Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Hanson on Cobra II

Victor Davis Hanson has a long review in the new Commentary on Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's history of the Iraq war, Cobra II. From my reading of the book, Hanson is spot-on in both his praise and criticisms. This fault, in particular, drove me crazy:

Far more disturbingly, sources are often cited only as “Interview, former senior military officer,” “Interview, former senior officer,” “Interview, former Centcom planner,” “Interview, Pentagon Officials,” “Interview, U.S. State Department Official,” or the like, and in some cases simply as “Notes of a participant.” The veracity of these multiple, anonymous, and often hostile sources can never be checked.
Read the whole thing.

And don't forget that the new Commentary is available now.


dcat said...

Tom --
As you well know, we are in general agreement about anaonymous sources. But surely there is some room for them, imperfect as they may be. In the African and terrorism components of my work, for example, sometimes getting people to talk may well put them in physical harm. Obviously a pentagon official might not have that worry, but surely they believe they face a culture in which criticism, even legitimate criticism, subjects them to punishment. This administration has not exactly been a model of transparency or fairness to those who have spoken out. Surely there is room for placing faith in some sources when otherwise we would not get information that may well be valid -- and once you have multiple sources, is probably valid.
I don't know where we draw this line, of course, but while it frustrates me that journalists get away with certain things and then jump on historians who, even in the case of the bad ones, are expected to be 20 times more rigorous that journalist, surely with contemporary events where there are ramifications just for speaking we must give some leeway for such use of sources.


Tom said...

All true, but it is still frustrating for historians who want to try to track down sources.

dcat said...

Yup -- as a matter of fact, I have been working on a project on South Africa in the 80s for quite a while, and someone just came out with a book on one of the case studies I have been working on. Very good book in some ways. But written by a journalist/lawyer and with not a single footnote or citation. None. And so I would hope that when mine scomes to press, whether as a part of a book or else as an article on the way, I can answer the "why do we need this after X's book" with a simple "if nothing else, mine has footnotes." That probably won't suffice, yet at least from the historian's vantage point, i wonder why?


Jack said...

Anonymous sources are indeed a frustration. But what was the alternative? Probably to not write the book. It's the nature of such an important and timely book involving the military that people speak out anonymously. Those who disagree are free to respond and offer their supporting evidence. Frustrating, but necessary.