Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The continuing unraveling of Stephen Ambrose

Silbey posts a Military Carnival at EOTW, linking three posts arising from the news of Ambrose's fabricating many more meetings with Eisenhower than could have possibly taken place. Post III is particularly interesting; a grad student, Lori Clune, writes:
Another example comes from Ambrose’s discussion of the Rosenberg case in Eisenhower: The President, Volume Two (1984). On page 84 Ambrose writes that on the day of the executions Eisenhower “said he could not remember a time in his life when he felt more in need of help from someone more powerful than he.” Ambrose’s footnote reads Emmet John Hughes’ The Ordeal of Power: A Political Memoir of the Eisenhower Years (1962), 80; and Minnich, Cabinet, 6/19/53. Hughes, an aid and speechwriter for Eisenhower, quotes Minnich’s Cabinet meeting minutes and makes no mention of Eisenhower’s “need of help.” This sentiment is not in any of the versions of the June 19 Cabinet meeting agendas or minutes. One wonders why Ambrose felt compelled to imply that Eisenhower needed the help of a higher power when he decided to allow the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to proceed. Eisenhower “could not remember a time in his life” when he needed “help from someone more powerful.” Really? Not even D-Day?
I don't doubt that Eisenhower could have said something so platitudinous, but what's interesting is that the same claim appears in Peter Lyon's 1974 bio, at 526:
The affair troubled Eisenhower. He confessed as much to his cabinet, telling them on the Friday that he could not remember a time in his life when he felt more in need of help from somebody more powerful than he. But it was a matter of security.
There seem to be three possibilities:

(1) Ambrose plagiarized Lyon. Note the very close wording, with exactly the sophomoric changes -- "telling them" to "said," "somebody" to "someone" -- typical of clumsy plagiarism.

(2) Ambrose and Lyon used the same source. (Lyon mostly cites only for direct quotations, and doesn't give a source here.) But then, why didn't Ambrose cite to it?

(3) Ambrose cited correctly, and Clune missed it.

At the moment, I think (1) is the most plausible. Lyon was a liberal critical of Ike, and thus exactly the kind of biographer Ambrose was seeking to eclipse. Ambrose surely had read Lyon's book, and may well have found the higher-power line too good not to use. I'll have to glance at Ambrose's book and see whether he cites Lyon at all.

(Lifted in part from my EOTW comment at Silbey's post.)

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