Court Historian

By Stove, R. J. | The American Conservative, September 22, 2008 | Go to article overview

Court Historian

Stove, R. J., The American Conservative

Andrew Roberts, the Anglosphere's greatest modern mythologist, may be perfectly suited to sanitize the Bush presidency.

CONNOISSEURS OF HOMICIDAL book reviews have long treasured the virtuosic evisceration that British immunologist Sir Peter Medawar performed hi 1950 on Teilhard de Chardin, that once fashionable Gallic mountebank. Of Teilhard's The Phenomenon of Man, Medawar remarked, "its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself."

Sir Peter's slashing verdict inevitably comes to a mind confronted with the work of currently hip British neocon Andrew Roberts. The historian has an influential admirer in George W. Bush, who after meeting Roberts in a London restaurant invited him to a second date in the White House. "To prove how serious he was," Vanity Fair's Vicky Ward reported, "Bush wrote down his personal phone number." Roberts's website boasts that at their later meeting, "he and his wife spent 40 minutes alone with President Bush in the Oval Office." Rumors of a presidential biography-or ghosted autobiography-soon took flight

Roberts's newfound vogue rests almost entirely upon A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Whether this 754-page blockbuster is the most mendacious tract marketed as nonfiction within the last decade, or whether Roberts genuinely believes the tripe he spouts therein, is among our era's more conspicuous literary puzzles. Nonetheless, this apparent dichotomy proves to be a distinction without a difference. Looking for candor in Roberta's agitprop is as absurd as seeking it in presentations from Madison Avenue. That is precisely what Roberts has become: not a historian at all but an advertising agent, whose account happens to be the Anglosphere and whose moralizing is as stridently simpleminded as Brecht's.

To expect in Roberts's effusions the smallest nuance or humility makes hunting for four-leaf clovers seem like an intelligent use of one's time. He is incorrigible. Not only must every good deed of British or American rule be lauded till the skies resound with it, but so must every deed that is morally ambiguous or downright repellent.

The Amritsar carnage of 1919, where British forces under Gen. Reginald Dyer slew 379 unarmed Indians? Absolutely justified, according to Roberts, who curiously deduces that but for Dyer, "many more than 379 people would have lost their lives." Hitting prostrate Germany with the Treaty of Versailles? Totally warranted: the only good Kraut is a dead Kraut. Herding Boer women and children into concentration camps, where 35,000 of them perished? Way to go: the only good Boer is a dead Boer. Interning Belfast Catholics, without anything so vulgar as a trial, for no other reason than that they were Belfast Catholics? Yep, the only good bog-trotter ... well, finish the sentence yourself.

FDR's obeisance to Stalin? All the better to defeat America First "fascists." (Roberts has "fascists" on the brain, having spent pages feverishly denouncing the prewar Teutonophile naïveté of long forgotten British historian Sir Arthur Bryant, while administering to tenured Leninist head-kickers Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm polite slaps on the wrist.) FDR the compulsive lecher? Actively commendable: Roberts hopes "the great man did indeed find some happiness with his lissome secretary." Bombing Germany and Japan into glue? Bring it on. Sinking the General Belgrano during the Falklands crisis? Cool. NATO massacring Serbs? Megacool. Almost everything in modern politics that even (or especially) Britain's and America's authentic well-wishers consider a cause of shame, Roberts regards as a crowning splendor.

Curiously, he fails to carry this attitude to its logical conclusion by applauding Harold Macmillan's public-spirited labors in 1945 to give anticommunist refugees firsthand experience of Uncle Joe's compassion; or by demanding that Lieutenant Galley's philanthropic My Lai endeavors be rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize; or by cheering the 1969 British blockades that released a million skeletonic Biafrans from the perils of obesity; or by praising Roe v. …

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Court Historian


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