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Are Some Historical Topics Forbidden?
Ae there some things scholars just don't talk about?
Cranbrook/Kingswood Class of 1973: Listen Up!
I know some of you read this; many of you are getting this for the first time. Our estimable class secretary, Lucy, has called repeatedly for help in planning our reunion. Now, I’m calling for it. We’ve got Cookie’s band booked, but we’ve got no plan to pay for it. Similarly, the Class of ‘73 gift that the school is expecting of the “golden” class—which is US in June—needs some input. So get back to Lucy or to me and let’s get something going before too long.
Hard to believe, but it’s been a quarter-century since we graduated… redwoods don’t live that long.
For those who don’t want to be badgered with this every Saturday, the Unsubscribe button is at the bottom of this newsletter. Those who want to get me to shut up but still want to read my weekly missives can just reply to me or to Lucy.
Are Some Historical Topics Forbidden?
History is not fan fiction.
I start this missive with a late-night comic because it aptly describes my position on forbidden history. Yes, there are some topics—more accurately, some aspects of some topics—that are not covered or at least published about a great deal. The reasons for this are fashion, cultural preferences, and politics. Those listed here are merely those that I’ve run into in the recent past.
Slavery Other Than In North America
In the current atmosphere of the history trade, the mere mention of non-African slaves is verboten because American academia says they didn’t exist… or at least, they were not slaves. Slaves had to have been enslaved in equatorial Africa, or had ancestors who were enslaved there, to be considered slaves. Which means all those transported-for-life prisoners from Europe who were worked to death in the plantations of the Caribbean weren’t slaves at all. Of course, the records showing them being bought and sold… no, that didn’t make them slaves. Caucasians simply cannot be slaves and were never enslaved in the New World. Which also makes the Native Americans who were enslaved by the Spanish also somewhat problematic… and are not discussed. Nor are slavery or slave conditions at any time or in any place other than North America by the descendants of British colonists. This goes a long way to claiming that the African-American experience is unique and deserving of special treatment, not to mention reparations… someday.
The Ukraine Famine and World War II
This one’s a little tricky. Oh, scholars talk about the famine, all right, and the other excesses of Stalin’s regime, but they talk little about the long-term benefit. In the 1920s and ‘30s, Stalin sold the feed stock and seeds of Ukraine for cash to modernize Russia’s heavy industry. The resulting famines killed ten million people or more. Walter Duranty got a Pulitzer for lying about it in the New York Times, saying there was no famine. Fast forward to WWII, and the Soviet factories manufactured a bulk of the armored vehicles and guns that caused 3 of 4 German soldier casualties for the Allied cause. This would likely have been impossible had not all those Ukrainians starved while the new factories were being built. A gristly legacy, no? Nobody talks much about it.
The Irish Famine, Europe, and the American Civil War
The Great Famine/Hunger/Potato Blight of the 1840s was caused by monoculture potato practices, yes, but there was another factor: climate change. That dosen’t mean that there were Republicans driving SUVs and using air conditioning all the time, but a suspected change in the North Atlantic gyre (it didn’t leave definitive evidence). This shift cooled much of northern Europe for about twenty years, starting in 1842 and lasting until about 1866. Though precise records are spotty, what most climate historians agree on is that the wet weather blight that destroyed much of Ireland’s crops in the 1840s was also seen on the North and Baltic Sea rims. There were crop failures in France and Germany that killed tens of thousands and triggered mass migrations mostly to the Americas. Further, these crop failures continued well into the 1860s, making much of Europe dependent on—wait for it—American grain exports primarily from the northern states. The thought of British and French support for the Confederacy was counterweighted by this inconvenient fact. While British official indifference had a great deal to do with the starvation in Ireland—and the permanent demographic changes we are still dealing with—the connections between the Irish catastrophe and the rest of Europe and especially the Civil War—are ignored or dismissed by most historians.
US War Crimes in World War II
Yes, they did commit some. The subject of “war crimes” is popular on the internet, but never does the subject of American war crimes in WWII come up. The reasons are many, but the main one is ignorance. In 1943, Charles A. Lockwood, commanding all US submarines in the Pacific, issued an instruction to his skippers that they should attack and sink marked Japanese hospital ships without warning. Now, these vessels were also carrying ammunition and often combat troops in direct circumvention of the Geneva Conventions, but no matter. Directly instructing combatants to violate international accords is an explicit war crime. Yet, no punishment was ever accorded, or even recommended. The area bombing of European and Japanese targets was also a technical violation, but nothing was ever said about them… officially. Nor were any other Allied soldiers, sailors or airmen ever charged, let alone tried, for any crimes that Germans and Japanese were charged and convicted for. Few scholars venture into this Stygian vault, and fellow academics usually chastise those who do. Which makes the thoughtful scholar conclude that the best way to avoid being charged for war crimes is to win.
What’s my trilogy got to do with forbidden history? It has some depictions of things like school violence that most scholars shy away from, and of domestic insanity that historians have trouble describing.
This is the first book in the Stella’s Game Trilogy, and those of you who have read it might enlighten other readers with your thoughts. It is based—roughly—on aspects of my life and the events that shaped it. Highly fictionalized and exaggerated, but some people recognize themselves and others in it.
Stella’s Game follows four young people from the assassination of Kennedy to the Watergate hearings. They are eight when their story begins; they are seventeen and eighteen when this part ends. It’s interwoven with the culture and the news of the time: Vietnam, the Detroit riots, the assassinations of ‘68; the trials of ‘71. While these youngsters grow to accept the world they were entering, they realized they were creating another world… and soon. So buy several; they’re cheap…
Regional History: The Point?
So What If They’re Out Of Order?
On 8 October:
1862: North and South clashed in the battle of Perryville. An obscure and confused fight that culminated Braxton Bragg’s 1862 invasion of Kentucky, it was also the final nail in John C. Buell’s coffin. His indecisiveness and predilection for ultimate preparations—almost as bad as McClellan’s—would cost him his job as commander of the Union’s Army of the Ohio.
1998: the second impeachment of a sitting American president—William J. Clinton—began when the House Judiciary Committee formed an investigative sub-committee. Clinton was impeached, the subsequent trial ended in his acquittal on 12 February 1999. At this writing, the United States has only used impeachment in the Constitution as a political cudgel.
And today is NATIONAL FLUFFERNUTTER DAY, for those of you who can stand Marshmallow Fluff.