Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Fifty Years After the “Breaking of the Middle East”

Book Title: The Six-Day War: The Breaking of The Middle East (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.)

Author: Guy Laron

 

By Terry Tait

 

 

Our understanding of one of the briefest yet most consequential wars of the 20th Century is still evolving. The Six-Day War began on June 6th, 1967 after several months of political tension between Israel and its Arab neighbors: Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Border clashes and hostile rhetoric pressured Israel to feel that the state’s existence hung in the balance. After much deliberation, the Israeli Knesset authorized an offensive campaign, which dramatically expanded the country’s borders, reshaping the physical and political landscape of the region. The war continues to define the contours of the “Arab-Israeli conflict” today.

Guy Laron’s The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East, published on the fiftieth anniversary of The Six-Day War, is a significant contribution that expands our understanding of the conflict. With new archival materials from former Soviet bloc countries, such as Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany that include diplomatic cables, letters, and government reports, Laron is able to shed light on a new aspect of this conflict to provide a clearly written analysis of the economic and political factors that led to the outbreak of hostilities in June, 1967. In The Six-Day War, Laron seeks to explain how the region as we know it today was shaped by the conflict when several historical forces converged at a single moment. For Laron the various crises that led to the June war were produced by internal political divisions as well as regional and cold war politics.

Laron points to the collapse of Bretton Woods international monetary system as the impetus for a balance of payments crisis that exacerbated tensions between “weak civilian leaderships” and “trigger-happy generals” in the 1960s. The economic situation in each state empowered their respective military establishments as various crises diminished and divided the support for civilian authorities. For instance the Syrian Ba‘ath party, which took power in 1963, had long maintained a tense but stable border with Israel along the disputed Golan Heights. But when the regime was put under pressure due to internal economic and political crises, Salah Jadid, the country’s strongman, decided to shift the public’s attention by playing the “Israel Card” in order to gain popular support and distract people from other events in the country. However, this military movement enabled Jadid’s political rival Hafez al-Asad to gain a greater foothold in the country’s tumultuous politics.

Syria’s military posturing with Israel was mirrored by the growing support for an offensive, expansionist policy among Israel’s general staff. Those desires were at odds with the country’s older civilian leadership, who wanted to pursue diplomatic solutions to any potential conflict. Whereas these elder statesmen and women were primarily born and raised in Europe, the younger, Israeli-born generation of generals, thought of themselves as “the brave new Jews who fought to make Israel a reality, while all the politicians had done was sit and talk” (110). In pursuit of their more hawkish views the general staff developed a large arsenal of military technology to defend the nation by expanding its borders in the years before 1967.

The tense civilian-military relationship is best illustrated for Laron in Egypt and in the struggle between Nasser and his partner-turned-rival, Abdel Hakim Amer. The combination of Nasser’s ineffective economic policies, the collapse of Bretton Woods, and the ongoing war in Yemen created an unstable situation. Nasser became the object of ridicule, while Amer’s political influence grew to new heights. Once partners in overthrowing the monarchy in 1952, the two had drastically different approaches to Israel. Nasser is depicted as dovish and steady-handed, while his counterpart is portrayed as aggressive, nearing-unstable. The divergence in their personalities matched their goals as they plotted a way forward in relation to Israel.

In an effort to deter conflict, Nasser signed a joint-military agreement with the Syrian government. But after a series escalating border skirmishes, Egypt was forced to move troops into the Sinai Peninsula. To show, or feint, his willingness to use force, Nasser expelled the UN peacekeeping force which had been preserving peace between Egypt and Israel since 1956. The action was a political victory and restored Nasser’s reputation throughout the region. But Amer was not satisfied and eventually moved the Egyptian military to close the Straits of Tiran. Severed from vital oil shipments coming from Iran, Israel now had a casus belli to start offensive operations. Inside Israel the lengthy debates were concentrated on whether U.S. support would come, and whether or not the country should wait to strike.

The mixed signals coming from Moscow and Washington certainly did not help resolve the crisis that was unfolding in the spring of 1967. Political divisions in the U.S.S.R. led to the development of two competing Middle Eastern policies, pursued simultaneously by Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin. With agendas designed to appeal to their respective conservative and liberal constituents within the Kremlin, Moscow’s approach to the Middle East often seemed vague and unclear to its Arab allies. (Given Laron’s Soviet source base, however one would have hoped for a more extensive discussion on the U.S.S.R.’s relationships in the Middle East.)

Meanwhile, President Lyndon Johnson took an equally bipolar approach to Israel, saying one thing publically, but something very different in private. Laron effectively conveys the tense and confused situation on the eve of war as well as the resigned feeling that Israeli politicians felt on June 4th when they approved the June 6th offensive.

Although Laron does not discuss the war extensively, his account of the events, negotiations, and power struggles that produced this short, destructive conflict is a valuable narrative for anyone who wants to understand how the events of 1967 fit into the region’s longer history.  He concludes by pointing out that The Six-Day War cemented the control of generals in Middle Eastern politics, and ponders that, “perhaps that is the reason why there the sound of gunfire never quite dies down” 313. Indeed, in all of the states that participated in the Six-Day War, the military remains among the strongest and most durable institutions. The protracted war in Syria is but one recent example in a region where conflict, rather than diplomacy has become the norm.

By connecting The Six Day War to current developments in the region, Laron forces the reader to think of this fifty-year-old war beyond its immediate aftermath. However, Despite this small drawback, Laron’s work, with its unique set of archive materials and long-term framework, is an objective and well-argued read, and a welcome addition to the study of The Six Day War and the Middle East as a whole. He makes it clear that we cannot understand the region’s current political instability without understanding the role of this short but important war.

 

Email: taittt@miamioh.edu

Review Author Bio: Terry Tait is a Master’s Candidate in history at Miami University.

Review Essay: Frederick Jackson Turner’s Captivity of the American West

By Kaylie Schunk

 

Brooks, James. Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest

            Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Barr, Juliana. Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas

            Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Rushforth, Brett. Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous & Atlantic Slaveries in New France.

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

 

Every work about the American West seemingly begins by presenting its challenge to Frederick Jackson Turner—the historian who created the field itself. Turner’s exclusion of native peoples is certainly incorrect and an oversight.[1] However, it is telling how Turner’s perception of the frontier and its implications continue to influence historical scholarship as historians of the American West continue to struggle to fully shed Turner’s influence. Through the examination of captivity as a form of mutual exchange and diplomacy between Europeans and natives, the works of James F. Brooks, Juliana Barr, and Brett Rushforth demonstrate the importance of native diplomacy as Europeans accommodated to the dominant indigenous groups of New Mexico, Texas, New France, and the Caribbean.

Turner’s grandiose statements about the native-less West were challenged decades later by his own student, Herbert Bolton. Unlike his predecessor, Bolton believed in studying the history of other nations to fully appreciate the American history. Bolton insisted that Turner’s nationalistic approach to studying the United States was the reason for “a nation of chauvinists” because Americans were not destined to settle the West.[2] Rather, the United States’ history was “a thread out of a larger strand” of the world’s past.[3] With Bolton’s specialty being Spanish-America, the American West’s study of multinational borderlands exploded with materials related to the Spanish in the American continent and Mexico.

Brooks, Barr, and Rushforth ascribe to Bolton’s position about the importance of comparative European studies on the American continent to fully gauge American history’s complexities. However, their arguments defy Turner and Bolton they acknowledge natives as key players to European colonialism and that comparative studies of European influence on the American continent should not be limited to areas of Spanish occupation. While Barr and Brooks do frame their studies in Spanish territories, Rushforth combines the approaches of borderlands and transatlantic history by tracing French interactions with the indigenous peoples of Pays d’en Haut and comparing it to the institution of slavery in the Caribbean and France.[4]

Recognizing Turner’s and Bolton’s influence on these works, Rushforth, Barr, and Brooks reject Turner’s reticence to acknowledge native groups by incorporating native peoples within Richard White’s paradigm of mutual accommodation. White argues that indigenous-European relations are rooted in compromises. However, they present an imbalanced version of this model as each monograph demonstrates the natives’ dominance in these power relations. Brooks, Barr, and Rushforth agree that the presence of dominant native groups forced Europeans to accommodate for the sake of diplomacy and survival. Brooks and Barr combat the inevitability of conquest over the indigenous by illustrating that it is actually through the Spanish’s accommodations to the natives’ kinship-based customs, which enables the Europeans to survive and prosper in these otherwise formidable lands. Brooks argues that borderland violence can be explained by mutual economic need as it “kept peoples and resources flowing across the cultural barriers.”[5] Despite Rushforth’s and White’s studies both revolving around the Great Lakes region, Rushforth’s study shows the most nuanced approach to White’s thesis. While Brooks and Barr cited that the indigenous groups were dominated the Spanish, the two groups still make an effort to accommodate one another. This is not the case in Rushworth’s depiction of French-indigenous relations as the natives often used their political stature to manipulate their French allies to prevent them from trading with other indigenous peoples.

Barr cites the Spanish’s inability to fully understand captivity’s importance in indigenous cultures as the main contributor to their inferior power status, which is seen by the differing attitudes of Europeans and natives towards captivity.[6] European misunderstanding was also seen in Rushforth’s depiction of the French. When Father Louis Hennepin was a captive of the Sioux, he wrote that he could never fully understand his place in the society as both a captive and an adopted son of the natives.[7] Hennepin believed that he deserved more respect if he was truly a kinsmen of the Sioux people. The approaches to captivity differed between the Europeans and natives, which is exemplified by Father Hennepin’s confusion. Each work emphasizes the lack of differentiation between slaves and captives in native societies, unlike the dissociation of slaves from members of society in European cultures. Barr addresses Brooks and concurred with his “pointed comparison of [the] Spanish’s more rigid racial codifications of the enslaved Indians” unlike the range of positions for captured natives in an indigenous captor’s society. Rushforth echoes this distinction as he notes that the French’ inflexibility toward slavery contributed to the use of race as a classification of difference. This works engages with the evolution of captivity and slavery in the Americas as it uses comparisons with the Caribbean to argue that Europeans brought the distinction of race into American slavery. Race was not the foundational distinction of difference between native peoples. Instead, indigenous communities welcomed captive incorporation to integrate their culture and language, which strengthened their current society.

Captivity certainly was vital to native-European relations, regardless of whether or not the Europeans understood that at the time. But Barr, Rushforth, and Barr disagree as to why it was actually significant. Rushforth and Brooks acknowledge captivity’s connection to their patriarchal societies’ values. Honor unified these diverse cultures. Brooks argues that the “shared understanding of honor out of traditions both indigenous and European” were shown by the practices of exchange and redemption. Rushforth concurs by stating that “no honor was more important to a young[, native] man than capturing slaves.”[8] This relates to men being the external voices and actors for their communities while women retained the home. Men of the Spanish, French, and native cultures saw their role as protectors of their societies as they acquired honor for themselves and their communities. These shared principles enabled a common ground between natives and Europeans.

Yet, their approach to native women and captivity is vastly different. Brooks and Rishforth perpetuate the traditional female roles within the home. The link between native men’s and women’s interest in captivity was that the women “crafted their halters [so] the warriors [could lead] them home like pets” for the women to domesticate these new slaves.[9] Oddly, Rushforth and Brooks emphasize the importance of men over women in their analyses of two different European societies’ interactions with natives—New France and Spain’s New Mexico. However, Barr disagrees as she studies the Spaniards like Brooks. The importance of native women captives is the focal point of Barr’s work. She posits that women are key to these cross-cultural relations because of their gender role, symbolizing both peace and war, was what enabled more successful relations between the Europeans and the Spanish’s survival in the region.[10] While all three works acknowledge native women’s domestic role, Barr’s monograph stands alone as the only study of native women’s influence on indigenous-European relations outside of the domestic sphere.

While Barr has the most unique argument, Rushforth’s study is the most balanced. His use of linguistics is key to filling the silences of the Algonquian peoples. He incorporates their native language to strip terms of their connotation of Euromerican dominance, and more importantly, he breaks down native dialects to demonstrate the cultural importance of slavery. This contrasts with Brooks where he includes language, mostly Spanish, only so that the reader may understand the work’s general, historical context. Rushforth includes linguistic analysis of French and Algonquian side-by-side to equally assess the two cultures. Language is a means of giving the natives a voice that is separate from European materials. However, it could equally serve as a means of understanding the French’s culturally attitudes toward native peoples and captivity. Barr’s handling of language is the most problematic. Unlike Brooks who attempts to use original Spanish sources, Barr only uses Spanish materials when English translations are unavailable or there’s a discrepancy in the translation. Certainly this technique is more convenient, but it opens up the possibility of misinterpretation—similar to the Spanish subjects Barr is studying.

Rushforth, Barr, and Brooks represent the radical changes of the American West field since the days of Turner, while they represent historians clinging to these past historiographies. Unlike Turner’s frontier, these monographs recognize the existence of Native Americans. Indigenous people were not only present on the American continent but were the dominating forces over their European counterparts. The degree in which these native peoples were dominant over the Spanish and French is not clear, according to Barr, Rushforth, and Brooks. Their different approaches to gender roles explains the lack of consensus. While Brooks and Rushforth emphasize the importance of honor in European and indigenous patriarchal societies, Barr insists that native women had the symbolism of peace and war encoded into their beings due to female gender roles. These works do not resolve the female natives’ role in captivity. However, Barr does state that Europeans inferiority was due to their inability to understand the cultural and political implications of captivity. Brooks and Rushforth provide greater balance to their historical narrative as they utilize statistical data and linguistics, while Barr often avoids the evaluation of original Spanish sources.

Kaylie Schunk is a senior at Miami enrolled in the joint History BA/MA program.

              [1] Frederick Jackson Turner, Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner: “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” and Other Essays (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1994), 32.

              [2] Herbert Eugene Bolton, “The Epic of Greater America.” The American Historical Review 38, No. 3 (April 1933), 448.

              [3]Ibid., 449.

              [4] Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 135.

              [5] James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest

              Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 214.

              [6] Juliana Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 8.

              [7]Rushforth, 17.

              [8] Rushforth, 4.

              [9]Ibid.

              [10]Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 2.

Book Review: Ghetto and Place

Mitchell Duneier, ­Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)

Review by Jacob Bruggeman

“Today, the ghetto has become grist,” writes Mitchell Duneier in his new book, Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea, a grist “for the most advanced experimental and statistical methods bent on measuring change in the short to medium term.”[1] Duneier is not too concerned with the ‘short to medium term’; rather, he is interested in the long term, and the equally interested in the weight of the long past.

Ghetto presents an abridged five-hundred-year history of ghettos, the beginnings of which he traces to a Venetian island.[2] Duneier, despite his introductory use of Venetian history, explains the history of the ghetto in the context of American cities, and with specific reference to communities of blacks that lived within them. The work is bounded by chapters on Nazism and the history of the Ghetto in Europe, and Duneier’s own analysis of the ghetto in his closing chapter, “The Forgotten Ghetto.” In between its European origins and Duneier’s theorizations about its future, the concept of the ghetto is presented through four chapters on the two cities of Chicago and Harlem, and four scholars who studied and lived within them. Specifically, Duneier focuses on Chicago in 1944, Harlem in 1965, Chicago, again, in 1987, and Harlem, again, in 2004. As mentioned above, his analyses of each city are presented through the lives and works of innovative scholars and activists, namely Horace Cayton (a sociologist of Chicago’s South Side), Kenneth and Mamie Clark (two (married) psychologists and educators who founded the Harlem Youth Opportunities Board, and both of whom were involved in the Civil Rights Movement), William Julius Wilson (a renowned sociologist and University Professor at Harvard), and Geoffrey Canada (an influential activist, educator, and President of the Harlem Children’s Zone), all of whom correspond chronologically with Duneier’s chapters on Chicago and Harlem. These four scholars each evaluated the state, and thus definition, of the ghetto differently, leading Duneier to extrapolate from each “the significance […] for understanding the situation of poor blacks today.”[3]

Duneier complicates the history of the American ghetto with ambiguity, conveying all the different histories that are built into today’s ideas of what a ghetto is, and thus reminding the reader of the historical diversity behind phrases such “segregated housing patterns,” “racial residential segregation,” and the word “ghetto” itself.[4] In all its variations, though, Duneier outlines nine ways in which—both as a built space and explanatory concept—has contributed to the perpetuation of “restriction[s],” “prejudice,”[5] “[control of black communities] by outside institutions,”[6] and the “intergenerational phenomenon” of the ghetto as “as expression of a series of vicious cycles within the realms of education, work, family life, violence, and local politics.”[7] Using Chicago and Harlem, but to a greater extent the four scholars operating within the two cities themselves, Duneier demonstrates that ghettos—or at least the normative conception of “the ghetto”—are not concrete, but in fact as multifaceted and dynamic as the communities they house.

As social scientists and urban planners move forward in what might be called the “Century of Cities,” embarking, as they will, on projects of “renewal” and “regeneration,” remembering the rich histories of American ghettos might steady their hands as they take a seat at the drawing board, and perhaps, as Duneier delimits the concept of the ghetto, even lead them to realize the limits of social science.

 

 

[1] ­Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), 228.

[2] Ibid., ix.

[3] Ibid., 222.

[4] Ibid., 220.

[5] Ibid., 223.

[6] Ibid., 225.

[7] Ibid., 227.

A New History of the Russian Revolution

Mark D. Steinberg, The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). 388.

Review by Jacob Bruggeman

Mark D. Steinberg’s new book, The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921, is a history of the Russian Revolution as an effusion of experiences. The years of the revolution, delineated by Steinberg as 1905 – 1921, compose a period of multi-national and cross-class experimentations, in both political thought and governments, with ideas of freedom, how to achieve it, and the consequences of trying to do so.

Indeed, Steinberg’s explicit aim for his book’s first part, “Documents and Stories,” is to enter the ““springtime of freedom” in 1917,” and to explore “the meaning of “freedom”” (5). To achieve this, Steinberg exhumes numerous “voices”, providing multiple perspectives, from the tumult and uncertainty in 1917. In bringing these myriad voices to the fore, Steinberg imagines that “we can walk through the streets during these first months of revolution,” thus allowing readers to “ask people what they meant by that great, inclusive, and yet vague idea that everyone insisted defined the revolution: “freedom”” (15).

Freedom’s relationship to the revolution is explored through the book’s other two parts, “Histories” and “Places and People,” and both titles allude to different lenses through which Steinberg examines his period of the Russian revolution. Through these lenses, readers look at snapshots within Steinberg’s periodization of the revolution. In “Histories,” Steinberg reconstructs a Russia in the period from 1905 through the outbreak of World War I in 1914, and therein discusses a “bacchanalia” of sex and popular violence, how the press viewed the “darkness” of “these times,” and the portents of World War I (56-63); in part three, “Places and People,” Steinberg pivots back to a telling of the revolution through the subjectivities of human persons—to analyses of the self, or lichnost’ in Russian—as engines of history moving through time, and how “people understood, lived, and practiced “freedom”” (5).

Throughout this three-pronged analysis of the revolution, Steinberg maintains his goal of exploring different meanings of freedom, and in so doing investigates still-important questions about human fulfilment and needs, resistance to power, and truth(s). As he situates these difficult questions in the Russian revolution, Steinberg superimposes the writings of several philosophers—those of Hanna Arendt and Walter Benjamin, and to a lesser extent those of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels—on the events of 1917. Drawing from Arendt and Benjamin, Steinberg interprets the Russian revolution as an example of humanity’s proclivity to ““catastrophe,”” or at least a natural tip of “the scales of reality … in favor of disaster” (17). Nevertheless, Steinberg sees revolutions, and particularly that of Russia, as “one of human history’s strongest expressions of […] desire, vision, and possibility,” a collective act that, in Walter Benjamin’s words, ““blast[s] open the continuum of history”” (17). In this view, Steinberg argues that the Russian revolution (and revolutions throughout human history) may be interpreted as a “leap in the open air of history,” a rejection of the linearity of time and open embrace of “a sudden new beginning,” of history as “radical possibility” (17-23).

On the whole, Steinberg’s story of the revolution attempts to reorient scholarship and popular perceptions of the revolution to a more nuanced, perhaps appreciative, reading of the ‘leap’ taken by Russians in 1917. But Steinberg complicates the notion of a single ‘leap’, instead suggesting that 1917 was conglomeration of ‘leaps’, for each revolutionary faction—indeed each individual—foresaw different outcomes of 1917’s ‘radical possibility’. Consequently, Steinberg questions the sanctity of singular narratives of the revolution, and history in general. In an era when many believe that society “must venture beyond the life as it is to create life as it ought to be,” Steinberg’s The Russian Revolution is an inspiration and warning both. While many scholars focus on the fall, how the ‘leap’ is landed, Steinberg suggests that, especially in an era in which a ‘leap’ seems possible, more attention ought to be paid to the process of the ‘leap’: the various energies built up before it, the multiplicity of muscles that push off the ground, and the outpouring of thought while suspended in air.

Jacob Bruggeman is a third-year history major at Miami.