History Club events are returning, plus more exciting news, but first…
Welcome new subscribers!
Last week’s article on Afghanistan and Vietnam elicited many reactions and brought in many new subscribers. Which is great! Debating history and foreign policy is essential for a strong democracy and an informed citizenry.
To our new friends: welcome! History Club began on Clubhouse in August 2020 and has grown into a community of 100,000 people. Many are subscribed to this newsletter. Here, we announce upcoming events and provide commentary on world affairs. Our mission is to create a more historically-informed and media-literate citizenry.
Reactions to last week’s post
A number of readers reacted to last week’s article by offering other analogies in place of Vietnam to explain the current situation in Afghanistan. I appreciate the creative thinking, but remember: analogies have limits for understanding a complex, evolving event. Also, the analogies you choose can reveal your biases. For example, if you’re pre-disposed to believe the U.S. should have never been in Afghanistan, you will choose an analogy that reinforces your belief that foreign interventions never work. That may help win an argument on social media, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you understand the current situation any better. In fact, you may understand it less by comparing a prior situation to one that has little connection.
In the early 1990s, Afghanistan was decimated by a civil war as competing factions, including the newly-formed Taliban, battled to control the country after the Soviets withdrew. More than 100,000 Afghans died and 600,000 people became refugees. The U.S. did not intervene, arguing it was not in our national interest. That was until 9/11. In response, the U.S intervened as retaliation but also under the guise of human rights.
Twenty years later we are departing with Afghanistan again on the brink of mass casualties and brutal repression. Should the U.S. have intervened in the early ‘90s and prevented the Taliban from ever rising to power? Should the U.S. have never intervened, even after 9/11, under the logic that it was never in our national interest? Should the U.S. have only intervened immediately after 9/11, and then exited shortly after? Why was the withdrawal seemingly so disorganized and callous, even after years of planning? Analogies to Vietnam don’t adequately answer these questions.
If one wants to draw a parallel between Afghanistan and Vietnam, one I have thought about this week has been in both scenarios Presidents and military leadership misled Congress and the American public in order to ameliorate the politics at home around a deteriorating situation abroad. They did so to maintain approval ratings, keep their jobs, and not admit failure. If there’s a lesson to be drawn, perhaps it is that people in power—in either party—will often do or say whatever is necessary to remain in power and avoid accountability. Such dishonesty led to tragic losses of life in both conflicts.
More foreign policy discussions
This summer’s events have convinced me that History Club needs to hold more discussions on U.S. foreign policy. Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, China… when History Club returns for live events, we’ll devote space to histories of U.S. foreign interventions. Suggest a topic you’d like to see covered. And, speaking of…
History Club returns in September for live events!
After taking some time to finish my book manuscript, History Club events will return in September. We’ll stick with our regular time and place: Thursdays at 10pm ET on Clubhouse. Follow us on Clubhouse, subscribe to this newsletter, or visit the History Club website for updates.
More upcoming events:
Thursday, September 9 - I’ll be speaking at the National Association of LGBTQ Journalists conference, as part of a panel on how history gets incorporated into contemporary journalism. Co-panelists are author Sherry Boschert, New York Times Magazine contributor Linda Villarosa and activist Helen Zia. The event will be held via Zoom. This is a subject I am quite passionate about. A few years ago, I led a collaboration between Philadelphia-area historians and the Philadelphia Inquirer to infuse more historical scholarship into local reporting. That collaboration was featured by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard.
Friday, September 10 - I’ll be moderating a panel for the National World War II Museum on how video games shape our understandings of WWII. Co-panelists are Robert Whitaker, founder of History Respawned; Peter Hirschmann, Game Director, Respawn Entertainment; and Nicholas Moran, Historian at Wargaming.net. The event will be held via Zoom as part of a conference called, “Memory Wars: World War II at 75 and Beyond.” The entire conference is free.
Help send us to SxSW!
We’ve teamed up with our friends at the Smithsonian’s “Made By Us” for a panel at SxSW on the so-called ‘history wars’ being waged on social media around the 1619 project. We’re in consideration for a slot, so please vote for us. The voting deadline is this week.
One final question: to-date I’ve turned off the comments section in this newsletter. It’s well-known how toxic comments sections can get. But in recent weeks, the emails and comments I’ve received have been really good. Should we open the comments section, so that you can learn from each other? Let me know in the comments below 👇 (now open!).
Thanks for reading, commenting, sharing and engaging. Have a good week.
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