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December 04, 2006



Interesting topic, I look forward to reading the book. A few comments around the edges, based on the exposition here.

1) If the "myth of American exceptionalism" (vis a vis colonial powers) didn't die with Vietnam, then it's unkillable. You're dealing with the previous decade, but the mythmaking (Stegner included) was presumably taking place in the 1960s and 70s. Which makes me wonder about the relationship between the two. Myths can be kind of like dandelions: the more you beat on them the more that get seeded. Was that a dynamic here?

2) Jim Crow >was< exceptional in some ways. It had to reconcile the egalitarian ideology of America's constitutional apparatus with customary prejudice toward slaves and their descendents. Hence e.g. "separate but equal." I wonder if this basic contradiction (or hypocrisy) meant for any meaningful constrast with English and French colonial labor regimes, which made no pretense of equality between Europeans and local populations.

3) Perhaps a naive question, but what was the position of international labor movement in the Saudi oil fields during this period? Was any part of the American supply chain unionized (transport, for example) and did the conditions of the local workforce ever come up or did they blow it off? At the height of the COld War, I'd have to imagine there were Socialists somewhere agitating about it.

Bob Vitalis

I'm writing from Seattle (yes, sleepless in, after arriving yesterday afternoon) and without notes so this will be brief. On the third point: The ILO was beginning to agitate about labor practices generally in the oilfields and attempting to get information about the Saudi case. Arab trade union organizations were also involved but that history has yet to be written.

About the comparison with French and British practices: I am no expert here but I am pretty sure that some scholars would question the grounds for asserting the absolute difference that you do between the American case on the one hand and the British and French cases on the other (and Fred Cooper's work might be a place to start or the various Prosser Gifford and Roger Louis volumes on decolonization). To cite the standard claim about French practices, there was indeed at least lip service paid to the equality of French subjects of all races.

Bob Vitalis

Fact Checking Department extra

I should have written "the ex-Gulf expert." A friend at the Council, Steve Cook, tells me that personnel changes have taken place there since I last looked.

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