The estimable Heather Cox Richardson sympathizes with George Will in his despair over Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Reagan. Will decries “today’s cultural pathology of self-validating vehemence with blustery certitudes substituting for evidence.”
Just so. But one recalls this example of “the Magisterial Mr. Will” (oh yes, dear readers, for that is how he was billed in his own byline) taking on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, David M. Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear: “There they go again,” the high-minded magister wrote, borrowing from Ronald Reagan, “The Pulitzer prizes have been awarded, and the prize for history went to David M. Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear.… Kennedy’s volume can be skipped.”
Why? Kennedy mentioned that Americans might have reflected, after the Allied victory in the Second World War, that they had been slow to recognize the Nazi threat, reluctant to offer sanctuary to refugees, and dependent on Russian bodies to win the war; that they should have avoided committing atrocities in the Pacific, interning Japanese Americans, and indeed perhaps war with Japan; that they had fought with a racially segregated military; that the air war qualified as “terror bombing”; that Roosevelt’s postwar planning depended on nothing so much as Roosevelt being in charge of it—which, of course, he was not.
Some of these points are arguable, I believe. But Mr. Will did not argue them, magisterially or otherwise. Instead, he retorted,
Well, yes, they might have “reflected with some discomfort” on that coagulation of late-20th-century academic conventional wisdom. They preferred — silly them — simply to say: We won, and a good thing, too.
Do not read this book. And if any of your children wind up at Stanford, where Prof. Kennedy teaches, tell them to shun his classes.
Now, this magisterial maelstrom manifested itself some years after my own time studying at Stanford so I have no idea whether bowtied bands of magisterially motivated protesters hoisted signs demanding Kennedy retract his remarks and approve forthwith of isolationism first and wartime atrocities second (in that order), but stop for a moment and contemplate what counted for serious historical critique from Mr. Will back in those days: asking for a boycott of a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian’s lectures.
To my eye, admittedly untrained in the nice distinctions between bowtied bombast and the Fox News flavor, that magisterial move looks rather symptomatic of a “pathology of self-validating vehemence with blustery certitudes substituting for evidence.”
Mr. Will has, to borrow from one of those unapologetic air warriors, sown the wind, and reaps accordingly.