April 1, 2003
by Ronald Radosh
Americans already know what the Hollywood community thinks of the war to liberate Iraq, and they are fairly disgusted. Entertainers are disdained for using their celebrity as a tool to drum up dissension regarding the war and for crude attacks on President Bush for being both “dumb” and a “cowboy.” Far more important, however, are the attitudes of many in the intellectual community, whose analyses of the issues are more serious and, in the long run, more consequential.
The American historical community has long been in the forefront of opposition to Bush administration foreign policy. Last September, two prominent historians, Ellen Carol DuBois and Joyce Appleby, composed a historian’s petition seeking to organize academic opposition to war against Iraq and demanding a congressional vote on the issue. Both professional organizations, the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians, have long been dominated by left-wing academics.
Now, with the dust nowhere near settled, certain American historians have begun to weigh in with what they say is an assessment based on historical perspective. Rendering an early judgment of Bush administration policy—with the supposed credibility of a knowledge of history at their backs—they are arguing that the Bush administration is committing an act of aggression on the level of Hitler’s Germany and imperial Japan during World War II.
So far, the most egregious example of this phenomenon is a recent op-ed by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in the Los Angeles Times. There, our most distinguished and well-known historian went so far as to write that the Bush administration’s foreign policy “is alarmingly similar to the policy that imperial Japan employed at Pearl Harbor.” Calling Mr. Bush’s policy one of “preventive war”—not even preemptive war, as some critics have allowed—Mr. Schlesinger says that as a result “today it is we Americans who live in infamy.” Any sympathy for our nation after September 11, according to Mr. Schlesinger, has been dissipated in a “global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism.”
Mr. Schlesinger was well known during the early Cold War as an advocate of the “Vital Center,” in which America avoided the trap of moving to the realms of the far Left and Right, while maintaining equilibrium and stability of the democratic Republic. Now, it seems, his critique echoes that of the farthest reaches of the anti-American left. He writes that “the Bush doctrine coverts us into the world’s judge, jury and executioner” and that the “religious fanatic” who is our attorney general has done great damage to “our civil liberties and constitutional rights.”
Mr. Schlesinger’s harsh and extreme judgment, however, is based on a fallacious analysis of the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. In his eyes, Saddam has “grown weaker” since the first Gulf War, and his “weapons have been exposed and destroyed under the United Nations’ inspection regime.” How he knows that this is the case is something Mr. Schlesinger fails to explain—perhaps his knowledge of history has given him insight unavailable to our nation’s intelligence agencies. He resorts to arguing that the only reason we are acting against Iraq is that we can’t act against North Korea “because it has nuclear weapons.” Would Mr. Schlesinger prefer we wait until Saddam Hussein has them too?
In an interview conducted by Newsweek Online, Mr. Schlesinger expanded upon his op-ed and reiterated that American policy now is “the doctrine with which the Japanese justified Pearl Harbor.” It is the Bush policy—not Iraq and radical Islam—that engenders hatred of America around the world.
Mr. Schlesinger somehow ignores that Mr. Bush appealed to the United Nations to enforce Resolution 1441; received a declaration from Congress endorsing his actions, and put off going to war to allow Secretary Powell to seek UN approval despite the opposition of his own hard-line advisers. And against all evidence, he somehow believes that Saddam “was contained for ten years.” He thinks history proves that Saddam would not have acted aggressively once he achieved nuclear power and implies that America should have waited until he did instead of “invade him.”
Mr. Schlesinger is not alone. A historian at the University of Wisconsin and the author of two major books on Richard Nixon and Watergate, Stanley Kutler, recently wrote a piece for the Chicago Tribune charging that “the Bush administration’s interest is to discredit, even foreclose, dissent.” As proof, Mr. Kutler cites that fact that the notably antiwar senator, Robert Byrd, “is a powerful man within congressional boundaries, but he is readily dismissed as a caricature of sorts in the media, and elsewhere.” Strange, I seem to recall Mr. Byrd’s statements against the war covered in scores of different news sources. Mr. Byrd’s antiwar statements were even reprinted as a full-page ad in the New York Times. So far, I have not seen equivalent ads endorsing the administration from any of its supporters.
Messrs. Schlesinger and Kutler are good historians who have made major contributions to our understanding of America’s past. But in this case it is they, rather than the Bush administration, who sound like part of a group of ideologues.
This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
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