Philadelphia Inquirer
 April 10, 2003
 History scholars fight present war- Growing numbers of professors cite patterns of the past to rally
 public opinion against the conflict.


 By James M. O'Neill
 Inquirer Staff Writer

 Growing numbers of American historians are so worried that the Bush
 administration is ignoring the lessons of the 20th century, and even
 the last 2,000 years, that they are signing petitions, marching
 against the war in Iraq, and holding teach-ins across the country.

 The Bush administration is "ignoring the established pattern of what
 destroys great empires - the eventual reliance on military power
 over economic and cultural dominance," said Van Gosse, one of the
 activist historians and a professor at Franklin & Marshall College.
 "This happened to the Romans, to the British."

 Those who view historians as irrelevantly stuck in the musty past
 might be doing a double-take these days.

 These academics have mobilized into a national organization called
 Historians Against the War. They wrote a petition decrying the
 recent "egregious curtailment" of civil liberties, and organized
 teach-ins on college campuses across the country this week.

 "Our job is to better understand the past, and what's the point of
 doing that if you're not going to link it to the present?" said Lee
 Formwalt, executive director of the Organization of American
 Historians and a professor at Indiana University. "We can provide a
 deeper understanding of how we got to the present situation."

 That logically leads historians to the next step - sharing their
 conclusions, in an activist way, with the public. "The idea that we
 just sit in an ivory tower is myth," Formwalt said.

 Last night, a teach-in at Temple University sponsored by Historians
 Against the War included lectures on presidential leadership in
 wartime, the mass media's coverage of the war, the history of modern
 Iraq, and "colonialism discredited."

 Similar teach-ins sponsored by the group were held at Rutgers,
 Rowan, Pennsylvania State University, and Franklin & Marshall this
 week.

 Gosse, who helped organize the Franklin & Marshall teach-in, said
 "there's a hubris in the administration that they can control
 events."

 Gosse said Vietnam still hangs heavy over American foreign policy.
 He said the Bush administration might believe the current conflict
 reverses the "Vietnam syndrome," but it really reinforces it,
 because the United States is showing it will act only against a
 less-than-challenging adversary, using overwhelming force, and
 "bullying the public through a cowed and craven mass media."

 Gosse said he had received e-mails and calls from non-academics
 outraged that historians would take a public position on a current
 event.

 Gosse has no patience for such criticism. He said that unlike
 conservative historians of the 1950s and early 1960s, who saw the
 norm as supporting and even advising the government, today's liberal
 historians "are critical intellectuals providing a vital democratic
 function. It's not a partisan thing."

 The more aggressive use of history to question current American
 foreign policy, a "new left revisionist" look at events, developed
 in the late 1950s, headed by University of Wisconsin professor
 William Appleman Williams and his book The Tragedy of American
 Diplomacy.

 "He engaged scholars by arguing that if we feel what we do has
 value, we should carry that beyond the classroom," said David
 Applebaum, a history professor at Rowan who organized a teach-in
 there. "Balance is not what historians are after," Applebaum said.
 "We're after an authentic and verifiable understanding of events."

 The focus on dissent as a central element in American history
 strikes a chord with Temple professor Ralph Young, who helped
 organize last night's teach-in and who teaches on dissent in
 American history.

 Last semester, after his class ended, students lingered afterward,
 continuing the discussion for an hour - and on a Friday afternoon.

 Every Friday since, Young has held an open-ended teach-in. The group
 continued this semester, and now as many as 70 students attend. Many
 develop their own presentations, on everything from the background
 of top Bush advisers to the role of the United Nations.

 "Because we dig into the past, we're constantly dealing with the
 root causes of things," said Young, explaining historians' relevance
 to debates about current geopolitical events.

 "When you understand how things happen, you don't have a knee-jerk
 reaction to events," he said. "We're not just spouting our opinions
 - it's an argument based on facts. We examine the past and
 interpret."

 Young called it myth to think that historians are only interested in
 the "cold facts of the past. We're concerned with how everything is
 connected. History is concerned with the future."

 http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/living/education/5597832.htm