james-mattis-mad-dog-be-polite-be-professional-but-have-a-plan-to-kill-everybody-you-meet-trump1

Marine General James Mattis: The “Warrior Monk”

Many are only now starting to become aware of Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, as his selection as Secretary of Defense (pending approval of a waiver of the National Security Act of 1947) has piqued the interest of anyone paying attention to the news. Yet Marines have been broadly aware of him for many years as Mattis served in the Marine Corps from 1969 to 2013. Indeed, Mattis has developed an almost cult like following among many Marines, particularly among those who served under him in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For years now, I have seen my Marine friends posting comments Mattis on social media and hearing all sorts of stories about Mattis’ bravado. I recall once having lunch a few years ago with an old Marine friend, Christopher LaVigne, with whom I had recently reconnected. I recall that at one point in our conversation, Chris, a big 6 foot 3-inch-tall former Marine Staff Sgt. who has worked as a trucker for the last 20 years, started talking about Mattis, and quoting him, even pulling up quotations on his smart phone to show to me. I recall thinking how if a former Marine, twenty years removed from the Marine Corps, saw Mattis in such affectionate terms, it suggested a lot about the impact Mattis had on the psyche of the Marine Corps more broadly, as his legend has only grown in recent years since his retirement. Continue reading

12191418_10153805183551929_7620720411729858990_n

“Objectivity” and the Classroom: Ten Historians Respond

Above Image: Myself giving a lecture on the thorny topic of historic Bosnian and Serbian relations (Nov. 2015). Based on my past experiences with students, Jacksonville seems to have a large population of both Bosnian and Serbian immigrants, sometimes resulting in somewhat heated classroom discussions of related topics if not framed well from the outset.

—————-

I have seen many of my Facebook friends post stories about political or cultural bias on college campuses, sometimes expressing concern about what sort of education their children may be getting in the classroom, followed by expressions of lament for the high costs of college tuition on top of it. On rare occasions, I have also posted such stories and expressed similar incredulity, as in the case of a recent report about one university level U.S. history course that compared the “founding fathers” with the Westboro Baptist Church. When I did, it prompted a bit of a debate with one former academic, who defended the right of professors to use hyperbole to stir class discussion and thinking about historical events from different perspectives. I can appreciate the point more generally, yet in this particular case I see the rhetoric used (as reported) as too extreme, to the point of no longer really teaching “history” by modern professional standards. Yet, as I noted, some of my colleagues appear to disagree and have a more nuanced perspective.

As a result, I had been thinking about the topic of “objectivity” in the classroom when I came across a recently released statement by the American Historical Association issued in the wake of Donald Trump’s recent election victory. Consequently, I may have initially read it in a slightly different context than many of my fellow historians. It noted:

An unusually bitter and divisive election has been followed by continuing evidence of polarization to the point of harassment seldom seen in recent American history. The American Historical Association… condemns the language and harassment that have charred the American landscape in recent weeks. The AHA… [emphasizes] mutual respect and reasoned discourse—the ongoing conversation among historians holding diverse points of view and who learn from each other. A commitment to such discourse—balancing fair and honest criticism with inclusive practices and openness to different ideas—makes possible the fruitful exchange of views, opinions, and knowledge. The American Historical Association reaffirms its commitment to mutual respect, reasoned discourse, and appreciation for humanity in its full variety. We will strive to demonstrate these values in all aspects of practice, including in our roles as teachers, researchers, and citizens.

As I read these words, I wasn’t thinking so much about how historians dialogue with each other (which I can assure you is sometimes quite inflammatory), but with our students in the classroom, a captive audience, thinking these stated ideals would apply nicely there as well. The statement does, at the end, mention that these values should be demonstrated in our roles as teachers, after all, as well as more generally.

In response, I reached out to ten historians to see if they might offer some brief thoughts on the topic of “Objectivity in the Classroom.” To be clear, I fully realize that complete or “true” objectivity is not possible, but nevertheless there are things a professor can do to insure some degree of objectivity or neutrality (“as much as humanly possible”) in how they frame and discuss sensitive political, religious, or cultural topics in the classroom. It’s interesting to note that the AHA statement cited above nowhere uses the word “objectivity,” but does emphasize “mutual respect” and “reasoned discourse” in its place.

Consequently, I was curious to see how the other historians considered such issues.

Continue reading

9780199249800

Pope Gregory VII on the Plight of Eastern Christians Prior to the First Crusade

In the wake of the Turkish victory over Byzantine forces at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, eastern Christians intensified their efforts to win military support from western Christians. Pope Gregory VII’s letters, written in the years that immediately followed, are an important source for highlighting how (at least some) western Christians interpreted the plight of eastern Christians at this time and the pope’s efforts to provide military aid. This brief post provides some selections from a few of those letters to give a sense of Gregory’s concerns.

Although the letters suggest a deep sympathy for eastern Christians and a genuine passion for providing them with western military aid in the form of an army under the pope’s leadership, Gregory was ultimately unsuccessful due in part to his conflicts with Henry IV during the Investiture Controversy. Nevertheless, both his concerns and his efforts reflect some interesting similarities with the circumstances leading to Pope Urban II’s approach to the calling of the First Crusade two decades later in 1095. Continue reading

congdebate

Congressional Debates at FSCJ: How My Students Responded

So far as I know, my brother and I are the first in our family to complete our college degrees. My father had spent much of his life as an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy and then had a successful career in the restaurant business before passing away when I was nine years old. My mother was only a high school graduate, but had a love of books and a respect for education that she passed on to her children. Perhaps due to my mother’s influence, although coming from a family with no background in higher education, both my brother and I eventually completed graduate degrees. But this came only after both of us served as enlisted men in the Marine Corps and working a variety of (sometimes dreadful) jobs as civilians. In my mid 20s, I would have never suspected that I would eventually earn a doctorate from the University of Florida and become a college professor, which I see as a vocation rather than a job.

Consequently, I also never envisioned some of the unique opportunities I have had in the last few years as a result of working at FSCJ. Among those unique opportunities, moderating two recent U.S. congressional debates hosted by my college (and its Student Government Association) certainly rank high on any such list. Indeed, recently an excellent team of administrators[i] at my college put together two wonderfully organized debates for the 4th Congressional District’s Republican Primary and the 4th Congressional District General Election. During both debates, I had the opportunity to serve as a co-moderator, along with my highly talented colleague Professor Cynthia Counsil. It was fascinating to be a part of this process and so I want to reflect on those experiences here and the value of such events for the college community and our students. Continue reading

innozenz3

Pope Innocent III : Reprimand of Peter, a Papal Legate, for the Sack of Constantinople- July 1204

See also: Apology for the Fourth Crusade

Provided below is both a partial English translation as well as the full original Latin text of Pope Innocent III’s letter no. CXXVI. PETRO, TITULI SANCTI MARCELLI APOSTOLICAE SEDIS LEGATO, PRESBYTERO CARDINALI. Reprehendit legatum, deseruisse terram sanctam, etc. (VI Id. Julii.). The translation is by James Brundage and the Latin text is taken from the Patrologia Latina, Vol. 215:136.

The letter was written by the pope in the wake of the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the participants of the Fourth Crusade. The crusaders’ original goal was Egypt, but the crusade was diverted as a result of financial problems resulting from debts owed to the Venetians and a deal made with Alexios IV to restore his deposed father Isaac II to the Byzantine throne.

Continue reading

frankopan

Byzantine Recruitment of Western Warriors before the First Crusade: Peter Frankopan’s Call from the East

I have long thought that Oxford historian Peter Frankopan’s The First Crusade: The Call from the East (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012) is one of the more interesting and important recent books for understanding the circumstances leading up to the calling of the First Crusade in 1095. His emphasis on Byzantine efforts to win western Christian military support in their conflict with Muslim forces in the East provides an up to date and robust consideration of the issue that is lacking in many other works that consider the era of the First Crusade.

The late Jonathan Riley-Smith and others have documented how many Latin-Christian participants of the First Crusade cited (in their charters) their desire to aid suffering fellow Christians in the east as a rationale for joining the First Crusade. This is also a prominent theme in the surviving accounts of Pope Urban II’s calling of the First Crusade in his speech at Clermont. So sources show that western Christians were (at least in part) inspired to join the crusade to go to the aid of eastern Christians who portrayed themselves as under siege by Muslim forces.

Frankopan’s work, particularly chapter six, gives a good sense of why western Christians believed this based on his analysis of extensive Byzantine efforts to cultivate and win such military support. Here are some interesting observations from that chapter that reflect the situation prior to the calling of the First Crusade and extensive Byzantine efforts to recruit western fighters. Continue reading

the_better_angels_of_our_nature

Ranking Historic Atrocities: Pinker’s “Better Angels.”

I have been swamped recently, but regardless of how busy I get, I try to make time for reading of one type or another. In this case I have recently started to reexamine Steven Pinker’s much debated book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined (Viking, 2011). For those unfamiliar with the book, Pinker argues that, in contrast to modern assumptions that the modern age (World War I, World War II, etc…) has been more violent than the past, violence has actually declined in the modern era in comparison to past centuries.

Various aspects of Pinker’s many arguments related to his thesis have been praised or criticized by scholars in a variety of fields and disciplines. I do not intend to add to either those praises or criticisms here. First, so much has already been written about Pinker’s book that I am very late to the party. I also do not have the time, at this busy point in the semester, to offer any substantive analysis.

But regardless of where one falls in their estimate of Pinker’s arguments, his book contains a lot of interesting information that can provide useful fodder for classroom discussions on the topic of historical violence in human societies, particularly (perhaps) in a world history survey course. One example is the chart (borrowed from Matthew White- who has since updated his figures and rankings) laid out on page 195, which ranks the 21 greatest causes of death (related to violence in one form or another) in human history.

Pinker notes: “’The twentieth-century was the bloodiest in history” is a cliché that has been used to indict a vast range of demons, including atheism, Darwin, government, science, capitalism, communism, the ideal of progress, and the male gender. But is it true?” (page 193)

Pinker then cites the above mentioned chart, which lists seven of the ten greatest death tolls in history as taking place Continue reading