I had hoped to avoid the tedious task of dealing with James Loewen, but since HNN considers his arguments worth a look, I will take the opportunity to make some additional comments.
I did not object to Loewen’s text being included in a class in American Studies. I objected to it being the only required historical text for a course in American Studies taught by a professor of English literature. Here is what I actually wrote: “The sole historical text assigned for this course is James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. This book is not a scholarly work, but — as the title suggests — a sectarian polemic against the traditional teaching of American history and against what the author views as the black record of the American past.” My point was that under Penn State’s academic freedom provisions, teachers are obligated to provide students with texts that enable them to “think for themselves.” This agenda was not served by providing them with a single extreme and ill-informed polemic like Lies My Teacher Told Me.
Loewen’s response to my view that his book is not a scholarly work is that it has footnotes. Every book I have ever written is footnoted, but I do not presume to present myself as a professional historian because I have written books on historical subjects. Nor would I call myself a professional sociologist simply because I have written footnoted books on the subject of race. Ann Coulter and Al Franken provide endnotes for their arguments but this does not make Godless: The Church of Liberalism or Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them scholarly works. The point I was making was that a course in American Studies, taught by a professor credentialed in English literature ought to have had a scholarly rather than a polemical account of American history as its sole required text. The issue here is standards, not some slight to Loewen’s amour propre.
Loewen claims I invented a quote from him describing the contents of his book, while conceding that it is a fair representation of what he thinks. He calls this an “outrage.” Actually, I didn’t invent the quote. It is verbatim one of the chapter descriptions from his book and can be found on his website here (chapter 8): http://www.uvm.edu/~jloewen/content.php?file=liesmyteachertoldme-toc.html
Loewen wants to know if I now have different views about the events in Guatemala and Iran than I did when I wrote The Free World Colossus more than forty years ago. The answer is yes.
Loewen’s contentions about Columbus summarize the problem I have with the use of his book as a college text at all, let alone as the sole historical text for a course in American Studies. He claims that Columbus made two innovations that were revolutionary, robbing and subjugating indigenous peoples to the point of extermination and creating the slave trade. I pointed out that Columbus did neither (and I don’t agree with him about Columbus as he falsely claims).
Loewen tries wriggle out of the first gaffe by ignoring the Aztecs who were racist imperialists indigenous to the hemisphere and then by explaining that Roman imperialism was benign. This is impressive ignorance, even for James Loewen. Consider this well-known passage from Tacitus: “It is difficult not to remember what another rebel leader, in the highlands of Scotland, is to have said about the Romans before he, too, was defeated: ‘They rob, kill and rape, and this they call Roman rule. They make a desert and call it peace.’ This famous quote has become the very definition of the pax romana. So even if we accept Loewen’s view of what Columbus did, he wasn’t the first – even in this hemisphere — and far from being a revolutionary departure from the past it was more like humanity as usual.
In making these momentous errors, Loewen has been misled by a passionate hatred for his own country unchecked by historical knowledge. The fact that other leftist academics have such low intellectual standards as to consider his work scholarly and assign it in classes or that professional historical associations have become so politicized as to confuse political correctness with accurate scholarship and reward him with honors is regrettable. But that doesn’t change the facts.
Loewen’s evident pain in publishing this article is something like the pain of a jilted lover. Yes I was once a deluded leftist like him, hypercritical of the world’s greatest democracy, and ready to turn a blind eye towards the crimes of indigenous peoples. But I put off these childish things long ago and learned to appreciate the fact that the world was more complex than “progressives” dreamed. I would be more interested in his complaints, now, if he showed the slightest aptitude for intellectual argument. I have actually written entire books explaining why I am no longer the man who wrote The Free World Colossus. I am waiting for the leftist who is up to taking them on.
Who’s Distorting History? Me or David Horowitz? You Decide.
By James W. Loewen
(Mr. Loewen is a sociologist and author most recently of, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, published by The New Press.)
Having been left off David Horowitz’s academic prom card of The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, I felt jilted, until I read his “Breaking the Law at Penn State” (later retitled “Breaking the Rules at Penn State”) at his e-magazine, FrontPageMag.com, 1/22/2007. Earlier Horowitz had prodded the Pennsylvania House to set up a ‘committee on academic freedom’ to ensure that courses at state colleges provided students with more than one point of view. Now, because my bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, is the primary text for a Penn State course, Introduction to American Studies, Horowitz is outraged. At FrontPageMag he spends two pages distorting my book.
He begins by disparaging it as “not a scholarly work.” No reader would guess that Lies is carefully documented with 56 pages of double-columned endnotes.
He then charges:
Loewen laments “[h]ow textbooks misrepresent the U.S. government and omit its participation in state-sponsored terrorism.”
I indented that sentence because I quoted Horowitz, and he used quotation marks because he quoted me … only he didn’t! He even put brackets around “h” to imply that he changed my capital H to his small h. But most of the “quoted” words are not in Lies My Teacher Told Me at all!
The word “terrorism” appears just once in the book. I listed six attempts by the U.S. government to assassinate heads of state or bring down foreign governments (Iran, Guatemala, Lebanon, Zaïre, Cuba, and Chile). Then I wrote:
The United States government calls actions like these state-sponsored terrorism when other countries do them to us. Other than “state-sponsored terrorism,” Horowitz leaves out my sentence and substitutes another that he simply made up — within quotation marks! I actually agree with the words he put in my mouth on this point but doing so is still an outrage.
Accordingly, I do oppose attempts by our government to assassinate or bring down foreign leaders. Back in 1975, the Church Committee came out unequivocally against assassination attempts by our government. So did President Ford, three different CIA heads, and every witness who testified before the committee (see “Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders,” Interim Report, Govt. Printing Office, 1975). Back then, David Horowitz condemned such acts too. For example, he stressed that the government of Guatemala that we overthrew by force in 1954 was elected democratically, while our intervention led to “a decade of dictatorship and right-wing rule” (The Free World Colossus, 163). Lies My Teacher Told Me cites one of the CIA officers responsible for engineering that coup.
[He] agreed later that overthrowing elected leaders is a short-sighted policy. Such actions provide only a short-term fix, keeping people who worry us out of power for a time, but identifying the United States with repressive, undemocratic, unpopular regimes, hence undermining our long-term interests.
This is Realpolitik analysis. I argue that the blowback from our nondemocratic interventions is rarely in our national interest in the long run. Does Horowitz disagree?
The new Horowitz, now right-wing himself, goes on in his FrontPageMag article to misquote me again:
According to Loewen, the lies teachers told him result from facts being “manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written.”
This time, he gets my words right, but by taking them out of context, he actually reverses my meaning!
In context, I am assessing various reasons why high school history textbooks are so bad. Could it be because the secondary literature in history (the monographs in the library) is so biased? No, I reply, that literature is now pretty good. “[P]erhaps an upper-class conspiracy is to blame,” I then suggest.
Perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us.
No, I conclude, “To blame the power elite for what is taught in a rural Vermont school or an inner-city classroom somehow seems too easy.” I go on to point out something Horowitz himself has decried: If the upper class controls everything, then why are many history and education professors leftists? Indeed, I note “the upper class may not even control what is taught in its ‘own’ history classrooms” — upper-class prep schools. “In sum,” I conclude, “power elite theories may credit the upper class with more power, unity, and conscious self-interest than it has.”
Note that this conclusion is exactly opposite what Horowitz claims I say!
Incidentally, if you want to find out the reasons why U.S. history textbooks are so bad, read Lies My Teacher Told Me. But I must warn you, I suggest several possibilities, so you will have to make up your own mind. Ironically, it is precisely this discussion that Horowitz denies that I supply. Hence, he charges, a course based in part on my book violates Penn State’s academic freedom policy which defines an appropriate academic instruction as training students to think for themselves…”
Next Horowitz attacks my chapter on Christopher Columbus. He writes, Loewen summarizes the achievement of Columbus in these words: “Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.”
I did write those words. And though they are not my summary of Columbus’s achievement, which comes later in the chapter, I’ll stand by them. Are they wrong? Horowitz makes only two nitpicking criticisms. First, he says that Columbus did not invent the taking of land, wealth, and labor, leading to the near extermination of indigenous peoples; the Romans did it first. I thought Romans typically made the peoples at the edge of their empire pay tribute. When they fully conquered them, they then ruled them through their existing local leadership, sometimes allowing those leaders to become citizens of the empire. But perhaps Horowitz is right and the Romans nearly exterminated the peoples they subjugated, replacing them with Italians. My point was not about Rome, but about Columbus, and about Columbus, Horowitz agrees with me. Second, Horowitz says there already was an intercontinental slave trade (which of course there was) although he agrees that Columbus began the trans-Atlantic trade, which indeed created a racial underclass. These two “criticisms” prompt him to conclude that my account is “certainly not an accurate view of the historical record.”
The most general attack Horowitz levels is that I have written an “amateur text” that is “extreme, uninformed, polemical.” Not so. I am no amateur. I have a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University. In case Horowitz thinks I’m an amateur because my doctorate is outside history, he needs to know that the American Historical Association put me on one of their prize committees, while the Organization of American Historians named me a “Distinguished Lecturer.” Moreover, specialists in each area I treat find nothing surprising (and nothing extreme, uninformed, or polemical) in mywork. A Civil War historian might be surprised to learn that Columbus started the trans-Atlantic slave trade but will not challenge what I wrote about the Lincoln/Douglas debates. And so forth. Horowitz is simply ignorant of the secondary literature in American history.
Finally, who is Horowitz to call me an “amateur?” On what is he professional?” So far as I know, he has no doctorate in any field, and certainly not in American history.
I want to conclude more in sorrow than in anger. When David Horowitz first published The Free World Colossus, I thought it important enough to buy in hardbound. While far too positive about Communist states like Cuba, it accurately showed the problems stemming from U.S. support of dictatorships. I knew Horowitz had gone right-wing in recent years, but I looked forward to reading a recent book of his, as time permitted. No more. His distortion of my book lacks integrity as well as scholarship. I can learn from an honest negative appraisal, but Horowitz does not make a single sound criticism of my work.
Postscript I sent a slightly shorter version of the foregoing rebuttal to the editor of FrontPageMag. As I had anticipated, he did not have authority to publish or not publish it and emailed it on to Horowitz himself. Horowitz replied:
This is typical for the left. Loewen doesn’t understand the difference between opinions and facts, in this case between having different opinions about the facts. To take only one example: I do not misrepresent Loewen’s position on America as a state that sponsors terrorism and on textbooks that fail to mention this. Loewen actually concedes both points in his email while managing to complain that I am unfair to him. Leftists like Loewen are such obsessive liars that they don’t even notice that they are lying. I see no point in posting an article that repeats the positions I described Loewen as holding while at the same time insisting that he doesn’t hold them, in order to carry on this absurd dialogue. If he has a substantive point to make, I’m happy to hear it.
Aside from the fact that no leftist ever called me leftist, I will leave it to readers to decide whether Horowitz or I have scored more substantive points in this ‘exchange.’ Amazingly, Jamie Glazov, Horowitz’s puppet editor at FrontPageMag, implied that Horowitz’s reply amounted to a serious offer to write something else for the e-magazine. I replied, “I have dealt with enough publications to know the difference between ‘r & r’ (revise and resubmit) and a rejection, though I admit I have never received as nasty a rejection as David’s.”
We can conclude that David Horowitz does not value more than one point of view when that one point of view is his. ‘Academic freedom’ plays no role at FrontPageMag.
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