (p. 57). His accusatory language emphasized over and over white hypocrisy for tolerating bondage. And Douglass did not let up. "O! Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation's year," he stated in a famous rhetorical flourish, "I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire, it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need a storm, the whirlwind and the earthquake ... the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and announced" (p. 57).
The context for Douglass's bombastic language was the deteriorating racial climate of the early 1850s, particularly the new fugitive slave law that threatened to nationalize slavery by making white Northerners accomplices in the rendition of runaway slaves. "Despite the indignation it aroused, the fugitive slave law was generally enforced," Colaiaco asserts (p. 69). Worse, leading American institutions--the federal government and the Christian church--continued to support property rights-in-man. Finally, the internal slave trade still funneled thousands of blacks (some of whom were kidnapped from free communities in the North) to slave markets in the Deep South. Where was Americans' vaunted moral courage and love of freedom, Douglass wondered? To stir American outrage, Douglass "reviled the nation for tolerating the systematic dehumanization of its black people" (p. 57).
In "Converting to the United States Constitution," Colaiaco skillfully situates Douglass's speech among broader abolitionist debates over the Constitution's antislavery status. Because the speech revolves largely around the broader meaning of the Fourth of July (and because it is often excerpted), contemporary readers may not know that Douglass used his famous address to flesh out his newfound conversion to antislavery constitutionalism. Formerly a Garrisonian advocate of the notion that the Constitution was a slaveholding document, Douglass by 1851 had come under the influence of more dynamic and nuanced abolitionist thinkers, such as Gerrit Smith. Viewing the Constitution as an abolitionist document, Douglass read it in "moral, aspirational" terms, in Colaiaco's words (p. 85). Indeed, for Douglass, the Constitution's natural law foundation was best reflected in the preamble's dedication to "a more perfect union." Douglass's conversion to antislavery constitutionalism (as well as his embrace of party politics) further distanced him from Garrisonians. But, he did not look back. Douglass believed that Americans did not even need a constitutional amendment to ban bondage. In fact, because the founders did not mention slavery, Douglass later surmised that they had hoped for slavery's death. In Rochester, Colaiaco emphasizes, "Douglass contended [that] the original, unamended Constitution guaranteed liberty and equality for all" (p. 102).
Douglass finished his speech exhausted but surprisingly upbeat. He quickly published the oration in _Frederick Douglass's Paper_, then printed the address in pamphlet form before finally inserting a condensed version of it in his second autobiography, _My Bondage and My Freedom_ (1855). "He was hopeful," Colaiaco observes, "that if the federal government could be compelled by moral argument and political necessity to fulfill the libertarian principles of the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution, slavery would be abolished everywhere in the United States" (p. 107).
As his exegesis of antislavery constitutionalism illustrates, Colaiaco's book nicely balances intense study of Douglass's speech with analysis of the myriad of issues swirling around Douglass during the 1850s. Two concerns proved most important in the latter years of the decade: the Dred Scott decision of 1857 and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Spending one chapter on each, Colaiaco shows that Douglass remained conflicted about abolitionist tactics and strategies, about America's ability to change, and about his ability to change America. Though he extended his antislavery constitutionalism to combat the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision--which rejected blacks' inclusion in the body politic--Douglass began wondering about the utility of both moral critique and party politics in the struggle for racial justice. "Although Douglass rejected the plan to raid Harpers Ferry ... as a strategic blunder, he never disavowed Brown" (p. 136). In fact, Colaiaco argues that Douglass believed that "the point of no return had been reached [by 1860]: slavery in the South would be destroyed not by moral argument or party politics, but by war" (pp. 136-137).
In Colaiaco's fine rendering, Douglass is certainly a master orator and rhetorician. Yet, Colaiaco also risks drawing a portrait that is a bit too studious--Douglass as a policy wonk expounding on the finer points of natural law. In other treatments of the Fourth of July address, Douglass appears to be a prophet, a poet, and a preacher risking his life for a cause, not a libertarian refining his ideology further and further. For instance, David W. Blight argues in his _Frederick Douglass's Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee_ (1989) that already by 1852, Douglass was on the verge of apocalyptic thinking, the belief that only through a violent rending (or breaking from the racist American past) would the United States be resurrected as an egalitarian society. Similarly, in his introduction to Douglass's autobiography, John Stauffer sees Douglass at this time as a romantic visionary who imbibed Lord Byron, Robert Burns, and the Bible every bit as much as he mastered the Constitution; the Fourth of July address, Stauffer argues, was a "lament" for a nation gone wrong.
There is also the matter of race. Where John Ernest (in _Liberation Historiography: African-American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794 -1861_ ) and Robert S. Levine (in _Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity_ ) see Douglass struggling to put race--and not merely abolition--squarely before white audiences in the Fourth of July address, Colaiaco says little about this aspect of Douglass's thought. To be sure, Douglass did not see himself primarily as a race thinker. Nevertheless, his life and thought--including key parts of the Fourth of July speech--flowed from black protest traditions and leaders dating back to the nation's founding. Like too many other commentators, Colaiaco paints Douglass in largely white shades. There is no mention of black intellectual roots, such as Douglass's heroes James Forten or Richard Allen (earlier generations of black activists--from slave rebels to Walker--are cast as revolutionaries, not thinkers). Yet, Douglass saluted both men for shaping a vision of black civic equality and loyal opposition. Forten, Allen, and other black founders had long since argued that America was a black homeland and the Declaration of Independence was the abolitionists' gold. In virtually every decade since the founding, some black leader gave a major address shaming American slaveholders and highlighting black claims to equal citizenship.
Similarly, Colaiaco might have done more with black intellectuals around Douglass, particularly James McCune Smith. Douglass's great friend and literary compatriot rates only a brief mention for writing the preface to his colleague's second autobiography. According to Stauffer, however, McCune Smith exerted an intellectual and emotional influence on the maturing Douglass second only to Gerrit Smith (the apostle of antislavery politics). McCune Smith helped Douglass grapple with the tricky subject of racial identity, its perils and promises. From McCune Smith, Douglass also learned race pride. This allowed Douglass to stand before his Rochester audience as both an outraged American and a self-consciously black activist wondering--but not really caring--if white America could handle his blistering claims and qualms. In one sense, the Fourth of July speech offered Douglass at his blackest.
In this sense, it is interesting to think about where Douglass fits in the recent contretemps over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's relationship to presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Many commentators have looked to the 1960s for historical perspective on the matter. It is clear that Douglass's Fourth of July speech makes as much sense as a historical backdrop. Like Wright, Douglass brought parts of the black Jeremiad tradition of moral critique painfully before white Americans' eyes. What could be more damning than Douglass's blast that "the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed" and "its crimes against God and man ... proclaimed and announced" (p. 57)? Yet, like Obama, Douglass did not underestimate Americans' need--his need too--for inspiration. "This nation can change," Obama stated. "I end with hope," Douglass concluded in 1852.
None of these critiques or contemporary digressions undermines Colaiaco's impressive book, which details more fully than any other text the mainstream traditions from which Douglass crafted his transcendent speech. The point is merely that Douglass's Fourth of July address, like his broader political faith, is capacious and deserving of as wide-ranging analysis as possible. Indeed, his famous speech deserves our fullest attention even today. Having read it, we can ask if Douglass's words can still inspire us to perfect American liberty.
. The speech is available at <a href="http://www.library.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page=2945.">http://www.library.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page=2945.</a>
. William S. McFeely, _Frederick Douglass_ (New York: Norton, 1991), 172-173.
. John Stauffer, introduction to _My Bondage and My Freedom_, by Frederick Douglass (New York: Modern Library, 2003). I am indebted to Stauffer for letting me preview his forthcoming dual biography of Lincoln and Douglass, which promises perhaps the most insightful and exciting treatment of these two giants in some years.
. I treat black founders' influence on Douglass in the introduction and conclusion to _Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers_ (New York: New York University Press, 2008).
. On McCune Smith's relationship to Douglass in the late 1840s and early 1850s, see John Stauffer, _The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race_ (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), esp. 160-161.
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In his 1956 book, The Power Elite, Sociologist C. Wright Mills warned about the cancerous growth of the military-industrial complex, and the increased secrecy of the American government, which was controlled by a narrow group with intimate ties to the corporate sector. Journalist Alex Abella’s insightful new book Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire, broadens Mills’ analysis, showing how defense intellectuals with the RAND (Research and Development) corporation played an integral role in pushing for the massive escalation of defense budgets during the Cold War, in part through the adoption of an apocalyptic view of the Soviet Union’s nuclear capabilities and global ambitions. Many of the same intellectuals and their protégés would later influence the disastrous U.S. occupation and invasion of Iraq. They were guided by an ideology in which American culture was thought to represent the peak of modern civilization, and by a belief in rationale choice theory – or the notion that humans acted solely out of self-interest and that the hegemonic aspirations of nations could only be curtailed through force or the threat of it.
Based on the author’s unique access to the RAND archives and interviews with key members, Abella traces the corporation’s fascinating history, which dovetails with America’s rise to global power after the Second World War. Based out of Santa Monica, California, RAND’s mandate was to conduct studies on military strategy and to assist government leaders in implementing national security policy. Its importance reflected the fundamentally undemocratic “cult of the expert,” which held that only those with access to privileged information and credentials could be allowed to shape public policy. Abella profiles several “star” intellectuals from the “Golden Age” of the 1950s, including Yale historian Bernard Brodie, who initiated a pioneering study of strategic bombing, which found it be relatively ineffective in crippling Hitler’s war machine, as well as futurologist Herman Kahn who endorsed the use of nuclear weapons to prevent the possibility of a Soviet attack. He also focuses attention on mathematician Albert Wohlstetter, who would become a mentor to neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz as a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. Like Kahn, Wohlstetter was hawkish and advocated that the United States be prepared to strike first to avert the possibility of a Soviet nuclear attack. He was also in favor of expanding American hegemony and power abroad and could not conceive of a downside.
Writing with remarkable clarity, Abella skillfully dissects the world-view of the RAND leading lights, pointing to their paranoia about Soviet military capabilities and how their view of international relations in strict realist and power terms resulted in a callous attitude towards the human ramifications of military action. An infatuation with statistical quantifications and an overweening sense of national exceptionalism and virtue further blinded them from social realities in the Third World and led them to ignore injustices in American society. These tendencies reached a culmination with their support for the Vietnam War. Many RAND analysts had been appointed as consultants to the Kennedy administration and saw Vietnam as a laboratory for the implementation of new counter-insurgency strategies. Ironically, while designed to aid in ongoing pacification efforts, their studies of the “Vietcong” infrastructure determined that the revolutionary organization was deeply rooted in the countryside and representative of long-standing yearnings for national independence and social justice. This contradicted the official administrative view of “northern aggression” and led many young RAND employees, including Anthony Russo and Daniel Ellsberg, to conclude that the war was neither winnable nor just. Ellsberg, who was being groomed for a top position, became so incensed that he smuggled the Pentagon Papers - the secretly commissioned study of the history of U.S. policy in Vietnam - out of RAND’s offices and leaked them to the New York Times. This helped to ignite the antiwar movement, which included a large number of veterans, and he remains persona non-grata in RAND’s offices to this very day.
After the Vietnam debacle, there was a heavy turnover in personnel and RAND shifted its focus towards urban problems like poverty and crime, which were seemingly weakening American prestige overseas. The corporation continued to shape the policy agenda and pushed forward the Reagan revolution by promoting deregulation, privatization and lowered taxes. These policies accorded well with rationale choice theory, which emphasized that individual self-interest guided human behavior rather than a sense of collective responsibility, and that small government was needed to allow man’s natural instincts to flourish. During the 1990s, RAND would emerge as a bastion of neoconservatism. Many of its leading ideologues, from Zalmay Khalilzad to Paul Wolfowitz to Richard Perle, either worked there or were mentored by former faculty. They promoted the continued militarization of U.S. society, technological innovations in the Armed Forces and preemptive warfare to expand U.S. hegemony and control of vital oil and energy reserves in the Middle-East. Their failed crusade in Iraq epitomizes an ideological hubris and narrow-sightedness that was rooted in RAND’s foreign policy approach dating from the 1950s, although somewhat more extreme. To his credit, Abella does not place the RAND ideals in a vacuum, arguing at the end of his book that they reflected broader cultural beliefs. He writes: “It is the American people who have bought into the myth of rationale choice and closed their eyes and allowed morality to be divorced from government policy……If we look in the mirror, we will see that RAND is in every one of us.” Sad but true.
On the whole, Abella has written an outstanding book on the history of the RAND Corporation and the flawed reasoning and “expert” analysis that has driven forward an imperialistic foreign policy since World War II. Through these last comments we can see that he avoids the easy trap of vilifying the defense intellectuals at RAND, who were merely a product of a specific time and place in history and their own culture. He sheds great insight, nevertheless, into the Byzantine world of U.S. national security policy and how a technocratic elite has helped to craft a foreign policy based on irrational fears, self-interest and a lack of human sensitivity and compassion. The consequences have been devastating for both America and the world.
Neither side of this debate has prevailed. As late as the 1950s, Cold War imperatives provided a stage for Congress to enact America’s Christian heritage into law. Or at least into the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto, thereby casting aside the motto “E pluribus Unum” chosen by Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court was engaged in piecemeal battle to remove religion from the public schools, banning school prayer and severely limiting the funds that flow to sectarian educational institutions. In the last decade, both the Pledge of Allegiance and the question of state funding for sectarian education have returned to the Supreme Court. Tilted more to the political and cultural right than at any other time in the last century, the Court has found new space for religion in the public sphere—a trend that doubtless will accelerate with the Roberts Court.
If Frank Lambert’s brief and accessible survey “Religion in American Politics” demonstrates anything, it is the pervasive character of such debates across American history. The sermons of Calvinist minister Ezra Stiles Ely in the Philadelphia of the 1820s and the televised perorations of Rev. Jerry Falwell during the last half century both harken back to an edenic vision of Christian America, and exhort listeners to enter the political battlefields in service of that vision. And equally fierce and equally persistent has been opposition to Falwell’s and Ely’s views, an opposition grounded in Enlightenment beliefs in rationality and the centrality of science. Lambert appears to be on the second side of the balance. Laudably, however, he keeps editorizing at the margin and then only in the closing pages.
Yet what is telling about this dance of religion and politics is not so much the familiar stories that Lambert retells of the Great Awakening, the debate between Patrick Henry and James Madison over religious freedoms, or the Scopes trial: It is what is absent from the history. Nowhere to be found are the pogroms, massacres, and outright conflicts so familiar from European and other histories. To be sure, anti-Catholicism has played a powerful role in molding a particular view of church-state separation. There is a powerful argument that late twentieth century Supreme Court jurisprudence on separationism has as much to do with keeping Catholics out of the public schools as does with Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. (Lambert gives this history short shrift; the Blaine Amendment, for example, gets no mention).
Lambert does not consider why religious conflict did not break out to the degree that it did in other parts of the world. Surely no explanation can be entirely satisfactory. But several are worth exploring. Chief among them, in my view, is the role of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is not, however, the Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom that has done the work. Rather, it is the original, and too often forgotten, consequence of the Establishment Clause, which insulated the federal government from formal capture by any sect. State establishments, by contrast, persisted until 1833. It was only the Reconstruction Amendments that extended the protections of the Bill of Rights to the states and thereby rendered state establishments beyond constitutional bounds. But by placing the national policy beyond religious demarcation at the very inception of the American project, the Framers wisely extinguished a source of potentially catastrophic conflict. The common emphasis on religious freedom or the propriety of religious arguments in the public sphere misses this key point.
The absence of catastrophic religious conflict yields a polity in which there is no reasonable prospect of a theocracy. Nor can there be any reasonable expectation, á la Christopher Hitchens, that religion can be kept out of the public sphere. Religious movements have pushed for abolition, for temperance, for civil rights, and for a nation without abortion. Whatever one thinks of each of these movements, it is hard to gainsay their proper place in American political debate, and in American history.
Lambert does not make as much of these social movements as he could: The religious roots of abolitionism and temperance receive too little attention. His account is like a funnel. Beginning with a wide-angle lens, Lambert picks out disparate pieces of the American religious landscape for the century or so after the Founding without fully explaining their connection. As the account nears the present-day, the focus sharpens nicely: The best chapters of the book concern the role of black churches in the Civil Rights movement and the rise of the Religious Right. And then, at the tip of the funnel, Lambert confronts social phenomena on which he lacks critical distance. Hence his decision to include a chapter on “the Religious Left” to balance his chapter on the “Religious Right.” While the latter is surely a proper subject of historical interest, the former seems animated more powerfully by wish-fulfillment than by any estimate of its impact on national politics.
The relation of church (and mosque and synagogue and temple) to politics remains deeply contested. Lambert’s is but the most recent of a series of books re-exploring America’s religious foundations. And little agreement obtains either about the meaning of that history or the best present course forward. Even liberal commentators and philosophers such as Noah Feldman and Martha Nussbaum diverge vigorously on the appropriate role of faith in the polity. If Lambert’s account is any guide, this is a debate that will not come to a close any time soon.
Each school day, the National School Lunch Program provides reduced cost or free lunches to about 30 million school children. The program, which has been around since 1946, costs taxpayers over $8 billion per year. In view of its size and activities, it is astonishing that so little has been written about it. Susan Levine has done us a service, then, in producing School Lunch Politics, which describes the politics that produced and shaped the program over the decades.
As told by Levine, the National School Lunch Program is a tale of politics and the suboptimal policy it so frequently produces.
The roots of the National School Lunch Program lie in the late 19th century. The science of nutrition was developing rapidly, as chemists and other researchers began to conceptualize food in terms that we still use today—calories, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins. This knowledge brought about a revolution in the way that people think about food. Hitherto, people either ate whatever was available or whatever their particular culture identified as appropriate fare. Ultimately, the new science of nutrition permitted mankind to adopt rational approaches to eating; food could be selected to provide meals that gave humans their “recommended dietary allowances” of micro- and macro-nutrients and substances. Today’s health food stores, like GNC (General Nutrition Center), are the product of this revolution.
Children’s diets popped onto the federal policy agenda during World War I. In sizing up recruits, the government found surprising levels of malnutrition and stunted growth. Thus, at the behest of “women’s clubs, community groups, health departments, and teachers … examinations and weigh-ins [of pupils] became common in schools throughout the country.” Johnny’s diet and well-being became the business of the national state. In 1921, the federal government expressed its interest in children’s health by enacting the Sheppard-Towner Act, which provided matching grants to states for promoting “the welfare and hygiene of maternity and infancy.”
During the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration operated school lunch programs in 35,000 schools, and the National Youth Administration employed approximately 16,000 pupils in school cafeterias. The key moment came in 1933 with the enactment of a policy that permitted the Department of Agriculture to buy excess crops from American farmers and deliver the foodstuffs to schools.
Linking farmers’ fortunes to children’s nutritional needs provided the alignment of interests needed to establish the Federal School Lunch Program in 1946. Hitherto, advocates for expanding the federal role in the public schools, be it through school building improvements, supplements to teacher salaries, or what have you, had run headfirst into a wall of opposition. Conservatives in Congress, mostly from the South and the Midwest, decried new K-12 policies as socialism, usurpations of states’ rights, and a waste of limited federal resources. Many of these conservatives, though, were eager to back school lunch program as it would funnel federal dollars to their farmer constituents. Thus it was that liberals and paleoconservative segregationists, like Senator Richard Russell, joined arms to pass the National School Lunch Act of 1946.
This was, as Levine indicates, a necessary but costly bargain. Nutrition advocates who wanted to see all children, rich and poor, fed nutritious lunches had to settle for “a school lunch program that was designed primarily as an outlet for surplus food.” Though the program would benefit millions of children, it was not especially well designed. In great part, the food that came to lunchrooms consisted of whatever happened to be in surplus at the moment, be it dried beans, beets, or butter. The program was housed in the Department of Agriculture, so farmers’ interests came first, and the Department did little to oversee states’ operation of their lunch programs. Indeed, from their perches on the Senate agriculture committee, Russell and his colleague, Allen Ellender, saw to it that states’ rights were defended from federal intrusion. State and local officials were free to set whatever criteria they pleased for participation in the program.
More fundamentally, and perhaps surprisingly, the program simply was not designed to feed all the children that needed to be fed. Federal appropriations were not pegged to the number of needy children, and states were required to contribute matching funds, which often were raised by charging pupils for lunch. The program provided no aid to old schools that lacked cafeterias. So, many nonwhite, poor, and undernourished students in crumbling schools did without while white, middle-class kids in new buildings were able to purchase meals on the cheap.
Unfortunately, Levine’s narrative concludes without giving the reader a good sense of how well the school lunch program currently operates. We read that in the 1970s, it was turned into an entitlement program and put on permanent appropriation. We also learn that the feds’ underfunding of the program provoked local officials to start contracting out cafeteria operations to private providers, like Sodexho. The feds also get called out for loosening regulations to permit junk food vendors into the schools.
But the reader does not get the sense that the program now works better than it ever did. Which it does. Agricultural interests, though potent, no longer dominate the program. Today, most of the federal support for the program comes in the form of cash, not surplus food. Administrative tweaks have helped to reduce discrimination and create more uniform operations nationwide.
Still, the program is not what it could be. Since Levine wrote a straight history, she did not include any suggestions for improving the program. So, for the sake of provoking discussion, please allow me to suggest a few possible reforms. First, make the National School Lunch Program free to all children. This would wipe out the stigma that deters children from participating in the program, and would also save localities heaps of paperwork. Second, decouple the program from the surplus commodity program entirely. Children should eat food that is good for them, not what farm lobbyists want them to eat. Third, require the federal government to pay the full cost of the meals served and forbid schools from having vending machines and ala carte dining. No parent of any sense allows her kid to choose pizza over broccoli and to graze on junk food each day. Why should schools? Fourth, have the federal government deliver the federal school lunch dollars directly to each child in the form of a meal debit card, good for one school lunch per day. This would cut reams of red tape and goad schools into serving desirable meals that meet current national nutritional standards.
In The Who Sell Out (New York: Continuum, 2006), author John Dougan deftly analyzes the connection between pirate radio, Britain’s early pop art scene, Swinging London, and the making of Pete Townshend and company’s brilliant third record. Sell Out, which boasted the compelling single, “I Can See for Miles,” appeared in Britain in December, 1967, and in America one month later. Dougan, a professor at Middle Tennessee State, lauds this “daring and provocative…lysergic” tinged album as “rock’s greatest example of pop art, written, produced, and recorded by a supremely talented (and very young) band at the near peak of their collective power.”
The Who’s first two releases, My Generation (1965) and A Quick One (1966), stand as “exciting slices of maximum R&B and high-energy hard pop.” But for their third album, the group had something novel in mind. Townshend and band producer Kit Lambert modeled Sell Out after a pirate radio broadcast, mixing in Who songs, station jingles, and product advertisements, including spots for Heinz Baked Beans, Medac acne cream, Charles Atlas bodybuilding, and Odorono deodorant.
Dougan discusses the fascinating relationship between the British Broadcasting Company and its brazen challenger, pirate radio. The BBC, its mantra to “educate, inform, and entertain” (note order), offered just a few hours of rock music per week. The BBC, Dougan contends, “treated rock and roll as the musical expression of a degenerate subculture.” Because of this, England’s young rock enthusiasts, “underserved and undernourished” by the BBC, tuned in to pirate radio. Typically housed in ships anchored off England’s coast, pirate stations prospered from 1964 until August 1967, when they were silenced by Parliament’s Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. (After muzzling its offshore foes, the BBC launched a “national pop station,” Radio 1.) Radio London, financed by a “Texas entrepreneurial cartel” headed by Don Pierson, and Radio Caroline, owned by Irish “merchant of cool” Ronan O’Rahilly, were the most popular pirate stations. In short, Pierson, O’Rahilly, and other pirate impresarios changed “how pop music was broadcast in the UK.” Pirate stations, Dougan observes, were a “simulacrum of American Top 40 radio…with their collage of nonsense jingles and news flashes, compulsively jabbering DJs, and assaultive commercials.” Townshend, an enthusiastic supporter, declared that the pirates “made the music scene” in Britain. He resented the government’s crusade against them, viewing it as an attack on “British youth and rock and roll.” Sell Out would be his band’s tribute to the recently stifled pirate stations.
Dougan examines England’s nascent pop art movement. In 1956, the pioneering exhibit, “This Is Tomorrow,” London’s “first significant display of pop art,” opened. The UK’s leading proponents of pop art included Richard Hamilton, Peter and Alison Smithson, Pauline Boty, and Peter Blake. Hamilton, a participant in the “This Is Tomorrow” show, “cogently defined the movement’s aesthetics” in a 1957 letter to the Smithsons. Pop art, he explained, “is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business.” In the fall of 1961, Townshend enrolled at the Ealing School of Art, an institution “at the forefront of the British pop art movement in that its students, and new, young faculty, saw the essential congruity between art, music, and fashion.” He soon became a pop art votary. Just four years later, the Who captain boasted that his band stood “for pop art clothes, pop art music, and pop art behavior…We live pop art.” And in 1967, Townshend offered the splendid Sell Out as his contribution to Britain’s pop art movement.
Dougan also explores the environment in which Sold Out was created, the sparkling, heady days of Swinging London, a period of great imagination and inspiration in cinema, art, fashion, and music. From 1966 through 1967, he asserts, London was “in a near-constant state of flux. It was a time of intense creativity and cultural instability, when the city went from black and white to color.” While a citizen of Swinging London, Townshend quickly matured “into one of England’s most expressive and audacious rock artists.” Tommy, Townshend’s much acclaimed rock opera, followed Sell Out, appearing in May, 1969.
Townshend and band mates Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle toured relentlessly throughout 1967, performing 165 shows across the United States, Canada, and Europe. The Who played high energy, ear-splitting concerts before demolishing their instruments in front of astonished, dazed audiences. At the Monterey Pop Festival in June, the Who attacked “each song ferociously” in “a stunning, visually dazzling performance.” The group looked “great, togged up in outfits that ecstatically and colorfully merged the sartorial impulses and sensibilities of mod, pop art, and hippie culture.” The Who’s aggressive, forceful set ranks as one of Monterey’s legendary highlights.
Although Townshend and Daltrey (the only Who members still living) “declined to participate in this project,” Dougan has done impressive research. Among other histories of the band, he consulted The Who: Maximum R&B by Richard Barnes and Dave Marsh’s Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who, both vital texts. For the pirate stations he used the essential work by Robert Chapman, Selling the Sixties: The Pirates and Pop Music Radio. He also turned to Shawn Levy’s excellent volume, Ready, Steady, Go: The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London.
In The Who Sell Out, Dougan has produced a creditable book, exceptionally informative, limpidly written, and soundly researched; its only real flaw is the absence of an index. Who devotees and students of Sixties Britain will enjoy this sterling study.
SOURCE: Providence Sunday Journal ()
The traveling party did not include a gaggle of club executives, reporters, or specialists in combating jet lag. Nor is there any record of players each receiving a $40,000 bonus for making the trip.
Their trip was underwritten by private sponsors, and the Nationals were treated as honored guests at every stop, but they were hardly pampered, particularly when it came to their travel regimen. (After missing their train in Cincinnati, they hopped a freight to Philadelphia and arrived for their game, tired and disheveled, with an hour to spare.) But the Nationals saw themselves primarily as goodwill ambassadors, and, says Morris, their “historic tour was a great boon to the spread of enthusiasm for the game.”
By 1867 that game was on the verge of a great change. The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first openly professional “base ball” team, would go on tour and beat all comers; their success would lead the Cincinnati Base Ball Club to “divorce” them. In 1871 the National Association of Base Ball Players split into amateur and professional groups.
How the game unexpectedly got to that point is the subject of Morris’ thoroughly researched, entirely engaging book. He begins with the game of the 1830s and 1840s, in all its variety, informality, and sociability, when the pitcher’s only job was to get play started by letting the batter hit the ball, and the umpire sat in splendid isolation, called upon only occasionally (“Judgment, sir!”), when players themselves couldn’t make the call.
Morris aims to breathe life into those stiffly posed, solemn figures in the daguerreotypes, arms crossed, faces hidden behind mustaches. “Fun doesn’t always get recorded for posterity,” he notes wryly, but, after all, these were “clubs.” Playing baseball was only one activity among many, intended to promote sociability and community spirit.
Morris achieves his main purpose, and more. He traces the game’s westward advance — often along canal and railroad routes — and its evolution toward competitiveness and standardized rules. As he does, he takes the reader deep into the culture of 19th-century America, as revolutions in transportation and mass communication pushed everything, even casual pastimes, toward professionalization and commercialization.
“The past,” said E.P. Hartley, “is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” So travel back to the Elysian Fields (of Hoboken). Meet the Knickerbockers and the Excelsiors, Jim Creighton and Harry Wright, and watch them transform baseball, sometimes unwittingly, for better and for worse. It’s well worth the trip, and you won’t have to worry about jet lag.
Most historians regard the American Federation of Labor as an example of conservative trade unionism. Under Presidents Samuel Gompers, and then William Green, the AFL battled the Socialist Party, Industrial Workers of the World, Congress of Industrial Organizations, and other forces for social as well as economic justice. In Labor’s Home Front: The American Federation of Labor During World War II, Andrew E. Kersten accepts this view, but contends that at the outset of the Second World War the AFL underwent change. He says it forsook its worship of “volunteerism” and “pure and simple unionism” and engaged in increased activism in American political and social life. However, he also notes that the Federation’s “transformation” was incomplete. The AFL “remained a bulwark of white male hegemony,” resisted “racial equality or gender equity,” “refused to bury the hatchet” (as did the Congress of Industrial Organizations) with the rival CIO, and “virtually ignored” the issue of shop-floor safety.
With material drawn from numerous archival as well secondary sources, Kersten states his case in crisply written prose, carefully tracing the AFL’s mixed record. For example, he examines the AFL’s wartime fights for “equality [with business] of sacrifice” and the closed shop and its post-war advocacy of full employment. On the other hand, he cites its concession to management of responsibility to ensure worker safety, begrudging acceptance of women union members “under the stress of necessity,” and generally discriminatory attitude toward African Americans. As the Federation’s unions had to be pressured to accept women workers, there was “a good chance that Rosie [the Riveter] did not represent the typical AFL woman unionist,” and, for the most part, the organization “was a bastion of racial conservatism and discrimination.”
Though this book is not a general history of the AFL, it nevertheless offers excellent insight into the Federation’s early years. Kersten regularly presents reminders of its conservative, pre-war attitudes. With amazing deftness he recalls the origins of the AFL, noting the conflict between Gompers and Terence v. Powderly of the Knights of Labor, and that of the CIO, recalling the punch John L. Lewis landed on the face of “Big Bill” Hutcheson of the Carpenters’ Union at the 1935 AFL convention. In addition, he presents excellent accounts of the safety problems faced by factory and women workers, accompanied by statistical charts for both groups.
The heroes that emerge from this book are relatively few in number, and generally not household names. Among them is Agnes Nestor, a labor feminist with a Women’s Trade Union League background who attracted the attention of Gompers, which led to a fifty-year career assisting the AFL enroll women workers. Born in England, lawyer Joseph A. Padway assiduously served the AFL, moving the Federation away from “volunteerism” and the avoidance of government to a new relationship with Washington aimed at expanding the New Deal to protect labor rights and improving society. The Russian-born Boris Shishkin held several government positions and served the AFL for forty years, becoming its chief economist. A prolific public speaker, he was a spokesman for the AFL, and in that capacity warned about an economic depression that might strike the United States after the Second World War. Shishkin provided statistical assistance to a Post-War Planning Committee established by William Green late in 1942 in anticipation of problems arising at the war’s conclusion.
Kersten concludes his study with an epilogue on the current labor scene, which he exemplifies by detailing unsuccessful attempts to organize Wal-Mart stores in Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania. Regardless of what caused this situation, about which scholars have had much to say, it is “uncompromisingly bad.” Perhaps, as Kirsten suggests, it has to do with “the decline of liberal politics.” He observes that post-war conservatives, rather than eliminating the New Deal “limited its growth and later took over its machinery,” particularly the National Labor Relations Board. In any event, today’s problems afflicting workers and unions are indeed dire and much more complex than when the Federation began to move beyond “pure and simple unionism” more than six decades ago. Nevertheless, Kirsten ends his book on a positive note, hoping for a “new, revitalized labor movement . . . to finally complete the work” begun in part by AFL members during the Second World War.