Sunday, March 04, 2007

In Memoriam: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.


Along with Richard Hofstadter and C. Vann Woodward, Arthur Schlesinger offered a perspective on American history that was invaluable. He died last week. (Photo taken from CNN.com.)

I was reminded of a radio interview he had with Chris Lydon a few years ago. (I am sorry I cannot find the cite.) The final Q&A went something like this:

CL -- After all these years of studying American history, what is the most important lesson you have learned?

AS -- Never underestimate the ability of the American public to become xenophobic.

2 comments:

Concerned Citizen said...

Dear Paul,

Thanks for posting this in memory of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. I have been thinking alot about his influence on the policy of deterrence and containment in the Kennedy administration. Clearer thinking seemed to prevail at that time.

Paul Levy said...

I don't know if it was always clearer thinking. After all, the Bay of Pigs invasion is a textbook example of "groupthink" in practice. But, there was certainly an attempt to reflect on mistakes made and learn for the future. So, by the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy and his folks had become much more temperate and sophisticated in foreign policy matters and avoided a dangerous escalation. On the other hand, they continued to increase our military involvement in Vietnam based on misperceptions about that country. We will never know what their next steps would have been in that region.

I guess all we can ask for is for our elected folks to have enough modesty about the world to know what they don't know, to learn from the past, and to change course when a policy is clearly in error. Also, it would be healthier for the country if they did not accuse people of being unpatriotic if they question a given foreign policy direction. All this is certainly more likely if an administration has input from a person like Schlesinger.