Bibliographic Guide to Conventional and Nuclear Armaments

by David Lincove

Readers of the Peace and Change blog who are interested in data sources of conventional and nuclear armaments will be interested in the bibliographic guide to key sources linked in this blog post.  In the guide, I link to the most extensive, systematic publications with statistical information compiled from publicly available sources.  Most are freely available on the internet.  The data sources are used to cite numerical information, often illustrated over a period of time, as evidence in research.  In addition, the sources generated studies assessing and comparing quantitative methodologies in armaments.  For example, after  UN Register of Conventional Arms became operational in 1992, researchers, such as Malcolm Chalmers, Siemon Wezeman, and Paul Holtom, studied its development and effectiveness to achieve its purpose of reducing secrecy and building confidence among nations to help maintain peace.  The internet has enhanced the public exposure of arms data, although the complications assessing and comparing the raw data from different countries limits its impact except for experts on armaments.

 

See “Key Sources of Multinational Data on Conventional and Nuclear ArmamentsReference and User Services Quarterly 58, 1(Fall 2018): 11-15 at 

 

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New Essay on the “Peace History” Website: U.S. Participation in WWI

By Roger Peace

The United States today appears to be on a permanent war footing.  U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq in a never-ending “nation-building” project.  The U.S. conducts covert and overt military operations throughout the Greater Middle East and Africa.  The U.S. maintains about 800 military bases in over 70 countries.  The U.S. military budget is larger than that of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan combined.  Most Americans, as well as both major political parties, have come to accept this outsized military role in the world as normal and necessary.

To understand how the U.S. arrived at this permanent warfare state, it is helpful to travel back a century to examine how and why the U.S. became involved in World War I.  This war was significant, among other reasons, because it helped give birth to the military industrial complex and dependency of the U.S. economy on military spending; because it was underlain by secrecy and an elaborate propaganda campaign of the kind we have also seen in our contemporary era; and because it established the ideological formula for justifying U.S. foreign policies and wars that has continued to the present.

The latest essay on the “Peace History” website (U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide), authored by Charles Howlett, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and Roger Peace, looks deeply into the origins of U.S. involvement in this war and unpacks President Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic justifications for it.  The essay covers a number of themes:

  • how President Woodrow Wilson moved, step-by-step, toward U.S. entry into the war, all the while presenting himself as an apostle of peace;
  • the wide gap between the president’s grandiose idealism and actual policies and practices;
  • the horrors of modern warfare, in which modern weapons produced such high levels of destruction, death, and misery that war itself became an atrocity;
  • wartime repression, propaganda, and vigilantism on the home front, which undermined the foundations of democracy;
  • the seduction of liberal intellectuals in the service of war;
  • conscription, draft resistance, and the treatment of conscientious objectors;
  • the struggles of the peace movement to maintain U.S. neutrality, resist militarism, and survive wartime repression.

This essay also investigates U.S. geopolitical power interests operating beneath the veneer of idealism, following the lead of authors such as Robert E. Hannigan and Thomas Fleming. It would appear that President Wilson had three essential goals as the Great War unfolded in Europe:  (1) to assure that Great Britain and France would emerge as the victors; (2) to enable the United States to play a significant role in the construction of the postwar world order; and (3) to establish the U.S. as a major world power, equal to or greater than the imperial nations of Europe.

To ensure victory for the Allied Powers, the U.S. provided Great Britain and France with arms and aid during its 32 months of official neutrality; accepted the British blockade of Germany but vehemently protested the German submarine cordon around the British Isles; declined opportunities to join with other neutral nations in mediating the conflict; and undertook secret negotiations to bring the U.S. into the war under the false pretense of holding a peace conference.  Wilson made a choice for war.  Even after Germany began its unrestricted submarine warfare in the waters surrounding the British Isles in February 1917, Wilson could have avoided war by prohibiting U.S. ships and citizens from traveling in declared war zones, as suggested by Senator George Norris and others.

The fact that the United States itself was not in any danger of attack meant that the most reliable justification for war, national self-defense, was lacking.  The president thus chose to frame German attacks on U.S. merchant ships as an attack on America’s “honor” and, more broadly, as “warfare against mankind.”  He further embellished his justifications for war by stating that the U.S. would fight for “the rights of all mankind” and that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”  That the U.S. had no pressing national self-interest at stake was spun into a virtue by declaring that the U.S. had “no selfish ends to serve.”

President Wilson used these idealistic justifications to sell the war to the American people.  Over the next century, other presidents would do likewise, espousing righteous idealism to justify every kind of war and intervention.  While other presidents before and after have engaged in rhetorical obfuscations, Wilson’s were more significant, as he laid the basis for America’s future global role.

As with all the essays on the website, this essay is written for students and the general public.  It is introduced with a 12-point “Did you know?” section to stimulate interest.  It is organized thematically, with each section containing subheadings to highlight main issues.  The essay includes 163 images to enliven the narrative and offers occasional summaries when a complex set of factors is discussed.  Extensive endnotes allow for verification of information and identify primary and secondary sources.  Additional resources are noted in a linked Resource page, which also lists the number of pages in each section of the essay, should professors, instructors, and teachers wish to assign all or part of this 62,500-word essay.

Information about the value-based perspective of the website can be found on the Home page.  The website is unique in seeking to integrate three academic approaches:  progressive “revisionist” history (critiques of foreign policy), interdisciplinary peace and justice studies (normative value orientation), and global/international history (non-nationalistic perspective).  Its purpose from an educational vantage point is to assist in the cultivation of critical evaluation skills, such that questions of right and wrong, truth and lies, justice and injustice are not excluded from curricula but placed at the center of discussion and debate.  I hope that educators will find the essays useful in this regard.

The U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide website is sponsored by the Peace History Society and the Historians for Peace and Democracy.

Revisiting Peace Research in the 21st Century: Reflections on an Interdisciplinary Field with a Mission

By Harry Targ

Personal Reflections

As I grow older I ground more and more of my teaching and writing in the context of my own professional history. I studied journalism and political science in college in the late 1950s and earned a masters degree in political science in 1962. After short stints in the military and working for the social security administration, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in political science, achieved in 1967. Lacking a political vision much beyond liberalism and devoid of any practical political work, I thought being a professor would make a nice career.

The mid-1960s was a time of ferment. Brave young people, from the South and the North, launched a heroic campaign to end Jim Crow segregation in the South. From the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in August, 1964 authorizing President Johnson to escalate war in Southeast Asia, to the daily bombings over Vietnam (Operation Rolling Thunder) in 1965 to 540,000 troops in South Vietnam by 1968, struggles over the war in Vietnam and foreign policy, in general, enveloped the society. The 60s was a time also when the last vestiges of colonialism were being dismantled. Only Portuguese Africa resisted change as did white minority regimes in the former Rhodesia and South Africa. In the Western Hemisphere, the Cuban revolution represented the hope of humankind for the construction of a better world.

It was an exciting time to be alive, to become politicized, and to initiate a teaching and research career. I was drawn to the study of international relations and United States foreign policy within political science. 

 

Social Science Paradigms: Realism, Behavioralism, and Modernization

I had studied international relations, foreign policy, and diplomatic history in college. My “radical” teachers in college were critical of the foreign policies of presidents Truman and Eisenhower. They also condemned the most simplistic versions of the Cold War explanation of world affairs, and the overly zealous branding of all critics of United States foreign policy as being “communists.”

I was influenced by my professors to see the world through the lens of “the theory of political realism.” Foundational theorists who shaped the discourse on international relations included British historian E.H. Carr (1964), theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1947), retired diplomat George Kennan (1957), and political scientist Hans Morgenthau (1960). The theory of political realism they propounded drew upon the classical writings of ancestors such as Thucydides, St. Augustine, Thomas Hobbes, Machiavelli, and James Madison (see Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff, 1971). Each in their own way saw war and violence as emanating from human nature, drives for power, greed, and personal honor. In a world of each against all, military capabilities, “balances of power,” and other devices whereby the power of one could be checked by the power of another constituted the tools for muting, but never eliminating, war and violence.

The contemporary realists, for example, Kennan and Morgenthau were critics of United States foreign policy not because the U.S. was interventionist or because the American government had launched an arms race with the former Soviet Union but because these activities were defended in the name of promoting freedom and democracy rather than “national interest” and “security.” The problem with the anti-communist proclamations of the day and the promises of human liberation they articulated was that they were not achievable. There must be, the realists said, a fit between goals, rhetoric, and policy. And the number one goal that any nation must pursue is advancing national interest and security. In a world of perpetual violence, this was all that could be achieved.

While most instructors of undergraduate courses on international relations used Hans Morgenthau’s classic text, Politics Among Nations (it survived eleven editions), newer currents were emerging in the graduate study of international relations. Following the Soviet launch of Sputnik and an emerging U.S. cultural celebration of science, President Kennedy promised that an American would be on the moon by the end of the sixties. Perhaps most importantly because of the tilt in Defense Department policies and personnel from old-fashioned military wisdom to modern scientific management, the study of international relations began to shift toward the “scientific study of international relations.” Now, social science researchers needed to go beyond a description of political events and policies to explain them and predict future outcomes. The new study of international relations should embrace scientific techniques: posit hypotheses, operationalize them clearly by identifying variables that could be measured, and “test” the hypotheses by examining the data using statistical techniques. The behavioral science model became the dominant paradigm throughout the discipline of political science and significantly so in the study of international relations (Kaplan, 1966; Targ, 1983).

While several theories became fashionable in the study of international relations and comparative politics perhaps none would have a greater impact on social science and public policy than modernization theory (see Nils Gilman, 2003). Starting in the 1950s with various formulations of structural functionalism, leading social science scholars from Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, and the University of Chicago developed a paradigm to explain why the “newly” independent nations of the world were experiencing birth pangs of violence and poverty, why they were not democracies, and why subversive elements, such as anti-regime guerrilla fighters, were actively trying to undermine development. The modernization theorists studied the development of Europe and North America and concluded that societies needed to develop secular middle-class societies, governed by leaders with scientific and technical training. At a certain stage, infrastructure development, middle-class formation, the professionalization of elites, and qualitative shifts from theological to scientific points of view would yield democratic political institutions. When scholars spoke about public affairs, many of them suggested that that process of modernization was what motivated an activist United States foreign policy.

Upon reflection then, the 1960s was a decade of political turmoil, on college campuses an awakening from the somnolence of the 50s, and in the larger world an escalation of the arms race, U.S. global interventionism, and the Vietnam war. Parallel to these political changes a new social science was emerging as institutions of higher education exploded in numbers, interest in social science expanded, and the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and other sources began to fund large-scale projects of relevance to international relations and development. In this context realism (although declining in popularity), behavioralism and modernization grew to dominate the study of international relations.

 

Discovering Peace Research  

 I wrote about these contradictory currents at the time (Targ, 1971, 207) suggesting thatstudents and young faculty have begun to re-evaluate the dominant motifs of scientific inquiry: the relationship of knowledge to U.S. foreign policy, the interaction of knowledge and social control, and the adequacy and/or inadequacy of knowledge as agenda and guide to social change.”

Energized by these impulses, as a student and young professor, my curiosity gravitated toward “peace research.” I was first attracted to two prominent journals; The Journal of Conflict Resolution, produced at the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution (CRCR) at the University of Michigan, and The Journal of Peace Research, the Institute for Peace Research, Oslo, Norway.

The JCR published articles that used the newer “scientific methods,” were theory and data-driven, and implied that the dynamics of  interpersonal, national, and international conflict might be similar or “isomorphic,” so that scholars might study conflict at these different levels of analysis to discover the underlying causes of conflict and violence. JCR had a distinguished list of contributors and editors representing psychology, social psychology, sociology, economics, political science, and mathematics.

The JPR initiated publication in 1964 with Johan Galtung as editor. In its first issue, Galtung described two possible worlds; one he referred to as a condition of General and Complete War (GCW). In this world, cooperation occurred within groups, but conflict characterized between-group interactions. Individual and group (and nation) actors were motivated totally by individualistic goals; identification was with self alone. In this state of GCW there were no effective constraints on the use of force.

Another possible condition, Galtung posited, was one of General and Complete Peace (GCP). This was a condition in which human integration prevailed, the harmony of individuals, groups, and nations was a characteristic feature of human existence, and violence was minimized. In this initial issue of JPR, Galtung declared that the peace research project was to study how to move from GCW to GCP (an end to violence and integration of human society). Peace research should study violence in its interpersonal, national, and international manifestations. It should address improving the human condition. It should be interdisciplinary, normative and futuristic as well. And, of course, the peace research project should use the latest of scientific techniques to study the movement from GCW to GCP.

The growth of influence of these journals paralleled the expansion of networks of professional peace research/peace studies associations. These included the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), the Canadian Peace Research Association, the Consortium on Peace Research Education and Development (COPRED), now the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA), and the Peace Science Society. Peace studies caucuses were created in professional associations including those of social psychologists, international relations scholars, and sociologists.

As I acquainted myself more with peace research I became aware of the intellectual and activist tradition from which it evolved. First, peace research evolved from a long history of peace education. Religious pacifists and peace activists long preached and taught about alternatives to violence. Peace education often developed in parallel with anti-war activism. From Congregational, Unitarian, and Quaker meetings to anti-slavery and anti-war movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, activists as different as Henry David Thoreau, Jane Addams, Mark Twain, and Eugene V. Debs wrote and spoke about peace.

Second, peace studies of various kinds evolved out of practical diplomatic achievements such as the Hague conferences of 1899 and 1907 which codified elements of international law. These were followed after World War I with the first academic curricula on international law.

Third, a body of peace research scholarship was published in the period from the 1930s to the 1960s that served as the model for the peace research tradition that followed.  David Mitrany, a British scholar, wrote A Working Peace System, in 1943, which analyzed the prospects for global integration based upon cross-national economic, social, and functional ties between peoples. He provided a framework that stimulated the study of regional “integration” in Europe, Africa, and Latin America in the 1960s.

Major data-based studies of war were published between 1940 and the late 1960s that dramatically advanced the idea that data on wars, their frequency, causes, and consequences could be accumulated such that various hypotheses relating these to each other could be tested. Quincy Wright, the political scientist, published a 2,000-page data-rich book on the history of war called A Study of War (1942). Lewis Richardson, a retired meteorologist, gathered data on wars from 1815 to 1945, Statistics of Deadly Quarrels (1960). Pitirim Sorokin’s four-volume, Social and Cultural Dynamics (1957), included historical data on internal and international wars over time, relating the frequency of such wars to cultural attributes. In the 1950s and 60s Rudolph Rummel gathered an array of data, from his Dimensionality of Nations Project (1968) as did long-time political scientist/peace researcher J. David Singer who published books and articles based on The Correlates of War Project (1972).

In addition to the rich history, peace research was increasingly stimulated by the recognition of the world’s greatest arms race, the growing danger of a nuclear war that could destroy humankind, and an intense global ideological struggle defined as between “communism” and “the free world.” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists portrayed a clock with the hands estimating how close the world was to midnight, the hour of nuclear apocalypse. Each crisis would lead the editors of the journal to move the hands on the clock to the top of the hour.

 

Peace Research Battles: Traditionalists vs. Radicals

Despite the growing interest in peace research, dominant paradigms in international relations, political science, and history continued to reify power as the central concept driving political analysis. This was so even among those who had gravitated to peace research.

The world was understood as one dominated by two superpowers overseeing two competing power blocs. The bipolar world was a particular variant of the state system that was created in the seventeenth century. The ultimate units of analysis were separate and distinct nation-states. Since a few were always more powerful than all others, international relations became the study of powerful states.

For the most part, traditional peace researchers concerned themselves with the conflict between powerful states, particularly because of the danger of nuclear war. For them, conflict, therefore, was symmetrical, based on subjective factors such as misperceptions, misunderstandings, and miscommunications, and involved roughly equal adversaries. (The work of Roger Fisher and Charles Osgood on negotiations and strategies for de-escalating conflicts is relevant here (2010). Because of the arms race of the post-World War II period, then, they fashioned a peace research that was committed to conflict management or resolution among the big powers. Their goal was achieving negative peace or war avoidance.

For other peace researchers, this scholarly lens on the world seemed increasingly divorced from political reality (Eide, 1972). The dreams of human liberation that came with the rapid decolonization of the African continent were being derailed as what Kwame Nkrumah called “neo-colonialism” replaced formal colonialism. Gaps between rich and poor peoples and nations began their dramatic increase. Covert operations, military coups, big power interventions in poor countries increased. Wars ensued against peoples in South and East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. And multinational corporations were spreading their operations all across the globe, initiating the first great wave of outsourcing of production and jobs. For many Americans and Asians, the most wrenching experience of all these manifestations of global disarray was the Vietnam War.

In this historical context, radical peace researchers began to argue that our understanding of these phenomena required a significant paradigm shift. If we wanted to understand the world in order to change it we needed to break out of the state-centric, great powers, conflict management conception of international relations. We needed to develop theories and prescriptions that helped us understand the world we lived in so that we could work on the reduction of the enormous gaps between human potential and human actuality; and, therefore, structural violence.

These peace researchers called structural violence the difference between how humanity could live, secure in economic and social justice, versus how most people live. They asked questions about the structures and processes that prohibited the full realization of human possibility. Peace researchers also saw an inextricable connection between direct violence, or killing, which was the more traditional subject of peace research, and structural violence, which involved the institutionalization of human misery.

Further, they hypothesized that there were connections between imperialism, the workings of capitalism, patriarchy, institutionalized racism, social and economic injustice and both direct and structural violence.

More specifically, radical peace researchers began to see that both direct and structural violence resulted from a global political/economic/ and cultural system in which Centers of Power within and between countries controlled and exploited Periphery countries and people. A system of imperialism existed whereby ruling classes in core countries collaborated with ruling classes in peripheral countries to exploit masses of people. This was a system that had its roots in the rise of capitalism out of feudalism. It was a system of imperial rule. It was a system of patriarchy. It was a system of institutionalized racism. And wars were the result of struggles for imperial control and domination. Radical peace researchers borrowed ideas from dependency theory and grafted them onto traditional theories of imperialism to offer an alternative paradigm to the state-centric, power-driven model that dominated the academy and political punditry (Galtung, 1971).

 

Subsequent Developments in Peace Research and Peace Studies

 Since the 1960s there have been paradigmatic disputes in many of the social sciences and humanities. The title of an old book by Robert Lynd, poses the question that has been raised many times: “Knowledge for What?” (1970) Debates about values used in the selection of what to research and for what purposes surfaced in radical caucuses in philosophy, sociology, political science, history, psychology, and the modern language association. Also, debates were forthcoming in international studies about the substance of the field of study and the class/race/gender perspectives reflected in dominant paradigms.

Peace research/peace studies has grown particularly since the 1960s. Numerous journals addressing peace research have been produced. About 250 colleges and universities have undergraduate programs in peace studies. A few universities have peace studies or similarly defined graduate programs. International conferences, often organized under the aegis of IPRA, have been held all over the world and well-known peace research scholars from every continent have participated in academic conferences and published original research.

Some peace researchers have combined their interest in peace studies with parallel and equally interdisciplinary pursuits. Berenice Carroll, for example, has been a leading feminist scholar and while participating in the Committee on Peace Studies at Purdue University also served as the Chairperson of a graduate and undergraduate program in Women’s Studies.

Growth and development of peace studies from both research and educational standpoints has raised stark conceptual debates. Rank-ordering of tasks and other outstanding issues of dispute remain.

First, there has always been a tension between those who view the study of peace in higher education as primarily a scholarly task and those who see the research agenda for peace as ancillary to activism. In addition, different emphases have emerged between those who support research versus those who highlight teaching (including peace pedagogies from K through 12).

Second, there is a tension between those who see their work as principally empirical and others who argue for the centrality of normativity: basically debating whether research and teaching should address what is or what ought to be.

Third, the debate continues on foundational concepts: violence and peace. Particularly, peace researchers and activists split on whether priorities should be placed on issues of direct violence or structural violence. In addition, questions exist about whether the war problem can be resolved before we solve the social injustice problem.

Fourth, issues have been raised about the possible intersections that can be created between the peace research organizing concepts, violence and peace, and organizing concepts in Marxist, Feminist, and Critical Race theoretical literatures.

Fifth, sectors of the peace research community argue for a field of study that is framed by principles of non-violence. Analyses of what is, what should be, and how to get there, for these scholars and activists is derived from reflections on the literature of non-violence. Others emphasize the electoral arena and a few still draw upon the literature of revolution. In any case, many argue, peace researchers need to gather data and analyze social movements.

Sixth, the issues of dispute described above between “traditional” and “radical” research have not disappeared. Central to these is the place of conflict resolution and mediation as tools of peacebuilding.

Finally, peace studies programs, as with many interdisciplinary and non-traditional programs, are and will be under careful scrutiny because of the economic crisis in higher education. As major universities are required to shrink their budgets many have called for eliminating “frills” in the curriculum. “Frills”, it is understood, refer to liberal arts courses and particularly non-traditional and interdisciplinary programs. In addition, there have been rightwing attacks on all interdisciplinary programs by flamboyant opportunists such as David Horowitz. Three Indiana professors were named to Horowitz’s august list of the 101 most dangerous professors (2006). All three were affiliated with Peace Studies programs.

 

Where do we go from here?

For a young academic who was slowly drawn into the maelstrom of anti-war activities in the 1960s and as a young academic who desired to link his teaching and research to the activism of that point in time, peace research provided an intellectual anchor, a model for integrating theory and practice, and an academic community that could stimulate intellectual development. That tradition and the debates raised within it, such as what we mean by violence and peace, are as relevant today as in the past. We must organize to defend the viability of disciplines such as Peace Research as they are subject to various political attacks. In addition;

First, peace research must continue to be a model for engaged scholarship. It should draw upon issues of the reduction of violence, improving the human condition, and recognizing the potential strengths of the disempowered and should be guided by Berenice Carroll’s deconstruction of the “cult of power” and its replacement with a concept of empowerment (1972).

Second, we need in our scholarship to emphasize the centrality of workers, women, people of color, and all so-called marginalized people as shapers of history, or at least to recognize their role in creating history.

Third, we need to engage in research projects that might help individuals, groups, and classes gain self-confidence and strength in their social projects.

Four, we need to extend our scholarship to the study and celebration of those who have chosen the path to empowerment and the evaluation of their relative successes and failures. This would not be an exercise in romanticism but rather an exercise in developing a more sophisticated understanding of history and change.

Five, we need to build our theories and our research skills through active engagement in the process of social change. Theoretical validation comes from engagement, not withdrawal.

Six, we need to relate models of empowerment to all sectors of society. We cannot embrace the issue of competence, strength, and self-actualization for one constituency and use traditional models of domination to try to understand other parallel constituencies. Here is where understanding the connections between class, race, and gender play a particularly important role.

Finally, peace research and activism should broaden its lens on the world to explore and assess movements for radical change everywhere, including the broad array of movements arising in the Global South. Also, we need to reflect on the global significance of non-national indigenous movements, cross-national forms of worker and women’s organizations, and the exciting array of new campaigns around land and factory occupations. Perhaps most of all we need to assess the theory and practice of what is called 21st-century socialism.

 

References

Carr, E.H. The Twenty Years’ Crisis: 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, Harper and Row, 1964.

Carroll, Berenice, “Peace Research: The Cult of Power,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, No. 4, December, 1972, 585-617.

Deutsch, Karl. W, the analysis of International Relations, Prentice-Hall, 1968.

Dougherty, James and Robert  Pfaltzgraff, Contending Theories of International Relations, Lippincott, 1971.

Eide, Asbjorn, “Dialogue and Confrontation in Europe,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, No. 4, December, 1972, 511-523.

Fisher, Roger, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, “Getting to Yes,” in  David Barash ed. Approaches to Peace, oxford Press, 2010, 71-78.

Galtung, Johan, “A Structural Theory of Imperialism,” Journal of Peace Research, No. 2, 1971, 81-119.

Gilman, Nils, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America, Johns Hopkins, 2003.

Kaplan, Morton, “The New Great Debate: Traditionalism vs. Science in International Relations,”  World Politics, October, 1966.

Kennan, George, American Diplomacy, 1900-1950, Mentor, 1957.

Lynd, Robert, Knowledge for What?  Princeton University Press, 1970.

Mitrany, David, A Working Peace System, Quadrangle, 1966.

Morgenthau, Hans, Politics Among Nations, Knopf, 1960.

Niebuhr, Reinhold, Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics, Scribners, 1947.

Osgood, Charles, “Disarmament Demands GRIT,” in David Barash ed. Approaches to Peace, Oxford, 2010, 78-83.

Richardson, Lewis, Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Quadrangle, 1960.

Rummel Rudolph, “The Relationship Between  National Attributes and Foreign Conflict Behavior,” in J.David Singer ed., Quantitative International Politics: Insights and Evidence, Free Press, 1968.

Singer, J.David and Melvin Small, The Wages of War 1816-1965, A Statistical Handbook, John Wiley, 1972.

 Sorokin, Pitirim, Social and Cultural Dynamics, Porter Sargent, 1957.

Targ, Harry R., International Relations in a World of Imperialism and Class Struggle, Schenkman, 1983.

Targ, Harry R., “Social Science and a New Social Order,” Journal of Peace Research, No. 3, 1971.

Wright, Quincy, A Study of War, University of Chicago, 1942.

 

Harry Targ is Professor of Political Science and Coordinator of the Committee on Peace Studies at Purdue University. 

Bernadette Devlin: The Disparaged Woman of the Troubles

By Katherine Behnke

Bernadette Devlin became the youngest Member of British Parliament in 1969 at twenty-one years old. On January 31, 1972, House of Commons’ protocol did not allow Devlin to recount what she witnessed between the Irish nationalists and British paratroopers on what became known as Bloody Sunday. In frustration, she crossed the room and hit Reginald Maulding, the British Home Secretary, in the face. The aftermath Devlin encountered as a result of her actions toward Maulding highlights the gender order in Northern Ireland during the violent era from 1968 to 1998, known as the Troubles.

I recently completed an online exhibit about Bloody Sunday, the deadly civil rights march on January 30, 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland that became a turning point in the Troubles. While researching the exhibit, I discovered the lack of scholarship written exclusively on Devlin, showing the disparity between the remembrance of women and men in the Troubles. Male authors have written many of the secondary sources, and plenty of books exist either written by or about men who participated in the Troubles, such as Austin Currie and Martin McGuiness. Academics Tim Pat Coogan and Feargal Cochrane and authors Don Mullan and Douglas Murray mention Devlin when discussing the Troubles, but only a book written by Devlin herself from 1969, a thesis focused on Devlin to understand Northern Ireland during this time written by Barbara Ann Oney in 1972 and edited publications of her speeches comprise the sources which focus on her exclusively.[1] In popular culture, filmmaker, Lelia Doolan, made a 2011 film called Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey that premiered at the BFI London Film Festival with the specific goal to keep Devlin from being forgotten in Irish history.[2] Investigating this lack of scholarship on Devlin highlights the need to include her in the history of the Troubles rather than finding excuses, such as her critical statements, radical actions or lapses in her memory, as justifications to exclude her.

Bernadette Devlin and Bloody Sunday  

Growing in prominence during the Troubles of Northern Ireland, Devlin’s political career began at a young age. Nationalist Catholics and unionist Protestants disagreed over whether Northern Ireland should unite with the Republic of Ireland or remain a part of the United Kingdom.[3] After building a presence as part of the civil rights movement, Devlin won the election to become the Member of Parliament for Mid-Ulster in 1969. Her unionist critics, who called her “Castro in a miniskirt,” began to grow in number as she sharply criticized anyone who discriminated against the nationalists in Northern Ireland, including the police and the British parliamentary elite.[4] Also, by 1969, Devlin had already written a book about her life thus far called The Price of My Soul to explain how Northern Ireland’s economic, social and political problems created the public’s fascination with Bernadette Devlin.[5] Although she may not have enjoyed living in the public eye, her story is neglected by scholars.

Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, highlights how the press dealt with Devlin. What began as a civil rights march against internment, the arrest of suspected members of paramilitary groups without a trial, became deadly after the British soldiers and nationalist protestors met in the streets of Derry.[6] Although the Stormont government had banned public processions, nationalist marchers met anyway, and shooting began after the British Parachute Regiment tried to block off the city centre.[7] In total, fourteen men died, and the debate over who started the shooting lasted for decades.[8] Devlin attracted the attention of the press after she hit the British Home Secretary in the face at Westminster the next day.[9] Afterwards, the press asked her whether her emotions played a role in her decision to hit Maulding. Devlin responded with, “It wasn’t an emotional reaction. It was quite coldly and calmly done.”[10] Instead of focusing on the events Devlin saw on Bloody Sunday that led her to her reaction to Maudling, the press used her actions to criticize her. Their criticism aligns with political scientist Christine Sylvester’s argument that historically women have not been seen as soldiers because they are not emotionally prepared.[11]

Devlin’s male counterparts did not experience the same level of criticism from the press about their emotions. Martin McGuinness, another controversial figure of the Troubles at this time due to his membership in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, received the blame for firing the first shot at Bloody Sunday.[12] Although he may not have liked what the authors wrote, McGuinness’s story received attention, such as Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston’s Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government.[13] McGuinness received criticism for his involvement in the Troubles, but his emotions were never mentioned as motivation for his actions. Therefore, this brief comparison gives insight into the gender bias Devlin received.

Devlin’s memory has come into question many times over the years. Austin Currie, who rose in the civil rights movement with Devlin, wrote his autobiography in 2004.[14] Currie disagreed with Devlin’s account of a civil rights march near Coalisland on August 24, 1968. Devlin claimed in her 1969 book that men stopped at pubs along the march’s route, and they became very drunk.[15] However, Currie stated that only one bar existed on the route, and his friend, who marched with Currie that day, claimed the pub was closed when he tried to use the restroom there.[16] In this way, Currie became skeptical of Devlin’s presence at the march even though he wrote decades after the Troubles while Devlin wrote her book in 1969.

In his book, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, Douglas Murray, an author and political journalist, recounts what happened on Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry. While he uses witness statements, tribunal sittings and Lord Saville’s final report, he does not cite individual parts in his book, but rather, he lists the sources used in each chapter at the end of the book. Therefore, he provides valuable information, but Murray does not include specific citations. He directs his readers to go to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry website to find all the evidence he uses in this book. He claims that on January 31, 1972 in Parliament Devlin recalled a Tory Member of Parliament hitting her, resulting in another Member of Parliament hitting the Tory, and that as she left she observed “a pile of MPs literally boxing on the floor of the House.”[17] Murray does not identify a source for Devlin’s account. However, he then goes on to cite Hansard, the official record of the House, as having a different account of the day. It has different Members of Parliament stating their opinions either in support or opposition to Devlin hitting Maulding. Hansard contains no account of further fighting.[18] While Murray references Hansard, his claims lack validity due to his absence of citations.

At the Saville Inquiry, the Counsel questioned Devlin’s memory again. Due to decades passing between Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry, many witnesses who testified also had trouble remembering events.[19] To her credit, Devlin conceded in her testimony that she had an “unreliable memory.”[20] Multiple Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) organizers and Derry civilians recalled in their testimonies of seeing Devlin at the march.[21] When the Inquiry brought up a Times interview from January 31, 1972 that quoted Devlin discussing an eight-year-old boy being shot in the back and a film clip from the same day of her stating that a young girl had also been shot in the back, Devlin could not justify her false claims.[22] Therefore, these accounts saw Devlin stretching the truth based off claims she heard from other people present on January 30 in order to show the nationalist protestors were the victims of the day. Lord Saville ultimately concluded that the British soldiers fired unprovoked into the crowd of protestors.[23] While her recollection of events may prove problematic, Devlin’s lapses in memory do not serve as an excuse for excluding her from the Troubles in Northern Ireland narrative. Her honesty in her memory failures should be admired, especially when Devlin was asked to remember events from decades earlier.

In conclusion, Bernadette Devlin deserves recognition for her role in Northern Ireland. Critics and scholars appear to use her passion about the presence of British soldiers in Northern Ireland, her radical actions and her lapses in memory of past events as justification for excluding her contributions to the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Devlin had many flaws, but an account of her life should not be dismissed from history because her actions as a woman may seem radical to some in society. Devlin played a critical role in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and scholars need to write about Devlin, to follow filmmaker Lelia Doolan’s lead, in order to preserve Devlin’s contribution to the history of the Troubles. From a young age, Devlin became dedicated to making Northern Ireland a better country, and her life has been full of events during and after the Troubles that require further analysis.

Notes

[1] Barbara Ann Oney, “Bernadette Devlin as a Communicator for Social Change within Northern Ireland” (master’s thesis, Ohio State University, 1972), 10.

[2] Maggie O’Kane, “A new film asks ‘where is Bernadette Devlin,’” The Guardian, last modified October 14, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2011/oct/15/bernadette-devlin-london-film-festival.

[3] Feargal Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 4-5.

[4] Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace, 42.

[5] Bernadette Devlin, The Price of My Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969), vii.

[6] Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace, 59.

[7] Douglas Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry (London: Biteback Publishing, 2011), 30.

[8] Don Mullan, Bloody Sunday: Massacre in Northern Ireland-The Eyewitness Accounts (Niwot: Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1997), picture and BBC, “Bloody Sunday in maps,” BBC News, last modified March 17, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/8572763.stm.

[9] Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace, 42.

[10] BBC. “Bernadette Devlin attacks British Home Secretary,” last modified January 27, 2012, accessed November 20, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00nm166.

[11] Christine Sylvester, War as Experience: Contributions from international relations and feminist analysis (New York: Routledge, 2013), 38.

[12] Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, 241.

[13] Ibid., 232.

[14] Ibid., 42.

[15] Devlin, The Price of My Soul, 92-3.

[16] Austin Currie, All Hell Will Break Loose, (Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2004), 104-5.

[17] Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, 75.

[18] Ibid., 76.

[19] Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, 240.

[20] Ibid., 86.

[21] Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, 78-9.

[22] Ibid., 86-9.

[23] Ibid., 303.

 

Bibliography

Amazon. “Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry.” https://www.amazon.com/Bloody-Sunday-Truths-Saville-Inquiry/dp/1849541493.

BBC. “Bernadette Devlin attacks British Home Secretary.” BBC One. Last modified January 27, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00nm166.

BBC. “Bloody Sunday in maps.” BBC News. Last modified March 17, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/8572763.stm.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry. http://www.bloody-sunday-inquiry.org.uk.

Cochrane, Feargal. Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

Currie, Austin. All Hell Will Break Loose. Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2004.

Devlin, Bernadette. The Price of My Soul. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969.

Goodreads. “The Price of my Soul.” Goodreads Inc. Last modified 2018. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1848819.The_Price_of_my_Soul.

Mullan, Don. Bloody Sunday: Massacre in Northern Ireland-The Eyewitness Accounts. Niwot: Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1997.

Murray, Douglas. Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry. London: Biteback Publishing, 2011.

O’Kane, Maggie. “A new films asks ‘where is Bernadette Devlin.’” The Guardian. Last modified October 14, 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2011/oct/15/bernadette-devlin-london-film-festival.

Oney, Barbara Ann. “Bernadette Devlin as a Communicator for Social Change within Northern Ireland.” Master’s thesis, Ohio State University, 1972.

Publishers Weekly. “The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal, 1966-1995 and the Search for Peace.” PW. https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-57098-092-3.

Sylvester, Christine. War as Experience: Contributions from international relations and feminist analysis. New York: Routledge, 2013.

University of Kent. “Professor Feargal Cochrane.” Last modified September 11, 2017. https://www.kent.ac.uk/politics/staff/canterbury/cochrane.html.

Wikipedia. “Don Mullan.” Last modified December 23, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Mullan.

Katherine Behnke is a master’s student at Cleveland State University.

Politics of Peace and Gender + Digital Humanities

By Shelley Rose

For a couple years now, department colleagues have encouraged me to find a space where my research in protest movements and gender intersected with my interests in digital humanities and pedagogy. The product of those conversations is a course I offered in Fall 2017, “The Politics of Peace and Gender.” Excited by the possibility of sharing my passion for these fields with my students, I had three main goals:

  1. Focus the course on the interdisciplinary work of geographers, political scientists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, musicologists, and activists;
  2. Emphasize the transferable skills our department and the AHA argue are an essential part of history education;
  3. Pilot this course as a methods course for a future certificate or minor program in digital humanities at CSU.

Here is the description from the syllabus:

This course investigates perceptions of peace and gender in politics, drawing on insights from international relations and human rights history to study gendered conceptualizations of peace as “feminine” and assumptions that militarism and war are historically “masculine.” The chronology of the course begins with Bertha von Suttner’s pacifist novel Lay Down your Arms! (1889) and ends in the present day. Through primary and secondary research, students will evaluate the importance of gender analysis in the study of war and its opponents. In particular, this course emphasizes the various roles of men and women participating in protest events and the spaces they choose occupy. The course fosters a transnational perspective, highlighting different historical and geographical contexts such as 19th– century nationalism in Europe, the experience and aftermath of World War I, international debates around disarmament including nuclear disarmament, gendered violence during the dirty wars in Latin America, and more recent mass transnational protest events such as the Women’s March on Washington and the Occupy Movement.

“Politics of Peace and Gender” enrolled 13 undergraduates, 2 graduate students, and 3 “Project 60” students. This was one of the most academically diverse groups of students I have ever taught in an upper-level history course. Not only did students range in technical ability, they came to the course from various majors and programs including Asian Studies, Black Studies, Education, English, Gender and Women’s Studies, History, Political Science, Psychology, and Social Studies. Early in the semester, I adopted the strategy of pulling key terms from our daily readings and posting them on the course chat (in this case we used university-supported Microsoft Teams). I also wrote the term list on the whiteboard in the classroom before each discussion. While I took attendance, students could walk to the board and put a checkmark next to the term(s) they wanted to be sure we reviewed during our session. This turned out to be a valuable exercise due to the interdisciplinary nature of both the materials and students. For instance, a term like “thick description” is familiar to history and anthropology students, but often unfamiliar to psychologists and others in the room.

In order to emphasize transferable skills, I approached this course as a digital methods course where students created an Omeka exhibit on a protest event of their choice as a final project. I drew heavily on my experience with project-based learning (PBL) and used the student-created exhibits from the Colored Conventions Project as a model to design a series of weekly skill-based labs that provided a foundation for the final project. I thought carefully about the branding for this course, and ultimately decided to use the word “lab” for work sessions. While the idea of a laboratory is borrowed from STEM fields, I use it to emphasize that these sessions are a time to experiment with digital methods. I made a conscious effort to convey to my students that it was ok to stumble, or even fail, when creating digital content – just like many scientists.

I love that digital humanities methods and projects challenge the assumption among academics and students that all assignments must represent a “finished” product. I stress to my students that it is fine to have work in progress. After all, academics present their own work at conferences before polishing ideas into an article or book. This is the reason why I grade labs separately from the final project (which deviates slightly from the traditional PBL model). My goal is to provide students with space to grow and, I hope, to be more courageous in their final project. Students were able to use network diagrams, maps, and other elements from their labs, but they were not required to use all of them in order to preserve the element of choice that is considered key to PBL.

Project-based learning calls for a public product for the final projects. The “Politics of Peace and Gender,” student exhibits are posted on a public Omeka site. All students were required to present their exhibit at the DigitalCSU working group research showcase in our library at the end of the semester. At the time, I hosted the site as a subdomain on my own website. I am now in the process of working with the CSU library to archive this site on their servers to ensure sustainability and to link it more clearly to the university’s Bepress site, EngagedScholarship @ CSU. Students were evaluated according to this rubric.

As a special topics course “Politics of Peace and Gender” was cross-listed for both undergraduate and M.A. students. Each M.A. student completed the Omeka exhibit and also wrote an academic blog post. You can read Katherine Behnke’s post on Bernadette Devlin here on the Peace & Change blog. It’s a great example of how her research for the digital exhibit revealed a significant gap in the historiography of a well-known protest event.

Student exhibits covered topics from The 1919 May 4th Incident in China to Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland. You can view them all on http://csuhisppg.shelleyrose.org/.

Shelley E. Rose is Associate Professor of History and Director of Social Studies at Cleveland State University. Follow her on Twitter @shelleyerose

Trump’s Getting Us Ready to Fight a Nuclear War

by Lawrence Wittner

Although many people have criticized the bizarre nature of Donald Trump’s diplomacy with North Korea, his recent love fest with Kim Jong Un does have the potential to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

Even so, buried far below the mass media coverage of the summit spectacle, the reality is that Trump―assisted by his military and civilian advisors―is busy getting the United States ready for nuclear war.

This deeper and more ominous situation is reflected in the extensive nuclear “modernization” program currently underway in the United States. Begun during the Obama administration, the nuclear weapons buildup was initially offered as an inducement to Senate Republicans to vote for the president’s New START Treaty. It provided for a $1 trillion refurbishment of the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex―as well as for new weapons for nuclear warfare on land, in the sea, and in the air―over the following three decades.

Characteristically, this program, though unnecessary and outlandishly expensive, was not nearly grand enough for Trump, who, during his election campaign, repeatedly assailed what he claimed was the pitiful state of America’s nuclear preparedness. In fact, in his first campaign announcement, he went so far as to proclaim: “Our nuclear arsenal doesn’t work.”  In December 2016, shortly after his election victory, he tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” The next day, speaking with his usual brashness, he told Mika Brzezinski, the host of an MSNBC program: “Let it be an arms race.” He added: “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Trump unveiled his official “America First” National Security Strategy in December 2017. Criticizing the downgraded role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy since the end of the Cold War, it broadened the role of nuclear weapons in future policy. Announcing the measure, Trump took the opportunity to denigrate his predecessors. “They lost sight of America’s destiny,” he remarked. “And they lost their belief in American greatness.”

Further details about that “greatness” appeared in February 2018, when the Trump administration released its official Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). Rather than continue the efforts of past administrations to reduce the size and scope of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the NPR sidelined any consideration of arms control and disarmament agreements. Instead, it called for upgrading all three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad and outlined plans to build two new types of nuclear weapons: a submarine-based nuclear cruise missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile. The latter, although reportedly “low-yield,” could do as much damage as the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to Lawrence Korb, a nuclear weapons specialist who had served as Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan administration, the Trump administration plan could catapult the cost of the U.S. nuclear “modernization” program to $2 trillion.

Like Korb, many nuclear weapons specialists were appalled not only by the astronomical cost of this nuclear buildup, but by its potential to facilitate nuclear war. “Low-yield” nuclear weapons, after all, are being built because they will provide the U.S. government with a more “usable” response than would either conventional or strategic nuclear weapons to problems with “enemy” nations. Nuclear enthusiasts like to think that, faced with the possibility of a low-yield attack, “the enemy” will back down; or that, if the U.S. government actually initiates an attack with such weapons, “the enemy” will not escalate to a full-scale nuclear counterattack. But is that a certainty? As Korb notes, “many U.S. military officials” believe that low-yield nuclear weapons will end up “providing Trump with a kind of gateway drug for nuclear war.”

In other ways, too, the Trump nuclear buildup laid out in the NPR presents new opportunities for slipping into a nuclear catastrophe. For example, as the U.S. government already possesses a submarine-launched conventional cruise missile, adding a nuclear cruise missile will lead the Russian government to assume that any cruise missile on board a U.S. submarine could be a nuclear one. Another opportunity for disaster will widen with the promised integration of nuclear and conventional weapons in U.S. military planning. Moreover, building more nuclear weapons will encourage other nations to develop their own, with many of them targeting the United States. Perhaps most dangerous, the Trump NPR lowers the official threshold for use of U.S. nuclear weapons, contending that the U.S. government would employ them in response to non-nuclear attacks upon civilians and infrastructure, including cyberattacks.

Trump himself, of course, has not only displayed an alarmingly high level of mental instability, impulsiveness, and vindictiveness, but a rather cavalier attitude toward using nuclear weapons. During his 2016 presidential campaign, according to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Trump consulted with a top foreign policy specialist “and three times asked about the use of nuclear weapons. . . . He asked at one point, if we had them, why can’t we use them?” Twice, during early 2016, Trump said that, when it came to the use of nuclear weapons, he wanted to be “unpredictable.” In 2017, caught up in an interchange of personal insults with Kim Jong Un, he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea―presumably through a nuclear attack.

Trump apparently considers his nuclear weapons policy a component of “Making America Great Again.” But we might more justifiably view it as a giant step toward catastrophe.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This article was originally posted to History News Network.

Although Two Out of Three Americans Oppose Increasing U.S. Military Spending, the U.S. Government Is Boosting It to Record Levels

By Lawrence Wittner

Early this February, the Republican-controlled Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed new federal budget legislation that increased U.S. military spending by $165 billion over the next two years.  Remarkably, though, a Gallup public opinion poll, conducted only days before, found that only 33 percent of Americans favored increasing U.S. military spending, while 65 percent opposed it, either backing reductions (34 percent) or maintenance of the status quo (31 percent).

What is even more remarkable for a nation where military spending has grown substantially over the decades, is that, during the past 49 years that Gallup has asked Americans their opinions on U.S. military spending, in only one year (1981) did a majority of Americans (in that case, 51 percent) favor increasing it.  During the other years, clear and sometimes very substantial majorities opposed spending more on the military.

Although the Gallup survey appears to be the only one that has covered American attitudes toward military spending in 2018, reports by other polling agencies for earlier years reveal the same pattern.  The Pew Research Center, for example, found that, from 2004 to 2016, the percentage of Americans that favored increasing U.S. military spending only ranged from 13 to 35 percent.  By contrast, the percentage of Americans that favored decreasing U.S. military spending or continuing it at the same level ranged from 64 to 83 percent.

This opposition to boosting U.S. military spending became even stronger when pollsters provided Americans with information about the actual level of federal government spending and arguments for and against particular programs.  In March 2017, before opinion polling began by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Integrity, it distributed a rough outline of the federal budget and a series of statements about spending programs vetted for fairness by opposing groups.  The result was that a majority of survey respondents reported that they favored cutting the military budget by $41 billion.

Current public opinion on military spending has a clear partisan dimension.  In its February 2018 polling, Gallup found that, among Republicans and independents leaning Republican, 54 percent said that the U.S. government was spending too little on the military.  Conversely, among Democrats and independents leaning Democratic, 53 percent said the federal government was spending too much on it.  Today, with Republicans dominating both Congress and the White House, it’s not surprising that U.S. military spending is once again soaring to record heights.

It’s hard to say, of course, where the current vast U.S. military buildup will lead.  Critics―and there have been many―predict war, bankruptcy, or both.  Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action, the largest grassroots peace organization in the United States, remarked:  “Our tax dollars pay for military policies that spur a global arms race―one that increasingly endangers our country’s security and undermines its economic viability.”

Americans might also want to ponder the fact that, with $700 billion per year now being pumped into the Pentagon by U.S. taxpayers, military spending consumes 54 percent of the federal discretionary budget.  And, if President Trump’s official recommendations for future years are followed, the military’s share of the federal budget will surge to 65 percent by fiscal 2023.  Combined with the huge budget deficits that will be produced by the GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and their corporations, this will almost certainly lead to devastating slashes in federal spending for education, healthcare, parks and recreation facilities, food distribution, jobs, infrastructure, and other public programs.

Of course, there are possibilities for blocking the current flood of military spending and its consequences.  The political mobilization of the widespread, but thus far latent, constituency against increased funding for the Pentagon, coupled with enough Democratic victories at the polls in 2018 to return of the House of Representative to Democratic control, would slow―and perhaps halt―the drift toward an overwhelmingly military-oriented public policy.

Short of these developments, however, it seems likely that the U.S. government’s discretionary spending will be devoted primarily to preparations for war.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This post originally appeared on History News Network.

New Essays on the “Peace History” Website

By Roger Peace

What would history look like if the disciplines of diplomatic, military, and peace history were merged?

This could well describe the U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide website – alias “peace history.”  Launched in January 2016, the website examines the major wars and foreign policies of the United States from a peace-oriented, humanitarian perspective and includes substantial coverage of peace movements.  Seven of sixteen planned sections have been completed, most recently, “Yankee imperialism,’ 1901-1934,” and “Central America wars, 1980s.” Each entry contains about 80 pages of text, is divided into numerous subsections for easy assimilation, and includes dozens of photographs and images (103 in the Central America essay).

In “’Yankee imperialism,’ 1901-1934,” authored by myself with assistance from Ann Jefferson (Univ. of Tennessee) and Marc Becker (Truman State Univ.), U.S. motives and rationales for interventionism are critically examined, the policies of succeeding U.S. administrations are reviewed, and six case studies of U.S. interventions are presented:  Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua.   The eclectic anti-interventionist movement gathered steam after World War I and helped to turn the tide of public opinion against U.S. military occupations in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua as well as to avoid war with Mexico in the mid-1920s.

In “Central America wars, 1980s,” authored by Ginger Williams (Winthrop Univ.), Jeremy Kuzmarov (Univ. of Tulsa), and myself, with assistance from Richard Grossman (Northeastern Illinois Univ.), Brian D’Haeseleer (Lyon Univ.), and Michael Schmidli (Bucknell Univ.), the Reagan administration’s rhetoric and policies toward Central America are placed in historical perspective and critically examined.  Historical background is also provided on El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua before proceeding to the 1980s.  The Central America movement that rallied in opposition to U.S. interventionism was remarkably creative in fostering transnational activities and cultivating understanding and empathy across national borders.

Peace History Society members and friends – instructors and students – can avail themselves of these essays, as the website is an open public resource.  Check out the website and use it!  Assign sections to students. Send feedback through the website contact system.

The next essay will focus on World War I, the subject of the excellent PHS conference in Kansas last fall.  Chuck Howlett, the unofficial dean of peace movement history, and Jeremy Kuzmarov, co-author of The Russians Are Coming Again (Monthly Review Press, May 2018), are part of the writing team.  For those who have expertise in an area not yet covered (see website home page) and would like to help with the planning, writing, or reviewing of future essays, please send me a note.  –  Roger Peace (rcpeace3@embarqmail.com)

Who is a Hero?

By Lawrence Wittner

This essay originally appeared on History News Network. It is reprinted her with the author’s permission.

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. occupation authorities in Germany, checking on the effectiveness of their “denazification” program, polled Germans on whether they believed a civilian was “less worthy than a soldier.”  One wonders what they would think of the exalted status that many Americans currently accord to anyone serving in the U.S. armed forces, as announcements ring out―from airline flights to sporting events―with calls to applaud “Our Heroes.”

This adulation of everyone wearing a U.S. military uniform is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Although the popularity of triumphant military commanders like George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower helped pave their way to the White House, the status of “hero” was not necessarily accorded to them or to the millions of other people who served in the U.S. military.  As the journalist Stephen Kinzer has noted:  “Past generations of Americans saw soldiers as ordinary human beings.  They were like the rest of us:  big and small, smart and dumb, capable of good and bad choices.”  Today, he added, “we pretend they are demi-gods.”

A hero, according to the standard definition, is a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.  How well do soldiers measure up to this standard?

Some measure up rather well, especially when they do things like persevere against overwhelming odds, rescue fallen comrades under withering fire, and defend civilians against enemy attack.  Although the wisdom and justice of wars in which soldiers fight can certainly be questioned, soldiers do behave heroically in many instances.

Other soldiers measure up badly, especially when they engage in massacring civilians, torturing or shooting prisoners, raping women, and other war crimes―things that have characterized the behavior of some U.S. troops from the nation’s early wars to more recent times.

Most American soldiers, though, have been neither heroes nor villains but, rather, dutiful, if sometimes reluctant, participants in the armed forces.  As one former U.S. soldier told me, upon his return from the Vietnam War:  “I just kept my head down and tried to survive.”  In recent years, in the context of an all-volunteer army, most young people have enlisted because they have little economic opportunity in civilian life, are continuing a family’s military tradition, or have a youthful taste for adventure.  Although some might end up displaying extraordinary valor or nobility of character, most are not trying to act like heroes but, simply, to do their jobs.

Defenders of their heroism argue that, by joining the armed forces, U.S. soldiers are courageously risking their lives and limbs.  And it’s certainly true that some pay a terrible price for their military service.  But, in fact, most modern U.S. soldiers never or rarely see combat.  In 2017, only about a third of active duty U.S. military personnel were located outside the United States, and the vast majority of these were not deployed in combat zones.

Civilian employment also has serious, though rarely mentioned, hazards.  During 2016, there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in the United States, with the highest fatality rates among loggers, fishermen, and aircraft pilots and flight engineers.  Firefighters, police, and farm workers also held exceptionally dangerous jobs.  According to the AFL-CIO, 50,000 to 60,000 Americans died of occupation-related diseases in 2015, while work-related injuries and illnesses have numbered between 7.4 million and 11.1 million per year.

But is there anything harmful about the blanket lauding of soldiers as heroes?

Well, yes.  It inculcates the dangerous myth that soldiers can do no wrong.  As Lieutenant Colonel William Astore has pointed out:  “When we create a legion of heroes in our minds, we blind ourselves to evidence of destructive, sometimes atrocious, behavior.  Heroes, after all, don’t commit atrocities.”  These atrocities, “so common to war’s brutal chaos, produce cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Americans, who simply can’t imagine their `heroes’ killing innocents and then covering up the evidence.  How much easier it is to see the acts of violence of our troops as necessary, admirable, even noble.”

Also, when American soldiers are idolized, respect for militarism and war grow accordingly.  Military training, military expenditures, military intervention, and military escalation become ways to “support the troops” or, at the least, take on a friendlier glow.

In addition, as soldiers, fervently applauded by the public, adopt the popular notion that they are the saviors of the nation, they have a tendency to stage armed takeovers of democratically-elected governments.  After World War I, Mussolini and Hitler began their own assault on democracy by mobilizing fellow veterans of that conflict to seize power.

Fortunately, the founders of the United States, fearful of “Caesarism,” placed control of the military in the hands of the elected civilian authorities.  But glorification of the armed forces could alter this arrangement.

Being uniformly lauded as “heroes” is also harmful to many soldiers, for it sweeps much of their actual experience under the rug.  Large numbers of American troops come home from combat suffering from PTSD, alcoholism, and drug dependency.  Indeed, an estimated 22 U.S. veterans a day commit suicide.  In these circumstances, they need understanding and help rather than fawning adoration.

Finally, the across-the-board hero-worship of soldiers not only devalues the heroism of those soldiers who have shown extraordinary courage, but the heroism, usually unsung, of many civilians.  What about the heroism of civil rights activists risking their lives in the cause of racial justice?  What about the heroism of journalists imprisoned or murdered for revealing private or public corruption?  What about the heroism of “whistleblowers” who risk lengthy imprisonment for exposing criminal behavior?  What about the heroism of workers who dare to organize or go on strike at the risk of their jobs?

For these reasons, among others, even soldiers themselves have objected to being labeled “heroes.”

Shouldn’t we stop singling out “the troops” for adulation and applaud heroism wherever it occurs?

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press)

Why Write for Children?

By Harriet Alonso, Emerita Professor of History, The City College of New York, CUNY

This coming November 21, Seven Stories Press will publish my first Middle Grade historical fiction, Martha and the Slave Catchers. For over thirty-five years, I have been writing non-fiction books for adults, so you might wonder why I took up my pen (I mean, keyboard) to write for children. And why choose fiction? Believe me when I say that I have thought about these questions nearly every day now for the almost seven years it took me to reach this point. Let me share some of that journey with you, especially as it relates to my commitment to our values as peace historians.

Some non-exact time somewhere around 2010, I started to have the flash of an idea that I might like to try writing a story for children. Part of my reasoning had to do with plain and simple frustration with college students taking my U.S. survey course who were clueless about so much of U.S. history. I could forgive the students who had not been educated in the U.S., but a good number of my folk came directly out of the New York City school system. Why did they know so little? And why were newspapers and educational journals citing studies indicating that most junior and senior high school students hated history? Now, I guess I should ‘fess up here and admit that when I was in those exact same grades way, way back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I hated history, too. My students often found it incredible when I told them that. But, I said, in the 1980s, I discovered women’s history, and the world changed. So, with the advent of social history, why hadn’t it changed for them?

I had no answers, but I began pondering about what small part I could play in eradicating our bad reputation. One inspiration was a graduate course I team-taught with a colleague in the School of Education called Social Studies Inquiry for Childhood Education that focused on how to build curriculum around the U.S. woman’s rights/suffrage movement. One thing led to another, and through conversations with several educators and a whole lot of reading, I became interested in the materials used to teach children about history. I guess that’s what my brain was centering on when the idea for writing a children’s book crept up on me.

I had written a few pieces of adult fiction but had never seriously tried to have them published. But the children’s book idea was very enticing. And as for subject matter? Well, it seemed an easy choice. The very well-known author’s adage, “Write what you know,” definitely led my way. I had spent ten years researching and writing Growing Up Abolitionist: The Story of the Garrison Children which came out in 2002. Yet, I had never grown tired of reading about abolitionist children, the Underground Railroad, and the personalities involved in that part of our history. In fact, that project led to my developing and teaching courses in U.S. Family History, the History of Childhood in America, and Biography and the Antislavery Movement. When I last taught the U.S. Survey, I asked my students how many of them had studied about U.S. slavery. All had, but none knew anything about the antislavery movement. So I concentrated on that. Several students later told me that the information had opened their eyes to something very new and exciting. Throughout this period, the seeds for Martha and the Slave Catchers took root.

As I tested the waters, I realized that I had to learn a whole lot about how to write for children. During the winter of 2013, when I was on sabbatical, I took two invaluable courses in Writing Children’s Literature at the Gotham Writers Workshop. Every exercise I was assigned I used to try out a different plot point, various voices, different scenarios. By the time I was done with the courses, I had the rough draft for the novel. I then spent a year revising and sending out query letters to agents and editors. In the fall of 2014, I signed with Marie Brown Associates and two years later with Seven Stories Press which is currently expanding its children’s imprint, Triangle Square Books for Young Readers. Seven Stories is a publisher dedicated to human rights and social justice. Check them out at www.sevenstories.com.

Martha and the Slave Catchers is a story about the effects of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 on the lives of two children in Connecticut. Here is a brief synopsis of the plot:

Danger lurks in every corner of almost fourteen-year-old Martha Bartlett’s life—and all because her mama and papa, agents of the Underground Railroad in Liberty Falls, Connecticut, decide to claim as their own the light-skinned orphan of a runaway slave who died in their attic hideaway. They name him Jake.

After the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 is enacted, two hired slave catchers, Will and Tom, kidnap Jake and take him south to the plantation of Robert Dawes, his supposed biological father and “master.” Always ambivalent about her demanding, mischievous, and learning impaired brother, Martha nonetheless feels guilty about his disappearance. After all, it was her job to watch over him on that very day he was snatched. She pledges to find him and bring him home.

Martha becomes part of an Underground Railroad plan to rescue Jake. That journey takes her away from the safe world she has always known to a world full of danger, bigotry, violence, and self-discovery. Missing their connection with famed slave rescuer, Harriet Tubman, Martha and Jake are forced to start their perilous journey north with only each other to depend on. Meanwhile, Will and Tom are always close on their heels. Will they receive help from the Underground Railroad in their escape? Will they make it to safety? Will they ever see their home and parents again? These and other questions are answered by the end of the novel.

I wrote Martha and the Slave Catchers with several ideas I want to share with young readers. I guess you can say, I want to help to build upon the beliefs we in the Peace History Society share about peace, human rights, and nonviolence. To do this, I definitely followed the “write what you know” principle for crafting fiction. But I also kept in mind several rules about writing for Middle Grade students, especially the importance of placing the children in steadily escalating danger which they get themselves out of, keeping the pacing fast, and taking my readers seriously.

So, what are those things I know about?

First, I know about the Garrisons and other abolitionist families, and I borrowed from their stories. There are several incidents in Martha’s story that came right out of my book on the Garrisons. (Some of these are explained on the Martha and the Slave Catchers page on my website: http://harrietalonso.com. I titled the list, “What are the Historical Facts behind Martha and the Slave Catchers?”). I want children to know that young people in the past were raised by parents who felt so strongly about human rights that they put themselves in danger by hiding runaways in their homes. Martha’s home education mirrored that of real abolitionist children in terms of what she read, the games she played, and in her early training that it is sometimes necessary to keep secrets and tell lies if it means freedom for an enslaved individual. When I wrote the book, I was not anticipating the current uncertainty of our own freedoms and those of immigrants in this country. Now I wonder if the story will take on new meaning.

Second, I wrote about what it was like to be a child of two or more races and/or ethnicities in the nineteenth century. Jake is a light complexioned mixed-race child being raised as white in a predominantly white community. Martha discovers at age thirteen that she was a foundling who will never know what her racial background is. My own son is Puerto Rican and European Jewish. I remember well his questions about this mix when he attended elementary school in the 1970s. At times, he was dismayed, and offering up the character of Juan Epstein from the tv sit-com Welcome Back, Kotter, didn’t seem to help. I think it took him some time to work the whole thing out. So, this was something familiar to me personally as it is to many parents and children in mixed-race and adoptive families. Questions of identity are no strangers in children’s lives.

Third, I wrote about disability. Jake is what in today’s terms we could describe as autistic. Because I needed him to be able to perform independently and to be a partner in his and Martha’s escape from the slave catchers, I gave him clear abilities. But my own grandson, who is severely autistic, does not have Jake’s capabilities. Over the years, I have observed his and other autistic children’s behavior and used them to build Jake. His hand movements, his rocking, his fits, his jumping. . . all of these things are taken from my grandson’s experiences. My hope is that the siblings of these children will identify with Martha’s frustration with Jake, but that they will also grow, as she does, to understand their siblings and appreciate and love them for who they are.

Finally, children’s book writing instructors tell us budding writers to get rid of the adults as quickly as possible so that the main characters can save themselves. And while I did adhere to this rule pretty well, I did not do it completely, largely because Middle School readers are still young enough to appreciate their need for supportive adults. However, I did manage to sidetrack Martha’s mother with deep depression and her father, therefore, with too much to do to pay attention to his children. In that way, Martha could be the main person who saves Jake from slavery and brings him home. But Martha and Jake have a strong adult structure that supports them, and that is the antislavery community and the Underground Railroad. I want children who read my book to understand that while children can be strong and creative and brave, there are also adults in their lives who will cushion them, guide them, and help develop them into the next generation of human rights activists.

Of course, I am nervous about the reception Martha and the Slave Catchers will receive when it comes out in the fall. And I am somewhat excited about the new little character who keeps popping her face into my thoughts demanding some attention. I can say for sure that it is challenging to write historically sound, exciting books for children, but I hope some of you will give it a try. If you are thinking about this or currently playing with a story, please get in touch with me. I’d love to see PHSers build on this idea. After all, children are our future, and we must nurture them in the best ways we know how.

I can be contacted at halonso@ccny.cuny.edu.

 

Should Limiting North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions Be the Responsibility of the U.S. Government?

By Lawrence Wittner

(This article was originally published on History News Network)

In recent months, advances in the North Korean government’s nuclear weapons program have led to a sharp confrontation between the government leaders of the United States and of North Korea.  This August, President Donald Trump declared that any more threats from North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  In turn, Kim Jong Un remarked that he was now contemplating firing nuclear missiles at the U.S. territory of Guam.  Heightening the dispute, Trump told the United Nations in mid-September that, if the United States was forced to defend itself or its allies, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”  Soon thereafter, Trump embellished this with a tweet declaring that North Korea “won’t be around much longer.”

From the standpoint of heading off nuclear weapons advances by the North Korean regime, this belligerent approach by the U.S. government has shown no signs of success.  Every taunt by U.S. officials has drawn a derisive reply from their North Korean counterparts.  Indeed, when it comes to nuclear weapons policy, escalating U.S. threats seem to have confirmed the North Korean government’s fears of U.S. military attack and, thus, bolstered its determination to enhance its nuclear capabilities.  In short, threatening North Korea with destruction has been remarkably counter-productive.

But, leaving aside the wisdom of U.S. policy, why is the U.S. government playing a leading role in this situation at all?  The charter of the United Nations, signed by the United States, declares in Article 1 that the United Nations has the responsibility “to maintain international peace and security” and, to that end, is “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.”  Not only does the UN charter not grant authority to the United States or any other nation to serve as the guardian of the world, but it declares, in Article 2, that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”  It’s pretty clear that both the U.S. and North Korean governments are violating that injunction.

Moreover, the United Nations is already involved in efforts to limit North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  The UN Security Council has not only condemned  the behavior of the North Korean government on numerous occasions, but has imposed stiff economic sanctions upon it.

Will further UN action have any more success in dealing with North Korea than the Trump policy has had?  Perhaps not, but at least the United Nations would not begin by threatening to incinerate North Korea’s 25 million people.  Instead, to ease the tense United States-North Korea standoff, the United Nations might offer to serve as a mediator in negotiations.  In such negotiations, it could suggest that, in exchange for a halt to the North Korean nuclear weapons program, the United States agree to a peace treaty ending the Korean War of the 1950s and halt U.S. military exercises on North Korea’s borders.  Giving way to a UN-brokered compromise rather than to U.S. nuclear blackmail might well be appealing to the North Korean government.  Meanwhile, the United Nations could keep moving forward with its Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons―a measure both Kim and Trump despise (and might, in their opposition to it, even bring them closer together), but is very appealing to most other countries.

Critics, of course, say that the United Nations is too weak to deal with North Korea or other nations that ignore the will of the world community.  And they are not entirely incorrect.  Although UN pronouncements and decisions are almost invariably praiseworthy, they are often rendered ineffective by the absence of UN resources and power to enforce them.

But the critics do not follow the logic of their own argument for, if the United Nations is too weak to play a completely satisfactory role in maintaining international peace and security, then the solution is to strengthen it.  After all, the answer to international lawlessness is not vigilante action by individual nations but, rather, the strengthening of international law and law enforcement.  In the aftermath of the vast chaos and destruction of World War II, that’s what the nations of the world claimed they wanted when, in late 1945, they established the United Nations.

Unfortunately, however, as the years passed, the great powers largely abandoned a United Nations-centered strategy based on collective action and world law for the old-fashioned exercise of their own military muscle.  Unwilling to accept limits on their national power in world affairs, they and their imitators began engaging in arms races and wars.  The current nightmarish nuclear confrontation between the North Korean and U.S. governments is only the latest example of this phenomenon.

Of course, it’s not too late to finally recognize that, in a world bristling with nuclear weapons, savage wars, accelerating climate change, rapidly-depleting resources, and growing economic inequality, we need a global entity to take the necessary actions for which no single nation has sufficient legitimacy, power, or resources.  And that entity is clearly a strengthened United Nations.  To leave the world’s future in the hands of nationalist blowhards or even prudent practitioners of traditional national statecraft will simply continue the drift toward catastrophe.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

BURNS AND NOVICK, MASTERS OF FALSE BALANCING

By Jerry Lembcke

This article was originally published on Public Books.

When Karl Marlantes takes the screen during the new PBS film series The Vietnam War, he says coming home was nearly as traumatic as the war itself. Later, he describes being assaulted by protesters at the airport, invoking the image of spat-on Vietnam veterans, an image that Los Angeles Times editorial writer Michael McGough said in 2012 was based on a myth. An edifying myth, McGough called it, but still a myth.

With The Vietnam War, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have created a film that rehashes some old, tired tropes. In doing so, they distort what soldiers, veterans, and antiwar activists alike know about the war and its aftermath, especially inside the United States.

In their May 29 New York Times op-ed advertisement for the series, Burns and Novick give a lofty rationale for their film. Succumbing to another cliché, they claim it is about healing. But the discourse of healing misleads as much as it informs, presupposing a prewar America that was a seamless unity, where everyone got along. As sociologist Keith Beattie showed in his 1998 book The Scar That Binds: American Culture and the Vietnam War, that America was mythical. The real one was already torn by racism and McCarthyism, and frayed by modern technology. Domestic class conflict and racial and gender anxieties, too, continued right through the war, as the historian Milton Bates pointed out in his 1996 book The Wars We Took to Vietnam.

That fractured America was complicit in its going to war, not simply a passive victim of it. Burns and Novick intentionally exclude scholars like Beattie and Bates, however. “No historians or other expert talking heads” mar their film, they told the Times’s reviewer Jennifer Schuessler. “Instead,” Schuessler reports matter-of-factly, their “79 onscreen interviews give the ground-up view of the war from the mostly ordinary people who lived through it.”

Ground-up views are susceptible, especially after 40 years, to the very myths they are supposed to belie. Memories that are 40 years old are too influenced by movies, novels, newspapers, and television—or those dreaded historians—to count for documentation. Lawyers, judges, and courts concluded years ago that eyewitness accounts of crimes that are only hours old are unreliable—so, 40 years? Or 50? In the hands of filmmakers, however, such accounts are too easily and too often used as a veneer to manage viewer perceptions.1 Here Burns and Novick offer false equivalences, or “balance” in journalistic parlance. In promoting healing instead of the search for truth, The Vietnam War offers misleading comforts.

The contradictions of The Vietnam War pile up from the start. Its creators might claim a ground-up view—and the film does give us lot of grunt-level footage, like Marines in rice paddies and GIs jumping out of helicopters—but the prevailing interpretations of these scenes come from elites. Some of these notables would be better cast into confessional booths than onto PBS screens, too. For example, John Negroponte, a prominent interpreter in the film, used diplomatic appointments as cover for covert activities over a half-century of US-engineered (or –attempted) regime-change operations.

Just over 30 years old when he began his Vietnam assignment, Negroponte developed a reputation as a “hardliner” in negotiations to end the war in Vietnam, once breaking with his superior officer Henry Kissinger for making too many concessions to communist North Vietnam. Later in his life, he took lessons from Vietnam to America’s adventures across the world. As ambassador to Honduras between 1981 and 1985, Negroponte built the small and friendly nation into a bustling military platform for cross-border operations against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua; when popular opposition to the US military presence in Honduras arose, he enabled and covered for the murderous death squads of General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, a graduate of the US Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. As a delegate to the United Nations in the early 2000s, he helped sell the invasion of Iraq on the false claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Once characterized by journalist Stephen Kinzer as “a great fabulist,” Negroponte’s prominence in The Vietnam War will have viewers of many political stripes scratching their heads.

A historical documentary in search of consensus, The Vietnam War indulges in Cold War common sense. It pits East against West and the United States against Communism. It could have been made in the 1980s. More recent scholarship might have provided a fresher frame and more comprehensive account of the war. For instance, Gareth Porter, in his 2005 Perils of Dominance, argues that the US stepped into a swamp of local-level conflicts, where East-West ideological tensions were largely irrelevant. Philip Catton’s 2002 Diem’s Final Failure and Philip Taylor’s 2001 Fragments of the Present put peasant-landlord conflicts characteristic of Vietnam’s disintegrating feudal system on the research agenda. Had they brought to life this new thinking about the war, Burns and Novick would have made a more enduring contribution.

Instead, The Vietnam War gives us a throwback to the days when fighting the Communist bogeyman justified all manner of US military intervention. The film is organized around a drumbeat of the Communists did this, the Communists did that—Communist aggression, Communist assassinations, Communists kill their enemy wounded. A former Vietnamese officer describes a 1970 battle as setting the “good” Vietnamese against “the worst of the Vietnamese … the Communists.”

Antiwar activists, anxious about how the movement is treated, will be among the most eager viewers of The Vietnam War, but they will find only cool acknowledgment and some common misrepresentations. War opponent Bill Zimmerman provides one of the most thoughtful and sincere interviews in the film; war veteran W. D. Ehrhart, now a well-published poet, mans up with a touching recollection of his participation in an atrocity; veteran and author Tim O’Brien talks about his own “failure of nerve” when faced with the option of resisting the military, reads from his 1990 novel The Things They Carried, and slams the legal proceedings that allowed the My Lai murderers to go unpunished.

We get the inspiring story of Jack Todd, who dutifully followed other men in his family into the army but later deserts from Fort Lewis, Washington, and goes to Canada; and of Valerie Kushner, who comes out against the war and endorses peace candidate George McGovern for president while her husband, Hal, is still held as a POW in Hanoi. But if you think these paeans to the peacemakers put Marlantes’s betrayal fantasies behind us, think again.

Burns and Novick are the masters of false balancing, the technique of countering one story line with another to create the impression of objective evenhandedness. The same good-guy, bad-guy lens through which the war was viewed also filtered perceptions of the antiwar movement at home. Jack Todd is one of 30,000 Americans who deserted to Canada but, we are reassured, 30,000 Canadians volunteered to go to Vietnam. Never mind that, by other estimates, over 100,000 Americans are estimated to have gone to Canada during the war. The first figure apparently called for such dubious balancing because, as we later learn, Todd regrets having renounced his US citizenship.

The one-dimensional picture of draft resisters in Canada that the film paints would have become fuller and more nuanced had the filmmakers consulted John Hagen’s 2001 book Northern Passage: American War Resisters in Canada. In it, Hagen shows that group to be full of highly creative and capable young men, most of them model citizens in Canada, recognized for their contributions to education, politics, and the arts. We have to wonder, though, if the clarity of scholarship might have conflicted with the message Burns and Novick wanted to send.

Valerie Kushner appears to be a strong and principled fighter for peace—a challenging image to “balance.” But Burns and Novick are up to the task of turning her resistance inside out. They assert, with no supporting evidence, that Kushner was “exploited” by the North Vietnamese, and take at face value the claim of husband Hal, returning from captivity, to have been shocked at the sight of American girls in miniskirts.When the couple’s marriage dissolves, Valerie Kushner comes out looking, well, not so good.

This is how mythmaking works. The film goes directly from the Valerie Kushner story to “Hanoi Jane,” to, er … the opening scene of the 1968’s Barbarella, where we see Jane Fonda as the underdressed namesake of the film. This clumsy invocation of the femme fatales of wartime perfidy running across the millennia—from Lysistrata to Malinche, Mata Hari to Tokyo Rose—if the reminder is needed, helps build the gendered narrative of the war being lost to home front weakness, our POWs forsaken and forgotten, and troops returning from Vietnam scorned by protesters, and spat on by girls.

Some veteran protesters receive better treatment in the film, including those associated with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The group’s 1971 medal-turn-in ceremony is treated well, but Andrew Hunt’s 1999 The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War would have provided documentation, as would have the testimony of founders like Jan Barry or leaders like Barry Romo, who went to Hanoi with a peace delegation in 1972. Donald Duncan, the Green Beret who “quit” the Army in protest of the war in 1965, inspiring many others to do the same, is missing from the story, and that’s a shame.

By the end of the film, even the glimpses we’ve been given of veterans politicized and empowered by their time in Vietnam are overridden by victim veteran imagery—itself a stand-in for the America that was wounded and left traumatized by the war. The Vietnam War echoes Jimmy Carter’s “mutual destruction” thesis that Vietnam and the United States were equally damaged by the conflict, and its final scenes leave little doubt that the injury to America was inflicted by its own people, not the Vietnamese. With “The Wall” as backdrop, we hear “Bridge over Troubled Water” and Columbia University student activist, now housing lawyer, Nancy Biberman’s repentance for calling veterans “baby killers”—another trope attributed to the antiwar movement for which there is no supporting evidence.

Stories that Vietnam veterans were called “baby killers” are now as common as the spitting stories. They seem to fill some need for the people who tell and believe them. Perhaps it is a need for conformity to the now-dominant narratives about the war and those who opposed it, or guilt that the war was fought by those less privileged than those who fought against it. Whatever the reason, the stories keep alive the idea that the war could have been won if home front support had not wavered—and that wars like it can be won in the future if We the People stay loyal to the mission.

  1. For a masterful classic book that employs interviews, see Christian Appy’s Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides (Viking, 2003).
  2. Such claims contributed to the myth that POWs were kept isolated and psychologically fixed in a (mythical) prewar innocence that was then shattered when they returned home. In fact, most of the POWs were shot down after miniskirts had become fashionable; and even while they were captives, the North Vietnamese made American news magazines available to them.

Featured Image: Operation “Yellowstone” Vietnam: Following a hard day, a few members of Company “A,” 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry (Mechanized), 25th Infantry Division, gather around a guitar player and sing a few songs (January 18, 1968) (detail). National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD