Recollections about Saint Anselm College in the 1960s–Part II

Last fall, Saint Anselm alumnus Dave Witham ’68 contacted Professor Masur after learning about his course on the Vietnam War. Professor Masur asked Mr. Witham if he would be willing to share some recollections about attending Saint Anselm during a very tumultuous time in American history. This is the second part of the interview. The first part can be seen here.

Question: Some campuses had demonstrations and experienced tension between students and administrators. Was that the case at St. Anselm?

Answer: The demonstrations, protests, and seizure of administration buildings that occurred at many college campuses across the country stemmed from young people’s—and a minority of older adults’–increasingly cynical attitude toward official explanations for institutional policies and actions.

Dave Witham a few years after his college days

I remember only one demonstration at St. Anselm, a quiet protest organized by our antiwar group in which we set up a table on the opposite side of the room from a Marine recruiter and his table. We had assembled a variety of literature giving background information on the war and explaining how American involvement was a tragic mistake. It was a totally low-key effort designed primarily to inform our fellow students who hadn’t looked more deeply into the conflict of some dissenting voices (such as Senators McGovern, Morse, McCarthy, and Fulbright) in the government and those (in such magazines as The New Republic and by respected TV reporters like Walter Cronkite) in the mass media. Otherwise I remember student ferment St. Anselm over the war as being generally negligible.

However, one event worth mentioning was the appearance during the second half of my freshman year of a group of pacifists, who had been invited to visit by the Political Science Dept. Struggling to pass my courses and not yet politically engaged, I passed by them as they stood behind tables in the Old Cafe and argued loudly with my fellow Anselmians—whether over pacifist principles and methods as an alternative to war or over their opposition to the war in Vietnam, I didn’t hang around long enough to know.

Later that evening, the group appeared in the Abbey Theater in a presentation followed by a Q & A session moderated by PoliSci Prof. Sampo. Etched in my memory after 54 years is his stepping forward and saying, “Now stop that!,” in a scolding tone to some students in the audience who had interrupted statements from the panelists with catcalls or a pejorative comment. Eventually Prof. Schmidt, who had emigrated from Nazi Germany, from the Economics Dept. stood and delivered a lengthy criticism of the pacifists’ naivete in believing that nonviolent tactics would deter a tyrant intent on leading his nation to world domination. Like many Americans and administration policymakers, he assumed that the North Vietnamese under their leader Ho Chi Minh and their Viet Cong fighters in the South were the latest manifestation of a similar genocidal Communist ideology. After he finished his impassioned monologue, the entire audience leaped to its feet and gave him a thunderous ovation—including me, who wasn’t brave enough to stay seated, especially as I didn’t have enough information about these subjects to justify applauding the professor’s opinion. A long-time friend and classmate (since first grade) of mine from Bangor was sitting next to me, but didn’t stand up as others did. When a fellow student sitting nearby leaned over and asked him why he wasn’t cheering, he replied, “I don’t agree with him.” When I asked him later why he disagreed with Prof. Schmidt’s perspective, he told me that it was a mistake to equate every conflict in the world—even if seemingly Communist inspired—with Hitler’s aggression, whose appeasement led to WWII. Intrigued by his comment, I resolved to become much more knowledgeable about such issues.

Q: One of the most tragic events in the spring of 1968 was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4. What do you remember about his death? How did students respond?

A: My main recollection about the reaction to Martin Luther King’s assassination was Americans’–at least the majority of them—shock and dismay upon hearing or reading the news. The prevailing emotion among those in my group of campus friends, all of whom were supporters of King’s leadership of the NAACP and its struggle for civil rights for African-Americans, was a strong sense of despair. With the nation’s military bogged down in the intractable conflict in Southeast Asia; high rates of crime and poverty in our major cities; recent riots in reaction to racism in housing, employment, and social status in many of those same cities; and frequent violent protest (including bombings at universities and military facilities) against the war, complemented by police brutality (as would follow shortly at the Democratic Convention in Chicago) against peaceful demonstrators, the overriding perception among citizens of all ages and backgrounds was that violence was consuming our society.

The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee

Q: When we look back at the spring of 1968, we tend to focus on the chaos and unrest: The Vietnam War was in full swing, American politics were in flux, and one of America’s most prominent leader had been assassinated. Did it feel like a chaotic and portentous time? Did it feel like the country was falling apart, which is how we often depict 1968? Or did it feel more “normal” for you and your classmates?

A: In the spring of my senior year of 1968 as I learned more through research and reading of the scale of the destruction throughout Vietnam, I felt as though the members of the Johnson Administration and our military policymakers and officers had descended into madness. Amid the killing of what ultimately would be more than three-million soldiers and civilians in an impoverished Third-World country, no explanation for such carnage seemed credible. In fact, the reasons for it changed repeatedly over time, so it’s difficult to remember what exactly the official version was in 1968. Was the U. S. presence needed to protect the freedom-loving people of South Vietnam from the Communist invaders from the North? Or was all of Southeast Asia susceptible to worldwide Moscow- and Beijing-driven aggression? Or was the U. S. itself threatened by whoever might eventually govern a small country with no air force and only a torpedo-boat navy 10,000 miles away? Or, in Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s colorful expression, was our client state at the mercy of Chinese Communist soldiers who could cross the border while carrying a nuclear weapon on their back? That ludicrous comment and the visual image that it evoked convinced me that no statement was too dishonest and despicable to reject in justifying what to increasingly more Americans seemed monstrous war crimes.

The Vietnam tragedy was unfolding in the wake of several years of urban riots in the minority neighborhoods of such cities as Detroit, LA, Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City, with staggering loss of life and property. High crime rates also afflicted our society, accompanied by pervasive gun violence and bias toward minorities in the criminal justice system. And the Great Society programs implemented under President Johnson were in 1968 being compromised by the excessive cost of waging war in Vietnam. As for the soldiers forcibly inducted into the armed services, many Americans at this time cringed at the irony of an army of slaves marching off to protect another country’s supposed freedoms under the dictator Diem, who repressed dissent in So. Vietnam and who was later murdered by ARVN officers conspiring with Kennedy administration officials.

Riots in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention

The culmination of the widespread violence and perceived chaos in the spring and early summer of 1968—especially profoundly felt after Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy’s assassination—was the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Preceded unfortunately by the destructive “Days of Rage” rampage through city streets by the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), the convention degenerated into a perceived undemocratic, smoke-filled backroom selection by the party regulars of Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, who had entered not a single primary but became the nominee. One of the convention’s highlights (or more degrading moments) was the accusation from the dais by CT Senator Abe Ribicoff that Mayor Daley had unleashed his “gestapo” upon peaceful demonstrators in Grant Park. It was a sight to behold as Daley leaped to his feet among the Illinois delegation and hurled curses at Ribicoff, all of the exchange captured on camera. The resulting “police riot,” as judged by a commission that later studied the event, subjected the protestors and even passersby to random beatings and arrest. Television captured it all as the crowd chanted, “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching.” It seemed to me as I watched that disorder and lawlessness—most of it created by federal and state authorities, whether in Chicago or in Southeast Asia—had indeed become normalized. Students and others wishing to view the event can access the Youtube website, type in “Chicago police riot 1968,” and link to “Chicago Convention 1968” and other titles.

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Recollections about Saint Anselm College in the 1960s

Last fall, Saint Anselm alumnus Dave Witham ’68 contacted Professor Masur after learning about his course on the Vietnam War. Professor Masur asked Mr. Witham if he would be willing to share some recollections about attending Saint Anselm during a very tumultuous time in American history. The first part of the interview appears below. We’ll post the second part of the interview separately.

Q: Can you start by giving me a little bit of your background? Where are you from? When did you attend St. Anselm and what did you study?

A: I grew up in Bangor, ME, during the 1950s and early 1960s and attended John Bapst H. S., a Catholic school in the city. It was a time when across the kitchen table and in the mass media U. S. foreign policy and military involvements were rarely questioned. I graduated in 1964 and began my freshman year at St. Anselm the following September.

Dave Witham a few years after his college days

I declared as an English major at the beginning of my sophomore year. Because of my interest in history—especially military history—I enrolled in several courses over the four years in that department. Having such an engaging and demanding (in the sense of requiring us to know and to try through hard work to remember facts—and not of the fake variety) teacher as Fr. Justin in Western Civilization (or From Plato to NATO, as I now call it) helped greatly in developing my love of the subject matter. My accompanying affection for biography and autobiography is probably a direct result of my desire to know in greater detail the lives of important and fascinating people that I had encountered in my historical studies.

As an English major, the important writers, poets, and playwrights—for example, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, William Collins, Yeats, Joyce, Twain, Stephen Crane, Stevens, Faulkner, Baldwin,  and Jarrell, but alas, no Whitman or Dickinson until graduate school—that I encountered either in class or as reading recommendations by classmates initiated a lifetime of literary study. During my senior year I decided to become an English teacher and so had to take quickly enough education courses—including student-teaching at a Catholic high school in Manchester—to constitute a minor course of study.

Dave Witham while a St. A’s student

Q: 1968 was a big year in the United States and internationally. One important event at the beginning of the year was the Tet Offensive, up to that point the largest NLF/North Vietnamese campaign in the Vietnam War. What do you remember about the Tet Offensive?  Were people talking about it on campus?

A: Because nearly all students graduating from St. A’s during the years 1964-68 were draft eligible once their student deferment expired, the prevalent attitude that I recall was one of “whistling past a graveyard,” generally ignoring (except for a small group of students of whom I was a member) this horrific, seemingly interminable conflict in the hope that it would end prior to our graduation in 1968. News of the Tet Offensive dispelled that illusion, though I don’t recall much campus discussion of it. I remember thinking at the time that it was just one more disaster flowing from U. S. policy, a logical complement to U. S. weekly losses at times of around 250 soldiers and airmen. The Nixon Administration and such military leaders as Army Gen. William Westmoreland (also known among war protesters as “Waste-more-land”) portrayed the Tet Offensive as a U. S./ARVN victory due to the heavy NLF losses. However, over the next few weeks the increasingly skeptical commentary in newspaper editorials (but certainly not the then right-wing Union Leader) and some members of Congress centered on the fact that previous optimistic predictions about “a light at the end of the tunnel” were either outright lies or delusional opinions.

The ability of the enemy to launch attacks throughout South Vietnam attested to their military strength and persistence. As Mark Bowden, author of Blackhawk Down, states in his book on the battle of Hue, no longer was the question among many Americans, “When will we achieve victory?,” but rather “How will we get out of this morass?”

Q: The war in Vietnam prompted Senator Eugene McCarthy to challenge President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination in early 1968.  What was your role in the McCarthy campaign? What drew you to McCarthy?

A: Senator McCarthy was one of only a few in Congress who addressed the immorality of inflicting modern weapons of war upon a third-world country, an unleashing of massive bombing campaigns (whose tonnage exceeded that of all U.S. airpower in WWII), unrestrained use of herbicides such as Agent Orange (still causing birth defects in Vietnam), and search-and-destroy tactics by U.S./ARVN ground forces.

Pat Fox (friend of Dave Witham) with Senator Eugene McCarthy

McCarthy’s call for an unconditional end to U. S. bombing of the North, for greater reliance upon a diplomatic end to the conflict, and for the administration’s recognition of the immoral ways in which the war was being prosecuted elicited widespread agreement among students and adult voters alike (a campaign very similar in its emotional tenor to that of Bernie Sanders’s recent run). I and several of my friends and classmates worked for him in the upcoming NH Primary; our duties included mostly passing out literature in the severe cold at various Manchester locations. In retrospect it was basically only our moral outrage at this unending, terrible conflict (eventually taking more than 3,000,000 Vietnamese soldier and civilian lives and that of more than 58,000 Americans) that could have motivated us to leave the warmth of the dorm and our academic obligations.

Q: What was the atmosphere on campus, particularly in regard to the war and the presidential election? Were students politically engaged?  Did students have strong opinions about the war in Vietnam?

A: During my four years at St. Anselm, the campus did not experience the same kinds of demonstrations—marches against the Vietnam War, protests against some universities’ perceived complicity with immoral military weapons research and objectives, and occupation of administration buildings and laboratories to support demands for minority and women’s studies programs—occurring at other institutions, especially as Presidents Johnson and Nixon greatly increased the numbers of soldiers and Marines and escalated the bombing campaign beginning in 1965. Except for the group that I mentioned above and some individual students and faculty members who voiced either concern about or opposition to U. S. military involvement in Vietnam, the student body at large was generally oblivious to events there through about the end of the school year in 1967.

As we seniors returned for our final year, Sen. McCarthy announced his candidacy during the fall, which served to galvanize a portion—say, around a quarter–of the student body in its opposition to the seemingly unending horrific loss of life and widespread destruction in Vietnam. The great majority of students seemed to accept unquestioningly (a typical attitude for draft-eligible young people from the end of WWII through the Korean War and beyond) the narrative of the monolithic Communist Menace.

So both the public and young people subjected to a compulsory draft were generally unaware that there was no Independent North Vietnam invading a struggling So. Vietnam that sought its own autonomy. I learned of the thwarted Geneva Accords only by reading an account in a book by the French journalist Bernard Fall, who had spent years reporting on events in Vietnam. That sealed the issue for me:  U. S. intervention on behalf of (followed years later by the assassination of) the self-aggrandizing Diem totally contravened the desire of the majority of the Vietnamese people for self-determination. It was this faulty foundation of U. S. policy and the later immoral prosecution of the war that solidified my opposition to it.

In retrospect, one tactic that any St. Anselm faculty member concerned about U. S. foreign policy and its application—especially regarding the use of force—to Vietnam could have implemented was one that existed on many college campuses across the country: the teach-in. My understanding of this kind of on-site gathering, as described in news reports and magazine articles, was that an institution’s instructors conducted informational sessions about the war. Having researched Vietnamese history (especially during its nearly century-long struggle against French colonialism) and American political and military involvement in Southeast Asia after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, they presented the facts as they saw them about third-world nationalism, alleged monolithic Communism, America’s apparent anti-Communist crusade, and the morality of its conduct of the war. I assumed that lively discussion and debate ensued after each of these presentations.

At St. Anselm, however, no faculty member stepped forward to plan and host its own form of a teach-in, and I unfortunately lacked the self-confidence and imagination to approach anyone among the faculty to elicit his or her reaction. So it remains uncertain whether the college administration—despite the provisions of academic freedom–would have acted to prevent such a seminar and even whether faculty members could be expected to speak out beyond the confines of the classroom on matters of public policy, especially when lives wereat stake. On the other hand, I recall vividly in 1967 the appearance of New York attorney and incisive war critic Allard Lowenstein at the student center; although I was unable to attend his lecture, one student told me that he no longer supported the war after listening to Lowenstein’s persuasive arguments.

As for student discussions about the war in Vietnam, they occurred sporadically—usually on an individual basis between members of our small group of antiwar protesters and students who conceived of North Vietnam as a separate nation from the South, and whose Communist aggression was an analogue of the Nazi conquests prior to WWII.  These students tended to subscribe to the highly emphasized (by such administration figures as Johnson, Nixon, Rusk, Laird, and other spokespeople) but ultimately simplistic domino theory, originally articulated by President Eisenhower, in which the loss of So. Vietnam through a policy of appeasement to the Hitlerian figure Ho Chi Minh, or his alleged handlers in Moscow, would inevitably lead to a Communist take-over of all Southeast Asia. As pointed out above in The Pentagon Papers quotation, Pentagon officials were skeptical of this scenario, though several administrations suppressed their opinion.

One common refrain that I heard occasionally over the years on campus whenever the subject of the war and its horrific violence came up was that “Life is cheap in the Orient,” a comment made whenever none of our few Asian students were within earshot. Obviously, it’s tempting to fall back on what we now would consider a racist remark when one is young and hasn’t been encouraged—or taken the time—to question the official line about national policies.  And only a few students or citizens stopped to think that it was the U. S. military’s use of search-and-destroy tactics, indiscriminate bombing, torture of POWs, chemical defoliants, and forced resettlement programs that so devaluated lives in Vietnam or “the Orient.” In fact, I don’t recall hearing the comment after the revelations of the My Lai massacre and the infamous published photo of terrified children running down a road after their clothes had been burned off by napalm and their skin severely damaged.

What is “Patriotic History”?

In a recent article that appeared in The Atlantic last week, Eliot Cohen, the prominent political scientist, sometime public servant, and well known neocon, makes a case for “patriotic history.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/a-modest-plea-for-patriotic-history/555500/

The essay starts with Cohen following George Orwell in making the following distinction between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is “the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects,” while patriotism is “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world.” The former, which Cohen associates with President Trump and the Make America Great crowd, is supposedly inferior to the latter. Why Cohen believes such is the case (aside from the fact that he evinces enormous dislike for the current occupant of the White House) and why he even chooses such definitions in the first place, are unclear. Indeed, a number of problems with his essay begin with the meanings that Cohen attributes to these terms—but more about that anon. Cohen continues by arguing that the failings of the current administration have inspired a renewed interest in civic education and particularly history as a means of inoculating the public against the corruption emanating from Washington, DC. He is gratified to note that history is alive and well in the United States, insofar as Americans have many opportunities to engage with the past. But Cohen believes that history and historians must be more mindful about encouraging Americans to understand and embrace patriotism. The kind of patriotic history that Cohen has in mind would not be some sort of white-wash. As he puts it:

Patriotic history does not have to cover up the dark pages of the American past—the cruelties and suffering of slavery and Jim Crow, the violence and injustice of the Trail of Tears or the massacre at Wounded Knee, the corruption of Tammany Hall, the follies of the Red Scares or Charles Lindbergh’s creepy America Firstism. But patriotic histories have a way of reminding us of what there is to celebrate in the American past—as when David Hackett Fischer reminds us that George Washington broke with British military practice in abjuring the floggings that could turn into death sentences, or when James McPherson points out that, in fact, the Cause—be it preservation of the Union or hostility to slavery—really did matter to many Union soldiers.

This history, he states, must provide us with heroes—complex characters from a wide variety of backgrounds who may have had flaws but can help teach us what integrity, intelligence, service, and self-denial are all about:

Patriotic biography gives us John Quincy Adams in every phase of his life, to include its end, when he took a lonely and principled vote on the Mexican War just before suffering a fatal cerebral hemorrhage on the floor of the House of Representatives. It gives readers Davy Crockett on the frontier and Audie Murphy at Anzio, and it also gives them Harriet Tubman rescuing men and women from bondage, or Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce fighting a hopeless fight for his people. It gives them complicated figures like Andrew Carnegie—strikebreaker and extraordinary philanthropist committed to building libraries across the country to give young people the keys to better futures.

Cohen stresses that, “All of us, but young people especially, need heroes, including the really complicated ones, and particularly these days, when character is in such short supply. . . . To know what heroes look like is also to know what craven or spineless or obsequious or merely unserious persons are.”

One Thing after Another will not deny that American patriotism is now in a bad way. Both the right and left would agree on this point but, of course, for very different reasons. Certainly, our political leaders have done a poor job of modeling the virtues and behaviors associated with patriotism. There is now much more concern with outcomes than process. Party has become more important than the republic. Even the armed forces, which seem to many people the last and most reliable bastion of patriotism in America, may not be able to sustain this role for long. Long-service professional forces committed to imperial ventures for extended periods overseas and often alienated from the main currents of metropolitan civilian culture may not remain patriotic forever. Such a situation threatens to produce a class of “centurions” (to borrow the title of Jean Lartéguy’s famous novel about French officers who fought in Indochina before applying lessons learned there to Algeria) who are tough, experienced, resourceful, skillful, intelligent, brave, and cynical—but more responsive to the call of a mystical brotherhood in arms than the democratic republic they serve. It is no surprise, perhaps, that Lartéguy’s centurions became praetorians who twice attempted to overthrow the French Republic (1958 and 1961).

There are, however, a number of problems with Cohen’s argument and prescription. For one thing, patriotic history has been tried before, and the results have not always been desirable. France provides an interesting example (again) because, like America, it too has been a democratic republic for many years. Under the Third Republic, patriotism was a mainstay of history education in the schools. In this context, one is reminded of the schoolmasters who were the so-called “shock troops” of that republic in its battle against the Catholic Church, great landed families, and conservative values. Armed with Ernest Lavisse’s The History of France (“our ancestors the Gauls were intelligent and brave”), these schoolmasters not only taught a love of the Republic and its institutions, but also devotion to the patrie. With its praise of Vercingetorix, Charlemagne, Louis IX, Joan of Arc, Bayard, Henry IV, and so on, this type of education was perhaps not so nuanced as the sort Cohen would like to see. One marvels, though, at the results. The patrie was literally manured with the corpses of hundreds of thousands of young Frenchmen between 1914 and 1918 as they fought Germans who had been educated in much the same way. Patriotic history was not solely responsible for this bloodbath, but it played its role. Lavisse, in his way, was part of that love to which F. Scott Fitzgerald, in Tender is the Night, famously attributed the colossal sacrifice of World War I:

The western front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. . . . This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. . . . You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers. . . . This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Udine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Württemberg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here.

How can we ensure that a patriotic history does not become an aggressively nationalist one (at least according to Cohen’s lights)? Can the state, especially one constituted as ours, be trusted to conjure up Fitzgerald’s “sureties” properly and deal with the results in such a way that we do not experience another “great gust of high-explosive love”?

If Cohen’s patriotic history, which exposes the past “warts and all,” should not resemble something so unsubtle as Lavisse’s History of France, what would it look like? How would it convey its patriotic message? What exactly would that message be? To what degree would it look different from plain old history? And are we not already producing the kind of history that Cohen desires? Off the top of its head, One Thing after Another can think of Ron Chernow’s Grant and Louis Galambos’s Eisenhower (both of which were published in late 2017) as works that might fit Cohen’s bill. But since Cohen is not terribly specific about the form and content of a patriotic history that might suit the needs of 2018, it’s hard to tell.

With these questions unanswered, it also remains difficult to decipher which heroes to include in the pantheon of patriotic history. Who is a hero? Who is not? Is Robert E. Lee in? Is Eugene Debs? We can be sure that those who support the inclusion of the former in patriotic history would not look kindly on the latter—and vice versa. These questions are ineluctably tied to another: who should select these figures? In the same way that it “takes money to make money,” it requires patriotism to make patriots. We cannot remedy our deficiencies with supposedly non-existent material (unless, of course, Cohen and other self-appointed patriotic elites choose themselves for the task of resurrecting patriotism). Otherwise, a bitterly divided country suffering from a lack of patriotism is not in a position to anoint heroes without adding yet another battle to the protracted culture war that has consumed the United States for decades. From where is the universally recognized understanding of patriots and patriotism to come?

All of these questions stem from Cohen’s problematic descriptions of nationalism and patriotism which he obtains from Orwell. Orwell’s definitions appear in “Notes on Nationalism” (1945) in which he wrote:

By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly ­– and this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. . . . By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

Although this view of matters may accord with the way these ideas are widely perceived, the problem with this passage is that it turns nationalism and patriotism into bad and good versions of more or less the same thing: nationalism is aggressive and motivated by a thirst for power; patriotism is defensive and inspired by love. Both, however, are about one’s association with a community of people (which is really nationalism). Ironically, Orwell’s understanding of the difference between the two lends itself to a kind of double-speak: “we” are always patriots (peaceful and defensive), and “they” are nationalists (warlike and aggressive). It is partly for these reasons that most scholars who investigate the topic have rarely defined the two terms in this fashion. Generally, the most important distinction that those working in the field have drawn between patriotism and nationalism is that the former concerns one’s duties to the state while the latter is about one’s relationship to the national community (which is frequently defined and held together by forces such as culture and history). This is a position most identified with Lord Acton’s famous essay, “Nationality” (1862). More recently, Maurizio Viroli has made a very similar argument in For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism (1997), when he states:

The language of patriotism has been used over the centuries to strengthen or invoke love of the political institutions and the way of life that sustain the common liberty of a people—or love of the republic; the language of nationalism was forged in late eighteenth-century Europe to defend or reinforce the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic oneness and homogeneity of a people.

Viroli goes on to argue that nationalists can be patriots, and patriots can be nationalists, but the priorities of each are somewhat different. Such is usually the case, unless one lives in a country characterized by civic nationalism—that is, a nation (like the United States) defined by subscription to specific political institutions and not to a particular ethnicity. In such a case, one can say that patriotism and nationalism are extremely closely related if not identical. In America, then, patriotism and nationalism are not different names for a horse, one for when it is good, another for when it is bad (as Cohen and Orwell would have it); instead, they are two horses working in tandem.

Making distinctions of this sort are not acts of pedantry. They help us understand what our duties are and how they should be taught. A civic nationalism based on our institutions binds us to our fellow Americans while a patriotism based on our love of our democratic republic and the protections it extends to us also ought to bind us in duty to the state. It seems fitting, then, to conclude with a reference to George William Curtis’s oration to Union College’s graduating class of 1857 in which he pointed to one way in which Americans could understand their peculiar patriotism. In this speech, entitled “Patriotism,” Curtis made clear that we have several duties that could either contradict or complement each other. As people, we were “bound by the universal rule of right or of God” which meant that in “whatever country or whatever case a man may chance to be born, he is born a citizen of the world.” Such an assertion was in keeping with his belief that “the races are but one race” and that the “doctrine or practice of universal brotherhood” was the “ethical statement of a scientific fact.” A man, then, should not be “the best German or the best Roman . . . but the best man he can be.”

Patriotism was the “peculiar relation of an individual to his country.” It was, declared Curtis, an “intelligent love” that perceived opportunities where his country could help mankind. A person’s country, Curtis went on to argue, was a principle, and “patriotism is loyalty to that principle.” Every country served a different principle which contributed to the “cause of human development to which all nationalities are subservient.” In America’s specific case, that principle was not power (every country was tempted by its siren song), and it was certainly not riches (which Curtis believed had the potential to corrupt America). Rather, it was the love of liberty safeguarded by a commitment to democracy; that is, the spirit and values that underpinned the democratic republic. Curtis continued:

Patriotism in an American is simply fidelity to the American idea. Our government was established confessedly in obedience to this sentiment of human liberty. And your duty as patriots is to understand clearly that . . . whatever in its government or policy tends to limit or destroy that freedom and equality is anti-American and unpatriotic, because America and liberty are inseparable ideas.

The patriot’s duty consisted of obeying the laws of the state—only so long as they did not contradict American principles and thus violate the universal rule of right. Although he did not say so explicitly at Union College, Curtis asserted in other venues that American slavery, protected by the Constitution and the laws of men, violated natural laws. It was therefore the duty of every patriot who loved democracy and freedom—by definition every true American—to destroy the peculiar institution. Towards the end of his speech, Curtis had these words to say, as true then as they are today: “Remember that the greatness of our country is not in the greatness of its achievement, but in its promise—a promise that cannot be fulfilled without that sovereign moral sense, without a sensitive national conscience.” From this perspective, patriotism could be taught by history (and Curtis referred to many such examples), but it was mainly a question of ethics.

At the end of the day, then, the problem with a history that teaches a “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world” is that it makes presumptions about a country and its people that are not necessarily true (one may believe something that is false). Moreover, such an attitude lends itself to complacency (if one belongs to a country she believes to be the best in the world, why change it?). One Thing after Another much prefers Curtis’s vision, which suggests that patriotism is a matter of eternal exertion and struggle for the sake of an idea that is imperfectly realized—a democratic republic. In other words, instead of defining Americans by who they are, Curtis seeks to define them by what they strive for. And that seems much more useful at a time when, to quote Villèle, the journalist who crops up in Lartéguy’s Centurions occasionally to make an observation, “The role of the utter, out-and-out bastard is becoming more and more difficult to keep up in this dull, hypocritical, tolerant world of ours.”

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

Lowe and Warner Win Honors Summer Research Fellowships

It’s been quite a month for History majors Kelsey Warner ’19 (double-majoring in English) and Emily Lowe ’19 (double-majoring in Secondary Education) (left and right above). First, they won two of the three inaugural Honors Summer Research Fellowships awarded. Having obtained stipends of $4,000 each, they will spend the summer pursuing research projects at the college. Second, they are semi-finalists for the Fr. Bernard Holmes, O.S.B., Scholarship for the 2018-2019 academic year. One Thing after Another always stands ready to broadcast the achievements of History majors, and this is no exception. This blog caught up with Warner and Lowe so it could ask them a few questions.

Q: Why did you decide to attend St. Anselm College?

KW: I decided to attend St. Anselm College because of the community here. I had originally intended to go to Saint Michael’s College, but I decided to attend Accepted Students Day at Saint A’s  just to make sure I didn’t want to go there. While I enjoyed the various workshops, lessons, and classes, I didn’t feel anything in particular pulling me here. But, my mom and I stopped by Davison for some food before we left, and we ended up sitting with an incredible group of students and professors. In talking with these people and what they liked about the college, they all described the same feeling of being a family member on this campus and that Saint A’s was truly their home. Something clicked while I was talking to them. On the car ride home, I told my mom I wanted to come here, and my mom told me she could already tell.

EL: I was first introduced to Saint Anselm College through one of my closest friends from home. I came up to visit her often, went to various classes, hung out in the CShop, and attended masses here. When it finally came time to apply to colleges, Saint Anselm seemed like a natural fit. I had enjoyed the small classes and the academic rigor, as well as the ways in which the school helps students develop outside of their school work. Throughout my life, I was inspired by the teachers who were instrumental in my development, and I had seen so many adults on campus truly care for their students and take an interest in their lives.

Q: What attracted you to the history major?

KW: I originally came to Saint A’s as a Theology major. However, I filled one of my elective slots with a history class that seemed interesting: New England History with Professor Salerno. Little did I know it was a 300-level class filled with upperclassmen. Once Professor Salerno realized I was a freshman, she offered to let me to drop the class if I desired. Instead, I not only I decided to stay in the class but also participate in extra class sessions as well as an extra research project for the course as an honors-option. By the end of the semester, I had declared a second major in history because I was so intrigued by passion I saw for the subject in my professor and the enthusiasm of my classmates. I have always loved history, and it was so refreshing to be around people with that same level of passion for the subject.

EL: In high school, I really enjoyed my history classes. I had always thought I would become a doctor when I was older, but after taking lots of chemistry and biology classes, I realized I did not love it enough to make a career out of it. I came to college undeclared and realized I had loved history for a long time without even really considering it as a major. In Professor Cronin’s Freshman English class, we read an excerpt about a history class. While I was reading, I distinctly remember putting ideas in the back of my head for when I would teach a similar unit. The next day, I declared a double major in History and Secondary Education. Deep down, I think I always knew I wanted to teach, but it took me a while to actually commit to it.

Q: Why did you decide to accept the invitation to the honors program? What do you like about it?

KW: I decided to accept a spot in the honors program because I thought it would help me stay on track academically in college. However, what I have come to love about the program is that despite the various backgrounds and intellectual interests of its students, we are all connected by a love of learning and a desire to pursue our academic endeavors. I love attending honors events and just listening to like-minded people talk about their interests and sharing my own academic passions.

EL:  I spoke with a freshman whom I had met on campus who was an honors student, and she said it was a great program and had some pretty interesting classes that were not open to other students. That was all I really needed to convince me to accept the invitation. I even ended up taking Professor Dubrulle and Masur’s History’s Mysteries with this friend during my freshman year! Overall, the Honors Program has provided me with a lot of opportunities to work closely with professors and get to know other people. I became really good friends with everyone in my Conversatio section, for which I am so grateful. I don’t think I would have met a lot of those friends had it not been for that class, so I always attribute much of my happiness and success to the honors program.

Q: Tell us about your research project for the summer and why you’re interested in doing research in this area. What do you expect to learn from this project?

KW: My project for this summer is investigating how female regional writers are represented through the various historical lenses of literature, primary evidence, and public memory by examining the author Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) as a case study. I’m interested in doing research in this area because I am an English and History double major and Gender Studies Minor. My favorite aspect of history is examining public history and specifically how it remembers women. The purpose of historical research, at its base, is to provide an accurate representation of the past to examine its context, the roles people played, and the implications it has on the world today. However, historical representation in museums has this same motivation but combined with the need to drive tourism and maintain a business. Museums often want to provoke interest in the past and sometimes make historical figures “relatable” or heroic.  Thus, the commitment to accuracy of the kind sought by historians may compete with other measures of a good narrative.  This same dynamic informs Jewett’s representation of women in her writing, because it is filtered through her creative mindset, and by her hope of publication (and her sensitivity to her critics and readers).  I will be comparing letters and diary entries of Sarah Orne Jewett to her literature and compare that to her home-turned-museum in Berwick, Maine, to hopefully learn if female authors are remembered differently in public history, and if so, why they are remembered differently.

EL: This summer, I will be looking at the 5th Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry as a case study in the treatment of battlefield trauma during the Civil War. The regiment suffered more combat fatalities over the course of the war than any other Union regiment, making it a great subject for the study. I am really excited because this project will give me a chance to focus on research in a way that I haven’t been able to in classes thus far. Focusing on this topic for eight weeks will help me to get a firm grasp on the topic and expand my historical reasoning skills. Professor Dubrulle has an extensive knowledge of the 5th New Hampshire, so I am confident he will help my research make a meaningful contribution to Civil War scholarship in general. I wanted to take his Civil War class this semester, but unfortunately could not, so hopefully this research makes up for that missed opportunity.

Q: Both of you are double-majors and honors students. And both of you are extensively involved with a variety of extracurricular activities. Could you tell us something about what those activities are? How do you find the time to do all of this?

KW: I am currently the Director of Costumes and Makeup for the Anselmian Abbey Players as well as an avid member in various productions with the Abbeys. I am also a small group facilitator for the chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success on campus and a New Student Orientation Leader. I’m the Junior Editor of the Yearbook and a research assistant to Professors Smits Keeney and Pilarski. I am the President and a founding member of the True Equality and Dignity Alliance (TEDA), the first Gay-Straight Alliance at Saint Anselm College. Finally, I’ve also worked various off-campus jobs while in college, including a 40-hour-per-week job as a Supervisor at Charlotte Russe last semester.

I don’t really know how I find time to do all of this. I think the reason I can participate in all these activities is because I am passionate about all of them. They all allow me to contribute to the community in some way. They add value to my life by teaching me something and adding to my happiness.

EL: The first organization I joined during my freshman year was the club Rugby Team. I play scrumhalf and wing for the team and will serve as the club president next year. I am also on the Honors Council and work in the ARC as well as the library. I am a leader for Anselmian 360 and an RA. Finally, I am teaching a class of high school students with Professor Greene Henning for Access Academy which has been such an amazing experience. Balancing everything can be difficult at times, so I drink a lot of coffee. I also like to de-stress by listening to music and running. Taking a break from school and just clearing my mind helps me to come back to my schoolwork more focused. In the end, I am involved with all of these clubs and activities because I truly enjoy being a part of them and helping them be successful, so it is worth it. Saint Anselm also has an incredible network of people around me to provide support. My friends along with the faculty and staff here are so supportive that I know I am never alone in my work.

Q: What is your home town? Tell us something about it that most people don’t know.

KW: My hometown in Somersworth, New Hampshire. Although I’ve only lived there for five years, I love it. Something most people don’t know about my town is that John Sullivan, a general in the Revolutionary War and delegate to the Continental Congress, was from Somersworth.

EL: I am proud to call Northborough, Massachusetts my home. Aside from its small-town feel and its amazing people, Northborough has a rich history. Northborough was originally a part of the City of Marlborough, but split off in 1775, following Westborough’s lead. Naturally, all three high schools are fierce rivals, with Algonquin Regional (for residents of Northborough and Southborough) being clearly the superior institution. White Cliffs, which is a function facility near my house, used to be the vacation home of Daniel Wesson who co-founded Smith & Wesson, the famous revolver manufacturer whose business really took off during the Civil War. The official spelling of the town is Northborough, but you can also spell it Northboro depending on your mood.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

There is No Case for the Humanities–or is There?

Only a few days ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article that originally appeared in American Affairs (Winter 2017) and which swims very much against the current. In “There is No Case for the Humanities,” Justin Stover, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (where he teaches Classics), claims that the arguments conventionally used to justify teaching the humanities at universities are not only wrong but also beside the point.

https://www.chronicle.com/article/There-Is-No-Case-for-the/242724

It’s hard to do justice to this long and interesting piece, but to summarize, Stover argues that the humanities live in difficult times. Assailed by both conservatives and liberals (although the humanities have defenders in both camps as well), it is becoming increasingly difficult for scholars to do “good work in their fields”—that is, “read things and think about what they mean; to tease out conclusions about the past and present through a careful analysis of evidence; to delve deeply into language, art, artifact, culture, and nature.” In other words, to do “what the university was established to do.” Stover believes many criticisms of the humanities lack perspective. To those who argue that overspecialization, overproduction, and a lack of emphasis on teaching indicate the decadence of the humanities, Stover counters that these qualities are central to the whole project. As Stover puts it, if professors stopped investigating esoterica, ceased churning out publications, and did nothing but teach, “we would have just high schools — perhaps good high schools, but high schools nonetheless.” Likewise, he claims, various defenses of the humanities that we hear these days are also off the mark. Defenders invoke the degree to which study of the humanities can help students unleash their creativity, formulate values, learn ethics, or find the truth. And then there is the ever-present argument that the humanities can teach skills. But Stover thinks a number of these goals are problematic and wonders whether the humanities are indispensable to achieving any of them.

It is easy to lose sight of what the humanities and the university are for, Stover intimates, because the university these days is, well, a university plus many other things. He writes:

In short, the contemporary university is a strange chimera. It has become an institution for teaching undergraduates, a lab for medical and technological development in partnership with industry, a hospital, a museum (or several), a performance hall, a radio station, a landowner, a big-money (or money-losing) sports club, a research center competing for government funding — often the biggest employer for a hundred miles around — and, for a few institutions, a hedge fund (“with a small college attached for tax purposes,” adds one wag).

The true university, Stover argues, it is to be found with the “people who read stuff and think about it.” More precisely, the heart of the university has always been the arts. When universities were first founded in the middle ages, the liberal arts were the curriculum, consisting of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). Since then, the liberal arts have grown by common consent to include what we call the humanities along with the natural sciences and all branches of mathematics. And what was—and still is—the point of this curriculum? Stover’s answer to this question is the key point in his essay. The humanities, he argues, “have always been about courtoisie, a constellation of interests, tastes, and prejudices that marks one as a member of a particular class.” This class is an international community that shares a common culture and similar preferences. “As teachers,” Stover writes, “what humanists want most of all is to initiate their students into that class.”

The problem, of course, as Stover quickly points out, is that “the mere existence of a class is . . . not a case for its existence in society as a whole.” Justifications for this class only make sense within “the internal logic of the arts themselves.” The public and the state can hardly be expected to fund the intellectual project of the humanities on these kinds of grounds. Still, all hope is not lost. Stover argues it doesn’t matter that no case can be made for the humanities; by definition, one cannot have universities without the humanities. If the contemporary university ceases to teach the humanities, it will no longer be a true university. Instead, wherever people “read stuff and think about it,” there the university will be.

There is much truth in Stover’s essay, and One Thing after Another hopes readers will look at it to clarify their own views on the humanities and the university. However, there is also something simultaneously clever and appalling about Stover’s argument. The university, so the argument seems to go, appears to be some sort of elevated book club for a class of people with intellectual and arcane tastes who seek to perpetuate a particular kind of culture. Regardless of what happens to the contemporary university, so long as we have these people doing these things, we will have the university (and the humanities). This is one way to “rescue” the humanities and assure those in the field that it will survive, but this deliverance seems more semantic than anything else. What will happen to professors in the humanities when they no longer find a home in the modern university? What institutional framework will support this project? Perhaps even more distressing is the fact that Stover’s essay seems to suggest that over the centuries, the humanities, or more properly, those who teach in these fields, have been engaged in some sort of confidence trick that has allowed them to thrive at everyone else’s expense. For the sake of perpetuating itself, it seems, an intellectual class has pretended that the humanities are good for everybody else.

This blog could respond to Stover’s argument in many ways, but at the end of the day, the main problem with his essay is that he dismisses the utility of the humanities. In other words, the humanities do not merely serve to promote the recondite intellectual interests of a class—a class whose existence this blog freely recognizes. Rather, the humanities have real value to everyone. One Thing after Another will confine its comments to history, but many similar observations could be made from the vantage point of other disciplines in the field.

One Thing after Another first became interested in history because it was full of good stories with much drama. This blog still likes a good story, but as years have passed and One Thing after Another’s tastes have matured, it has come to treasure the ways in which the study of history can mold our judgment and help us make sense of the world. History is an anthropological art that enhances our understanding of human nature. It allows us to draw on an extensive stock of knowledge that transcends our own immediate personal experience. We can then obtain a better understanding of human motives and their interaction with a variety of forces, whether they be political, social, economic, or cultural. History does not repeat itself, but an experience of studying history provides us with different ways of knowing and enhances our perspicacity when confronted by difficult questions as citizens of our community, our country, or our world. Surely, these are useful qualities that history professors should pass on not only to majors but also non-majors taking history courses as part of a general education requirement.

Recently, in a general education course, One Thing after Another assigned a paper asking students to discuss the relationship between the Roman qualities of virtus (aggressive, manly courage that involved risk-taking and seizing the initiative) and disciplina (a basket of characteristics that included obedience, training, and skill) as they appeared in Josephus’s account of the Siege of Jerusalem (70 AD) in The Jewish War. As a class, we discussed various primary and secondary sources associated with this assignment for over a week. Arcane, isn’t it? Just the sort of useless thing that one would expect from the humanities. For sure, it is clear now that the papers have been graded that some of the students were too lazy, uninterested, or ill-equipped to deal with the assignment. But a majority of the students understood how to tackle this question and did, at the very least, a credible job.

One Thing after Another was not attempting to “initiate” students into a “class” as Stover would have it. The majority of the students have already selected a major—and it isn’t history. The great bulk of them will not join the professoriate either. But it is important that they understand that there were once Romans who were not like us and who saw the world in a radically different way. In other words, things have not always been the way they are now, nor will they stay the same. Just this simple fact ought to open up a world of possibilities to these students. At the same time, the investigation of virtus and disciplina also ought to get their gears whirring. Such a study touches upon universal questions concerning how and why professional soldiers fight—surely a matter of no little import in an era where the United States has stretched its professional army to the breaking point with various commitments across the globe. Moreover, a discussion concerning the balance between virtus and disciplina provides fodder for a variety of analogies in different fields, whether they be management, politics, or something else. This blog has frequently criticized others for making inapt comparisons, but that does not mean that historical analogies cannot and should not be made; they should merely be formulated with caution. But the main point here is that history is useful, no matter who you are and what you intend to do, because it provides a multitude of ways of seeing the world.

History is not the only means of honing certain job-related skills, but this field can help foster significant all-purpose skills like thinking, reading, speaking, and writing. History is not indispensable to developing values and ethical training, although it certainly helps with these objectives. And history does not necessarily allow one to see the truth, whatever that happens to be. History, however, is extremely important in developing our judgment of people and things so that we are not mere babes without experience as we confront each new challenge that emerges before us. And everybody, no matter who he or she is, can benefit from that.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

Drew Extols the Virtues of Latin American Studies

Christine Drew ‘17 was a Latin American Studies minor in the History Department in addition to her International Relations and Spanish majors. One Thing after Another caught up with Christine recently to talk about the Latin American Studies minor and the power of learning about and from diversity.

Q: What made you decide to minor in Latin American Studies?

A: I chose to minor in Latin American Studies because I have always been drawn to other cultures, the importance of understanding cultural diversity, and learning from different perspectives. I also wanted a genuine liberal arts education that was interdisciplinary with exposure to multiple schools of thought. While initially starting at Saint Anselm undecided, my volunteer experience with the refugee and immigrant populations as well as some international volunteer work sparked my interest in International Relations. I later declared a double major in International Relations and Spanish. Following this decision, my courses abroad in Latin American History continued to broaden my perspectives and led me to pursue a minor in Latin American studies.

Q: What particular skills, knowledge, or experiences did you gain from the minor?

A: The courses that fulfilled my minor requirements were completed both at Saint Anselm and during my semester abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Having the ability to deepen my understanding of Latin America and learn about the history, culture, and language while living in it each day was indescribable. To learn about Latin American culture while being in Latin America provided context and real-world experiences that the Latin American studies minor enhanced tremendously upon my return. The faculty that I had in the History, Modern Languages, and Politics departments are extremely knowledgeable and really make learning fun and interesting. Furthermore, Latin America is a region that is rich with history and culture that most people know little about. The minor broadens understandings and unifies multiple disciplines and areas of discourse to reflect on the view of Latin America.

Q: How did the minor complement your major?

A: My time with an interdisciplinary major (International Relations) really developed my passion for understanding complex global issues in politics, history, and modern languages.  With the Latin American studies minor, I was able to take courses that specifically aligned with my interest of learning about Latin American history and having this historical context, it offered a new perspective and a different way of thinking in my international politics and Latin American studies courses. It also helps to have the historical background knowledge to understand why countries interact with others in the way that they do today.

Q: How are you using your Saint Anselm education these days?

A: My passion and experiences led me to become Program Coordinator for Community Partnerships at the Meelia Center for Community Engagement here at Saint Anselm. The Anselmian values and education that I received continued into my professional life and I am grateful for the experiences that I have been exposed to throughout my time at Saint Anselm.

Q: What else would you like to tell potential minors about the Latin American Studies minor?

A: Any student who is on the fence about pursuing a Latin American Studies minor should certainly talk to their advisor(s) about the benefits. The ability to learn from people that are different than you is a skill that will be useful far beyond the classroom. The Latin American Studies minor provides the opportunity to do just that- gain new perspectives and strengthen understandings.

The British Empire is Dead–But the Debate over Its Morality is Not

A recent essay by Kenan Malik in the New York Review of Books details the latest public spats among historians over the merits of the British Empire.

http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/01/26/the-great-british-empire-debate/

As Malik states, “like all such debates, this latest controversy comprises many threads.” Was colonialism good or bad? How should one debate these questions in academia and politics? And what has inspired the most recent flare-up in a long-running dispute?

Malik recapitulates the main outlines of this dispute between detractors and defenders of the British Empire. He concludes that “the arguments for the moral good of colonialism are . . . threadbare.” So far as most scholars of the empire are concerned, Malik is correct. The British Empire killed, enslaved, starved, and impoverished too many people on too many occasions over too long a span of time to qualify as a Good Thing. (However, that is, and should be, a different matter from claiming that it was the equivalent of, say, the Nazi Empire. The emergence of liberalism in Britain led to the rise of an influential and persistent party of home-grown critics who castigated the British Empire throughout much of its lifespan—surely an unusual if not unique situation for an empire. Moreover, this liberal strain made the British Empire, among other things, susceptible to the moral suasion of swaraj in India, a weakness from which other empires did not suffer. But that is an argument for another time.)

Malik goes on to assert that the contemporary defense of empire is inspired partly by a Brexit-induced nostalgia for the colonial past, and partly by a desire to learn lessons that will make contemporary Western intervention abroad more effective. In other words, those like Niall Ferguson, who hold the British Empire up as a force for good are not merely engaging in an act of wistful schmaltz; they are thinking about contemporary policy prescriptions that revolve around “foreign intervention and technocratic governance.” Malik concludes:

These are very contemporary issues, and ones with which liberals wrestle as much as reactionaries. Liberals may despise empire nostalgia, but many promote arguments about intervention and governance that have their roots in an imperial worldview. We should not imagine that apologists for empire are simply living in the past. They seek, rather, to rewrite the past as a way of shaping current debates. That makes it even more important that their ideas and arguments are challenged openly and robustly.

One Thing after Another takes a special interest in this question because this blog teaches a course on the British Empire and, as part of the final examination, asks students to perform a “moral audit” (to use Piers Brendon’s words) of that empire. Piers’ argument that “Imperium et Libertas” was a sort of oxymoron in which an imperium necessarily ruled by force (and undermined libertas) to compensate for its lack of legitimacy carries much weight with this blog. In other words, there was a fundamental contradiction at the heart of Britain’s version of colonialism. Yet, this blog feels that in an otherwise good essay, Malik elides two important issues.

First, the argument about the British Empire’s merits has been subsumed by a more general dispute about colonialism. The problem with discussing colonialism is that it is not terribly easy to define in a precise manner, and the more one speaks of colonialism (and theories of colonialism), the more one speaks of an abstraction rather than the actual operation of real, flesh-and-blood empires. Discussions about colonialism, then, do not always sufficiently distinguish between different types of empires and often lack nuance. They surely do not capture the historical British Empire which was a mutating and complex entity; merely referring to the source of evil as “colonialism” suggests a static, simple, and monolithic entity. Due to its size, variety of interests, diversity of peoples, and assortments of governing structures (e.g. responsible self-government, crown colonies, protectorates, mandates, princely states, etc.), the empire did not frequently act in unison or speak with one voice. Not only that, but the empire was constantly transforming itself, a fact that is captured by the periodization of scholars who refer to the “first,” “second,” and even “third” and “fourth” British empires—as well as to the different characteristics in each of these phases (e.g. mercantilism, free trade, the “swing to the east,” and so on). Recognizing the bewildering, changing, and kaleidoscopic nature of the empire raises an important question: at any given moment, who or what was the empire? In other words, who was responsible for “colonialism”? Lenin, of course, argued that the culprit was finance capital. He was wrong, but at least he had something specific in mind. As conducted today in public, the debate is not as incisive. The word  “colonialism” conjures up images of the British government in London, imperial administrators, and military leaders. In most minds, it also probably includes British financiers, merchants, and industrialists. But just where does the list end? To what extent was the rest of the country complicit in the crimes of empire? What of the empire’s many British critics who used Libertas to attack Imperium (surely, as a number of observers have pointed out, a unique circumstance for an imperial power)? Our questions cannot stop with the United Kingdom’s borders. What about, say, Indians who worked for the Raj or performed vital functions in the imperial economy—princes, zemindars, soldiers, policemen, low-level administrators, railroad employees, merchants, bankers, and so on?

Second, like many observers, Malik analyzes the motives of the empire’s present-day defenders, but what of its detractors? If “today’s apologists for colonialism are driven as much by present needs as by past glories,” to quote Malik, what are the “present needs” of those who attack the empire? Why does no one scrutinize their motives? Do they get a pass because they are on “the right side of history”? It would seem naïve to claim that they are simply engaged in a disinterested effort to correct interpretations of the past. One example here will suffice: Shashi Tharoor (whom Malik mentions), a former UN administrator (who lost the contest for UN General Secretary in 2006 to Ban Ki-moon) and Indian minister as well as a current member of the Indian Parliament. Tharoor became an anti-colonial stalwart in 2015 when he famously argued at the Oxford Union that Britain ought to pay India a nominal sum in reparations as symbolic compensation for losses the latter suffered under imperial rule. He followed up this performance with Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (2017), a polemic which dwells on the Raj’s cruelty and callousness while explaining how Britain grew wealthy at India’s expense. What is Tharoor after? Certainly, he is not attacking the promotion of “foreign intervention and technocratic governance” that ostensibly lie behind present-day justifications of the empire; it would seem odd for a former UN administrator like Tharoor to assault the empire in an attempt to undermine the case for liberal internationalism. It is possible that Tharoor seeks to burnish his credentials with a young, leftish, educated, Anglo-American crowd as someone who has stayed “woke” by engaging in Britain’s venerable anti-establishment tradition of excoriating the empire. Yet this explanation does not seem fully convincing. Although he has longstanding ties to the transatlantic world (he has lived and worked in Britain and the United States for long periods of time), it appears that Tharoor has committed himself to Indian politics for the time being. And it is perhaps the demands of domestic Indian politics that explain Tharoor’s stance. Tharoor is a member of the Indian National Congress (Congress) which has vainly sought to restore its declining popularity among voters by shedding its traditional mantle of secularism and moving closer to the Hindu nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which currently rules India. For sure, Tharoor continues to speak the language of inclusion (witness this excerpt from his recent work Why I Am a Hindu), but he, like the rest of Congress, must feel the political pressure of Hindutva (or “Hinduness”). Under these circumstances, attacks on an empire that has long gone and demands for reparations that will never be paid must seem like harmless ways of currying favor in a more stridently nationalist political environment. Certainly, these attacks and demands have gone down well in India. Perhaps Tharoor’s motives can be explained in some other way, and perhaps his situation is unique, but it would not be surprising if the empire’s critics were inspired just as much as its defenders by contemporary politics.

Surely, many probably worry that those who defend colonialism and the good the British Empire did are inspired by a kind of neo-imperialism that will lead to more foreign adventures that culminate in disasters like Iraq and Afghanistan (although Nigel Biggar and Bruce Gilley seem to imply that the whole point of understanding the true nature of colonialism is to avoid making such mistakes when intervening in other countries’ affairs). But as we have seen in Tharoor’s case, we probably also have reason to express concern about the motives of those who denigrate the British Empire. As Bernedetto Croce claimed (and this is not the first time One Thing after Another has referred to Croce’s statement), “All history is contemporary history.” In other words, the concerns and ideas of a historian are, by necessity, dictated by his or her times. History is always political, and no more so than when scholars and politicians use it to make a political point. It is almost futile to inveigh against the forces that prevent the historian from assuming an objective standpoint. Yet in this case, as in others, it seems that all would be better served if historians took the leading role in promoting nuanced and incisive discussions of the past—instead of those who feel most directly the great weight of politics.