Friday, 27 June 2008

“Exemplary in Its Reasoning”

I leave you this fine evening with a column by law professor Randy Barnett. I should point out, for the record, that I was the faculty adviser for Students for the Second Amendment at my university. It is heartening to see that some students care about all the constitutional amendments, not just those favored by progressives.


Here is a scene from yesterday’s stage of the Tour of Pennsylvania.


Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column. Here is Peg Kaplan’s latest post.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

No doubt some in the Obama campaign are making an effort to distance Barack Obama from the Arab and Muslim American communities.

The Obama campaign has disappointed us, disappointed our passions, our hopes, our enthusiastic youth and our hopeful veterans. But we understand, and we support the message of inclusion.

We believe in this message, and we believe that this message represents the positive change in which we all believe and for which we all stand.

The realities of politics sometimes force difficult decisions on some in order to be elected. Those same realities force others to accept such decisions in order to be represented.

As a prominent scholar closed his remarks at a recently concluded national Arab-American community convention in Washington, one in which the Obama campaign decided not to participate, he quoted Mr. Obama and told a capacity crowd, “Yes, we can!”

Yes, we can defeat this malicious notion that labeling someone a Muslim will result in the demise of his political aspirations.

Kareem Shora
Washington, June 24, 2008
The writer is the national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Note from KBJ: It may appear that this is a case of the end (getting elected) justifying the means (throwing Muslims under the bus). Actually, Obama isn’t throwing Muslims under the bus. He’s winking at them, saying, “Look, you’re my people, and you know it; but I’m trying to get elected, so play along with me.”

Note 2 from KBJ: What the hell is a “Muslim American”? Are there Christian Americans? Jewish Americans? The term suggests that they are Muslims first and Americans second.


Predictably, the editorial board of the New York Times is opposed to yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling about the Second Amendment. The board rightly notes that constitutional rights are not absolute. But if individuals don’t have a right to keep a usable firearm in their houses for self-defense, there’s no right at all, much less an absolute right. The majority clearly said, in its opinion, that there may be reasonable limitations on gun ownership and gun use. All the Court did is articulate the basic right. The rest belongs to the political process.

Addendum: Here is the first paragraph of the editorial opinion:

Thirty-thousand Americans are killed by guns every year—on the job, walking to school, at the shopping mall. The Supreme Court on Thursday all but ensured that even more Americans will die senselessly with its wrongheaded and dangerous ruling striking down key parts of the District of Columbia’s gun-control law.

I have no idea why the board thinks more people will be killed as a result of this ruling. If anything, fewer will be killed, since now the criminals know that law-abiding citizens can defend themselves. But let’s not think that everything comes down to numbers. The question in the case was not how to minimize the number of gun deaths, but whether individuals have a constitutional right to own firearms. Would the board like it if the right to speak depended on how much harm or offense the speech caused?


Dr John J. Ray has a new blog. He states its purpose here.


Here is your entertainment for this Friday afternoon.

John A. Lynn II on Academic Military History

Military history in the United States is widely seen as being 180 degrees off the mainstream of current historical fashion. To be sure, all intellectual pursuits follow fashions that change over time. Therefore, to say that history is caught up in a certain trend is in itself not saying much. The difference is not so much of kind as it is of degree; current fashions in the study of history seem to me to be more self-righteous and intolerant than they have been for generations.

Such statements probably strike many scholars as extreme, perhaps as the whining of a partisan specialist. The best way to recognize the true severity of the problem is to offer some hard statistics. One way of gauging what is deemed worthy by the self-proclaimed “cutting-edge” of the profession in the United States is to survey articles published in the American Historical Review (AHR), that flagship journal of the historical profession. To put it mildly, articles concerning military history, whether written by self-defined military historians or not, did not fare well in the 150 issues that appeared between 1976 and 2006. During this time, the AHR failed to publish a single research article focused on the conduct of the Hundred Years’ War, the Thirty Years’ War, the Wars of Louis XIV, the War of American Independence, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and World War II. There was one article on atrocities in the English Civil War. Only two articles discussed the American Civil War as a military conflict. The first described atrocities committed by Confederate troops at Chambersburg, so military atrocities seem to be attractive to the AHR editors. The second article on the Civil War was the presidential address by James McPherson in the February 2004 issue. That same issue contained the only article on World War I, an interesting piece on women soldiers in the Russian army, justified to the editors, I suppose, not by the fact that it dealt with war, but the fact that it dealt with women. If I seem upset with the editors’ choices, it is because I am. At the same time that there was no article on the conduct of the Vietnam War, the AHR devoted an entire forum debate to the film JFK, and many of the articles published over the years seem to my prejudiced mind downright trivial.

Military historians need not be paranoid to conclude that they are after us, that many cutting-edge historians have honed their blades to surgically remove us from formal studies. And they do so for very well-meaning reasons. Just before Gunther Rothenberg retired from the Department of History at Purdue University, he asked if the department intended to hire another military historian to replace him. His chairman replied “No,” and justified the decision by saying that there was no social purpose to the study of military history. This is an immensely illuminating reply.

As always, the study of history stands at the uncertain and conflicted frontier between the past and the future. In other words, the subtext of historical studies has often been about dealing with the present and advocating a course of things to come. That most ambitious of historical theorists, Karl Marx, spoke of the past, but he did so in order to confront the morality of his times and to argue for the inevitability of a different future.

One of my mentors, Charles Nowell, justified military history by insisting that just as doctors must study disease, historians must study war. But I am not completely happy with his utilitarian analogy. On the one hand, I am not really sure that in historical terms war is best regarded as a pathology. Too often it is simply the way things work, not evidence that things have broken down. On the other hand, doctors study diseases with the hopes of curing or eliminating them, and military history is not really about ending war. To twist Clausewitz’s aphorism, military history is not the continuation of peace studies by other means. Military history, particularly its applied genre, concerns the management, not the elimination, of warfare.

Insistence on social purpose implies that somehow the study of history should not only produce knowledge but must tie into some current political cause. In my department at Illinois, the strongest emphases are women and gender, race and ethnicity, and labor history. All of these are seen as contributing to social movements if only in the fact that they help to highlight identity, with its correlates of pride and outrage.

Many historians tend to empathize with their subjects and see the people they study as admirable, although often oppressed: women, racial minorities, and workers. They seem at times to extrapolate from their own kind of commitment, reaching the conclusion that military historians must like, or at least approve of, war and its horrendous costs. So, for many in the historical profession, the military historian’s lack of obvious social cause becomes evidence of her or his perverted values.

(John A. Lynn II, “Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History,” Academic Questions 21 [winter 2007-08]: 18-36, at 30-2 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])