- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

More than a decade ago CUNY Professor John P. Higgins wrote that the field of American history "has come to be dominated by Marxists and feminists." And, he added, "the New Left is an idea whose time has passed and whose power has come." Professor Gertrude Himmelfarb has written that "Marxism has succeeded … in demeaning and denigrating political events, institutions, activities and ideas."

Responsible for this corruption in the study and teaching of history are not only Marxists but another cadre of historians who helped create the Era of Political Correctness: mainstream historians of high repute who seem to have been discombobulated by the sudden end of the Cold War. To such historians, one could apply the verdict of Richard Bernstein, New York Times critic: "For many historians, history has become advocacy." Some examples:

In his memoirs published a few years ago George Kennan announced: "Nobody 'won' the Cold War." Yet in 1969 he wrote: "The retraction of Soviet power from its present bloated and unhealthy limits is essential to the stability of world relationships."

Here it is 30 years later. There is no Soviet power, its "bloated and unhealthy limits" have been retracted. There isn't even a Soviet Union. So didn't the democracies win the Cold War? Didn't the once Soviet-satellized countries of Central Europe "win" the Cold War? When the Berlin Wall came down Nov. 9, 1989 without bloodshed, followed by German reunification, wasn't that victory? Apparently not for Mr. Kennan.

Or Professor Ronald Steel who offers this grudging verdict on freedom's bloodless victory over Soviet totalitarianism: "We have won a victory, of sorts." Of sorts! Would Mr. Steel describe our triumph over Nazism as "a victory, of sorts"? Well, maybe we did win the Cold War, he writes, "yet this is an ambiguous victory." What's ambiguous about it? The onetime "evil empire," as President Reagan called it to contemptuous jeers from the liberal-left, is no more, democracy is alive where once dictators reigned. What's "ambiguous"?

Mr. Steel, like others of his liberal persuasion, seems to regret the end of the Cold War; he writes: "In its perverted way, the Cold War was a force for stability." Yes indeed uprisings in East Germany and Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, trampling of human rights, Afghanistan, Soviet support for the Yom Kippur war of aggression against Israel, the KGB everywhere, the Cuban missile crisis. Some force for stability. On the other hand, the Cold War was, he says, "dangerous, wasteful, obsessive, and at times irrational." So perhaps the Cold War wasn't a force for stability, eh?

Following from these and other examples of mainstream historical writing came the verdict of the late historian, Wilcomb E. Washburn, that "not even the shock of the collapse of Communist theory and power has been sufficient to cause the officers of one of the principal organizations of American historians who present the institutional face of American history to the public at home and abroad to express regret for their failure to speak up for truth in the past."

Washburn was talking about the American Historical Association (AHA) where, Professor Thomas C. Reeves has written, "leftist ideology had dominated the historical profession for some three decades. Race, class and gender, by this time, had virtually excluded all other topics of discussion in journals and at historical meetings, while diplomatic, intellectual, political and economic studies were barely tolerated."

And now comes Professor David Kaiser, a highly-regarded historian at the Naval War College, who provides the latest documentation for the Washburn-Reeves indictment. His article, "My War with the AHA," is published in the latest issue of "Academic Questions," quarterly journal of the National Association of Scholars.

In 1983 Mr. Kaiser proposed a panel of young historians to present papers on one of the most controversial issues in European history: responsibility for the outbreak of World War I. The panel was rejected by an AHA committee on the grounds that no one could possibly have anything new to say about the subject. The decision, he says, reflected two trends in the "new history":

1. An active antipathy to writing the history of governments and their role in society or abroad.

2. A new methodology that "explicitly militates against studying white males, who, for better or worse, have dominated modern Western governments."

The outcome of these trends, which reflect a potent academic philistinism, is to be seen in a recent AHA program analyzed by Mr. Kaiser: Of 149 panels only four dealt with "the concrete workings of governments, the institutions that exercise the most power over the lives of their citizens." The majority of panels dealt with "culture," "identity," "race," "religion," and "women." A second panel he recently proposed on a theory of generations related to the history of nations was turned down last year by the AHA.

Mr. Kaiser's essay is worth reading in toto and can be obtained from the National Association of Scholars, 221 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, N.J. 08542 or on the Internet at editor@aq.nas.org.

I read Mr. Kaiser's article at the same time as I read an AP news report which disclosed that nearly 80 percent of seniors at 55 top colleges and universities, including Harvard and Princeton, received a D or an F on a 34-question high-school level test on American history. While there was some difficulty in identifying James Madison as the principal architect of the Constitution they all knew that "Beavis and Butthead" were TV cartoon characters.

Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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