(Comments - June 7, 2009)
That my colleagues at this great university have chosen to recognize my work humbles me. I shall always be grateful to them. For the hospitality and kindness of the Board of Governors, the President, the Rector, and the Dean of the Social Science Faculty I am touched and indebted.
My projects concern the problem of collective memory —how beliefs about the past vary throughout society—and these projects cover several areas, the most recent of which includes expert and popular beliefs in Japan about the 1937-8 Nanking Massacre. I find the Japanese debate over Nanking significant because it is so highly politicized, as are most historical debates in American universities. Part of the American problem is the overwhelmingly liberal makeup (about 90 percent) of social science faculties. My colleagues make a great mistake by denying that such likemindedness affects their research. Conservative critics, in fact, ask whether the idea of social science has changed: whether its function has become advocacy rather than discovery. These critics deserve an answer.
Although conservatives distort reality in their own way, leftist distortions, because they are far more pervasive, will be the topic of my comments. Defending the oppressed is the raison d'etre of American leftist existence. Maintaining unconditional compassion for victims, however, requires nimble thinking: some information must be exaggerated; some ignored; certain conventions for determining causation must be suspended; new ways of attributing motives must be found; innovative approaches to understanding aggression and defense must be developed. When left-leaning American observers analyze the shortcomings and harmful conduct of minorities, including African Americans, Hispanics, women, the poor, illegal immigrants, and American Indians, they refuse to formulate explanations implying blame. Left observers find only “external” explanations (e.g., oppression, deprivation of opportunity, injustice) and avoid “internal” explanations that “blame the victims” by relating their conduct to their own cultural values. Because Third-World peoples are also members of the “protected groups” of the left, it is no accident that the university was America 's only institution where opinions over the responsibility for 9/11 split, with a substantial portion of liberal faculty members blaming the Great Trade Center Massacre on America 's ill-conceived foreign policy—an extenuating circumstance for allegedly victimized Islamists.
Japanese liberals, likewise, condemn theories that attribute their forebears' World War II atrocities to external sources of motivation—to provocation, heavy casualties, inadequate supplies, poor leadership, logistical failures; instead, they attribute these atrocities to an internalized lust for aggression, contempt for Chinese inferiority, a mindset that confutes surrender and cowardice, and a disposition toward cruelty. In Japan , no less than America , politicized analysis confirms no objective causal pattern; findings are accepted or rejected depending on their implications for the esteem of protected or despised groups. Protected group behavior, including Chinese soldiers' use of the civilian population as a shield, is analyzed structurally (they do so because defeat leaves them no choice); despised group behavior, including Japanese execution of prisoners of war, is analyzed psychologically (they do so because they enjoy it).
Sympathy and disdain also affect numerical estimates. The Japanese left insist that 300,000 Chinese were slaughtered in Nanking , even though only 200,000 were in the city when it fell. Likewise, the American left fixates on the number of Hiroshima and Nagasaki casualties while vastly underestimating casualties America would have suffered in an invasion of the Japanese homeland. Left-leaning scholars also ignore the one thousand Americans killed and wounded daily during the week before the bombing of Hiroshima (a measure of lives saved by dropping the bomb sooner rather than later). In a related realm, the left practically ignores the number of Kremlin agents at work in America 's Cold War government, as demonstrated in the Soviet Union 's Venona files and elsewhere. Such distortions—overstatements, understatements, and nonstatements—embody a liberal attribution pattern that distorts rather than deepens historical understandings.
The present occasion, Hebrew University 's annual recognition of humanistic and scientific excellence, is the ideal place to condemn the politicized state of the social sciences and to reassert their traditional obligation to objectivity and historical truth.