[lit-ideas] Re: A Genuinely Useful Thought

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2007 20:01:10 -0800

You should choose your examples
with a little more care, John.  Ellis has been dismissed from his teaching
position for cause. This example that you use, this Ellis you ask me to
listen carefully to would appear to have been better off if he wasn't
quite so ambitious for fame.

Over the years, Joseph Ellis told various classes of his at Mount Holyoke College that he had served in the 101st Airborne, advised General William Westmoreland, and returned from Vietnam to protest the war. After it was discovered--and made public in a story in the Boston Globe, in June 2001--that he had not done any of these things, he was eventually dismissed from Mount Holyoke for a year, without pay.

The Globe's original piece; a following article in the New York Times; letters to the Times in response to its own story, all condemning Ellis; articles from the Washington Post, and the Hartford Courant, can be found at


It's a sad and perplexing story. Ellis had everything to lose and absolutely nothing to gain by falsely presenting himself to his students as he did. His 'fame' came from the reception of his popular books on history, none of which drew upon or alluded to, his fictional account of his own life. (During the Vietnam war, Ellis was teaching history at West Point.) What led him to do what he did is a question for psychologists; the merits of his work don't depend on any ideological stance: either they are honest accounts or they aren't. We read one of his books, Founding Brothers, in Senior Symposium, several years ago. Most of us found it thin, and its analogies strained. But that is by the way.

Robert Paul
Reed College

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