Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age Upgrades Complete

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age is now upgraded and (hopefully) in good working order.

The Education of a Talking Head

A guest post by Brooks D. Simpson, Department of History, Arizona State University

[Note: The regular blog is being upgraded with new software, so you've been redirected here.

Because it just recently appeared on Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, and because a number of other sources have linked to it, I thought I should republish this post in its entirety. It's divided into parts, as it was on the other blog, so if you have read some of it you can conveniently go to the parts you've not yet seen.]

Part 1

Mark’s comments on his experience with the PBS Ulysses S. Grant American Experience show caused me to reflect anew on the process, as I experienced it from a somewhat different vantage point. Perhaps I can shed some additional light on what goes on in such endeavors and what that says about the ways we transmit historical understanding to a wider public.

In late 1998 or early 1999 a scriptwriter for the project contacted me and asked me if I’d be willing to review a prototype script for the project that was being prepared as a part of a NEH grant application. At that time, I was the author of a rather focused study on Grant, Let Us Have Peace, and I was already engaged in writing what will eventually be a two-volume study of Grant’s entire life. I was finishing the first volume of that study, entitled Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865, at the time. I had also written and spoken about Grant elsewhere, so it made sense for someone to contact me.

The draft script revealed that the scriptwriter and others had envisioned a narrative pieced together from several biographies of Grant, notably those by William McFeely and Geoffrey Perret, as well as other studies and essays. The writer envisioned a cast of talking heads drawn from McFeely, Perret, James McPherson, Eric Foner, and yours truly, as well as the editor of the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, John Y. Simon. The writer already had something of an understanding of Grant, but wanted clarification and advice, especially when different interpretations were in play. There were some problems that at first glance might seem merely petty, but they weighed heavily on the writer’s mind. Several of the talking heads not only disagreed with each other: they also did not like each other. One author resented the fact that in the original draft another scholar was to hold forth on a period in Grant’s life where the offended author thought he should be featured. Another question arose regarding the credibility of one of the authors whose recent work had been severely criticized by several scholars, including me, but who had a screen presence the writer wanted to incorporate. Finally, the writer had reserved a great deal of space for a PBS favorite, Don Miller, who was in no sense of the word a Grant expert, and who seemed to be assigned to mouth many of the findings of others.

Thus there was layer upon layer of contested terrain. Matters of scholarly credibility battled the need for screen presence: Miller and novelist Max Byrd, who has just finished a fictional treatment of Grant, were clear favorites, because they would tell the stories the writer wanted to tell in a way the writer liked, much as Shelby Foote had done for Ken Burns. There was also something of a concern with tokenism: there was an evident need for African American and female faces to appear on screen. At the time, the writer had come up with one black scholar, who was not especially known to me as an expert about either Grant or the period. In short, there were other considerations in play here that one does not wrestle with when writing a book.

Finally, it was interesting to see how the writer chose to deal with contested areas of interpretation in Grant’s life as well as the relative importance he would devote to various events. In some cases, the writer had settled upon an interpretation after reviewing the literature; in other instances, he threw up his hands, as in how to resolve a disagreement as to the nature of Grant’s presidential ambitions in the late 1860s. William McFeely believes that Grant hungered for the office, partly out of a fear of being forgotten: there’s absolutely no proof for this interpretation. Others claimed that Grant despised politics and politicians and had no hankering at all for the presidency, which was closer to the truth, but did nothing to explain how in the end Grant decided to accept the Republican nomination in 1868. Quite willing to offer definitive answers in other controversial areas, including Grant’s relationship with alcohol, the writer was at a loss as to what to do in this instance. That McFeely’s interpretation was offered without support was not terribly important, because it was important to have McFeely be part of the team of talking heads. The writer in phone conversation gave me the impression that my advice would play a meaningful role in resolving these difficulties. We’ll see whether that was true.

Part 2

Perhaps the most important decision I made about my participation in this enterprise was made at the beginning. I decided that instead of arguing that the American Experience crew follow my understanding of Grant, I would understand from the beginning that this was their Grant. I might contribute an insight here and there, I might nudge a bit when I felt it was necessary, but much of the game was already out of my hands. This was not as large a sacrifice as one might assume, since large parts of the script seemed influenced by my work, and even more so once the AE folks reviewed a galley of the Grant biography as well as what I had to say about Grant in The Reconstruction Presidents. I also understood that style mattered as much as substance and that credibility would be weighed against appearance and story-telling ability. Nothing I said would reduce the attention given to Byrd or Miller, despite questions about their credentials; in the end, the error-ridden biographer slipped a few gaffs past the crew, despite my repeated warnings to verify every single thing he said. The bet I could do was to advise that more people be invited to contribute to the project, including Clarence Walker, David Blight, Joan Waugh, and Mark. This shifted the balance a bit away from biographers and favorites to other folks, and may have even cost me a few precious seconds of air time … but that really didn’t matter. It did for another participant, who experienced a bout of bad health during production, and openly wondered whether he would be cut out altogether if he happened to die before the program was aired.

Make no mistake about it: the American Experience folks sought my advice on a number of occasions, including a day-long meeting in Boston. The question was whether they would accept that advice, and how they would balance that advice against other advice and the seeming (seeming because they are self-imposed) demands of the format. They loved the drama of Shiloh and the Wilderness, but did not hesitate to pass over Chattanooga in a sentence, because to devote more to it would take away from the momentum of the story (although they were very wiling to offer a somewhat inaccurate reenactment of Grant’s arrival at Chattanooga in October 1863 as a way to open the first episode). They hungered for expertise and credibility, but held on to using talking heads that were not as credible because they liked the way those heads told stories. It did not bother them to use photographs out of place (postwar photos of West Pojnt to represent Grant’s West Point, for example) even as they wanted to make things just right.

Thus, what at first glance appeared to be an effort to offer viewers a new understanding of Ulysses S. Grant was in fact a far more intricate exercise. Realism and accuracy were useful here, dismissed there. For example, much was made of the opening scene, in which a worn and hobbling Grant arrives at Chattanooga in October 1863. Much of the story that followed was heavily dependent upon people retelling the narrative first presented by Horace Porter in his 1897 book Campaigning with Grant. There are some classic aspects to that narrative, including Grant’s ability to size up a situation and issue orders. And yet the impression one got from the opening was that Grant arrived at some makeshift house in the woods, sat down by himself and began writing. Not quite. Grant met several officers, including George H. Thomas, who was in command of the Army of the Cumberland, in a house in Chattanooga. By some accounts it was an icy encounter. Grant learned a lot about the situation in ensuing discussions with officers, then began writing orders; however, there were several staff officers in the room, and impression left by the scene of Grant as solitary figure is in fact wrong.

Nitpicking? Perhaps. Slighting what happened in favor of a larger truth? Perhaps. But it was always clear that certain scenes, especially reenactments, were done for effect, to craft a mood. This was most evident when it came to looking at amber-colored liquid in a drinking glass. Much the same could be said of the decision to feature Byrd and Miller. Neither had credentials per se, although perhaps Byrd’s novel might score points (he had contacted me to ask about some questions in an effort to make sure some of his claims had a basis in the record). I had met Miller on an excursion through the battlefields of the Vicksburg campaign (I had been a hired gun there, too). He claimed to be writing a book on the Vicksburg campaign; I later read that he was willing to accept the idea that he was an expert on Grant’s generalship during the campaign. That his knowledge was no greater than that gleaned from a reading of several standard sources, and that the Vicksburg book has yet to see the light of day, was in large part irrelevant, because Miller, like Byrd, could give the folks at AE what they wanted: a dramatic-sounding rendition of the obvious and well-known. So much for the quest for credibility.

Part 3

What the scriptwriter and the project directors wanted was a narrative, one where the voices of the talking heads reinforced and highlighted the narrator’s story line. There would be little discussion, little disagreement. The only significant exception to this happened to be over Grant’s interest in becoming president. Here it did not matter that McFeely’s claim that Grant sought the presidency to escape a return to obscurity lacked a basis in documentation: however, rather than settle upon one answer, three heads – those of McFeely, John Y. Simon, and Miller – were shown in sequence, with Miller splitting the difference.

McFeely: Grant did want to be president, and Julia Grant wanted him to be president even more. And he, he needed something very important to do. He had had a very important job as commander of the army and he needed another very important job.

John Simon, Historian: Grant never wanted to be president. It involved politics. He hated politics. It involved newspaper publicity. He didn't like that. It involved speaking in public. He didn't like that. It meant being away from his family. He didn't like that.

Miller: I don't think Grant knows what he wants. There's a lot of speculation about Grant, at the time and after the fact. Did he really want to be president of the United States? Grant never advanced himself in the sense of pushing the issue. He had this feeling that if he showed himself well, that offers would come his way.
Watching the result struck me as odd. Fan that I may be of the narrative form, I also think that these programs could highlight different interpretations instead of the homogenized harmonious narrative that usually dominates, and yet airing three different opinions where the only sense of resolution was in the order they were presented (one extreme, the other extreme, the Goldilocks middle) struck me as somewhat jarring precisely because it was not in tune with the rest of the program’s mode of presentation. That traditional style resembled a narrative in which people told stories about the central character, only in this case the storytellers and observers were scholars and others of varying levels of expertise and knowledge. Their job was to embellish, highlight, and augment the predetermined narrative: if what you said fit, in style and demeanor as well as in content, it would go in. If it didn’t, it ended on the cutting room floor or its videotape equivalent.

Being a talking head was a peculiar experience. I took a second trip to Boston, and found myself being set up and made up in a house on Beacon Hill just down the street from where Henry Adams lived as a young boy, followed by a full day of taping. Given my willingness to cooperate with the producers, the idea was that I would address areas not touched by those people who had gone before me, as well as add a few insights of my own. And yet it didn’t quite work out that way, in part because what I thought I should do was not what they wanted to do, and to find a way to satisfy both parties was difficult.

I wanted to strike a certain pose, not too formal (thus a denim oxford shirt) but not too relaxed (thus jacket and tie). That was fine (I had actually asked ahead as to what others had worn so that there would be some contrast). Having done some television before, I knew the idea was to say something in a memorable, thoughtful style, as if I had some special insight or wisdom to contribute … and it would help if I gave it a little dramatic pizzazz as well. I thought that they would simply ask me to speak on X and Y or tell me that they needed someone to talk about Z and that would be that. Instead, I found myself being asked very specific questions, designed to elicit particular answers or stories. How well I told those stories (at least in the eyes of the director) would determine whether it would be my talking head that would tell certain stories.

And make no mistake about it: in certain cases I liked the idea of being the talking head that would tell the story of Grant in the nighttime rain at Shiloh, smoking his cigar as he pledged to “whip ‘em tomorrow”; I wanted to be the person who would tell the story of how after his daughter Nellie was married at the White House, someone found Grant in her room, thrown across her bed, sobbing. In the former case I was lucky; in the latter case … you can’t always get what you want.

There is no doubt that one of the oddest facets of being a talking head is the requirement of the format for one to say the obvious in a most profound and dramatic way. Nowadays I can make fun of the process, but it’s clear that those who can pull this off get air time (thus Byrd and Miller). It was left to me to utter a line that would be prominently displayed in advertising material for the program. I say it the first time I appear onscreen: “How could this strange career be explained? What about the heights to which it ascended? What about the depths to which it descended? How could such an ordinary man achieve such extraordinary things?” Later I offered a variation on that theme, gravely observing: “No one could quite explain what Ulysses S. Grant was about, the secrets of his success. How could such an ordinary man achieve such extraordinary feats?” One of those quotes ran in several previews of the program, most amusingly in TV Guide, giving me the rare distinction of being quoted by name in that publication.

Part 4

Needless to say, after viewing and reviewing various versions of the program, I was almost tired of the whole exercise when I participated in a week-long symposium on Grant at Gettysburg College. Several of the other talking heads were present: so was another Grant biographer, Jean Edward Smith, as well as the directors of the two episodes. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings attendees gathered to watch a penultimate version. Oh, there was a little nit-picking on the part of the audience, as one might expect (that goes with the territory of doing Civil War history). As I had long ago decided this was someone else’s Grant, it was easy for me to shrug off these remarks. What was more welcome was the overall impression that people liked what they saw, even if what they saw was mostly in line with new understandings of Grant. For people who follow the evolutions of historical interpretation, there were few fresh perspectives; however, that was not the program’s intended audience. Rather, it challenged in a fairly direct fashion the notion of Grant as a stupid and corrupt drunk who was equally ham-handed in war and politics, while reminding people of the important role Grant played in winning the war, reuniting the nation, and advocating equal rights for blacks. Understood as an introduction, perhaps even an appetizer, the film for the most part works in the same way as did Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Or so it seemed to many people who sat and watched, including a fellow who finally tapped me on the shoulder in some excitement over what he was seeing. I turned to see Jack Kemp with typical enthusiasm celebrate Grant as his sort of Republican.

In the end, however, I also thought that the program represented something of a missed opportunity. Too much of what passed as analysis was in reality a series of informed assertions adorned with the credibility of self-assured talking heads who presumably lent their authority to the entire enterprise. A third episode could have achieved so much more: instead, the two episodes tended to follow the usual narration of Grant’s life with the dividing line at 1865. As art, I appreciate the use the film made of certain talking heads; as a scholar, it was obvious that style trumped substance too often and that the expertise of several contributors was more apparent than real. If in large part I was pleased with the story of Grant presented in the program, it still seemed to me that in several instances it was constrained by the need to refute an imagined previous critical and dismissive understanding. There was far too little opportunity for discussion and disagreement: in truth Grant remains a contested figure, and thoughtful exchanges between scholars, even if issued as a supplement, would have been educational indeed. The whole enterprise involved a series of tradeoffs and compromises, with the flattening of a lively narrative that such a process ensures.

And that, in the end, is what contributes to nag at me. If I had been treated well by the folks at AE, the fact remains that in turn I had given them something much more valuable: my credibility. Simply (and immodestly) put, it would have been hard for the program to claim credibility without my participation at various stages of design and production. That had been illustrated when C-SPAN overlooked me when it had done a series on the American presidents: I received a number of inquiries as to what happened (there’s always intrigue and happenstance behind those decisions). And yet it was the appearance of credibility and authority that seemed to matter most. My writings did far more to shape the content of the program than did my actual participation: I could not prevent several errors, and I can’t say that my participation as an advisor had nearly as much impact on content as it did on some casting decisions. Inaccuracies were brushed away as inconsequential; that the information relayed by a talking head might not be quite right was irrelevant so long as it was delivered in impressive style. Had the narrative been supplemented by a roundtable discussion, it might have been far more engaging, and it would have opened the eyes of the viewing public to the notion that scholars debate issues and individuals. At a time when advances in production and media offer an opportunities to pursue various approaches to a subject, the decision to rely primarily upon a single overriding narrative left open the chance that we had contributed in our own way to constructing a Grant no more three-dimensional or complex than the face on the fifty dollar bill.

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age - Third Update

Still working out the kinks on the updated blog. The rest of the WarHistorian.org site is available as usual. I'll have today's post uploaded to this (blogspot) site shortly.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age - Further Update

Still fine-tuning the new blog software. Periodically Blog Them Out of the Stone Age may need to be redirected to this site, so I will place new entries on both sites until the work is complete. Look for a new post tomorrow.

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age Being Updated

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age is temporarily unavailable pending completion of some routine software updates.

Friday, September 09, 2005

WarHistorian.org Back Online

All is well again.

This is an archive site for WarHistorian. The new site is WarHistorian.org. The blog is at Blog Them Out of the Stone Age.

WarHistorian.org Temporarily Down

A technical issue has developed with WarHistorian.org, and pending its resolution I've asked my web host to shut down the site. The issue should be resolved shortly.

If the problem takes longer than a few hours to resolve, I'll simply publish my new posts on this site until it is.

Thanks for stopping by. And either way, you can expect to see a new post shortly--either on Blog Them Out of the Stone Age or this blog.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Blogs Away!

The blog has a new home: WarHistorian.org. And a new name:

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age.

Please set your bookmarks and blogrolls accordingly.

This is now the archive site for War Historian. It will be maintained but not updated. I look forward to seeing you on the new site. Thanks very much for your visits and interest.

-- Mark Grimsley

Academic Gate-keeping

At last week's annual meeting of the Society for Military History, I asked a number of people about this business of the lack of political diversity within the academy. I got a number of thoughtful responses. Everyone found plausible the estimate of 80 percent liberals in the academy, though among academic military historians they estimated that percentage at only 60 percent, and among military historians in public history or the armed services, I think one may safely say the percentage is much lower.

Follow this link to the full post.

Friday, March 04, 2005

SMH Blog?

For reasons I still haven't fully revealed, I'm a newly converted fan of the Society for Military History (SMH), which until recently I had concluded was unlikely to be of much help in advancing military history as an academic field. My conversations at the recent Charleston annual meeting have given me a more optimistic view.

I promise not to keep you in suspense--or whatever you're feeling about this--much longer. But it's the end of Winter Quarter and I'm totally slammed. Moreover, I am in the process of moving the blog to WarHistorian.org. That site is already up and running, sort of, although at present it consists of a single page that I composed mainly as a way to evaluate the site-building tools on the new server. By Monday the new site should start to have something of its permanent appearance.

The Lee/Che flash presentation has also been revised--and the misspellings corrected, for the text-fixated nitpickers among you--and is in final form. [It should shortly be back online.] By and large I chose to leave it much as my web designer, Stephanie Wiseman, first created it. The "vision" of a military history that deals with both hegemonic and counterhegemonic power is mine, but I like the fact that a student (Ms. Wiseman is a sophomore here at OSU) has interpreted it.

The question now is what to do with WarHistorian.org, which is where the SMH reenters the picture. The SMH has a web site and a quarterly newsletter, The Headquarters Gazette, which is partially available online. It does not yet have a blog. It seems to me that a blog whose "beat" covered the field of military history could be valuable. And I mean the whole field: nonwestern, left-leaning, PC, trend-mongering, war/race, war/gender and/or subversive military history as well as the more familiar (but nonetheless vital) forms of military history. I think I also mean popular and public as well as academic varieties of military history, though I will be damned if I will let academic military history take a back seat to these other forms, as has so often occurred in the past.

I'd be willing, if asked, to reconfigure WarHistorian.org as the SMH blog, though through the device of the subdomain it would be simple and, I think, better to create a blog whose name really fit the SMH. This could be as minimalist as SMH-Blog.org, as cute as Blogs and Trumpets.org, as fierce as BlogThemIntoTheStoneAge.org, or as straghtforward as MilitaryHistoryBlog.org. All four domain names, I confidently predict, are still available.

What I don't know is whether I could find enough committed bloggers within the military history community to make the thing work. I have plenty to do overseeing my own blogs (not just War Historian but also The Ohio Twenty-first). I would need bloggers from all corners of military history, most especially the realm of academic military history. It's pretty obvious that military analysts have discovered blogging, but academics, for all their puffery about being "cutting edge," are professionally among the most conservative people I have ever met. No new medium exists for them until the American Historical Association has not merely blessed that medium, but verily drowned it in academic holy water. The fate of Civil Warriors, my effort to partner with some grad students to create a blog, has not been inspiring. They seem to have discerned all too quickly the academic orthodoxy concerning blogdom.

Still, anybody dumb enough to be an academic military historian in the first place is probably dumb enough to blog about it. Any takers?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Me and Jakester

Ward Churchill is a fraud and traitor and I am a fellow fraud and traitor. Don't take my word for it--ask the Jakester.

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Charleston SMH: Good News

This will have to be very brief, but I had several conversations at the Charleston SMH that gave me reason to feel more optimistic about military history's future as an academic field--at least intellectually-- and the organization's interest in helping the field to expand, both intellectually and in terms of the number of academic positions. I'm currently digging myself out of the usual post-conference backlog of chores, but in coming days I'll have a number of posts (with photos!) concerning the annual meeting.

For the present, I'd just like to offer a public word of thanks to Prof. Jennifer Speelman of The Citadel, who did a wonderful job of organizing the conference.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Charleston SMH: A Reconnaissance

I leave in a few hours for the annual meeting of the Society for Military History.

I've looked over the program with as much care as I could. If I counted correctly, there are forty-two sessions. Of these, fifteen deal directly with the conference theme, "The Rise of the Military Profession."

Nineteen sessions, by my count, are exclusively concerned with the United States military experience.

Eleven sessions deal exclusively with the European military experience.

Seven sessions have papers that involve U.S. and European subjects.

One deals with the Canadian military experience.

Two sessions deal with the South African military experience, and although these deal extensively with British and Boer actors, I'll accept them as non-European.

One session deals with Egypt.

One session deals with a topic that seems to have race at its core.

No sessions, as far as I can tell, involve women or gender.

No sessions are devoted exclusively to non nation-state actors, though I counted three papers that seemed to examine their subjects principally through the lens of non nation-state actors.

It also seemed to me that terms current in the defense establishment were frequently used to describe sessions that dealt with other historical periods; e.g., "Amphibious Warfare in the Early Modern World;" "The Continental Army: Insurgent Peace-Keepers?;" "Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Southern Africa, 1900-1902;" "Counter-Insurgency from Cuba to Castile . . . 1895-1936;" "Asymmetrical Warfare during the American Revolution's Southern Campaign;" "Professionalism and Peace Operations [in the U.S., 1830-1860]."

Here is an excerpt from Tom Bruscino's post, which I highlighted yesterday:

Military historians have at times been far too caught up in the traditional end of our field--discussions of battles from the perspective of generals. We have not done the best job in explaining how the importance of military affairs extends far beyond the battlefield. But the effort is underway, and has been for twenty-five years, to broaden military history to include all manner of discussions on race, class, gender, social life, cultural issues, memory, and politics.

Look at the program for yourself. You will indeed see some attention to social life, cultural issues, memory, and politics. But if these concerns honestly strike you as being as much a part of the field as European-style command, military institutions, strategic-policymaking, and warfare, I would love to be enlightened.

The problem is not that the papers that will be presented are not good papers. In my experience, most of the papers given at the SMH display the same quality you see at other major conferences.

The problem is not that the presenters should quit doing research on these topics, which plainly interest them, and instead research topics that do not.

The problem is not one of achieving academic cachet. Military history will be, for a long time, a bastard child of academe. For political reasons, not intellectually-defensible ones.

The problem is that military historians have themselves painted the field into a corner that is far too small and is intellectually indefensible. And they have done it for political reasons. They have made little effort to reach out to the many historians who examine war and military affairs through the lens of gender, race, and class; from non-European perspectives; or from the perspective of counterhegemonic actors. That is why so few of these historians present their work at the SMH, or are even aware of its existence.

They say that eighty percent of people in academe are Democrats or in some way politically left-of-center. That argues for some form of political gate-keeping--in my view most likely an accidential gate-keeping whereby most people who self-select into academe are already left of center to begin with.

Within the field of military history, I would argue that a similar form of gate-keeping prevails, perhaps accidental, perhaps not. The gate-keeping takes this form: Be a military historian who deals with questions, agendas and conceptual frameworks congenial to the defense establishment, or do not call yourself a military historian. We don't don't want your scholarship, don't want your participation, don't want your voice, don't want you.

Because if we did want you, we'd make an effort as an organization to reach out to you and include you.

When I attended the last SMH, I looked very hard for evidence that anyone--be they leadership or rank-and-file--wanted to enlarge the tent. I didn't see much. I'll be looking again at the Charleston SMH. I'll let you know what I find.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Military History and the Academy

In a comment on my previous post, Tom Bruscino asks me to take a look at the above post on Rebunk. I encourage readers of this blog to do the same.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Charleston SMH

The flagship organization for military historians, at least those who work in North America, is the Society for Military History. I sketched some background about the SMH in an entry composed after attending its last annual meeting, which was held last May in Bethesda, Maryland.

The next meeting will be held later this week in Charleston, South Carolina. I'm looking forward to it. The meetings always give me a chance to meet old friends and make new ones. I get an opportunity to see what's going on in the field. And because I've somehow managed never to visit Charleston before now, I'll finally get to visit Fort Sumter, the only significant Civil War battle site I have yet to see.

I've not yet taken time to look systematically at the conference program. If I had to guess, however, I imagine that it will look similar to last year's program. The question I have for you--and for that matter, me--is this. Supposing that I were a history department or college dean willing to consider creating a military history position? Suppose that I knew the most likely objections I would receive would have to do with protests about the lack of intellectual vigor in the field; that people would wonder if military historians had anything of consequence to say to those in other fields; that they would wonder if military history were in meaningful conversation with those in other fields. Would the program, overall, help or hinder my case?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Strategy of Juxtaposition

In a previous post, I wrote that I didn't "have time to cover the issues that need covering and at the same time explain to readers the reasoning that underpins my selection and weighting of issues." For example, "readers might wonder why a blog that has spent so much time engaging with the ideas of Tom Barnett in The Pentagon's New Map has of late spent so much time engaging with the ideas of Ward Churchill in On the Justice of Roosting Chickens." The answer, I said, was "of course, obvious."

Well, maybe not so obvious.

Jonathan Dresner wrote a comment on the post in which he essentially deduced that I was thinking in terms of blowback. The term, originally coined by the CIA to refer to the unintended adverse consequence of a covert operation, has in recent years been used in connection with the unintended consequences of American foreign policy. Churchill was just one of many commentators who viewed the September 11 as an instance of blowback. (Most, by the way, managed to express their view with much greater coherence and persuasive power.)

I gather than Jonathan thought I believed that Barnett's national security vision, if implemented, would result in a lot of blowback, and that this accounted for my interest in Churchill's "roosting chickens" essay. That's a reasonable inference. In fact, however, my reasons for engaging with both Barnett and Churchill derive from a completely different source.

If you go back to this blog's first entry, from December 2003, you'll find that it begins by juxtaposing the cover of a history of U.S. Army counterinsurgency operations with a photo of Hondurans living in a trash dump. The early entries juxtaposed postcolonialism and military history and asked what relationship might be found between the two. The eventual logo of the blog, first created in April 2004, juxtaposed portraits of Che Guevara and Robert E. Lee, a relationship explained in Polarities of Power. Juxtaposition is, in short, the basic strategy that informs the blog. It's nothing sophisticated--nothing so systematic, for example, as a dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). It's just a matter of taking two seemingly disparate things, postulating a relationship between the two, and working from both ends to eventually weave a thread of connection. I have found it a useful tool by which to get beyond the traditional intellectual boundaries of military history, and to begin to create a new, more expansive map of the field. That's pretty much all there is to it.

Not long ago a student in my History 151 class who is also an aspiring web designer took a look at this blog and, seeing that I plainly needed it, came forward to offer her assistance. One of her first assignments has been the creation of a Flash presentation to animate the logo. The presentation is still a work in progress, but it suggests some of what this expanded map involves: an equal emphasis on the hegemonic and counterhegemonic use of force. Check it out. To view the presentation, you will need Macromedia Flash Player, which can be downloaded for free.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Away from the Blog

I doubt that I'll have the opportunity to post further until Saturday, February 19. Look for a new post then.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

(E) "Little Eichmanns" - Part VI

I continue to wrestle with the issue of whether the "little Eichmanns" metaphor can be made coherent. As I have said, a major problem with the Ward Churchill essay is that the essay fails to deploy the metaphor effectively, at least as an aid to analysis. As an aid to incitement, it has proven to be quite effective.

This video does a better job of explaining Churchill's basic perspective in two minutes than Churchill does in 20 pages. The organization highlighted in this video is the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). If you check out the signatories to PNAC's Statement of Principles , then read PNAC's open letter to President Clinton dated January 26, 1998, you can see how so many people can regard it as reasonable to believe that the Bush administration had a pre-9/11 agenda to attack Iraq. The video's argument that the underlying rationale is a sort of corporatist neo-fascism is not, in my opinion, sustained by the PNAC site, but then it wouldn't be, would it?

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Update, March 1: For a different perspective on the Churchill controversy--and me, for that matter-- see Churchill's Defenders from the Feb. 28 edition of FrontPage magazine.

Soldiers in Iraq: Hang On to Your Humanity

An open letter to GIs in Iraq.

Found this link in a syllabus in an English composition course whose thematic focus was "Making Peace, Making War."

The letter was written in November 2003 by a Vietnam veteran who served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. It is posted on the Bring Them Home Now web site. BTHN describes itself as "a campaign of military families, veterans, active duty personnel, reservists and others opposed to the ongoing war in Iraq and galvanized to action by George W. Bush's inane and reckless challenge to armed Iraqis resisting occupation to 'Bring 'em on.'"

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Clearing the Net

An advantage of blogs: They can be about anything.

A problem with blogs: They can be about anything.

Between the Ward Churchill imbroglio and the more recent "Gooney Left" affair, the focus of this blog has of late drifted toward present-day politics. That's not necessarily divorced from its main subject--as Clausewitz famously said--"war is a continuation of politics by other means." But it does threaten to dilute the main thrust of War Historian.

Consequently it has seemed best to move political discussions to another blog, The Ohio Twenty-first, so-named simply because I happen to live in the 21st District of the Ohio House of Representatives and all politics is, supposedly, local. Feel free to drop by.

I'll continue to pursue the Ward Churchill matter on War Historian, as well as other political issues that seem more or less directly related to military affairs. But all other personal political views go to The Ohio Twenty-first.

Loyal Subversive

is a new blog kept by a mobilized member of the Marine Corps Reserve with nearly 20 years combined active and reserve service. He is also an advanced PhD student in military history.

"The Gooney Left" - Part VI

This is the conclusion of "The Gooney Left" entry. If there are further developments, I'll report them under a separate thread.

About ten people have so far accepted the invitation to the "Gooney Left" open house. I'll repeat the invitation in a few days, shorn of the "Gooney Left" label, so that people can come who may not necessarily want to make an implicit political statement.

Ninety percent of the people who read my email in response to Prof. Watts approved of it. Three or four individuals thought it was foolish or futile to engage with him. In at least one instance I had the impression that the individual considered my reply the moral equivalent of Prof. Watts's original post.

I suspect this last appraisal was the tip of an iceberg. There is, within academe, a significant current of opinion that values decorum over free exchange. I do not say that adherents to this view deny the value of free exchange; I merely say that they think there is an appropriate time and place for it. Usually it is some other time, some other place.

For a time the faculty and grad student list servs were swamped with exchanges concerning the Day of Remembrance/Malkin book affair. A handful of people accounted for all of them. Eventually the department chair quite sensibly directed that the exchange be moved elsewhere, and offered to create a separate list serv for the purpose.

His email crossed with mine, in which I stated that I had already created such a list serv:

I placed Prof. Watts's email address on it and my own. I invited others to "opt in" on the exchange and within a few minutes had five takers. At 3:05 p.m. I sent the following email to the six other members on the list:

Hi all,

It seems to me that one of the issues raised in today's exchange is the function of what might be termed academic gate-keeping. For example, academic culture emphasizes publication in university presses and refereed journals so faithfully that I have seen very good books treated as being almost invisible because the author published them with a commercial press. Certain commercial presses are viewed as acceptable; e.g., Norton, Basic Books, Knopf, etc. But others are problematic, while Regnery, the press which published the Malkin book, bills itself as "the nation's preeminent conservative publisher" and I think would therefore be considered highly problematic. See Regnery's website, http://www.regnery.com/index.html, esp. http://www.regnery.com/regnery/regnery.html

The avowed reason to regard Regnery as highly problematic would be twofold: first, the absence of a referee procees; and second, the assumption that an ideologically-driven perspective would fall outside our professional norms.

But one could argue that many works published in university presses are also ideologically driven, merely in ways congenial to those in the academy. Certainly the perception outside our profession is that academe is inhabited mainly by those whose politics are left-leaning.

It certainly seems to me that people are entitled to their own political views, and if liberals self-select into academe in disproportionate numbers, no one has room to cry foul. If, on the other hand, liberals overtly or covertly make graduate admissions and hiring decisions on the basis of candidates' political views, that does seem open to serious query.



I have so far heard nothing from Prof. Watts, and gotten only a single response from anyone else. This came from a graduate student:

I was more than a little disappointed that one current faculty member today resorted to an ad hominem attack on the senator, rather than address his comments or his use of "gooney left." This reflects poorly on the current faculty member's professionalism, civility and willingness to refute with reason and evidence what he obviously thinks is a mistaken position. I suspect instead that the outburst was in response to the Senator's of the "gooney left" phrase; nevertheless it was completely uncalled for.
The grad student was correct. One faculty member did indeed make at least one and arguably several ad hominem attacks on Prof./Senator Watts, depending on how you count it/them. Worse, it was not even a clever ad hominem attack.

Friday, February 11, 2005

"The Gooney Left" - Part V

Let's face it, so far this is just so much academic posturing. Prof. Watts's email is posturing. My reply is posturing. None of it gets us anywhere.

No: it's not enough to lob grenades or chide people for lobbing them. The chide itself can be seen as little more than a grenade wrapped in nicer packaging. We've got to figure out a way to have a more constructive kind of political exchange. We've got to model it, and keep modeling it, and hone the model, and provide a sustained, principled alternative to the--I dunno, what to call it?--horseshit of present political "debate."

This means an attention to process. It means figuring out the obstacles to civil discourse and evolving tactics by which to overcome the obstacles.

Luckily this is not a job that has to be done from scratch. There is a pretty well-evolved literature out there on negotiation, characterized by such books as Getting to Yes, Getting Past No, and Difficult Conversations (all products of the Harvard Negotiation Project). There is also what I judge to be a kernel of impatience with the current horseshit. You could see it in the applause and appreciation that Jon Stewart received in his Crossfire appearance. You can see it in the recent emergence of MyPartyToo, a PAC headed by former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman. You can see it in the columns of the evangelical Christian columnist Charles Colson.

I am sure that there are those on the Left and Right who will find a movement toward greater civility to be in some way threatening.

Fuck em.

I'm tired of them.

I want something better.

Anyone feel like I do?

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"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, http://www.michellemalkin.com/ The book to which Prof. Watts refers is found here http://michellemalkin.com/books.htm, 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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"The Gooney Left" - Part III

Prof Watts's email brought this response from my colleague Kevin Boyles, whom readers may recognize as the author of Arc of Justice, which won the 2004 National Book Award for nonfiction:

I take exception to Senator Watts' attempt to slander the serious work of our colleagues with such name-calling.
Kevin Boyle
Kevin is one of those remarkable people who manages to combine keen intellect and high standards with great gentleness and genuine modesty. A class act, all the way. For him to send this email was the rough equivalent of me rubbing bear grease on my middle-aged paunch, walking to the center of the campus Oval, and bellowing at everyone within earshot.

From Poland came two emails from a colleague, Christopher Phelps, who is conducting research there. In one of them he remarked, "The Communist Party supported Japanese-American internment during World War II. Now there was a dubious left, pro-Stalin to the core. It seems they have their echoes on the contemporary right."

Initially I thought Kevin and Chris were taking Professor Watts too seriously. Possibly because I have known Prof. Watts for years and have watched his steady drift toward the right and his tendency (often though not always) to indulge in symbolism over substance. And like many Ohioans, I got to see him get stomped out of sight in a primary run for the U.S. Senate.

There was also my last personal contact with Prof. Watts some years back, when I reserved a classroom to conduct an evening review session with my students. Prof. Watts had the classroom before me. Like all instructors he was supposed to vacate the room when the first bell rang, but he wasn't finished with his lecture, so he kept going for as long as he pleased while my students and I waited in the hallway. He wasn't just self-absorbed about it. He did it with an air that clearly implied that he was more important than I was. You can learn a great deal about powerful people by the way they treat those who are lesser than themselves. I learned a good deal that evening about Prof. Watts, which on the whole convinced me that my initial impression of him as a young undergraduate had been mistaken--I once thought quite highly of him--and that this was a rather a venal, small-minded man.

Venal, small-minded, and now retired, with nothing better to do than spend thirty seconds tickling the keyboard to diss an event which others had spent months of effort to coordinate and plan. It seemed at first, well, kinda pathetic. I thought the best approach might be to laugh it off, to jolly it away by holding a "gooney left" party. Or maybe best just to ignore it altogether.

And yet.

And yet.

Should a man who sought public responsibility and received it be held to so low a standard that he should be treated in much the same way as some sad old man mumbling to himself at the edge of campus?

Well, shiiit....

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"The Gooney Left" - Part II

This email circular landed in our email boxes yesterday:

Hello everyone,

I wanted to draw your attention to a month-long series of events that will commemorate Japanese American Internment. The kick-off event is this evening, and it is sponsored by History Works 2. I hope you will encourage your students to attend.


The Asian American Studies Program at The Ohio State University announces a month- long series of events in February and March to commemorate the Japanese American Internment Camps of World War II. On February 19, 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that authorized the incarceration of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans. They were forced to leave their homes, possessions, and friends behind and report to internment camps. The kick-off event for this "Month of Remembrance will begin this Thursday.

Dr. Arthur Hansen, Senior Historian of the Japanese American National Museum, “Barbed Voices: Oral History, Resistance, and the World War II Japanese Internment.”

Thursday, Feb. 10, 6:30pm, Ohio Historical Society

In spite of the popular public view that Japanese Americans accommodated their eviction and incarceration during World War, significant numbers of them resisted their oppression. This presentation emphasizes those Nikkei (people of Japanese ancestry) who were heard during the wartime and later recalled their resistance in oral history interviews. Dr. Arthur Hansen is a Senior Historian at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, faculty emeritus in the Department of History and Director of the Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton.

Dr. Hansen also will be offering a workshop for OSU students entitled "Giving Voice to the Past: An Introduction to Oral History" Friday, Feb. 11, 1:30-3:00 p.m., Multicultural Center (Ohio Union, 4th floor), Rm. 436

Dr. Hansen's visit is sponsored by History Works 2: Building Foundations, a collaborative partnership between Columbus Public Schools, the Ohio Historical Society and the OSU Department of History. For more information, http://www.historyworksohio.org.

For more information about the entire series, please visit the website: http://ijs.osu.edu/remember.html or contact Prof. Judy Wu .

This email brought the following response from Prof. Eugene Watts, a retired professor who was a member of my department before being elected to the Ohio state senate in, I think, 1980. If memory serves, he continued to teach a course per year thereafter.

I want to call your attention to the excellent book, In Defense of Internment, by Michelle Malkin,or is this just a propaganda program from the gooney left?

Regards, Eugene Watts--who taught modern American history at OSU for 30 years.

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"The Gooney Left" - Part I

This week as I've kept abreast of the Churchill affair, continued my explorations of the politically-charged blogosphere, and viewed some of the cable news talk shows, I have also watched, repeatedly and as a form of therapy, the amiable musical 1776. I remember buying a paperback copy of the screenplay when I was 13. I loved it. Two years later I worked stage crew on a community theater production of 1776. I loved it all over again.

It's just fun. How many times do you get to see the Founding Fathers sing, dance, and crack jokes?

But it's also nostalgic, a reminder to me of what I once thought political life was like: informed, engaged, civil, and serious-minded in a way I rarely see these days. Or come to think of it, ever.

Informed? Most political conversation consists of sound bites and talking points--even in real life when time is not at a premium.

Engaged? People mostly talk and listen to those with whom they already agree.

Civil? When we do talk across party and ideological lines we think it's okay, even laudable, to have a discourse consisting largely of name-calling , slanders, half-truths, double standards, and mutual censorship (shut up! no, you shut up!).

Serious-minded? How many people who whoop it up about politics actually know anything about it? Useful political dialogue isn't just about opinions. There has to be a modicum of factual basis for discussions about policy, a reservoir of factual data on which people can agree. But we seem uninterested in finding a common data set from which an informed exchange of views can proceed.

It would be nice, of course, to believe this is something new and awful in American political life, that we can and should go back to "the good old days."

But let's face it, the old days never existed. I'm a Civil War historian, which means I am a chronicler of the greatest disaster this country's political culture ever produced. And even if I were a historian of some other place and period, things would not be that much better. Even the Founders existed in world characterized less by wigs and perfumed words than by the odor of burning homes and spent gunpowder.

Still, it is permissible to hope for better. It is permissible to insist on civil exchange and to cry foul when people resort to the usual crass tricks of politics as usual. I had to make up my mind about this recently when a former colleague decided to lob a few email grenades at a campus effort to remember the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

What the Heck?: A Quick Primer

One of the things about keeping the blog these days is that I don't have time to cover the issues that need covering and at the same time explain to readers the reasoning that underpins my selection and weighting of issues.

Some may wonder, for example, why a blog that has spent so much time engaging with the ideas of Tom Barnett in The Pentagon's New Map has of late spent so much time engaging with the ideas of Ward Churchill in On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.

The answer is, of course, obvious.

Russell Means on 9/11

To Whom It May Concern:

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I sat transfixed before the television watching the horror of the world trade center with many emotions running through my heart. On that day I said many prayers for the victims, families and the rescuers.

Since that painful day, I have read countless articles and editorials depicting the terror in newspapers from New York City, Los Angeles, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, NM. I have a feeling of sadness at the war mongering that has become the norm for patriarchal societies throughout history, up to and including today.

The remainder of that intolerable week, I tried to get through to New York City and the immediate area to find out how my friends and relatives were. Finally, on Friday and Saturday, I began getting messages through to my friends. On Sunday, September 16, my friend Rainer Greeven, Esq. called to assure me that he, his family and immediate friends were safe. However, within his own circle of friends and business associates he had been deeply affected. In fact, he told me he didn't know anyone in NYC that wasn't affected by tragedy. During the course of our conversation, he asked me what I thought our response, as a nation should be.

Full article

Russell Means on the Churchill Affair

I've now heard Denver talk show radio host Peter Boyles's interview with Russell Means, who might be called the dean of American Indian activists. Boyles does a much less effective job than with his Churchill interview. He is by turns patronizing, querulous, and borderline insulting.

In answer to a question asking his opinion the Churchill affair, Means responds that it's the tip of the iceberg" of a larger assault upon academe and the intelligentsia by an emerging "totalitarian" wave.

On Churchill's status as an Indian: Means is completely impatient with allegations that Churchill is not an Indian. "If he's a fake, I'm a fake."

Boyles won't let it go--snorts, guffaws, browbeats, baits Means, laughs when Means gets ticked off. Boyles reels off a list of individuals--about four--who impeach Churchill's status as an Indian. Means doesn't find them credible. From an interview standpoint, Boyles has asked the question. He's not satisfied with Means's answer, so he just keeps going. "So-and-so, is so-and-so a liar?"

The amazing thing is that apparently Boyles had a good relationship with Means before this train wreck of an interview. I can't imagine that he got anything from the interview worth the human capital expended. What a disappointment.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Not on the "Taxpayers Dime"

Critics of Ward Churchill continue to blat that he espouses his opinions on "the taxpayers' dime," implying that as long as Churchill draws a professor's salary his First Amendment rights are somehow not as good as those of other people. Churchill blasted this kind of thinking in a speech last evening to a packed house at the University of Colorado.

'I do not work for taxpayers,' prof says

Churchill throws down gauntlet at speech in Boulder

By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
February 9, 2005

BOULDER - A defiant Ward Churchill told an overflow audience of more than a thousand at the University of Colorado on Tuesday night that he will not back down or be silenced.

Most of the crowd that packed CU's Glenn Miller Ballroom for Churchill's speech appeared to be pulling for him in the fight of his professional life. It was his first public talk since becoming embroiled in controversy for his 3-year-old essay on the Sept. 11 attacks.

Full Story

(E) "Little Eichmanns" - Part V

"The dump" in the hills above La Ceiba, Honduras, July 2002. Posted by Hello

Since my last installment I've had a chance to read most of the commentary that L'Affaire Churchill has generated. I've also had a chance to take my first real look at what passes for discourse among the extreme Right. The comparison is illuminating. Although the Right is crying foul at the offensiveness of Churchill's essay, Churchill's "I offend, therefore I am" effort seems tentative and bush league compared with the likes of, say Michael Savage. Now there's a guy who knows how to be offensive!

Of course, Savage is not a member of my profession. Churchill is. I'm in no danger of getting tarred by anything Savage says, whereas some on the Right seem all too eager to make Churchill seem a representative figure within the humanities. So principle and self-interest oblige me to defend Churchill on free speech grounds. Even so, it would be nice to defend something that actually made a contribution to scholarly dialogue.

Well, if Churchill can't sustain the "little Eichmanns" metaphor, maybe I can.

Not, to be sure, in the way Churchill attempts it. Even if on September 12, 2001 (the day Churchill first published the essay), one could imagine that the "technocrats" in the World Trade Center were narrow, self-absorbed, hubristic, venal people, by 2004 (the year the essay appeared in book form) we had plenty of evidence to show otherwise. I have in front of me a copy of Portraits: 9/11/01: The Collected 'Portraits of Grief' from the New York Times (Henry Holt, 2002). To this could be added a number of online tributes and books such as On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnik, & 9/11 (HarperCollins, 2003). Recent days have seen the publication of 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers (Henry Holt, 2005).

Still, the operative dynamic within the "Eichmann analogy" is not volitional evil, as Churchill's critics assume. It is the compartmentalization and bureaucratization that characterizes modern life. It is the way we have learned to do the job in front of us without asking, "What is the relationship of this task to the whole of life?" We take on faith the idea that if we do our jobs, the world benefits. But it is not unreasonable to suppose that our jobs influence the world in ways that are subtle, sometimes contradictory, and arguably harmful or even lethal in their ultimate results. We're not to the "little Eichmann" threshold yet--there's a lot one has to consider in order to build an analytical bridge that far--but the central dynamic of bureaucratization is too obvious to miss.

I will give one brief example. The other evening I took a digital camera to my local grocery store. I wanted to take a photo contrasting the abundance here domestically--at least here in subburbia--with the abject poverty of "the dump," shown above. I was composing my first shot when a manager came up to me, plainly agitated. It transpired that the grocery store had a policy against anyone taking photographs without permission from corporate public relations.

The manager was agitated because he feared a confrontation. After all, what could I possibly be doing with a digital camera in the store? Maybe--probably--I was a prospective litigator and therefore a threat. I just shrugged and said I didn't mind not taking the photo, but could I have the phone number of corporate PR? And what purpose was being served by the policy? The manager unbent, but only a little, and stayed in bureaucratic mode.

You might say, there's nothing exceptional about this. You'd be right. We're used to this way of organizing life. But think for a moment about how different the exchange would have been if the manager and I had been organically part of the same community. I could have told him my reasons for wanting the photo; he would have listened and would surely have had the authority, in an older store, to let me take a photo. We would, in short, have had a human exchange in which each of us would have learned more about the other. As it turned out, we had a bureaucratic exchange. The manager did not make the policy. He did not seem to understand why it was made or what purpose it served. He did not ask--did not have authority to ask--whether my project represented a threat or opportunity to the company he worked for. All he knew was that a policy existed and he was obliged to enforce it.

Just so: In the suites of the Twin Towers, there were deals to be made--deals composed of hundreds of component deals--and perched before the CRT screens lay rank upon rank of employees--"technocrats," in Churchill's phrase, whose job it was to look at their chunk of the deal, address a few equations, and move the deal along. Indispensable to the process, they nevertheless labored without knowing, without being encouraged to know or even having the information to know, whether the ultimate result of a given deal would improve the world or harm it.

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War Historian will shortly be moving to its permanent digs under its own domain name, warhistorian.org. The Blogger site will continue to operate for a time as an archive and to direct traffic to the new site.

In coming months I would like to see War Historian become a group or organizational blog aimed at bringing together scholars of all fields who are interested in issues of war and collective violence, broadly conceived. For more as to purpose, see this entry.

I've also created a second domain, MarkGrimsley.com, to handle personal projects, though the two sites will be closely linked.

David Horowitz: Retain Churchill, Build Real Diversity

I'm not a big David Horowitz fan, but this piece makes a fair degree of sense--except the part about firing Churchill if he turns out not to be an American Indian. Definitions of who is and who isn't an Indian are too loose for that.

By David Horowitz
February 8, 2005

Editor's note: In an interview that appeared in Saturday's Rocky Mountain News, University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill said "It's been announced in pretty clear terms by both David Horowitz and Newt Gingrich that I am just the kickoff for a general purge they have in mind." In the following column, Horowitz, who is editor-in-chief of FrontPageMagazine.com and president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles, explains what his actual position is in the debate over whether Churchill should be fired for his inflammatory statements.

It will probably come as a surprise to many people, both friend and foe alike, that I am opposed to any attempt to fire Ward Churchill for the essay (now part of a book) that has become notorious in which he denounces his own country as a genocidal empire, supports America's terrorist enemies, and says that 9/11 was a case of the "chickens coming home to roost."

Full article

Colorado Talk Radio and Ward Churchill

You can listen to Denver radio talk show host Peter Boyles's interview with Ward Churchill here. Also a second interview with Indian activist Russell Means. And two Ward Churchill parody songs. The first is less than successful; the second (to the tune of Paul Revere and Raiders' "Indian Reservation) is not bad. Interestingly, both parodies focus less on Churchill's "little Eichmann" remarks than on recent questions concerning his claims to Native American heritage.

Update, 4:25 a.m.: I've heard the entire Churchill interview.

Peter Boyles deserves respect for handling a volatile subject with more grace and professionalism--by far--than any radio or television talk show host I have yet heard.

Boyles's principal guest, besides Churchill, is Peter Gadiel, whose son James Gadiel worked as an assistant trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. (For Cantor Fitzgerald's story of how it coped with 9/11, check here.) A 2000 graduate of Washington and Lee University, James was 23 years old when he died. Peter Gadiel is a director of 9/11 Families for a Secure America, an organization that emphasizes the need to maintain strict controls on traffic across U.S. borders. Gadiel, incidentally, condemns any and all death threats received by Churchill.

Churchill, to my ears, has a difficult time explaining himself in this and in other interviews. This is a bit odd considering that he is a very plain-spoken individual who on most subjects is not hard to follow. But he really can't get the "Eichmann analogy" to pop, and I rather have a suspicion the failure is purposeful. If you're an academic already familiar with his work, you can fill in the gaps and silences he leaves, but he misses repeated opportunities to explain the analogy. After a while it's hard to avoid the impression that he has a nicely-developed technique for provoking people unfamiliar with his work while sounding patient and reasonable to those knowledgeable about it.

Toward the end of the interview, Colorado state senator Tom Wiens calls in with a few background queries about Churchill. He says he was going to plut a staffer to work researching the questions, but thought he would take advantage of the interview to ask Churchill directly. His questions concerned Churchill's credentials, teaching load, and salary. Churchill gave him candid answers to each. Wiens went on to say that he had skimmed the online version of the controversial essay and averred that his main concern was its seemingly poor scholarship. Churchill asked what were Wiens's qualifications to evaluate the essay. Wiens replied, in essence, that he had received a good education and could make intelligent evaluations about thesis, argument, use of evidence, and adequacy of citation. (He assuredly sounded as if he could. Indeed, all in all, Wiens came across as the sort of intelligent, serious, sober-minded legislator I'd like to have representing me.)

All in all, the Peter Boyles interview, though a bumpy ride, makes Scarborough Country look like the pathetically incompetent pseudojournalism it is.

Ann Coulter on Radical Chic

On Scarborough Country, the inimitable Ann Coulter actually has a perceptive point about academics with tenure who act as if, by speaking their minds, they're doing something courageous. That's a cheap and easy game if you're shielded from consequences, she notes. Then, perhaps disquieted by the fact that she's actually making sense, she puts her rhetorical Mack truck in gear and drives it straight off a cliff:

"These guys want to go around acting like big radicals, getting laid by coeds with hairy armpits, who probably don‘t like men, by going to conferences and saying, oh, yes, I‘m the one who said that."

Scarborough Country Transcript

Joe Scarborough (Scarborough Country, MSNBC), apparently thinks the Churchill imbroglio is his ticket to a loftier place in the crowded punditocracy firmament. He certainly deserves it--he's certainly as good as anyone else at making a cruel mockery of constructive political discourse. (For a model of constructive conservative engagement, check out Charles Colson's Breakpoint commentaries.)

Scarborough's Feb. 7 deals in part with the Churchill matter. That part of the exchange begins about halfway down, starting here:

Coming up next, Ward Churchill‘s latest outrageous statement. You are not going to believe it.

That‘s when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.


SCARBOROUGH: More shocking comments from Colorado Professor Ward Churchill, who attacks America and says—what does he say on the taxpayers‘ dime? That we need more 9/11s.

That story next.



SCARBOROUGH: Now, as we told you last week, University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill faces possible firing for comparing 9/11 victims to Nazis and for praising al Qaeda terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans. He called them heroes. The university has 30 days to read everything that Churchill has written. And they may want to read this interview from 2004.

He said—quote—“One of the things I suggested is that it may be that more 9/11s are necessary. This seems like such a no-brainer that I hate to frame it in terms of actual transformation of consciousness.”

Now, Denver radio talk show host Peter Boyles spoke to Churchill and the father of a 9/11 victim last week. Let‘s listen to that exchange.


FATHER OF 9/11 VICTIM: My son was an assistant trader at Cantor Fitzgerald. He was 23, his first job out of college.


WARD CHURCHILL, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: Well, I would like to do something here. I would like to engage you.

PETER BOYLES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Let me ask him, if I could, before it gets away, Ward, would his son have qualified as one of the little Eichmanns?

CHURCHILL: Yes, he would have.


Yeah, don't give Churchill a chance to contextualize his remark. I'm not sure Churchill could dig himself out, but why take a chance that the TV audience might hear him try and think he managed to do it? Why not lead them around by the nose instead?

UPDATE: For a report on this interview and a link to an audio recording of the interview, see Colorado Talk Radio and Ward Churchill.

(The full Scarborough Country transcript is here.)

Anyway, it's another depressing demonstration that right-wing pundits pretend to loathe the Churchills of the world but in fact depend on them. Without such people, the Scarboroughs of the world might actually have to resort to thoughtful engagement. Again, check out Charles Colson if you want to see what meaningful political discussion looks like. You sure won't get it from Scarborough.

Statements by Ward Churchill and the AAUP

A statement from Churchill dated January 31 concerning "recent inaccurate accusations," and an undated statement from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Both are currently posted on Speak Out!, a speaker's bureau representing Churchill and 200 other speakers and artists for campus and university events.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

(F) Indian Country Today Weighs in on Churchill

From the Feb. 3 issue:

Churchill's identity revealed in wake of Nazi comment

A public speaking engagement at an Eastern college has turned hotly controversial for Ward Churchill, a professor and until last week the chairman of Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Churchill, a self-professed American Indian, is a prolific and highly polemical writer on Indian issues. Shortly after the murderous attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York, Washington, D.C. and over Pennsylvania, Professor Churchill widely circulated an article in which he compared the victims of those attacks to Nazi functionary Adolf Eichmann, and to all appearances called their horrific deaths a ''befitting ... penalty'' for the ''little Eichmanns' ... participation.''

This week the Boulder professor's public representation of the 9/11 victims became the focal point of a serious broadside. . . . . The focus of calls now is for Churchill to resign or be fired from his tenured position.

The case of a professor or any other American exercising the right of free speech is always important to us. We support that fundamental right more than any other and believe that even the extreme views of others (which sometimes become mainstream) must be defended against any force that would silence our First Amendment rights as citizens and as free human beings.

The nature of Churchill's decidedly offensive remarks, however, forces us to critique in general the injurious approach to scholarship and basic human decency.

Full editorial here

Monday, February 07, 2005

(D) Return to Ground Zero

I'm still working on the "Little Eichmanns" essay.

It began as a short essay. I didn't know how long it would be when I started it. I think I expected it to run maybe a thousand words. It's well past that now. And it's beginning to pull me in. I mean, really pull me in.

I think in part that's because Churchill did such a sloppy job with the material. It makes me embarrassed for the profession. I feel like it's not enough to "mutter about free speech," as Joe Scarborough puts it. I've got to show that this material can be handled better. That it's possible to use a phrase like "little Eichmanns" and have it mean something. Or failing that, to figure out for myself, independently, just how bad an analogy that is.

So the books start to pile up the way the books do when you're chasing down the past. I'm primarily a 19th century historian, so when I use evidence it's mostly books, articles, and old newspapers, letters, and diaries. But because this past is so recent, I find myself working with sources I have never used before. For instance, this afternoon I spent a couple of hours watching 9/11, a documentary made by two brothers--Jules and Gedeon Noudet--who by happenstance were within a few blocks of the World Trade Center on September 11.

Until the first plane struck the WTC (the film is one of the few sources to show the initial strike, the Noudet brothers were working on a documentary about a rookie New York firefighter. They quickly became swept up in the NYC firemen's effort to control the fire at first the North Tower and then, within a quarter-hour, the South Tower as well. The firefighters, not the "technocrats"--the "little Eichmanns"--are the focus of the film. But at intervals the scenes shot within the lobby of the North Tower are punctuated by massive whacks, as if huge boulders were crashing nearby. These were in fact the sound of bodies striking the ground outside.

Reviews of 9/11 (I tried to pick non-obvious reviews)

Spirituality and Health.com
Reno, NV, Gazette-Journal
BBC News 1-Year Retrospective on 9/11. Has a 25-minute interview with the Naudet brothers.

(F) DVDs re the War on Terrorism

9/11 (2002)
In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01 (2002)
Operation Enduring Freedom (2002)
Twin Towers (2004)
7 Days in September (2004)
Control Room (2004)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Fahrenhype 9/11 (2004)
Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War (2004)

(F) Press Action Defends Churchill

One of the few entities willing to defend Churchill these days is PressAction.com, which has run a number of articles on the "little Eichmanns" imbroglio. Here are permalinks to some of these; there are others I haven't included, but if you can find these you can locate the others.:

Ward Churchill Under Attack (Feb. 1)

The Distortions of Acumen: Liberals Trash Ward Churchill (Feb. 5)

Churchill, Eichmann, and Those 9/11 Technocrats (Feb. 5)

Growing Chorus: Prosecute Ward Churchill for Treason (Feb. 6)