There are small errors that are trivial in themselves, but illustrative of his carelessness. Some readers may find him overly harsh on Te and Clinton, but I think the criticisms are fair. Brilliantly written by a prize-winning historian, The Unfinished Journey, Sixth Edition, is an essential text for all students of recent American history. Read, highlight, and take notes, across web, tablet, and phone. In this new edition, Chafe provides a nuanced yet unabashed assessment of George W.
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Isaiah Berlin, a far more competent historian than Mr. William H. Chafe, maintained that the first duty of the historian is to rigorously say what happened. One would think that principle applied with special force to the author of a twelfth-grade history text, but Mr. Chafe seems never to have heard of such a concept. This supposed textbook is not history at all, but a personal essay, subjective and slanted.
Just the factual mistakes are astonishing. But As awful as a history text could be. But worse, Chafe packages his jumble of opinions and distortions as objective history. It is an allowable exaggeration to say that the book reads as if it were spewed out over a single weekend in a Berkeley commune. Wilson never said that. Chafe is not to be troubled with researching facts, but simply remembers loosely, in keeping with his preconceptions. In displaying the silliness as he deems it of the Cold War, Chafe proclaims, "At no time did Russia constitute a military threat to the United States".
No doubt Chafe could picture his year-old pupils at the dinner table, challenging their parents and citing him as authority for that staggeringly ignorant assertion. The tens of thousands of tanks, planes, and artillery pieces arrayed against the Western democracies in central Europe were just decoration, one would suppose.
As for threat to our homeland, Chafe neglects to mention that the Soviet Union had more nuclear warheads aimed at our territory than we had aimed at theirs. Ah, but the Soviets were pure of heart, I guess. There are small errors that are trivial in themselves, but illustrative of his carelessness. He puts "Casablanca" in the wrong year, for example. No big deal, except he had just detained us with a long discourse on the movies of the era, strutting his expertise.
No true movie buff would commit the "Casablanca" gaffe. In addition to pure errors, Chafe is distortively selective. He expatiates about "big business", labor, "consumerism", and social welfare. But he says nothing at all on the larger subject of the contending schools of economic thought, one of he most consequential intellectual debates of the century only a few offhand disparagments of "ideological" Reaganomics.
The errors and distortions are especially obvious in his treatment of the Vietnam War. He devotes a hundred pages to it, but he says nothing about the military strategies of the contending sides, their strengths and weaknesses. Chafe features, as an emblem of "the end result" of the war, the notorious quote from an American officer that "we had to destroy the village in order to save it". He identifies the village as Bien Hoa.
Bien Hoa is not a village at all, but a large urban suburb of Saigon, and the site of a huge U. The actual village was Ben Suc, a rural hamlet in the communist-controlled Iron Triangle to the north. No one with even a rudimentary knowledge of the country would make this mistake. It is equivalent to confusing London with Antwerp. His ignorance is not just geographical, but racial and cultural as well. He subscribes to the racialist notion, reminiscent of the Jim Crow South, that the Vietnamese people are different from us, innately primitive and sluggish, unsuited to democracy and uninterested in freedom.
This is not just incorrect, but laughable. He overflows with opinions about Vietnam, but knows next to nothing of he place. Chafe almost crows over the My Lai massacre of civilians, an isolated crime by a renegade platoon, and holds it to be "the ultimate consequence" of the general American attitude.
But he holds the systematic, high-command-ordered communist execution of civilians at Hue the same year to be so inconsequential as not to be worth mentioning. Instead of history, this book is in the nature of a sermon. Someone once said "No life is completlely wasted. It can always serve as a bad example. It was relatively easy to get through.
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