Poor Jim Leach. In August 2009, when the former Republican congressman was named chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Barack Obama had not yet exhausted his charisma. The renegade Republican had cast his lot with the man who campaigned on “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” explaining that he decided to break ranks and support Obama’s candidacy because “never in American history was the case for a course change more compelling in international relations and because I had become convinced that seldom had a more natural humanist been chosen to represent his party for national office.”
Mr. Leach likes the word “humanist.” When Obama delivered his notorious “new beginning with Islam” speech in Cairo in January 2009, Mr. Leach pronounced it “one of the great humanist speeches of our time.” Probably he was hoping his discovery of a new Cicero in our midst would procure him something more politically potent than chairmanship of the NEH. It was not to be. But this hasn’t stopped Chairman Jim from vigorously pursuing a left-leaning, politically correct program at the Endowment. We owe the phrase “Chairman Jim,” by the way, to the indispensable weblog Powerline, which (among many other public services) has been assiduously chronicling Mr. Leach’s rhetorically challenged efforts to transform a supposedly non-partisan governmental institution into a propaganda arm of the Democratic party—its descent, as Powerline put it in a column last month, “into political partisanship and rank buffoonery.”
As longtime readers of The New Criterion will know, political tendentiousness in one form or another has been a recurring problem at both the National Endowment for the Arts and at the NEH. There was widespread outrage last year when it was revealed that NEA staffers had colluded with White House officials to enlist artists in the administration’s propaganda efforts to, as the NEA put it in an invitation to selected artists, “help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda—health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.” Since when, you might ask, was this supposedly “independent” arts organization transformed into a shil for the administration’s legislative agenda?
Artists can be used to propagandize. Scholars, for their part, can be useful in the effort to rewrite history from a politically correct, i.e., an anti-American, point of view. A few weeks ago, in a column called “Investigate This,” the folks at Powerline exposed a particularly egregious example of how the NEH under Jim Leach has funded programs designed to diminish America. Particularly pertinent as the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack looms was a conference the NEH sponsored last July called “History and Commemoration: The Legacies of the Pacific War” at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center. Now, we make it a rule of thumb to consider any academic entity called “center” in the same way George Orwell advised us to consider saints: as guilty until proven innocent. Somehow, the combination of contemporary academia and the word “center” produces a miasma of political correctness. Judging by its program on the Pacific theater of World War II, the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii is no exception to this rule. We know this because Patricia Blake, one of twenty-five American scholars invited to participate in the conference, shared the letter she wrote to her congressman about it with Powerline.
Professor Blake, who teaches history at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois, had been looking forward to visiting Pearl Harbor and discussing various aspects of the war with her academic colleagues. What she encountered, Powerline reports, was the “most disturbing experience of her academic career,” a conference driven not by an interest in history but by “overt political bias and a blatant anti-American agenda.” We urge readers to visit Powerline (www.powerlineblog.com) to read Professor Blake’s entire letter to Illinois Representative Donald Manzullo, her congressman. Here are a few excerpts. We print Professor Blake’s boldface, which paraphrases the overriding message of the conference, as italics:
In my thirty years as a professor in upper education, I have never witnessed nor participated in a more extremist, agenda-driven, revisionist conference, nearly devoid of rhetorical balance and historical context for the arguments presented.
In both the required preparatory readings for the conference, as well as the scholarly presentations, I found the overriding messages to include the following:
The U.S. military and its veterans constitute an imperialistic, oppressive force which has created and perpetuated its own mythology of liberation and heroism, insisting on a “pristine collective memory” of the war. . .
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor should be seen from the perspective of Japan being a victim of western oppression (one speaker likened the attack to 9-11, saying that the U.S. could be seen as “both victim and aggressor” in both attacks); that American “imperial expansion” forced Japan’s hand: “For the Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western Imperialism”; and the Pearl Harbor attack could be seen as a “pre-emptive strike.” (No mention of the main reason for the Pearl Harbor attack: the U.S. had cut off Japan’s oil supply in order to stop the wholesale slaughter of Chinese civilians at the hands of the Japanese military.)
[. . .]
War memorials, such as the Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery (where many WWII dead are buried, including those executed by the Japanese on Wake Island and the beloved American journalist Ernie Pyle), are symbols of military aggression and brutality “that pacify death, sanitize war and enable future wars to be fought.”
[. . .]
The U.S. military has repeatedly committed rapes and other violent crimes throughout its past through the present day. Cited here was the handful of cases of attacks by Marines in Okinawa. . . . (What was not cited were the mass-murders, rapes, mutilations of hundreds of thousands of Chinese at the hands of the Japanese throughout the 1930s and 40s. This issue is a perfect example of the numerous instances of assertions made without balance or historical context.)
Conservatives and veterans in the U.S. have had an undue and corrupt influence on how WWII is remembered, for example, successfully lobbying to remove from the Smithsonian Enola Gay exhibit images of the destruction caused by the atom bomb and the revisionist portrayal of the Japanese as victims in the war. . . . (What the presenter and author, Ms. Yoneyama, failed to explain was why all representations of Japan’s murderous rampages throughout China and the Philippines were removed from the exhibit as well.)
Conservatives are reactionary nationalists (no distinction was made between nationalism and patriotism), pro-military “tea baggers” who are incapable of “critical thinking.” Comments were made about “people who watch Fox News” not caring if the news “is accurate or not.” . . . The end result of this deprecation within the conference room was to discourage debate and create an atmosphere of intolerance to opposing views, in direct violation of the stated objectives of the NEH. Several participants told me privately that they considered me “brave” for speaking up, thus begging the question: At a conference supposedly committed to openness and tolerance of all views, why should it take bravery to speak one’s mind?
Why indeed? Professor Blake acknowledged that the conference did include some examples of “balanced, well-researched scholarship.” The “overwhelming and pervasive” message, however, was the usual politically correct anti-American pabulum. At the beginning of her letter, Professor Blake urged Rep. Manzullo to vote against funding for future workshops “until the NEH can account for the violation of its stated objective to foster ‘a mutual respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all persons and groups.’” Much as we admire Professor Blake’s letter, we suggest that this demand is too modest. Rep. Manzullo should vote to defund the NEH and the NEA in their entirety. The Republic would survive. What might suffer a setback is publicly supported anti-American revisionist history.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 29 Number 4, on page 1
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