Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Econopocalyptic Job Market, Part II: Supply and Demand?

It is often said that there are "too many" PhDs in the humanities and social sciences, which is why it is so difficult to find the traditional tenure-track job at a college or university. Too many people foolishly pursued their appetite for eighteenth century British literature, and now we're all screwed. Alternatively, the blame is placed on departments for admitting too many students, eager for the cheap labor of teaching assistants and graders and caring not a whit for the fact that these grad students will never find jobs -- in part because new waves of grad students have followed in their tracks, grading all those papers they might have graded as faculty members, if any jobs actually existed.

This story is a mix of truth and misconception. The question of too much or too little is not just a question of supply, but also demand. Some universities have attempted to curtail their production of PhDs by limiting the number of grad student admissions; the grad program I attended admitted about 20 students when I entered in 2003, and offered five years of funding to almost all of them, in part to counter a long-standing reputation that it admitted tons of students each year but only funded a select few. Whether this move to smaller graduate admissions has made an impact is hard to tell, as it appears to have begun in the early 2000s at many schools, and the effects would only have begun to be felt recently. In the meantime, the crash of college endowments and state budgets has created an extraordinarily negative climate for job-seekers (even by "normal" academic standards).

Long before the Great Recession struck, though, the ratio of PhDs to tenure-track jobs was dramatically lopsided.
In a much-read and much lamented piece, Santa Clara University's Marc Bousquet challenges the idea that the problem lies on the PhD side of that ratio. As the author of an excellent book on the conversion of higher education to a low-wage labor model, How the University Works, he knows a thing or two about the Wal-Mart world in which so many beginning scholars find themselves. According to Bousquet, the real problem is that colleges have shifted more and more of their teaching and grading to low-paid, often benefit-less adjuncts and graduate students. In other words, it's an undersupply of jobs, versus an oversupply of applicants. Check it out:

History "Job Czar" Shuts Down PhD Production (PhD "Oversupply" Continues for Two Decades)

Alex Cummings

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rethinking the Replacements: The Production of Cultural Memory in the Aughts

“Here come Dick, he's wearing a skirt
Here comes Jane, y'know she's sporting a chain
Same hair, revolution
Same build, evolution
Tomorrow who's gonna fuss”

-- "Androgynous," The Replacements, Let it Be

“But the people are here to see us tonight. The fucking Replacements. The fucking ‘Mats.”

– Tommy Stinson of the Replacements (aka the ‘Mats).

After a possibly apocryphal scene in 2002’s 24 Hour Party People, Manchester music scene self-described “genius” Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan) turns to the camera and quotes the late John Ford: “When you have to choose between the truth and the legend, print the legend.” Of course, it hardly merits attention that what we hold as our history is in part constructed from a collective selected memory. In many ways postmodernism represented this fact theoretically and aesthetically. No linear narratives, no teleology, just webs of associations constructed by a collective subconscious. Marxists will tell you this is simply the superstructure and the base and that popular culture in large part serves as an expression of the ruling classes. The cultural reproduction of simulacra requires us to reach back into history to reproduce a style, a product, a look, that somehow seems relevant today which says very little about what it meant in its period of origin.

In this way, society simply reproduces this reproduction, which in turn colors our understanding of history as it becomes based on a cultural reproduction of a cultural reproduction taken out of context. Frederick Jameson argues something along these lines (albeit in far greater complexity and nuance) in his 1984 work Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. While one does not have to agree with Professor Jameson in the implications of mass cultural reproduction, its hard to argue with the fact that how much one sees, hears, or encounters something, whether it be a product, legend, or idea, influences their reaction to it, for better and worse. Thus, our cultural memory remains dependent on the production of coolness by cultural critics, fans, and others that will shape our memory of music in the future, not necessarily reflecting what most people found most entertaining or interesting and in some cases, crafting images or representations that ignore other critical facets.

Late in 2002, bassist Dee Dee Ramone of the Ramones died of a heroin overdose. The same year several months before, Ratt guitarist Robin Crosby died from AIDS related complications. Social critic-hipster Chuck Klosterman pointed out the incongruence between the popularity of each musician and the public response. Ratt enjoyed massive album sales throughout much of the 1980s, while the Ramones, as anyone who saw their documentary The End of the Century (2003) will tell you, slogged it out making a profitable but hardly meteoric existence. (The eternal counter to this seems to be “everyone who bought a Ramones album started a band, painted a picture" and so forth. How one quantifies this remains the rub.) However, Dee Dee Ramone’s memory was eulogized and the Ramones held up as symbol of all that is good. As for Crosby, nothing. Klosterman summarized this discrepancy succinctly, “What the parallel deaths of Ramone and Crosby prove is that it really doesn't matter what you do artistically, nor does it matter how many people like what you create; what matters is who likes what you do artistically and what liking that art is supposed to say about who you are.” (CK, NYT Dec 29, 2002)

To a large extent, Klosterman has something here. Klosterman wrote Fargo Rock City, a book that basically justified the importance of hair metal and growing up in the Dakotas, so his biases are noted, but clearly who writes about what is good and its reflection on your character, matters more historically than what most people of the time considered good. Considering the increasingly fragmented music scene, efforts to state the importance of one’s band and its memory carries with it greater and greater importance. Moreover, as the boomers tight-fisted grip of mass culture – take for example - car commercials featuring Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” or Phoenix’s “1901” -- weakens and Generation X comes into maturity, these cultural battles over popular memory will manifest themselves through fictional and documentary renderings of bands and musicians.

For example, Julian Temple directed The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle (1980) a “mockumentary” about the Sex Pistols that depicted the band as little more than performance art, manipulated for fame and profit by the auter Malcolm McLaren. Twenty years later, the remaining members of the band rejoined Temple to film the documentary The Filth and the Fury (2000), a direct response to McLaren’s claims. The Filth and the Fury portrayed the band as unique set of personalities that McLaren manipulated only into hating each other. Their success and failure laid at the feet of the five (Glen Matlock was the original bassist) Pistols. Which one will carry the day? It’d be a pretty safe bet to say the latter. The Filth and the Fury stands head and shoulders above Swindle in both production values and watchability. Moreover, John Lydon’s persistence as a musician with P.I.L. and his general social gadfly sensibilities have enabled him to deepen the Pistols credibility through appearances on MTV’s long defunct 120 minutes and other venues. This reverence for the band grows when the aforementioned 24 Hour Party People has Tony Wilson attending a sparsely witnessed Sex Pistol’s show, turning to the camera commenting on the Manchester show’s earth shattering importance. Though the audience consisted of 42 people, it included members of Joy Division (later to be New Order), the Buzzcocks, and other luminaries of the future Manchester scene. The 2006 movie Control, a biopic of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis also references the June 4, 1976 performance as turning point in his life/music career.

Both Control and 24 Hour Party People serve as attempts by their creators to institutionalize or legitimize the memories of their respective scene and the bands within them, and the fact they reference the same show illustrates Klosterman’s point. Both movies use the Sex Pistol show as sign of how cool they were, how visionary. As of 2003, the Sex Pistols one album, Never Mind the Bullocks Here’s the Sex Pistols failed to even reach 500,000 sold. While certainly not insignificant, hundreds of bands have sold more and played important roles to those people who enjoyed them as musical score to their lived experiences. So Shouldn’t those bands be at least as celebrated as their more critically acclaimed counterparts? I mean Peter Frampton and Frampton Comes Alive sold millions and enjoyed a brief revival when VH1 featured Frampton in an episode of Behind the Music followed by an appearance on the Simpsons but NOBODY remembers the album today, even as a punchline.

The Filth and the Fury opens to mid-late 1970s England, a dire place indeed--failed by the Labor Party, cold, miserable, and as guitarist Steve Jones notes “everyone was on the dole.” England’s social upheavals manifested themselves musically through bands like the Pistols and a little bit later the Clash (one could add Don Lett’s 2000 Clash documentary Westway to the World as well, though The Clash can claim several platinum albums). Thus, the Sex Pistols come to symbolize more than just a band, they symbolize opposition to failed institutions, a kind of dissent.

How many people engaged in that dissent at the time? Not that many, though admittedly members of Souisixe and the Banshees, Billy Idol, and Sean McGowan (off and on lead singer of the Pogues) were active and appear in the movie. Malcolm McLaren profited getting labels to sign the Pistols for large sums of money, then dropping them due to bad or boorish behavior, not record sales. So the depth of this symbolic dissent seems less than what its been made out to be. Moreover, this privileging of experience as the ultimate test of truth has been questioned by historians Joan Scott and Regina Kunzell; experience and the memory remain a force mediated by numerous factors that often preclude it from absolute truth (if such an entity even exists).

This brings us to the American example. In a recent Sound Opinions NPR podcast (12/27/2009), lead singer of Minneapolis-via-Brooklyn band The Hold Steady, Greg Finn told Chicago music critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis that if he had to pick a “desert island disc” it would be The Replacements 1984 classic Let It Be, with the signature song being the opening track “I Will Dare”. This parallels well with the English example. Like the Replacements, The Hold Steady though wildly popular with critics and hipsters, sold only 122,000 records of their first three albums combined; like Russia’s Third Rome theory, Finn’s comment connects his band to the mythical underselling ‘Mats.

Regionally the Replacements identified as a Minneapolis band coming out of the same ether as Husker Du. Drummer Chris Mar’s first solo album Horseshoes and Hand Grenades featured a song called “Popular Creeps” -- essentially a mea culpa that admitted the band behaved like a bunch of douchebags. Allegedly one of the great American live bands, a Replacement showed ranged from sheer brilliance to absolute abomination, legend has it they once played the same cover song repeatedly for 90 minutes. Lead Singer Paul Westerberg summed it up “It’s like we won’t try to purposely mess up. But there are some songs we’d rather just wing … And sometimes we’re going for a big kamikaze thing. I’d rather have them hating our guts in some circumstances , so they can at least go “Who the fuck was that band?” (It’s All Over but the Shouting, Jim Walsh)

Henceforth the Replacements have been celebrated for this unpredictability even if it meant a subpar show (if you don't believe me see Rolling Stone's online "rock encyclopedia" http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/thereplacements/biography). That bands like Poison have made nearly identical comments when asked about their music and look makes one think. Before you dismiss Poison’s opinion, consider the fact that former lead singer Brett Michaels squeezed out three seasons of Rock of Love on VH1 and that Poison brutally outsold The Replacements. Michaels’s ability to remain in the public eye, even as a joke has helped as well. When was the last time you heard from Paul Westerberg, Cameron Crowe’s mid-1990s film Singles? The closest the Replacements come is Tommy Stinson (former bassist) who now plays for Axl Rose’s fake Guns N’ Roses outfit.

As with the Sex Pistols, fans and admirers present the band as an antidote to the period. For the ‘Mats 1980s Reagan America served as their playground. Their entire act has been framed as some sort of conscious/unconscious response to yuppies, greed, and 1980s ambition. Michael Azerrad’s Our Band could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Underground, 1981-1991 (2001) identified the ‘Mats ambitious slogan as “straight to the middle.” Drunk, abrasive, and occasionally hostile to the audience -- how else do you describe playing an entire show of covers for an audience that paid to see original work -- the Replacements even got themselves banned from Saturday Night Live after an infamously drunken performance. Big Star’s Alex Chilton –- a hero of the Replacements, and the creative force behind another band whose influence far outstripped its sales -- reminisced about the time and place that gave rise to the band, “I’ll always be thankful in the middle of Reaganomics, for Minneapolis. It was just one of those places, just like New Orleans used to be, and maybe still is, and like the East Village was in the 1970s. It seemed like the whole town was one of the few places in America where a person like me could be themselves, and not be hauled up on charges.” (Its All Over but the Shouting, Jim Walsh 159).

This of course is a very attractive story (their video for “Bastards of the Young”, both the video and the lyrics have become for better and worse broadly symbolic of the band itself, check it out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fl9KQ1Mub6Q). Four guys from working class Catholic Minneapolis backgrounds hacking it out, creating some of the decade’s most memorable music, influencing The Hold Steadys of the future. Inebriated, angry, frustrated, funny, and unambitious, the Replacements push back against everything Reagan America purported to care about. Still, this narrative ignores more fascinating aspects of the Replacements music and worldview. They were more than drunks who like giving the middle finger to the establishment, the East Coast, and on occasion their audience. Songs like "Androgynous" (quoted at the top) explore sexual identities and the heteronormative forces that flatten them in culture as eventually “Dick is wearing pants” and “Jane is wearing a dress”. However, the narrator envisions a future where "kewpie dolls and urinal stalls will be laughed at the way your laughed at now". What about “We’re Comin’ Out” in which Westerberg repeats the song title interspersing it with lines like “one more warning/ one more warning sound” or the opening, “One more chance to do it all wrong/One more chance to get all wrong/one more night to do it all wrong” followed by the repeated chorus of “we’re coming out!”. Then there’s “Sixteen Blue” whose theme of sexual confusion comes through clearly:

Brag about things you don't understand
A girl and a woman, a boy and a man
Everything is sexually vague [an awkward phase?]
Now you're wondering to yourself
If you might be gay

Let It Be served as a coherent attempt by the Replacements to address sexual ambiguity and confusion. Even the aforementioned opening track, “I Will Dare” describes a clandestine meeting between two people that certainly could be describing a secret rendezvous between possibly gay lovers:

Oh, meet me anyplace or anywhere or anytime
Now I don't care, meet me tonight
If you will dare, I might dare

Considering the homophobia of the 1980s (certainly it persists today as well), the use of the term “dare” suggests that the meeting presented some sort of risk (and yes their is reference to a wide difference in age between the alleged couple but no gender is ever assigned meaning it could be younger man with an older one or a younger woman with an older lady). The album explores the strange sexual dynamics that unfolded in the 1980s, but few people, critics and fans alike, tease this out, chalking it up to teen angst or working class rebellion. The seminal track “Unsatisfied”, often interpreted as the clarion call of frustrated youth, might be the cry of an individual frustrated over sexual confusion, forced to hide their true sexuality. Let It Be stands as a testment to not only political and economic protest against Reagan’s America but also the sexual oppression that fewer observers seem to address. That’s not to say later albums ignored such topics completely. For example, Westerberg watched with a cool detachment as bands like Poison paraded across major FM radio stations while indie bands languished on college rock stations. Take the following lyrics to “Left of the Dial” off of Tim:

Weary voice that's laughin', on the radio once
We sounded drunk, never made it on
Passin' through and it's late, the station started to fade
Picked another one up in the very next state
On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on and...
Pretty girl keep growin' up, playin' make-up, wearin' guitar
Growin' old in a bar, ya grow old in a bar
Headed out to San Francisco, definitely not L.A.
Didn't mention your name, didn't mention your name
And if I don't see ya, in a long, long while
I'll try to find you
Left of the dial

Sure, the song’s definitely about college radio and its emergence in the 1980s as space for indie rock and post punk, but what about “Pretty girl keep growin up/playin’ make up/wearin’ guitar” followed later by “Headed out to San Francisco, definitely not L.A./Didn’t mention your name, didn’t mention your name”? Again, the sexual ambiguities of the 1980s emerge. Even the title “Left of the Dial.” Left equals communist. Communist equals gay. San Francisco is full of “left” though probably so is L.A. but in the public mind San Francisco dominates. Considering Let It Be’s overt display of sexual confusion,the idea that later attempts might engage similar themes but more as sub text also makes sense.

Considering Reagan’s role in the AIDS epidemic and the rising consciousness of gay and transgender communities, why do some many ignore this aspect of the band? Probably, because it fails to conform to the myth that has grown around the band; talking about nervous heterosexuality rather than nervous homosexuality remains a more accessible way in for many people and fans. Bob Stinson (the band’s original guitarist) frequently donned dresses for live performances but no one ever presents it as his comment on gender or sexuality, usually ascribing this idiosyncrasy to Bob’s drinking or drug use. So the Replacements, a band that definitely grasped irony, failed to see the irony of a band featuring a male guitarist wearing a dress playing songs with titles like “We’re Coming Out” and “Androgynous” in Reagan America? Unlikely.

When Alex Cummings notes that we celebrate the 1990s more for its triumphant market economy rather than its “gloomy counterculture”, he’s right, for now. The “aughts” have become the reclamation ground for Generation X’s cultural touchstones, what meant something to creative types in advertising, architecture, social commentary will increasingly influence how we remember these “touchstones”. The cultural production of films, books and oral histories all proliferated in the aughts as fans and devotees attempt to reinforce how THEY want to remember the their adolescence and early adulthood. Perhaps the 2010’s will serve as reclamation for earlier decades. What’s pursued for reclamation and what it will mean will be increasingly defined by those who experienced it and feel compelled to put forth the corresponding narrative. Failure to do so will mean exactly what Klosterman suggests, “It is laughable to admit (without irony) that Ratt's ''I Want a Woman'' was your favorite song in 1989; that would mean you were stupid, and that your teenage experience meant nothing, and that you probably had a tragic haircut.” (CK, NYT, Dec. 29, 2002)

Ryan Reft

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"The Undamaging of Communities"

The idea that discourse creates the conditions for the implementation of discriminatory social policies while creating problematic self conceptions of those depicted has been explored by academics at length. The tendency of educators and social scientists to present communities/schools as “damage centered” in hopes of drawing attention or funding to their topic of study contributes to larger long-term problems that undermine the very efforts of those producing “damage centered” studies.

SUNY-New Paltz professor Eve Tuck acknowledges the one-time importance of damage centered approaches but pushes back, advocating new approaches based around desire: “Desire is the song about walking through the storm, a song that recognizes rather than denies that pain doubtlessly lies ahead.”[1] For Tuck and several others she references, desire emerges from “an assemblage of experiences, ideas, and ideologies, both subversive and dominant, necessarily complicates our understanding of human agency, complicity and resistance.”[2] In this way, desire effectively reveals the countervailing forces that make human existence without oversimplifying their terror, inspiration or anything in between.

Tuck’s desire framework points to important aspects of memory and history. Her formulation enables people to both assert and confront their desires, to mediate the pain of the past while celebrating the accomplishments of yesteryear and thinking about the promise of future. However, the contradiction of human agency that Tuck herself notes proves cautionary. Focusing on desire may not prove the panacea for which Tuck hopes. For example, scholars Judith Butler and Luis Alvarez have, in their respective works, examined the role of desire and dignity in marginalized communities. Both scholars argue that the desire of one group or individual can overlap and contradict those of equally marginalized peoples. For example, commenting on Paris is Burning, bell hooks argues that the documentary’s gay male performers’ conceptualization of women reify problematic gendered stratifications. “Livingstone does not oppose the way the hegemonic 'whiteness' represents 'blackness,' but rather assumes an imperial overseeing position that is in no way progressive or counterhegemonic,” according to hooks.[3] Carrying this further, one might argue that even the ways interviewees articulate their hopes and dreams reflect ideas concerning capitalist accumulation and traditional domesticities. In this way, Paris' most prominent example, Willie Ninja, who found fame working with Madonna and others, could be framed as a sort of American dream, built on a “realness” that reinforced dominant normative behaviors and economies.

Similarly, Alvarez (The Power of the Zoot) explored how the competing attempts at dignity by male and female zoot suits sometimes violated the desire or dignity of the other. However, Tuck seems aware and even animated by this contradiction. For Tuck, desire as an analytic or alternative frame of discourse fails to create unquestioning fact about a people but rather serves as a more inclusive and less “damaging” way of exploring a community and its needs. Fulfilling desire sounds promises a more positive outcome at least in the abstract than addressing damage, while emphasizing the “survivication” of its residents.

At the very least, Tuck's article invites academics, educators, administrators and social service providers to reexamine how they conceptualize and describe the communities they serve. Perhaps Tuck's vision may prove naive or infeasible, but it's worth contemplating.

Click here for a pdf Tuck's article in the the Fall 2009 Harvard Ed Review:



And for her work with CUNY's CREDD Project:


[1] Tuck, Eve, “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities”, Harvard Educational Review, 79 (3) 419.

[2] Tuck, Eve, “Suspending Damage”, 420.

[3] hooks, bell in Butler, Judith, “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion” in Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, New York: Rutledge, 1993.

Ryan Reft

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Econopocalyptic Job Market, Part I

If you or someone you know happens to be at any stage in the process of getting a PhD in the humanities -- English, History, Philosophy, and so forth -- you've probably heard that it is nearly impossible to find stable employment, even once the degree is in hand. Even with impressive publications in scholarly journals under one's belt. The number of jobs out there for a 20th Century US historian or a scholar of comparative Slavic literature is vanishingly small.

This strikes many people as odd. Their long-suffering grad student friends are smart folks. They went for a doctorate, which seems like a prestigious degree, at top schools like Penn, Berkeley, or Virginia. How is it that not a soul wants to hire them? The weird dynamics of the academic job market, where quite a few people work for a very long time with the knowledge that they will eventually compete for a tiny number of jobs, is difficult for anyone to understand, even those most familiar with it.

This problem has been attributed to a number of factors: 1. declining enrollments in majors like English and History over the last few decades; 2. the admission of "too many" people to grad school; 3. the creation of "too many" PhD programs at too many institutions (as every department seems to dream of having its own graduate program and every college aspires to attain "research university" status); 4. the ever-lengthening time it takes to complete a PhD; and 5. the shift toward a low-wage model that favors farming out teaching positions to teaching assistants and adjunct instructors instead of creating new tenure-track positions. English departments have plenty of Freshman Writing classes to fill, History departments have lots of US History surveys, and it's easier to pay an adjunct $2,000 with no benefits than to hire more tenured professors.

Many people have tried to weigh in
on the problem, offering one solution after another to the crisis of "overproduction" of PhDs. Some are plausible, while others are outright laughable. In a New York Times op-ed a few years ago, a professor who had spent his life enjoying the privileges of tenure at an Ivy League institution suggested that the whole system that benefited him so richly should be scrapped. Tenure should be done away with, he said, and departments should be discarded in favor of temporary task forces in which PhD students would specialize in interdisciplinary themes like "Water." If life is hard for the average English lit PhD, how is the newly minted Doctor of Water going to fare on the market? Don't expect serious proposals from people who don't have a horse in this race.

In any case, this will be the first of a series of posts on the Academic Econopocalypse at Tropics of Meta. We will be linking to articles on the subject that are worthy of debate, and weighing in with a range of our own perspectives.

A great place to start would be Louis Menand's recent piece in Harvard magazine, in which the author offers some truly sobering statistics about PhD completion rates and the withering of the humanities. Menand makes the debatable argument that time-to-degree (the time it takes to finish classes, exams, and the dissertation) needs to be shortened; he suggests that this would bring a more diverse bench of candidates into graduate programs and lead to PhDs bringing their expertise into other fields of endeavor.

Is Menand's argument persuasive? What, if anything, can be done to change the unfair and capricious system known, always ominously, as The Job Market?

Louis Menand, "The PhD Problem: On the Professionalization of Faculty Life, Doctoral Training, and the Academy's Self Renewal"

Friday, February 12, 2010

Eisenhower and East Asia

It takes a foolhardy man to disagree with Professor (!!!) Cummings, but on this occasion a brief rejoinder is in order. In an aptly titled essay ("What the Fuck is Barack Obama Doing?"), Alex analogizes Barack Obama and Dwight Eisenhower. He argues that Obama resembles Eisenhower in that the former's main successes are due to what he has not done. Specifically, Alex argues that "Ike was perhaps most successful for what he did not do...he resisted the temptation to get the US enmeshed in conflicts in East Asia." Although I can't say much about the analogy , Eisenhower's foreign policy is particularly intriguing. Alex's understanding of Eisenhower's East Asian policy reflects the revisionists accounts of the Administration's foreign policy towards the region published in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Though the work of the revisionists shed light on many aspects of Eisenhower's foreign policy, their consensus need not go unchallenged.

In one of those strange quirks of the historical profession, Robert McMahon's 1986 historiographical essay on Eisenhower's foreign policy has itself become part of the historiography.* McMahon takes to task "Eisenhower Revisionists" who challenge the traditional literature's characterization of Eisenhower as a "bumbling leader who presided over the 'great postponement' of critical national and international issues during the 1950s." (453) The revisionists argue that, in fact, the great virtue of Eisenhower was his wise and admirable self-restraint. McMahon argues that Eisenhower's response to, and fundamental misunderstanding of, third world nationalism expanded U.S. involvement in the world and contributed to instability. Adducing evidence for this claim is not exactly a herculian task---some obvious examples come to mind (Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Lebanon in 1958, and so on). The revisionsts--among them, Robert Divine, John Prados, George Herring, and Richard Immerman--made their strongest case in citing the conflicts over Quemoy and Matsu. Despite strong pressures for intervention, as revealed in Prados's The Sky Would Fall, Eisenhower understood the limits of American power and wisely kept the U.S. out of open-ended military commitments.

The same cannot be said of other conflicts in East Asia. For example, in discussing the Taiwan Straits crises of 1955 and 1958, Divine sums up his take on Eisenhower's statecraft by arguing, "the beauty of Eisenhower's policy is that to this day no one can be sure whether or not...he would have used nuclear weapons." McMahon rightly retorts, "That the brandishing of nuclear weapons can be a thing of beauty under any circumstance is a value judgment that some historians have been unwilling to make." (459) Ironically, of all people!, McMahon cites John Lewis Gaddis's (whom Divine advised at the University of Texas) argument that in fact the episode revealed "how little it would take to push the administration into a war with China involving probable use of nuclear weapons." (Ibid.) Far from showing restraint , based on a plethora of then recently declassified documents, it appears the world barely dodged a nuclear war in large part because of Eisenhower's willingness to take nuclear brinkmanship to the extreme.

Regardless of how one judges the latter case, McMahon's main complaint is the selection bias of the revisionists. Conveniently ignored is the case of Laos where the Eisenhower Administration completely misread local dynamics and dumped large sums of military aid to fight an insurgency which later only served to deepen American involvement in the conflict. A similar critique can be applied to Eisenhower's policy towards Indonesia. The Administration's paranoid view of the Sukarno regime led to its support of Indonesian dissidents in hopes of producing regime change. This policy ended up backfiring on Eisenhower, giving nationalist credence to Sukarno and allowing him to regain some popularity and crush dissidents. Likewise, the CIA's seemingly successful installment of Ramon Magsaysay in the Philippines was also dubious, for it sowed the seeds of nationalist opposition in the country and ultimately denied the U.S. a military base and led to a discordant series of diplomatic failures in 1956. One could go on with other examples, but the argument is clear: contrary to the revisionist view, the Eisenhower Administration showed little restraint in East Asia on many occasions and ultimately failed to understand one of the most important political developments of the 20th century--third world nationalism.

William Orangeman Williams

* Robert J. McMahon, "Eisenhower and Third World Nationalism: A Critique of the Revisionists," Political Science Quarterly 101 (1986): 453-73.