Friday, February 11, 2005

"The Gooney Left" - Part IV

At about two o'clock in the morning I succumbed to might well be the senile itch to write everyone who received Prof. Watts's email--a list which included all department faculty, grad students, and staff. . . .

Hi all,

My initial thought with regard to Prof. Watts's email was to let it pass, or perhaps poke fun at it by inviting one and all to the 1st Annual Gooney Left Open House.

Which, come to think of it, sounds like a not-bad idea. How does Sunday, March 6, sound? My place? Say from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.?

Having said that, well, I kinda hate to do it, but I guess I better step up to the plate here. My quarrel is less with Prof. Watts' suggestion that we all read Michelle Malkins than with his pronounced incivility. What is it about our country these days that people get their ideas about the tone of appropriate political discourse from shows like Crossfire (now happily defunct), Hannity & Colmes, and Scarborough Country?

Why at a time in our history when the stakes have never been higher, when we have good men and women fighting and dying every day in Iraq, when we have lost over 1,500 service personnel outright and better than 10,000 have been seriously injured, do we think it's okay not to hold ourselves to the highest standards as citizens? In my book, that means civility as well as engagement.

As a military historian who has lectured at West Point, the Marine Corps University, and the Army War College; who has taken officers (including on one occasion the son of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia) on staff rides of Civil War battlefields; who has sometimes spoken to lay audiences consisting mainly of Sons of Confederate Veterans; who has written a book which one critic termed "an apology for war," and who owns both an AK-47 and an M-1 carbine, yee haw!, I doubt that I could be considered a member of the "gooney left."

But who am I kidding? I disagree completely with the tone of Prof. Watts's email, with its evident itch to provoke, with its poverty of actual informational content.

And I haven't read the Malkins book.

And I think that at this point in the development of the historiography on Japanese internment her book would have to meet a high threshold of argument and evidence in order to merit reading.

And Prof. Watts has done nothing but lob a grenade.

And I don't like having grenades of incivility lobbed at my colleagues.

And I suspect that not liking it is all that is required to gain me membership--associate status, surely!--in the gooney left.

No, I've not read Michelle Malkins' new book on the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. I suppose that makes me hopelessly narrow-minded. Of course, I have on several occasions visited Ms. Malkins' web site, The book to which Prof. Watts refers is found here, together with enough information about it, favorably portrayed, that I think one could at least get a handle on whether the book itself merits reading. The book's full title, by the way, is: IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT: THE CASE FOR "RACIAL PROFILING" IN WORLD WAR II AND THE WAR ON TERROR . So have at it!

I have now done more to publicize the book than Prof. Watts has done.

Actually, given some my personal research interests, the book sounds interesting to me rather than something to be avoided. How about if I read Malkin and Prof. Watts reads a book by, say, Noam Chomsky? We could then sing about our experiences together on the 50-yard line of Ohio Stadium. Or he could call me names. Whatever.

Prof. Watts has so far tossed, by my count, two grenades. (Hmm, actually squib or cherry bomb might be the more accurate analogy.) The first was aimed--to the extent that such a whopper-jawed instrument of mischief can be said to have been "aimed"--at a graduate student who has been nothing but cordial to me as I have asked questions, some rather personal , about the lived experience of race in this country. The second was directed, more or less, toward a colleague whom I hired, so to speak, eight years ago, and who has gone on to compile one of the most distinguishd records of scholarship, teaching, and service of anyone at this university.

I like them.

Better than I like Prof. Watts, whom I have known since I was an undergraduate and who once upon a time struck me as a decent kind of guy.

But who right now would do well to recall the biblical adage--did I mention I am also an evangelical Christian?--"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."


PS - Don't forget the Gooney Left Open House. (Prof. Watts, you can come too!) March 6, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., my house. Please RSVP by email by Monday, February 28.

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Anonymous said...

I have never met Prof. Watts and know little about him. I will take your word here that what he says and his personal style are objectionable. But, even with that, does he not enjoy the same academic freedom that Prof. Churchill does?

Just a a devil's advocate might say.


Mark G. said...

Of course he does. But can you find anything of substance in his "gooney left" email? Any explanation about why the Malkin book deserves a read?

Incidentally, in a subsequent, semi-private exchange, Prof. Watts did offer such an explanation, and also stipulated that he found the mass internment of Japanese Americans objectionable and illegal. Which, since this is the aspect of the event that Month of Remembrance organizers seek to commemorate, makes his original email even less comprehensible.

My impression is that Prof. Watts thought that only by throwing a grenade could he get any attention at all for his viewpoint. I think it would have been better to test that assumption first, with a more measured email that outlined his views in detail. It might have gained the attention he desired. And if it didn't, he would have the satisfaction later of saying that he'd made the effort.

Anonymous said...

"by throwing a grenade"

That seems to be a good example of the difference between academic and political discourse. Academic discourse (at least by my limited understanding of it from reading but sans years of grad school) is big on carefully nuanced arguments, very carefully researched and intended to impact and persuade a peer community of scholars who can only be persuaded (as much as anyone with already formed views can be persuaded at least) by such argumentation.

Popular political discourse is much cruder and simplistic and more geared for the great unwashed masses who either: 1. lack the education and training for academic discourse and/or 2. lack the time in very busy lives to spend hours on a topic.

Both appeal to different audiences in most (but not all) cases.

I would say that the academic discourse (wow! big jargony words! :) )tends to push things towards shades of gray. To quantify and qualify those shades of gray. And rarely if ever admit that black or white, good/evil is out there. In an extreme example you cite, to "understand" what drove the 9/11 attackers rather than condemn them

The popular political stuff (on both left and right BTW) is big on black/white and not so interested in the gray.

The academic approach does give a fuller understanding of the nuances and detail of a topic. That is very good. But its weakness is that it often fails to see that sometimes, there IS a good/evil scenario out there.

I wonder (maybe mistakenly) if that civility you mourn has never really been a part of either of these in the first place. My spouse is an academic and she has tales of departmental infighting that could fit on crossfire in terms of sheer nastiness if not in noise.

Someone once told me that Navy isn't like it used to be...and it never was.


Glad to see you joining this blog thing and that you are back safe from Iraq. I am looking forward to hearing your views and experiences.