Since I’m still recovering from my dad’s near-fatal illness – yes caregivers are exhausted after a major bout like this and it gets harder to recover when one gets older – I’ve mostly been reading light mysteries like Carolyn Hart and Joanna Fluke, enjoyable but easy to roll over and go to sleep after reading.
I finally read the Robert Weinberg biography of Louis L’Amour, The Louis L’Amour Companion [Andrews and McNeel, 1992] and what an enjoyable read it was. Some of the smartest people I know think highly of L’Amour but since I’m not a particular Western fan I skipped this book. Did you know L’Amour published a book of poetry before writing Westerns? Although a goodly portion of the book involves relating how specific plots came to be – a subject of which I was ignorant – the overall impression of L’Amour as witty, self-assured, interesting, well-traveled and eminently likable dominates the book.
I read Jonathan Dimbleby’s attention-getting The Palestinians when it first published [Quartet Books, 1979]; it’s full of fascinating pictures by Donald McCullin. I confess I only gave it cursory examination back then but I reread it and found it troubling. The book raises legitimate questions about the continuing impact of a naïve Western world arbitrarily assigning land to the Jews by taking it from Arabs in the Middle East.
What struck me the most about this book was the author’s continued assertion that he was just stating the facts, ma’am and what a lie that was. There is no attempt to balance any arguments that show why the event occurred in the first place, or why the Palestinians and the world don’t obsess over Jordan and other Arab countries that tossed out the Palestinians and no attempt to condemn the terrorism. Indeed he practices a moral equivalency of ‘who can say what is terrorism and what isn’t’ that is exploding all over the world today. Many of my ancestors were Irish and England has sometimes treated them horribly but I condemn the IRA without any qualms. Far from simply showing the Palestinian point of view, Dimbleby does indeed attack the Israeli position and his native Britain. This is reminiscent of the recent PC-USA, which divests from businesses working with Israel in Gaza but claim they only want positive investment with the Palestinians, they don’t want to hurt their Jewish “friends” but then proceed to show the “other side of the debate” by showcasing viciously anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic websites, publications and individuals, e.g., CodePink cofounder Medea Benjamin at their General Assembly. Nor does Dimbleby point out that the Palestinians believe it is their religious duty to destroy any and all Jews, nothing to do with Israel as a political state but that they are non-Muslims.
I must now point out that Dimbleby at the time was a journalist for the BBC, which is possibly the most notorious anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian news source in the West. How much of an impact did journalists like Dimbleby have on shaping that bias? This is roughly the same timeframe when British actress Vanessa Redgrave, of the superstar Redgrave family, came out in support of the terrorist PLO and Yasser Arafat; who can forget the seductive dance she did at a PLO campfire while she waved a rifle above her head? What was the impact on public opinion and British journalism by this union of the popular media and celebrity? Oh at the time Redgrave said she wasn’t turning against her Jewish “friends” she was simply attempting to show the other side.
Maybe I just had a bad taste in my mouth from the Dimbleby book when I read The Liberator by Alex Kershaw [Crown 2012], which followed one brave American – Alex Sparks – through the last two years of bloody WWII battles. Kershaw was highly opinionated , e.g., he’s harshly critical of Churchill without any praise and of the egotistical Gen Mark Clark, which is a common assessment among historians. Nor do I have any problems with the post-war Sparks supporting gun rights after the violent death of his grandson by a underage shooter wielding a gun. Sparks was entitled to his belief and I don’t doubt the NRA viciously fought back against him. It’s just that I wondered about bias from this author who has written other best-selling WWII books. How much, especially in these days of active historian revisionism, can one trust these opinions? Can’t you write a history book without bias, whether using primary or secondary sources?
While in graduate school, one of my professors, a witty and brilliant man, proudly proclaimed himself a feminist, a Socialist, and a prolific writer of revisionist history. He admitted he and a group of similar-minded professors routinely claimed to be coauthors no matter how nebulous the contributions and to continually cite each other in order to ramp up their peer-reviewed articles. “Yep, it’s all about SSCI [Social Science Citations Index],” he laughed and we laughed with him. Gaming the system doesn’t sound so funny in these days of questionable peer review. And it turns out he was a public feminist but one of those liberal men -twice divorced and messing around with one of my classmates – who was a real jerk with the women in his personal life.
I think I might be getting cynical in my old age.