This is the picture on Ellis’s faculty bio. It actually dates to the period during which he was caught fabricating his own history.
Even in fields of endeavor that are gigantic septic pools of homogeneous sewage, there’s the occasional stool that breaks surface, emitting more than the usual volume of methane-scented aromatics. In Hollywood, for example, you have Woody Allen, who not only married one of his own (step)daughters, but is now credibly accused of diddling the others, also. (
What Who will Polanski do to catch up?) In academia, which unlike Hollywood does not require any particular talent, and employs rather more people rather less productively, it takes great and prodigious strivings for any particular clump to broach the surface of the ordure.
Meet Joseph Ellis.
Joe has some ideas on guns for you. You should believe him because he’s a professor and a big war hero:
There is an opinion abroad in the land that the right to bear arms is unlimited, an absolute right, like the right to vote or the right to a fair trial. ….
And yet, no matter how prevalent or fervently held, the opinion that the Bill of Rights supports and the high court acknowledges an absolute right to gun ownership is just plain wrong.
The language of the 2nd Amendment is quite clear: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” As the minority in the Heller decision argued, and more than a century of judicial precedent at the federal level established, the right to bear arms was not an inherent right of citizenship but rather a right that derived from service in the militia.
via There’s no unlimited right to bear arms – latimes.com.
Ellis is, in reality, an anti-gun academic, writing last month in the anti-gun Los Angeles Times, a paper that is determined always to scold, and never to surprise, its dwindling readership in its dwindling pages. Ellis fits that bill tidily. We’ll leave it to others to address the substance of his arguments, which seem to us to come down to “the Heller majority had it wrong! My fellow partisans in the minority were right!”, but we will note that the Heller majority already did that (address the substance of his arguments), as has done the main body of law professors, which is why the Heller decision comports to what these professors call the Standard Model of the 2nd Amendment.
Ellis’s article relies on his own authority as the self-nominated and relentlessly self-promoted Greatest Expert on the Founding Fathers™ to conclude that they meant, exactly, mirabile dictu, what Northeastern academic liberals like Ellis would now like them to have meant. He does this from time to time. In 2007, he took to the pages of the Washington Post to note his, and George Washington’s, but mostly his hiding behind George’s, disapproval of George Bush and the war in Iraq.
Beyond that framing, we shan’t address Ellis’s argument, except to note that all nine Justices accepted the right as an individual right, a fact Ellis characteristically misrepresents in his op-ed. We’re here to discuss Ellis’s character. Well, let’s begin with John Southard, writing in Spencer Tucker (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. (p. 1299):
Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, is perhaps the most renowned fake Vietnam War veteran. In 2001 the Boston Globe revealed that Ellis had lied to students and the public about having served in Vietnam with the US Army 101st airborne division. Ellis’s record shows that he graduated from William and Mary University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program in 1965, went to graduate school at yell University, and then served as a history professor at West Point until 1972. He never set foot in Vietnam.
OK, so the guy made some bullshit Vietnam claims. Can’t even a professor fib a little? Well, on some subjects, no; but Ellis didn’t fib just a little. He told ever increasing lies to every single one of his classes at Mount Holyoke for over a decade, and he used those lies to boost his credibility with an appeal to authority and authenticity: as the New York Times Magazine noted, he trumped critics with the claim, I was there, man. (Of course he wasn’t, and this Forrest Gump wannabe lied about being at a lot more places than Vietnam-in-combat). The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on 13 July 2001:
The Boston Globe dropped a cluster bomb on the bucolic campus of Mount Holyoke College, where Mr. Ellis is a history professor, by reporting that he had for years been lying to colleagues, reporters, and students about his own role in history.
The Globe reported, and Mr. Ellis later confirmed, that he had fabricated a past in which he was present at some of the most crucial episodes in postwar America: He had said that he was a paratrooper for the 101st Airborne in Vietnam; that he was on General William C. Westmoreland’s staff; that back in the United States, he was an antiwar protester and had participated in the civil-rights movement. He had also claimed to have scored the winning touchdown for his high-school football team in the last game of the season.
Those claims were untrue. Not exaggerated, not inflated: entitely made up. Despite this Academia has generally closed ranks behind the fabulist.
After Ellis’s lies were exposed, Mount Holyoke placed the professor on leave without pay for one year. In 2002 Ellis returned to Mount Holyoke, where he is now the Ford foundation professor of history.
A somewhat more weathered Ellis today, still doing what he does best.
In fact, in 2005, they restored him to a named chair, although he has since been and is currently carried Emeritus. After his exposure as a fraud, as before, he continued to misrepresent his history to his students, albeit less boldly and frequently. He continued in good standing even as Ellis’s serial misrepresentation of his own history featured in two important books about academic fraud: Past Imperfect: Fact, Fictions and Fraud in American History by Peter Charles Hoffer, which calls Ellis out not just in the pages but in the extended subtitle, and Scandals and Scoundrels by Rob Robin.
The guy’s a star of two books on academic phonies, and they promote him. High standards they’ve got there at Mount Holyoke.
And at the National Archives:
No one here at the archives seems bothered about what Mr. Ellis characterized as “having let stand and later confirming the assumption I went to Vietnam.” After a short talk, which culminates in his speculating about how John Adams might have co-written the Declaration of Independence, fan after fan approaches Mr. Ellis’s table with reverence, almost apologetically. No one asks about Vietnam.
Back to the Chronicle:
Mount Holyoke took a similarly defiant stance; the Globe reported last week (this is in 2001 – Ed.) that the college even attempted to dissuade the newspaper from publishing the original article, calling into question the legal basis of investigating statements made in the classroom.
When the newspaper went ahead, Mount Holyoke’s president, Joanne V. Creighton, issued a statement: “We at the college wonder what public interest the Globe is trying to serve through a story of this nature.”
It is, of course, doubtful that any of his academic fans in Mount Holyoke administration, at the National Archives, or in the press ever served in Vietnam, or any other American war, or know anybody who did. As John Kerry famously said, if you don’t go to school you can wind up in Iraq.
And if you do go to school you can just lie about it later, he ought to have added.
And with the support of organized Academia and the press, Ellis has been comfortable in stonewalling his critics. For example, after making a vague statement apparently written by a lawyer, as the Chronicle reported in 2001 and is still true today:
He has not spoken publicly about the matter since. Reporters had been warned that asking any questions about the controversy would result in “physical ejection” from the room.
Brave, brave Sir Joseph, standing up to his critics. He’s still the lying crapweasel who stood for years in front of the impressionable young girls at Mount Holyoke and told them that they should believe him, not only because he has strong opinions but because his opinions were formed by being there. The Chronicle, again:
Many of Mr. Ellis’s friends say that at first, they simply refused to believe what the Globe had reported. He had taught a popular course on Vietnam and American culture that he enlivened with details based, he said, on what he saw there. He had told colleagues that he And this brings us back to Prevaricating Joe’s LA Times Op-Ed. It’s essentially an Appeal to Authority; Ellis claims that he’s the best authoritity on what Jefferson and Adams and Madison meant, because he’s written so many books on them; he’s the expert, and he’s gotten inside their heads.
Ellis’s academic and popular histories are of a piece with his Vietnam fabulization, then: it’s the I was there, man, appeal made figurative and literary but it is no less a fable than his I was there man, claims about Vietnam, the protests, Martin Luther King’s marches, and, almost certainly, Woodstock.
Because, after all, every bullshit artist of the baby boom generation claims to have been at Woodstock, and Ellis is a prince among bullshit artists.
This post has been edited. Where the Southard quote said “Into thousand and one” has been corrected to “In 2001.” This is an example of what can bite you when you overrely on voice recognition technology, eh. –Eds.