By Len Lear
David R. Contosta, Ph.D., 72, a professor of history at Chestnut Hill College for the last 43 years, is one of the country’s most eminent historians. His curriculum vitae, at more than 5,600 words, would take up about 22 pages of copy in a typical book.
He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, along with hundreds of articles and reviews. These include biographies of Henry Adams, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, as well as writings about religious institutions, higher education, urban and suburban history and metropolitan parks. Several titles have focused on Philadelphia and Philadelphians. More recently Contosta has written, co-produced and appeared in several documentary films.
His most recent effort, though, is “America’s Needless Wars: Cautionary Tales of U.S. Involvement in the Philippines, Vietnam and Iraq,” published by Prometheus Books, which will be released to the public March 21. This exhaustively researched book, with a 16-page index and more than 300 footnotes, proves beyond a doubt that countless thousands of American military personnel as well as millions of soldiers and civilians in foreign countries have died in unnecessary wars because of the arrogance, stupidity, racism and self-serving hubris of American senators and presidents like William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush.
“In both cases,” Contosta writes, “the Philippines in 1898 and Vietnam in the late 1940s, war could have been easily avoided if the president of the United States had acted on requests to recognize the independence of much-oppressed peoples.”
Of the three disastrous, unnecessary wars he chronicles in the book, which was the biggest blunder? “I am hard-pressed to answer this question, since I believe that all three wars were terrible blunders. In some ways, though, the worst blunder might be the Iraq War because our leaders should have learned the lessons of the war in the Philippines and especially of the Vietnam War, which was still a living memory for many Americans and for those who made the decision to go to war in Iraq.”
Contosta, a professor of history in the History and Political Science Department at CHC, has a doctorate degree in history from Miami University of Ohio in 1973. He was also a Fulbright Scholar to France and a Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University. He has won countless awards and is included in “Who’s Who in the World” and “Who’s Who in American Education.”
“I was interested in history even as a child,” said Contosta, “probably because my grandmother and several older neighbors talked to me often about that great transition though which they had lived, from horses to motor cars and from face-to-face verbal conversation to the ‘miracle’ of telephones.”
Out of all of Contosta’s books, those that sold the most copies were “Suburb in the City: Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia” (1992) and “Rebel Giants: The Revolutionary Lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin” (2008). Of all the historical figures the long-time CHC professor has researched and written about, which one were the most interesting and compelling?
“I would have to say two figures, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. They were the subjects of my 2008 book, ‘Rebel Giants: The Revolutionary Lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.’ My reason is that these two individuals, both born on Feb. 12, 1809, led revolutions that continue to shape our world.”
Of all his books, which was the hardest to write? “The most difficult book that I wrote was ‘Metropolitan Paradise: Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Valley,’ which I co-authored with Carol Franklin. The difficulty arose because of the great complexity of the subject, combined with our refusal to leave anything unturned in our account of this unparalleled urban park and the pastoral landscape beyond it in adjoining Montgomery County.”
How have students changed since Dr. Contosta began teaching? “Perhaps because of the internet, social media and tweeting, students now come to college without reading as widely as their counterparts of earlier years. And because they have not read widely — at least in my opinion — they have far more difficulty with both college reading and writing than students in former years.”
What is the esteemed professor/author’s most treasured possession? “A large collection of family photographs reaching back five generations, which help me to know who I am and to recognize the debt I owe to those who have gone before me.”
Who are his heroes in real life, living or dead? “Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and Rachel Carson.”
What is his biggest pet peeve? “People who talk loudly on their cell phones, no matter where they are and no matter whom they might disturb.”
For more information about “America’s Needless Wars,” email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.prometheusbooks.com