Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

AHA and Iraq


The American Historical Association has passed, in considerable strength, a measure condemning the Iraq War. This is hardly surprising. It wasn’t a mere statement of personal distaste — they have voiced this opposition in professional terms, as “Historians.” And as historians they find that “a free society and the unfettered intellectual inquiry essential to the practice of historical research, writing, and teaching are imperiled” by the following practices:

· excluding well-recognized foreign scholars; condemning as “revisionism” the search for truth about pre-war intelligence;

Scholars such as Tariq Ramadan, Hamas-linked donor? Now I know this is a subject of some disagreement, but is it the AHA’s contention that no “well-recognized foreign scholar” should ever be denied access to the country? Are there any acceptable criteria for visa denial? No? Okay. And revisionism? Has the Bush administration stopped any search for pre-war intelligence? Seems to be a quibble over points of view again.

· re-classifying previously unclassified government documents;

Again, a historian might be permanently opposed to the classification of government documents, just as U.S. Steel might be permanently opposed to EPA regulation, but surely both might concede the public good that each provides at times. Does the AHA make such a declaration every time government documents are classified — or just when it’s related to a war they clearly widely despise?

· suspending in certain cases the centuries-old writ of habeas corpus and substituting indefinite administrative detention without specified criminal charges or access to a court of law;

Ok that’s understandable, but what does it have to do with “speedy withdrawal” from Iraq — does that mean Afghan detainees will disappear? Maybe.

· using interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Abu-Ghraib, Bagram, and other locations incompatible with respect for the dignity of all persons required by a civilized society;

Well, ok, understandable again, but how will withdrawal close Guantanamo? I don’t see that.

The resolution is an associative shambles, condemning The War on Terror on the basis of domestic policies associated with it. The AHA has advanced a clear critique of Bush domestic policy, advanced under a cover of professional interest. Some of those points are arguable, but I’ll leave that to focus on the larger question –  how is leaving Tikrit going to change any of the above items? Would the AHA have issued a similar blanket condemnation of World War II on the basis of Roosevelt domestic policies? That Japanese interment demands that we withdraw from Normandy? That the Civil War was illegitimate because of the suspension of habeas corpus? The AHA’s eagerness to pass such an injudiciously-worded resolution, as “Historians” suggests a clear step beyond any sort of professionalism.


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