U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (6/5/2014): D-Day, Trigger Warnings, Libertarian Civil Wars

1. D-Day

This article by Michael Peck in The National Interest, on five ways D-Day might have gone wrong, got me thinking about how D-Day (June 6, 1944) has functioned symbolically in my intellectual life. A little background is in order.

My introduction to history—as an idea, a narrative product, and a foreign country worth visiting—came during my middle school years (grades 6-7 especially) by studying World War II. I had become a decent reader by that point, but I latched onto WWII for the gore, the Nazis (or the idea of evil), the technology, the maps, the major figures (Eisenhower, Patton, Rommel, Goering, etc.) and, perhaps most importantly, flying machines. I remember being enamored, for years, with the idea of becoming a pilot. So read a lot about WWII air power. Over time, however, D-Day became an object of special interest. I was impressed with spectacle of the event, as well as its momentousness; it was a—if not ‘the’—turning point in the European theater. It was all downhill in the WWII fight against evil, to my adolescent mind anyway. After D-day it was the Holocaust. But that will have to wait for another day. D-Day became the point where darkness turned to light.

2. Trigger Warnings

In this piece by Mason Stokes, published in a Chronicle of Higher Education blog called “The Conversation,” he defends so-called “trigger warnings.” Trigger warnings are requests of instructors, made by students, that function as “pre-emptive warnings about material that might [either] upset [students or]…cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.” Note this excerpt from Stokes’ reflection:

I first became acquainted with trigger warnings about 15 years ago, when I was teaching a course on LGBT literature. We were studying Jim Grimsley’s Dream Boy, which explores a father’s sexual abuse of his son. The writing is so subtle that it takes a number of pages before readers know that terrible things lurk beneath the surface, and several more pages before we know what those terrible things are. The effect on the reader is uncanny, as if she is gradually coming to know things that happened a long time ago, things she has worked hard not to know.

Reading this novel put one of my students in a psychiatric hospital. She was an incest survivor, and the novel reproduced her trauma so perfectly that she experienced it anew. When she was released from the hospital a week later, we met, and, feeling entirely responsible for the ordeal she had gone through, I apologized to her. She wanted to continue with the course, so we worked out an arrangement in which she would never have to write or think about this novel again. I wouldn’t include it on the exam, and I would waive the assigned paper. Had I issued a trigger warning about this novel, we could have negotiated these terms in advance, avoiding the trauma that sent my student to the hospital. I’ve warned students about the emotions this novel might trigger every time I’ve taught it since.

Read the rest, especially the last three paragraphs. It’s enlightening.

3. Rothbard v. Koch: An Inter-generational Libertarian Civil War

At Mother Jones, Daniel Schulman is releasing documents and materials gathered while researching his recent book Sons of Wichita about the rise of the Koch brothers. In this selection he talks about how Murray Rothbard (d. 1995) saw Charles Koch as a “tyrannical control freak” and weak-sauce libertarian. Here’s a short excerpt:

In the 1970s, Charles helped fund Rothbard’s work, as the economist churned out treatise after treatise denouncing the tyranny of government. Rothbard was a man with a plan when it came to movement-building. Where some libertarians had bickered over whether to advance the cause through an academic or an activist approach, Rothbard argued that the solution wasn’t to choose one path, but both. Charles was taken with his strategic vision.

Rothbard dreamt of creating a libertarian think tank to bolster the movement’s intellectual capacity. Charles Koch made this a reality in 1977, when he co-founded the Cato Institute with Rothbard and Ed Crane, then the chairman of the national Libertarian Party. This was a high point for libertarianism, when a busy hive of libertarian organizing buzzed on San Francisco’s Montgomery Street, home to Cato and a handful of other ideological operations bankrolled by Charles Koch.

But the relationship between Cato’s co-founders soon soured.

Rothbard, who was feisty by nature, chafed under the regime of Crane and Koch—the libertarian movement’s primary financier at that time. His breaking point came during the 1980 election, when David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee. Rothbard and his supporters felt that, in a bid for national legitimacy, David Koch and his running mate, Ed Clark, had watered down the core tenets of libertarianism to make their philosophy more palatable to the masses.

4. Your “Good Years”

When are they? What did you gain, learn, or miss during those years? This Chronicle Vitae piece by Kate Bahn is focused on what women potentially lose from their biological “good years” while in graduate school. Although Bahn’s piece rightly focuses on women, I couldn’t help thinking about what all people lose while in graduate school (i.e. the opportunity costs). Those are maybe bigger years of sacrifice for all genders than we currently realize. – TL

One Thought on this Post

  1. D-Day is significant for the sheer scale of the operation, and the way its anniversaries are celebrated today is completely understandable, esp. given the substantial sacrifice in casualties that it entailed and the matter-of-fact heroism involved in storming the beaches

    But as far as turning points go, a glance yesterday at the only short-ish hist. of WW2 that’s on my shelf [*] indicated that Nov. 1942 — w/ El Alamein, the landings in N. Africa, and Stalingrad — was really when the military tide turned (w/r/t the European theater). By 6 June 1944 the eventual outcome of the war in Europe was not really in doubt, I think. So D-Day was important, yes, but not really ‘a turning point’ in that sense. The attention D-Day gets also comes partly from the dramatic, single-day quality of the event, whereas, e.g., the long, bloody Italian campaign, or the long, bloody Pacific campaigns are not commemorated in the same way. Even in the U.S. the 70th anniversary of Iwo Jima, say, does not have the same resonance as the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Again, there are understandable reasons for this, but I think it’s worth noting anyway.

    *Gordon Wright, The Ordeal of Total War, 1939-1945 (Harper pb, 1968)

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