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Incorrect History

Reading Thomas Woods's "Politically Incorrect Guide to American History."

11:00 PM, Feb 14, 2005 • By MAX BOOT
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WHILE SYMPATHETIC TO FASCISTS, Woods has no love lost for communists. He is a big fan of Joe McCarthy; he never acknowledges any of the harm the bombastic senator did to the anti-communist movement. But not even his loathing of communism can make Woods overcome his opposition to any U.S. interventions abroad. He agrees with isolationist critics that the Truman Doctrine to assist nations battling communism was "utopian, unrealistic, partial toward big government, and thoughtless of cost." He also accuses Truman of violating the Constitution by resisting the communist invasion of South Korea without getting a declaration of war from Congress. He does not seem to realize that previous presidents had sent U.S. troops into battle hundreds of times without any declaration of war. But then his book doesn't mention the Barbary Wars or the Indian Wars.

By the time you get to the final chapter, it is no surprise to find the author's venom toward Bill Clinton. He's not upset about Clinton's moral peccadilloes but about his forays abroad. "Commander-in-chief Clinton dispatched the military overseas an amazing forty-four times during his eight years," Woods writes indignantly. "The American military had been deployed outside of our borders only eight times in the previous forty-five years." Really? The U.S. military was only deployed abroad eight times between 1948 and 1993? Woods offers no source for this claim. According to the Congressional Research Service, the actual figure is 57 times--and two of those instances were the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Woods is particularly indignant about the dispatch of U.S. troops to the Balkans, "an area of no strategic interest to the United States." "What did Clinton's intervention achieve?" he demands. Uhhh, it stopped genocide and ethnic cleansing? Not according to Woods, who writes that the "Balkans remain seething with violence and hatred." (So do some major American cities.)

HAVING FINISHED this absurd manifesto, I was curious to learn more about its author. All the book tells you is that he has a bachelor's degree in history from Harvard and a Ph.D. from Columbia. A quick Internet search reveals that he is an assistant professor of history at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, and a founding member of the League of the South. According to its website, the League "advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic." As an interim step before this glorious goal is achieved, the League urges its members to "fly Confederate flags at your residence or business every day" and to "become as self-sufficient as possible"--"if possible, raise chickens and keep a cow to provide eggs and dairy products for your family and friends." The League also counsels "white Southerners" that they should not "give control over their civilization and its institutions to another race, whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants."

It tells you something about how debased political terminology has become when a leading light of the nutty League of the South is identified in the Paper of Record as a "neocon." The original neocons, like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, were former Democrats who accepted the welfare state, racial equality, and other liberal accomplishments while insisting on a more assertive foreign policy than the McGovernites wanted. In other words, pretty much the opposite of what Woods believes. Woods is a paleocon, not a neocon. His online writings (helpfully collected by the blog seethe with hatred for everything that neoconservatism (and modern America) stands for. Just after September 11, he wrote that the "barbarism of recent American foreign policy was bound to lead to a terrorist catastrophe on American soil." Just before the Iraq War, he wrote that the Bush administration had undertaken an "open-ended commitment" to wage "war after war against the enemies of Israel, at America's expense." He blames this "imperial bluster" on "the neoconservative stable of armchair generals."

There are a number of respectable books by real scholars that tell U.S. history from a conservative (if not a "neoconservative") perspective, such as Paul Johnson's A History of the American People or Walter McDougall's A New American History (only the first volume has been published so far). Conservatives looking to inoculate themselves or their children from liberal indoctrination would be well advised to steer clear of Woods's corrosive cornucopia of canards. Shame on Regnery, a once-respectable publishing house, for lending its imprimatur to such tripe. Woods' book is politically incorrect, all right. It's also morally incorrect. And factually incorrect.

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, and a foreign-affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times.