Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Perils Of Insta-punditry

Glenn Reynolds, known to the blogging world as Instapundit, is a man who believes in the free marketplace of ideas. Where some have shied away from controversial theories, Reynolds has boldly presented them in carefully non-judgemental terms, allowing people to decide for themselves.

For example, just last week, when non-historian Michelle Malkin published a book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and claiming that resident Muslims are a greater threat to national security than the Isei and Nisei ever were, but not---are you writing this down---claiming that Muslim Americans should be rounded up and placed in internment camps, Reynolds decided that this was a clever, original, and "audacious" take on an old debate, worth several plugs and links. You tell me what this is if not a "buy this book, it's provocative" endorsement:
IN THE MAIL: Michelle Malkin's audacious new book, In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror.

I've always regarded the internment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese residing in America during World War II as both a tragic mistake and a grievous wrong. That's the conventional wisdom, and Malkin sets out to refute it, arguing that (1) there were more reasons to fear espionage and sabotage than many critics realized until the recent declassification of intelligence data from MAGIC and other formerly secret sources: and (2) the internment wasn't as at odds with international law and norms of human rights as critics claim.
Try this one on: "David Irving's audacious new book..." Kinda leaves a bad taste in your mouth, no? Glenn the Intrepid, however, at least at the time he wrote this post, was clearly more than open to having his mind changed on the CW regarding Japanese internment. I guess that's fair for someone who's never actually studied the history of the subject (has he?), although the second point he attributes to Malkin is an obvious falsehood and a law professor should be ashamed of himself for flirting with it.

Reynolds was just itching to give this book a thumb's up---and that places a burden on him to eat his words and excoriate Malkin the moment her book was exposed as a flimsy, anti-historical defense of one of the great crimes of American history. And Glenn would never shirk such a responsibility, right? He'd just pretend that the book is actually about civil libertarian compromises in the war on terror, and that he never gave it a carefully worded endorsement:
I think that Malkin's right to say that reaction to the wrongs (well, I think they were wrongs) of the Japanese internment of World War Two is limiting our ability to do the rather mild things that we need to do now. (A couple of readers hysterically emailed wondering if Malkin, was advocating "interning all Muslims," or even if I was. Uh, no. But fingerprinting people at the border hardly counts as internment, despite what people sometimes say.) Still, I'm afraid that the historical argument about the rights and wrongs of what happened over 60 years ago will hijack the discussion of what to do today. That could turn out to be expensive.
Any sentence that begins with the phrase "I think Malkin's right to say" deserves some scrutiny. But yes, it's fair to say that pulling people who look like the shoe-bomber out of lines at airports isn't internment. That doesn't mean that there's any justification in falsifying the historical record on internment. Glenn's general objection seems to be that the debate shouldn't be muddied. Fine. Tell that to Malkin.

Glad to see, incidentally, that Glenn isn't advocating internment of Muslims. Surprised to see that he would claim that Malkin isn't either. She says the same thing on her website. But that's not the point. Malkin has written a book arguing that the evacuation and internment of Japanese-American citizens in WWII was justified by military necessity. She argues there and elsewhere that Muslim residents of the US pose a greater threat, given the existence of sleeper cells, known infiltration of American society, etc., than Japanese Americans ever did---and that statement is true even if Michelle Malkin thinks so. If you accept the second (and obviously true) proposition, and buy the first as well, then you have absolutely no grounds to argue against the internment of all Muslims living in America. You could protest that you're not calling for such a policy, but if it were justified in the case of the Japanese, then of course it's justified today. Neither Malkin, nor Reynolds if he swallows her bogus revisionism, has got a leg to stand on.

Want more Reynolds fatuity? How about this precis of a tangential comment from Eric Muller, who spent about a week shredding through Malkin's book and, if there's any justice, reducing her to David Irving-dom and ending her status as a pundit-to-be-taken-seriously:
He's still not a fan, but this is an important point [referring to Muller's observation that the internment of the Japanese should not be used to shut down debate on anti-terrorism policies]. (And I should note that I think well of David Cole, too, with whom I've worked in the past on some of these issues, though I do think he's been somewhat alarmist). It's been very difficult to have any kind of reasonable discussion of these issues in the nearly three years since September 11, and I think that has cost us dearly in terms of security. I'm also afraid that if we have another major terror attack, we won't have that debate then, either.
No Glenn, it's not nearly as important a point as it is a supererogatory one that any historian would concede, and that has exactly nothing to do with the merits of Malkin's book.

Well the Insta-one had access to---and I think read---the rebuttals of Malkin from Muller, Greg Robinson, and hopefully David Neiwert as well (btw, Reynolds used the word "scurrilous" only once in his discussion of this book, and not in reference to a shabbily-researched monument to his own gullibility). When things started to look really, really bad for Malkin, Reynolds had this to say:
ERIC MULLER HAS POSTED another item critiquing Michelle Malkin's new book, and it seems to me that Muller makes a pretty strong case that the conventional wisdom is right, notwithstanding Malkin's audacious critique. Perhaps Michelle will respond, when she's done dealing with sick kids.

Unfortunately, though, the fear that I expressed earlier has come true, and most of the discussion has to do with things that happened 60 years ago, as opposed to what we ought to do now. I'd really like to hear some thoughts on that.
First of all, "critique" is not a verb. Knock it off, professor. Second, who authorized such weasel language? It "seems to [Glenn] that Muller makes a pretty strong case that the conventional wisdom is right, notwithstanding Malkin's audacious critique"---and notice that the argument is still "audacious," a term that's never used except as a positive modifier, even though the argument has been demonstrated to be flatly wrong as well as xenophobic and racist in its consequences if not necessarily in its intent. Lots of balls Glenn, lots of balls. Third, too fucking bad that your fears have come true. Malkin herself made this a debate about things that happened 60 years ago by alleging falsities and half-truths about them; that's an inexcusable offense for someone purporting to be a historian, and Muller and Robinson discharged their duties as professional historians by fisking Malkin's claims.

Reynolds had one last dying whimper about Malkin's book: "MICHELLE MALKIN has posted a long and detailed set of responses to criticisms of her new book." That's it. The end. We're back in neutralville. Plus yet another Insta-link to Amazon so that insta-readers can spend their money and Michelle Malkin can line her insta-pockets a bit by peddling insta-lies. Reynolds didn't even have the grace to link to Muller's response to Malkin's response. On the whole, a triumph of credulity.


At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"First of all, "critique" is not a verb."

Um... yes it is.

Key quote: "Critique has been used as a verb meaning “to review or discuss critically” since the 18th century, but lately this usage has gained much wider currency."

Just being pedantic, really.

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Finnegan said...

Um, usage can be incorrect. Like using "critique" as a verb. Lately, lots of people who should know better have been using the word "they" as a singular pronoun. Just because it's popular doesn't make it right.


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