Posted Monday, October 14, 2002

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Few non-writers can realize how easy it is to fall foul of that literary sin; plagiarism, like the lazy cliché, is a pitfall that lurks around the corner for every long-term writer.


October 14, 2002 (Monday),



AN e-mail from Gary Redish, the unpalatable Jewish lawyer in New Jersey, who has been constantly sending me, for two years or more, offensive hate e-mails, then pleading with me not to post them as they result in hate mail for himself. He mentions that "your friend" Steven Ambrose (picture below) died early yesterday, Sunday; I am of course sorry to hear that.

Ambrose, a chain smoker, died of lung cancer. I spent an afternoon with him twenty-five years ago in Raleigh, when he was an unknown professor of history teaching at the University of North Carolina and I was writing on Dwight D Eisenhower, his primary subject, and I found him very congenial. He was a prolific writer who popularized history, knew how to write, and was very good television to watch. He had an easy style and delivered his pronunciamenti in a pleasing Southern brogue.

Stephen AmbroseHis final months, even as the open grave awaited him, were clouded over by bitter allegations of plagiarism from his touchy rivals and peers.

Few non-writers can realize how easy it is to fall foul of that literary sin; plagiarism, like the lazy cliché, is a pitfall that lurks around the corner for every long-term writer. Two years before, you laboriously copy down a passage from a work that attracts or inspires you for your own theme; two years later, you find that handwritten note, marvel at the prose you have written, read back to yourself its polished, ready-to-print style, and stitch it effortlessly into your manuscript, forgetting that it is not your own.

Now come all the lesser rivals and pronounce you a thief of their writings: in fact they should be flattered that their works have inspired you to the labour of copying them down.

How often have I just chuckled when I see some BBC television programme, or some book or newspaper article, lifting passages, and even more often themes and ideas and sheer research energy, from my various books, without so much as a citation to indicate who really did the work.

Sir Ian Kershaw has admittedly identified me as the source of some thirty of the passages in his magisterial and overly praised Hitler biography; but there are many more, where he and I both know who is the real author: O, frabjous day, calloo, callay!

Christopher Hitchens has also spotted the same surreptitious lifting of my work by recent Churchill biographers, who dare not however identify my books as their quarry.

Only yesterday in The Sunday Telegraph I found myself reading three lines, which I identified at once as having come from the diary of Walther Hewel, Joachim von Ribbentrop's man on Adolf Hitler's staff. (One of Hitler's closest confidants, Hewel committed suicide a few hours after Hitler).

I found those lines in a little black pocket notebook, the 1941 private diary Hewel had written, and I quoted them in Hitler's War. It was pressed into my hand by his widow Blanda, thirty years or more ago; she had cherished until then the faint hope that he might somehow have survived -- I told her he had not, and put her in touch with the doctor, Hanns-Günther Schenk, who had sat next to Walther in the bunker as he put the pistol to his head.

Walther Hewel ( right) with Reinhard Heydrich
and Julius Schaub (Hewel Collection)

The second President of the United States (unless I am mistaken), was John Adams. He lived in London on the north-eastern corner of Grosvenor-square, just yards from the house that was taken from me on May 23. For thirty-four years I walked past the plaque bearing his name each day. His son John Quincy Adams once uttered these fine words:

America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standards of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.

I wonder if his present successor believes Adams was mistaken?


TODAY'S London newspapers are full of grisly photographs of the carnage caused by a car bomb in Bali, killing two hundred discotheque-goers, including many British and American tourists. Indonesia's president, Mrs Megawatti [where DO they get these names?] has until now refused to take seriously Mr Bush's global "war on terror".

After pausing for a moment to reflect upon which Intelligence service routinely uses the car bomb as its weapon of choice for mass destruction -- think M*ssad, as it is unlikely to have involved the IRA this time -- I soberly ponder the proper question: Cui bono? Whom doth this outrage profit in the long run?

Somebody sends me a hilarious photo, showing two men making off in a white van: the men are the illustrious leaders of the British and American peoples, Mr Tony Milliwatti Blair and Mr George W Milliwatti Bush respectively, who have leapt onto the Bali incident as further proof of the need for their global war against the al-Qaeda.

 [Previous Radical's Diary]



Stephen Ambrose confesses to plagiarism | 2 Accuse Ambrose, Popular Conformist Historian | Forbes magazine agrees: he has done it before | and gives more examples
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