Teaching the History of a Free People

Earlier this week, my friend Schaeferhistorian wrote on his blog about how we are, in many ways, Expunging Our Past.

Progressive historians like Charles Beard… went to great lengths to discredit the work of America’s first published historian, George Bancroft.  The Nationalist school of American history revered our Founders and proclaimed American exceptionalism.  Beard argued that America’s founding ideals were nothing more than a clever disguise for our true inspiration, greed.  The New Left revisionism that pervades historiography today is a mere continuation of Beard’s fundamentally flawed concept- America really isn’t that great….

[…]

The overriding message should be that historical figures are human and not infallible. We can honor their great deeds and learn from their most human mistakes. 

We must stop this current craze of tearing down and erasing our history because the historical figures did not possess our modern sensibilities. 

I couldn’t agree more and the emphasis is his.

Then comes Jonathan Pidluzny with more of the story in The Federalist.

If “reading maketh a full man,” as Sir Francis Bacon avers, Then the New York Times best-seller list is a window into the American soul. To judge from the view, we are an angry, divided, and shallow nation.

A deeper look, however, can give us some hope even in that bleak landscape of elite Americana. One finds several encouraging entries on this week’s predictable slew of political screeds and celebrity tell-alls. David McCullough’s “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West” is an academic history about the settlement of Ohio written in characteristically beautiful prose. A little further down, “The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777,” by Rick Atkinson, is the first volume of his Revolutionary War trilogy.

He mentions a few more including Senator Tom Cotton’s memoir of his time in The Old Guard. And I’d add that if you want your kids to have a better appreciation of what it has cost to build this country – Go to Arlington.

There at General Robert E. Lee’s house, stolen from him by a vengeful US government for use as a cemetery (the first graves were those of colored infantrymen in Mrs. Lee’s Rose Garden). Over time the hurt has faded, and I doubt that the General could find a better use for his plantation than as a beacon of American Duty and Honor. Something he himself epitomized, whatever the loons say, R. E. Lee remains amongst the greats of American history.

But you won’t learn that in a current textbook, you’ll be taught mostly that he was a slave owner (he was, he had one. His wife had some, inherited from her family, that under the law, they couldn’t free.)

In any case, Jonathan is making a valiant effort to show, that while Americans will quite happily read American history. And he’s right, they will. The most-read posts here are the ones on history, which is a good thing because they are my favorites, as well. But quite a few Universities are dropping their history programs.

Bernie Patterson, chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, explained his university’s rationale for eliminating its history major along similar lines, as part of the institution’s effort to build a “new kind of university” focused on delivering “programs aligned with the career-focused goals of our students and the needs of regional communities and businesses.”

Stevens Point abandoned the proposal after a student and faculty insurrection. Unfortunately, universities elsewhere—including Wheeling Jesuit University and the University of Tulsa, both institutions long known for strong liberal arts curricula—are moving forward with plans to axe programs and faculty in traditional arts and sciences disciplines.

Good-faith concerns about graduates’ workplace readiness in the age of skyrocketing tuition costs may explain a part of the precipitous decline. But so does the abandonment by history faculties of the kind of history Americans hunger for—the kind that catapults a book onto The New York Times best-seller list. As professors move away from offering “big picture” survey courses—Colonial America, American History to 1865, Twentieth Century America, etc.—in favor of “micro-histories” tailored to their specialized research interests (or worse, invocations to political activism welded to histories designed to desecrate the country’s past), their numbers will continue to dwindle.

I also note that UW-Stevens Point, on their website, claims to prepare their student for global citizenship with a catalog which looks to me like a teacher’s college. Well, They are part of the Unversity of Wisconsin, where the revisionism nonsense itself got started, so no big surprise.

He’s correct, it is worrying that we are starting to not teach our heritage, but I also say this, better not to teach history at all than the evil practice of filling young heads with knowledge that is not only wrong but knowingly and intentionally wrong. That is truly evil.

Herman Wouk

Author Herman Wouk at his home in Palm Springs in 2000. (Los Angeles Times)

It’s strange how things happen. As some of you’ll be aware, I found out a few short weeks ago, while I was on break, that Herman Wouk, one of my favorite authors, was still alive at 103. That was from a post at Warsclerotic that reminded us that Winds of War/War and Remembrance are available on YouTube. I’ve been watching them (binge-watching, really).  Between them, especially the books, they form perhaps the best overall history of World War II.

That was from an article there by the site’s editor, Joseph Wouk, and I commented how much his dad’s writing, going back to The Caine Mutiny when I was perhaps eight years old, had taught me some lessons that had stood the test of time. Joseph kindly informed that his father was still alive and nearing his 104th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t make it, dying last Friday, writing till the end. That remarkable since his first novel was published shortly after World War II, in which he served as an officer in a destroyer minesweeper, which will sound familiar to anyone who has ever read about the Caine or seen the play or movie adapted from it.

As I told Joseph, The Caine taught me much about organizations and how they work and has stuck with me. In fact, I wrote about it back in 2013, in a post titled Of Mutiny and Education.  What is interesting about what is probably a somewhat inaccurate book review in it, is that I hadn’t read the book in probably 30 years, and a fair amount of it stuck with me. And allowed me to draw lessons from it. And, you know, that article still has lessons for us, as well.

Not surprisingly he’s been eulogized all over the world. You can find quite a few at Warsclerotic. I rather like the one in the LA Times.

Herman Wouk, the prolific and immensely popular writer who explored the moral fallout of World War II in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Caine Mutiny” and other widely read books that gave Americans a raw look at the horrors and consequences of war, has died at his Palm Springs home, where he wrote many of his acclaimed novels.

Wouk, who was honored by the Library of Congress in September 2008 with its first lifetime achievement award for fiction writing, died in his sleep Friday at the age of 103, his literary agent Amy Rennert told the Associated Press. Wouk was working on a book at the time of his death, Rennert said.

As a writer, Wouk considered his most “vaultingly ambitious” work the twin novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” about “the great catastrophe of our time,” World War II. Critics, however, considered “The Caine Mutiny” to be his finest work.

Taut and focused, the book is a riveting exploration of power, personal freedom and responsibility. “Caine” won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for literature and was on the New York Times’ bestseller list for more than two years, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and Britain in the first few years after its publication.

In the novel, Wouk creates one of American literature’s most fascinating characters, Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the U.S. destroyer-minesweeper Caine, who is removed from his command by a lower-ranking officer in the middle of a typhoon.

In one of the book’s most famous scenes, concerning the theft of the captain’s strawberries, Queeg lapses into paranoid incoherence as he is questioned during his court-martial. He pulls a pair of ball bearings from his pocket and obsessively shuffles them in his hand:

“Ah, but the strawberries! That’s, that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. (He pauses, realizing that he has been ranting.)

“Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory.”

Keep reading, nor would it hurt any of us to revisit these works, to learn again how we won the war, but more how we treat people to accomplish our mission, and even more, perhaps, to simply enjoy ourselves. Like a good storytelling father, Herman Wouk brings us a lesson while entertaining us with a ripping yarn.

Rest in peace sir, knowing you are missed, and your memory honored.

Cabaret, Haffner, and Chicago

My friend Brandon Christensen over at Notes on Liberty each evening does a post with a few links, which are often interesting. The day before yesterday had one that struck me, so let’s take a look.

In an article entitled The Unromantic Truths of Weimar Germany, Marilyn Macron is essentially reviewing Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffer. The book was originally published in 1932 and banned a year later by the Nazis. Ms. Macron starts this way.

EVEN HALF A CENTURY ON, Cabaret heavily informs perceptions of Weimar Germany. The popular, Oscar-winning 1972 musical features garter-clad Liza Minnelli and elegant Joel Grey slinking their way through a decadent Berlin underworld of sex and style, and it all seems so glamorous. The reality for most Germans at the time was, of course, colder, duller, and much more miserable.

But no one wants anything to do with misery. It’s not the kind of thing viewers and readers pay money to experience. If you dress up misery with tuxedos and boas, though, and hide the accompanying desperation under makeup and sequins, you get decadence, and decadence sells. German writer Alfred Döblin filtered this aesthetic into his classic 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. Christopher Isherwood was similarly taken in — his 1937 novella Sally Bowles, later collected in The Berlin Stories(1945), was the basis for Cabaret.

They wrote of Berliners who knew how to commodify decadence. Of aristocratic gangsters who wouldn’t do a job without top hat and tails. Of Apache dancers, Brylcreemed villains, and two-mark whores with fire-red curls. There were discreet champagne lounges in basements, secret entrances, and trapdoors. The observer of this falsified and superficial milieu would find Berlin’s actual criminal underworld deathly dull. Nothing of interest there at all. Except, perhaps, real people with real needs, and few ways to get those needs met.

She’s right though, that undertone that runs through Cabaret does give you a feel for what is coming. A newer version, set in the US, with much the same feel of desperation about it is Chicago, another fine effort, this time about what might have been instead of what was.

Haffner’s writing is of the short-lived Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity, movement that rejected romanticism and expressionism in favor of realism. His collage of the exploits and exploitation of these boys shows them fully responsible for their actions but also indicts German society as a whole. In this, his prose pairs well with the vitriolic caricatures of Dada/New Objectivist artist George Grosz, a contemporary of Haffner’s who left for the United States in 1933.

Grosz’s works were mainly done in pen and ink to emphasize the starkness of his subject matter. Of his claustrophobic collage A Funeral: Tribute to Oskar Panizza, he sought to portray, he said, “[A] gin alley of grotesque dead bodies and madmen […] A teeming throng of possessed human animals […] think that wherever you step, there’s the smell of shit.” A Funeral is an artistic analogue of Blood Brothers, in which Haffner writes, “And the big beer joints with their lively oom-pa-pah music from early morning on, they are just waiting rooms for armies of pimps, unemployed and casual criminals.”

All very interesting, and I wonder if it has implications for our time. For aren’t we seeing the same things, decadence, missing fathers, self-harming or more or less defeated mothers leading to feral young people, surviving however they can? How different is Haffner’s Berlin to present-day London, or Chicago? I don’t know and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know. But what I really don’t want is to find out they are the same. Neither the United States nor Weimar Germany survived the thirties as they were before. Neither did the world.

The book is now on my wish list. And do read the linked review.

As for Haffner himself, Macron tells us…

Beyond being a creative risk, Haffner’s humane depiction of the gang members turned out to be a grave political error: the Nazis banned and burned Blood Brothers within a year of its publication, during the notorious May 1933 Bebelplatz book burning. Sometime after, the writers’ union affiliated with the Third Reich, the Reichsschrifttumskammer, summoned him to appear. It is believed that he did.

Haffner was never seen again.

There is a lesson in that, as well.

Three Great Men Died That Day

narnia-the-chronicles-of-narnia-8460264-640-477Fifty-three years ago yesterday, three great men died. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States, and C.S. Lewis author of innumerable works, including the Narnia Chronicles. Is it important that they all died the same day? Probably not, merely a coincidence, although books have been written about what they may have talked about on the journey to the afterlife.

Huxley’s Brave New World most famous amongst his works seems to me, and many others, as the most descriptive of the dystopian novels, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union. It always repays reading.

Kennedy has become more myth than man, whether one thinks he was a great president or a pretty bad one. In truth, I think he was pretty average, he (and his father) played much about his heroism in World War II, but even as a child, I wondered how one managed to get one’s PT boat rammed by an enemy destroyer. And only fifteen years after the war, World War II heroes (real or manufactured) were a dime a dozen.His greatest accomplishment was when for 13 days the world stood on the brink of annihilation over Russia’s deployment of missiles in Cuba. He ( and Kruschev) managed to avert that. But would it have happened if he had either supported properly or forbidden the Bay of Pigs? I doubt we’ll ever know that.

Personally, I think Lewis was more important than either. His coming to Christianity and the muscular Christianity showcased in Narnia and his other books is one of the best series of works in Christianity to my mind. He explains in words that an average child can understand what we believe, and yet, for me, the delight is as great now in my sixties as when I fist read them as about an eight-year-old. As I grew older, I came to delight in his language and the logic behind it, and neither has that delight ever left me.

Here is an example.

via Three Great Men Died That Day: JFK, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley – The Daily Beast

Perhaps some of Chesterton’s words from the Ballad of the White Horse could symbolize that day

They shall not come with warships,
They shall not waste with brands,
But books be all their eating,
And ink be on their hands.

“Not with the humour of hunters
Or savage skill in war,
But ordering all things with dead words,
Strings shall they make of beasts and birds,
And wheels of wind and star.

“They shall come mild as monkish clerks,
With many a scroll and pen;
And backward shall ye turn and gaze,
Desiring one of Alfred’s days,
When pagans still were men.

“The dear sun dwarfed of dreadful suns,
Like fiercer flowers on stalk,
Earth lost and little like a pea
In high heaven’s towering forestry,
—These be the small weeds ye shall see
Crawl, covering the chalk.

“But though they bridge St. Mary’s sea,
Or steal St. Michael’s wing—
Though they rear marvels over us,
Greater than great Vergilius
Wrought for the Roman king;

“By this sign you shall know them,
The breaking of the sword,
And man no more a free knight,
That loves or hates his lord.

“Yea, this shall be the sign of them,
The sign of the dying fire;
And Man made like a half-wit,
That knows not of his sire.

“What though they come with scroll and pen,
And grave as a shaven clerk,
By this sign you shall know them,
That they ruin and make dark;

“By all men bond to Nothing,
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed,
Too blind to be abhorred;

“By terror and the cruel tales
Of curse in bone and kin,
By weird and weakness winning,
Accursed from the beginning,
By detail of the sinning,
And denial of the sin;

“By thought a crawling ruin,
By life a leaping mire,
By a broken heart in the breast of the world,
And the end of the world’s desire;

“By God and man dishonoured,
By death and life made vain,
Know ye the old barbarian,
The barbarian come again—

“When is great talk of trend and tide,
And wisdom and destiny,
Hail that undying heathen
That is sadder than the sea.

“In what wise men shall smite him,
Or the Cross stand up again,
Or charity or chivalry,
My vision saith not; and I see
No more; but now ride doubtfully
To the battle of the plain.”

The Bard of the Common Man

Rudyard Kipling, the famous novelist was a res...

Rudyard Kipling, the famous novelist was a resident of Torquay for a brief period in 1896. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

150 years ago, on 30 December, in Bombay, India was born Rudyard Kipling. He was, of course, one of the best children’s books authors ever, simply see Kim of The Jungle Book. He was also a superb poet.

Many call him, of course, The Bard of Empire, but only those who do not read him perceptively. His Recessional is hardly a paean to Empire.

G0D of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

It is, in fact, more akin to the Roman Slave at the triumph, that Patton spoke of. “A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

I’ve always found him who saw clearly. Who ever saw more clearly than the man who wrote The Gods of the Copybook Headings. That may be why our educational elites despise him; he told the plain unvarnished truth. Like that ending that foresees, the modern world we live in, as well as anyone can.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Sounds a goodly bit like what we’re living through, out here in the real world, doesn’t it.

Pray that another of his poems doesn’t come true though, although the Normans are pushing it.

“My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for share
When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of their wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they’re saying; let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes you all day.

They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the dark.
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man- at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish priests.
Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you fellows’ and ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em a lie!”

It’s good advice still, for those who presume themselves good enough to rule free men,

But you know, like I do, that the cost of living free has often been that some, sometimes multitudes die, and so did Kipling. The Great War sickened him, and it was not lessened by the loss of his only son, at Loos, just over a hundred years now.

But like so many of us, he would not shirk or be perceived as shirking his duty, and so Jack died. But duty, and poetry lived on, to remember him, and all the other like him through history.

But his A Dead Statesman rings very true to my ears!

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

Welcome to a New Subscriber

uk-us-shooping-0211We don’t often recognize new subscribers here, but occasionally we do. And one joined us the other day that is about as rare around here as hen’s teeth, but still has ticked some boxes that I like (a lot).

Our new subscriber is a blogger, a new one, I think, although quite good, and works in-depth as well, a young Brit female (three of my favorite categories right there), from Basildon, in Essex, and rarest of all a Labourite. I suspect she’ll disagree with much of what is written here, but perhaps we can learn from her, and her from us. Many of us know that while we have become curmudgeonly conservative types, we started out much more liberal, until life taught us some lessons. Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” Actually he didn’t, according to the Churchill Centre:

There is no record of anyone hearing Churchill say this. Paul Addison of Edinburgh University makes this comment: “Surely Churchill can’t have used the words attributed to him. He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35!  And would he have talked so disrespectfully of Clemmie, who is generally thought to have been a lifelong Liberal?”

But still there is a ground truth there.

In any case, she is Melissa D’lima, who blogs at Historyxpolitics. She also says she likes modern British history a lot, and so I can’t help but give a plug to a friend of mine, Professor John Charmley at the University of East Anglia because he has done an extraordinary amount to increase my understanding of that subject, especially with his Chamberlain and the Lost Peace and his History of the Conservative Party both of which are available at Amazon. He’s a bit of a maverick in British history, and we’re much the better for his insight, I think. I should also likely say that following him on Twitter at @ProfJCharmley has opened an entire world of British historians to me and I’m much better for it. If I were younger (well, much younger) I would be looking for a way to study under him.

Interestingly, he also epitomizes one of the paradoxes of British political life. like so many of the great Tories, he is a self-made man, who came up from the working class, all the way through an Oxford doctorate.

One of the people whose work he (and Jess) introduced me to is Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb. From her website, “In October 2011, she took up her post as Head of the Faculty of History and Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at New College of the Humanities (NCH), where she lectures and tutors on British History 1450-1649 and European history 1500-1800. As Head of the Faculty of History, she is a member of the Academic Board, responsible for the academic governance of NCH.” As that indicates, she is far more than a pretty face on TV, and part of why I value her is that I’m convinced one can not understand modern British History (or American, for that matter) without understanding the Tudors, who started modern history for us, and later the world.

If anybody cares, what I’m reading at the moment is Adam Smith: both Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, David Hume: The Understanding, and John Locke’s First and Second Treatises of Government, as well as some lighter stuff.

Something else Suzi did that I really like, and something the American left often has trouble with, is realizing that we must not look at the past through our twenty-first-century eyes. It truly is a foreign land.

So welcome, Melissa. I hope you enjoy it here, and I’m quite sure I’ll enjoy your blog as well, and watching as you, dare I say, continue to grow up. I’m impressed now, who knows what the future holds, so ‘Good Luck and a fair breeze”.

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