Bellesiles Still Making it Up?

You remember Michael Bellesiles, right? I know Clayton Cramer does. Jim Lindgren notes that something is awfully fishy about some of his new stories. I have to admit, that if it turns out that Bellesiles is lying again, I would almost have to wonder if it’s pathological. Surely by now he knows everything he publishes is going to be gone over with a fine tooth comb. Megan McArdle is skeptical that Bellesiles would be so bold. It seems hard for me to believe he’d bend the truth again unless he had some kind of issue.

6 thoughts on “Bellesiles Still Making it Up?”

  1. So, a left-winger academic type who lied to push his anti-gun agenda a few years ago now seems to be lying again to push his anti-war/anti-military agenda.

    Who’d a thunk it?

  2. I would not be surprised if the class he taught wasn’t at CCSU. He had all of one class that I could find on the spring schedule, and it wasn’t military history. I would not be surprised if Bellesiles is teaching at another college simultaneously.

    I would not be surprised if Bellesiles is shading the truth, or just flat out making this one up. (It would not be the first time.) But so far, I haven’t see the definitive proof that would be required to call him a liar. It sure doesn’t look good for him, however.

  3. The thing of it is, his little story is so chock-full of “The Liberal Narrative,” that it reeks just on its own. A shy but exceedingly bright student…it’s practically J.D. Salingeresque. But even more it’s like one of those Soviet just-so stories, “Boris and His Faithful Red Tractor Save the 5-Year Plan.”
    The invocation of the psycho-sexual undercurrent, his first encounter with enemy fire, which had been chaotic and without consequence. Then the sudden interruptus – the disruption of WAR studies, (during which we explored Ulysses S. Grant’s strategy of attrition)… The tragic explanation for not attending class: a sniper’s bullet!
    He (the Young Revolutionary) bravely struggled-onward, authoring an amazing paper showing “don’t ask, don’t tell” to be an example of military discrimination, carrying the flag of Democratic Resistance!! Sorrow was written across Ernesto’s young face. Then the Taxi-Driver foreshadowing scenario and the re-ification off the classic Hollywood Lonely Mind-Broken Veteran, never spoke in class, cut his hair short, and began wearing military boots and fatigue-style clothes. drums in the jungle, the echo of Vietnam, VIETNAM MAN!! The bogus Gulf of Tonkin Incident, man, BUSH LIED!! It’s all there…and not very well done.
    Students report: “Lectures are long and boring. He grades his essays like he is an english teacher.
    The man tries to re-write history so that it agrees with his views.
    Love the subject, but he was sort of obnoxious. He’s quite pompous, and loves to let you know you’re wrong.”
    Sounds to me like a writer – not a Historian.
    He writes like one too, sticking closely to The Narrative…

  4. Hi Clayton,

    Bellesiles did teach a military history course at CCSU in the fall. If his CHE article was written this spring (as it might’ve been, depending on the lead time for CHE articles), “this last semester” could’ve referred to the fall.

    But according to iCasualties there were only a handful of U.S. deaths due to hostile small arms fire in Iraq during the August ’09 – July 2, ’10, inclusive. (And that’s not limited to Connecticut casualties; it’s all American casualties. This is a mobile society. A student at CCSU isn’t *necessarily* from Connecticut, and neither is his brother.) So I looked up all their obituaries. One mentions a brother. One is silent about siblings. The others mention surviving family but not brothers.

    The one fallen soldier who did have a brother pretty clearly wasn’t a recent immigrant or recent enlistee. The other, about whose sibling relationships the obits are silent, *was* an immigrant but was also a senior staff NCO. Neither of them, nor any of the others, appears to have lingered for days or weeks before dying. So even if Bellesiles was teaching at a another school besides CCSU, if the events he describes really did occur sometime during the ’09-’10 school year, he’s apparenty changed some significant details. No U.S. soldier killed during that period seems to come even close to matching the profile Bellesiles sketched for us.

    If Bellesiles altered a few details to protect the identifies of this supposed former student and his family, that’s fine. But the idea that he might change facts upon which he relies for much of the dramatic impact of his article doesn’t sit right with me. Things like the gratitude of a recent immigrant to his new country, the excitement of a new enlistee, the pride of his younger brother still at home, the long, lingering death and the effect of that awful waiting on the young man at home — these details are doing real work in Bellesiles’ article. Try removing them and see if you’re left with an article worth publishing; I don’t think so. And it seems to me that if those details are inventions, it seriously undercuts the value of the article. It’s one thing to alter identities; it’s another to alter details that contribute meaningfully to the substance of the piece.

    Color me very, very skeptical. The only way I can see this being resolved without further discredit for Bellesiles is if it was written a year or more ago, and thus fell outside the time period I’ve searched, or if the brother was killed in Afghanistan rather than Iraq. (The iCasualties list for the former isn’t nearly as user friendly as the one for the latter, so I haven’t worked through the Afghanistan list, yet.)

  5. I should say that there’s *evidence* that Bellesiles taught military history at CCSU in the fall of ’09, not that I know it as a fact.

  6. On reflection, I can imagine one other way that Bellesiles could come out of this without being further discredited, or at least badly so: if it turns out there really was a student, and he (the student) made up the story.

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