Letters to the Editor
NAS Under Fire II
Gerald Horne, May 1990
I will not quibble about your carrying advertisements in Perspectives (February 1990, p. 17); after all, that revenue might keep dues from rising again. However, I must say I did not understand the point that was being raised in the advertisement posted by the National Association of Scholars and in the future you may want to request clarity for the sake of your readers.
Much of my confusion has to do with how they use this term "Western" and "non-Western." For example, I have something of a British name, English is my primary language and the other languages I am familiar with are European (Spanish and Portuguese), and my ancestors and presumably those of my people were all here by the time the slave trade was barred in the early nineteenth century (which means that our roots go as deep as any in this country other than the indigenous). A major cause of the Civil War which led to the death of tens of thousands and led to the rewriting of the U.S. Constitution was slavery. A major domestic issue that faces us still is racism. Unfortunately, the "alleged oppression" the advertisement speaks of is all too present when one examines this history and reality. Yet, I take it from the advertisement that including the history and literature of African-Americans in the "canon" is somehow illegitimate and an example of this "non-Western" encroachment. Pray tell, I would like to know, what does "Western" mean? If it simply denotes Eurocentric derivation, we should just say that and get it over with, rather than hanging on to polite euphemisms. If "Western" civilization has roots in present day Iraq and Egypt, why could it be illegitimate to study the history and reality of such countries?
This Eurocentric emphasis may have had a rationale some years ago but at a time when the world is changing before our eyes, when a good deal of the U.S. government is being financed from Tokyo, it makes no sense. Akio Morita (chair, SONY Corp.) and Shintaro Isihara (leading Liberal Democratic Party) have a point in their The Japan that Can Say No when they suggest that this Eurocentrism is divorced from both history and reality. Indeed those who are challenging the "canon" are trying to drag this nation into the twenty-first century, so that the fate that is befalling Detroit car manufacturers does not hit the rest of us.
I wonder if this advertisement and the hysteria that lies behind it is tied precisely to this impending pre-eminence of a "non-Western" nation in the capitalist world?
Professor and Chair
Department of History
University of California, Santa Barbara