Historian David Contosta (right) has a new book on the way that examines the United States’ history of unjust wars.

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 contosta@chc.edu or visit www.prometheusbooks.com

  • Joseph Balmos

    It’s probably not hard to find a lot of good people in CH who consider the war in Iraq a major blunder and to trace all the current problems in that region to our invasion and often botched occupation, but the fact remains that about 85% of Iraq was/is Shia Arab, Kurdish and Turkman and they had no freedoms under the regime of Saddam Hussain. Of the remaining 15% many of those were also against the former regime for reasons that are often baffling to outsiders, and many Iraqis as well. That 85% was liberated from very severe oppression and anyone who does not acknowledge that fact has probably never been to modern Iraq. A needles war? Perhaps so for many Americans, but for the vast majority of Iraqis they are much better off today than when the first US soldier crossed the frontier. By the time that occurred, Iraq had invaded Iran, Kuwait and slaughtered thousands more in the Great Shia Revolt after the First Gulf War. The number of Iraqis killed in those three conflicts dwarf all the Iraqis killed in the US occupation and current ISIS War. Even before those events the history of Iraq and the broader region was unsettled with disputes that predate the end of World War 1 and do much more to define their current problems than our relatively short history in the region. I know it’s hard for Americans to believe, but the people of that region do not measure themselves only by their views of the US and our involvement in their affairs, as folks always are they are much more focussed on complex local issues and it’s a bit arrogant and simplistic to think otherwise. A needless war? I don’t consider any human effort that liberates the oppressed as needless.

    • James Goodwin

      Suicide bombings and vest bombings against large crowds were tactics used by insurgents to hurt Americans and to shake the faith in the Iraq populace by showing the Americans could not protect them. Fact is most of the IEDs were produced across the border in Iran and smuggled into Iraq to do mischief. Like Vietnam, State ran the war and Defense had to submit to State’s authority. I will say that our involvement in Iraq liberated the people as well as throw a bully in jail to be hung by his own people after a trial.

    • talibanana

      To call the war in Iraq needless is perhaps the wrong question. There were many possible reasons for the US to go to war in Iraq if you look at it from the standpoint of should we liberate the Iraqis. But that was hardly the chief concern that motivated the US to go to war unilaterally against that nation, and as far as our concern for the deaths of Iraqis in their war with Iran, since we sponsored that war it would seem strange to insist on criticizing it from the standpoint of US interests. I agree that the war has liberated some people from an oppressive regime, but the manner in which the war was so outrageously bungled by the Bush administration especially in the first few years of that war caused far more harm and instability than was necessary – including to US soldiers who suffered the effects of IEDs cobbled together from the pilfered munitions that Rumsfeld left unguarded after the invasion (the list goes on) – and led to the strengthening of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations (notably ISIS). The deplorable example of Abu Ghraib absolutely tarnished the reputation of this country in a manner from which it has never recovered and served as the perfect motivation for recruitment of Jihadists for years. I’m not sure that the final chapter has been written on Iraq but it would seem that the war has resulted in destabilizing the region, lending strength to Iran etc. I’m not an expert on the Middle East but it seems that since 2003 the region as not become less dangerous… quite the contrary. Was it necessary? I don’t know. Was it a disaster? Most people would say that for the most part yes.

  • James Goodwin

    Vietnam a blunder? Remember WW I I and what the Japanese did in Asia when they seized all those countries? And who helped liberate those countries from brutal Japanese subjugation ? The USA ! And did we want the communists to do the same end run the Japanese did? No way at all. Tactical air operations were controlled by the State Department which had to approve target lists. Yes this prolonged the war but prevented wars from erupting in Europe, South Korea and the Middle East. The 7 day war in June 1967 was not something timed to last 7days but designed to draw the US into another Mideast war. I am not going to judge Iraq, but I will say that 58,000 Americans did not die for nothing in Vietnam as they gave their lives to save the lives of millions of people who would have died in a nuclear war between the superpowers.

    • talibanana

      As it stands millions of South East Asians lost their lives as direct or indirect result of Vietnam. As far as liberating Indochina from the Japanese that was awesome! Until THE USA decided… meh let’s give the country back to the French. Those dopey Asians can’t run it themselves. The French couldn’t hold onto it and got decimated even with our material support. That should have warned us off. Sorry, it was a blunder and cost our country and many in Asia dearly.

  • Daniel Toms

    This book “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.”??? I highly doubt he proves that. More likely, he presents what the reader may consider to be strong evidence for that contention. I haven’t read the book, but I do know that historians don’t prove much.