- What's Wrong With The New History: An Interview With David Kaiser
- Exclusive Interview With FBI Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds
- Clio Gray, The Scotsman
- Our Problem Is Indifference, Hellenic News Of America
What's Wrong With The New History: An Interview With David Kaiser
This interview was prompted by a discussion on H-Diplo about the decline of diplomatic history. Professor Kaiser, a professor of strategy and policy at the Naval War College, blogs at History Unfolding. His latest book is The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Harvard University Press, 2008).
I thought we could start with your post on H-Diplo of March 20th. Here, you express your concern for the "nearly total eclipse of the study of politics" over the last 30 years in the historical profession. What do you mean by this?
As I tried to make clear in my post, the relative eclipse of diplomatic history is one facet of a much larger problem: the near-disappearance of the study of what modern governments do, and how what they do affects their societies, based upon archival research. One rarely sees books about the passage of domestic legislation or the effects of government economic policies anymore. Compare the extent of scholarship about the New Deal era in the 1950s to the extent of historical writing about the Reagan Administration today--and keep in mind that the Reagan Administration is as far away from us now as the New Deal was then. Compare Drew Faust's The Republic of Suffering to James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom--both books which were widely reviewed and at least briefly made best-seller lists. McPherson wrote a highly sophisticated political and military history of one of the great crises in American life, taking advantage of recent scholarship. Faust took a social phenomenon--death--and analyzed it from various economic, social, and cultural aspects. Not surprisingly, her book was far less interesting to the general public. Now in fact, American foreign policy remains a relatively robust field--journals are still devoted to it, it has a professional association, and books on various topics continue to appear dealing with the actual behavior of the American government. But the whole idea of "international history" seems to me designed to provide an alternative to the study of government policy which will be more in line with the prevailing trends of the last thirty years.
To illustrate what I'm talking about by analogy I'd like to refer readers to a book that recently appeared, The Purpose of the Past, a collection of reviews and essays written by the colonial historian Gordon Wood. He treats quite a few recent works about the colonial era to show how the scholarship of the last 20-30 years has projected contemporary concerns--especially concerns about race, gender, and the supposed political power of language--onto that era. Often, as he makes clear, that can only be done by making very selective and creative use of evidence. The result--and this is one of the things that concerns me the most--are books that will not have much resonance outside of the historical profession itself.
Do you feel that our study of history is becoming less objective through these new methods?
What you have to understand is that the new history has given up the idea that the past can be recreated as it really was. If you believe that every view of the past is political, then one view is just as good as another from the standpoint of accuracy. The new history uses the past—usually pretty small snippets of it—to try to illustrate contemporary concerns, not the concerns of the past. Wood wrote very eloquently about this not too long ago in an article about recent books about slavery and the Constitution. He began by noting that we’ve been obsessed with race for the last forty years, and then noted several recent books that argued, in effect, that one of the main purposes of the new central government was to be able to deal with possible slave rebellions, and that the future of slavery was critical to many of the decisions reached in the Constitution. He showed that the latter contention in particular was a misreading of the evidence—but this is typical of what is going on.
Do you fear that the new methods, such as gender, are steadily replacing instead of assisting in our study of the interactions between states?
I hate to revisit past controversies but they do make my point. One of the first major debates on H-Diplo on these issues involved an article by Frank Costigliola about George F. Kennan's long telegram. Pointing out that Kennan repeatedly used the word "penetration" to describe Soviet behavior in Eastern and Western Europe in the wake of the Second World War, Costigliola argued that this was gendered language characterizing the Soviets as rapists. In a long exchange I asked him to say whether he was actually arguing that Kennan had that in mind, or whether he was just, in effect, adapting the word to his own purposes. I don't think he ever clearly answered that question. And that's a problem with post-modernist history, looking for "gendered" language and such in the past: they are not studying the past as such, not asking what words meant to those who used them.
Meanwhile, with respect to what the new "international history" means in practice, I can't do better than to quote William Hitchcock in our recent exchange about how "international historians" would discuss President Obama's visit to the G-7 summit:
I was thinking today as I read the news coverage of President Obama's trip to Europe: how would "international historians" write about it? Of course, we'd want to read the State Department records that will have been created in preparing for the G-20 meeting, and those will be fascinating: the Obama effort to engage Russia, the tensions between the US and Europe over global monetary and fiscal policy, the influence of China in the meeting halls. But I think we'd also want to explain the "Obama effect" - how his image has been constructed and deployed in Europe; the transatlantic (mis)-understandings about race; the gendered readings of Michelle Obama's public role; the significance of Obama's gift to the Queen - an iPod - the ultimate emblem of American consumer and popular culture. (Will the Queen use it, I wonder?) And surely we'd want to address the intensity of the riots in the streets of London's financial district, the youth-generated anti-globalization movement, and the cross-cutting understandings at elite and popular levels of the origins of the world financial crisis.
Now let me suggest a third alternative. My hope would be that in 30 years, when archives are, I hope, open, that meeting would be studied like the World Economic Conference of 1933: one episode in a long story of global economic meltdown and, I hope, eventual recovery. As William Hitchcock bows to traditional approaches in the second sentence of that paragraph, he does so with a very narrow focus on this meeting itself. That's one problem I see. But then (with considerably more enthusiasm, I would say), he raises a number of concerns which no one outside professional academia would be likely to understand. Essentially he's talking about how postmodern academics would riff (I use that word advisedly) about today's headlines, just as they riff on isolated incidents from the past. That, to me, is the essence of the "new history" of which international history is a part, and I do not find it inspiring.
I was in grad school when social history was having an impact. It--like women's history, the history of sexuality, etc., later--was sold as a way to broaden out history by adding previously understudied topics. But no, that isn't the way things have turned out. There's only so much room in the garden, and the new species are crowding out the old, and replicating themselves much faster, and "international history" is, as far as I can see, part of that process.
I might add, by the way, that Professor Hitchcock reported that his Temple undergrads are very enthusiastic about the new approaches. Perhaps they are; but I found as a visitor at Williams College two years ago that undergraduates there were delighted to do detailed, and quite traditional, investigations of the American role in the two world wars and of the Vietnam War. I had one student whose ambition was to go to grad school and study 19th-century European diplomacy—but he knew what a tough time he would have finding a place to do it, much less a job, and he has not yet decided to give it a go. I also found that, with the help of the web, I could teach those topics more effectively than I had at Harvard in the 1970s or Carnegie Mellon in the 1980s.
Courses on traditional subjects like American diplomacy, the Second World War, and the Civil War still survive on some elite campuses, and they are usually very popular. However, those who teach them are generally nearing retirement, and there will be no younger folks to replace them.
Why do you think students are seemingly more enthusiastic towards the traditional approaches?
History is real-life drama. Yes, it is more often tragic than comic or heroic; but there is an intrinsic interest to studying decisions that affect the lives of millions. Personalities of people like Wilson, Roosevelt, LBJ, Nixon, Westmoreland, etc., are also inherently interesting, as are the reactions of the Americans and other people. If you pay attention to such things it’s not difficult to show students how the events of the last century shaped the world in which they live. Students also love working with primary sources, which are now readily available at their computer. There’s not too much mystery to any of this.
On April 2, Sally Marks stated that the AHA program committee has lacked for sometime a diplomatic historian (according to her, 17 years); she goes on to list other areas of neglect by the AHA towards the diplomatic field. Do you feel that other historians have largely abandoned diplomatic historians?
All that is true. Sally Marx is (she’s retired) a European diplomatic historian, which is what I started out as. That field is completely dead as far as I can tell, with the exception of a few older people who are still hanging on. You could look through a great many catalogues without finding a course on European diplomacy in the first half of the twentieth century. I don’t think very many diplomatic historians belong to the AHA any more—I quit after the program committee had turned down two panels I submitted, one in the 1980s and one in the 1990s. That’s all discussed in an article published in Academic Questions in 2000 that I wrote called “My War with the AHA.”
You study one facet of a narrative that seems to revolve around big names. Whether it is Metternich, Talleyrand or Kissinger; foreign secretaries, envoys and diplomats have become immortalized in the study of history - World War II is in fact a perfect example of this. With so many famous and 'great' actors do you support the 'great man theory' in some shape or form?
To say that they have become "immortalized in the study of history" is to give in to the postmodernist assumption that history is simply a matter of valorizing certain people over others. The issue is not whether such men are great, the issue is that they the ones who, by virtue of the positions they occupy, make decisions upon which the lives, property and happiness of thousands, and sometimes millions of people depend. To be sure, they don't make them with complete freedom of action, but sophisticated historians have always understood that. In Politics and War I looked at four periods of general European war and concluded that in two of the four--including the last and most destructive one, from 1914 through 1945--the powers were fighting for unachievable goals. I think that was an important conclusion to reach. In American Tragedy I showed how one President, Kennedy, had refused to get into full-scale war in Southeast Asia while another, Johnson, thought he had to do so. If that doesn't prove that who is President is important than I don't know what would.
Here and elsewhere you’ve stated the problems in academia, and specifically with your field of history. I'd like to ask you if you have any possible solutions. Is it as simple as going back a few decades in practice? Is there an alternative you'd like to propose?
What would you like to see changed within your profession and within universities in regard to the study of history?
Some of the faults of the historical profession actually go back half a century--particularly specialization--although they have gotten worse. I would like to see significant numbers of historians return to the study of national and international political institutions, how they work, what their impact on society is, etc. One irony is that, as I have proven in my last book (and am now at work proving again), breakthroughs in information technology, including on-line data bases and Microsoft Excel, actually can allow a historian to record, process, and make use of information on a scale that would have been impossible even twenty years ago. But to use them, you have to want to do the research in the first place. (I have offered to demonstrate these techniques to one or two history departments but so far there have been no takers.) Most of all, if history is ever going to have any broader impact, we have to encourage and reward people who think big. That would be an enormous change.
Ironically, seeking out people who are really remarkable teachers as well as scholars would also have a good effect. Great teachers have to be able to understand many things and make them comprehensible to lay people. Those are actually critical intellectual skills. No one knows this any more, but around 1950, when James Bryant Conant started General Education at Harvard, he actually hired some stars for the purpose of creating these new courses--including David Riesman. Not even a liberal arts college, much less a major university, would make an appointment like that today. And as Alan Kors pointed out not long ago in the Wall Street Journal, a school that actually oriented itself around serious teaching would be on top of the world within five years.
Exclusive Interview With FBI Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, By Khatchig Mouradian, Hairenik.com, August 21, 2009
On April 23, 2007, I sat down in Washington, D.C. with FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds for an extensive interview, which was published in the Armenian Weekly and on ZNet and widely circulated. On Aug. 18, 2009, I conducted a follow-up phone interview with Edmonds, who was visiting New Zealand. The interview is an overview of what has transpired in her case since 2007, with emphasis on her deposition in the Schmidt vs. Krikorian case in Ohio earlier this month.
Edmonds, an FBI language specialist, was fired from her job with the FBI's Washington Field Office in March 2002. Her crime was reporting security breaches, cover-ups, blocking of intelligence, and the bribery of U.S. individuals including high-ranking officials. The "state secrets privilege" has often been invoked to block court proceedings on her case, and the U.S. Congress has even been gagged to prevent further
discussion.Edmonds uncovered, for example, a covert relationship between Turkish groups and former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who reportedly received tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in return for withdrawing the Armenian Genocide Resolution from the House floor in 2000.
Born in Iran in 1970, Edmonds received her BA in criminal justice and psychology from George Washington University, and her MA in public policy and international commerce from George Mason University. She is the founder and director of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC) and in 2006 received the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award. She speaks Turkish, Farsi, and Azerbaijani.
Below is the full transcript of the follow-up interview.
*** Khatchig Mouradian-I asked you in 2007 what had changed during the five years since 2002, when you first contacted the Senate Judiciary Committee to reveal the story on Turkish bribery of high-level U.S. officials. You said, "There has been no hearing and nobody has been held accountable. We are basically where we started..." Two more years have passed, we have a new president, and I have to ask the same question again. Has there been any change?
Sibel Edmonds-Nothing has changed. As far as the Congress is concerned, the Democrats have been the majority since November 2006 and I have had zero interest from Congress on having hearings-any hearings-on this issue, whether it's the states secrets privilege portion of it or the involved corruption cases. The current majority has been at least as bad as the previous one. At least the Republicans were gutsy enough to come and say, We're not going to touch this. But the new majority is not saying anything!
The Obama Administration is pretty new. For what I see, they are continuing the previous administration's state secrets privilege policies. As far as the whistleblower protection and related legislations are concerned, the new White House has already made it clear that they do not want to provide any protection for national security whistleblowers-these are the whistleblowers from the FBI, CIA, and all the other intelligence and law enforcement agencies and, of course, the Defense Department.
As far as the mainstream media is concerned, at least from what I have seen, the situation has actually gotten worse. To me that seems to be the major reason behind the Congress' and the White House's inaction and lack of desire to pursue accountability. As long as the pressure from the mainstream media is not there, of course they aren't going to act. They are driven by that pressure, and the mainstream media in the U.S. today does not fulfill its role and responsibility by providing that pressure.
Of the three-Congress, the executive branch, and the media-I would say the biggest culprit here is the mainstream media.
K.M.-The most recent example of the deafening silence of the mainstream media was your deposition during the Schmidt vs. Krikorian case on Aug. 8. There, you spoke, under oath, about how the Turkish government and a network of lobby groups and high-ranking U.S. officials and Congressmen have engaged in treason and blackmail.
A big story by any standards, it was only covered by Armenian newspapers and a few blogs. How do you explain this silence?
S.E.-I know field reporters who are so excited and want to chase the story. But when they went to their papers-and I'm talking about mainstream media and very good investigative journalists-their editors are refusing to touch it. When you watch the video or read the transcript, you will see how explosive the deposition was. And remember, I was speaking under oath. If by any standard, if I were to lie or be untruthful in any way, I would go to jail. I am answering these questions under oath, and yet, the mainstream media is refusing to touch it. And this is very similar to what we saw with the AIPAC/Larry Franklin case.
I have emphasized the fact that the American Turkish Council [ATC], the Turkish lobby, and these Turkish networks, they work together, in partnership with AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and JINSA [Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs]. So not only is there pressure on media outlets from the Turkish lobby and the corrupt U.S. persons involved, but they also have this pressure placed on the media via their partners from the Israel lobby-and the latter's influence on the mainstream media in the U.S. is undeniable.
The irony is that my deposition has made it to the front page of Turkish newspapers-and Turkey doesn't even pride itself with freedom of the media-yet the mainstream media has not written a single word about it.
K.M.-In an article you wrote about the 4th of July titled, "It Ain't about Hot Dogs and Fireworks," you say: "Recall the words of the Constitution Oath that all federal employees, all federal judges, all military personnel, all new citizens are required to take, step back, and pay special attention to these lines: 'support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies-foreign and domestic.' Now ask yourself who is meant by 'domestic' enemies."
Talk about these "domestic enemies."
S.E.-The domestic enemies I refer to are the U.S. officials, whether elected or appointed, who do not represent the interest of the American people-whether they are national security or foreign policy-related interests-and instead, they represent their own greed, their own financial benefit and/or foreign interests. A good example here is Dennis Hastert.
Less than three years after Vanity Fair ran a story about Hastert's covert relationship with Turkish groups, Hastert's group announced that it's the registered lobbyist for the government of Turkey receiving, $35,000 a month from the Turkish interests. How much more vindication does the American mainstream media want? This man, for years, cashed in while he was under oath to be loyal and represent American interests and the
Constitution. While in Congress, this man was not only representing foreign governments, but also foreign criminal entities. As soon as this man got out of Congress, he came out of the closet and officially became a representative of foreign interests. Bob Livingston [a former Republican Congressman from Louisiana] is another example. As soon as he got out of Congress, he registered under FARA [Foreign Agents Registration Act] to represent foreign interests. Steven Solarz [a former Democratic Congressman from New York] is yet another example.
Another prominent example is Mark Grossman at the State Department. For years, he has been representing foreign entities. In fact, he's been violating criminal laws in the U.S. And guess what? He leaves the State Department in 2005 and he's immediately placed on the payroll by a company in Turkey called Ihlas Holding, and he goes and joins a lobby and starts representing Turkish entities' interests.
These opportunities do not come when these people leave their offices. In order for these people to secure these jobs and lucrative payments, they have to serve these foreign entities while they are in office. And they have done just that!
The victims here are the American people, their national security, and the integrity of this government. And in many cases that I know about, it is about our national security-related, intelligence-related information that is being easily provided to foreign entities by these individuals. Based on the laws we have since the beginning of this nation, these people should be prosecuted criminally.
K.M.-I am reminded of the saying, "God protect me from my friends, and I'll take care of my enemies." Isn't Turkey supposed to be an ally of the U.S.?
S.E.-If you were to go and see our government's own latest report, under the espionage section, the top countries are Israel, China, with Turkey coming third or fourth. You are looking at two ally countries here, Israel and Turkey, penetrating and stealing our intelligence, military, and classified technology information.
Why would your allies penetrate your State Department, Department of Defense, and get away with it? Why would your allies want to steal from you?
K.M.-Let's talk about the Krikorian vs. Schmidt case. Specifically, why did you decide to testify and what can you say about the efforts to block your testimony?
S.E.-I was contacted by Mr. Krikorian's attorneys, who said they wanted to receive my sworn testimony and also depose me as a witness on the case they had in court. I went and checked out their case, and I saw that it involves the Turkish lobby and certain Turkish interest groups, and also, a Representative, Jean Schmidt [R-Ohio], who was receiving campaign donations from these groups. I saw, based on the publicly available information from their case that there was a pattern, and decided that my testimony would be directly relevant and extremely important to this case, despite the fact that I did not have any information specifically about Schmidt (I left the FBI in 2002). So I said yes, if they were to subpoena me and officially ask for my deposition under oath, I would provide it for them.
And then I fulfilled my obligation, as a former FBI contractor who has signed various non-disclosure agreements, to inform the FBI and the Department of Justice that I have been requested to provide my testimony and I am supposed to let you know. They had a day or so to respond. They passed the deadline. And after the deadline, they came back with some whimsical unconstitutional warning saying that under the non-disclose agreement, the FBI and the Department of Justice needed 30 days to review what I was about to testify. I had the attorneys check that and it turned out this is not legal, because oral testimony cannot be submitted-you don't know what is going to be asked in court. Therefore, the warning they gave me was unconstitutional and not legal. They didn't have any legal grounds to stop me from testifying, so I went and, under oath, during this five-hour long deposition, answered all the questions, and talked about everything I knew that had to do with Congressional corruption cases that involved various Turkish entities.
K.M.-For years now, this has been a very frustrating issue for you. Have you given up at this point? Is there any hope for change?
S.E.-On the micro level, I have given up. I have done everything anybody could possibly think of, whether it's approaching the Congress, the court, the Inspector General's office, the mainstream media, or providing testimony under oath. There's nothing left to do. It is what it is. It's being blocked.
On the macro level, I am a U.S. citizen and I am a mother. I have the obligation, the responsibility, to defend the Constitution when it's my part, my role, to make a difference. And for that, I will never give up. In the U.S., we are witnessing many elements of what we consider a police state. I expect that in countries like Iran, Turkey, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia. But we're looking at these elements in the U.S., a nation that prides itself at being at the forefront of freedom, democracy, and civil liberties. What happened to that nation?
As a mother, I want to raise my daughter in a place where she feels free to express her opinion. She is right now in a country where her mother has been silenced with gag orders and state secrets privilege.
I grew up with these and I don't want my daughter to grow up with these.
Clio Gray, The Scotsman, 19 August, 2009
FROM Balintore, the village in Easter Ross that Clio Gray has made her home, you can look across the Moray Firth to Culbin Sands, a broad sandbank near Findhorn. In the 1630s, she tells me, the original village on the site was obliterated in a freak sandstorm. People ran across fields to safety while the sand engulfed their homes. She has read about it.
Gray's world is coloured by stories like this, gems she has found in old, rare, obscure books, half-lost snippets of history. They burrow their way into her novels and stories. Writing, she says, is "just a way of bringing all those wonderful things together and making sure they're not completely lost forever."
The eyewitness account of the Findhorn sandstorm, for example, came in useful in her latest novel, The Brotherhood of Five, out this month, in which she describes a similar disaster in Thanet, at the eastern tip of Kent. It's a vivid beginning for a historical thriller, her fourth featuring missing-persons investigator Whilbert Stroop.
Sitting over a pot of tea after hours in Tain Library, where Gray is a part-time librarian, we are where she is happiest: among books. Her house, she says, is full of them. Apart from her dogs, they are her most constant companion. She plans her holidays around visits to second-hand bookshops. Her favourite solace is to reorganise her books.
She knows all her books, she says. She would know if one were missing. "I lent a few once to somebody and they never gave them back. That was a long time ago and I can tell you exactly what those books are and what's in them. I regretted it and I regret it now."
She reads voraciously: histories and travelogues, novels and nature books. She speed-reads bestsellers "to see what people are reading". When she comes across something that interests her it is catalogued, referenced, added to her personal database. No book is wasted. "Everything you read can give you a different viewpoint. It adds that bit more to your life experience, which can go into maybe the next book, or a story."
Research becomes a journey through places and times. A particularly interesting fact can change the direction of a plot. A short story might be shaped just to include one.
"When I come across a single fact that I find quite interesting, I'll follow that fact, which usually leads me to something else and then something else. And so you end up with this beautiful, serendipitous journey. I love it, it's a really pleasant way to spend your life."
Gray came to the notice of many in Scotland when she won The Scotsman & Orange Short Story Competition in 2006 with I Should Have Listened Harder, about a man facing death in a prison mine in a place called Nertchinsk (she came across it in a book).
At this time, her first novel, Guardians of the Key, was being considered by publishers Headline, after winning the Harry Bowling Prize for an unpublished book set in London. Gray knew she wanted to enter, but loathes cities in general and London in particular. She found a solution in the past - "when London was more or less a collection of villages".
Victorian London, she felt, had been the subject of enough spilled ink. But she found a period to her liking in the early 1800s. Europe was in turmoil with the aftermath of the French Revolution and the ongoing Napoleonic Wars; the industrial revolution was just around the corner. "The past is another country," she says. "I just feel it's somewhere I belong to."
All her books are infused with moments of history: London's silk traders and the relics of the city of Lucca (Guardians of the Key); the port of Odessa, and a curious Pennines mansion (The Roaring of the Labyrinth); the islands of Saareema, off the Estonian Coast, with their strange Jurassic landscape (The Envoy of the Black Pine). The art is in weaving disparate snippets into compelling historic mysteries.
Gray cheerfully ignored the advice often thrust at new writers to "write what you know". "I think writing what you know is extremely dull. How many people have lives that are interesting enough that other people want to know about? I think the better piece of advice is write what you'd like to read - you might end up with something half decent. That's what I do."
She does admit to an interest in death. She writes about turbulent times when death was an ever-present neighbour. "We do forget how close death was. It's a common theme in just about everything I write. We're very blase today, we expect to live until we're 80. Back in the 1800s, 30 per cent of the population never made it past 40. I am rather morbid, I suppose. I like reading about these things."
She does add some fairly macabre deaths of her own. In The Brotherhood of Five, a man falls - or is pushed - into a vat of molten lead, which was part of a complex of towers on the Thanet marshes for making lead shot. "I was imagining the tower, how they would melt all the lead and so forth. It was kind of obvious really, to chuck somebody in. It is quite gruesome, isn't it? But quite interesting. I tried to research it.
"I wrote to a couple of people to ask what would happen if somebody did go into a lead vat that was beginning to boil. But none of the answers that came back were much help, so in the end I just made it up. There comes a point where unless you carry out experiments by dropping cats into vats, you're never going to know. And where would you get all the lead?" She pauses, grins. "I could rustle up the cat."
From an early age, Gray, who was born in Yorkshire, showed both an interest in the macabre and a voracious appetite for information. "I was reading Hitchcock by the time I was about ten. I remember my primary school teacher called my mother in because she was worried about the deep, dark nature of things I was writing at school. I used to catalogue what colour cars went past the window, make maps of our local stream. It's all there, isn't it? The seeds."
At Leeds University, she "didn't stick to the curriculum", instead immersing herself in its idiosyncratic libraries. "I'd come across books that hadn't been issued for 70 years. Linguistic books and dialect books and books on the Armenian genocide in 1914, which no-one had ever heard of at the time. I used to spend a lot of time at the medical library, which had all these fantastically gory journals on bizarre ways people die. The difference between manual strangulation and ropes, that sort of thing." Discovering she loved research, on graduating she spent an unemployed year writing her own independent dissertation. It could have been a surprise to no-one when she got a job as a university librarian.
Seventeen years ago, after finding discarded syringes in her local park, she handed in her notice, packed her camper van and headed north. A mechanical fault at Fort William prompted a diversion to Inverness where she was referred - she still has no idea why -to Ken's Garage at Kildary in Ross-shire. She drove to Balintore, parked up and never left.
Scotland is where she started to write. "First I wrote 'world-from-your-armchair' type books, the kind of things they used to write in the 1930s. They described nature to you in a story-type manner, which is a bit of an art that has been lost now.
"It was really for my own satisfaction, I used to paint all the pictures for them." Then came four novels, which failed to find a publisher. She regrets none of it. It was all the learning of a craft.
Switching to short stories, she started entering competitions - and winning prizes. A collection of her stories, Types of Everlasting Rest, has now been published by Two Ravens Press. Her novels have established her as a writer of highly original, intricately plotted crime fiction, which has depth as well as pace. Writing in The Scotsman, Allan Massie described her as "uncommonly interesting writer" - if a slightly morbid one.
Now she is in the process of developing a new historic crime series set in Helmsdale and Brora where (she discovered in books) there was a mini-goldrush in 1868. "I think it will be good for me. You can actually get trapped in a web of your own making."
Crime interests her, she says, because it gives the writer a broad vista, a storyboard on which a range of strands can be incorporated. "I like the solving of things. It gives you quite a large vista, you can bring in quite a lot of external things.
"I can't bear reading books about failed marriages."
More than that, I suspect, crime interests her because death interests her. "The mechanics of death are quite interesting, and the implications. Someone is gone from the world. And how you can never know if there's anything on the other side. That's interesting, don't you think?"
~U The Brotherhood of Five is published by Headline, price £19.99.
Transcript: Charlie Rose interviewing Peter Balakian, August 12, 2009
Jerusalem, Ny College Presidents Discuss Education; Al Jazeera Director Analyzes Middle East-Us Politics; Memoire Explores Armenian Genocide - Part 1
CHARLIE ROSE: Welcome to the broadcast. Tonight, two college presidents, Leon Botstein of Bard College in New York, and Sari Nusseibeh of Al Quds University in Jerusalem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE ROSE: We conclude with Peter Balakian and a family memoir and a look at the Armenian genocide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER BALAKIAN, AUTHOR, TRANSLATOR: The trauma of the Armenian genocide of 1915 was buried in my family. And people would celebrate him as a bishop in the church. They never spoke about this extraordinary memoir he wrote, 71-chapter memoir that he wrote.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CHARLIE ROSE: A collaboration on education in the Middle East, Al Jazeera and the politics of the Middle East, and the Armenian genocide when we continue.
CHARLIE ROSE: Peter Balakian is here. His great uncle, Grigoris (ph) Balakian, was one of the leading Armenian intellectuals of his generation. On April 25, 1915, he was arrested along with 250 other leaders of Constantinople`s Armenian community. In 1918 he wrote a memoir "Armenian Golgotha," which offered his eyewitness account of the genocide. Peter Balakian first learned of the memoir in 1991. Now after a 10-year translation project, the book has been published in English for the first time. I am pleased to have Peter Balakian back at this table. Welcome.
PETER BALAKIAN: Thank you, Charlie. Good to be here.
CHARLIE ROSE: Nice to see you.
PETER BALAKIAN: Great to be here.
CHARLIE ROSE: The finding of the memoir. How did that happen in 1991?
PETER BALAKIAN: Strange set of circumstances. I received a magazine article from a friends cut out of a magazine in France where a commemorative ceremony had just taken place in honor of my great-uncle. And my friend wrote in the margin, "any relation?" And of course I knew who it was, because Grigoris (ph) Balakian was an honored ghost in our family. People talked about him with reverence...
CHARLIE ROSE: but they didn`t talk about what he had seen in the family, did they?
PETER BALAKIAN: That is the complexity, because the trauma of the Armenian genocide of 1915 was buried in my family. And people would celebrate him as a bishop in the church. They never spoke about this extraordinary memoir that he wrote, 71-chapter memoir that he wrote.
CHARLIE ROSE: It took then you 10 years -- how long did it take, from `91 to 2001 to...
PETER BALAKIAN: First what happened is I had to get a book in Armenian. There was a copy in the Middle East.
CHARLIE ROSE: In Beirut?
PETER BALAKIAN: Yes, right. It came from Beirut.
And then I had to find a collaborative translator to work with, and I was working on other books.
So it was a complicated process, and all in all, 10 years working on the memoir, but really almost 20 from the discovery of this lost book, this great lost memoir.
CHARLIE ROSE: It is many stories. It is the story of how he did it, just the journey of this man. It`s also a documentation of an event in history. And it`s also the political story of the denial.
PETER BALAKIAN: Absolutely.
Very much this book brings together these layers. I think there`s no doubt in the minds of scholars of this history that this is the most comprehensive and complex memoir of the Armenian genocide.
First it has some panorama. It begins in Berlin on the eve of the World War I. And it takes you then back. And he`s observing the outbreak of the war with a very fine eye as an outsider, and he`s contextualizing the Armenian genocide through setting up the war.
Then we move across Europe to Constantinople and follow him on the night of his arrest of April 24, 1915, along with the other 250 Armenian cultural leaders. And then you`re going to go on this journey northwest to this prison 200 miles away called Changari (ph), and then you`re going to follow him south into the center of Turkey, into the Toros (ph) and Amanos (ph) mountains.
And you`re witnessing all the way atrocities and the destruction of the civilization, you know, the destruction of the buildings, the schools. What Rafael Lambkin (ph) noted as an important part of genocide with is the destruction of a people`s culture.
So you`re witnessing all of this, and at the same time he is a terrific listener. So you`re not only getting his voice, but you`re getting all the people he`s listening to.
And these are Armenian survivors of course, from little children who find themselves alive in a midst of a pile of corpses, and walk away and find this priest wandering in these, you know, horrific landscapes. You`re getting those voices, but you`re also getting the voices of Turks, of Turkish perpetrators, like one captain of the Turkish police at a certain crucial part of the deportations actually opens up to my great uncle.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because he thinks he`s going on his way to his death?
PETER BALAKIAN: Absolutely. There`s no way he could be as candid as he was in that interview without feeling that this man will be dead and no one will know what I`m saying to him.
And you also get the voices of German, Austrian, and Swiss railway engineers who are working on the Berlin to Baghdad railway, because Germany is Turkey`s wartime ally, and you`re hearing their bystander witness, I would say they`re rather detached view of the massacres and the atrocities. And their voices are very valuable.
You`re also hearing righteous Turks, Turkish governors and mid-level administrators and bureaucrats who are appalled at the orders they`re receiving from the government head in Constantinople, and actually are trying to warn the Armenians in any way they can.
So all of these voices in my mind created a memoir of what I would call a polyphonic kind of acoustic.
CHARLIE ROSE: Some people who read this say that they found themselves -- how can I read another page of this? How I can read such awful atrocities often committed by tools around the farm.
PETER BALAKIAN: Killing in the Armenian genocide was done so much by hand, so much by gruesome implements -- tannery tools, farm tools, hoes, rakes, knives, and axes. And there is a lot of gore in this story. And yet the story is so remarkable in its evolution that I`m finding people are saying, "I can`t stop reading. Even though I would think the atrocity would deter me in some way, I want to keep finding out how he survives, and I want to understand more deeply how the structure of the Armenian genocide happened."
CHARLIE ROSE: Some speculate that Hitler knew about the Armenian genocide and, therefore, it was one of the things that influenced what he did.
PETER BALAKIAN: I think one of the most important links between the Armenian genocide and the Nazi genocide of the Jews of Europe can be found in Hitler`s statement made eight days before invading Poland in 1939, "Who today, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
CHARLIE ROSE: He said that eight days before he invaded Poland?
PETER BALAKIAN: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: "Who speaks...
PETER BALAKIAN: ... today of the annihilation of the Armenians."
CHARLIE ROSE: So we can do whatever we want to.
PETER BALAKIAN: We can do whatever we want to, and history gets forgotten. Who today remembers? The Armenian genocide was the most covered international human rights disaster of the second decade of the 20th century. By the late 1930s Hitler saw it disappeared down the memory hall.
CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me his story and what happened and how he was able to survive?
PETER BALAKIAN: Well, he was arrested, of course, with his notable band of 250 intellectuals and cultural leaders at Constantinople. And this night of April 24 is the night that Armenians commemorate now, the American genocide worldwide.
CHARLIE ROSE: There is no question this was planned by the central government?
PETER BALAKIAN: Absolutely none, no. You can see that there are systematic arrests happening throughout Turkey from the middle of April of 1915 on throughout the summer of 1915, village by village, city by city, town by town.
You have the routine of the town crier ordering Armenians to a central square. You have the deportation margins being set up with the provincial police. And then you have the ordering of killing squads, and this is coming from the central committee, and the killing squads were administered by something called the special organization.
And what the Turkish government did was let out some 30,000 prisoners from jails and organized them into killing bands. And it was a pretty innovative idea. I mean, let`s make use of our killing manpower. And again, I think that in some ways this can even foreshadow the Einstazgruppen that Nazis used. The Nazis did have mobile killing squads, especially in the period before the camps became the focus of mass killing.
CHARLIE ROSE: Were a million people killed in a year?
PETER BALAKIAN: I think a million people were killed between 1915 and the spring of 1916, and then another 200,000 massacred in the Syrian deserts of 1916.
So we know by the end of the summer of 1916 we have at least 1.2 million people murdered, and it`s two-thirds of the Armenian population of Turkey living on their historic homelands who were eradicated.
CHARLIE ROSE: What role does it play in Turkish politics?
PETER BALAKIAN: Well, the Armenian genocide today has become almost an obsessive issue for the Turkish government. I mean, they are spending millions of dollars a year engineering campaigns of propaganda to deny, to undermine, to sanitize, to try to rewrite mystery.
And it has become a kind, almost a lightning rod inside of Turkey, because people who want to speak truthfully about the events of 1915 often find themselves a great risk. Orhan Pamuk, Turkey`s Nobel laureate, faced trial because he mentioned the Armenian genocide, and he mentioned the word "over a million," the phrase, "over a million."
This was seen as a crime against the Turkish state.
CHARLIE ROSE: I`m struck with this thought, because this is a huge issue for the Turks as well as it is for the Armenians, and it therefore becomes in some ways, part of the political dimension as Turkey reaches out to play an increasing role in a kind of new world order.
PETER BALAKIAN: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: Turkey wants to be, is a secular state, but wants to be a transition, wants to be a bridge between the western world and the Muslim world.
PETER BALAKIAN: I think that the Armenian genocide remains a linchpin for Turkey`s modernization, because it`s an event that the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge honestly. And I think of what President Obama said in the Turkish parliament in April, very candidly, and I think very riskily, very edgy to the Turkish leadership, when he said "A unresolved history will become a burden too complicated to carry. You must dole with your past honestly." And he was referring to the events of 1915 and the extermination of the Armenians.
And I think he said it perceptively, that an unresolved history of this kind will hinder Turkey`s efforts to become that leader, become that bridge between east and west, to join the ER, because human rights remains one of that country`s biggest problems both past and present.
And I see the Armenian genocides. It`s very much connected to Turkey`s prison problems as well, because this is about dealing with minority populations and dealing with equality and democracy. And until you can acknowledge your past properly, it`s hard to go forward.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you for coming.
PETER BALAKIAN: Thanks for having me. Good to be back with you.
CHARLIE ROSE: "Armenian Golgotha, a Memoir of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1918" by Grigoris Balakian, translated by Peter Balakian with Erin Sobach.
PETER BALAKIAN: That`s right.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you for joining us. See you next time.
Our Problem Is Indifference, Hellenic News Of America, (08/21/09)By: Aleco Haralambides, President American Hellenic Institute
Some Greek-American news organizations have recently taken up a critical review of the so-called `Greek American Lobby' and the players that are involved, including organizations like ours'the American Hellenic Institute. The articles make some valid points; however, they fail to mention perhaps the most pressing problem facing these Greek American organizations and perhaps the greatest threat to Hellenism itself'Indifference. It's not that Greek Americans simply don't care if Greece or Cyprus exists, but for one reason or another, these foreign policy issues do not seem to be a priority for the average Greek American. The following are a couple of common themes.
Is there Disunity on Foreign Policy?
Some say that there is a lack of organization or that the Greek American community lacks a unified message. In fact, on an annual basis AHI releases a policy statement that is endorsed by 8 other leading Greek American organizations. This policy statement clearly sets forth our collective position relating to the foreign policy issues affecting all Hellenes'whether they are the Greek minority in Albania and Turkey, or a Thracian living on the border with Bulgaria. The fact that at least 9 Greek American/Canadian organizations agree on foreign policy is perhaps an unprecedented demonstration of unity in the Greek community. Moreover, it clearly demonstrates that disunity is not our biggest obstacle when it comes to foreign policy.
Are we out of touch with Athens and/or Lefkosia?
Another theme is an ostensible lack of communication or perhaps disharmony with the homeland'Greece or Cyprus. Generally speaking, I think that itï¿½s important to narrow the gap between Greece/Cyprus and America and the best way to avoid this problem is to visit the homeland. Our organization makes a formal trip annually to meet with different government officials in Greece and in Cyprus, which helps avoid a disjointed message on foreign policy. We also make sure to meet regularly with the Greek Embassy and Cypriot Embassy in Washington and I would say that we have developed some particularly good relationships with the Greek military. In fact, in March we attended the unrolling of twenty five F-16 fighter planes that the Greek government purchased from Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth. So, disharmony with Athens and Nicosia are really not the culprit.
Who is the culprit?
The culprit is indifference. So I recently asked a prominent Greek American friend about this indifference that I perceived and he said `Greece and Cyprus just arenï¿½t being threatened right now; things are pretty good over there¦.' My friend may have described the crux of the problem; I only wish his statement was true. The following are a few examples of international issues affecting Greece and Cyprus vis-Ã-vis United States foreign policy:
1)Cyprus: Turkey still has about 43,000 troops in occupied Cyprus and, although they seek entry into the European Union, they have given no indication whatsoever that they intend to demilitarize. As recently as June 17th of this year, Turkey sent military ships to thwart U.S.-based Noble Energy from performing oil and gas explorations that Noble had contracted to perform with the government of Cyprus.
2)Turkey: The Obama administration seems intent on creating a `special relationship' with Turkey, which is why one of the Presidentï¿½s first official visits was to Turkey. While he was there, it was laudable that the President made reference to the re-opening of the Halki Theological Seminary and Erdoganï¿½s visit on August 15th to the island of Prinkipo with His All Holiness Patriarch Batholomew gives us reason for hope. However, Turkey continues to refuse to remove its illegal troops and settlers from Cyprus and it refuses to provide full religious freedom for the Patriarchate.
So, what would happen to someone in Turkey if they were to point out the hypocrisy in Erdoganï¿½s recent public statement that the Chinese killing of 150 Uighurs (ethnic Turkic people) in Chinaï¿½s Western Xinjiang province was `genocide'? In 2005, Orham Panuk, the Nobel Prize winning ethnic Turkish author, was indicted under Turkish Article 301 for mentioning that one million Armenians were killed in Turkey. For similar reasons, Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist, was prosecuted and later killed by extremists in Turkey.
As Americans of Greek descent, we can not sit back and accept the current trajectory of U.S. foreign policy towards Turkey, which is not in the best interests of the U.S.
The good news is that it is easier than ever to take action. In seconds, we can research objective news sources on the internet; we can fire off emails capable of reaching people all over the world; and we can reach all of our friends and acquaintances simultaneously on Twitter or Facebook (I confess that I still don't know how Twitter works). One of my favorites is Wikipedia'if you find an inaccuracy on any subject, you can log on and correct it yourself! We could never do this with our college history books or an encyclopedia. It is time to make it known that 2 million Greek Americans refuse accept the status quo.