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Faulty ivory tower.

As a working historian with often-dusty fingers, I was pleased to see Benjamin Wallace-Wells's ("Right Man's Burden," June) balanced portrayal of the "edutainment" mini-tycoon Niall Ferguson, who has made a success as a "historian" without doing much work, and whose quality of work falls with each successive volume from a not-very-high start point. It's best to let the false prophets condemn themselves, and Wallace-Wells does a nice job of letting Ferguson show us just what a fake he actually is, simply by letting him rattle on.

Mott T. Greene

Professor of Science and Values University of Puget Sound

Tacoma, Wash.

The Ferguson piece was interesting. I think some of Ferguson's observations are cogent, though not necessarily his remedies.

The difference between British and American approaches to empire is that Britain was keen on exporting people and investment capital and assumed that benefits to the home islands would follow. Being British was good, but knowing the native cultures was also important. The United States exports business models, rotates its people overseas, but not long enough for them to become too friendly with the natives, the better to help bring home the profits to the homeland. Americans view overseas assignments as assignments, not lives.

in short, Britain was secure that being British was special enough, while the United States, like the Soviet Union, views its specialness as ideological and subject to repeated verification. The Brit expats may have had their book clubs and parties but borrowed the Indian word gymkhana for their horse competitions and brought it home. The Yanks bring their Coke, fries, and Washington area-code cell phones to the Green Zone in Baghdad.

The only lasting American imperial power is cultural, the soft power of Joseph Nye: music, film, art, technology, and business know how. That is powerful and lasting, and sadly underutilized by the present ruling elite in Washington.

Prof. Jeffrey Harris

Plasma Research Laboratory

Australian National University

Canberra, Australia
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Author:Harris, Jeffrey
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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