Saturday, May 7, 2011

More on the Mormon Rebellion

So Mormon Dialogue has a thread about this book, with these posts as the highlight (and lowlight respectively):

You can find my original review here. And the entire thread is found here.

After only making it to the second paragraph of Deane’s review, I wanted him to defend the claim of there being “new research” in "Turley et al"s book. Can Deane identify just five new bits of information found in "Turley et al"s book that cannot be found in Blood of the Prophets, Innocent Blood or Mountain Meadows Massacre? My guess is Deane has not read any of these books.

I am completely shocked that any person with a shred of decency would write such a thing as the following: "then the authors dismiss relative examples of frontier violence that could have provided context for the Mountain Meadows Massacre", but this is found in Deane’s review. What violent act in the west compares to Mountain Meadows? It was not until the Oklahoma City bombing that any like number of civilians were murdered in cold blood in a non-military campaign on U.S. soil.

Deane claims the authors present the Mormons and Young as “witch burners”, “delusional”, “weasels”, “ungrateful guests”, and “dirty and sinister”. If one is willing to give Deane the benefit of the doubt, it could be said he has made at least five errors in a very short review. From my reading of the text he is sighting, I think Deane is being dishonest. For example the authors in describing how heated the reformation of 1856-1857 was, write that “Young ignited the most fearful spiritual upheaval since the 1642 Salem witch hunts.” (94) This is beyond stretching the truth on Deane’s part. Deane’s other words don’t even show up in the text.

And finally, how weak is it when apologists like Deane cry that their side of the story is not being told? What does he think 40,000 to 60,000 copies of Massacre at Mountain Meadows sold means? How many copies of Mormon Rebellion will be sold? Possibly three to four thousand books sold, less than 9 percent of Turley’s book. This apologists is not satisfied with these kinds of odds; no he want to destroy any other voice, call the other voices liars, or not even let the other voice speak, this is his strategy. An apologist like Deane doesn’t take the time to look at the evidence even-handedly, learn about the history or think for himself, he just attacks.

My response: Hey Joe. I’m happy to clarify a few things for you, although based on the tone of your post this will be my only response to you. I would be happy to continue if your tone does change. If it makes you feel better you can blame it all on my apologist programming and lack of decency.

I’m a historian that specializes in Military history with a secondary background in Mormon history. As such I am unaware of any historiographic minefields when I review a piece. So I can honestly say I don’t bring any approach or agenda to a book. I actually looked forward to this book a great deal.

But I’m sorry, the book contained many lousy historical practices. Providing context to an event doesn’t condone it, but it does provide greater understanding. This is what good history is supposed to do. American history has its share of extra judicial killing, mob action, and bloody border zones. Little of it compares to the scope of MMM and none condone it, but it would have been nice (not to mention more professional as historians) for the bloodiest action of the war to receive a more nuanced treatment. For example, Dr. John Grenier has impressively shown that there is a strain of American war making that targeted civilians. This strand was so prominent he called it the “America’s First Way of War”. So its misleading (among other things) to present the MMM in a vacuum independent of American and Western U.S. history.

I used the term “new research” to apply equally to new analysis of existing sources. Again, historians need to do more than use their existing collections. The manner in which they analyze the varying accounts and then synthesize it into an argument matters just as much as their research. The authors again failed, and thus their arguments are suspect at best. As I said with “context”, I appreciated the Turley book’s attempt to understand the motivations of the perpetuates. And I was disappointed that the authors skipped the chance to do likewise in favor of their agenda.

But this became less puzzling as I realized the very simplistic structure of the book. Mormons=bad, opponents of Mormons=good, people that like Mormons= dumb dumb dumb dumb! That is not history. To borrow a phrase from my time in Texas that is very useful in studying history, even the flattest pancake still has two sides. I’m sure Brigham Young had his share of faults. But the author’s continued bias became so typically outrageous that it was comical by the end of the book. So instead of gaining new insight into a controversial religious figure I instead laughed at the comic book super villain they created. Judging from the authors accounts I was expecting to look at the pictures and see stake marks over Young’s heart where the Federals unsuccessfully tried kill him. Again, professional and talented historians would take pains to try and present a nuanced picture of their subject, not write a one sided hit piece.

Finally, my list of “bad” and “good” insults was accurate. The ones in quotes are direct, the ones that are not express the sentiment the authors were creating. As you can see from even the small sampling, I was not taking their words or sentiments out of context. The sheer numbers of instances made me think this wasn’t a random occurrence, but an agenda that fatally undermined their attempt at legitimate history. Even as a sophomore earning my undergraduate degree my advisor could tell when I disliked a historical figure and he told me not to poison the well with my prose. Again the author’s repeatedly committed mistakes that an undergraduate should and could avoid.

For clarity sake: “witch burners” is the accurate description of how people Salem project their passion and what the authors intended in recalling that period of religiously inspired violence. I would have to be as dumb as you think I am not to make that connection. “Delusional” is found on page 144 where the authors state that “meanwhile a messenger from the real world interrupted Young’s dream of grand alliance.” Again, this is an appropriate one word description of the authors’ intent.

I hesitated to use “weasels” but believe it correctly identifies the authors’ sentiment. The Medieval Norman conquer Robert Guiscard has been called “Robert the Fox” but the Latin word was also translated as “Robert the Underhanded” or “Robert the Weasel”. This is appropriately recalled when the authors write on page 209, “A later opponent said that Young was not much consequence as a lion, but when he took on the role of the fox, ‘he is very formidable’. Young showed nimble skills in escaping culpability for both blunders…” It was extremely clear to me that the authors were arguing about Young’s ability to weasel out of problems and they used negative terms to do so.

“Ungrateful guests” is located on page 197 (I originally listed it as page 180- my notes are that messy). Here the authors state “Travelling in Vilet’s comfortable carriage The University of Pennsylvania graduate returned the captain’s hospitality by serving as Young’s eyes in the enemy camp.” And “dirty and sinister” is found on page 123 (mistakenly I put 124) as “rough and sinister looking men”. Again, you could say that I was being unfair or reading too much into it. But the consistency with which the authors poison the well convinced me that I was not. And I’m sorry to sound like a broken record but professional historians do not consistently commit these kinds of errors.

Your last paragraph is incredibly sad. It’s a long diatribe against a perceived enemy, full of vitriol and ad hominem but does nothing to bolster the defense of the book. I don’t know and don’t care how many prints the respective books have. I’ve never been called an apologist (but I guess I made it into the club!), and never published with FAIR. Trying to paint me into the enemy camp, call me a liar, question my intelligence, or question my character doesn’t engage my arguments. If anything, your hyperbolic response to my review indicates that you’re the one that read it with preprogrammed agenda. (Assuming you even read it!) You did find several typos in my citations. Thank you for calling it to my attention. Have a nice life.

1 comment:

alan said...

I'm glad that I am not the only one who saw all of the blatant errors in this book.

Looks like Dr. Grenier's instruction was as good for you as it was for me.