Tuesday, August 23, 2022


The vast number of books published about the First World War defies the reading ability of any one individual. In her concise study of Britain and the origins of the First World War, first published in 1977, Zara Steiner listed 335 books for British policy alone. For each of the belligerents a similar list could be compiled. Immediately after 1918 several hundred volumes of diplomatic documents were published by the various former warring powers, likewise restricted to the origins of the war. Other volumes have supplemented these official ones with yet more material, sometimes suppressed by the official writers, sometimes overlooked by them or unknown to them. Tens of thousands of volumes cover the campaigns, battles, war policies, strategies and individual actions of the combatants, on land, at sea, in the air and behind the lines.

A 32-page article by Martin van Creveld on the railway problems facing the Germans on the Western Front in the first two months of the war lists fifty-eight specialist works. Alan Palmer’s 243-page study of the Salonica Front contains 140 books in its bibliography. The 399-page biography of General Pershing by Donald Smythe, with its detailed references to the American army in France in 1917 and 1918, lists more than five hundred relevant publications. Each of Lyn Macdonald’s six eye-witness books, including the one on the front-line casualties and those who worked to save them, contains several hundred interviews and contemporary testimonies.

To attempt a single-volume history of the war is, from the bibliographic point of view, to attempt not only Everest, but Pelion and Ossa. In this bibliography I have listed only those books whose factual and documentary material has been of significance during the preparation of this book. It represents, as any such bibliography must, a personal, often random choice. For every page that I myself have written here, I must have studied, and benefited from, several hundred, perhaps several thousand pages written by others. I am grateful to their authors for the knowledge and stimulation they have provided, for their own memories of the war, and for the archival material which, in the course of their own researches, they have gathered together.

Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History (544-545). [1994] RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022


The premise of McCullough’s career was that Americans know too little of their own history and have too little understanding of how easily things might have gone differently. What does all our talk of “freedom” mean if we do not know what it cost?

City Journal
Historian in the Arena
David McCullough’s elegant style and his belief in the American story brought him a wide audience, but the consensus under which he wrote is disappearing.

Jonathan Clarke
August 15, 2022

David McCullough, who died last week at 89, was a gregarious man in what is normally a somewhat cloistered profession. He wrote a gregarious kind of history, in which people took precedence over events. He saw the world as driven by individual character more than by mass, impersonal shifts. “To me, history ought to be a pleasure,” McCullough said. “To me it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.” Because he sought to share this pleasure, and did so in a clear, vivid prose style, his books frequently became bestsellers. He was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and as the narrator of PBS’s The American Experience series and Ken Burns’s The Civil War documentary in particular, his voice became identified with the great events of our national story.

McCullough’s death has been met with warm tributes, but the future of his reputation is less certain. The story he told over and over, of how America became America, is one that fewer of his countrymen seem to want to hear. McCullough’s monuments in prose will inevitably be attacked by those whose view of that history is a good deal darker than his. The patriotic speeches he gathered in The American Spirit (2017) were criticized as naïve. His last book, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West (2019), was denounced for presenting stereotypes of Native Americans and downplaying the effects of Western expansion on indigenous people. Academic historians generally thought his work vivid but shallow.

At Yale, where he graduated in 1955, McCullough took classes from John O’Hara and formed a relationship with Thornton Wilder, then at the height of his fame as the author of Our Town. McCullough resolved to be a writer, abandoning other possible vocations in politics or medicine and at first imagining that he would be a novelist or playwright. His early jobs were in magazine publishing and then at the United States Information Agency in Washington.

First books are usually telling, either in inaugurating a style or making a misstep later overcome. McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood (1968), begun when he was still working at USIA, belongs to the former category. The assuredness of the prose is astonishing in a writer so young. Here is McCullough’s description of a veterans’ parade held downtown on the eve of the disaster:

The fire department marched, the Morrellville Odd Fellows, the Austrian Music Society, the Hornerstown Drum Corps, the Grand Army Veterans . . . It had been nearly thirty years since Lincoln had first called for volunteers. Grant and Lee were both dead, and there were strapping steelworkers with thick, black mustaches standing among the crowds along Main Street who had been born since Appomattox.

McCullough described coming across a book of photographs of the flood’s aftermath and learning that no serious history of it had been written. With his wife’s encouragement, he decided to do such a history himself. Rosalee Ingram Barnes was a considerable beauty and, as the daughter of a politician, at ease in public life. Winning her hand and being buoyed by her confidence must have been crucial in the formation of McCullough’s self-belief.

McCullough cited the Civil War historians, Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote, as inspirations. What he had in common with them was a commitment to narrative art and to the belief, as Foote said, that history “has a plot.” “I don’t think of myself as a historian in a conventional sense,” McCullough said. “I am a writer who has chosen other days from our own as his field.”

McCullough’s Truman (1992) sold enormously well but also met with criticism. McCullough did not deny his admiration for FDR’s successor, and some thought the book a transparent effort to bolster Truman’s reputation. To the prevailing idea of Truman as a “little man”—the failed haberdasher from small-town Missouri—McCullough added an appreciation for Truman’s ability to grow into an office that had been thrust upon him, and for the challenges he faced at the Potsdam Conference, where he impressed Churchill as a quick study. Above all, McCullough admired Truman’s depth of character, which he cast in homely, Middle American terms.

As for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, McCullough was criticized for his careless handling of contemporaneous government memoranda assessing the American casualties that would result from a push to take the Japanese mainland, criticism to which he did not respond gracefully. One senses that McCullough’s anger was less on Truman’s behalf than his own, the somewhat pardonable arrogance of a man of great status when confronted with impertinent questions from scholars of narrower gauge. Inflating the numbers of American casualties avoided, of course, would tend to make Truman’s decision look inevitable. Even if that number is at the lower end of the figures discussed at the time, however, it was still not less than 25,000 American dead, in addition to the much larger number of Japanese. Crucially, no member of Truman’s inner circle argued against the bombings.

In an ideal historiographical world, the popularizer and the academic specialist would have a symbiotic relationship. They are not even mutually exclusive, as the work of Joseph Ellis, Gordon Wood, and others has demonstrated. Popular history needs to be written and written well; the democratic process withers without it. Tensions are, inevitable, however. When these tensions break into the open, the public is likely to side with the popularizer. Our sympathies are instinctively with the man in the arena, the one who takes the big swing.

The premise of McCullough’s career was that Americans know too little of their own history and have too little understanding of how easily things might have gone differently. What does all our talk of “freedom” mean if we do not know what it cost? “Future generations who will reap the blessings shall scarcely know the hardships we have endured on their behalf,” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, in words McCullough frequently quoted. McCullough hoped to prove her wrong, and his John Adams (2001) and 1776 (2005) were written in that spirit. No history is ever “definitive” for long; subsequent events have a way of modifying those that came before. Future historians will write in one way or another against the consensus that David McCullough represented. What McCullough did, though, was to make some of the wax figures of American history come to life once more. For that, he has millions of grateful readers.

Jonathan Clarke is a contributing editor of City Journal and a lawyer, essayist, and critic living in New York.

Monday, August 15, 2022


Students’ Family Background Matters

By Ian Rowe
August 12, 2022
National Review

1966, the U.S. Office of Education commissioned the landmark survey “Equality of Educational Opportunity” to study the “lack of availability of equal educational opportunities for individuals by reason of race, color, religion, or national origin in public educational institutions.” James Coleman, who led the study, was a noted sociologist and civil-rights advocate who had been arrested for demonstrating outside an amusement park that refused to admit African Americans. 

Known as the Coleman report, the 700-page study drew on data from more than 645,000 students and teachers in 4,000 U.S. public schools. Among its most controversial findings was that family background—not schools, funding, religion, or race—was the only characteristic that showed a consistent relationship with academic performance. The report summarized:

One implication stands out above all: That schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context; and that this very lack of an independent effect means that the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment are carried along to become the inequalities with which they confront adult life at the end of school. 

This unexpected takeaway should have changed the education-policy landscape forever. Yet it never gained widespread traction, principally because it received an unwelcome reaction from most educators, who were unwilling to accept that “schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement.” They feared that emphasizing family background (most notably parents’ marital status) as the greatest driver of a student’s academic achievement would lead to victim-blaming, finger-pointing moralizing directed at single mothers. Even worse, it would turn attention away from addressing racism, underfunding, and other, more acceptable theories of the causes of academic underperformance.

Rather than grapple with all of these factors, education researchers and policy-makers today seem to either forget or deliberately ignore Coleman’s enduring finding—just as they did in 1966. Countless reports published annually by government and elite research institutions lack any mention of family structure and its impact on students, despite claiming to assess student progress. 

Take New York State’s education department. It provides a robust data site that allows users to easily view reading, math, and science test scores and graduation rates. Information can be filtered by school, gender, race, ethnicity, economic status, geographic district, and more. Yet the site provides no way to disaggregate student outcomes by family structure. 

At the federal level, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—often referred to as “the nation’s report card”—offers a Data Explorer tool that allows users to view a wealth of student-achievement data. By law, NAEP reporting must include information on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, disability, and English proficiency. As in New York and other states, however, there is no way to review results by family structure. 

In the world of neuroscience, being oblivious to the obvious is called “inattentional blindness.” The current filters and categories we use to evaluate progress in student achievement ignore family structure, even though research about its importance is clear and widely accepted: Single parenthood among young adults is one of the strongest predictors of child poverty, school suspensions, incarceration, and educational disadvantage. Unmarried young parents are far more likely to experience high levels of partnership instability and family complexity, and each of these is associated with poorer child well-being and intergenerational transmission of disadvantage. 

Harvard economist Raj Chetty has found that the share of households with a father present is the single largest predictor of upward mobility in a neighborhood, more than school quality, income inequality, and race.

Despite the overwhelming data that surround the relationship between family instability and areas such as child poverty, a group of academics at Harvard tried to disprove the Coleman report’s findings of an impact on education. But their reanalyses only reaffirmed Coleman’s basic thesis: “Schools appeared to exert relatively little pull—explaining only 10 to 20 percent of the variability in student outcomes—while family background, peers, and students’ own academic self-concept explained a much larger amount.” 

More than a decade ago, the obvious relevance of family structure to child outcomes led health-care leaders and analysts to make commonsense changes to their methods of measurement. In its 2010 report “Family Structure and Children’s Health in the United States,” the National Center for Health Statistics declared that “in view of the changing family structure distribution, new categories of families such as unmarried families or unmarried stepfamilies need to be studied so that the health characteristics of children in non-traditional families can be identified.”

The report defined seven distinct and mutually exclusive family structures: nuclear, single-parent, blended, unmarried biological or adoptive families, cohabiting, extended, and other—the last being defined as a family consisting of one or more children living with related or unrelated adults who are not biological or adoptive parents (e.g., grandparents). Analyses using these seven categories are yielding new explanations for entrenched problems and ushering in a new wave of family-focused prescriptions in the health arena. Why should education be treated differently?
In disregarding family structure, education researchers obscure a massively important demographic that could explain otherwise well-documented achievement gaps. 

Without access to data that show the transcendence of family structure over other factors such as race, policy-makers are far more likely to misdiagnose why kids may not be succeeding, and far less likely to pursue creative new solutions that would equip the rising generation to avoid these struggles in the first place. For example, in Vertex Partnership Academies, the innovative, character-based high school I am launching in the Bronx in August, we will have a class called “Pathways to Power,” in which students will learn the sequential series of decisions—completing a high-school degree; full-time work; marriage; then children—that 97 percent of the time results in the avoidance of poverty and a greater likelihood of entry into the middle class and beyond. 

If the National Center for Health Statistics can figure out how to incorporate family structure as a criterion for measurement in its system, surely technical experts working for state departments of education and the National Center for Education Statistics can do the same. In fact, NAEP already collects information on students’ living arrangements—it simply does not report on these data.

If we truly want to improve outcomes for children, we must have the moral courage to measure student achievement by family-structure groupings as routinely as we already do by race, class, and gender. There is no good reason to make inattentional blindness intentional, especially when the education of future generations is at stake.

Ian Rowe  Senior Fellow
© 2022 American Enterprise Institute

Monday, August 8, 2022


As Chief Justice John Roberts once wrote: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

New York Post

Higher ed unites against Asian students in Supreme Court’s Harvard discrimination case.

By William A. Jacobson and  Johanna E. Markind
August 3, 2022 9:47pm

The dirty little secret of higher-ed admissions is that achieving a desired “diverse” racial mix means discriminating against Asian applicants—or at least, secret until Students for Fair Admissions exposed it.

The higher-ed establishment is brazenly defending its race-conscious admissions in dozens of amicus briefs just filed in the U.S. Supreme Court opposing SFFA’s discrimination suits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina. It’s terrified the cases, which the court just announced it will hear in October, could spell the end of racial affirmative action.

The statistics are shocking. As SFFA noted in its Harvard petition, “an Asian American in the fourth-lowest decile has virtually no chance of being admitted to Harvard (0.9%); but an African American in that decile has a higher chance of admission (12.8%) than an Asian American in the top decile (12.7%).”

Such unequal treatment followed the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger permitting schools’ temporary, limited use of race as one of many factors for the desired educational objective of viewpoint diversity. Harvard and other schools have used this loophole to drive de facto illegal racial quotas, using admissions subterfuges like personal scores and a “holistic” approach reminiscent of the methodologies Harvard developed a century ago to limit Jewish enrollment.

Harvard has been under fire for its discrimination against Asian students, which was brought to light by Students for Fair Admissions.

About two dozen mostly right-leaning nonprofits filed amicus briefs supporting the Asian students. In a brief our Legal Insurrection Foundation filed, we documented how this hyper-focus on race has contributed to a narrowing, not broadening, of viewpoint diversity. It’s time to close the loophole.

Not a single college or university supported the Asian students. To the contrary, several dozen briefs were filed against SFFA on behalf of hundreds of colleges, universities, higher-education and professional-school associations, teachers unions, more than 1,000 professors and deans and even college basketball coaches.

One of the most striking things about these briefs is the openness with which colleges admit to having racial preferences and their complete lack of sympathy for the Asian victims of discrimination.

The American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, bluntly demanded the court “not ban race-conscious admissions policies.” The University of California president and chancellors argued that “universities must retain the ability to engage in the limited consideration of race.”

A group of highly competitive schools including most of the Ivy League claimed, “No race-neutral alternative presently can fully replace race-conscious individualized and holistic review to obtain the diverse student body.” 

Without racial preferences, in other words, these schools could not achieve their desired racial mix.

A group of highly select small colleges wrote: “Amherst, for example, has determined that an entirely race-blind policy would reduce the percentage of historically underrepresented students of color in its student body—including Native American, Black, and Hispanic students—by approximately half.”

The University of Michigan argued similarly, noting a 44% drop in black undergrad enrollment after a 2006 state ban on racial discrimination in admissions. The University of California system likewise admitted fewer black and Hispanic students after Golden State voters banned discriminatory admissions in 1996—a ban voters just reiterated in 2020.

The educational establishment’s uniformity and vigor in supporting racial preferences is staggering.

If the most selective schools assessed students based on SATs, grades and other non-racial factors, they say, black and Hispanic admissions would plummet. That disparity suggests these schools have created separate racial tracks for applicants, establishing de facto illegal racial quotas using linguistic sleight-of-hand to cover their tracks.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s majority opinion in Grutter rationalized race-conscious admissions as a way for universities to choose students who would “contribute the most to the ‘robust exchange of ideas.’”

Yet, as we pointed out in our brief, “The grand judicial experiment of excusing racial discrimination in university admissions in the hope it would promote the educational objective of diversity of viewpoint has failed.”

Indeed, since Grutter, campuses have become less ideologically diverse and more intolerant of dissenting ideas. Nonpartisan surveys consistently show that students are afraid to voice opinions, in and out of class.
And no wonder: A Cato Institute poll found that just 20% of students believe their professors have a balanced mix of political views. The focus on discriminatory admissions and the growing ideological intolerance on campus are connected.

The Supreme Court faces a stark choice: Continue the nod to racial discrimination or, as Chief Justice John Roberts once wrote, hold: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

[William A. Jacobson is a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School and president of the Legal Insurrection Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to free expression and academic freedom on campuses, where Johanna E. Markind is research editor and counsel.]


 ...But all this well-laboured system of German antiquities is annihilated by a single fact, too well attested to admit of any doubt, and of too decisive a nature to leave room for any reply. The Germans, in the age of Tacitus [56-120AD], were unacquainted with the use of letters; and the use of letters is the principal circumstance that distinguishes a civilised people from a herd of savages incapable of knowledge and reflection. Without that artificial help, the human memory soon dissipates or corrupts the ideas intrusted to her charge; and the nobler faculties of mind, no longer supplied with models or with materials, gradually forget their powers; the judgment becomes feeble and lethargic, the imagination languid or irregular.

        Fully to apprehend this important truth, let us attempt, in an improved society, to calculate the immense distance between the man of learning and the illiterate peasant. The former, by reading and reflection, multiplies his own experience, and lives in distant ages and remote countries; whilst the latter, rooted to a single spot, and confined to a few years of existence, surpasses, but very little, his fellow-labourer the ox in the exercise of his mental faculties. The same, and even a greater difference will be found between nations than between individuals; and we may safely pronounce that, without some species of writing, no people has ever preserved the faithful annals of their history, ever made any considerable progress in the abstract sciences, or ever possessed, in any tolerable degree of perfection, the useful and agreeable arts of life....

Edward Gibbon
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [1776]
London: Everyman’s Library, 1993
Volume I, pp. 242-243

Wednesday, August 3, 2022


Recall that in Soviet Russia entire scientific disciplines were forbidden for ideological reasons.

Academic Freedom Alliance

July 9, 2022

…..But even though chemistry research is not ideologically controlled, I see censorship and other forms of suppression creeping into our institutions, professional societies, and even publishing. For instance, attempts to censor language, in a truly Orwellian fashion, are rather common. There are calls to stop referring to certain physical laws and equations by the names of the people who discovered them because of the real or made-up flaws in their characters. Some even want to replace certain technical terms. For example, the central concept in the field of quantum computing is “quantum supremacy.” This technical term simply means that the technology, once it is fully developed, will be superior to the existing computing technology. But some people dislike the English word “supremacy,” because the same word is used in the expression “white supremacy.” They argue that the term should be changed to “quantum advantage” or something equally silly. Professional societies and universities are issuing language guides with long lists of forbidden words. So there are a lot of small instances of censorship that you can laugh at since at the first glance they don’t seem to seriously affect science. But the danger is, once you start introducing this ideological censorship into your profession, it spreads. Today, they rewrite our technical language, tomorrow they remove the names from equations, and the day after that they will stop teaching the actual physics contained in these equations. If you think this is unlikely, recall that in Soviet Russia entire scientific disciplines were forbidden for ideological reasons. So I think it’s a very dangerous trend, and we need to resist it.

What is the purpose of a university education? 

I’m a quantum chemist, and a big fan of Niels Bohr, a founder of my field, a Nobel Prize winner, and a brilliant thinker. Once, in an argument with a colleague, Bohr exclaimed, “No, no, you’re not thinking; you’re just being logical.” It sounds funny, but this is really a profound statement. It articulates the difference between mechanical reasoning or just enumerating the facts—and an insight revealing the big picture behind them. 

The important part of a college education is learning how to think. This of course requires domain knowledge as a prerequisite, which college also provides. But domain knowledge—such as laws and facts of chemistry—is just one ingredient. What you cannot learn by just memorizing facts is how to connect the dots and to assess information critically—that’s what you acquire through a college education when it’s done properly—when students are encouraged to think and the instruction goes beyond mechanical digestion of facts. 

To give an example of why this is important, let me tell you a simple story—the story of DHMO. Imagine yourself walking down the street and seeing a group of activists with flyers and signs. They explain that they are collecting signatures to ban a certain substance called DHMO. You say, “Okay, so what is so dangerous about DHMO? Why do we need to ban it?” 

They reply, “This substance can cause suffocation if inhaled. It can cause severe burns. It contributes to the erosion of natural landscapes. It contributes to the greenhouse effect and is a major component of acid rain. It is found in tumors of terminal cancer patients. It causes accelerated corrosion and may cause electrical failures and decrease the effectiveness of automobile brakes.” 

You agree that DHMO sounds terrible. “So where is it used?”

They say, “It’s everywhere. It’s used in industries as a solvent and coolant, in nuclear power plants, in the production of styrofoam, as a fire retardant, in many forms of cruel animal research, in abortion clinics, in junk foods, as a performance-enhancing substance by elite athletes…” and so on. 

Finally, they ask, “Do you support the ban? Will you sign our petition?” 

It turns out that close to 100% of people who are approached with this question say “yes.” And every few years we hear of a politician who is championing an anti-DHMO bill in some legislature. 

What is this DHMO? DHMO stands for dihydrogen monoxide, H2O, water. 

What is the moral of the story? Every fact I stated about DHMO is 100% true. So where was the critical flaw in the decision-making? We failed to connect the dots, to critically assess causes and effects. The facts are correct, but we interpreted them wrongly. A good college education is supposed to teach you how to connect the dots and not fall victim to this sort of thing.