Like several local media outlets, the Seattle Times recently ran a story about the treatment of one of its hometown academics who was profiled in my book, The Professors. Like most local papers the Times also tilted its report heavily in favor the professor I had criticized. To make its defense of the indefensible plausible, the Times suppressed the heart of the case I had made both in the book and in my interview with its reporter. The academic under scrutiny is David Barash, Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington and co-author of a standard textbook used in “Peace Studies” courses. In the Times’ account Professor Barash laughed at the idea that he should be included in my book and so, in effect, did the Times itself. Without any information other than that provided by the Times, I probably would be laughing, too.
But with this information the story looks very different indeed. The first point I made both in the book and in my interview – not mentioned by the Times -- was that as a trained animal psychologist Barash was academically unqualified to write an academic text on the complex issues of geopolitics and in particular the social, cultural, and economic causes of war and peace. In other words, Barash’s co-authored text was not a scholarly work and should not be presented as such to students. It was, therefore, a perfect example of the widespread intellectual corruption in the university that The Professors was written to expose.
Academics like Barash make $100,000 plus per year for 6-9 hours work per week in the classroom; they have four month paid vacations and lifetime jobs. The minimal workload for professors is justified by the need to do research. But an animal psychologist is not qualified to do research in the field of war and peace. The granting of tenure, on the other hand, is premised on the fact that professors are credentialed as experts in a field and the very fact of their expertise means that laymen are not qualified to judge their work. That is why they require the protection of academic tenure. But if professors are going to pontificate as amateurs in areas where everyone is his own expert, why should they have any more protection than radio talk show hosts or politicians? In other words, Barash’s textbook and the academic courses based on it are a species of academic consumer fraud, and we should have the same attitude towards them as we do towards Enron officials or members of other institutions who violate procedures and laws. That was my point – entirely unreported by the Seattle Times.
I also argued that Barash’s book is an advocacy tract and therefore even if its author were academically qualified to write it, which he is not, it is not a proper book to be assigned as the basic textbook in an academic course. In other words, this is a form of indoctrination, not education. A piece of this latter point did manage to find its way into the Times account.
In the Times article, the reporter also gave Barash a platform for doing some professorial slandering of me. “Barash, a biologist by training, has taught at the UW for 33 years. As well as Peace Studies, he teaches animal behavior and evolutionary psychology. He said he felt honored to be mentioned alongside notable academics like Noam Chomsky, Paul Ehrlich, Michael Eric Dyson and Howard Zinn….Barash said his profile in the book is full of misrepresentations and inaccuracies. For instance, it claims he blames the Cuban missile crisis on the psychology of President Kennedy — when in fact his book mentions many factors, including the Soviet Union’s missile buildup. It’s just a lie. He either didn’t read the book or look it up,’ Barash said. ‘The whole thing is just a cartoon.’”
Even without the actual facts in front of one, it is obvious that this comment comes from the “Bush lied, people died,” school of political correctness. Apparently for radicals like Barish it is not possible for a conservative to miss a sentence or paragraph in a 570-page book, which is not organized in any chronological or narrative fashion. Instead, the conservative must be lying (because that’s what conservatives do, since no rational or morally decent human being could hold conservative views).
In fact, Barash and his co-author do attribute the Cuban Missile Crisis to Kennedy bravado, as the passage from his text that I actually quoted in The Professors shows. However, the Soviet missile buildup in Cuba is also mentioned in Barash’s book in a paragraph about the crisis, which is separated by a hundred pages from the one I quoted – which is why I missed it. On the one hand, then, Barash is right that I did miss that second passage. On the other, this passage only reinforces the comments I made about Barash’s text. In discussing the emplacement missiles (in a sentence or two), Barash and his co-author minimize its significance as a factor in the crisis in order to 1) present the confrontation from the perspective of the Soviet dictatorship and 2) adopt a stance of moral equivalence that will discredit the policies and position of the United States.
In this second account of the Cuban Missile Crisis in Barash’s text, it is derisively labeled “A Game of ‘Chicken’.” Barash and his co-author explain the meaning of this term by referring students to the James Dean film Rebel Without A Cause in which two teenagers drive cars off a cliff to meet a dare. In this theater of the absurd, the American president appears as an insecure adolescent who having been humiliated by the Soviets the previous year, compensates by “playing chicken” with the Soviet dictatorship over the emplacement of missiles.
The emplacement of the missiles by the dictator Nikita Khrushchev was an act that serious historians have regarded as a reckless provocation. In fact, the Soviets themselves described it as such when they removed Khrushchev some years later. But Barash and his co-author regard the emplacement of missiles as perfectly reasonable. They explain: “The most dramatic example of nuclear chicken occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the Soviet Union attempted to install medium-range nuclear missiles in Cuba, hoping to deter the United States from invading Cuba, and to ‘balance’ the American deployment of nuclear tipped missiles in Turkey (bordering the former Soviet Union) and Great Britain.” This, explanation, of course, is word for word the Soviet propaganda line of the time.
Contrary to Barash and the Kremlin propagandists, the emplacement of U.S. missiles in Turkey and Great Britain was not provocative but defensive. They were put in those locations because the Soviet Union was an aggressive dictatorship that had killed between 20 and 40 million of its own people and because the Red Army was occupying Eastern Europe and was poised to overrun Western Europe. The Red Army had previously conducted an incursion into Iran. (None of this is mentioned in the Barash text). The missiles America put in Europe and Turkey were designed to deter a Soviet invasion because the Red Army had a million plus troop advantage over the West along the Iron Curtain. To compensate for the manpower deficit the United States deployed nuclear missiles. (All this is absent too from the Barash text.) By contrast, the emplacement of missiles in Cuba actually did upset the balance of power and was an aggressive design to do so. That’s why the Soviet Union put the missiles in Cuba secretly and why the Soviet ambassador lied to Kennedy and denied the missiles were being put in place.
So how misleading is my account in The Professors of Barash’s treatment of the Cuban Missile Crisis? Here is what The Professors says about his text: “Throughout Peace and Conflict Studies, the authors justify Communist policies and actions and put those of America and Western democracies in a negative light. This one-sided tilting to America’s totalitarian enemies is evident in its treatment of the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example.”
Barash’s book has no listing for the Red Army, falsely claims that there was no civil war in Russia associated with the revolution (there was and it killed millions), mentions “Stalinism” only as a pretext used by the United States to justify its own military build up (and without letting students know what Stalinism was) provides no critical apparatus that would introduce students to a view that did not consist of pathetic apologetics for communism, begins its chapter on “Poverty as a Cause of War” by recapping the Marxist view of the world and following it with nothing that would contradict it. It is a book so atrocious in its distortion of history in favor of the “progressive” worldview that it compares the coldly calculated Tianamen Square massacre of peacefully demonstrating civilians by the soldiers and tanks of the Chinese police state to the killing of four students by Ohio national guardsmen who panicked under assault by rock-throwing radicals at Kent State.
If there is a liar in this room, it is most assuredly not me.
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