I may not know much about history, but I don’t mess with it either

Whew!  That was a long drive home.  We got caught in traffic jams caused by two accidents, so we got to spend an extra couple of hours in the car.  Still, better to sit around because of an accident than to be in an accident.  I’ve done both and prefer the former.

While we were driving, we let the kids watch “Miracle on 34th Street,” which is always charming.  We spent most of the drive though, listening to a book on CD: Kenneth C. Davis’ Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned.

It was an interesting book, in that it was honest about the facts (although Davis did buy the story about smallpox infected blankets, a story I understand to be a Howard Zinn fraud), but he couldn’t resist Left-wing editorializing, even when his editorial asides didn’t mesh with the facts.  For example, in the section about why the British lost the colonies, his set-up was that they lost it for precisely the same reason that the Americans lost in Vietnam.  In some respects, he was correct — a far-away enemy making logistics challenging, weak support at home, and the fact that the enemy used new tactics while the larger force (Britain/America) was still using its successful tactics from the previous war.

However, what Davis also tried to do was imply that, as was the case with Britain and the American colonies, America in Vietnam was trying to enforce imperial control on a small nation.  He also implies that the Soviet Union in the 20th century, as did France in the 18th century, came in after the conflict started to aid the underdog and humiliate an old enemy.  In that, Davis is completely dishonest.  Vietnam was not a part of the American empire, nor was America trying to squeeze it into that role.  And unlike France, the Soviet Union was not initially a disinterested bystander that only came in to aid an underdog and humiliate an old enemy at the same time.  Instead, Vietnam always was a proxy war between superpowers.  More than that, our aim was to prevent Vietnam from being subjugated to a colonizing power, rather than to subjugate it to our own power.

So, not only was Davis biased, he was historically wrong.  Still, he gets points for presenting the facts (even if he didn’t understand their import) and the kids did get more brain food than they would have if they’d just watch an endless series of mindless movies while we drove.

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Comments

  1. says

     
    Well, I can think of at least one more (and fairly important) difference between “GB and America” and “America and VN”……
     
    England lost her battle on the battlefield….the soldiers of the colonizing power had to walk out of a besieged city and stack their guns. 
     
    On the other hand, the United States won the Vietnam war on the battlefield, and left the South Vietnamese with the wherewithal to defend themselves.  Whereupon, certain politicians who had never supported the effort there, and who desired an American “comeuppance”, cut off our allies at the knees, ensuring their defeat.  This was accomplished by reneging on the promises made to supply them with the materiel needed to continue their defense, and refusing to do what the peace treaty called for, which was to use our air power to punish any overt attack from the North.
     
    We see something similar shaping up in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It simply doesn’t pay to be an ally of the United States.  We’re treating our declared enemies better.

  2. TREGONSEE says

    I honestly don’t know what the truth is about the smallpox story.  I do know that it has been around considerably longer than Zinn.  While it may be a fraud, and I would be relieved to find it so, he didn’t invent it though he certainly spread it.

  3. says

     
    And here’s a rather academic discussion of the issue, including citations showing pretty definitively that the U.S. was INOCULATING native Americans AGAINST smallpox early in the 19th century!!
     
    http://www.h-net.org/~west/threads/disc-smallpox.html
     
    Fascinating – I’d never heard anything about this, before.
     
    What I’ve found (in a fairly cursory search) is that the only actual evidence on the subject (even from history professors) is limited to British officers (one, and maybe a second) during the French and Indian wars……
     
    There’s even an open question about whether smallpox CAN be contracted from an object, rather than from a person.  Since the blankets came from smallpox wards, we know that smallpox was infecting people in the area at the time.  It’s entirely possible that it spread to the native Americans in a wholly innocent manner, even given the malign intent of the British officers.
     
     

  4. says

    People forget that terrorists are friends with obama. So Obama rewarding American killers overseas isn’t that far of a stretch. Ayers wanted to kill American servicemen just as badly, if not more, than Islamic jihadis.

  5. says

    Propaganda isn’t brain food. It’s food poisoning. You don’t notice it in the beginning, but you will later on. Same for the kids.

    Those that have zero defense against propaganda, probably shouldn’t tout the virtues of facts in propaganda. As it does them no good. 

  6. Charles Martel says

    I mentioned on another thread several months ago about a review I’d read of one historian’s theory why Rome was able to remain dominant over so large a geographical area for so long. To secure a territory, including the Mediterranean, about the size of the continental United States, Rome had just under 200,000 legionnaires—not a hell of a number with which to protect 3 million square miles.
     
    Rome got around that by promising the Pax Romana to its vassal states. In exchange for not warring against Rome and sending taxes to her, Rome offered them a decent amount of self-rule and pledged protection from enemies—a pledge she backed up with a solemn vow that she would send her legions to defend her allies in times of trouble. 
     
    Until near the end, Rome kept her word. Came the terrible days when she no longer could, and her allies drifted off, either to better protectors or subsumption to conquerors.
     
    The world once believed that America kept her word. No more. We are the new Old Rome.

  7. jj says

    The main difficulty with history is that it turns out it’s mutable.  I remarked to someone here not terribly long ago that in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade plus of the 21st, more history – actual history, accurate history – of the two world wars has come out than in any previous pair of decades, including those right after the wars.  This seems counter-intuitive, but it isn’t really difficult to trace.
     
    Firstly, distance helps.  You lose the eye-witnesses and participants, but they rarely have a clear idea of the over-arching strategy (or, as an old British brigadier friend rather wryly once put it: “what was supposed to happen.”  The eye-witnesses and participants don’t know what was supposed to happen, they only know their own objectives) or goals anyway, so for historical purposes in the macro sense they have little to add.
     
    Secondly, and particularly in Europe, we have arrived at the point where the various Secrets Acts (the British are not the only ones with that) have expired, and papers historians have been salivating over for, in some cases, over 90 years, have finally appeared.  The big boys, the strategists, thinkers, and policy-setters – and in many cases the first generation of progeny thereof – are now off the scene, and diaries, letters, notes to self etc. in private archives are making an appearance.  Though Field Marshall Haig’s full diaries and notes, to take one, maybe the most obvious, example have yet to be fully released.  (God knows why, the man already has about zero reputation left, what could we learn that would make it worse?)  So some honest assessment is now possible, and, to take an example, you realize that the single biggest driver of the total collapse of the British Empire may well have been – probably was – Winston Churchill.
     
    The difference between that and Davis is that the Churchill reassessment is factually based.  We know what we always knew about him – but now we know more.  We don’t change the facts, we just have more of them – which may indeed change the assessment.  Davis, on the other hand, wants to change the facts.  He draws (invents) parallels where there are none, and moves the facts around to fit neatly into the conclusions he’s previously drawn.
     
    Davis has an agenda, which makes him a shitty historian, and a fundamentally dishonest person.  A source you read for laughs, but not one you ever cite.

  8. says

    Rome also had a large amount of mercenary and auxiliary troops recruited from the locals. That would be the equivalent of the ANA or Iraqi Army.

    They mostly took care of little issues. Most of Rome’s protection was basically a way of saving people from other tribes around them, that might go raiding each other without a central authority. Barbarian invasions were mostly due to some other group of barbarians pushing one tribe out, who pushed another tribe out of their territory, until eventually the last tribe on the totem pole ended up getting sent into battle against cities. Ghenghis Khan or Atilla or both exceptions, since they united all the barbarian tribes. They became a major military threat, whereas most of the time barbarian tribes were a constant but not mortal threat.

     

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