Saturday :: Nov 30, 2019

Book Review: The American Story, Conversations With Master Historians


by paradox

David M. Rubenstein
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 978-1-9821-2033-7 (ebook)
Copyright 2019

Idly reclining in front of the PBS Newshour last week I was intrigued to see a real historian on teevee, David Rubenstein, a Librarian of Congress, a nice articulate man with a very good idea, bringing great American historians to the Library of Congress for interviews on their works of the Presidency and great American figures, the audience bipartisan members of Congress.

Immensely grateful to Judy Woodruff for highlighting history on teevee—usually a fetid, shallow wasteland of yapping irrelevance and distraction—I bought the book and read it, startled at the beginning to see the author recall when a copy of the Magna Carta was about to leave the country, he didn’t wish it so, so he bought it.

He…bought it? Oh em gee that nice trim man with white hair is a founding partner of the Carlyle Group, geeeeeez-us Louise-us, he may be a Librarian of Congress but he’s also worth hundreds of millions of dollars, wow.

Like many good events and endeavors the idea seamlessly transmuted itself into a good book, Mr. Rubenstein recorded interviews with master historians as they closely examined some of the most important historical figures of the United States, the founders, great Presidents and figures like Charles Lindbergh.

Each chapter is devoted to its own author and historical figure, and each chapter is easily worthy of it’s own review of 2,000 words. What I’m going to do here is note two elements and then focus on Chapter 9, Jay Winik on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, there’s a critical historical criticism there that deserves serious attention. Usually I’m fanatical about keeping work at 750 words but this time I’d ask the reader’s time and patience for much more, it’s worth it.

So I’m at chapter 5 with Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson is talking about innovation and completely out of nowhere smears Al Gore, “…most people wouldn’t even know—with all respect due to Al Gore, who invented the internet…”

Hey my homie Isaacson, I thought event and quote accuracy was the cornerstone of historical recording. Until 2016 came along Election 2000 was easily the most stupid, disgraceful performance of the US journalism corps has ever inflicted upon the Republic, they took every Karl Rove lie and ran with it.

Foremost was that Al Gore said he invented the Internet, which he never did. I’m often confused by my fellow humans, these bygones, this evolution of letting go, it means not a thing to me, I’ve haven’t forgotten that hellish election or forgiven the inferno it inflicted on us. It ruined that chapter on Franklin and led to dark rumination how a serious lie can never really die.

Certainly a player in that 2000 journalism dog pile was one Cokie Roberts, who rightfully earned a reputation of horribly irritating, irrelevant centrist yap that of course did nothing but inflict regression on the Republic.

Her chapter on significant American women showed a studious, informed, humorous, detail-oriented individual with a sincere love of history and the Republic. I wish it would carry over to her work on television, but it was still good to see, and led to a serious rumination of how easy it is not to really see or perceive a person, what it means to yourself and them to incorrectly judge them.


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Chapter 9 is historian Jay Winik and his history of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the reader should understand that these modern historians are seeking a new angle or revelation on their subject, everybody and their brother has written about them for decades.

Winik has two: FDR committed a political and moral failing by running for a fourth term with terrible terminal health, and failed World War II in a moral sense by not proclaiming freedom of persecution for the Jews, much as Abraham Lincoln did for the American slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation.

I will give Winik a worthy notation on the aspect of FDR’s health, he should not have foisted an inexperienced nobody like Truman into the Presidency just 3 months into his fourth term, especially at such a critical juncture for the country. In FDR’s defense his death timing was not a known entity, of course not, with everything on the line continuous Presidency service was critical.

I certainly don’t plan to do it myself, but many human souls have deliberately chosen to die with their boots on, FDR was a fallible human, criticism of that choice gives one pause, perhaps it’s no one’s right to say how we choose to leave.

It’s this criticism of FDR for not issuing a proclamation that a political and moral cause of the war was to save the Jews as a shortcoming that I think Winik goes off the rails, this is not fair or a historically accurate comparison.

Freedom from slavery in North America 1860 is not remotely the same as Jewish persecution in Germany 1930, issuing a proclamation to save the Jews wouldn’t have anything like the moral force or justification that the Emancipation Proclamation did.

Everyone knew as the sun shined slavery was a fact, but that was not remotely the case with World War II Jewish genocide. Even as the evidence mounted and mounted through the war as to be incontrovertible strident voices still said they would not use it, it would only hurt the Allied war effort.

Jewish persecution 1930-1954 has been described as the most successful propaganda ploy of all time, in its context and environment it spit out a reasoning that nobody wants to go to war to save the Jews, along with many other heinously effective elements. Again, no one truly knew what was happening until the American armies smashed into Germany, and that was the only way to stop the Germans.

This is a very complex, multi-faceted environment and evolution, I think Winik is wrong to make this judgment but it’s still worthy of discussion and certainly not a historical path of dishonor.

The present-day relevance is screamingly present, many would state that Latino immigration policy by Trump is in fact a modern ploy of the Jewish 1930’s persecution ploy, the de-humanizing rhetoric, camps for separated children, vicious deportation by ICE.

Ask yourself this: have the 2020 Democratic Party candidates issued a proclamation that part of the election will be about stopping the racial persecution of Latino immigrants? No? Why is that?

Commitments not to separate children and a humane immigration policy, yes, but not a specific plank to stop the racial persecution of Latinos. The same hazy and multi-dimensional forces that stopped FDR are again at work here, that’s not at all to say they’re correct or right, just to get a perception how the environment won’t spit out an easy political moral dimension, even though it seems obvious.

Again no disrespect to Mr. Winik, he’s incorrect but worthy in his intentions, and my gratitude for keeping racial persecution politics to the fore in the American political discussion immense.

Gratitude, too, for Ms. Judy Woodruff and Mr. Rubenstein and their commitment to keep American history alive, so crucially important to the Republic, yes, but so bafflingly often ignored, how could it be so, this is where all the really good stories are!

paradox :: 8:11 AM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!