Jon Wiener

7 Questions for Bill Maher

This article originally appeared at The Nation, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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'Django Unchained': Quentin Tarantino’s Answer to Spielberg’s 'Lincoln'

Two films about American slavery in the Civil War era are currently playing in theaters.
Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln begins with a black soldier reciting the Gettysburg Address.
Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained begins with a black slave being recruited to kill two white murderers.
In Spielberg’s film, the leading black female character is a humble seamstress in the White House whose eyes fill with tears of gratitude when Congress votes to abolish slavery.
In Tarantino’s film, the leading black female character (Kerry Washington) is a defiant slave who has been branded on the face as a punishment for running away, and is forced—by Leonardo DiCaprio—to work as a prostitute.
In Spielberg’s film, all the black people are good.
Tarantino’s film features “the biggest, nastiest ‘Uncle Tom’ ever”—played by Samuel Jackson—who is insanely loyal to his evil white master, and savage in his treatment of fellow slaves.
In Spielberg’s film, old white men make history, and black people thank them for giving them their freedom.
In Tarantino’s, a black gunslinger goes after the white slavemaster with homicidal vengeance.
In Spielberg’s film, Daniel Day-Lewis is magnficent as Lincoln.
In Tarantino’s, Jamie Foxx is magnificent as Django.
Spielberg says the history in Lincoln is true. Tarantino says the history in Django Unchained is “very right on. In fact, if anything, I’m actually holding back somewhat from some of the more extreme stuff.”
Spielberg’s film displays the director’s “integrity and seriousness of purpose.” (Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker)
Tarantino’s displays the director’s “signature rococo verbal theatrics, outlandish humor and flair for both embracing and subverting genre conventions.” (Christopher Wallenberg, Boston Globe)
Spielberg’s film is “a stirring reminder that politics can be noble.” (Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News)
Tarantino’s is “unwholesome, deplorable and delicious” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian), but never lets us forget the brutal reality of slavery.
Did Lincoln free the slaves, or did slaves fight to free themselves? Check out Jon Wiener on the historical problems with Lincoln. 

5 Worst Political Books of the Year

Back to Work, by Bill Clinton

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Why the Democrats Will Win in California

When the votes are counted on Tuesday night in California, Democrats will easily sweep the top contests. Senator Barbara Boxer is likely to defeat challenger Carly Fiorina, 51-46 percent (Nate Silver’s projection at 538.com), and last week’s California Field poll shows Democrat Jerry Brown ahead of Republican Meg Whitman in the gubernatorial race by ten points.

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Senator Al Franken? No Longer a Longshot

The latest poll of Minnesota voters shows Republican Senator Norm Coleman, up for re-election in 2008, with 49 per cent, and Democratic challenger Al Franken at 42 -- a seven-point spread. Four months ago, Coleman was ahead by 22. The reason for Coleman's shocking collapse in the polls? He's been supporting Bush on the war.

Any incumbent with less than 50 per cent in the polls a year before the election is considered to be in trouble. Coleman is in trouble, according to the SurveyUSA poll released July 30, especially with women, independents and Twin Cities voters.

Defeating Norm Coleman would be a particularly sweet victory for the anti-war movement. In his college days at Hofstra, Coleman was a prominent opponent of the Vietnam war. The school suspended him in 1970 for participating in a sit-in protesting the Kent State killings. He first won office in St. Paul as a Democrat, chaired the 1996 Senate campaign of Paul Wellstone, and then switched parties and ran for the Senate in 2002 against Wellstone. Wellstone died in a plane crash a week before that election, and Norm Coleman went to the Senate.

Coleman's support for the war has made him the target of both the national Democratic party and independent antiwar groups. The Democrats are already running a TV ad campaign criticizing him for opposing the troop pullout vote in the Senate on July 12. Al Franken ran a full-page newspaper ad highlighting the same vote. (He also has a terrific YouTube video, showing his mastery of the new medium -- he knows he's talking to one person at a time, rather than to 200 million at once.)

Coleman has also been targeted by organizers from the antiwar group Iraq Summer, which, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, has persuaded two dozen of Coleman's neighbors in St. Paul to put up lawn signs condemning his support for the war. Americans United for Change is also running a strong TV ad attacking his support for the war.

Coleman has fought back -- not on the war (he recently said, "We are going to be in Iraq a long time"), but rather on Franken's ties to out-of-state money. The latest fundraising reports showed that Franken raised more than Coleman, $1.9 million in the quarter than ended June 30, while Coleman raised $1.5 million. But Coleman said that only 18 per cent of Franken's money came from inside Minnesota, while 50 per cent of his money did. Franken's out-of-state contributors include Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Maher and Dan Aykroyd, which led the Coleman camp to declare, "No matter how many millions he raises from his far-left friends outside our state, Al Franken won't be able to convince Minnesotans he has the temperament, demeanor and experience necessary for the U.S. Senate." Franken responded that he got more people from Minnesota to contribute to his campaign than Coleman did, especially in small contributions.


Al Franken gets the credit for leading in fundraising, but he doesn't get the credit for Coleman's poor showing in the polls. Coleman fares just as badly against the other declared Democratic candidate, attorney Mike Ciresi. And Coleman remains below that crucial 50 percent line even when matched against a virtual unknown, activist Jim Cohen.

Before Franken can take on Norm Coleman, he has to defeat Mike Ciresi in the Democratic primary. Ciresi gained national fame as the state attorney general who defeated Big Tobacco. Like Franken, he's a good Minnesota liberal who is opposed to the war. He's also independently wealthy. He ran in the 2000 primary and lost. The state party will endorse one of them at its convention next June.


Norm Coleman is not alone among Republican senators facing reelection in 2008 who have made themselves vulnerable by supporting the war. In New Hampshire, John E. Sununu trails one possible Democratic challenger 57 to 22. In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell is polling at 48 per cent approval. In Maine, Susan Collins is considered vulnerable, as is Gordon Smith in Oregon, even though he is now calling for a US troop withdrawal.


Meanwhile back in Minnesota the Republican senator is not running away from the President. On the contrary, Bush is coming to Minnesota on August 21 for a Coleman fundraiser in suburban Eden Prairie. That will be less than three weeks after the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, and after Minnesotans were reminded by a Star-Tribune columnist that Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed a tax increase last spring that would have funded infrastructure repair. Democrats see the Bush event as a gift.

Government Documents Are Declassified in Name Only

On December 31 at midnight, hundreds of millions of pages of secret government documents were automatically declassified -- the result of President Bush's Executive Order on Declassification, which covers all national security documents 25 years old or older.

They included 270 million pages of FBI files, according to the New York Times, covering, among other topics, the civil rights movement, 1960s anti-war protests and organized crime up to 1981. In all of American history, there has never been anything like this avalanche of information.

But if you called the National Archives on Wednesday, as I did (it was closed Tuesday for the national day of mourning for President Ford), you would have been told that none of these newly declassified documents are available -- and won't be, maybe for years.

Automatic declassification is a wonderful idea. "Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their Government" -- that's what President Clinton wrote when he ordered 25-year automatic declassification in 1995. The target date for compliance was extended several times, but then, in 2003, Bush surprised his critics by setting a firm deadline. Over the years, some documents were released in anticipation of the deadline.

But the obstacles to actually seeing the vast majority of these documents anytime soon are huge. Declassification, it turns out, is not the same as release. Some documents will remain classified, and others will be declassified but still withheld. Bush's executive order specifies nine grounds for exemptions, and dozens of other existing laws restrict the release of certain kinds of information.

Many restrictions are reasonable: The Privacy Act, for instance, prohibits release to a third party of any government information on a living person -- so I can't get your FBI file, and you can't get mine. The Atomic Energy Act protects information on how to build nuclear weapons.

Some of the exemptions, however, are more troublesome and can easily provide excuses to agencies that want to keep secrets. One, for instance, covers information that might "reveal the identity of a confidential human source."

Obviously, people who have been promised confidentiality should not have their names released. But the FBI has extended that principle (which is also part of the Freedom of Information Act) to cover not just the names of sources but also the information they provided. The bureau argued that release of the information might lead a knowledgeable person to figure out the source's identity. On this basis, all information provided by all confidential sources could be withheld.

Also exempt: information that might reveal the FBI's "sources and methods." In the past, the FBI has claimed this exemption for information obtained through wiretaps -- because a wiretap is a "source and method" -- even though it's not exactly a secret that the FBI uses wiretaps. But if you withhold all the information provided by informants and wiretaps, not much is left except for newspaper clippings.

Then there's the exemption for information provided by a foreign government. This is the one that tripped me up in my 23-year battle to get John Lennon's FBI files. The last 10 documents were released last month -- but rather than revealing sensitive foreign intelligence that would compromise an allied government, they contained only innocuous information about Lennon's antiwar activities in London in 1971 that had always been publicly known.

Thus the policy known as "automatic declassification" does not in fact mean that 25-year-old national security information will be automatically declassified. It means that the material must be, in the words of the Justice Department, "reviewed for declassification, exemption, and/or referral to other government agencies."

The last phrase, "referral to other government agencies" sounds benign but in fact provides a huge loophole. The Justice Department, for example, reported that in 2006 it reviewed 57 million pages, of which 11 million -- 20% -- were declassified, while 46 million pages, or 80%, were referred to other agencies.

Virtually all important documents involve multiple agencies. If you wanted to look, say, at Reagan-era memos about U.S. support for Saddam Hussein, those meetings probably involved the CIA, the National Security Council and the Defense and State departments. If even one of those agencies wanted to withhold a document, it would be withheld. (There is a deadline for the processing of the material that has been referred to other agencies -- three more years.)

And there is one more huge obstacle. Documents that are deemed releasable are to be sent to the National Archives, which is then supposed to make them available to the public. But the National Archives already has a backlog of 400 million pages. Oh, and its budget for next year has been cut.

Congress needs to appropriate additional funds for the National Archives if the 25-year automatic-declassification policy is to have any meaning. This may not be on the agenda for the Democrats' first 100 hours -- but it ought to be in their first 100 days. Rep. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut chair the responsible House and Senate committees. They should take the lead because the American people should be informed about the activities of their government.

John Lennon and the Politics of Deportation

The new documentary "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" tells the story of Lennon's transformation from loveable moptop to antiwar activist, and recounts the facts about Richard Nixon's campaign to deport him in 1972 in an effort to silence him as a voice of the peace movement. The filmmakers got lots of people to talk about Nixon and Lennon on camera, including Walter Cronkite, Gore Vidal, Mario Cuomo, George McGovern, Angela Davis and Bobby Seale, with G. Gordon Liddy representing the other side; the film also includes archival footage of Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, and stars John Lennon and his biting wit and great music. It opens Sept. 15 in Los Angeles and New York City, and nationwide on Sept. 29. The story of Nixon's attempt to deport Lennon is relevant today because deportation, and the larger issue of immigrants' political rights, has become a central problem in American politics.

The Lennon deportation case had an unusual genesis, when Strom Thurmond, Republican senator from South Carolina, sent a letter to the White House in 1972. Thurmond outlined Lennon's plans for a U.S. concert tour that would combine rock music with antiwar organizing and voter registration -- 1972 was the first year that 18-year-olds were given the right to vote, and Nixon was up for reelection and worried about 11 million new voters who were probably all Beatle fans and mostly antiwar. Thurmond's memo observed that Lennon was in the United States as a British citizen, and concluded "deportation would be a strategic counter-measure."

The rest of the story is documented in the Lennon FBI files, which I requested under the Freedom of Information Act in 1981, shortly after Lennon was killed. The FBI declared it had 281 pages of files on Lennon, but was withholding most of them, claiming they were "national security" documents. The bulk of those files were released under the FOIA in 1997, after 15 years of litigation -- I was the plaintiff, represented by the ACLU of Southern California and Morrison & Foerster LLP -- and published in 2000 in my book "Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files."

The story of Nixon versus Lennon ended, of course, with Nixon leaving the White House, and Lennon staying in the USA. But Lennon was not only world-famous; although he was a "foreigner," he was a white man from Britain. What if he had been a dark-skinned man from a Muslim country? The George W. Bush administration has gone far beyond Nixon in using immigration law to prevent critics of U.S. policy from entering the country, and to get rid of noncitizens whom the White House doesn't like.

Lennon was permitted to enter the U.S. in 1970, but musicians and artists of all kinds seeking to visit the U.S. have faced immense new obstacles since Sept. 11. A new law, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002, requires that people seeking to travel to the U.S. from one of seven countries appearing on a State Department list of "state sponsors of terrorism" undergo extra background checks. The result is not exactly censorship, because in the age of mechanical reproduction these artists' films and music can still be seen and heard here. Nevertheless, the crackdown does represent a form of politically motivated attack on artists the government considers undesirable for political reasons.

Among the most prominent people to be targeted by the INS were the 22 members of the Cuban delegation to the 2002 Latin Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, blocked from attending. One of those denied a visa was jazz pianist Chucho Valdes, who won that year's Latin Grammy for best pop instrumental album. (Cuba has been described by the Bush administration as a nation that has assisted Al Qaeda -- an absurd argument.) Also, the internationally acclaimed Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami, who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1997 for "A Taste of Cherry," was unable to get a visa to attend the premiere of his new film at the 2002 New York Film Festival. Kiarostami had previously visited the United States seven times. These cases were more outrageous than Lennon's, not only because Americans were denied the opportunity to see and hear these artists in person, but also because they were targeted by the INS not for any actions of theirs as individuals -- they were targeted only because of their national backgrounds, because they came from countries the Bush administration defined as enemies of the U.S.

Then there are the young men from Muslim countries who have been rounded up by the INS since 9/11 and deported; unlike Lennon, they were not outspoken critics of American foreign policy. Their offense was simply being young, male and Muslim. According to Human Rights Watch, in the weeks after 9/11 the Justice Department required thousands of noncitizens from a list of Muslim countries to report to authorities for interviews and fingerprinting; at least 760 noncitizens were arrested and detained on immigration charges. Many were held for months without being charged with any crime, denied the right to counsel and the possibility of release on bond, subjected to "excessively harsh conditions of confinement that included cases of physical and verbal abuse," and then put on trial in secret deportation hearings. Secret trials are anathema to democracy, and a year later a federal appeals court struck down the government's blanket policy of conducting secret deportation hearings in post-9/11 cases as a violation of the First Amendment.

If Bush has dramatically increased the number of foreigners denied entry into the U.S. for political reasons, Nixon pointed the way with Lennon. But Nixon was hardly the first to use American immigration law to deport "undesirable" radicals who weren't citizens. Wartime has often seen efforts to silence antiwar activists, and Lennon's case has some uncanny parallels to opponents of the U.S. entry into World War I. The anarchist leader Emma Goldman was deported in 1919 after speaking out against World War I and in favor of anarchism. She was an immigrant who became a citizen but had been stripped of her citizenship in 1908 on the grounds that she was an anarchist. That made her subject to deportation under the Sedition Act of 1918, which gave the federal government the power to declare noncitizens "undesirable aliens" and deport them. Thousands of other antiwar radicals were deported along with her. (The same law included a wholesale attack on freedom of speech -- it made it a crime to use "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the government, the flag or the military forces during war, and it banned antiwar publications from the mail.)

The Sedition Act was repealed in 1921, so Nixon did not have the power to declare Lennon an "undesirable alien" and deport him on those grounds. Instead, the Nixon administration argued that Lennon had been wrongly admitted to the U.S. in the first place -- because under then-existing immigration law, anyone with a drug conviction, no matter how minor, no matter what the circumstances, was ineligible for admission to the U.S., and Lennon had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of cannabis in London in 1968. (He claimed the hashish had been planted by the police.)

During World War II, of course, the government put those it considered undesirable aliens in detention rather than deporting them -- and of course many of the 150,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans sent to Manzanar and other "relocation centers" were not antiwar activists or noncitizens; virtually all were loyal to the U.S., and a third were citizens.

Cold War government repression brought another wave of deportation. Several commentators have said the only precedent for kicking an outspoken radical like Lennon out of the country was the attack on Charlie Chaplin, who like Lennon had remained a British citizen after moving to the U.S. Chaplin was targeted by the FBI's Hoover and other McCarthyites, and denounced for "un-American activities" and communist sympathies. He was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 but got his hearing postponed three times and never did appear. In 1952 he visited London for the premiere of his new film "Limelight." While he was in England the Immigration Service revoked his permit to reenter the U.S., so he decided to make his home in Vevey, Switzerland. Lennon, perhaps aware of Chaplin's story, did not leave the U.S. while his immigration hearing was pending, and he did not meet Chaplin's fate.

In some ways the closest parallel to Lennon's case is Picasso's. In 1950, Pablo Picasso applied for a visa to the United States for the first time. The purpose of the artist's visit was to lead 12 delegates from the World Congress of Peace Partisans to Washington in an effort to persuade President Truman and the U.S. Congress to ban the atomic bomb. The peace congress, which had been founded a year earlier in Paris and Prague, was a communist front and had been identified as such. And Picasso himself was a prominent member of the French Communist Party; the FBI had monitored him since 1944. After consulting the American embassies in Paris and Moscow, and conferring with senators, House members and the FBI, the State Department in March 1950 denied visas for the entire delegation, including Picasso. The grounds were that the "famous painter" and his colleagues in the delegation were "known communists and fellow travelers" and thus "subject to exclusion under the immigration laws." It was big news: The New York Times ran a picture of Picasso on page 9 under the headline "Denied Entry to U.S."

Picasso's politics that year could be summed up with one word: "peace." This was the year he painted the dove as symbol of peace, an image that became the icon of the world peace movement of the 1950s, reproduced on posters and postage stamps around the world. The dove was Picasso's version of "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

Lennon too was denied a visa when he applied to enter the U.S. in 1969 for his peace campaign -- he wanted to hold a "bed-in for peace" in the U.S. along the lines of the bed-in in Amsterdam, where he and Yoko had declared their honeymoon a political protest and spent a week in bed at the Amsterdam Hilton giving interviews about their antiwar stance. After being denied entry to the U.S., Lennon went to Canada, where he hoped to reach the U.S. media across the border. At the second bed-in for peace, in Montreal, he recorded "Give Peace a Chance." But the following year he was admitted to the United States, and so, unlike Picasso, he was able to conduct his peace campaign within the U.S.

The big issue behind the story of "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" is White House abuse of power, especially the power to deport radicals, activists and critics of the president. The question is what we can do to fight that kind of abuse of power today. Some people say "we need a new John Lennon to lead the fight." But Lennon himself had a much better answer, which, typically, he put into a song: "Power to the people." The only real solution to abuse of power at the top is to strengthen democracy at the bottom, to help mobilize ordinary people to fight for their rights -- including the rights of noncitizens. Even though John Lennon was one of the most famous people in the world, and a person with plenty money for lawyers, he needed a lot of help to win his case. Today's targets of the Bush administration immigration service need a lot more help -- and it's up to those of us who have the rights of citizenship to provide it.

Remembering Eugene McCarthy

When I read that Gene McCarthy died on December 10, I remembered how he had called me last year after I wrote about him in The Nation. I had said he was "a mysterious and frustrating figure," and that "nothing he did before 1968 hinted that he would become the liberals' antiwar leader ... and nothing he did after 1968 accomplished much of anything." (The piece was a review of a biography by Dominic Sandbrook,"No Success Like Failure," which was published May 3, 2004.)

McCarthy made history in 1968 when he became the only Democrat with the courage to mount an antiwar challenge to LBJ's reelection. His victory in the New Hampshire primary in February 1968 was the brightest moment of a campaign that soon turned dark, with the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in June and the police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

But I couldn't forget the critique of the 1968 McCarthy campaign made by my father, a good Minnesota Democrat. Look at how the 1968 campaign ended, he said: McCarthy split the Democrats, Nixon won in November, and he kept the war going for another five years. Fifteen thousand more Americans were killed, and -- we might add -- Americans killed something like a million more Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians.

I replied that Humphrey was to blame for failing to adopt an antiwar position and thereby losing the election.

The mystery of Gene McCarthy was that before 1968 he had never been a maverick, a rebel or a peacenik. Throughout his career in the House and Senate before 1968, he had been a conventional cold war liberal, a fierce anti-Communist. His transformation into the standard-bearer of the liberal antiwar movement is one of the great stories in American politics.

The other great mystery is what happened to him after 1968, when McCarthy began a long downhill slide into what Sandbrook called "irrelevance and obscurity." He ran for President again and again, getting fewer votes each time. He fought in the courts to get independent candidates on the ballot, and his success paved the way for Ross Perot and then Ralph Nader in 2000. It was not a happy picture.

Garry Wills said it best: "Eugene McCarthy spent a good deal of his time trying to prove that he was too good for politics. What use was that? Most of us are too good for politics; but we do not make a career of demonstrating it."

I ended my piece with that quote. A few days after it appeared, I got a voice mail: "Jon, this is Senator McCarthy in Washington. I'd like to talk to you about your piece in The Nation."

When I called him back, he said, "Your piece was pretty good. I appreciated your taking it up. This Sandbrook says I'm guilty of every capital sin except avarice. Who am I going to get to defend me? Most of them are dead. Sandbrook says even my poetry is no good. Should I reply that some poets thought some of it is okay?"

We chatted about friends of my family in St. Paul who had worked with him in the old days; then it was time to go. "If you don't mind," he said, "I'll send you a copy of the testimonials from when I left the Senate. Twelve or fifteen people there said I was a pretty decent guy."

But in New Hampshire in February 1968, he was more than a decent guy -- he was a true hero of the antiwar movement. That's the Gene McCarthy I want to remember today.

Teaching 9/11

9/11 is history -- but how is it being taught to students in history courses? George Bush and other conservatives maintain that the attacks were acts of evil; liberals, while they condemn the attacks, see them as having a social and political context that we need to understand. These differences are reflected in the debate over the textbooks written in the past three years.

Conservatives complain that the teaching of 9/11 has been "simplified and sanitized" in an effort "not to...upset special interest groups," in the words of Chester Finn, assistant secretary of education in the Reagan Administration, who wrote the foreword to A Consumer's Guide to High School History Textbooks, by Diane Ravitch, assistant secretary of education in the Bush Sr. Administration. Finn and Ravitch, who based their conclusions on a reading of six of the most widely assigned textbooks in high school history courses, complained that students reading the textbooks "would scarcely learn that anybody in particular had organized these savage attacks...much less why."

Finn and Ravitch are right about some of the texts. America: Pathways to the Present, by Andrew Cayton et al., says in its 2005 edition that the "prime suspect" in the attacks was Osama bin Laden, but he is described only as "a wealthy Saudi dissident." "Saudi dissident" is hardly the right term -- a student might get the impression he was fighting for Saudi women's rights. The book goes on to say that bin Laden had been granted sanctuary by the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the Taliban are described only as a "group" that "sought to set up their version of a pure Islamic state, banning such things as television and music." From the perspective of an American tenth grader, this is typical of tyrants everywhere -- starting with their own parents, punishing them for bad grades. As an explanation of the "who" and "why" of 9/11, the discussion in Pathways might best be termed "incoherent."

Several other leading texts do much better. The American Republic, by Joyce Appleby et al., has a section on 9/11 in its 2005 edition, written by Alan Brinkley of the Columbia University history department, that provides a wonderfully clear and thorough explanation of the "who" and "why" of 9/11, starting with bin Laden's role in the resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. "Bin Laden's experience in Afghanistan convinced him that superpowers could be beaten. He also believed that Western ideas had contaminated Muslim society. He was outraged when Saudi Arabia allowed American troops on Saudi soil after Iraq invaded Kuwait." He therefore began a series of attacks seeking to drive Americans out of the Middle East. 9/11 was the most spectacular in this series of attacks.

A different approach can be found in The American Promise, by James Roark et al., an introductory college text that is the most widely adopted textbook in the market. It is assigned in dozens of high schools, public and private, including public schools in Atlanta, Newark and Chicago. A section written by Susan Hartmann, who teaches history at Ohio State, identifies bin Laden's goals and then explains the "why" of his finding supporters: "High levels of poverty ignored by undemocratic and corrupt governments provided bin Laden a pool of disaffected young Muslims who saw the United States as the evil source of their misery and the supporter of Israel's oppression of Palestinian Muslims." A companion volume of historical documents, edited by Michael Johnson, includes the famous President's Daily Brief from August 6, 2001: "bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US"; the text of Bush's address on September 20, 2001: "they hate us...[because] they hate our freedoms"; and an Al Qaeda training manual posted on the Justice Department website.

Probably the best textbook on 9/11 is Eric Foner's Give Me Liberty, a new introductory college text that has been adopted at more than 300 institutions in its first year. It is also assigned in some high school AP classes, ranging from suburban New Trier Township High School in Illinois to Transit Tech High School in Brooklyn. Foner (a member of The Nation's editorial board), in addition to explaining bin Laden's opposition to specific US policies, also examines the Bush Administration's response -- declaring suspect citizens "enemy combatants" and creating secret military tribunals -- and places these decisions in historical context. He finds parallels between this response and previous efforts to limit civil liberties in the name of security: suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, persecution of German-Americans during World War I and Japanese-Americans during World War II, McCarthyism during the cold war. Foner thus connects the response to 9/11 with larger themes in American history, asking, "What is the proper balance between liberty and security? Who deserves the full enjoyment of American freedom?"

Of course, critics on the right object to this kind of teaching. Lynne Cheney, wife of the Vice President and former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, said in a 2001 speech that those who argue that 9/11 shows we need to learn more about the rest of the world were blaming America's "failure to understand Islam" for the attacks. Dinesh D'Souza made a similar argument in his 2002 book What's So Great About America, and William Bennett, in his 2002 book Why We Fight, spoke out against historians who "weaken the country's resolve." Foner rejects these arguments. He insists, in an article about the problems and opportunities in teaching 9/11, that "Explanation is not a justification for murder, criticism is not equivalent to treason, and offering a historical analysis of evil is not the same thing as consorting with evil." If Finn and Ravitch really support teaching about 9/11 that isn't "simplified and sanitized," conceding the validity of those points would be a good place to start.

Whatever the merits of Foner's argument, problems with the teaching of 9/11 aren't likely to be resolved soon. Many high school students won't see any of the new texts because their schools are still using old books. Then there's the impact of Bush's No Child Left Behind Act: It requires standards and testing, and since teachers teach to the test, it's unclear how much 9/11 teaching there will be. In California, for example, the standards haven't been revised since 9/11, so "there's no specific standards that reflect it even happened," says Adam Wemmer, who teaches at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove. And finally, there's the simple matter of too much history, too little time. "The trouble," says Beth Anderson, who teaches at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California, "is that no one manages to get to the Clinton years, much less 2001."

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