Tuesday, April 27, 2010

History is the lie we all agree to

On his show the other night Bill Maher ran through a list Dwight D. Eisenhower's accomplishments as president of the United States, everything from imagining and building the freeways to his famous falling out with (and warnings about) the military-industrialist complex. He was making the point that Ike was one of the few presidents we've ever had who was willing to say fuck you and get something done, pissing off both sides if he needed to. He wasn't perfect but he was a giant compared to the presidents of the last half of the century and the first decade of this one.

Actually my favorite Ike story is when (according to famous left journalist Murray Kempton (whom Ike enjoyed--they kidded each other all the time and sometimes drank together)...when Ike was in the hotel room at the GOP convention of 52 trying to decide who his running mate should be somebody said "Ike, How about Dick Nixon?" According to the story (and God please say it's true) Ike looked up and said `Who's' Nick Dixon?'" Ike was a Dem but they wanted Adlai Stevenson. Good call.

When Voltaire said "History is the lie we all agree to" he sure wasn't exaggerating. This story is distressing in many ways and is becoming more and more familiar to those of us who have grown leery of certain historians.

From The Guardian UK

Band Of Brothers author accused of fabrication for Eisenhower biography
US academic world shocked as respected historian is said to have 'made up' meetings with 34th US president

His book Band of Brothers – which chronicled the exploits of one company of US airborne troops in second world war Europe – was turned into a highly praised TV series.

But now American historian Professor Stephen Ambrose, who was President Dwight D Eisenhower's official biographer and wrote or edited more than a dozen books about him, is embroiled in a posthumous controversy. It is alleged that he invented many meetings he claimed to have had with Eisenhower, and even fabricated entire interviews with him. The revelations have sent shock waves through the scholarly community in the United States.

The books written by Ambrose, who died in 2002, brought him popular acclaim, and director Steven Spielberg used him as a military adviser on his 1998 Oscar-winning film Saving Private Ryan. Band of Brothers became a cultural milestone when it was turned into a TV series on which Ambrose was a producer. It was hailed for educating an entire generation about the sacrifices of their forefathers. But it appears that Ambrose indulged in some sort of fantasy about the extent of his relationship with Eisenhower. In TV interviews, he claimed to have spent "hundreds and hundreds of hours" with the former president. He even once said he would spend two days a week working with Eisenhower in his office.

However, recently studied records of Eisenhower's meetings contradict the notion that the pair had any lengthy face-to-face contact. "I think five hours [in total] is a generous estimation of the actual time they spent together. I personally would push it back to less than two or three," said Tim Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas.

for the rest go here:


Elizabeth Foxwell said...

See Blanche Wiesen Cook's presentation on her book _The Declassified Eisenhower_. She points out that it was former general Eisenhower who should get the credit for desegregating the military rather than Truman.


Todd Mason said...

Truman's reputation has been enjoying a huge and utterly undeserved bump for several decades now, and overpraise for many of the mediocrities who've held the office, however charming John Kennedy (the primary inspiration for the current jobholder, clearly) might have been and not him alone, should be due for Rediscovery by boosting buck-hustles any day now. AND TYLER TOO shows the greatness we all secretly knew he possessed, not just Oliver Stone.

I like certain things about Eisenhower, but the highway system's mixed-effect creation (in terms of emininent domain alone, much less certain other aspects) is certainly among the things I'm not so crazy about. Gotta love the M-I Complex speech...pity he chose to wait till he was on his way out to say something like that.

Deb said...

I seem to remember that, even before he died, Ambrose had been accused of plagiarism and exaggeration in his work. It appears these assertions haven't died just because Ambrose did.

Troy Smith said...

Oh, Stephen Ambrose. I have been bemoaning loudly for years that historians need to write in a style that is comprehensible and relevant to the general public (instead of to half a dozen other insular academics who all hate each other anyway) and stop letting journalists and English professors produce all the successful popular history books. But that doesn't mean you should steal stuff and make stuff up (leave that to us novelists, we're better at it anyway.) Next we'll find out that James McPherson was lying about that whole Yankees-winning-the-War thing.

Reb said...

Who was it that stated "What fools these mortals be"?

The Faked Birth Records & Genealogy of Dwight D Eisenhower, a Foreign Born Infil-traitor