The Historians’ War Over the Six-Day WarHistorians in the News
tags: the Six Day War, William J Astore
... The sweet afterglow of military success inspired fawning chronicles of Israel’s victory. However, as the price of maintaining the post-1967 borders rose, more sober assessments came to the fore. New archival revelations helped historians realize just how fractured and antagonistic the Israeli decision-making process was in the years preceding the war. The focus of the story now turned from the external threat, which had largely been a myth, to the way in which Israel’s military establishment manipulated public opinion and strong-armed civilian leaders.
As I have argued, each historian writing about the Six-Day War brings a certain Zeitgeist to his description. My book about the war is no different. As an Israeli, I grew up in the shadow of wars. People my age are known as the “winter-of-1973 generation.” Our fathers came back from the harrowing battlefields of the Yom Kippur War, eager to bring new life into the world. The 1991 Gulf War forced me to watch my Holocaust-survivor grandfather put on a gas mask. No wonder I devote so much time in my volume to figuring out why the war happened in the first place.
As a scholar, I learned my trade in an era in which the Internet and cheap flight have enabled historians to access an ever-increasing selection of archives. For that reason, my research covers more archives, including several in the former Communist bloc, and in more languages, than any of the books mentioned above. Furthermore, the same process of globalization that allowed me to travel the world also exacerbated tensions between developed and developing countries. Indeed, most discussions of international politics today, from terrorism to the growing number of refugees, revolve around this theme. For that reason, I prefer to discuss the war in its global context. For instance, I argue that Third World countries were in bad shape during the 1960s, which explains why there were so many coups and regional wars, such as the Six-Day War, in that decade.
You would think that, with all this self-confident sales talk, deep in my heart I believe that my book is the last word on the subject. It is not, and no book is the last word on anything. Historians are going to keep on arguing about how the 1967 war came about. American and Israeli writers who believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is intractable and unsolvable are still searching for ways to portray Israel’s attack in 1967 as an act of self-defense. This is part of a larger narrative that depicts Israel as a Western citadel surrounded by a hostile Arab world. Historians who believe that Arab-Israeli coexistence and cooperation are possible seek to show that the war was avoidable and that a diplomatic solution to the crisis of May 1967 was within reach. In short, when we debate the Six-Day War, what we are actually arguing about are the chances for peace in the Middle East today.
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