Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Elitism, Anyone?

The author of the article that was the subject of my previous post took the time to email me regarding my little commentary. Here's our exchange:

From: Philip L Kennicott Sent: 8/1/2006 11:57:36 AM To: Subject: your blog
Just thought I'd send a note to say I think you may have read more of a "swerve to the left" in my architecture review of the Marine Corps museum than I intended. I put "the dangers of empire" in parentheses, and didn't necessarily mean it as you've read it, ie. that the US is an empire, or imperialistic. The previous sentence mentioned democracy and "the vulnerabilities of democracy" and the temptation to empire is definitely one of those vulnerabilities, don't you think? No sooner had the Athenians established the preeminence of their democratic system than they were tempted by the dangers of the Delian league. I hoped that the "dangers of empire" would be read as I wrote it, generically. The Marines know these dangers because they've fought empires, the Japanese included.
Philip KennicottCulture CriticThe Washington Post1150 Fifteenth St. NWWashington, DC 20071.

From: michael fay Sent: 8/1/2006 12:31:48 PM To: Subject: Re: your blog
I appreciate that you took time to email me. My reading of your final "dangers of empire" did not, nor does it now come across as generic. I think you made a very good point with regards to the failure of our system to educate folks on most things historic. The temptation to empire is a legitimate course of thought, but adding it to the end of piece (even in paranthesis) did not cap off your reporting, but rather came across as a raised eyebrow, and re-cast everything you wrote in a questionable light. Garnishing your piece about The National Museum of the Marine Corps with it was in my opinion unnecessary at best, and politically motivated at worst. I do not personally know you, but I'm well aware of the left leaning drift of The Washington Post. As I said in my blog, this type of rhetorical flourish is completely appropriate within the context of a op-ed piece, but within a journalistic, or even a critical review such as yours, it spices up the content beyond mere analysis or reporting. None-the-less, I really appreciate your explanation. I hope you will entertain my opinion that it is a far more loaded phrase, especially during our current historical unfoldings, than you intended.

Best Regards, Mike Fay

With further reading of Mr. Kennicott's explanation to me I found myself taken aback more and more by his references to the Athenians and the Delian League, and Marines fighting the Empire of Japan. The reference to Japan, the sole empire Marines ever engaged in combat with, unless you include the British in both the Revolution and the War of 1812, struck me as grasping at straws. Marines have been historically engaged in "small wars". Last time I read about WWII I don't think the "vulnerabilities of democracy" pushed Japan (or either Germany or Italy) to attack Pearl Harbor. Temptation to empire wouldn't exactly top my list of the vulnerablities of democracy. Do you think Attila the Hun was a closet Patrick Henry? Perhaps I missed this in college history class.....Ward Churchill no doubt covers this sort of thing in his lectures.

The reference to the Athenians strikes me as particularly elitist. Then again, The Washington Post is probably not aiming for a blue collar Nascar guy readership. I don't know why the Delian League thing didn't just jump out at me when I read the paranthetical "dangers of empire". National Museum of the Marine Corps.....Delian do I feel dumb, how could I have missed that one!

How in the world can Mr. Kennicott believe this sort of subtle and inflammatory manipulation is generic? It's not's elitist. Capping his article with "dangers of empire" was anything but a broad, vague or general tossing out of a neutral idea. It was specific and targeted. If anything, it made it seem as if the entire preceeding article was an excuse to give his "vulnerabilities of democracy"/"temptation to empire" thesis a forum.

Do you think if Mr. Kennicott ever reviewed The National Museum of Women in the Arts he'd end it with a paranthetical musing on PMS? Now that would be something!


Collette said...

I really love your sarcastic wit. You also give interesting new views to things I would never have seen. Must be the artist's keen observation.

Anonymous said...

Bro, I'm just a dumb old Gunny, but I happen to have read about the Delian League fairly recently. (You may have heard of me, I made the Dean's list last semester) Short version: comparisons of modern U.S. and ancient Athenian proclivities for empire buliding are apples and oranges on so many levels time does not permit me indulge it now. Ditto Athenian democracy. Grasping at straws is right.

More blue collar guys need to turn off ESPN and turn on some Thucidides and Herodotus. That way we know when guys like that WAPO writer are talking thru their hat. Cars going round and round and round...Borrrring.

Gunny H said...

Oh, and another thing Bro, we need to have a talk about this "Elitist" thing. Nothing wrong with Elitists and Elitism, Its just that guys like that WAPO writer have given the word a bad name. It is now inaccurately applied as an all purpose ad hominem.

One of my proudest moments at UMW was when a very liberal History professor in response to a comment I made about 17th Century Virgina called me an, "Elitist without portfolio" Hell, I put it on my business card, and gave the professor an Ann Coulter talking action figure as a going away gift when I graduated back in May.

Bag Blog said...

No man in his right mind would end a review of Women in the arts with a "parenthetical musings on PMS". It would be safer to go after the USMC.

As to the references to the Athenians and the Delian League, I missed that too. Of course, When I think "dangers of the empire", I tend to think "Star Wars".

Rob W said...

I don't know about your argument with the writer, but I do know that one of the reasons the Japanese attacked us is because they thought the fact that the Selective Service Act (the draft), passed by one vote in the House, meant we were weak on defense.

Donna, Los Osos, CA said...

Funny, I think of the Marines as an elite group. It is odd that our media doesn't see that when they blatantly attack, or sublimely try to sway public opinion against the military, they are trying to kill the host that feeds them and keeps them alive. Freedom for the reporter to write totally depends on our military, not the other way around. I guess they don't like their place in the food chain. I don't know why? I'm so grateful to our military, and damn proud of them that have made my freedom possible.Thank you for all you do.

Semper gratus,

mdfay said...

In contiuned reflection I've also become cognizant of the fact that the writer, Kennicott, honestly believes (I have no reason to doubt him) that his final after- thought musing on the "dangers of empire" is nominally harmless and without any substantive impact on the body of the piece....much like the touch of ghost. I personally think his final remark was a well aimed dig meant to suggest that Marines are the very tools of emperial ambitions and garner knowing nods from like minded libs. The fact that a semi-literate and admittedly rabid ne-con caught it probably means this WaPo writer will have to strive for more subtle digs in future pieces. Don't want the peons catching on to the secret handshakes now do we?

Bag Blog, yeah the Star Wars thing jumped right out at me.