April 6, 2004
by Ronald Radosh
Gathered in Boston last weekend for the annual conference of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), my profession just proved itself to be out of touch with reality.
The OAH Executive Board approved a resolution calling for a committee of historians to investigate supposed repression against historians who have been victimized because of their anti-war and anti-Bush views.
The motion came from a group of left-wing activists who call themselves Historians Against the War. HAW is "alarmed" by massive "restrictions of research," "surveillance of library use" and by alleged suspension of teachers who let students talk against the war in their classes.
And alarmed by what they claim is "politicization of the grant process" at the National Endowment for the Humanities. This evidently refers to NEH panels' rejecting some of the antiwar historians' proposals for funding—obvious political repression.
Finally, HAW protests "systematic denunciations of historians who have criticized government policy." Meaning: After we've had our very public say, we can't take the criticism from others that our own statements have produced.That the OAH Executive Board automatically accepted the counsel of a few leftists reveals how the profession itself has been captured by the far Left. That was not always the case. A similar resolution was voted down at the 1969 conference of the American Historical Association—after a debate that saw the then Marxist historian, Eugene D. Genovese, brand the anti-war radicals as "totalitarians" who were seeking to politicize the profession, and to read out of it anyone who disagreed with them.
Historians, like everyone else, have their own political views. But these used to be kept separate from the scholarly role, which was to interpret and explain the past.
It's no surprising that last weekend's board endorsement was announced at a panel honoring America's most left-wing and tendentious "historian," Howard Zinn, whose People's History of America has become the standard for those who want to paint our country as led by greedy, imperialist and racist leaders, who rule by repression over the oppressed majority who otherwise would rebel and create a socialist America.
Feeling their oats, the outgoing OAH President Eric Foner and the incoming OAH President James Horton endorsed yet another HAW petition for consideration. This one states that "as historians . . . we oppose the expansion of the United States Empire," the doctrine of "pre-emptive war that have [sic] led to the occupation of Iraq" and the "distortion of history" that has "violated international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties and reaches towards domination of the Middle East." It ends calling for "restoration of cherished freedoms in the United States," and an "end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq." This will undoubtedly be passed by the board at next year's conference.
The assembled historians fail to see the irony in their argument. Here they are gathered in Boston, meeting freely at their own convention, where they loudly proclaim that all historians oppose the war in Iraq and the Bush administration, as well as the disappearing freedoms at home. At the same time, they yell about how their views are being silenced and that they are victims of massive repression.
Clearly, they know the meaning of chutzpah.
This same organization, the OAH, once refused to even consider a resolution introduced on behalf of Soviet dissident intellectuals—board members argued it was no concern of the organization. Yet they did consider and pass a resolution calling for an end to the apartheid government of South Africa, and endorsing the call for boycott.
Today, the boards show no awareness of those suffering real repression in our own hemisphere—let alone concern. Not a word on the jailing of Cuban dissidents for demanding free elections or on behalf of those brave librarians jailed for the "crime" of seek the right to allow Cubans to have free access to officially forbidden books.
While they express concern about the "centrality of dissent" which they fear is being forgotten in America, these same historians fill their own departments with other left-wing historians, use their perch to sponsor one-sided conferences composed exclusively of radicals who oppose U.S. policy and go out of their way to assure that their own departments do not hire anyone who might be the slightest bit conservative.
With each passing year, the American historians have become more and more marginalized, and more irrelevant to anyone seeking insight about our nation's past. A few decades ago, the left wing was a small group, welcomed to participate by the mainstream historians in the profession, but unable to impose their will on a majority of sane historians. Today, they control the profession, and their two major associations have become almost indistinguishable from the organizations of the far Left.
To regain the public respect and influence it once had, the historical profession need do only one thing: Enthusiastically admit into its ranks the diversity of opinion that is now missing. It must welcome historians who think outside the framework of the left-wing's world view, and cease to use its professional organizations as mouthpieces for any political agenda. That is not too much to ask.
This article appeared in the New York post on April 4, 2004.
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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