February 16, 2014 2 Comments
[Yesterday we ran one of Jessica’s older posts and today we’re going to represent one of mine, not (entirely) because I’m lazy but, because they have kept their relevance, and we have new readers since they were published. If you visit here often (or even seldomly) you’ve likely noticed that I write a lot about history. This is why. This was originally published in October of 2011, if you remember it, I’m extremely pleased, if not, I hope it speaks to you as well.]
Firstly: Because I like it.
History is one of my personal favorite things, especially military history and the history of technology (which tend to be all mixed up in each other anyway).
Secondly: Because the world we live in was built on the shoulders of giants.
Men like Archimedes and Aristotle, men like Henry V and Stephan Langton, men like Marlborough and Wolfe (and Montcalm), men like John Paul Jones and Nelson, men like Washington and Jefferson, men like Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. Men like Frederick Douglass and John Calhoun, men like John Bunyan and Henry Ward Beecher, men like Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, men like Carnegie and Edison, men like Alexander Graham Bell and Steve Jobs. And don’t forget the comparable (and incomparable) women like Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, and Abigail Adams who also belong on this list. Without the likes of these people we would still be living in mud huts hunting and gathering our dinner.
Thirdly: If we study how our ancestors solved problems, we give ourselves a head start on solving ours.
While I don’t believe history repeats itself, exactly; but as Mark Twain told us, it surely rhymes. One of the major distinguishing marks of Homo Sapiens is our ability to use external memory; to write things down to help us remember. This is true whether we are memorializing a hunt on a cave wall in France or what I did today on my iPhone. This forms a the basis for a lot of the decisions we make. ” If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Fourthly: Why specifically military and technology?
Because I believe that the individual has much to do with the progress of the human race (for good or ill). The military has several things to offer: It was the very first organization going all the way back to stone age hunting parties, it also preserves our traditions better than we as civilians do, for instance: Do you know why three volleys are fired at a military funeral, it’s not arbitrary, there’s a reason that almost any soldier can tell you. This helps us in uncertain times to build on the past to chart where we want to go in the future. It also has always been the laboratory for leadership.
What technology offers is this: the intelligently lazy man. The guy who got tired of packing his gear who watched a rock roll down the hill and went on to invent the wheel.
OK, I got all that but, I’m an American, what’s with so much English history?
As Americans our history is all mixed up in English history, until 1776 we were English. Our heritage and respect for the individual comes down to us from the Anglo-Saxon Britain, was codified in Magna Charta, reaffirmed in the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution and it’s Bill of Rights which preceded ours. Our philosophers of government were English (or Scottish). The American Dream is founded on English freeman’s rights and obligations.
For that matter our thought processes throughout American history have almost always paralleled the English. Differences? Sure, but rarely on the basics. And now we have been allied for nearly a century. I’m with Churchill here when he said: I’m content to see our countries get more and more mixed up in each others affairs. Great Britain in the European Union is, I think, by the way, an abomination. They belong firmly in an association of the Anglosphere. Never has there been such an accumulation of power based on the individual free man, and that is not Europe’s tradition.
When England won control of the sea between 1588 and 1805, she became the final arbiter of global power, and she used it for mostly good purposes, such as outlawing the slave trade and fostering world trade, generally. When Great Britain essentially went broke during World War I, that mantle passed to the United States. This was as Adam Smith had foreseen in The Wealth of Nations in 1776, as he urged the British government to secure a deal with the North American colonists. They didn’t but, it’s worked out fairly well even so.
Finally, a lot of what I do here is what I was taught in 8th Grade history, that we have forgotten or that our schools no longer teach. The men (and women) who preceded us were smart thinking, observant men. Why wouldn’t we want their input on how to rule ourselves?
The Lean Submariner put up a post which is exactly on point. If there is one thing we have learned over the millennia it is that paying Danegeld is no good. Whether it’s to keep the Danes out of England, or US trade secure. I agree completely with Captain Bainbridge who wrote to a friend:
“The Dey of Algiers, soon after my arrival, made a demand that the United States’ Ship, George Washington, should carry an Ambassador to Constantinople with presents … Every effort was made by me to evade this demand but it availed nothing. The light in which the chief of this regency looks upon the people of the United States may be inferred by his style of expression. He remarked to me. “You pay me tribute, by which you become my slaves;I have therefore a right to order you as I may think proper.” The unpleasant situation in which I am placed must convince you that I have no alternative left but compliance, or a renewal of hostilities against our commerce. The loss of the frigate and the fear of slavery for myself and crew were the least circumstances to be apprehended, but I know our valuable commerce in these seas would fall a sacrifice to the corsairs of this power of this power, as we have no cruisers to protect it…
I hope I may never again be sent to Algiers with tribute unless I am authorized to deliver it from the mouth of our cannon…”
I recommend that you read his entire post, entitled “Bullies Redux“. If you’ve ever doubted the value of military strength, and the will to use it, you will learn the perils of weakness. Would that our so-called leadership would read and heed article like this.
This is an example of building on our knowledge base, whether it is Alfred the Great’s experience or Captain Bainbridge’s. This is how the human race makes progress.