TOLFA Segment 17 History
It became fashionable in the second half of the 20th Century for government schools to replace "History" in their school curricula with "Sociology" or womens' or African studies, etc. Perhaps there was a fear that students would discover and understand George Santayana's dictum:
"Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them"
and so they shifted attention away from a study of what governments have been up to for the last few thousand years.
That's roughly what "history" is, unfortunately. History, as recorded in the textbooks, is the version of what happened that the victors wrote down. "Victors"? - yes, for those textbooks usually tell of war after war, battle after battle, palace intrigue after intrigue; and the account passed down to posterity is always written by the thug who won. No exceptions!
In fact those endless and bloody squabbles were always won by thugs, though sometimes the lesser thug lost to the greater thug; and so there may be versions of history offering a rather different perspective. Alas, we may never know.
Given, then, that history is one long tale of wars among governments, is there anything there at which a free person can properly "wonder" - our theme in Segment 17?
Yes. Otherwise, this page wouldn't be here
The fun part of history is to "re-write" it. That doesn't mean we all become historians, but that we read what is written with a very critical eye, knowing that every history book in print is, as above, a biased account - that there's no such thing as objective history. Every historian is an interpreter of facts, and the facts are sometimes rather well concealed.
Happily the last half century has seen some contrarian or "revisionist" historians produce some fine works, and a selection can be found below. Remember, even these recommended authors bring a bias, an interpretation - but they are all far more refreshing than the bland, Statist fare that fills up "official histories" and school texbooks. Often they are written from a conservative perspective (to criticize the misdeeds of the Left) and sometimes from a socialist one, like A J P Taylor's (to expose the misdeeds of the Right.) None of them are "outside" the Statist box - none have connected the dots clearly enough to see that it's government itself, not its Left or Right flavors, that lies at the root of human disasters.
This selection covers just the past century; partly because its events are those that affect TOLFA students most profoundly, and partly because the wars of that period have spilled more blood than in any other. Those historians who try to analyse the causes of those wars are therefore trying to do great service. All are well worth reading, as part of the process of "wondering" about the human race.
World War I (1914-18) was the bloodiest up to that time, the greatest catastrophe in history; it killed 9 million in uniform plus 6 million civilians, total 15 million human lives extinguished (see Wikipedia) by the participant governments. For many years afterwards there was no credible explanation provided about what it was for. The best-known source of how it began was Barbara Tuchman's fine chronicle, The Guns of August (published 1962) - but that too fails to identify the causes. Little wonder: the causes lay in the very core assumptions that all historians hold - that governments properly exist and have the business of fighting off other governments. That was the real cause, and it is so far outside conventional thinking that no historian has yet got it right. Tuchman therefore chronicles, but fails to explain; she notes that all the European participating governments strove to avoid war by the conventional methods of (a) preparing for it and (b) making alliances with others, so that a balance of power would be peacefully preserved. The policy was that of "Mutual Assured Destruction", and at 15 million it wound up killing a mere fraction of what that same policy would have killed 50 years later, had WW-III broken out, only because nukes had not been invented.
And so they stumbled into a war that none of them wanted, and were mired in it for four years without the least idea how to get out. It was a War Without a Reason; humanity had gone mad. Or rather, humanity was reaping the consequence of failing to remain sane and rational enough to do without governments.
The stalemate was broken after the United States Government, after pondering which side to join (!) entered the War in 1917 on the side of Britain, France et al - bringing fresh resources when everyone else was exhausted. The USA had absolutely no business to do so; this country was under no threat at all. It was an anti-German offense, an intervention. The story of how and why Woodrow Wilson manipulated public and political opinion so as to permit that intervention is well told in Thomas Fleming's Illusion of Victory - an excellent read.
World War II (1939-45) did, in contrast, have causes that conventional historians could identify; the 1919 Versailles Peace Treaty terms were so harsh upon Germany and Austria that there was a reaction 20 years later, a not unreasonable attempt to break out of the shackles it imposed and restore territory taken away. A further supposed cause was that Hitler was viciously anti-Jewish and so that to fight his forces was the moral duty of civilized man. That "authorized version" is a fine mixture of fact and fiction and it lay to A J P Taylor of Oxford to debunk it, with his revisionist account of 1961, The Origins of World War Two - a must-read for any interested in the subject. He concludes that while the vindictiveness of Versailles certainly set the stage for Round Two, the Second World War could readily have been avoided if the participant govenments had not bungled it yet again, as they had in 1914; and in particular for all the latter's evils the War started because the British, not the German, government was too stubborn and incompetent to avoid it. Hitler's anti-semitism, of course, had nothing to do with the cause of the War; that was added later to "justify" it much as Lincoln had added Abolition as the "just reason" for the Civil War here.
Once again Thomas Fleming does a masterly job of explaining how the USA came to enter WW-II in 1941, in his New Dealers' War - though it's good to read also the shorter work by Hamilton Fish, Tragic Deception - which details how FDR had cynically provoked the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor while pretending it was unprovoked and unexpected. However Fleming's account of how FDR also tricked Hitler into declaring war on America the same week by the "Rainbow Five" leak is on its own worth the price of his book.
At least 62 million human lives were snuffed out by WW-II.
The Cold War (1946-89) Mainly because it never became hot except in some serious skirmishes like the undeclared Korean and Vietnamese wars, this War killed far fewer. A few million Asians, maybe a hundred thousand Americans. Its 40,000 nuclear warheads, many of which survive, might have terminated the human race had it ever become a Hot War, but happily it never did. One reason may be that when the architects of the war (the respective government leaders) will inevitably become casualties, they are much less likely to launch it. To that limited extent, "Mutual Assured Destruction" may be said to have been a successful policy - MAD though it obviously is.
Two other books about this period are well worth reading. One is The Black Book of Communism by five international authors, and the other is R J Rummel's classic Death by Government which details how the world's governments killed over 160 million human beings under their supposed protection who were NOT in uniform during the 20th Century. No historical review of those hundred years can be complete without it.
Santayana was correct: we ignore history at our peril. The history lesson from the twentieth century is that government is an utterly dreadful idea, so has to go. That is not quite the lesson drawn by these not-quite conventional historians, but it is the correct (and only logical) lesson to draw - and we have drawn it in this Academy. Wonder, therefore, if you will, that so few others have been so rational; and take comfort that, if you do your modest part as Segment 18 spells out, in about a couple of decades they will; and history will never be the same again.
Segment 17 Page