The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, October 07, 2003

More theses - on US obscenity laws and the Tonkin Gulf Incidents

As I've said here before, a serious problem with information online is that it tends to be shallow, repetitious and partial (in both senses of the word!).

There are, for instance, a zillion Civil War timelines - but are Allan Nevin's essential [1] eight volumes available online, to the plebs [2] gratis? Are they buggery!

Bits and pieces are the rule online. One has the excellent Gallica - 80,000 volumes - real books! - produced by the Bibliothèque nationale de France - but, as previously lamented, nothing remotely comparable from London or Washington.

One type of source I had neglected until recently is the ETD - electronic theses and dissertations [3]. The problem, cutting to the chase, is that there are online union catalogues of ETDs, but those pulling up material available to the public seem less than helpful (though I'm happy for the moment to put that down to operator incompetence!). Individual universities keep their own databases of their own ETDs - but often these are available only within a particular college's own campus.

Fruitless, therefore, to think of applying some sort of Google model to this vast body of substantial, full-text information. The correct model, I think, is the secondhand bookshop: the visit is the thing, the knowledge that the chance is small of anything of interest turning up, but savoured by the hope of striking lucky.

(Having gone through one or two lists, my impression is that the vast preponderance of ETDs available are in science and engineering. Is that right?)

A couple of items have caught my eye:

A 1990 Ph D thesis [4] on the history of the US law of obscenity by Richard Lillie. Lillie goes right back to the beginnings of the English common law on the subject, and takes his time with the evolution of the law once it had crossed the pond - the journey to Miller is nothing if not tortuous, but Lillie is in no hurry. (I'm judging by the index here! But the first dozen or two pages bode well!)

Lillie was no mere theorist - apparently he spent the Reagan presidency in the Justice Department as a specialist prosecuting child pornography cases!

A 1999 MA thesis [5] by Kim Weitzman (female!) on the Tonkin Gulf Incidents. The locus classicus on the subject is Edwin Moise's 1996 book Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War - Moise uses every angle you can possibly imagine to show that the second incident didn't happen. As a piece of detective prose alone, it's worth a read. (If some day there's a book half as good that unravels the intelligence shenanigans surrounding the Iraq war, we will indeed be fortunate!)

Weitzman's piece is much shorter (just 100 or so typed pages) and her treatment more basic - but compared to what else there is online, it's worth having. Odd thing, though: no mention of the Moise book in her bibliography. I also have at the back of my mind that Moise was rather down on [6] on historian Edward Marolda, who does appear there!

[I have a theory that, for any particular period of history, you need an in. Go in cold, and all the names and places become a jumble, and you pretty soon get turned off the whole thing [7].

For the Vietnam War, the Tonkin Gulf Incidents, I think, are the best in - compact enough to be dealt with comprehensively in Moise's book, neither too early nor too late in the story (the American story, that is, of course [8], material like the LBJ tapes available.]

  1. For historiographical purposes, at the bare minimum.

  2. There are treasures galore stored in systems available only to one class or other of university member.

  3. Such as the excellent thesis on the US Senate and Jim Crow noted a couple of days ago.

  4. The thesis obviously not originally in digital form, so the file size is large: around a 8.5MB PDF file.

  5. Again, the thesis is in PDF in image form - around 3MB.

  6. I find I have my notes from reading the Moise - some time back! Apparently, he says, on page iii of the Introduction, something to the effect that, as late as 1986, the US Navy history of the Vietnam War maintained that the second incident was real - and that was, it seems, From Military Assistance to Combat co-written by Marolda!

  7. For instance, I've started two or three times to get into Hugh Thomas's book on the Spanish Civil War. Not made it beyond a hundred pages - nothing seems to penetrate! The in for that subject may well be Gerald Brenan's Spanish Labyrinth - which goes back to the post-Napoleonic War period and moves slowly up to 1936, with social and economic history larding the politics (anarcho-syndicalism and all!)

  8. Starting with the Chin Dynasty might be better for the soul, but would pretty much guarantee failure! (This suggests the Wade-Giles for Qin is Ch'in - not to be confused with the very much later dynasty, Qing and Ch'ing. Oh dear, too late...)

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