It is unfortunate that most Americans are unaware of how important government support of science and technology was to the Founding Fathers. I have not read Tom Shachtman’s book Gentleman Scientists but it’s on my list of must reads. At a minimum, I hope this book is successful in bringing attention to this important subject. If any of you have read it please let me know what you think.
At the History News Network, Robert Zaretsky argues that the popular perception of history as “a how-to manual for avoiding past errors” is mistaken. In practice applying the “lessons of history” has rarely been successful. False analogies, faulty interpretations, and inadequate understanding of the past and present all contribute to the problem. Zaretsky points out, correctly I believe, that we turn “to the past for platitudes that parade as lessons.”
Despite his pessimism concerning history lessons Zaretsky still believes that history can be a useful guide in the present. Instead of turning to history as “a how-to manual,” Zaretsky believes that it is the stories offered by history that are valuable. Stories of the past, he insists, “offer, in effect, exercises in political and moral judgment.” As an example he turns to the lessons learned from Barbara Tuchman’s book The Guns of August by John F. Kennedy. According to Zaretsky, it taught Kennedy “that the greatest danger a political leader could run in time of crisis was ‘a mistake in judgment.’”
History is the tool of nationalists everywhere. They believe that greatness is perfection. Therefore, they must whitewash the past. The result is the creation of a mythic past that must be protected at all costs. As a result, they lash out at anyone who would taint their beautiful picture. Those who dare to do so are seen as enemies of the nation and deserve only contempt and hatred. Unfortunately, nationalism has been on the rise recently. Pride in one’s nation is only natural but when it turns to arrogance it becomes a divisive force that can turn violent if it is not checked.
The Japanese (as well as others) have never really confronted their past but they had been heading in a more honest direction until the recent rise in nationalism. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has recently requested that the Education Ministry approve only patriotic textbooks (i.e. books that deny the crimes committed by the Japanese during WWII). (see The New York Times) The fact that “several members of Abe’s cabinet are gearing up for a demand that the [Kono] statement [that admits responsibility for the comfort women used by the Japanese soldiers during WWII] be withdrawn next year, the 70thanniversary of the end of World War II” (see article) is only the latest indication of a troubling trend. Unfortunately, this trend is not limited to Japan.
I believe that nationalists have it backwards. Whitewashing the past is not the path to greatness; confronting the past is. The real heroes in this story are those like Matsumoto Masayoshi (see video at link below) who are willing to speak out in order to bear witness to the atrocities that they witnessed. Japan can only be respected if it is willing to admit their mistakes. The nationalists are wrong to believe that erasing the past will restore honor to Japan.
In today’s The New York Times, Tomis Kapitan very persuasively argues that:
“[b]y effectively placing designated individuals or groups outside the norms of acceptable social and political behavior, the rhetoric of “terror” has had these effects:
1) It erases any incentive the public might have to understand the nature and origins of their grievances so that the possible legitimacy of their demands will not be raised.
2) It deflects attention away from one’s own policies that might have contributed to their grievances.
3) It repudiates any calls for negotiation.
4) It obliterates the distinction between national liberation movements and fringe fanatics (for example, during the 1990s, the “terrorist” label was applied to Nelson Mandela and Timothy McVeigh alike);
5) It paves the way for the use of force by making it easier for a government to exploit the fears of its citizens and ignore objections to the manner in which it responds to terrorist violence.”
I hope that you will all read Kapitan’s article and consider his argument. For too long we have been captive to the rhetoric of terrorism. While it has been an incredibly effective tool for politicians and ideologues, it has hurt our ability to deal effectively with terrorism. Fear mongering dismantles our ability to think rationally. We too easily accept emotionally gratifying solutions that feel right but in reality may not be. Any real solution will not be easy, and it will require that we give up the quick-fix, emotionally gratifying responses that we keep turning to. It will also require humility and a willingness to confront our own role in creating and exacerbating the situation.
This is great news! It confirms that the attack on Oppenheimer was politically motivated. He was a victim of the Red Scare. Even without this evidence it seemed unlikely that Oppenheimer was not a spy. It was clear that he was targeted simply because he opposed the hydrogen bomb. The whole affair was shameful!!
This is a great article explaining why so many Americans believe that “public education is in crisis” despite all the evidence to the contrary. If you want a more thorough examination of this subject I would recommend Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error.
In Thomas Jefferson: Roots of Religious Freedom, John Harding Peach claims that Thomas Jefferson was a Protestant Christian whose vision of religious liberty was grounded in his passionate desire to protect religion. Peach can perhaps defend this misleading portrayal of Jefferson under the guise that it is “a biographical novel,” but given that he also insists that “all historical events and places were provided as they factually occurred” (xii) this excuse is not credible. He may wish Jefferson was the person that he presents in his “novel” but he cannot honestly claim that Jefferson was that person. Unfortunately, his followers, who, no doubt, also want to believe that Jefferson was the Christian in Peach’s narrative, will uncritically accept his version of events. These distortions of history are not innocent ventures; they are part of a larger movement intent on re-writing history to support their claim that the United States is a Christian nation.
The wannabe historian David Barton has been at the forefront of this movement. His book (The Jefferson Lies) is the latest in a series of books dedicated to the goal of making this a Christian nation. But Jefferson’s well-known “infidelism” doesn’t fit this narrative, so rather than ignore the writer of the Declaration of Independence Barton and others have decided to remake Jefferson into a devout Christian. This is not an easy task and the only way to achieve it is through deception, dishonesty, and willful ignorance. In fact, Barton’s book is so egregiously dishonest that it was discontinued by his publisher after a group of conservative historians exposed it as misleading and “unsupportable.”1 Unlike Barton, Peach may not have gone as far as Barton, but it is still a dishonest and misleading portrayal of Jefferson. In his desire to see Jefferson as an upstanding Christian, Peach has cherry-picked, distorted, and misinterpreted the evidence.
Peach’s “novel” begins with Jefferson’s education with his childhood teacher the Rev. James Maury, who Peach claims “lit his fire,” (1) and ends with Jefferson’s death in 1826. The book highlights events in Jefferson’s life, large and small, which serve to present Jefferson as “practice[ing] his core conviction of basic Protestantism.” (xiii) This book review will challenge Peach’s portrayal of Jefferson. This post will be dedicated to Jefferson’s religious beliefs in general before turning to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson’s views on religious liberty in future posts.