Thursday, September 07, 2006

More on Darwin, Social Darwinism and History

The Washington Post has now reported on the Darwin's Deadly Legacy program in the context of an article that is mainly about a new book about FDR and the Holocaust. Not much substance to the part about the TV show, but I thought it was interesting that the Post chose to report on it now-- long after the show aired. Here is how the article begins:

Holocaust history is not a field for academic sissies. It takes a certain sang-froid even to approach the topic. And never mind the crackpots and deniers; even among serious scholars there are epic clashes over who really could have derailed Hitler's Final Solution but did not: Pope Pius XII or Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Ordinary Germans or American Jews?

Now, a book defending FDR and a television documentary about Hitler's brand of Darwinism have thrown patriotism and evolution into the mix, and the debate is turning vicious.

Fifty-five historians have signed a letter protesting the new book about Roosevelt because, they say, it impugns the patriotism of scholars who think the United States should have bombed Auschwitz, admitted more refugees and taken other steps to lessen the Nazi genocide.

In "Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust," author Robert N. Rosen contends that "from Roosevelt's perspective, everything was done that could reasonably be done for European Jewry." FDR's critics, he writes, are indulging in "America-bashing" and promoting an "anti-American" version of history.

What seems to be the real issue is whether these subjects are legitimate topics for reasonable debate, or whether the debate should be shut down because one group thinks that the other group is "trivializing" the tragedy or suggesting that certain historians are unpatriotic. Also at issue is whether someone's political views are likely to affect how they view history.

Is saying that a historian is promoting an anti-American version of history the same thing as questioning that historian's patriotism?

I have no strong opinion on either topic, but no one should be shutting down legitimate debate with name-calling and ad hominem attacks.

Earlier posts of mine on the use and misuse of history are:

Distorting History to Serve Ideological Ends

Hot Air: The Myth of Inherit the Wind

And one more just for fun:

Inherit the Flatulence?


By the way, the Post's report on the Pope's conference on evolution is here.


At September 06, 2006 9:52 PM, Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

The author of the book started the mudslinging by accusing Roosevelt's critics of "America bashing" and writing an "anti-American version of history," but he was just expressing his perception that the historians had a tendency to bash America. However, that does not necessarily mean that he was accusing them of lacking patriotism. I feel that the 55-signature letter that was sent to the publisher was unfair when it said, "he impugns the patriotism of scholars, including Prof. David S. Wyman, who have taken issue with the Roosevelt administration's response to the Holocaust." Patriotism does not require that one always say nice things about one's country.

My blog has an article about this book at --


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