From the Letters to the Editor column of the September 2003 Perspectives

The Credibility of Historians

Hal Goldman, September 2003

This letter is in response to AHA president James M. McPherson's article, "Deconstructing Affirmative Action," which appeared in the April, 2003 issue of Perspectives.

To the Editor:

In his essay, "Deconstructing Affirmative Action" (Perspectives, April 2003), AHA President James McPherson instructs us that racial preferences in hiring and promotion were the price that young white male historians like me would have to pay for the sins of McPherson's generation. That McPherson is not affected by the policies he promotes seems not to trouble him at all. Then, in the May issue, readers were treated to his facile comparison of the war in Iraq with Southern secession and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor ("The Fruits of Preventive War," Perspectives, May 2003). Does McPherson really believe that the comparisons are apt? Could he think that comparisons between a war to topple the mass murdering Saddam—a man who buries children alive—and wars fought by those supporting slavery (the South) or genocidal imperialism (Japan) are morally coherent or analytically useful? In both articles, McPherson privileges a political agenda at the expense of moral common sense and analytical clarity—a practice far too common in our profession and one that is doing lasting damage to our credibility as historians.

—Hal Goldman
SUNY, Empire State College