A Harvard professor's ignorance of history

  • 5 June 2017
  • NormanL
A Harvard professor's ignorance of history

There was a storm of anger and angst from the left over the weekend regarding the President's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. The agreement (not a treaty) also brought out a streak of utterly bizarre and downright dumb comments, but none more so than a Twitter comment from the head of Harvard's American Studies Department, who wrote:  

The USA, created by int'l community in Treaty of Paris in 1783, betrays int'l community by withdrawing from #parisclimateagreement today

This sent some folks scrambling for their old high school civics books, because the idea that America was a creation of the international community -- not the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution -- seemed so deeply wrong.

We leave it to Charles C.W. Cooke to take up the trail from there:

In a bumper day of silly and ignorant comments, this one has to take the cake. The United States was not “created” by the “international community,” and nor was the Treaty of Paris the key moment in its development. Rather, by 1783, the United States was a fact on the ground. In Paris, the British merely accepted that.

How was the United States “created”? By a combination of the pen and the sword. In 1776, the world had been informed by a “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” that:

these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

By 1783, the “united Colonies” had made good on this by winning a war. To hear Chaplin tell it, you’d think that the United States was proactively invented by a collection of meddlesome powers — that its creation story was akin in nature to Belgium’s or to Pakistan’s or to Palestine’s. But it wasn’t. It was made by insurrectionists who threw off an imperial yoke, and it was recognized by the defeated entity’s surrender. Grand as its name may sound, the Treaty of Paris was not a meeting of the “international community” but a bilateral agreement — that is, an agreement that had only two signatories. Those signatories were Britain, which was surrendering and agreeing to both the terms of that surrenders and the border adjustments it yielded, and the United States, which was being recognized as a new nation. That the U.S. was soon widely recognized is interesting, certainly. But its existence as a sovereign nation was not the product of the Treaty of Paris any more than the existence of the incandescent lightbulb was the product of the U.S. patent office.

Though the entire incident serves as a reminder that just because one is a Harvard professor, it does not necessarily follow that one is smart. It also reinforces our notion that Twitter is, increasingly, an intellectual wasteland.