Professor Penelope Blake is the indomitable teacher who has eloquently protested the program on the Pacific War sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanites at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii. Professor Blake’s protest has struck a nerve with many of our readers, some of whom have followed up with their congressmen and some of whom have followed up directly with Chairman Leach himself (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In return for her efforts so far Professor Blake has received a characteristically patronizing and buffoonish response from NEH Chairman James Leach. We haven’t posted Leach’s response, but one can infer the substance of his response from Professor Blake’s reply below. Professor Blake has struck a nerve with many of our readers. We are therefore posting Professor Blake’s reply to Leach in its entirety:
Nov. 6, 2010
Dear Mr. Leach:
Thank you for your communication of November 1, 2010, in response to my letter of concern regarding political bias and revisionism at the NEH Summer Workshop on the Pacific War held at the East-West Center, University of Hawaii, in July.
Unfortunately the four actions you propose at the conclusion of the letter, which consist mostly of reminders and rewording of already clear guidelines, will not produce any meaningful change, as I am sure you know. Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the East-West Center program, along with a suspension of funding until the NEH guidelines are satisfied, will be effective in addressing the issues I have raised.
Your response also misses the point in several areas. You attempt to dismiss my concerns as those of someone who is intolerant of “contrarian perspectives.” Mr. Leach, I have attended numerous conferences in my three decades in academe, many of which featured heated scholarly debates involving ideas with which I strongly disagreed, and I have never felt compelled to write a negative letter of evaluation following any other conference.
What I experienced at the East-West Center Conference was a sustained, biased and politically-motivated attack on the U.S. military, American valor and the symbols which commemorate it, and World War II veterans. My letter documents numerous examples of a lack of balance and context for this attack, clear violations of the NEH guidelines you cited. Yet, you have given me every indication that the 2011 East-West Center Conference will be funded with no meaningful attempt to address these serious issues.
As for the popularity of the conference among other participants, this is neither surprising nor relevant. I am sure you have noticed by now that a great number of Americans outside of academe are not supportive of the perspectives offered at the conference. But the question at hand is whether the NEH should be permitted to support a biased, agenda-based conference, no matter how well-received the conference may be.
You state that the conference proposal was unanimously approved by a peer-review panel and subsequently by the NEH Council, as if this is some kind of validation of the process, when in fact it illustrates the utter culpability of the NEH for what transpired in Hawaii. Either the members of the review panels did not read the supporting materials submitted along with the proposal (and you stated that all proposals are required to include “the complete agenda, list of scholars-presenters, readings and activities”), or they ignored/approved the obvious political bias and revisionism contained in this material. Either way, the NEH failed to do its job.
What puzzles me the most, given the fact that you have shared with me details of your father’s heroic service in WWII, is that you are not as outraged as I am by what transpired at this conference. Why have you not committed yourself to ensuring that such a travesty will never again happen on your watch?
After all, true commemoration requires action. All great leaders know this. You cite Abraham Lincoln as having said, “it is for us the living to remember,” but Lincoln did not say this, nor was he asking us merely to remember. The Gettysburg Address is not a prayer of reflection; it is a call to action. Lincoln actually said (emphases mine): “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion….” Lincoln knew that guardians of freedom, whether they are presidents, soldiers, academics or public administrators, cannot afford the luxury of passivity, for those who seek to corrupt the very foundations of freedom are never passive, though they may be surreptitious. You and the NEH Council have been called to action, and your task is to guarantee that the history of this nation, the legacy of our “honored dead,” receives fair and honest representation within the programs you approve and fund.
You concluded your letter by reminding me of the intellectual freedom for which our fathers fought. You need not remind me of this, Mr. Leach, as I am a staunch defender of freedom of speech, and I am well-aware of the noble causes for which my many loved ones fought. But you may wish to issue the same reminder to the organizers of this conference, who instead of honoring your father and all of our fathers as defenders of freedom, repeatedly characterized them as oppressors, rapists, conquerors, and colonialist invaders.
I do not know how you intend to honor your father’s heroic legacy, but as for me, I will continue my efforts to see that my father’s history is not corrupted and rewritten to satisfy the revisionist agenda in evidence at the Hawaii conference.
To that end, I will inform as many people and organizations as possible of what transpired at the East-West Center in the hope that some meaningful change will be forced upon the NEH.
Penelope A. Blake, Ph.D.
Thank you, Professor Blake. I do not think we have heard the last of this matter.