A History Lesson Approved by the White House

Thanks to Bush Library Blog fan “Farinata X” for calling my attention to this article from the New Republic. Along with a 2000 article about Texas A & M faculty and entanglements with the Bush people, this is most helpful in suggesting the more unpleasant of possibilities if/when the Bush complex comes to SMU. One of the most frequently-made arguments by supporters of the Library and Instititute, including some of my good friends and respected colleagues, goes something like “if the Bush Institute is going to have any academic credibility, it will have to represent a range of intellectually serious views, articulated by respectable and even prominent journalists and academics in a range of fields.” This is probably true . . . but what if the Bush people don’t want the Institute to have academic credibility, but rather simply to burnish their now-bedraggled reputations? Read this article to find out what that might look like in terms of the writing of history.

Bush’s imperial historian: White Man for the Job
Johann Hari
The New Republic
April 13, 2007

Last month, a little-known British historian named Andrew Roberts was swept into the White House for a three-hour-long hug. He lunched with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, huddled alone with the president in the Oval Office, and was rapturously lauded by him as “great.” Roberts was so fawned over that his wife, Susan Gilchrist, told the London Observer, “I thought I had a crush on him, but it’s nothing like the crush President Bush has on him.”

At first glance, this isn’t surprising. Roberts’s latest work–A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900–sounds like a standard-issue neocon narrative. As a sequel to Winston Churchill’s famous series, it purports to tell the story of how the “Anglosphere” (Great Britain, the United States, Australia, and friends) saved the world from a slew of totalitarian menaces, from the kaiser to the caliphate. It presents Bush as the logical successor to Churchill–only Bush is, of course, even better.

Yet, beyond this surface sycophancy, there is something darker and more fetid. Bush, Cheney, and–in a recent, glowing cover story–National Review, have, in fact, embraced a man with links to white supremacism, whose book is not a history but an ahistorical catalogue of apologies and justifications for mass murder that even blames the victims of concentration camps for their own deaths. The decision to laud Roberts provides a bleak insight into the thinking of the Bush White House as his presidential clock nears midnight.

more here


5 Responses to A History Lesson Approved by the White House

  1. Andrew R. Graybill says:

    Again I ask, this is the sort of thinking that SMU wants to promote? How is it remotely conceivable that there is *anyone* on campus — students, faculty, staff, administrators — who wants to tether the university’s reputation to such horrifying and objectionable ideas?

  2. JonD says:

    Since the chances of the Institute being at SMU are pretty high, shouldn’t the goal be to shine the “light of truth” on ideas we might find “horrifying and objectionable”? Wouldn’t SMU’s reputation be hurt just as badly if it were seen as monolithic and one-sided in any direction, as opposed to a place where all ideas, no matter how distasteful, are debated?

    At some point, the issue needs to shift away from disgust with the Bush Administration (which I mostly share) and towards developing strategies to insure the Institute is seen as place where ALL sides can explore, research, debate and publish.

    SMU’s reputation will be greatly enhanced IF it is seen as having withstood the partisan onslaught (from both sides), opened its doors to the wandering, defeated NeoCons, and then created an environment around the Institute that stimulated the type of debate missing from the Bush administration and Congress, while maintaining the academic standards SMU aspires to have.

  3. Farinata X says:

    JonD lists many noble and admirable goals in his comment, but he overlooks the obvious problem that since the Institute will be under the direct control of the Bush Foundation with no oversight from the university allowed, not a single one of his admirable goals has the slightest chance of being achieved.

  4. JonD says:

    I suppose I can understand your fatalism. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic. Take a look at this list:


    Do any of these people care about the idea of University oversight, or are they the type of people who are used to getting what they want, especially in Dallas?

    My point above was to ask “what happens now?”. When will the teeth gnashing and hair pulling stop, and the collective debate turn toward towards managing (or even…gasp…overcoming) the certain challenge of a partisan Bush Institute.

    Oversight is “bureaucratic-ese” for control. But in the absence of control, what other options are there? Can concerned faculty, alumni and Methodists assert influence over time to steer the operation of the BI. or will the philosophy of Unilateralism that
    is pervasive in the Bush administration continue at SMU?

    The trustees of SMU also are not a group that likes to be embarrassed. If the operation of the BI becomes too big of a joke, will one of them step in to change the direction?

    In order for the BI to damage the reputation of SMU, the UNiversity must have a positive reputation to damage. While it may be devastating to many in the Academic community at SMU to be associated with the BI, will it really be a big problem to the core “customer base” who send their kids there?

  5. Farinata X says:

    With regard to JonD’s final question above, the anwer is “no.” The customer base that sends its kids to SMU will not be bothered by the presence of the Bushist Belief Tank in the least. In fact, to them, it will be another inducement, which is perhaps part of the idea. Pepperdine on the Prairie!

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