Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vanishing Military Historians? Not Really

Mark Grimsley takes issue with John Miller's piece about vanishing military historians, which I commented upon earlier this week. [Full disclosure: I asked Grimsley for is take on the piece--and apparently I wasn't the only one]. In short, Grimsley thinks Miller's partisanship has skewed his analysis and that miller purposedly ignored the successful military history programs at such "liberal bastions" as Duke and UNC. Grimsley also did his own research into the University of Wisconsin situation that Miller used as an open to his piece. As they say, "read it all", and this follow up (and there will be more from Grimsley, I'd imagine).

UPDATE: John Miller has responded:
How clever of him to have uncovered my sinister conspiracy not to mention Duke or UNC! As it happens, I did quote UNC's ROTC commander, who is also a professor of military science at the school. I suppose I could have written that Duke and UNC have great programs—a couple of my sources said as much. More often, however, I heard OSU, Texas A&M, and Kansas State mentioned, so those are the ones I cited in the piece (along with West Point, which is a special case). But these are highly subjective judgments and professors get jealous about such things, so I'll say right now, on the record, that Duke and UNC have quality programs in military history.
Grimsley continues to post about it, including putting up a comment from a reader, which echoes my own feelings on this matter:

Having read Miller’s piece, the responses herein, and being a recently retired faculty member, I must say that the whole thing here seems to be a matter of umbrage taken unnecessarily. I cannot discern in Miller’s piece any disrespect for the field of military history, and to presume that he’s trying to implement some secret plan to kill it off simply to be able to make a point about the liberal biases of academia leads straight to paranoia.

It seems that Miller’s piece was incomplete, and no doubt he regrets any significant omissions — but looking upon you as persons who understand that any conveyance of facts about an event or circumstances by necessity must be limited, I would expect more understanding of this to be displayed.

The commenter also sketched a rough guideline how to approach the subject more analytically, which Grimsley has fleshed out.

Unfortunately, I think Grimsley seemed predisposed to assume the worst about Miller's motivation for writing the article and approached the matter too tendentiously in his initial response. In an email to Miller, Grimsley stated that:
My recent posts on both Cliopatria, the big history blog, and my own individual blog devoted to academic military history, respond to your September 26 article, “Sounding Taps.” The tone I have taken is contentious but I hope not abusive. Basically your article struck me as deliberately constructed so as to catastrophize the position military history has within the academy.
Grimsley's piece is not "abusive", but it's contentiousness is surrounded by a large amount of flippancy. It seems to me that the best way to engage in a debate over an issue is to--at least initially--take the argument at face value, offer correctives or refutations and proceed. By assuming the worst of Miller's motivation, I think Grimsley has needlessly applied a bellows to a fire that--according to him--need not have been kindled in the first place. Both have good points, and a healthy, respectful dialogue would probably be more useful and productive. (I'm off the stump now).

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Vanishing Military Historians

John J. Miller (via PDTR) investigates why military historians are become scarce on college campi. He quotes Mary Habeck, a military historian at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., who blames the "tenured radicals" of the 1960's, who prefer studying "the kind of social history [they] want to support." Thus, according to Miller, these academics concentrated on social history instead of "diplomatic, intellectual, and maritime history — but perhaps none have suffered so many casualties as the 'drums and trumpets' crowd."

Miller has surveyed American colleges and universities and explains:
At first glance, military history appears to have maintained beachheads on a lot of campuses. Out of 153 universities that award doctorates in history, 99 of them — almost 65 percent — have at least one professor who claims a research interest in war, according to S. Mike Pavelec, a military historian at Hawaii Pacific University. But this figure masks another problem: Social history has started to infiltrate military history, Trojan Horse–style. Rather than examining battles, leaders, and weapons, it looks at the impact of war upon culture. And so classes that are supposedly about the Second World War blow by the Blitzkrieg, the Bismarck, and the Bulge in order to celebrate the proto-feminism of Rosie the Riveter, condemn the national disgrace of Japanese-American internment, and ask that favorite faculty-lounge head-scratcher: Should the United States have dropped the bomb? “It’s becoming harder and harder to find experts in operational military history,” says Dennis Showalter of Colorado College. “All this social history is like Hamlet without the prince of Denmark.”
Miller also gives examples of endowed military history chairs that are going unfilled (University of Wisconsin); accomplished military historians who are retiring and not being replaced (Gerald Linderman and John Shy at Michigan); or replaced by non-military historians (James MacPherson's prospective replacement at Princeton is an expert in gender studies); and institutions that are refusing endowments for a military history chair at all (Dartmouth).

It's not just the universities that have turned away from military history. At least one of the mainstream historical scholarly publications has been ignoring straight military history, too.
Another reason for the shortage of scholars is that military historians have been shut out of The American Historical Review, the most prestigious academic journal for history professors. Last year, John A. Lynn [who states he is a Liberal Democrat--ed.] of the University of Illinois surveyed the last 150 issues of the AHR, which comes out five times annually. During this 30-year period, he couldn’t find a single article that discussed the conduct of World War II. Other ignored wars included the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. There was a single article on the English Civil War, dealing with atrocities committed therein. Lynn located precisely two articles on the U.S. Civil War. One of these also dealt with atrocities. “I guess military atrocities are attractive to the editors,” he says. The only article on World War I focused on female soldiers in the Russian army. “I suspect the editors liked it because it was about women, not because it was about war.” The lead article in the most recent issue of the AHR is about wigs in 18th-century France.
Miller does qualify that the military academies are still strong in military history and also menitions that some public universities, including Kansas State, Ohio State, and Texas A&M, have strong, well-respected military history programs. However, he also explains that military historians are forced to find refuge at second-tier schools and in the military itself.

Miller may seem a bit snarky towards the social historians, but the point of his article isn't so much to attack what is being studied as it is to call attention to what isn't. Military history--traditional military history--is important because of the lessons it teaches:
“Knowledge of military history is an essential prerequisite for an informed national debate about security and statecraft,” says Michael Desch, a political scientist at the Bush School of Government and Public Service in Texas. Many voters, for instance, don’t know how to contextualize the nearly 23,000 U.S. military casualties in Iraq since 2003. That’s a pretty big number. But it’s also roughly the level of casualties suffered at Antietam in just one day, and a small fraction of the more than 200,000 casualties endured in Vietnam.

Critics of the war also have plenty to gain from a public that has a better understanding of older conflicts. “People might have realized that we have a poor track record of using the military to do nation-building in Third World countries,” says Desch. “The model isn’t Germany or Japan, but Nicaragua and the Philippines.” Finally, the population of Americans who have served in the military is shrinking, and with it their knowledge of what armies and navies do.

Anybody who has studied the history of war knows that it’s possible to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat — it happened at Shiloh, when a Confederate attack nearly routed the Union army, only to have General Grant drive them off the field of battle the next day. Perhaps military historians can stage a similar comeback. In their efforts to do so, they will be wise to remember something that Grant didn’t know back in 1862: An awful lot of brutal fighting lies ahead.
I think Miller's concerns about the dearth of military history courses offered to, say, your average undergraduate, is--while not unfounded--a bit overwrought. I can only point to my own personal experience.

I took courses titled "World War II" and "The Civil War" in which I think it could be reasonably expected that "military history" would be covered. In my World War II class, the professor (whom I'd describe as a diplomatic/social historian) came right out and said he wasn't going to focus on tactics (which was fine by me). Nonetheless, he did cover basic strategy and also touched on the "war is politics by other means..." methodological track. That being said, as he promised, he focused much less on battles than the social impact on the homefront, for instance. Miller is also on target in that we did investigate one of the very topics that he mentions as being a favorite: Hiroshima. The course was very well done and enjoyable and I learned a lot. But it was definitely presented from the perspective of social and diplomatic history, not military.

The Civil War course, on the other hand, was taught by a professor who was much more of a diplomatic/military historian. As such, he delved much deeper into tactics and battles, though he didn't neglect politics or diplomacy. He did, however, give relatively short shrift to social history. This course was also worthwhile, but, again, the dominant perspective was that of the discipline in which the professor specialized.

Thus, I believe that, when done properly, a general survey-type course--the kind most undergrads take--can effectively delve into tactics and battles as well as other areas (social, diplomatic, political). That's where I think Miller is a little off the mark. The traditional topics covered by military history are being taught as part of a larger, more comprehensive course that also covers history as studied via a wide variety of historical methodologies. That being said, he does make an important point.

Colleges and universities need to have military historians on campus who teach conventional military history courses as well as general surveys. First, and most in-line with Miller's critique, the continued popularity of books devoted to the military history of the Civil War and WWII show that there is a body of students out there who would be interested in straight forward military history courses. Thus, specific, upper level courses in military history would probably be well received and be attractive to many students.

Yet, to my mind, it is the role that military historians can play in the historical education of the broader student population that is more important. I saw many people interested in military history in my Civil War class. They were there for the guns and ended up learning about a whole lot more (yes, like about the "butter"). Similarly, there were people in my WWII class who were interested in the home front and Hiroshima, but also took away some knowledge about battles and a few tactics and how specific military capabilities and outcomes play a part in history.

What I'm getting at is that a military historian--just like a social or economic or diplomatic historian--brings a certain point of view to courses that deal with broader topics. It would be a shame if these perspectives are lost because they aren't popular enough amongst the academics or "sexy" enough for academic journals. The current impression is that any young historian simply can't make much headway with a specialization in military history. If there is no demand for this methodolgy, the supply will soon dry up and our understanding of war will be the worse for it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Medieval Immersion for Kids

I wish they had this when I was a kid:
Hundreds of elementary and middle school students will "go medieval" for a day as the Historic Camelot Project, a Wisconsin educational nonprofit organization, holds two days of hands-on education at Fireman's Park in Fox Lake.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 27 and 28, Camelot will host two two-hour blocks of educational presentations that present daily life in medieval Britain. Presentations will be followed by a short demonstration of knightly weapons and horsemanship.

Students will also become involved in medieval cooking, building wattle fences and walls, and dipping candles, as well as lectures on early medieval life and history.

This will be the first of its kind of "immersion" education in medieval history in the Midwest, giving students and teachers a small taste of what will be a daily offering at the medieval village museum Camelot is hoping to open in Southcentral Wisconsin.

"While there are abundant opportunities for students to visit historical, open-air museums depicting early life in Wisconsin and in Colonial America if you go back East, there are none of the pre-medieval and medieval village museums available as they are in Europe," said Lloyd Clark, Camelot executive director. "This is their history also, but one that is not given sufficient weight.

"What we hope to create with the Historic Camelot Village Museum is a recreation of typical pre-medieval life in Britain, much the same as Old World Wisconsin shows life in 1800s Wisconsin — with a small, traditional indoor museum to showcase the changes in British clothing, arms and armor, and typical items of daily life over the period from just after Rome left Britain to the Late Middle Ages."

. . . Clark hopes to kindle a new appreciation in children for their ancestors and to showcase not just the kings, knights, arms and armor but the lives of the "regular" people of the age.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Relevancy of the Middle Ages; or how a Medieval Source Got the Pope in Trouble

Pope Benedict has elicited Muslim outrage because he cited and quoted a medieval emperor's musings on Islam, faith and reason. (See!!! The Middle Ages can be relevant to today!!!) Here is the quote, stripped of all context:
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Juan Cole asserts that the Pope was in error both theologically and historically in his citation:
The pope was trying to make the point that coercion of conscience is incompatible with genuine, reasoned faith. He used Islam as a symbol of the coercive demand for unreasoned faith.

But he has been misled by the medieval polemic on which he depended.

In fact, the Quran also urges reasoned faith and also forbids coercion in religion. The only violence urged in the Quran is in self-defense of the Muslim community against the attempts of the pagan Meccans to wipe it out.
The "medieval polemic" to which Cole refers is the work done by Theodore Khoury, whose translation of Manuel II's writings the Pope depended on.

Thomas F. Madden, historian of the Crusades (and he wrote a good review article on recent Crusade books here), has written about some of the important missing context that has been stripped away.
This is a tough lecture to boil down to one sentence, but if forced I would characterize it as: Theology belongs in the university because only by studying faith with reason will we find solutions to the problems of our time. However, if instead of reading the lecture we simply cut out everything except the words of Manuel II Palaeologus written six centuries ago, then we have a good justification for Pakistan’s parliament to unanimously condemn the pope. If we further pretend that it was Benedict, rather than a long-dead emperor, who expressed these sentiments we have a sound basis for the [subsequent Muslim outrage].
Andrew Morse is helpful in explaining why there is outrage in the Muslim world against what the Pope was talking about:

Although the furor over Pope Benedict’s [address] has centered on a perceived insult to the prophet Mohammed, I believe that the remarks were directed at a more recent figure, Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian writer active in the Muslim Brotherhood in the mid-20th century whose writings are widely read in the Islamic world today....many of Sayyid Qutb’s writings concern the split between faith and reason embodied in Western philosophy. According to Luke Loboda’s invaluable essay on Qutb’s work, Qutb believed that Christianity, under the influence of Greek philosophy and Roman tradition, had created a separation between faith and reason that was unnatural, unspiritual, and ungodly. In the Christianized West, maintaining social order became a purely rational process separated from religious faith, forcing people to continually deny the truth that faith and reason were inextricably linked, leaving them in disharmony with God’s creation.

In Qutb’s view, God had provided man with a system for uniting faith and reason in his day-to-day life – the system of Islamic law. Reason was acceptable when used for interpreting or implementing Islamic law, but not useful for discovering truths outside of its structure. Social orders claiming a rational basis and without relation to Islamic law and were especially unacceptable; Qutb viewed them as restrictions on and distractions from the precise instructions provided by God on how to exist harmoniously within the universe.

This is a complicated topic and I've only begun to really get into it myself. (In fact, after doing this post, I discovered that Wikipedia has an excellent summary of the debate!) But regardless of my own relative naivete on the subject, I can see that there are genuine debates concerning faith and reason and how the relate internally and externally to Christianity and Islam. Unfortunately, these worthy intellectual pursuits are subsumed by the reactions of the "Arab Street" who are nothing more than tools of radical imams or totalitarian governments who seek to use them for their own gain.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Late Antiquity Migrated to the Early Middle Ages

Late Antiquity, the Migration Period, or the Early Middle Ages? Just askin'.....still waiting for Peter Heather's latest, btw. (Though the seller got back to me to let me know that it was being sent priority now...apparently it was hidden underneath some papers). According to the Late Antiquity article from Wikipedia:
While the usage "Late Antiquity" suggests that the social and cultural priorities of Classical Antiquity endured throughout Europe into the Middle Ages, the usage "Early Middle Ages" emphasizes a break with the classical past, and the term "Migrations Period" emphasizes the disruptions in the same period of time.

More later.

Gathered Thoughts: Populism, Democracy and Liberalism, the Trope of the Brave Idealist , American Exceptionalism

Sometimes, we find things that interest us, we keep 'em, but can't really find a way to work them in to a post. Well, here are the remnants after picking through a summers' worth of left-overs.

Back in July I was led to this Dallas Morning News piece that called for a new type of populist movement.

There is a tremendous cost to the health of the republic, to the common good, that comes with the creative yet destructive power of unlimited economic and political progressivism. The vital role property-owning and self-sufficient families, small towns and regional governments play in a free republic has been recognized for centuries. The civic virtues associated with widespread ownership of land, decentralized systems of trade, commitment to the common good of one's tribe and the moral sturdiness of belonging to a tradition are necessary to the continued independence of a free people.

And the loss of these goods will always strike the middle classes first and hardest. When they are lost, they are felt as loss – loss of an entire way of life. And just as the masses of dispossessed and alienated fought back during the Gilded Age, they are likely to again....

What is called for is an anti-progressive populism; an anti-movement movement; a return to what is near, known and particular. What is called for is what I think of as regional populism. Its first political task will be to rediscover the ways citizens of the old American republic used to think and talk....

Folk populism requires people willing to make sacrifices to defend what they love from encroaching destruction via spaghetti-like superhighways, foreign entanglements, megacorporations and megachurches, technological developments, mass media and hypermobility....

What would this kind of regional populism look like in an actual political platform? Broadly speaking, it would seek at every turn to end the dependence of its constituents on elites. It would oppose, for example, the nationalization of any sector of our economy, from health care to agriculture. Instead, it would seek creative ways to open regional markets for regional goods.

It would seek to permit regional cultural and religious particularities to emerge from the fog of federalized regulation and be made manifest in our schools, courthouses, businesses and civic organizations. And it would provide incentives to keep cultural capital local. It would encourage people to work, study and raise families close to where they grew up. It would seek ways to promote local culture and would cultivate loyalty to our neighbors and a fierce love for our own places.

But in the end, what this kind of vibrant regionalism requires is something much more difficult to obtain than a slogan. It is a renewed appreciation for society over and against both the individual and the state. Society defined by what the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry calls "membership" – a network of social interconnectedness and shared obligation. To be a member of this kind of social order is the best hedge against manipulation by the central planning committee for "growth" and "prosperity." It is, to put it plainly, to be free.

On the topic of populism, Prof. John P. McCormick (hosted by Alfredo Perez at Political Theory Daily Review) has a long paper of interest. (Here's the abstract):
The chapters of Rousseau’s Social Contract devoted to republican Rome prescribe institutions that obstruct popular efforts at diminishing the excessive power and influence of wealthy citizens and political magistrates. I argue that Rousseau reconstructs ancient Rome’s constitution in direct opposition to the more populist and anti-elitist model of the Roman Republic championed by Machiavelli in the Discourses: Rousseau eschews the establishment of magistracies, like the tribunes, reserved for common citizens exclusively, and endorses assemblies where the wealthy are empowered to outvote the poor in lawmaking and elections. On the basis of sociologically anonymous principles like generality and popular sovereignty, and by confining elite accountability to general elections, Rousseau’s neo-Roman institutional proposals aim to pacify the contestation of class hierarchies and inflate elite prerogative within republics—under the cover of more formal, seemingly more genuine, equality.
James Lileks examined the '50's and the adolescent mind-set by skewering a play that championed the prototypical brave counterculturist who took on McCarthy.
I’m not going to defend McCarthy, because he was a brute and boor and a butter-eating drunk who set back the anti-Communist cause four decades. To say that he was sorta right, in the sense that there were Commies about, is like saying that J. Robert Oppenheimer had a salutory effect on Japanese urban renewal. I’m not interested in those debates right now. I’d just like to point out that it’s a little late in the game to trot out a play about the mean old witch-hunts. The bravery of the scrappy idealists! The piggish philistinism of the anti-commie brutes! The smothering wet quilt of Conformity that held America motionless until it was thrown off by the undulating hips of Elvis! (Did you know they didn’t show him below the waist on TV, at first! True! It was horrible, the Fifties; no one had sex without weeping in shame afterwards. Sometimes during.) It's just interesting how Westerners think that that Red Scare was a historical event of such towering proportions it trumps the tales of the Soviet Union in the same period. US version: communist sympathizers frozen out of screenwriting jobs, justly or unjustly. USSR version: actual communists killed in ghastly numbers by a parody of a legal system underwritten by brute force and an industrialized penal system built on slave labor. Why is the latter ignored, and the former celebrated?
Jonah Goldberg offered thoughts on whether its democracy or (classical) liberalism that we should focus on spreading in the Middle East:
No serious person, it seems to me, can deny that it would be better to live in a liberal but undemocratic society than a democratic but illiberal society. In other words, democracy — while an important mechanism — is fundamentally amoral. A society of evil men can democratically choose to do evil.

I think many democracy-boosters understand this, and agree, but they use democracy as an umbrella term for liberalism. The problem is that this leads to a corruption of rhetoric and, eventually, thinking. I think it's pretty clear that liberalism and democracy go together in the long run. But I think it is obviously false that democracy automatically yields liberalism. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. More often — as in the United States, Great Britain etc — one could just as easily argue that liberalism leads to democracy. I understand we need to take a principled pro-democracy stand. But we shouldn't blind ourselves to the fact that undemocratic institutions are often on the side of the angels. The Turkish military, for example, is a defender of Turkish liberalism - flawed though it may be — against the threats it faces from, among other things, democratic Islamic populism.

Pursuing elections before you've cultivated liberal values is a recipe for Hitlerism or Hamas-ism. Indeed, it's a fascinating contrafactual to ponder how different things might have been if the Bush Administration had not emphasized — rhetorically — literal elections over everything they think elections represent (see here for a recent lament along these lines in the Corner).

Rich's points are well-taken. There's a reason we're stuck dealing with the Middle East — because much of the rest of the world has come to its senses. The Arab or Muslim "street" doesn't much care about democracy. Until it does, harping on elections is a fools errand. That doesn't mean we shouldn't support pro-democracy groups and activists — where our support would help — but our choices right now are basically, to use a social scientific phrase, really sucky. That's why I think we can't be tied down to one approach. If there's a strong-man who wants to be Attaturk, we should give him some leeway. If elections will advance the ball toward liberalization, we should be for elections. Our principles are larger than mere elections and a more realistic foreign policy would advance our ideals more if it took this into account. Ronald Reagan, for example, understood that pushing democracy in the Soviet Union was a far less effective rhetorical weapon than the subject of human rights.

Finally, Scott McLemee examined how globalization has contributed to American Exceptionalism, Maurice Obstfeld and Alan Taylor wrote a related paper (PDF), Joshua Zeitz reviewed Eric Rauchway's contribution (Blessed Among Nations) to the debate, and AEI has James Q. Wilson's explanation of the qualities that make American political institutions unique.

What's the Historical Value of Path to 9/11

After examining the "mainstream" debate during the run-up to the actual showing of Path to 9/11 (here and here), I have to wonder what historians think of it now that it has actually aired. Truth be told, I haven't seriously looked for--nor have I really run across in my daily blog travels--any post mortems on Path in the history blogosphere. Now that historians have had the opportunity to see it, they don't seem to have written about it anywhere near as much as they did when they hadn't seen it. Hm. Well, here's my take.

First, I believe that--in a very idealistic sense--Path to 9/11 was a missed opportunity. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dale Franks' observation that "Fake but Accurate" isn't good enough and that if the filmakers had simply "hew[ed] tightly to the 9/11 Commission's report, they could have stood their ground firmly on the basis of the film's historical accuracy." That being said, while it was indeed a docudrama and some characters were amalgamations and there was "time compression", the overall theme was accurate: government and the bureaucracies that compose it are ill-suited to "think outside of the box" and take action.

Path showed that our government was still fighting the last war (or not--post-Cold War, etc.). Terrorism was regarded as a legal problem and the solutions formulated to deal with it based on that philosophy proved to be unsatisfactory and ineffective. Within that framework, those in power--the members of the Clinton and Bush administrations--were simply not able to imagine the level to which Al Queda was willing and able to take their (at the time) one-sided war. The quick take away: bureaucracies don't change very fast or very well.

Whether or not Path can be used by historians in relation to its acute subject matter--does it have any historical value in explaining the path to 9/11--seems less important than how it can be used as an example in explaining a broader historical problem. Namely, no matter how accurate a document is in depicting actual events, historians (and everyone else) must be careful in how they criticize historical actors for decisions they made without the benefit of the hindsight that we posess in the here-and-now.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Assessing the Islamist Threat"

The Moslem world sprawls around half the east, from the Pacific across Asia and Africa to the Atlantic, along one of the greatest of trade routes; in its center is an area extremely rich in oil; over it will run some of the most strategically important air routes.

With few exceptions, the states which it includes are marked by poverty, ignorance, and stagnation. It is full of discontent and frustration, yet alive with consciousness of its inferiority and with determination to achieve some kind of general betterment.

Two basic urges meet head-on in this area, and conflict is inherent in this collision of interests. These urges reveal themselves in daily news accounts of killings and terrorism, of pressure groups in opposition, and of raw nationalism and naked expansionism masquerading as diplomatic maneuvers. The urges tie together the tangled threads of power politics which—snarled in the lap of the United Nations Assembly—lead back to the centers of Islamic pressure and to the capitals of the world's biggest nations.

The first of these urges originates within the Moslems' own sphere. The Moslems remember the power with which once they not only ruled their own domains but also overpowered half of Europe, yet they are painfully aware of their present economic, cultural, and military impoverishment. Thus a terrific internal pressure is building up in their collective thinking. The Moslems intend, by any means possible, to regain political independence and to reap the profits of their own resources, which in recent times and up to the present have been surrendered to the exploitation of foreigners who could provide capital investments. The area, in short, has an inferiority complex, and its activities are thus as unpredictable as those of any individual so motivated.

The other fundamental urge originates externally. The world's great and near-great powers cover the economic riches of the Moslem area and are also mindful of the strategic locations of some of the domains. Their actions are also difficult to predict, because each of these powers sees itself in the position of the customer who wants to do his shopping in a hurry because he happens to know the store is going to be robbed.
Thus says a report just published in the Middle East Quarterly.

It was written in 1946.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Civil Discourse

InstapunK (via Glenn Reynolds) asks some important questions of all of us regarding the too-often nasty and hyperbolic nature of post-9/11 criticisms and second-guessing of President Bush.
What would the past five years have been like, I couldn't help wondering, if debate and criticism had proceeded atop the civil platform of agreement that the President was really trying to do his best in a terrible crisis that almost no one had anticipated? Imagine that everyone had been sober and serious all along, as if the responsibility were theirs and not someone else's. Imagine that the opposition to the administration's policies had been more substantive than personal, focused on alternative proposals rather than autopsies of irrevocable decisions past. Imagine that all of us were dealing with today's reality instead of pet grievances from months or years ago. Isn't it possible that the critics might have had more impact on events, that the defenders of American policy might have listened and responded more thoughtfully?

You can decide all these questions for yourselves, but I know I would have been more open to opposing views if their proponents had not insisted that doing the right thing required a first step of denouncing the president as a fool, a liar, an opportunist, and a closet tyrant. If I put aside the partisan emotions such postulates inspire, I have enough breathing room to perceive that my own views have changed again and again over the past five years...

Only one of the 300 million people who live in America wake up every day to a briefing from the nation's intelligence agencies about what threats might become reailty today. That's a fact. The man's name is George W. Bush.

I'm NOT saying this makes him immune from criticism. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Forget all the invective about his cowardice or shirking of military duty when he was a twenty-something. Five years of such briefings would be enough to give most of us Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's probably the case that the President of the United States has been damaged by what he's been through. It's the most obvious explanation conceivable for why the White House seems so slow to respond to the daily firestorms the mass media engender. My guess is, not too many of us would want to be living inside George W. Bush's head right now. It's too much. For anyone. He needs advice and constructive criticism and thoughtful opposition. But who -- and I'm including all of you in this -- is served by characterizing the advice, criticism, and opposition as the obvious response to a criminal idiot?

But that's right. You, me, all of us, we're so much smarter than the oil monkey who's been getting the daily briefings for five years. That brings me to the second exercise. Make a list -- and write IT down too -- of the extreme positions you have taken personally over the past five years, beginning with 9/11. What are the worst things you have thought? What are the wildest positions you have espoused in your times of greatest personal weakness, disgust, anger, fatigue, despair? Measure them against the imaginary state in which you are responsible, day after day after day after day after day... Define loneliness. Could you bear it?

Now. That done, how would you really go about discussing your differences with the President of the United States? If you answer this question truthfully, I'm sure he'd be prepared to listen.
I think one of the negatives of blogs and the internet is that the remoteness and lack of personal interaction afforded by "cyber" punditry and commentary emboldens too many to act beyond the bounds of responsible debate. Hyberbole is standard. So is assigning and assuming the worst motives of those in power (yes, it applies to both left and right). I haven't agreed with everything that President Bush or his Administration has done, but I do believe that they are doing what they think is the right thing with regards to the War on Terror. If they've gone too far in scaling back Civil Liberties, for example, I perceive it to be out of a desire to better protect the nation, not to consolidate power in the Executive for its own sake. But my point isn't to debate specifics here, it's to second InstapunK's main observation: we need more civil discourse and responsible criticism.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years On

Wizbang has a comprehensive roundup of 9/11 remembrances, both old and new.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Few more Thoughts on The Path to 9/11

I already wrote about how ideological predispositions are clearly influencing the battle being fought over ABC's Path to 9/11. Now, with reports coming in that ABC is altering, or possibly cancelling, the show. But what is really interesting (at least to me) are the reviews that are coming in from the mainstream media. Here's Newsweek:
Was Clinton too distracted [by the Lewinsky affair] to act? Maybe. Is it plausible to suggest that? Certainly to some people, including the filmmakers. And frankly, that should be enough. “The Path to 9/11” isn’t a documentary; it’s a docu-drama. Part of the idea of fictionalizing historical events is to tell a story, to get at a deeper truth than a documentary could. After all those Oliver Stone movies—not to mention dozens of “reality” TV shows—viewers know the difference between real history and an entertainment that uses history as its subject. If the Reagans can survive the snarky look at their relationship posited by the mini-series “The Reagans,” certainly Clinton can survive “The Path to 9/11,” too. This isn’t a history lesson. It’s a television show.
Alessandra Stanley's review in the NY Times:

ABC has been under assault by bloggers and former officials who claim the film paints an unfairly censorious portrait of the Clinton administration, with a lobbying campaign reminiscent of the one that drove CBS to cancel “The Reagans” biopic in 2003. (CBS’s parent company, Viacom, kicked it to the cable channel Showtime.) Some kind of reaction was inevitable this time.

All mini-series Photoshop the facts. “The Path to 9/11” is not a documentary, or even a docu-drama; it is a fictionalized account of what took place. It relies on the report of the Sept. 11 commission, the King James version of all Sept. 11 accounts, as well as other material and memoirs. Some scenes come straight from the writers’ imaginations. Yet any depiction of those times would have to focus on those who were in charge, and by their own accounts mistakes were made.


The inserted news clips of Mr. Bush are not exactly inspiring. He is shown sweaty and dismissive in jogging shorts, dodging questions about tax cuts. Condoleezza Rice...cannot be too thrilled with her moment on screen either. She humors, but does not heed, the counter-terrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke; actually she demotes him.

But there is no dispute that in 2000, the destroyer Cole was attacked, Washington dithered and Mr. bin Laden’s men kept burrowing deeper and deeper into their plot to attack America on its own soil. The film ends where it began, only the morning of Sept. 11 is finally shown, with slow, elegiac music, in its full horror.

Dramatic license was certainly taken, but blame is spread pretty evenly across the board. It’s not the inaccuracies of “The Path to 9/11” that make ABC’s mini-series so upsetting. It’s the situation on the ground in Afghanistan now.

Those are just a couple of the reviews now coming out.

But perhaps the most interesting piece of writing I've read about this whole affair is by Dale Franks, "Fake but Accurate isn't Good Enough." Here's an excerpt:

"Fake, but accurate", however, is not a high enough standard. Obviously, some dramatic license is necessary for storytelling purposes. But a film that purports to be a docu-drama—especially about such an important event—and that purports to tell the story of that event, has to make a clear distinction between forgivable artistic license and factual inaccuracy...A succession of administrations, both Democratic and Republican, failed. And those failures were egregious enough that I would think the truth would be damning enough, without resorting to blatant inaccuracy. has caused unnecessary controversy. Had the filmmakers decided to hew tightly to the 9/11 Commission's report, they could have stood their ground firmly on the basis of the film's historical accuracy. But now, they have to fall back on the "fake, but true", explanation, which, in my view, is simply too low to put the bar. It should be better than that.
John Podhoretz has similar thoughts and I agree that Path to 9/11 is a missed opportunity. A more factual approach could have made good TV and inured the filmakers from the criticism they now receive. (There are those who think this controversy was all part of ABC's planned publicity campaign in the first place. I doubt that, but so much else has been thrown out there, why not?)

Also, Scholastic had teamed with the filmmakers to provide teaching tools, but the controversy has given them second thoughts (via Mark Grimsley):
Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company, today announced that it is removing from its website the materials originally created for classroom use in conjunction with the ABC Television Network docudrama, “The Path to 9/ll”...A new classroom discussion guide for high school students is being created and will focus more specifically on media literacy, critical thinking, and historical background....

The new guide clearly states that Scholastic had no involvement with developing the ABC docudrama, and that the company is not promoting the program, but that the program can provide a springboard to discussion about the issues leading up to 9/11, terrorism and the Middle East.
That seems like a good move to me. There is still educational value in the broad themes that are dealt with in the movie. One thing that the preemptive outrage has accomplished is to make it clear that The Path to 9/11 is a dramatizaton and not a historical work. Never mind that docudramas that have also taken dramatic license have aired in the past without engendering this level of outrage. Perhaps the attention paid to this particular controversy will help people approach such works more critically and also intrigue them enough to trace the Path to 9/11 for themselves .

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Debate Over "Path to 9/11" is a Path We've Been Down Before

ABC's "Path to 9/11" has already managed to affect the way that the American public will look at the years leading up to that fateful September morn when the WTC Towers came crashing down. Before the piece has even aired, we have witnessed the hue and cry of former Clinton Administration members, President Clinton himself and those on the left who seem to resent any negative portrayal of the last Democratic Presidency. On the one hand, they could be trying to set the record straight. On the other they could be trying to safeguard the Clinton legacy (whatever it may be at this point).

Military historian Mark Grimsley was willing to give the docudrama the benefit of the doubt until someone with whom he is ideologically opposed indicated that he really liked the movie. After that revelation, Grimsley first became suspicious, and then convinced, that Path to 9/11 was "blatant Right-Wing progaganda." Meanwhile, his fellow ideological travellers have gone to great lengths to reveal the conspiracy that lay behind the production of the movie. All the while, very few have actually seen the movie and are relying on the characterizations of those with their own agendas, on both the left and right, to predetermine how they will view the movie before they themselves actually view it.

Why make a judgement based on what amounts to hearsay from legacy-guarding Clintonites and partisan reviews from the right? As Grimsley wrote:
There's an argument to be made, I guess, that judgment ought to be postponed until the film is aired. But the swift boating of John Kerry is much on the minds of those who have followed this story...
"Fool me once...Fool me twice...." It is unsurprising that those on the left would believe the line of argument coming out of the Clinton camp. And from what I've read, the Clintonites seem to have a couple valid criticisms of the docudrama. But it is ironic that the glowing reviews emanating from conservative circles actually help to reinforce the suspicions of the ideological left, who can't help but focus on those portions of conservative reviews that dwell on examples of Clinton Administration shortcomings.

In their rush to condemn the movie, the left seems to have forgotten that much of what they have heard about the negative portrayal of the Clinton Administration has come from former Clinton Administration members who have their own legacy to vouchsafe and who may be overly sensitive in the first place (aren't we all?). But I suppose it would be too much to ask to question their motives, wouldn't it?(As Glenn Reynolds writes: "Call me crazy, but I don't regard Sandy Berger as trustworthy on the historical record here, as given his document-removal activity I think he had something to hide.")

Nonetheless, perhaps one corrective solution would be to read a few reviews by the regular, non-conservative entertainment types. One such example of a mainstream review is also quite a negative one. According to Entertainment Weekly:
The first night of The Path to 9/11 blames bin Laden's persistent freedom on the Clinton presidency, portrayed as distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. On the second night, that blame shifts to the Bush administration, where Condoleezza Rice reads the intelligence report saying bin Laden was ''determined to strike in U.S.''...and then ignores it. This unwieldy opus is hamstrung by the very thing ABC is so proud of: using The 9/11 Commission Report as its source and the chairman of the commission, former governor Thomas Kean, as its ''senior consultant.'' The results strain so hard to be objective and evenhanded (see, the Democrats and the Republicans both made mistakes) that they're useless as drama.
According to this review, then, Path to 9/11 doesn't succeed as a drama because it tries to be too fair. But it appears that such reviews are too late to pull people back from the brink. The assumptions have already been made and the ideological glasses will be on when Path to 9/11 is seen by the nation. Partisans will see every slight they want to see.

Needless to say, I think that Grimsley's initial predilection to reserve judgement was the proper one and he and other historians should have refrained from getting caught up by the assumptions that have led to this partisan melee. I wonder if he's a "victim" (sorry for the scare quotes) of ideological amplification, which was recently explained by Cass Sunstein:
[I]deological amplification occurs in many domains. It helps to explain "political correctness" on college campuses--and within the Bush administration. In a recent study, we find that liberals in Colorado, after talking to one another, move significantly to the left on affirmative action, global warming, and civil unions for same-sex couples. On those same three issues, conservatives, after talking to each other, move significantly to the right. (Sunstein has more thoughts on ideological amplification here).
I don't think there can be any doubt that places inhabited by Kossacks or Freepers can amplify ideological predispositions.

Additionally, as I've already alluded, the consistently similar theme that runs throughout most reviews done by conservative pundits--that the Clinton Administration is finally being correctly tagged for its ineptitude in dealing with terrorism--is evidence of a sort of rhetorical amplification, which is undergirded by the conservative antipathy of all things Clinton. If they can be accused of anything, conservative reviewers can be tagged for seeming a little too cheerful about pinning said blame on the Clinton crowd. This serves to obscure that the result of any such failures was a national tragedy.

Thus, it is probably the case that the rhetorical amplification (talking points?) of those on the right has resulted in a knee-jerk reaction by those on the left, which in turn have precipitated the now-requisite counterreaction from conservative pundits. Thus, if you decide to watch the movie with your ideological glasses on, you'll find the bias you're looking for.

And so it goes. As Ann Althouse has noted, the movie is now:
a playing field for the forces of right and left, and now if you watch the thing, instead of thinking about America and al Qaeda, you can think about Democrats and Republicans.
Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg reminds us that we've seen this song and dance before:
My basic view is, a pox on everybody. The Democratic Party embraced Michael Moore's movie at the highest levels. Daschle hugged Moore at the premiere. Carter invited him to sit with him at the convention. Etc Etc. Are they claiming that F9/11 is more accurate than the ABC miniseries? If so, I'd like to hear them say it. At the same time, when, CBS tried to come out with that Reagan biopic, conservatives howled in outrage and got CBS to drop it. Why shouldn't liberals have a go at the same thing? Of course, during the Reagan brouhaha liberals got their panties in a knot about how it was "censorship" and a horrifying example of conservative bullying when the Right succeeded. Now, it seems many of the same liberals are cheering as the former President of the United States is trying to bully ABC into dropping the miniseries. Nobody looks good in this one.
For example, take this defense of the Reagan movie over at HNN or the myriad comments about it here and change "Reagan" for "Path to 9/11" and switch the defenders with the attackers and we have the same sort of debate. (UPDATE: Actually, for just such an exercise done by a partisan conservative, go here).

And as the blame game continues and the real import of the movie is being lost amidst the partisan carping. As L. Brent Bozell writes in his review of the movie:
Now I will confess a personal bias here. Whether from our politicians or, more dramatically, from our news media, there is a most unhealthy obsession with criticism. As one network scribe once put it, "Good news is no news, bad news is great news." Yes, mistakes were made. But we cannot, and ought not, overlook the extraordinary work being performed by so many who are so devoted to our nation's security.

And "The Path to 9-11" doesn't ignore this truth. The film underscores that many, many men and women, most of them toiling in anonymity, in and out of uniform, have been working ceaselessly to protect America and are richly deserving of a nation's gratitude. Some individuals, like Richard Clarke and former FBI counter-intelligence expert John O'Neil, the newly appointed head of security at the Twin Towers who died inside the World Trade Center, are presented heroically.

One can quibble with some elements, but only a fool would ignore the message: America's intelligence apparatus was woefully unprepared for 9-11, and remains dangerously inadequate today. It is a frightening, sobering warning.

I hope that we can all take a step back and heed that warning.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google Keeps Helping Independent Scholars

On the heels of putting downloadable books on line, Google has announced that they will now make newspaper archives searchable and accessible. So what if many of the articles are subscription($) only, it is a resource that those of us outside of the academy--and with no access to a university library--have longed for.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The kind of Historian I strive to be

Michael Barone, in referring to an essay by Walter Russell Mead about religion and foreign policy, describes Mead as:
an appreciator and a describer, not an advocate and a decrier.
Someday, I hope the same can be said about me.