• April 20, 2014

Teaching Military History in a Time of War

Teaching Military History in a Time of War 1

Pat Kinsella for The Chronicle Review

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Pat Kinsella for The Chronicle Review

Teaching military history when there are veterans in the classroom requires a greater sensitivity to the impact of language than may be the case with other students. I learned long ago to never insert words like "just" or "only" before giving casualty figures, for few veterans who have been in combat consider the death of a comrade as "only" one. In combat, all casualties taken by your unit are tragedies.

At the same time, military historians all know the danger of accepting eyewitness accounts. It does not matter if the soldier was a frontline grunt or a rear-echelon officer: He saw only one part of the action, often under the most stressful conditions, and has constructed a narrative in the years since. Every military historian I know has learned to respect a veteran's insistence that "I was there, and that's not how it was," while integrating those personal memories into a larger portrait of the battle and war.

These are issues with which I have long been familiar, but I must admit that I had never fully considered the effect of military history on students who have never served in the military. I have been guilty to a degree of accepting the view of my student veterans that the nonveterans are soft and generally spoiled, unfamiliar with both service and sacrifice. Yet the reality of teaching in wartime, most particularly at a working-class college such as Central Connecticut State University, is that war has touched the families of many of our students, and it is a tragic error to think that they have not experienced the staggering blow of loss and personal sacrifice.

That lesson came home to me with great force this last semester. Over the past few years, I have had veterans and active-service members of the National Guard in my classes, with several of the latter going off to Afghanistan or Iraq as soon as the semester was over. I have also had many students with family members serving overseas, and I make it a point to talk regularly with those students about their brothers and sisters, fathers and, in one instance, a mother, who were in harm's way. On the first day of my military-history class, after a discussion of the concept of democratic warfare, I asked my usual question about veterans or National Guard members present, and if any students had family members serving in the military. Ernesto (I have changed names out of respect for this family's privacy), a shy but exceedingly bright student, smiled with evident pride as he mentioned that his brother Javier had recently enlisted in the Army. We discussed his brother's reasons for enlisting, which mostly focused on a sense of gratitude to a country that had given their family refuge.

Two weeks later, the class discussed Baron von Steuben's training of the American Continental Army and the creation of the "community of the line"—the intense loyalty common soldiers developed as they served together for the "glorious cause of liberty." Afterward, Ernesto told me that his brother had been sent to Iraq. He admitted he was worried about Javier's safety, but had read several articles indicating that the war was winding down.

Then, after a class in which we examined the decision of the United States to invade Mexico and Abraham Lincoln's objections to that war (which he said was based on lies from President James Polk's administration), Ernesto told me that Javier had called him the day before and described his first encounter with enemy fire, which had been chaotic and without consequence. A few days later, Ernesto gave an amazing paper on a woman who had disguised herself as a man so that she could join the Union Army and fight to preserve her nation. He made striking parallels between the resistance to allowing women to serve and our "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In the minutes before the very next class, during which we explored Ulysses S. Grant's strategy of attrition, Ernesto came to me and said that he could not attend class, as his brother had been shot in the head by a sniper and was in critical condition.

Sorrow was written across Ernesto's young face. Here was a student I relied on for an astute observation and a ready smile; now he looked on the verge of tears. I told him to give no further thought to the class, but to devote himself to his family. Ernesto missed the wars against the Plains Indians and the Spanish-American War, but showed up in time for the Philippine Insurrection. I hoped that Ernesto's presence meant that his brother had recovered, only to be surprised to hear that Javier was still in danger, his condition so serious that the doctors feared moving him to the military hospital in Germany. When I asked him why he had come to class, Ernesto insisted that he hoped his studies would take his mind off his worries for his brother.

That afternoon I asked my teaching assistant, a Marine veteran named Joe, to talk with Ernesto. Over the next several weeks, as we traversed the terrain of the 20th century with the two world wars and Korea, Joe spoke regularly with Ernesto, advising him on his final paper and on dealing with the military bureaucracy. Over those weeks, Ernesto never spoke in class, cut his hair short, and began wearing military boots and fatigue-style clothes. His identification with his brother was obvious, and he appeared to age several years in those few weeks. And then, just as we were coming to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed President Lyndon Johnson to send combat troops to Vietnam, I received an e-mail from Ernesto letting me know that his brother had died.

Not surprisingly, Ernesto's attendance became erratic, and he skipped entirely the discussion of our current wars. Every time I saw him, his grief was palpable. It pained me to witness his loss and to imagine what his family must be going through, yet all I could do as a teacher was to be present, listen, and give every consideration to the circumstances.

For our final class I asked my teaching assistant to talk of his experiences in Iraq. Joe closed our circle by talking about the camaraderie he found in the military, even under the worst situations. He did not minimize the horror of war—one video he shot of a building his unit blew up included a body flying through the air—but his video also showed the democratic nature of our military and the wartime community that soldiers create.

Joe surprised me at the end of the class with a simple observation. He had been attending a funeral of a comrade when it occurred to him that even the "bad guys," as he called them, whom his unit had killed in Iraq, had families. He felt no regret for having played his part in the war, but he did not re-enlist, because he just did not want to be responsible for any more funerals. I glanced over at Ernesto; his head was bowed.

It is so much easier to teach military history in a time of peace. Sadly, we have not known that condition for nearly nine years. When we read in the paper that President Barack Obama has ordered the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan, we should see more than just a number; we should see families beginning their long, anxious vigil until these men and women return home. As I remind my students, any of those soldiers could be the person sitting next to you in class, or your sister or brother.

Editor's note:

The Chronicle has looked into questions raised by commenters and bloggers about this article.

We talked to the teaching assistant for the course, who confirmed Mr. Bellesiles's account of the student's story. According to the teaching assistant, a Marine veteran, the student told him that his brother had been shot in the head and later died from his injuries.

The Chronicle also spoke with the student called "Ernesto" in the article. The student said the soldier who died was his half-brother, was a member of the U.S. Army, and had died in Afghanistan in November. The student declined to provide further details because of unspecified "issues."

At The Chronicle's request, an Army spokesman searched a database of all U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan using the name the student provided. There were no matches. The Chronicle's own search of Department of Defense news releases turned up no casualties under any name that matched the student's description.

Subsequently the student told us that he had fabricated several details in the story he had told Mr. Bellesiles and The Chronicle. The student said he knew a soldier who he believed had died in Afghanistan, but he said the person was not his half-brother. The student had no explanation for why the name was not on the military's casualty lists.

Asked for a response, Mr. Bellesiles said he was saddened that his student had altered the details of a personal tragedy and that he regretted that he had unknowingly passed on a story that was not accurate. "But I hope that no one mistakes the point of my article in calling for greater sympathy and support in our colleges for veterans and the families of those who have suffered loss in our current wars."

Michael A. Bellesiles is a historian and adjunct lecturer in history at Central Connecticut State University. His most recent book, 1877: America's Year of Living Violently, is forthcoming next month from the New Press.


1. rickinchina09 - June 28, 2010 at 02:33 am

I thoroughly enjoyed this article, though that adjective seems misplaced in view of the sobering account here. And I applaud The Chronicle for printing it. Too often the military is portrayed insensitively on college campuses, usually by academics who not only never served but have no firsthand awareness of this subculture. And it is a viable subculture which should be acknowledged. Those of us who grew up in it know very well but the civilian sector has long given itself over to Hollywood imagery, with the notable exception of Gibson's "We Were Soldiers Then." With the end of the draft nearly four decades ago, fewer youth are impacted directly by war. Many will argue that is for the better but, regardless, the situation does tend to further isolate the military community from its civilian counterparts. Dr. Bellesiles is fortunate to have such admirable students in his course, as is plainly evident from the article, and we would all be better served by encouraging them to speak in class rather than allowing more vocal but usually clueless students dominate and determine the scope of the discussion just to please personal agendas and biases.

2. jffoster - June 28, 2010 at 07:30 am

Concur with (1) I do and also note that the students and Central Michigan fortunate to have Professor Bellesiles are. Since I am in Anthropology and Linguistics, I don't teach Military History, except as occaisional subtopic in one of my ethnography classes. The closest I have come to the kind of experience recounted in the post original was in 1999 and the few years following, when I was teaching my Balkan Peoples (ethnography and culture history) class at the time the United States were at war with Serbia. We had a particularly interesting time after I had them look at the demands made on Serbia by the Dual Monarchy in 1914 alongside the demands made on Serbia by NATO and the United States in the Rombouillet Conference in Fall 1998. We had in the class of 30+ a smoewhat older than usual student who was a veteran of the 1st Gulf War -- his perspective was interesting, thoughtful, and contributory to distinguishing between support or opposition to the war as a matter of policy on the one hand but an empathy and respect for the soldiers and airmen going into harm's way.

3. jffoster - June 28, 2010 at 07:32 am

Oops, I'm sorry. Central Connecticut, not Central "Michigan".

4. prje8199 - June 28, 2010 at 09:23 am

I am both a scholar and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. I am currently looking for academic work (as are so many others) and have discovered that there is a serious lack of veteran support on most campuses I have visited. At one New England area college the student senate went so far as to block the creation of a club for student veterans of modern combat.

But what I see of even greater importance is the lack of professors with military experience to guide these young men and women through their education. Most veterans of Vietnam had at least one WWII veteran on the faculty to offer guidance, advice, and often simply a sympathetic ear to help them along.

I readily admit that being a combat vet is hardly a good reason to hire a professor, however, as colleges look to hire new faculty they should look to see that some on that faculty share experiences common with those the average student at that institution (as Dr. Bellesiles makes clear in this article). I fully believe there is a coming wave of students with combat experience and at some point they will demand their voices be heard.

5. jack_cade - June 28, 2010 at 10:17 am

Not use this article for another political agenda, but I couldn't help but notice the "adjunct" in Michael A. Bellesiles' title.
When someone as clearly didicated, insightful, sensitive, and wise (and a good writer to boot) isn't tenure tracked we can be certain that something is seriously wrong with our system.

6. sciencelibrarian - June 28, 2010 at 11:07 am

jack_cade writes, "When someone as clearly didicated [sic], insightful, sensitive, and wise ... isn't tenure tracked we can be certain that something is seriously wrong with our system." There is a very good reason that Dr. Bellesiles isn't tenure-tracked: "Arming America."

7. usaret - June 28, 2010 at 01:54 pm

Fascinating article. I teach at a community college, my second full-time teaching job since retiring from the Army in 2000. I can't tell you how many jobs I applied for where the impression given by either the hiring committee or the person who interviewed me over the phone was that a military officer was not fit to teach in a college classroom. I was always very grateful for those who could set their preconceptions aside and see my experience and qualifications for what they are.

Dr. Bellesiles does highlight the attitude of some students, too, who are sometimes hostile to veterans--I don't know why. Many of my students are supportive of soldiers in general, though most cannot imagine themselves serving. I, too, am lucky to have an occasional veteran in my classes, and I am grateful for the maturity and experience--the gravitas--they bring.

8. inama - June 28, 2010 at 02:17 pm

The author of this article was part of one of the most contentious cases of possible academic plagarism in the historical profession. I think nearly every person who undertook graduate studies in history between 1999 and 2006 was forced to read his book and the following charges and counter charges. I am not necessarily taking a postion as to whether he flasified documents or simply miscounted the number of guns or mislabeled his court records in Vermont. If my memory serves me correctly, he resigned from Emory and had his Bancroft prize taken away--that is why he is an adjunct now.

9. ellenhunt - June 28, 2010 at 02:19 pm

I must agree with #4 and #7. I have seen the culture clash between the veterans (and active duty military) and campus norms. The worlds are so very far apart.

- Veterans learn to work together and sacrifice for the unit. Their first value is being willing to die for what the nation has decided to have them do. They are a valuable part of a working whole that must perform. They are taught to stand up and fight.

- Academics learn to backstab and self-aggrandize to get ahead. They are in a system, but must "work it" kiss up and flatter to get ahead. They are taught that they are the valuable thing, and the system or whole is insignificant by comparison. Academics are taught to fade away and get even later.

I have seen a veteran report falsified data to a PI and suffer years of retaliation afterward. That one finished a PhD but it was by sheer persistance, fighting every step. I have seen another excellent student veteran in a PhD program drop out with a masters watching what happened to the first. I have seen a PhD student aggressively attacked by the department chair after speaking up to correct false information on a political subject.

My opinion now is that academic culture is gravely ill. With 9000 plagiarized papers showing up on the simplest sort of search, "leading lights" founding entire new subjects on the basis of entirely falsified research, the problems are obviously rampant. What happens to veterans that I have seen in graduate programs is due to their unwillingness to join the disease. We should give priority to ex-military who want to become academics.

But now? Now it is the other way around. Now, dismissing ex-military is the one bigotry that academics can do with impunity.

10. ellenhunt - June 28, 2010 at 02:21 pm

#8 - Oh, my. I had forgotten about that entirely! THAT Bellesiles? Really? The man whose documentation was "lost in a flood"? Oh, dear.

11. jschmeling - June 28, 2010 at 02:40 pm

As a veteran who went to college and law school after service I appreciate very much your article. Thank you for taking time to write it and discuss these issues.

12. nacrandell - June 28, 2010 at 04:54 pm

#5 "When someone as clearly didicated, insightful, sensitive, and wise (and a good writer to boot) isn't tenure tracked we can be certain that something is seriously wrong with our system."

Well there is the Bancroft prize thing and him leaving Emory.

Questions of scholarly misconduct prompted Emory University to conduct an internal inquiry and to appoint an Investigative Committee of outside scholars. When the report was released, Bellesiles resigned from Emory.

In 2002, the trustees of Columbia University rescinded Arming America's Bancroft Prize, the only time such action was taken in the history of the prize.

13. ellenhunt - June 29, 2010 at 03:32 pm

Well, it seems that Mr. Bellesiles has moved on, and perhaps made appropriate use of the disciplinary action meted out. It will take many years for him to reconstruct a reputation, but in 20 years, it could happen. Tenure? Probably not. Which suggests he is teaching because he loves to teach. Having eaten humble pie, he is probably a pretty good teacher.

14. jffoster - June 29, 2010 at 04:26 pm

Join ellen Hunt (13) I do. I thought when I posted a supportive comment in (2) above that he was that Bellesiles but saw no reason to bring it up. He has certainly paid a price and appears to have moved on and be doing a good job. We're all flawed and have all done things we wish we hadn't and I wish him and his students well.

15. raghuvansh1 - June 30, 2010 at 11:17 am

As one American solder killed in Iraq war,students of America and teacher of military history so much suffered.What about Innocent common Iraqi who killed by American arms robot and drone plain? Are not they human?What you teach about military history?You teach your student that most war started without any reason or for selfish purpose.Can you teach your student attacker has more advantages that defender? Can you teach your student that who owe advance techno weapons he can killed more solders of enemy?Can you teach that arm robot are rarely injured or killed in war? I think you must include your next cir qualm these topic in military history

16. justinkau - June 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Perhaps some of these commentators need to go back and read the Emory report; and, no, "nacrandall," it did not consist of "outside scholars." What they found was really not especially noteworthy. And the harsher critiques that were put forth at the time were usually made by people who have no clue regarding how historical research and writing takes place. Bellesiles resigned, from what I can gather, and his resignation was welcomed by his peers, largely because all were afraid of how thoroughlly idiotic the discussion was getting. Even Gary Wills acted the fool with his ridiculous claim about being duped by Bellesiles.

Also, as a student at Emory, 1997-2001, writing my undergradate thesis in History the year that 'Arming America' came out - and taking a class with prof. Bellesiles on historical interpretation - let me say first, "ellenhunt," there was indeed a flood in the building that houses the History and Philosophy departments (do you consider checking the facts before making retarded comments online?) and, second, none of the commentators here mention the highly-organized campaign of distortion and harassment conducted by extreme-rightist gun-control opponents - the origin of the entire controversy.

17. jffoster - June 30, 2010 at 06:53 pm

Mr. Justinkau, (16),
Understand I do your loyalty to a mentor but regret I do that you have teken this in the direction you have. Recommend you read Ellen Hunt 's No 13 (along with my No 14) carefully, and then go read the Wikipedia article under 'Michael Bellesiles".

18. skilial - June 30, 2010 at 09:44 pm

Jffoster, (17), clearly the author is writing an opinion piece. The relevance of the author's past has no impact on this editorial. To distract the audience from the message is only a distraction from the original message about veteran students. I find it distasteful and shameful to resort to mudslinging.

I also find it unfortunate that scholarly types would EVER direct anyone to Wikipedia as a "source" for I was always forbidden from ever using it as a source in any scholarly work.

19. jffoster - June 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Skilial (18),
Shooting from the hip before having read carefully is not generally a good idea. READ at my original comment (2) and then my (14), the latter referred to in my (17). And read (16) upon which my (17) is an observation.

As to Wikipedia, it has good articles, bad articles, and many in between. One has to use some judgement. I never allowed students to use W as a sole source but a blanket prohibition is as foolish and unwarranted as a blanket acceptance. YOU go and read the article I mentioned, then read (16) above and judge for yourself. I happen to have some familiarity with this case, but was not the first to have brought it up on this thread of commentary. Actually it came up because an astute commenter in (5) noticed an apparent anomaly and someone else (6) suggested the explanation.

20. gwb_nyc - June 30, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Bellesiles disgraced himself with "Arming America"; why he is still in academia I would not know save that it is the only place thar will have him.

He has proven he is not to be trusted.

Get a real job, Mike- deliver sandwiches or sommething; see what it's like out there.

21. dmccornac - July 01, 2010 at 09:01 am

What is generally taught at US institution regarding the Vietnam conflict can not be considered history. It is more a one-sided account from the American perspective. Of course, the account at a Vietnamese institution also has a particular bias. Until academia takes the initiative to provide an objective account of the past no one is really teaching military history. It can at best be called military propaganda.

22. mdcrandall - July 01, 2010 at 10:04 am

dmccornac (21) you may want to consider picking up the book "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young" I felt that this book written by participants of one of the battles did a good job of attempting to provide an account of the Ia Drang campaign. While there is n o question the authors were telling the story from an American perspective they certainly attempted to integrate the stories and understandings of their Vietnamese counterparts. They also provided what I believe was an excellent insight into the military family experience back home of course I will admit to bias because I was a member of one of those families so my support of the book could be questioned. In any case I believe there are individuals who have attempted to understand the Vietnam conflict from a broader perspective. The work Hal Moore and Joe Galloway did in meeting with and interviewing the officers of the Vietnamese side of the conflict certainly showed an honest effort to expand the story.

23. liberaliberaliberal - July 01, 2010 at 06:41 pm

Did the Chronicle check this piece for plagiarism? I do not care what his sentiments or revelations about teaching are. This person is a fraud. What is more he has shown himself to be an inveterate, compulsive liar. How can reputable publishers continue to disseminate the work of such a person so unworthy of trust that no decent person can believe a word that emanates out of his damaged brain? Admitedly, in wake of the McDonald decision, I am a bit more peeved than I would have been towards an "author" who did more damage to the gun control movement than Justice Scalia, another contradiction in terms.

24. rickinchina09 - July 02, 2010 at 04:56 am

23-I'm not sure how one can plagiarize a personal essay, but o.k.--fabricate it--perhaps.

22--Yes, you're correct. Surprisingly for some, another excellent source, albeit less personal but providing a macro perspective is the late Robert McNamara's edited tome, "Argument Without End" in which the strategic planning of both sides is well chronicled.

To the author: your article stands or falls on its own merits for me. Thank you for writing it. Laying bare one's sentiments in this P.C. era isn't easy but you've managed to do it exceptionally well.

25. midtowner - July 02, 2010 at 08:30 am

are you kidding me?? couldn't the Chronicle find anyone who would pen a piece for them?? these are the sort of instances that make me ashamed to be an academic. The author is a proven liar and a fraud. Good god Chronicle editors what were you thinking???

26. 11232247 - July 02, 2010 at 11:05 am

Call me old fashioned, but perhaps after one has been caught red handed in robbing a bank, they should then practice prudent retraint by not pursuing a future career in the banking industry.

Then again, that is just me.

And so it goes...

27. drnels - July 04, 2010 at 01:57 pm

@jffoster, you write, "clearly the author is writing an opinion piece. The relevance of the author's past has no impact on this editorial." That's not always the case, though. One of the concepts I teach in each of my courses is the rhetorical concept of ethos, which means analyzing how a writer's previous words and actions influence our interpretations of a more recent piece. I don't know enough about Bellesiles to judge him one way or another, but I do know that any writer's previous words are a legitimate lens through which to investigate their most recent words.

28. jffoster - July 05, 2010 at 08:17 am

No, 27 drnels, I DID NOT write that. Read the damn things again before you shoot from the hip. However, in this case I agree with it. This isnt about "investigating his works".

29. justinkau - July 05, 2010 at 01:42 pm


Prof. Bellesiles was not a mentor for me; no academic has ever been. Nor did my comments suggest as such. Your willingness to jump from me taking a class with Bellesiles to him being a mentor certainly gives us a clue regarding your understanding of causality.

Please don't misconstrue the reasons for my defense; its purpose is to direct attention away from deranged ideologues like those we see leaving comments here, and who apparently authored the Wikipedia article you point us to.

30. stinkcat - July 05, 2010 at 02:20 pm

Didn't a former president of Central Connecticut get booted for plagiarizing an opinion piece? It could happen.

31. rickinchina09 - July 05, 2010 at 02:36 pm

Those who feign outrage or indignation over The Chronicle posting this piece probably wouldn't have any qualms about someone like Ward Churchill, the sole surviving member of the Faux Pas Indian tribe, penning an article or two, I suppose.

32. stinkcat - July 05, 2010 at 02:59 pm

I am not sure that is totally true. I think one can be an academic fraud on both the right and the left.

33. checkthenarrative - July 06, 2010 at 01:32 pm

bigjournalism.com does the obligatory fact-checking;


34. raven397 - July 06, 2010 at 02:23 pm

the big journalism piece shreds Belleisles. I followed up on the link to the CentralCT catalog, spring 2010 has no course in US military history. BigJ also points out that the only death in Iraq or Afghanistan year to date is a Marine named Tyler, not an immigrant.
Looks like the liar Belleisles has again duped the credulous academics that he preys upon.

35. gjpinks - July 06, 2010 at 02:37 pm

Please triple check against any original sources. Michael A. Bellesiles has been proven as a serial fraud and not to be trusted.

36. fullcooler - July 06, 2010 at 03:21 pm

How did this journal,which was duped years ago in the first Bellesiles Academic fraud, NOT fact check this guys' latest sick falsification? No confidence in editors here...

37. raven397 - July 06, 2010 at 06:43 pm

I checked the Cent CT catalog listings at https://ssb.ccsu.edu/pls/ssb_cPROD/bwckschd.p_disp_listcrse?term_in=201040&subj_in=HIST&crse_in=497&crn_in=40506
they showed Belleisles teaching no classes in Fall 2009, and one class in Spring 2010, a senior-level class entitled Early America.

Thus, a bit of searching would show Belleisles to be lying again. what kind of commie dupes are running this idiotic web site here?

38. prof_twocents - July 06, 2010 at 08:49 pm

Raven397 -- better check your search skills. Belleisles taught HIS395 American Military experience in Fall 2009. Given the lead time for submissions to CHE, it's not out of the question for Bellesiles to have written and submitted the piece during Spring 2010, making Fall 2009 "this last semester."

39. 11186108 - July 06, 2010 at 09:32 pm

re: 16. justinkau - here's a book by a well known historian
Past imperfect : facts, fictions, fraud-- American history from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin
Peter Charles Hoffer. 2004
Chapter 5. Falsification: The Case of Michael Bellesiles

That book is fascinating reading - as it starts with how various historians approach historical research and writing - and then ends up with chapters about 4 historians who went beyond the acceptable.

40. leopoldstotch - July 07, 2010 at 01:02 am

@16, justinkau:

You could not be more clueless. The investigative committee in the Bellesiles matter was made up of profs from Princeton, Harvard and U. of Chicago -- outside scholars. Strike one.

You said, of the Emory report on Bellesiles (http://www.emory.edu/news/Releases//Final_Report.pdf), "What they found was really not especially noteworthy." Here's what the Report of the Investigative Committee actually said:

"We have interviewed Professor Bellesiles and found him both cooperative and respectful of this process. Yet the best that can be said of his work with the probate and militia records is that he is guilty of unprofessional and misleading work. EVERY ASPECT OF HIS WORK IN THE PROBATE RECORDS IS DEEPLY FLAWED."

The Committee concluded that Bellesiles' account of his supposed probate record research in San Francisco raised "questions about his veracity," that there was "evidence of falsification" of a crucial table in Arming America, and that the book fell short of the "standard of professional historical scholarship" on multiple fronts. (There's more that's damning, but that's the worst of it.) But yeah, none of that's "especially noteworthy" for a major book by a guy who's supposed to be a hot **** history professor -- and who subsequently surrendered a tenured position to avoid the humiliation of being dismissed. The best job he can now get is at Central Connecticut State, which is a very far cry from Emory. But hey, no biggie. Strike two.

Finally, the origin of the controversy about Arming America was not "extreme-rightist gun-control opponents." One of Bellesiles' first prominent critics, and probably the one person whose criticisms the Investigative Committee relied upon most heavily, was a law professor from Northwestern named James Lindgren, who is (moderately) pro-control and has collaborated with unabashedly pro-control criminologist Franklin Zimring. Clayton Cramer was one of Arming America's most persistent critics, and he is indeed an opponent of gun control and pretty far right. But no one took Cramer seriously until Lindgren came along -- and it turned out that Cramer was right! So the facts that Cramer is right-wing, and is a gun control opponent, are entirely irrelevant. And here's what Lindgren has to say about the suggestion that Bellesiles was taken down by some kind of NRA conspiracy: http://volokh.com/2010/05/12/michael-bellesiles-and-the-bogus-nra-conspiracy/

Strike three, buddy.

41. leopoldstotch - July 07, 2010 at 01:12 am

As to this most recent tale of Bellesiles' (which may be *basically* true), here are some observations by Jim Lindgren regarding the concerns raised by Big Journalism in the link above: http://volokh.com/2010/07/06/michael-bellesiless-newest-tale/

42. tearec - July 07, 2010 at 11:07 am

A critically wounded Soldier wouldn't be left in theatre for any significant duration. He'd have been evacuated to Germany, if not even to Walter Reed, within the day.

I sure hope that someone @ Chronicle of Higher Education verified this story w/ CCSU. I appreciate Prof. Bellesiles protecting the privacy of the family, but there are some elements of this story that set my BS detector off.

43. shanestreet - July 07, 2010 at 01:32 pm

Why is The Chronicle contributing to the rehabilitation of an academic fraud?

44. tearec - July 07, 2010 at 03:01 pm

There was only one servicemember killed in OIF/OEF in the timeline provided by Prof. Bellesiles which even matches a cursory look.

CPL Xhacob Latorre died in Texas on 9 DEC 2009 of wounds he suffered in Afghanistan on 10 AUG 2009. However, CPL Latorre was in the Marines, not the Army. He was a veteran of Iraq, not on his first tour. He was wounded in an IED attack, not from a sniper. He was initially wounded on 10 AUG, before the beginning of the semester. And his brother was in Iraq when he was wounded, not in college in CT.

That's a whole lot more than just changing the names.

45. claytoncramer - July 07, 2010 at 11:13 pm

I have no idea whether Bellesiles is spinning a tall tale on this or not. But anyone with any doubts that his book Arming America engaged in fraud should see my paper, "Why Footnotes Matter: Checking Arming America's Claims, Plagiary 1(11):1-31 [2006], a referreed journal. My paper includes photocopies of pages from Bellesiles' book, and of the various sources that he cites, and from which he alters quotes and sometimes just makes stuff up out of thin air.

46. justinkau - July 09, 2010 at 12:47 pm

"leopold scotch":

You're correct about the outside-scholars matter. We are talking about the same report; for some reason, I'd remembered that prof. Melton and others at Emory wrote it. I apologize. That said, again we come back to one table, and the probate records that are not especially important to the overall thesis. The damning words unfortunately misused in the report need to be considered in relation to the paltry nature of their critique.

Without the right-wing crazies constantly making a racket, and getting attention, the "squirrel scholar" (to use Gore Vidal's phrase) concerns of Lindgren, et al. would not have had much impact, beyond standard debates within the history profession.

47. citizenship - July 09, 2010 at 02:39 pm

While the worth and accuracy of a person's research or the validity an instructor's classroom experience with students is debatable, I am very saddened to read the personal attacks and name calling leveled at contributors to the discussion of this page.

As someone with personal experience and interaction with developmentally disabled people I am deeply offended that a commentator has attempted to degrade and belittle someone else's observation by using the invective: "(do you consider checking the facts before making retarded comments online?)".

Statements of this sort show a lack of ability to maintain civility and a total disregard and marginalization of of a group of human beings unable to respond to such a blatant example of prejudice and deficit of empathy.

48. justinkau - July 09, 2010 at 02:47 pm


The word, "retarded," has been and can be used in a general sense. I'm sorry you consider my usage of the word to be so uncivilized, but we're dealing here with individuals who destroy careers because they have nothing better to do with their time, in the process making a mockery of a profession I once considered joining myself.

I said that "ellenhunt"'s comments were retarded because she implied that prof. Bellesiles had made up the flooding claim. To sugges that an individual would concoct such a peculiar lie that could so obviously be discredited is to put forth an image of Bellesiles as someone completely delusional. It's a contemptuous way of engaging in a discussion.

49. citizenship - July 09, 2010 at 02:52 pm

Calling anyone retarded or their actions retarded is offensive no matter what justification a person attempts.

50. justinkau - July 09, 2010 at 03:21 pm

Well, I'm sure whoever that's directed toward is very interested in the concerns of an anonymous individual. Since I referred to a particular claim as retarded, not a person or an action per se, it obviously does not apply here. Besides, since no one I know wold refer to someone with mental disabilities as "retarded," I assume the word can be used in its proper general meaning. You seem more intersted in taking us all off-topic to discredit me w/o actually dealing with the matters at hand. Thank goodness I didn't say that conservatives leading us to into the "dark ages" lest you accuse me of being a racist as well.

I'm not even particularly interested in this historical subject, more so in the degrading effects of modern right-wing extremism on political and historical debate in this nation.

I wouldn't be surprised if many of the loons here have read the following:

51. justinkau - July 09, 2010 at 03:22 pm

excuse me, that should say "haven't read"

52. citizenship - July 09, 2010 at 03:46 pm

The observation made in the first paragraph of post #47 were made referencing the comments made in many of the previous 46 posts: right-, left-wing, red, blue, conservative, liberal, etc...

justinkau, you are just digging a deeper hole for yourself. How can using the word retarded be considered proper? I never said you were uncivilized. I don't understand the accusation that I am trying to discredit you or your suggestion that I might try to label you racist.

Name-calling and personal attacks are uncivil no matter who makes them (and there has been plenty of them among the now 51 posts).

Debate and differences of opinion can be civilly discussed without resorting to name-calling and degraing remarks and implications.

53. justinkau - July 09, 2010 at 05:36 pm

Let me be very clear, since this ridiculous side debate you've started might make my previous comment a little unclear.

When I speak of the negative effects of "wing nuts" or whatever you might call them, I am talking about rational clear debate over actual policy instead of absurd distorted shouting matches motivated by bizarre emotional fixations, for example the obsession certain gun-control opponents have with the idea that the U S must always have been a nation whose citizens show high rates of gun ownership.

I am not talking about being profane or ribald; that's no problem, so long as it doesn't get out of hand. After all, these are comments on an online article, which by their very nature tend to be informal venues. A major way in which they are informal is that - surprise surprise! - you can coment anonymously, as you have done. Maybe someone else out there is as deeply offended as you are.

So you're so concerned about those with disabilities, let's be clear too about modern-day efforts to end discrimination and prejudice: a major theme is that the oppressed want to be judged on the merits of their actions. "Judge me not by the color of my skin" etc. I referred to a comment - a particular contribution to the discussion - as "retarded", not the person who made the comment or that person's decision to make the comment. I'm talking about the substance of the remark.

Have a nice life, mystery man.

54. citizenship - July 09, 2010 at 05:57 pm

There are numerous assumptions in post #53.

Perhaps the statement in post #29 should be recalled:
"Your willingness...certainly gives us a clue regarding your understanding of causality"

55. 11186108 - July 09, 2010 at 10:44 pm

#46 justinkau "again we come back to one table, and the probate records that are not especially important to the overall thesis. The damning words unfortunately misused in the report need to be considered in relation to the paltry nature of their critique."

The misread or falsified probate records (which play a significant role in the books claims) and inventories, the citing a reference and claiming it said what it didn't, over and over, (see Clayton Cramer's article - link in #45, ...

If the "errors" were actually "paltry" the consequences wouldn't have been so dramatic.

56. claytoncramer - July 09, 2010 at 10:48 pm

"Without the right-wing crazies constantly making a racket, and getting attention, the "squirrel scholar" (to use Gore Vidal's phrase) concerns of Lindgren, et al. would not have had much impact, beyond standard debates within the history profession."

Squirrel scholar? Lindgren demonstrated that Bellesiles's statistical claims were at least impossible, and Bellesiles's inability to provide any of the underlying data (including the data used to plot the graphs that appeared in the Journal of American History paper or in Arming America), cast serious doubt on whether Bellesiles was telling the truth.

That was one small part of Bellesiles's claims, true. But I demonstrated that throughout both the JAH paper and the book, Bellesiles engaged in massive, unquestionable fraud: changing quotes to reverse their meaning; misrepresenting what sources said; citing primary sources as his only source for a claim that he clearly did not read--because his secondary sources cited elsewhere are what introduced spelling and factual errors that were not in the primary sources.

You are correct that yes, this is about politics. It's about the politics of lying, which the academy tolerated because it was a lie that everyone in the academy wanted to believe.

Your claim "the obsession certain gun-control opponents have with the idea that the U S must always have been a nation whose citizens show high rates of gun ownership" shows that you haven't bothered to look at any of the criticisms that appeared in the William & Mary Quarterly colloquiam. There was already a sizeable body of evidence that gun ownership was, indeed, if not universal (as the laws rquired), but at least widespread.

57. throbert_mcgee - July 10, 2010 at 06:02 am

I will bet a jar of fruity, delicious Swedish Fish™ that justinkau, jack_cade (#5), and Prof. Michael Bellesiles all use the same toothbrush, if you get my drift.

I mean, what are the odds that there are actually two other people in the world besides Prof. Michael Bellesiles who care so passionately about defending his scholarly integrity, and whether he has tenure?

58. sacbrat54 - July 11, 2010 at 11:17 am

This story being from the author of "Arming America", need I say more? I will; since his ignominious but proper 'departure' from Emory for blatant(though certainly profitable for him)plagiarism in that publication,I am almost surprised that he is again employed by any university. But since he is, and as a professor of military history no less, I am not not surprised to find he has authored yet another likely work of fiction, not mentioning that little detail. The only potential fact in this story is the footnote advertisement about his new book,no doubt the whole purpose of this tale. Conceding my disdain for America's academe, I find it reinforced by this visit to The Chronicle.

59. sacbrat54 - July 11, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Those of you in this string of comments who are choosing to rant at each other over semantics, arcing away from the subject, betray another not so surprising aspect of this publication and the world of academmia. Because, assuming you are all involved in education in some manner, as either students or teachers, your comments become bizarre. Even to the point of introducing racism(!), in an almost but not cleverly disguised manner. At least there appear some level minds, so not a total loss. If I had more time to waste, I would go further, but a simple suggestion is that all of your efforts in higher education are wasted.

"There are only two things more beautiful than a gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good... Swiss watch?" ---Cherry, Red River, 1948

60. patvann - July 11, 2010 at 04:44 pm

I believe Bellesile's sob-story is just that...A story. It is falsifiable, by anyone who had the motivation to check the story, had they not been so predetermined to believe it.

He should be ashamed of himself, and the Chronicle, as well.

He should go to Hollywood. It will keep him away from students.


61. garandfan - July 11, 2010 at 05:25 pm

Nice piece of creative writing Michael. You managed to hit all the right liberal talking points.

1) Immigrant student, probably first one in college from his family. Check

2) Brother tricked by the War Machine with patriotism and machismo into signing up for the military. Check

3) Semi trained, gung ho but unready, brother is shot in theater by an enemy he could never have defended against (Cue Futility) Check

4) Long LINGERING wound in a desert...in a tent...as his life drains away friendless and alone. (Military brutality) Check

5) Brother at college is given second hand information and the American Dream is snatched for his grasp as TWO lives, nay, a WHOLE FAMILY is ruined by Bush's Stupid War. Check

62. drnels - July 12, 2010 at 12:02 am

@jffoster, you are certainly right. I attributed the quotation wrongly, and I do apologize. Thankfully, the comments all remain so it is clear the mistake is fully mine.

63. patvann - July 12, 2010 at 01:38 am

...and suddenly the fans have nothing to say.


TRUTH: To a Progressive, it's like garlic and sunshine to a vampire.

64. patvann - July 12, 2010 at 11:31 am

No retraction yet?

Color me surprised.


65. lifetimestudent - July 13, 2010 at 05:56 pm

Whether one supports or opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think we can all agree that throughout our history, families of our military men and women have made great sacrifices for our nation. As a proud American, I appreciate the way the author honors these families by recognizing their sacrifices in such a sensitive way.

66. 11186108 - July 13, 2010 at 10:15 pm

#65 lifetimestudent
Does it make any difference if the essay is fact or fiction?

67. lifetimestudent - July 14, 2010 at 02:46 pm

@11186108, I admit that I do not understand the motivation of those who continually try to bring down the author, even with respect to a seemingly non-controversial article such as this one. If the man sneezed, he would be accused of bio-terrorism, the intentional spread of viruses, bacteria and other germs resulting in widespread disease.

68. claytoncramer - July 15, 2010 at 11:50 am

"I admit that I do not understand the motivation of those who continually try to bring down the author, even with respect to a seemingly non-controversial article such as this one."

You don't? Bellesiles engaged in a massive fraud to justify taking away from Americans a fundamental human right--and you don't understand the motivation?

If there is someone who brought Bellesiles down, it was Bellesiles' fraud on Arming America. The article above is emotionally powerful, and clearly intended to provoke a certain reaction for political purposes. If it is fraud, then the audience is being emotionally manipulated for political reasons.

69. lifetimestudent - July 15, 2010 at 02:02 pm

@claytoncramer, Now I understand. If anyone says something that could be construed as supporting limits on gun rights, that person will be viciously attacked for the rest of his natural life as an example to all who might consider saying something similar in the future. Employing fear and intimidation to stifle speech and debate. What a noble motivation, and so consistent with the values of higher education.

70. larryc - July 15, 2010 at 03:03 pm

I am a huge Obama-loving, high-taxing liberal as well as a historian and I think Bellisle is a fraud and disgrace. It is absolutely true that he got away with it at first because his thesis was amenable to academic liberals. But it was the same academy that ultimately stripped him of his honors, his job, and his reputation. _Arming America_ was first unraveled not by the right wing but by academic scholars on the H-Net early American email list. The right then picked up the discrepencies noticed by other scholars and ran with it.

71. mhl1972 - July 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I actually do teach military history, in the present, at a large R-1 university. And I didn't believe a word of Bellesisles' story, even before I made the connection to his earlier troubles. Here's why:

The characters are just too perfectly drawn, and the events unfold in a predictably tragic yet meaningful way. "Ernesto" and "Javier"--they are plucky immigrants that liberal academics are bound to root for, as opposed to white meatheads named Dave and Bob. Javier joined the military to thank the nation for "giving his family refuge"--they came here for political purposes, not to take our jobs! Ernesto, a Latino, writes a paper critical of DADT, in order to cement our liberal affection for him, because Latin men are so known for being sympathetic to the gays! What's more, his research paper is "amazing," so that all us academics, who by June are ready to stab our own eyes out after spending 9 months trying to teach disinterested students who IM right through class, will like him all the more! Because it would be totally unrealistic to imagine that a non-native speaker of English in a college history class might struggle with his work! Ernesto's brother is serving in combat--how enobling! And how rare, especially in Iraq these days! And then he gets shot in the head by a sniper, an uncomplicated death that makes clear who was right and who was wrong, because the shooter is obviously skilled, and poor Javier couldn't fight back because he couldn't even see the person sniping at him! It works much better than, say, "he got killed by friendly fire while kicking down the door to a family's house," or, "he got electrocuted because a greedy private contractor installed faulty wiring in a FOB shower." It's all so perfectly tragic! And, Javier's condition is such that he can't even get evacuated to Germany, which serves the narrative very conveniently, because the author needs the family to not be able to go to Javier's bedside, something the real-life military would facilitate, so that Ernesto can remain in the story. And then Ernesto, in the course of just a few weeks, becomes a skinhead military junkie--but one who still comes to class! Yes, that is far more realistic than someone with profound depression, say, withdrawing from the university or just dropping out altogether.

It's all just so perfect--so achingly, tragically, profoundly perfect. Just like real life!

Yes, teaching military history in a time of war IS hard, because, more often, you have students in ROTC uniforms, which is kind of the equivalent of the football team wearing their uniforms to class, using said symbol of national sacrifice to bully and silence other students in the class who are afraid of appearing that they "don't support the troops" if they offer a critical appraisal of American foreign policy. And then there are the real veterans--the combat veterans tend to be quiet, and they smile these knowing little smiles and tell you creepy things in confidence after class, while the retired pillow-case stuffers and chairborne rangers (the vast majority of military veterans) use their "status" to bluff, bluster, and intimidate.

I don't believe a word if Bellesisles' "story." As Tim O'Brien tells us in "The Things They Carried," any meaning or moral that can be teased out of a "true war story" ought to make you wary of its veracity. Bellesisles is a known liar, and this piece is based solely on his own observations, so it rests on his credibility alone--and he has none. The Chronicle should be embarrassed to have printed this drivel.

72. claytoncramer - July 16, 2010 at 03:35 pm

"If anyone says something that could be construed as supporting limits on gun rights, that person will be viciously attacked for the rest of his natural life as an example to all who might consider saying something similar in the future. Employing fear and intimidation to stifle speech and debate."

You don't understand the difference between disagreement and fraud?

73. claytoncramer - July 16, 2010 at 03:38 pm

"But it was the same academy that ultimately stripped him of his honors, his job, and his reputation. _Arming America_ was first unraveled not by the right wing but by academic scholars on the H-Net early American email list. The right then picked up the discrepencies noticed by other scholars and ran with it."

You might want to go back and review the postings to that list--and see if you see a familiar name there. I pointed out the fraud repeatedly, and was told that I didn't know what I was talking about. Eventually, after the scandal became so big that it was making daily newspapers--then, the academic community finally started to look at it carefully. Go back and look over the glowing, gushing reviews of Arming America when it came out. There were only one that I saw even prepared to call it biased (published in the Washington Post).

74. lifetimestudent - July 16, 2010 at 04:30 pm

You folks make me happy that I didn't pursue a career in history after college.

75. 11186108 - July 16, 2010 at 09:05 pm

@lifetimestudent There are many scholars who study firearms history/sociology/criminology/law who advocate increased restrictions on firearms ownership - but who publish data and results which check out ok. They don't get attacked by rkba advocates in any noticeable amount.

Then there are the "scholars" who publish fraudulent data, biased analyses, etc. - and often they get exposed and "attacked" - or rather their frauds are attacked and that spills over to more personal effects. Emory didn't treat Bellesiles harshly because of being a right-wing university dedicated to persecuting anti-gun scholars. (Hmm - might you actually think this? :-)

76. jlindgren - July 17, 2010 at 10:49 am


I appreciate your insightful analysis. I quoted it at Volokh.com. It's too early to know whether the above story was mostly fabricated, but IMO you are right to be suspicious.

The slowness of the Chronicle's investigation into it may reflect that it has not been as easy to verify as it should be if Bellesiles's story is true.

Would you please email me (confidentially)?

Jim Lindgren
Northwestern University

77. lifetimestudent - July 19, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Now that The Chronicle has cleared Bellesiles of making this up, I'm guessing we'll soon see apologies from Raven397, patvann, and mhl1972 for these comments?

Raven397: "Looks like the liar Belleisles has again duped the credulous academics that he preys upon," and "a bit of searching would show Belleisles to be lying again."

patvann: "I believe Bellesile's sob-story is just that...A story. ... He should be ashamed of himself."

mhl1972: "Bellesisles is a known liar, and this piece is based solely on his own observations, so it rests on his credibility alone--and he has none."

78. jsmiles - July 20, 2010 at 09:58 am

"But I hope that no one mistakes the point of my article in calling for greater sympathy and support in our colleges for veterans and the families of those who have suffered loss in our current wars."
In other words, a demonstrated academic fraud says, "It doesn't matter that I passed on an easily debunked lie. It does matter that my intentions were good and it fit the preferred narrative, so please excuse my gullibility."

79. mrsdillie - July 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Well, at least the Chronicle followed up. And boy, who doesn't want to take a class from Bellesiles? Dog chewed up homework, Granny's dead--he'll obviously swallow any fake excuse. And "Ernesto" has a bright future ahead, as well.

80. leopoldstotch - July 20, 2010 at 02:43 pm


Justin, your attempts to minimize Bellesiles' fraud and to rehabilitate Arming America only make you look silly. As far as Bellesiles' personal character, there's absolutely no doubt that he published bald-faced lies about his research. There's simply no way to justify that.

As for Arming America, in order to rehabilitate it you're going to need to explain away the hundreds of errors and outright lies identified by Cramer (see link above) and Lindgren (
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=692421). You can't do it. (If it could be done, another historian would've done it by now, and probably would have received the Bancroft Prize that Bellesiles had to return.)

Bellesiles didn't fall victim to some Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. At least with respect to Arming America, he's a hack who engaged in fraud to advance a thesis for which he couldn't find real evidence. He got caught, and he paid an appropriate price. C'est la vie.

81. larryc - July 25, 2010 at 08:15 pm

Student took the fall.

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