Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gary Bass' "Freedom's Battle"

Gary Bass, an associate professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, is the author of Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals. He is a former reporter for The Economist and has written often for the New York Times.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Freedom's Battle is the end of a chapter, about American calls for rescuing the Greeks during their revolt against Ottoman rule. The book is about early experiments with humanitarian intervention, as very rough precedents for today's debates about what to do in places like Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur.

The American debate about Greece is a fun one, so it's nice that it squeaked onto page 99. Basically, the story is that lots of Americans--including Thomas Jefferson, William Henry Harrison, James Madison, Daniel Webster--went berserk for the Greek cause in the 1820s, shocked at massacres there and thrilled by the classical echoes (Jefferson couldn't stop mentioning Homer and Demosthenes). Madison even wanted to get Greece included in the Monroe Declaration. The problem is that the United States was still weak and risked getting itself in all sorts of trouble by taking sides in European wars. That's the context for a magnificent statement, by John Quincy Adams, the secretary of state, who in 1821 pours ice water on Madison, Webster, et al. in a July 4 address: "she [America] does not go abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." John Quincy Adams manages to keep the White House out of foreign adventures, although he gets slammed by public opinion and garners an implicit rebuke from his own father, John Adams himself, who publicly backs the New York Greek Committee. (George W. and George H.W. Bush didn't invent this kind of psychodrama.) The chapter ends, on page 99, with John Quincy Adams triumphant. A pro-Greek activist comes by his office to ask for a donation for the Greeks. At the same time, a senator from Missouri walks in, looking for a donation for new church in St. Louis. Adams gives money for Missouri, not Greece.
Read an excerpt from Freedom's Battle, and learn more about the book at the Knopf website.

--Marshal Zeringue