Is This the Best They Can Do?

Joe Lockard, a professor of American literature at Arizona State University, is the latest entrant in the hate-Tom-Woods parade. According to Lockard, I’m just dead wrong from page one:

Woods provides a specious list of four migration waves [during the colonial period], all from the British Isles and all Protestant. And so, in this exercise in what used to be called Anglo-Saxonism, major streams of migration from elsewhere simply disappear. The Dutch immigrants of Woods’ own New York disappear; the Germans of the mid-Atlantic colonies, almost as numerous as the Scots-Irish, disappear; the Catholics of Maryland disappear (not to mention the Catholics of Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico and elsewhere, in communities established long before the original thirteen colonies); and, most tellingly, the entire African diaspora in North America and the Caribbean disappears. Even the settlement dates provided for Virginia and Massachusetts are plain wrong.

Last things first here: the "settlement dates" are not wrong, since they’re not "settlement dates." They are the dates of the major migrations to the various places I list. The major migration to the Chesapeake did not begin in 1607, the year of settlement. The dates I use are the exact ones employed by Prof. David Hackett Fischer in his book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, one of the most discussed pieces of scholarship on colonial America in two decades, and a book with which Lockard is entirely unfamiliar. Help me out, here, fellow American historians: what would you say about someone presuming to speak about colonial American history who had never read or even heard of Fischer?

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of colonial America would immediately have recognized the four migrations I mention, since they are well known as the ones that Fischer claims in his influential and important book have played such a key role in the formation of American culture. The point is not that these are the only migrations that occurred. The point is that, according to Fischer, these were the ones whose imprint can be found throughout American history in the perpetuation of folkways, in the persistence of sectional differences, and the like. That may be a controversial thesis, but Lockard can’t pretend it’s crazy or it doesn’t exist, particularly since it has won so much praise across the historical profession.

"From 1629 to 1775," Fischer explains, "North America was settled by four great waves of English-speaking immigrants. The first was an exodus of Puritans from the east of England to Massachusetts (1629—1640). The second was the movement of a Royalist elite and indentured servants from the south of England to Virginia (ca. 1649—75). The third was the u2018Friends’ migration,’ — the Quakers from the North Midlands and Wales to the Delaware Valley (ca. 1675—1725). The fourth was a great flight from the borderlands of North Britain and northern Ireland to the American backcountry (ca. 1717—75)…. These four groups differed in many ways — in religion, rank, generation and place of origin. They brought to America different folkways which became the basis of regional cultures in the United States…. Today most people in the United States (more than 80 percent) have no British ancestors at all. These many other groups, even while preserving their own ethnic cultures, have also assimilated regional folkways which were transplanted from Britain to America. In that sense, nearly all Americans today are u2018Albion’s Seed,’ no matter what their ethnic origins may be." Put this one on your reading list, Prof. Lockard.

But that isn’t the only thing Lockard dislikes about my book. "In terms of historical narrative," Lockard explains, "Woods provides a version of US history based on a set of rants that is highly selective in terms of the history it is willing to admit happened." (Ever noticed that arguments people don’t know how to answer are inevitably described as "rants"?) In fact, my book leaves out a lot. I freely admit that. The book had to be 80,000 words; how could it not leave out a lot? It doesn’t mention the Spanish-American War at all, but I’ll concede that it took place. The fact that I don’t mention the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears is seriously advanced here and elsewhere as sufficient evidence that I’m a "white supremacist." A more charitable interpretation might be that most textbooks already give ample attention to these topics. The point of my book is to focus on areas that are either neglected or hopelessly mangled by the typical text.

In its discussion of the disputes that culminated in the War Between the States, my book, according to Lockard, "essentially re-states a couple long-discredited arguments of Ulrich Bonnell Phillips and the school of Southern nationalist historiography. These include assertions that the antecedents of the Civil War lay entirely in the North’s attempts to assert political and economic dominance over the South." That isn’t quite my argument, though this is as close as Lockard ever gets to correctly describing my position on something.

What I in fact argue is that debates over the extension of slavery into the territories became an issue of Southern honor: whether or not Southerners actually wanted to bring slaves into, say, New Mexico Territory (none were there by 1860), the issue became a matter of principle between sections of the country that had been so often at odds in the past. The insistence upon slavery’s extension into the territories was often a matter of saving face for the South rather than (necessarily) a matter of actually desiring to bring slaves there, particularly since neither North nor South seriously expected slavery to take root in most of the places over which they argued at such length. Moreover, the subject of slavery extension came to symbolize all the differences between North and South, including controversies over the tariff, a homestead bill, internal improvement legislation, and the like.

According to Lockard, this is pro-Confederate nonsense advanced by historians of the early twentieth century that has long since been debunked. Here’s more evidence that poor Prof. Lockard should stick to his own field. The idea that my thesis can be sustained only by reference to decades-old books is about as wrong as wrong can be. My book cites the work of Professor Michael Holt of the University of Virginia, who makes precisely the point that Lockard ridicules as absurd and outdated. Holt makes this argument in a really, really old book — months old, in fact, having been published in 2004. And he’s been making this argument over the course of his career, particularly in The Political Crisis of the 1850s, another book Lockard has neither read nor heard of.

Now the fact that Prof. Holt adopts these positions does not make them right, of course, but, again, I’d hope that someone who feels himself qualified to condemn me might have a passing acquaintance with the relevant literature and at least know who the leading scholars in the field are.

According to Lockard, I then advance "the pet theory of neo-Confederates that the Fourteenth Amendment was illegally ratified because Southern states were forced to ratify it as part of their re-admission to the Union. As Adam Cohen pointed out in the New York Times, however, the logical conclusion of this theory is that the Thirteenth Amendment was not legally ratified either, and thus slavery is still legal in the United States."

Why my critics insist on getting this point exactly wrong is beyond me. That is not why I say the amendment was not legally ratified. I explain this point in detail here. In a brief e-mail exchange with Lockard I explained to him just how he had mischaracterized my position. There can be no question that he has slandered me here, and he now knows, because I explained the matter to him, that he was wrong and I am right. Yet again showing that sense of fair play that the left is known for, however, he has not troubled himself to correct his mischaracterization — which has now gone from being (possibly) a simple misunderstanding to a deliberate lie. I’m supposed to be intimidated by someone who operates like this?

Then we get to my favorite paragraph of all:

Woods takes readers on a traipse through claims that Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller represented the genius of US society and "irrational" anti-trust legislation has suppressed the entrepreneurial initiative of capitalism; Calvin Coolidge and Warren Harding were great American presidents because they did so little; Franklin Delano Roosevelt, aided by the "Soviet dupe" Henry Wallace, destroyed US agriculture, prolonged the Great Depression, bought votes with make-work WPA jobs, and deceived the American people into joining World War II; Joe McCarthy was a stand-up guy rightly concerned about Red subversion; and Brown v. Board of Education was the judiciary’s surrender to left-wing sociology, a decision that hollowed out the Constitution as a guarantor of states rights. By the time a reader finishes the twentieth century with claims that Bill Clinton abetted radical Islamicists and Serbians were not massacring Kosovo Albanians, the misguided trajectory of crank-written history has already been long-established.

There’s no point in going through this list, since I rather doubt Lockard is familiar with the literature on any of them; how many books on antitrust law do you suppose a professor of American literature has read, for instance? (But he’s sure it’s just dandy.) As for the rest of the paragraph, most of it is obviously defensible, particularly on the basis of the latest research, though again, don’t expect Lockard to be familiar, say, with sources like Harold L. Cole and Lee Ohanian’s article "New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis," in the August 2004 Journal of Political Economy. No, he’s happy to repeat long-debunked leftist clichés as if a long enough list of them somehow adds up to an argument. This is how all court historians operate: no fundamental questions are ever allowed to be asked.

Yet I have to say something about Lockard’s last point, above. Everyone now knows (or at least I thought everyone now knew) that the Clinton Administration’s claims of "genocide" by Serbs against Albanian Muslims were grossly exaggerated. There were no angels in the Balkans; my book doesn’t claim there were. The point, however, is this. According to the U.S. State Department in 1999, the Serbs were "conducting a campaign of forced population movement not seen in Europe" since World War II; a U.S. Information Agency release suggested that as many as 400,000 Albanians may have been massacred. David Scheffer, U.S. envoy for war crimes issues, repeatedly cited a figure of over 225,000 ethnic Albanian men missing. Clinton himself spoke of "100,000 people who are still missing," and his secretary of defense, citing the same figure, ominously declared, "They may have been murdered."

As it turns out, however, well under three thousand civilian deaths have been tabulated in Kosovo between 1997 and 1999, and there is good reason to believe that these were by no means all Albanians killed by Serbs. Even if they were, the fact remains that the figures casually thrown around in British and American circles were enormously inflated. As John Laughland wrote in The Spectator, "Even if one assumes that all these people are Albanians murdered for ethnic reasons by Serbs, this is 1/5 of the number alleged by the [British] Foreign Office in June; 1/50 of the number alleged by [U.S. Defense Secretary] William Cohen in May; and 1/250 of the number suggested by the State Department in April." The Spanish forensic surgeon Emilio Perez Pujol, who was dispatched to uncover evidence of Serbian atrocities, described the purported search for mass graves to be "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one — not one — mass grave." "The final figure of dead in Kosovo will be 2,500 at the most," he concluded. "This includes lots of strange deaths that can’t be blamed on anyone in particular."

It was only after the bombing began that the Serbs began a massive expulsion of Albanians; the CIA had warned Clinton that such a humanitarian catastrophe was likely if he decided to bomb, but he went ahead anyway and then pretended to be shocked at the result. The bombing itself led to a humanitarian disaster of its own. Casualty figures for the Clinton/NATO bombing range from between 500 to 2000. The bombs destroyed hospitals and schools, wrought environmental havoc, and left the country’s infrastructure in ruins. The cost to rebuild was estimated at $100 billion.

When the bombing was over, Serbs in Kosovo found themselves subject to the ethnic Albanians’ desire for revenge, and before long, even with a United Nations presence there, more Serbs had been killed than Albanians before the bombing. Serbs were forced from their homes in huge numbers, with nearly 200,000 fleeing Kosovo altogether. The Clinton Administration’s happy talk about a multiethnic Kosovo that would be tolerant of ethnic minorities, allow religious freedom, and abide by modern Western values, has proven a deadly case of willful self-delusion.

In early 2004, Republican Senator Sam Brownback wrote a letter to President George W. Bush deploring the crimes against Serb Kosovars following the cessation of the NATO bombing campaign: "We should not consider advancing the cause of independence of a people whose first act when liberated was to ethnically cleanse a quarter of a million of their fellow citizens and destroy over a hundred of their holy sites." In March of that year, after nearly five years of United Nations rule, a UN official described the situation thus: "Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo. What is happening in Kosovo must unfortunately be described as a pogrom against Serbs: churches are on fire and people are being attacked for no other reason than their ethnic background."

Prof. Lockard, who continues to defend Clinton era lies about the situation (although, charmingly, without apparently knowing they were lies), somehow missed all this. Perhaps his next article will tell us all about the weapons of mass destruction that were found in Iraq, and the "excruciating incompetence" of anyone who denies their existence.

This, apparently, is the best that opponents of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History can do. What better confirmation of the book’s arguments could I have asked for?