THE DISTORTION OF AMERICA by Oscar Handlin

THE DISTORTION OF AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Historian Handlin acknowledges that these eight articles are polemics--intercessions by a historian into contemporary affairs without benefit of historical distance. (All but one, that is, are reworked journal pieces.) Fair enough; but a historian need not leave the canons of his trade at the door, as Handlin does here. A very few themes are reiterated ad nauseam: the United States has lost its way in the world, falling to assert itself in a context devoid of reason, unwilling to play dirty like the USSR and unable to convince the world by argument; the intellectuals have given up on the country and on progress, a manifestation of their alienation from the citizenry; there is no such thing as neutrality, which is only a facade for going over to the enemy. The most pernicious essay--because written for the Foreign Policy Association in 1968 but substantively unchanged by hindsight--argues that the United States should have pressed the war in Vietnam to an end after the Tet offensive instead of waffling; and accuses the antiwar movement of moral responsibility for the outcome in Southeast Asia, throwing in a condemnation of dissent in the face of majority rule to boot. The Soviet Union is less the target than those whom Handlin thinks pay homage to it--those dratted intellectuals again--despite the USSR's proven inability to attain the abundance it has promised. These are Cold War essays worthy of an ideologue like Norman Podhoretz, not of Handlin the historian.

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1981
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown