Category Archives: Current Affairs

Is This An Appropriate Use of WTC Steel?

Ussnewyork
The Navy recently christened a new ship which includes 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center.  While I support a strong military I have trouble with the symbolism behind this project.  That steel has so much death already associated with it that I have difficulty imagining it being used to bring about  even more suffering, regardless of the reasons involved.  I know my cousin Alisha would be appalled by this decision.  Here is what a few people associated with the ceremony had to say:

"It resurrects the ashes, so to speak, to do great things for our
nation," said Bill Glenn, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman
Shipbuilding, the ship builder.

USS New York’s prospective commanding officer is Cmdr. F. Curtis
Jones, a native New Yorker. It is to be commissioned, essentially added
to the fleet, next year. It could be used as part of peaceful missions
or as part of war, said Adm. Gary Roughead, the Navy’s chief of
operations.

That it could be used in war did not bother Lee
Ielpi, president of the September 11th Families’ Association, whose
son, Jonathan, a firefighter, died in the attacks. The ship won’t be
used for war "unless you bother us," he said in an interview.

"We’re
sending a message that we’re standing strong," he said, adding: "This
ship, as it cuts through the water, is going to send a ripple. That
ripple will say, ‘We cherish our freedom.’"

Rep. Vito Fossella,
R-N.Y., said Sept. 11 was a turning point in the nation, and will never
be forgotten because remnants of the disaster are part of the ship.

"If
the USS New York has to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell,
PCO Jones and his crew … have my full support," he said to a standing
ovation.

Why couldn’t the steel be used for one of the Navy’s hospital ships or another type of vessel that would be more clearly perceived as having "peaceful" intentions?  Please understand that I am not a pacifist.  I just wonder whether this is really an appropriate use of such emotionally-charged material.  What about preserving the steel for future memorials to the victims of 9-11 or even other catastrophic events?  It seems to me that there are more fitting ways to demonstrate to the world that, "We cherish our freedom."

Is Sean Wilentz Playing History or Politics?

[Cross-Posted at Progressive Historians]

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz has a thought-provoking Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times in which he criticizes the Obama team for making comparisons between Obama’s lack of experience with both Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.  Wilentz is one of many notable historians who over the past few weeks have publicly declared their support for one of the presidential candidates – in his case the choice is Hillary Clinton. 

Few will disagree that it is very rare for a candidate with as little
experience in politics and government as Obama to capture the
imagination of so many influential Americans. One way for a candidate
like this to minimize his lack of experience is to pluck from the past
the names of great presidents who also, supposedly, lacked experience.
Early in the campaign, Obama’s backers likened him to the supposed
neophyte John F. Kennedy. More recently, some have pointed out (as did
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, among others) that Abraham
Lincoln served only one "undistinguished" term in the House before he
was elected president in 1860.

Wilentz notes that Kennedy had extensive experience owing to his three terms in the House and two in the Senate and the extensive committee work that comes along with 14 years in the legislature. In the case of Lincoln, Wilentz suggests that while it is true that he only served two years in Washington he had extensive experience on the state level and within both the Whig and Republican parties before winning the presidency in 1860.  There is no doubt that even a slightly broader perspective on the past beyond the narrow comparative claims made by the Obama team give us a more complicated picture of the public careers that led both Lincoln and Kennedy to the White House. 

That said, is the Obama team’s referencing of Kennedy and Lincoln (as well as the Reagan years) really to be characterized as "absurd"?  In fact, couldn’t one argue that Wilentz himself is necessarily engaged in the same "misuse of history" that he directs at the Obama team as a result of his public statement of support for Clinton?  Wilentz is treading on slippery ground here depending on how he wishes to be identified by his readers.   In my own case I find it close to impossible to identify Wilentz as a historian rather than as a Clinton partisan.  Wilentz’s criticisms must be understood as a reflection of his support for Clinton rather than as a commentary on how to properly interpret the past.  In other words, there is no fact of the matter in these comparative claims or to put it another way, Wilentz is far from carving the past at its joints.  For example, while Wilentz emphasizes Lincoln’s earliest years in the state legislature of Illinois, including his election as captain of the local militia (which Lincoln himself downplays) as relevant he says nothing as to why or how it should be considered.  It begs the question of what we even mean when we talk about relevant experience.  In the end it is much too easy to imagine Wilentz agreeing with the comparative claim if he happened to be an Obama supporter.

I’ve commented on the recent public declarations of support for the various presidential candidates by historians.  I don’t have a serious problem with such declarations; however, if you choose to enter the public debate please don’t ask me to interpret your words as those of a historian rather than as just another political hack. 

Historians cannot expect all politicians and their supporters to know
as much about American history as, say, John F. Kennedy, who won the
Pulitzer Prize for a work of history. But it is reasonable to expect
respect for the basic facts — and not contribute to cheapening the
historical currency.

What basic facts is Wilentz referring to?  The misuse and abuse of history is the bread and butter of politics.  If the Obama team wants to praise Reagan or compare their candidate’s history with Lincoln and Kennedy than so be it.  There is no fact of the matter here.  Wilentz would have us believe that his support for Clinton plays no role in the way he interprets the comparative claims made by the Obama camp.  I find that to be a "cheapening" of Wilentz’s "historical currency." 

Update: Caroline Kennedy apparently believes that Obama is enough "like my father" to issue an endorsement in the New York Times.  According to Wilentz, she is misinterpreting the past.

Click here for Brooks Simpson’s thoughtful response to this post.

Another Step Forward

A special Happy New Year and congratulations to the dozens of same sex couples who were able to take advantage of a new law in New Hampshire which recognizes civil unions as of midnight.    What better way to ring in the new year than by acknowledging your love for one another in the eyes of the state and with the "same rights, responsibilities and obligations of marriage without calling the union a marriage."  Hopefully, in the not too distant future we will get over that little hurdle.